Chapter 14 : Unwelcome.
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I didn’t sleep on Christmas day and woke up late on Boxing Day, cursing myself for keeping James waiting. I took my time getting ready anyway; putting laborious amounts of effort into buttering my toast and brushing my hair until it was absurdly frizzy from the effects, pausing to try the patronus charm again – away from the window and instead in my box room – becoming more frustrated upon the realisation that I still couldn’t do it.
I didn’t want to see James.
No, that was a lie, I wanted to see him – but all of a sudden there was a thrill of sickly dread which accompanied the excitement. After putting up with several conversations between Petunia, Vernon and my mother debating whether or not James was ‘suitable’ or whatever the rest of the spew they were spouting seemed to be about, the fact that we weren’t exactly dating was an incessant repetitive and horrible thought.
There were the doubts. Although I had spent plenty of time severely doubting that James was ‘in love’ with me (and given he hadn’t bothered with that line for awhile I suspected that he’d grown up and out of using that line too) and seemingly endless amount of time convinced that the reason James was being such an annoying git was because he wanted to humiliate me, but in recent years I’d accepted the fact that James would always be interested in me. And now, with the realisation that I’d told James Potter how I felt, not in so many words exactly, and he hadn’t immediately insisted we become a couple, well...
What if I had actually blown in? There were plenty of near misses with the end of James Potter’s patience, just as he’d had several full frontal hits with the end of mine, but I’d never thought that I had truly pushed him over the edge. Yet, Christmas Eve would have been the perfect time for James to say something about being a couple, taking my hand and then snogging me senseless. Instead, all that had happened was we had been midly-coupley and he’d kissed me goodbye. That wasn’t any different to the way things had been before! And if he knew how I felt and that didn’t change anything then what the bloody hell was he playing at?
Plus, the number of times I’d kissed him despite the lack of official dating probably meant that I was climbing the slut rankings to the most absurd degree. For Merlin’s sake, before James the only person I’d ever kissed outside a relationship environment was Snape and, quite frankly, I tried very hard to pretend that had never happened.
“Lily, shouldn’t you be off?” My Mum asked, pushing open the door of my bedroom and glancing at where I stood suspended in front of the mirror with my coat half shrugged onto my shoulders.
“Yeah,” I said reluctantly, staring at my reflection with a frown.
“Are you okay?” Mum asked, stepping further into my room and pulling the coat over my shoulders, brushing away invisible specs of dirt and squeezing my shoulders for a second.
“Uhuh,” I said, dragging my graze from myself and taking in the lines in my mother’s face, her greying hair and how real her skin looked. I hated it that she had to age.
“Do you miss your father?”
“Yeah,” I said quietly, feeling tears prickle in the corners of my eyes, “he should have been here yesterday.”
Mum offered a grim smile at our reflection, squeezed my shoulder again before disappearing; “we all do, love. You’ve just got to remember to keep on living.”
I was fed up of winter. Now, icy rain was repeated whipped against the exposed skin of my face as I tried to walk through the rain to a safe apparition spot. The park again, everything seemed to pivot around this god damn park, which was deserted due to the weather. Even the usual dog walkers seemed to have stayed inside, leaving me as a lone figure crossing the grassy patches towards the collection of bushes – just in case.
The result of this was that when I arrived at the Potter’s residence for the first time I was going to be late, frozen and very very wet: none of which were things I particularly wanted for my first meeting with James’s parents.
James Potter’s parents. I knew they were old, but that was about it – I remembered Mary telling me that his Mum was nice, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on how she knew that or how it had come up in conversation. Anyway, I didn’t want to think about Mary. I was fed up of her clouding every single moment, an uninvited thought at the back of my mind, and I wanted –for once – to live through a moment without having to think about things that were missing.
I thrust my hands deep into the depths of my pocket as I stepped into the cover of the bushes, looking around once more to ensure that I really was alone.
I was so irritated and I couldn’t pinpoint why: I was angry at James for making things complicated, at Snape for existing, at Petunia for threatening me, at Dad for not being here and Mary for not being around to bitch with me and tell me exactly what to do.
I hated Mary sometimes. She’d always been like that, irrelevant as to whether she was dead or alive; she still had an impeccable ability to irritate me. She wasn’t there and I really really needed her. She’d gone through some weird, complicated relationship with Sirius that I’d always hated from afar, and now I was stuck not knowing how I was supposed to be acting or feeling and I knew that she’d have all the answers and she wasn’t bloody here. Since then, the only person I’d talked to about my problems was James and given that he was now the problem, I’d certainly screwed myself over.
