A/N: This is my third and final gift to Snapdragons for the Ravenclaw secret santa— enjoy, and happy holidays! I must also quickly send my gratitude to TenthWeasleyWriter, who answered my last-minute plea for a beta and turned this into a story that has both a canon plot and a coherent ending.
James lifted Harry from his high chair and blew on his fingers to make him giggle. "What d'you say, should we go find Mummy?"
Harry just burped, and James took that as a yes. He tiptoed down the hall with Harry in his arms, then up the stairs to where a slit of light glowed beneath the bathroom door. The slip and slosh of the bathtub could be heard from their vantage point. James put a dramatic finger to his lips and Harry mimicked him, almost poking his eye out. Together, they pushed open the bathroom door.
"Hello, Mummy!" James said.
Lily glanced up from her book, which she'd enchanted to hover— dangerously low— over the bathtub. Bubbles wafted upward as she beamed and reached out slick arms for her son. Once Harry was undressed and swatting at froth in the tub, James knelt down and kissed his wife hello.
"How's your bath, love?"
"Perfect," Lily said. "Just what I needed."
"Brilliant." James studied her as he said it, and noted with satisfaction that she had made a significant dent in the book since he first saw her open it. He knew these past few weeks had been difficult for them all, but he feared they had hit Lily hardest. She dealt with the solitude differently depending on her mood, and her latest kick had been reading in the bathtub— with varying success.
He also knew that there would most likely be many more weeks to come before they could emerge from hiding, and see people other than Peter. Of course he loved seeing Peter, it would never get old, but for Lily... Lily was older than him still, in mind if not in years. She needed more than a couple unshaven men to keep her interest.
"Look," James added. "I've had a fantastic idea. Actually, I suppose it's really Remus's."
Lily glanced up her bubble fight with Harry. "Oh?"
Deborah, hostess of The Humboldt and a walking lipstick ad, bustled into the kitchen at half-past six. "We've got a birthday dinner coming in an hour!" she announced. "Young husband and wife, wife's name is Lily, turning twenty-two. Likes chocolate and petunias. They'll be at table seven— that's you, Tommy— and the husband'll tip well if you show them some attention. All right?"
Tommy saluted her from across the room, and she strode over to fix his tie. "You can't serve a birthday meal looking like that," she said. "Come on, Tommy, do this right."
"You're taking this too seriously," he said, while she combed his hair with her fingers.
"I'm going to run this place someday. And you don't get to the top by settling for less than perfect."
"Okay, okay," he said. He raised his hands in the air: defeat. "I'll get on the chef's back, make sure he does a nice cake."
"That's more like it."
Deborah flounced back out the front, but not without a swerve by table seven. The couple currently occupying it was a well dressed pair, but neither looked like they'd mind being hurried along. The man was swirling the contents of his wineglass; the woman, eyeing someone over his shoulder. If need be, Deborah could move things forward a little more quickly.
She wouldn't have them intrude on what would be a fairytale night for her couple. The husband had called ages ago, booking far in advance, making absolutely certain they'd get the best table in the house. Clearly he was head over heels for his girl.
And Deborah was nothing if not a sucker for a good romance.
James slipped out of the bathroom with a damp, happy Harry in his arms. It would take Lily several minutes to towel off and siphon away all the bathwater that Harry had splashed overboard; James could take a moment for himself. He hopped into the bedroom, tossed Harry in the air, kissed his forehead.
"I did it, baby boy," James whispered. "The restaurant she's always dreamed of. Best table in the house. And she's crazy about the idea."
Harry gurgled and kicked him in the gut, but James's good mood would not fade that quickly. He found a fresh diaper and pajamas for Harry, settled him in the crib. Before James left the room, he brushed a finger over his son's cheek. "When all this is over, baby boy. When it's all over, and we can leave the house, I'm treating you and Mummy to the best this place can offer. We'll have a lot of lost time to make up for."
With that, he slipped out and found some ink and parchment. While Lily ran the sink in the bathroom, he scribbled a note to Remus.
I told her about it, finally. I know you thought she'd prefer a surprise, but I just couldn't keep quiet any longer, and guess what... She loves the idea. Can't wait. I even got the table where her dad bloody proposed to her mother. It's all arranged. The most romantic evening ever, à la James Potter. Thanks a million, Moony. Hope you're free to babysit.
