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Chapter 10 : Tough and Powerful.
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“I have,” James admitted and he took my hand. I stared at the stone until my eyes began to hurt – reading her name over and over, until my eyes blurred – not with tears this time – but due to trying to find more in the words than there were. They were emptier than I remembered and the stone was unyielding. There was nothing left to give.
“You deal with this a lot better than I do,” I muttered helplessly, “how do you do it?”
“You’re hard on yourself, Lily; Mary was never my best friend,”
“But I was never much of a best friend,”
“Flowers?” James suggested, ignoring my slight on myself and pulling out his wand. He conjured up a reef of roses. I placed them on the stone near the bouquets of Daisy’s that were already there, just beginning to wilt.
I rested my head on my shoulder and he wrapped an arm around me. We stayed there for some time, and I thought about Mary and I thought about life and, for the first time, I thought about a future.
“Does Sirius come?” I asked into his shoulder.
“Weekly,” James said, “he might be along later,”
“I don’t want to run into him,” I admitted, glancing up at James and hoping he understood. It would be a violation of his privacy and his rights to clog up the time he had, and I didn’t want to see him so vulnerable again. Seeing Sirius breaking took it out of me more than I could say, “can... can we visit my dad?”
James nodded. I gripped hold of his hand. We apparated together: that feeling of being sucked through a straw, but both of us, together. I was thankful for that. “I haven’t come here at all,” I said, blinking back down the tears as I lead James to the second grave, not letting go of his hand.
“That’s okay,” James returned, pressing his lips against my hair for a second, “no one is judging you Lily,”
“In a perfect world, maybe,” I sighed. I stared at his name this time. It was hard to believe that he wasn’t going to be around anymore, ever. Both parts of my life had taken a hit. At Hogwarts, Dad simply seemed to be waiting for me at home. At home, Mary was sitting under a tree at Hogwarts penning me a letter full of angst and complaints. I bit down on my lip and felt my tears blurring my sight again. What are you supposed to do with grief? It doesn’t go away; it just lingers there waiting until something else reminds you, “Petunia judges me,” I added, “and... mum,” I said and the word was hard to spit out, “she worries a lot,” I was suddenly overwhelmed by how much I missed my mother.
I turned around in the graveyard and looked out towards the town. I bit my lip. I was two streets away from home: so close that I could feel her unconditional love reaching out to me and pulling me back. I glanced downwards for a long moment before looking back up at James, vaguely aware that he might be angry at me again tomorrow for pulling him into this. “Can we go...?” I began.
“Yeah,” James said with a smirk, “it’s about time you took me home,”
It was strange to have James sat on the floor in my living room, leaning across our coffee table and drinking tea out of one of my mugs. The strangest thing was he didn’t seem out of place and the relaxed way he seemed to fit with my life made it really hard to believe that he hadn’t been here before. James being in my house made a lot more sense than I could explain away.
James smiled at me and I found my own lips mirroring his actions, and it was suddenly difficult to be sat on the other side of the table – much too far away and physically distant.
“Sorry about the mess of on the sofas,” Mum said, entering the room distractedly and frowning at the sight of our guest sat on the floor, “if I’d known you were coming... not that it’s any bother,”
“What are all these envelopes mum?” I asked, picking one up in my hand. Both of the double seated sofas were covered in a fine layer of paper. It almost liked the living room was caught up in a snowstorm of paper – everything white.
“Christmas cards,” she said sadly, sifting through the pile of cards sadly, “so many people have started sending me them already, much more than last year, and because of seeing everyone at the funeral...”
I picked up a pile of sealed envelopes held together with an elastic band – each one had an address written in my mother’s familiar cursive. I flicked through the pile: letters from my uncle, friends she’d once had, the local butcher... all of them foolishly trying to offer my mother some support in her first Christmas as a widow, none of them even considering the fact that this might only add another pressure, as the silly woman felt the need to reply to each one.
“We could help if you like, Mrs Evans,” James volunteered, and I had to stare at him a moment and wonder why anyone would offer such a selfless service to a woman he’d only really met today, “it would be no trouble,”
Mum looked at James with encompassing warmth and then looked at me as if silently telling me she approved of my choice. I’d never chosen James though, he’d chosen me. I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was happy with his choice or not anymore.