I disapparated, having a degree of difficulty focus on the determination aspect.
Mary had never had a chance to apparate.
I chastised myself for being such a depressing sod and wrapped my arms around me, taking in the outside of James Potter’s most humungous house with a degree of awe and a degree of contempt. Being poor, I’d more or less spent quite a long period of my life hating anyone with more money than me and branding them as selfish but it would hardly due to explode about my views on finance today of all days.
Bent over slightly to block out the wind, I walked up the front path with my arms wrapped around me. I wished that I wasn’t so prone to getting obsessive and emotional about the stupidest thing – it seemed so ridiculous to be miserable when only a few days ago I’d been so happy.
There was no doorbell, but an ostentatious golden lion knocker with glittering red eyes. It was so typically James that I couldn’t help but smile a little as I reached up and then –
Before I could knock on the door the lion roared, the red eyes flashed slightly and the door was thrown open by two people who were, quite obviously, both waiting for me to arrive and were undeniably James Potter’s parents. Well, if he hadn’t already mentioned that they were elderly I would have guessed grandparents, but the likeness was so startling that it took me a few moments to recover.
My expression of shock seemed enough to cause the pair some concern: “oh, dear is she.... is she all right?”
“ – I told you to turn off the knocker,” Mrs Potter said, “I said it was a bad idea when we had new visitors. Lily, dear, it is Lily isn’t it? Do come in, you must be freezing.”
“Horrible weather,” Mr Potter agreed, “the fire’s on in the pantry? If you’d just like to...”
My distinctly muggle coat was stripped from my shoulders and hung up, and both of James’s parents led me through what felt like a maze of corridors and doors to the aforementioned pantry, sat me down in front of the fire and began to ask me exactly what I would like to drink.
“Just... pumpkin juice,” I finished finally, “thank you.”
“I’ll go!” Mr Potter said, offering me a wink before bustling out the room.
“Don’t mind him,” Mrs Potter said, “we’re used to having the others around here all the time, but James has never brought a girl around before – my husband is just a little excited, Magnus can’t resist any opportunity to humiliate him...”
“That’s okay,” I returned with a smile, “you’re house is lovely.”
“Thank you, dear,” Mrs Potter said with a smile, “much too big for the three of us, but Magnus won’t here of selling the family home – he’s always so bloody sentimental.”
“Well,” I said, half tempted to say ‘you also have a lovely son’ but unsure as to how weird that would sound on a scale of one to ten, or how long it would take to deflate James’s inevitably arrogance about hearing such a thing. Instead, whatever sentence I thought I might say falls rather flat after 'well', so I spend a couple of seconds looking at my knees.
I was struck by the thought that James didn't know I was here yet and that didn't make me feel any more comfortable.
Mr Magnus Potter returned holding a tray of pumpkin juice and set it down near the table. “Sorry about scaring you, Lily,” he said sheepishly, “I set the knocker to scare one of our more amusing relatives yesterday.”
“Oh don’t worry,” I said, taking my glass of pumpkin juice and taking a sip “I was just a bit nervous about meeting you, really.”
“We don’t bite.” Mrs Potter said.
“Unless you’re tasty.” Mr Potter added, sending me another wink. My bad mood seemed to be dissolving somewhat and I found myself holding back the desire to laugh – the whole thing was just so bizarre.
“Come now, Magnus, I don’t think Lily does too badly on that front,” Mrs Potter grinned in return, “James could do a lot worse,” Then I did laugh and the Potter’s seem to like that. “Oh, dear, I’ve been so rude – I’m Carolyn and this is Magnus,” She said cheerfully, her cheeks flushing as she smiled. She had such a lovely round face and would have once been very pretty, but I was still struggling to get my head around the idea that these two people, these elderly people, could possibly be James’s parents, “it really is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” I said, taking a less tentative sip of my drink – convinced, at least, that they weren’t going to poison me, “I’m Lily Evans, but I think you know that...”
“Yes,” Magnus Potter said eagerly, “James has been quite forthcoming with information about you over the years.”
“We did worry,” Carolyn said, “because he didn’t mention you for a little while after the tragedy of that poor girl, but we didn’t want to pry. Now, here we are!” I was now convinced that they had no intention to inform James that I’d arrived and I wasn’t quite sure what I thought about that. If I should have been alarmed, I wasn’t any longer.
“Carolyn,” Magnus warned carefully.
“Oh dear!” She exclaimed, “Oh, no – I’m awfully sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned Mary –”
“No, no,” I waved it away, “It’s quite all right.”