He tossed the letter to his owl just as Lily stepped in.
"What're you up to?" she asked.
"Nothing," he replied. She didn't believe him for a second, but she stepped closer and ruffled his hair.
"You're too good to me, you know."
"Only the best for my wife."
Deborah was ready. Bored couple was out and table seven was reset, complete with a petunia bud on each plate and a complimentary bottle of champagne ready to go. It was five minutes to showtime, at least, if they were on time. And of course they would be on time: they were the perfect couple, ready for a perfect birthday dinner à la Deborah Cuthby.
When a wind-blown couple ducked into the Humboldt, Deborah checked their faces for signs of birthday cheer and sent another hostess to seat them when it wasn't her table seven pair. She leaned against her small podium, sighed with relief; that couple was far too tacky to be the birthday couple. The man had gelled his hair, for God's sake! No, she would know her couple when she saw them. She couldn't wait.
Tommy passed by, a tray of empty glasses on his shoulder. "Anything yet?"
"No," Deborah said, fluffing her hair. "They've got three minutes, I've no idea where they are."
"They'll come," Tommy said. "And don't touch your hair so much, you're not on TV."
"Someday!" she called after him, then caught herself. A good hostess didn't shout at the backs of their waiters. Even if said waiter was kind of cute.
Another couple came in, and Deborah raised her head, beamed at them, because they were practically glowing and were clearly ready for a good time. They smiled back, then turned around and helped two ancient couples in after them.
God, Dinner with the in-laws. Deborah waved them on, and the other hostess raised her eyebrows but moved to seat them all the same. Deborah checked her watch again. Where was the birthday couple?
Lily let her head rest against the window and closed her eyes. If she concentrated hard enough, she could almost believe she was outside, in the brisk September night.
"Come to bed, love."
"In a moment," Lily breathed. Her eyes were still closed.
"Of course." She turned to face James, who was splayed out in bed, his glasses on but crooked. He sat up when she came to settle in his arms. "James," she said. "What if we lose?"
"Ah, now, the Order's working day and—"
"The Order's done, James. Or nearly. And we can't stay locked up in here forever."
"It won't be forever," James said. He loosened his grip so that he could turn and face her properly. "Sure, we've got to wait around all day until Peter drops by with bits of news. But it will all be worth it... if only because we've got a little boy to think about."
"Oh God, what if they—"
"They won't. We won't let them."
But the thought only settled over Lily's shoulders and dug in for the ride. She shivered.
"Hey, cheer up. We can't let ourselves go insane, can we? Best we can do is sit tight. For now. And by January, we'll be up and out of here, sitting in a fancy restaurant, laughing at how silly this whole thing was."
"Lily. I'd never let anything happen to you. And you know what?"
"There are a lot of good people out there, fighting for us. They've got your back too. I'd understand your concern if it were just your silly old husband against everyone else, but really, how can you be afraid when people like Sirius are looking out for us?"
"Sirius— oh God."
"Okay, maybe he wasn't the best example. But really. He'd die for you, you know. So would Remus and Peter."
Lily paused; she'd never really thought about what James's old friends would do for her. For him, certainly, anything. But her? She supposed, if she were James's wife (and Harry his son), that they were under top-notch Marauder protection as well.
"I know," Lily conceded.
At eight fifteen, Tommy had to take Deborah into the kitchens to comfort her. He hadn't expected to have to remove her from the public part of the restaurant, but her makeup was actually beginning to run and raccoon eyes weren't good for business. He offered her a napkin to dab at her cheeks, and another for her nose.
"Calm down, calm down. They probably just forgot, you know. They scheduled it so long ago."
"You don't plan a perfect birthday dinner and just forget! Something went wrong, something must have gone terribly, terribly wrong."
"You don't suppose they were in a car accident?" she said. "Oh, how awful would that be, on your way to the perfect dinner and some bastard runs a red light and, and..."
"Deborah. If anything, they're caught in traffic. Pull yourself together."
She just sniffled harder at that, and Tommy, who wasn't used to comforting girls, put a tentative arm around her shoulder. The missing couple, the wilting petunias, now Tommy offering her his shoulder— Deborah dissolved into full-on tears.