“Oh, well... that would be such a help, but I couldn’t ask you -”
“Yes you could,” I returned, accidentally knocking a pile of stamps on the floor, “it would be a pleasure,”
“I’ll get my address book,” She said, beaming with her face flushed pink in the doorway. My mother.
“Thanks,” I told James evenly, trying not to let him know the gratitude I felt for him today. He’d just been so perfect, so supportive and just so James. James just smiled and pulled a pack of Christmas cards from near where he was sat. It seemed too early to think about Christmas and the little snowy scenes just made me feel cold rather that normal Christmassy warmth. The pack was an assortment: Christmas trees, Christmas landscapes, mini nativities, and robins that looked like they’d had their hearts ripped right out of their red breasts (I figured I could sympathise with that). I liked the nativity best – there was something real about Mary’s expression (although I suspected after child birth she’d look slightly more tired) and it wasn’t too much of a stretch to give the Mary on the card purple hair. Even the name was like a familiar hand on my shoulder, a strange comfort.
“Here,” Mum said arriving with a thick address book and a list, “I’ll just get started on dinner – you are staying for dinner aren’t you? Petunia and Vernon will be here, oh, it would be so nice to have everyone together so soon... you can stay for dinner, can’t you?”
“Of course,” James said, “we’d love to stay for dinner, Mrs Evans,”
If there were any benefits to being Heads it should be that the teachers would be a little more flexible when it came to curfew. I smiled at James again. He was good with parents.
Mum beamed before disappearing into the kitchen looking genuinely cheerful, leaving James and I alone with a stack of Christmas cards that would make the bravest Gryffindor shudder in his boots. Both James and I stared at the task for a long moment before either of us had found the strength to move and get on with it.
“What do we have to write?” James said, chucking a pile of ten cards to my side of the table.
“I’ll look,” I said, pulling out the top envelope and prising the seal open as delicately as I could. This one was a nativity scene, with baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary’s serene expression which lit up the world. I opened it carefully.
“Charlie,” I read aloud, “and then just... love from Rosemary, Petunia, Lily and John. Oh no,” I muttered, staring at the way my mother’s hand had formed my father’s name, “oh no,” I said, “we can’t send this – not, not with dad’s name on...”
“Are they all like that?” James asked quietly.
“Look,” I said, passing him some of the letters. James prized one open and scanned down the inside of the card. The grim look said it all. I did not want to look at the way my mother’s hand had formed my father’s name anymore than I wanted to write him out of the cards altogether. But what would people think when they saw his name there, arrogantly stood there as if nothing had changed from this year to all the years preceding it? I could imagine their uncomfortable expressions and their unease; the sudden wash of guilt that came with realising how lucky you were and half of me wanted to make them feel it.
It wasn’t sensible though, definitely not. So I gritted my teeth and pulled out a fresh back of cards.
“I’ll rewrite these,” I muttered, “then you wipe the cards clean and we’ll start over,”
“Okay,” James said, smiling at me.
I began copying out that first card afresh, this time the front was decorated with a quaint little village covered in snow, snowmen and branches of holly. I ignored the cheer of the scene and forced myself to continue writing; signing off our names. Three flowers.
James tapped the card with his wand and the previous declaration disappeared all together, leaving nothing but another blank slate. I was sure that we both knew enough magic to be able to just vanish that last name – but I wouldn’t do that and James would not suggest that.
So we took the long route.
“It’s good about Charlotte,” James said after awhile, as he began addressing more envelopes and placing them beside me. Charlotte and her mother had fled abroad and were only able to write now they were sure that the Death Eater’s believed them to be dead. She hadn’t said where they were, but the general suggestion was that it was sunny there.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “Rachel seems a lot better now,”
“Even if she has to change her identity,” James continued, “it’s amazing that she’s alive,”
“We’ll still never see her again,” I said, frowning into my Christmas card, “she won’t be able to come back for years and years,”
“But she’s safe,”
“For now,” I said, “did she tell Dumbledore like Sirius said she should?”
“Yeah, she did,” James said adding another envelope to the pile with another small smile sent in my direction.
“What?” I asked, suddenly feeling self conscious, “what are you smiling about?”
“I... I like this,” James said with a shrug, returning to writing people’s addresses on the envelopes with that same secret smile stretched across his lips and his hazel eyes glittering.