“But it was terrible to see Sirius in such a state,” Carolyn sighed, her eyes travelling to the ceiling for a moment, “it’s always... so sad.” She finished and I truly believed that she felt emotion about Mary, a girl who she’d met once.
That made me angry, though, not because of Carolyn Potter but because the reason she was sad was because Mary was young, when in reality it would have been just as horrible and just as life changing for me if Mary had been thirty or fifty, or like James’s parents seemed to be, in her seventies (or near to them): it wasn’t a tragedy because she was sixteen, it was because she was Mary McDonald and she’d been my best friend.
“James says that you’re Head Girl,” Magnus said eagerly – both of them ignoring their own glasses of pumpkin juice – “and a muggle born to boot! That’s a dangerous position, Lily,” He seemed to delight in this prospect and he seemed so much like James that I had to wonder whether this is exactly who James would become when we were old. “Dumbledore must have a lot of faith in you.”
“Mum, Dad,” James said, standing in the doorway looking mildly amusing and mildly affronted as he saw me sat with his parents drinking pumpkin juice, “did you not think to tell me Lily was here?”
“No, dear.” Carolyn said cheerfully.
“We thought you’d have heard the lion.” Magnus added, neither of them looked remotely sheepish.
“You put the lion on?” James grinned, shaking his head as he sat down on the seat next to me, “I bet you crapped yourself.”
“I was... surprised.” I admitted, my bad mood ebbing away even more as James grinned and plucked his mother’s pumpkin juice off the tray.
“Bloody liberty,” Carolyn Potter said, “no respect for your parents at all.”
And then she took her husband’s drink and sat back on her chair with a satisfied smile.
I couldn’t decide who was more shocked when the preparation for dinner began: me, when I realised that James was going to be the one to cook dinner, or Carolyn when she realised James hadn’t told me that he could cook.
“James!” She’d said, “I thought you’d been trying to chase the girl! What did we tell you about using what you’ve got? You could have been dating her in second year if you’d told her that you can whip up the best roast dinner I’ve ever tasted!”
“Necessity,” James had explained as he set about cooking in the kitchen, “Mum’s too tired to cook half the time and Dad is just terrible, so I guess I sort of just... took on the duties.”
Now, with much casual banter about how James had failed to get me interested for a good seven years, we were sat in another of the Potter’s many rooms talking about the future. James and I were sat on the sofa, our arms pressed up against each other, but other than that the only physical contact we’d had was when James had attempted to teach me how to mix the marinade for our chicken and that had ended when I’d accidentally flicked some onto his glasses. After that I’d been confined to a seat in the corner of the kitchen to watch.
And now, with the initial delight at James’s eccentric and wonderful parents dissipating, I was beginning to feel irritated about the whole are-we-together-or-at-least-going-to-be-together conundrum.
“So, Lily, do you want to join James and Sirius’s little Auror club?” Magnus asked.
“Can’t really,” I said, forcing myself to smile at them, “I’m a muggleborn... it’s sort of dangerous for anyone to take in muggleborn employees right now.” I didn’t say mudblood, but inside I was thinking about it.
“Did you see the article about Rackharrow’s Apothecary?” Carolyn asked seriously, “Burnt down for employing a young muggleborn girl like yourself, Lily. They’ve got a mark now, shot it into the sky for everyone to see.”
“Horrible,” Magnus said, shaking his head, “bloody stupid reason to judge someone,” he added, “ever since he employed that girl he’s earned himself a reputation for selling the best Healing Potions on the side.”
“That’s why they did, Magnus,” Carolyn said, “she was too successful, giving the others hope. You want to stay out of that, Lily. Keep yourself safe. Get your family to support you until the whole thing blows over.”
“Will it just blow over?” James asked, taking my hand.
“Eventually.” Magnus said.
“It’ll more be me supporting my family,” I admitted. “My Dad died last year and we’ve always been hopelessly poor.” I hadn’t admitted that truth out loud before and James’s grip around my fingers tightened: I’d tried to avoid thinking about a future outside Hogwarts, where there were no daily meals or protection from Dumbledore.
“No one’s going to let you starve, Lily,” James said, “and Vernon’s up for that promotion, remember?” I smiled at that, remembering once again Vernon’s continual tirade about James being a top-chap. It was the first time I’d agreed with Vernon Dursley. James was tip-top and fabulous, and I was so glad that I’d come. I almost wished that I’d come earlier, because night had already fallen over the house and at a touchable point in the future I was going to have to bid him farewell again.