“You like writing Christmas cards with me?” I asked slowly, then looking down and finding myself flush, “don’t get any ideas – your names isn’t even on the cards,”
“Maybe you should write me in,” James said, “Rosemary, Petunia, Lily and James,”
“No one would know who you were,” I countered with an eye roll, “and surely we should really be writing in Vernon?”
“What’s Vernon like?” James said, “is he like a male Petunia?”
“Erm, not really,” I said, “he’s sort of big,”
“Larger than life?”
“No,” I said, “sometimes it seems like he’s larger than death but...” James grinned and threw another envelope at my direction.
“Write me in,” he said, “just in a couple –dare you,”
“James,” I said with a sigh, “I’m not writing you in,”
“Do it,” He implored, “I have written all these envelopes for you. On the next one, write me in,”
The next one was addressed to the local vicar who’d done the funeral service. I’d thought the man was almost as insolent as that one who’d done Mary’s funeral, but mum must have thought he was worth of one of the cards. Either way, I was not writing James into this one.
“Go on, on the next one,”
“Why should I?”
“Because otherwise, I’ll... I’ll change the patrol timetable so that you’re with Diggory,”
“You’d never do that,” I said simply, “you’d be too jealous,”
“A bit presumptuous, Lily dear?” James suggested with an eyebrow raise, “Or I could put you with Amanda’s annoying sister, or with Regulus Black or – ”
“And I’d just change it straight back,” I said in return, “I have as much power as you do,”
“Well then, I’ll... I’ll tell Alice that you think get married young is irresponsible,”
“She knows I think that,” I admitted with a grimace, “apparently when I’m upset I’m not very subtle,”
“You’re usually mad and yelling,”
“Yeah,” I said, writing another letter.
“I’ll tell her that you told me you think her getting married young is irresponsible and childish,”
“Fine, James, I’ll write you into the next card,”
“Promise,” I agreed, flipping over the next envelope and gaping at the name for a very long moment. Eileen Snape. My mouth went very dry for a moment before I blinked and began writing the card. Eileen was dead; I knew that, even if the rest of the world seemed to be unaware. Tobias too. And there was nothing that could piss Severus off more than me signing this particular card with ‘Rosemary, Petunia, Lily and James.’ “I don’t think you can handle wishing Snape a happy Christmas,” I said dully, tossing the envelope to the side and pulling out the next. It was be too easy and I would enjoy it too much.
The next one was to another one of our neighbours, and I signed it off with a flourish. I think I liked the way our names looked squashed up next to each other. Lily and James.
Writing him into my family wasn’t so bad after all.
“So what is it that your parents do, James?” Vernon said loudly as he helped himself to a large helping of lasagne with a pompous air of someone who was very familiar with dinning at the Evan’s.
“His dad owns a business,” I said quickly, glancing at him and exchanging a look, “and his mum helps out a lot,” He nodded and smiled, politely shopping up his portion of lasagne and eating it as though it tasted just as good as Hogwarts food. It didn’t.
“Ah,” Vernon said, nodding impressively as he over enthusiastically cut a proportion of lasagne and speared it on his fork, waving it about wildly as he talked about himself, “yes, business is the future,” he agreed, “so will you be joining the business after you finish at your, er, boarding school?”
“Maybe,” James said, glancing at me for support and eating his own lasagne at quite some speed. It was almost like Vernon and James were competing with each other to see who could compliment my mother most by eating the lasagne the fastest and showing the most amount of appreciation for her cooking. Which, to be honest, wasn’t the best cooking in the world, “I haven’t decided yet,” he added, “what do you do?” James asked.
“This is really good mum,” I interrupted, wanting to do anything that would put of the inevitable rather long conversation explaining his minor role at the drill company, his father’s association with the boss and how this equated to the fact that he was going to become the manager very shortly. Mum picked up her glass of wine and smiled at me obligingly, bringing her hand to her cross necklace for a second as she smiled me. A nervous habit that she’d always had and one that I had missed a great deal. “How’s Mrs Trevors?”
Thus igniting another rather long rant about what my old school teacher was up to these days, loud enough to block out Vernon Dursley’s string of words.
James was nodding along looking very much like he was fighting the desire to laugh. He glanced at me, clenching his lips shut and having to take a temporary pause in eating lasagne to save the inevitable moment of exploding laughter. I had to look away very quickly and take a sip of my drink to stop myself from losing control. Vernon was oblivious to this, but both my mother and my sister were well aware at how amusing we both found him. Petunia’s gaze met mine with all the warmth of an iron gate whilst my mother watched me with a smile playing at her lips.