“It’s snowing!” Magnus said. He pointed his wand in the direction of the window, and both James and I turned around in our seat to watch as the white flakes fell and flittered to the ground.
“Last snow of the year, I bet.”
“You want to go outside?” James asked, grinning.
“Yeah.” I answered, letting him pull me up to my feet and grinning.
“You okay?” James asked when the cool breeze hit our faces outside and I was struck by how warm it had been in the Potter’s house.
“I think so.” I answered, leaning against one of the Potter’s patio tables that had been pushed against the wall for the winter. A thin layer of frost seemed to have crept upon them and it was icy to the touch, but I didn’t care – I felt sort of toasty, actually.
James lit a floating oil lamp that I hadn’t noticed before with his wand and I stood beneath its balmy glow and watched him mess around; throwing up his hands and catching snowflakes for my amusement. He was so silly and special and precious.
“I don’t believe it.” James muttered, reaching out a hand and catching a snowflake on one of his fingers.
“What?” I asked as I turned to look at him.
“That each snowflake is unique,” he returned, holding one up under the gas porch light and inspecting it, “they all look just the same to me. At least two of them have got to have been the same in the whole history of forever.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but wouldn’t that make them pretty unique too?”
“That makes no sense,” James grinned, turning round to look at me and shaking his head slightly, “you nutter.”
“No,” I said, “like twins are unique because there are two of them, only in reverse.”
“They’re pretty, anyway,” James continued stretching a hand up to the sky and catching another, “I just want to know who examined every snowflake ever.”
“You’ve got snow in your hair,” I smiled, reaching forward to brush it away and getting caught up looking at him for a moment before recovering and taking a step backwards. “Your parents are lovely.” I smiled.
“They got more eccentric as they got older.”
“They make my family look like trolls.”
“No they don’t, they make your family look like wild young things.”
“I think that’s the only time Vernon Dursley has ever been called wild,” I laughed, James smiled again and brushed a snowflake of my cheek, “I’m so glad I’m here.” I muttered quietly.
“And here I am thinking you were having reservations.”
“Not about you,” I returned, “about coming here, but... consider all reserve cast away.”
“Carefully considered,” James returned, “although I suggest you keep some of it: my parents may be eccentric, but if you decide to run around my house stakers I’m sure they’d still be concerned.”
“Oh don’t worry, none of you are going to see me stakers.” I quipped back, a breeze blowing more snow into our faces.
“Ah, Evans,” James grinned, “give it time.”
I went to hit him, but I caught my hand and I didn’t mind – not really, because this was just the nice ease of conversation that sometimes we fell into. Just flirting, really. I hadn’t known I was capable of it.
“This is so stupidly romantic,” I said irritably as I looked up at the dark sky, “it’s so... annoying.”
“Might as well make the most of it,” James shrugged, pulling at my hand so that I moved closer to him – it was probably more instinct than anything else – before kissing me again.
There was something about the moment, I thought maybe it was because this two week holiday was a strange rest bite from what had been a gruelling and tough term, because the whole world seemed to have stilled over the Potter’s house and here, right now, it didn’t feel like there was anyone missing – It was always just supposed to be James and me, standing outside in the snow, kissing.
With the prickling cold advancing in on my skin, James hand warm in mine and our foreheads practically touching under the glow of the gas lamp it was difficult to remember the misgivings I’d had only this morning, but the second James broke away it all came rushing back and crushed the moment and my the blind hopefulness that a couple of flakes of snow had woken up in the pit of my stomach.
“The snow’s stopped.” James said, pressing his lips against mine again. Maybe that was why.
“Wait,” I muttered, wanting to step backwards but not wanting him to relinquish his all important hold around my waist, on one of my hands; holding me together. “James,” I muttered, losing my thread as I tried to remember how to breathe and think and articulate words into sentences, “how many times have I kissed you?”
His face twisted slightly, but he didn’t let go – that was a good sign. James was clever enough to know where I was going with this, just as I’d expected.
“Not enough.” James returned, kissing my cheek to prove the point and making me take another little step towards him. The gas lamp was no longer directly above us, meaning long shadows hid large parts of James’s face. That made it worse somehow, but the gap no longer seemed too difficult to breach.
I was Lily Evans and I could be gutsy enough to bring the damn thing up myself (if he wasn’t going to, and it looked like he wasn’t – typical male to be fine with any situation that involved him getting to kiss me without being formally attached and what not).
“Right,” I smiled, “so do you think you’re going to...ask me out, at any point?” It felt strangely unreal to say something so outright and bold out right, considering we’d spent months avoiding mentioning the issue or only bringing up things when we were angry and arguing.
“There’s an issue with that – wait! Lily, give me a minute before you freak out. I swore to you that I’d only ask you out once more ever.”
“And I messed it up?” I asked, frowning up at the sky. James was right. The snow had definitely stopped falling now.
“Yeah,” James said, “I probably helped.”
“So where does that leave us?” I asked, slipping my hand – which I had wrenched out of his a couple of seconds previously at his ‘issue with that’– back into his and looking up at him. James was so absurdly lovely, and sometimes it was difficult to get my head around exactly how any of this had happened. Me. James. Arguing. Mary.
“Here.” James said with a shrug.
“Guess we’ll just be friends then,” I said with a casual sigh, my arms around his neck.
“I have a better idea,” James said and then, in my ear, “you could ask me out.”
“Hey James,” I began quietly; “do you want to go out with me?”
“No,” James said, turning back and kissing me on the nose, “never.”
“Please?” I suggested.
He grinned again, raising his eyebrows and taking up a mock high voice; “Not in a million years, Evans, not if you were the last woman on the planet, I’d rather go out with a slimy Slytherin because you’re a bigheaded arrogant prat and... and you think you’re better than everyone else because you’re soooo arrogant.”
I pouted slightly and gave a sad little shrug, resisting breaking out into a big smile by very little, “But James,” I said, wrapping his arms around me and staring into his eyes, “it’d make me really happy if you did.”
“Okay,” James said, reaching up and brushing a piece of red hair out of my face, “because you’re so persuasive, but –“
“Just think how much easier that would have been, if that’s what had happened the first time” and then we were kissing, properly this time; no half-arsed pecks and distracted stolen kisses, because somehow – incredible as it seemed – I’d managed to fix something. For all the times I’d screwed up and walked into situations to get myself tortured and kissed James at moments when he deemed it inappropriate (even though he did exactly the same thing – hypocritical oaf). Somehow, within a short space of time I’d managed to decided that yes, I did like James and managed to work out a nice normal manageable situation – like, a functional relationship.
I couldn’t wait to tell Sirius. March, indeed. He’d regret ever suggesting something.
We stood there, looking at each other for an embarrassing length of time in which I made a note that I probably shouldn’t be thinking about Sirius right now and wondering whether I was still concerned about being a pathetic person dependent on someone forever. I hadn’t quite got to an answer, because there was something I didn’t trust in James’s eye.
Then he was stepping backwards, dropping his hands, looking up at the sky and -
“Wait,” James muttered, “is this a good idea?”
“I think we need to talk.”
“What the damn hell is there to talk about, Potter?” I demanded, my hands finding their familiar place on my hips as I stared at him. James didn’t look at me for a minute, distractedly running his hand through his hair for a second.
“Let’s go inside.” Then James was pushing himself away from where he was leaning on the patio tabls, pushing the door open and disappearing inside without ever turning around to see if I was following him. He knew I would.
“Well that’s even more ridiculous,” I said loudly, not even bothering to regret my word choice, “you can’t say we need to talk and then just bloody walk off!” The door fell shut and undoubtedly muffled the rest of my words before he heard them, and I wondered if that was for the better.
I let myself have a few more seconds of solitude outside for a moment. Everything had seemed so absurdly perfect: stood outside beneath the sky and a levitating oil lamp, finally talk about things and sorting them out. Instead, it seemed, all I’d managed to achieve was the shortest relationship known to man.
Oh God, we’d been dating for about three minutes and he was going to dump me.
I laughed shakily: if James decided that it wasn’t a good idea, then I’d practically achieved the impossible – breaking James’s seemingly eternal commitment to our cause through one, short kiss. I didn’t even know what I’d done and that made it both more horrible and more comical in equal measures. I didn’t think this talking business had sunk in yet. After all, I wasn’t yet hysterical or screaming.
Sirius was going to have a field day over this. Maybe omit several details upon retelling.
I sighed, brushing my hands through my hair, resisted the urge to cry and finally, resolutely, followed James back inside.
James Potter: Romance killer since 1960.
It was never in the plan to end this chapter here, but I did it anyway. I hope you enjoy. I haven't had the pleasure of writing anything with such a cruel ending for quite awhile, so now everything seems to be ending in such a manner (you can tell it's late, I'm talking like a right idiot).
But, it's TAOS month! So you should expect two or three updates this month, so really it won't be a very long wait at all. So you should all get excited and join in TAOS month. Obviously, it's not going to be as good as Azkaban month... or IS IT? I guess it's all to been seen.
(stop talking AC)
Reviews are always lovely :)
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