She took another sip of her wine, twisted her engagement ring around her finger and I was very very glad that I was home. At least for a little while.
“Thanks for today,” I smiled as we walked down my street. The beer boys were beginning to appear on their doorsteps, cans of beer at the ready – but it seemed like they hadn’t kicked into the proper gear yet because this time no one was throwing either insults or empty beer cans.
“Your sister nearly seemed human today,” James smiled back. I let him wrap an arm around me because everything was warm and sensible, “and Vernon well...”
“Shush,” I said, “he’s nice enough,”
“That’s what I was about to say,” James countered, grinning at me, “that he’s nice enough,”
I sighed at him, wanting to expression how I felt but having words fail me: he was so irritating but in a way that I really enjoyed. His stupid teasing, the way we fell into such comfortable conversation and the way I wanted him to carry on with his silly predictable comments until the end of time.
“Let’s not go back yet,” I smiled, “let’s go to the park,”
“You’re the boss,” James said, squeezing a hand I hadn’t even realised he’d been holding. It was cold though. Last time I had looked we’d been in early October, but now all of a sudden the air had turned frosty and December was snapping at our heels – trying to catch up with before I was ready for it. I was dreading Christmas: a Christmas without two people I loved and missed would be an unavoidable trip to getting lost in memories and distracted by the weight of grief.
James and I walked to the park holding hands. The park always made me think of Severus, and taking James here seemed like another nail in an already buried coffin. I didn’t care anymore. I was through with forcing myself to care for a person like Snape and he should have known that the second he approached Mary McDonald our friendship had become a corpse.
“What are you thinking about?” James asked.
“Did you genuinely just ask that?” I questioned, finding myself smiling reluctantly, “really?”
“Sorry,” James grinned, “you looked pensive,”
“Snape,” I admitted.
“I hope you don’t always think about Snape when you’re with me,” I elbowed him and rolled my eyes, but I grinned too. Couldn’t help it.
“This is where Severus and I met,” I said, gesturing to the tree in the corner and sitting down on the bench. I stared at it for a little while before shaking my head, “you know – a childhood of memories. The place might as well be haunted,”
“Make new memories,” James said.
“Did you have an excess of cheese for breakfast?” I asked dryly.
James turned and pressed his lips against the corner of mine. Then he did it again. I turned to him, his face unnecessarily close (not that I meant that as a complaint) so that our foreheads were millimetres away from touching.
“You’re such a hypocrite,” I muttered, my nose touching his for a split second. He grinned at me. I loved that stupid grin.
“Never said I wasn’t,” then he kissed me again and my hands automatically went to around his face, around his neck, stopping him from leaving me. They weren’t proper kisses: they never were, with James, but instead just little ticklish pecks that we took in turns stealing from each other.
Sometimes, they lingered, and sometimes they just didn’t. I didn’t care. I’d take all I could get when it made me feel like my insides were melting, like I was becoming myself again. Nothing made sense again, but I liked it this time.
“Hmmm,” James muttered quietly, almost a hum rather than real words, still not pulling back out of my personal space. I didn’t want him too either, “what do you want, Lily?” James asked, kissing me again.
This, I wanted to say, but that was difficult and I couldn’t even decipher if that was the truth yet.
“I want you not to ask my difficult questions,” I returned. James made another almost hum and kissed me again, this one lasting but not long enough, “and I want you to never leave,” James raised his eyebrows at that, “and not to be so god damn cheesy,”
“We should go back,” James said, “or does that count as leaving?”
“Seriously,” I muttered as a piece of hair fell across my face, “I need you,”
“It’s funny,” James looked impossibly thoughtful for a moment, “I told Mary that one day you’d need me,” Then he offered me a hand, pulled me up and apparated us both away. Dissolving the lazy peace and ease between us, forcing me back into the reality of Hogwarts and School.
I think I preferred this other reality, where everything seemed that much easier.
It was duelling time again and Professor Tyron had yet again ceremoniously put all out names inside his ostentations wizard’s hat, coerced a reluctant Amanda into standing at the front of the classroom and picking two names out of the hate and was standing behind the desk and beaming.
We were all itching to get a chance to duel now – having spent so long practicing spells and duelling in our free time that we had all become adept and, more than that, good. We could all throw off the imperious curse now and sometimes it even felt easy. Other times it was near impossible. Sometimes we all failed, but we were getting there. Slowly, but surely.
“Lily Evans,” Amanda said, glancing up at me and giving me an apologetic look – like it was unfortunate that I was going to be forced to fight.
“Let’s hope it’s one of us,” James said bracingly, again acted as though there was nothing I wanted less than to stand up there and duel. I had felt distinctly uncomfortable and nervous around James since the weekend anyway (upon realising that I had been much too comfortable to him and that my evasion of his questions had been downright rude) and I didn’t like this assertion. I hoped it was him, so that I could beat him in front of a class full of witnesses. Gloating was going to be wonderful.
“And...” Amanda paused, swallowed and looked up at me, “Mulicber,”
For a second there was a ringing silence before the Slytherins in the room began to laugh, cheer and send several insults in my direction. No one seemed to have that much faith in me. Severus was staring at the wood of his desk. James was pale.
Sirius turned round for a moment and said, very quietly, “I reckon you can take him,” and that was enough to push me confidently out my seat and to walk to the front. My legs were shaking slightly, but I didn’t care. I hated the way James looked so damn worried, but Sirius was rubbing his hands together and lazing back in his seat. Remus was expressionless; Rachel looked as though someone had just died; Peter looked excited and Frank and Alice both offered me tiny little smiles.
“You ready?” Professor Tyron asked, “bow,”
Mulciber had always been ugly and it was no skin off my back to have an excuse to look away from him for a moment. I had no idea how talented he was at duelling, but Sirius had been confident...
Mulciber flashed his wand so quickly that I had no time to react, but somewhere my instincts were on my side and I’d yelled “Protego!” before I’d even really considered casting the spell. Shit. This was going to be a lot harder than I’d anticipated. Mulciber tried again and this time I was ready, silently constructing a shield before sending a jinx of my own. He had to twist his wand round awkwardly to block it and all of this had happened so quickly that I was nearly out of breath.
The whole classroom took an intake of breath. Everyone seemed to think that all it would take was one spell to be cast before I’d wind up in the hospital wing.
Red light, orange light and violet light that hit me in the leg and nearly made me fall over with the pain of it. I’d got a hit in too, although I could barely remember what I’d cast at him I could see all over his twisted face that he was in pain too.
Another spell sent him stumbling backwards into the desk, but the one after that rebounded off his shield with a sound of a cymbal crashing. I ended up having to dodge the tiny shards of light that scattered in all directions and wound up sidestepping stupidly as he cast something else.
The whole class was muttering excitedly and occasionally some yell of support seeped through my concentration (mainly James speaking under his breath and Sirius’s bark like approval every time Mulciber was left wrong footed).
He yelled a spell that I’d never heard, but it sounded nasty enough and the force of the spell left me winded despite my shield. He grinned maliciously as if he thought that this was his victory and then suddenly...
James and I had duelled only last week, and after sending so many complicated jinxes at each other and getting nowhere but tiring each other out he sent a spell at my shoes causing my shoelaces to tie together. It had been stupid, a bit of fun really, but I’d fallen over and he’d been able to disarm me.
I thought of James as I sent the silly charm and Muliber was too distracted by leering at me to really notice a spell heading for his feet. Then he tried to advance on me, stepping forward with a stupid smile – sending himself flying towards the ground and landing in a confused heap.
“Expelliarmus,” I said simply.
Then the Gryffindors went mad. Sirius jumped up and hugged me, declaring that he’d always loved me deep down; Frank and Alice were out of their seats and beaming stupidly; Rachel was dithering about excitedly; Peter was half clapping... but James stayed in his seat staring right at me and grinning.
But I didn’t feel like grinning anymore. I’d won by some stupid school boy trick. Sure, I’d humiliated him but in reality I would never have been given that chance – if this was real life the spell that had caught my leg might have been the cruciatus curse and I had no way of preparing myself for that.
And then I had an idea.
And I knew, full well, that James would hate me for it.
A/N - First update since I finished NaNo! And it's TAOS - seems fitting somehow. Anyway, sorry for the whole not updating for such a long period of time. NaNo has been keeping me occupied and with school and things too... busy Helen. I would apologise for the fact that 90% of this chapter is pure sappiness, but... hey, I love it.
The next chapters a good un ;)
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