Tommy looked up, found a bus boy hovering by the door. "Someone's up front, wants to be seated. Says he's here for the Potter reservation."
Deborah snapped up, and the bus boy shrunk into himself a bit. "What did you say?"
"That's who you were looking for, right? The Potters?"
"Are they here?" Deborah demanded. She was already on her way out the door, Tommy and his black-smudged shoulder long forgotten. The bus boy called something back to her, but the door was already swinging shut. Tommy could only shrug at him.
Up at the front, Deborah wiped under her eyes and fluffed her hair before approaching the man at the desk. The first thing she noticed was that he was alone. Very, very alone. Then she saw the untrimmed hair, the slump in his shoulders. And were those scars on his face?
"May I help you, sir?" she asked, all excitement forgotten.
"Yes, please, I'm here for the Potter reservation. Party of one, I'm afraid."
Deborah's heart sunk. "And you are Mr. Potter?"
"I— yes," he said.
"I see..." Deborah supposed she couldn't ask for ID; this man knew the Potters had a reservation here on this night, and he knew the general time. She'd never had to question any other person's legitimacy before. It was just... she knew this wasn't him. Mr. Potter had been so chirpy. He had been planning a perfect birthday for his wife. Certainly this gaunt, solitary man was not the Mr. Potter she'd spoken with over the phone all those months ago.
The man leaned forward; his eyes seemed darker, now that he was closer. "Please," he said. "This dinner... this is all I have left of them." He took Deborah's hand, just for a moment, and she felt something cool remaining when he stepped back. As she bent down to fumble with the menus, she glanced at the object: a gold coin. Thick, solid, with unintelligible writing on it.
"Very well, sir," she said. "Right this way."
She led him to the back of the room, to a quiet corner, encased by windows. They earned a few glances on the way; the man was not quite dressed to the standards of the Humboldt. But she got him settled, handed him his menu. She returned the gold coin, too.
"Tell me," she whispered, as she leaned over to sweep the dead petunias off the plates. "They're gone?"
"Gone," he repeated. "Yes, they're gone."
"So you came to fulfill their final wish?"
"...to pay my respects, more like."
Deborah felt the tears return. She nodded, beckoned a bus boy over with a pitcher of water, and left before the strange man could see her in this state.
Oh God, what a terrible story. This would not be a fairytale, this would be a solemn book, the type read in the dead of night with a good bar of chocolate and a steady supply of tea beside you. Oh, the poor thing. His friends, gone. Him, left to carry out their final act. Eat their final meal. Oh, God.
Remus Lupin ordered a mess of food, the sort Lily and James would have ordered. He wasn't the crying type, not like that sniffly hostess, but he did do a lot of staring out the window. Sometimes he thought of Wormtail, sometimes of You-Know-Who. Or else of Lily and James themselves, scattered to the stars.
Mostly he thought of Harry.
So this is it, Remus thought. Sitting at their table, eating their food; after tonight, all that's left of them is one little boy.
And to top it all off, Remus wouldn't even be able to see him. Dumbledore had made that much clear. The aunt and uncle, the Muggles, were to have nothing to do with the wizarding world. Maybe it made sense, but to Remus, it felt like being denied the right to see his friends' graves.
Maybe when Harry got to Hogwarts. He'd know about himself by then, know his own story. Maybe Remus could seek him out there. He could give him a proper hug and take him out to the Three Broomsticks for a butterbeer. He could regale him with stories about his parents. It would be good for both of them.
Hell, maybe I'll even take him here. The hostess had been very considerate so far, even accompanying the waiter when he brought over the birthday cake with Lily's named dashed across it. Maybe she could note down a reservation for ten years in the future.
"Excuse me," Remus said, when he saw the hostess swing by. "How far in advance can you make a reservation?"
"Oh," she said. "Well, I don't know. The book up front goes until next year?"
"Too soon," he sighed. "I'll have to call when it's a little closer to the date."
"When were you planning on returning, sir? If I may ask."
"When everything's better," Remus said.
The hostess tried to dab at her eyes in a subtle fashion, but Remus offered her a napkin first.
"Sorry," she said.
"Don't be." Remus glanced back at the cake, Lily's name still swirling over the top. This was just goodbye— goodbye à la Remus Lupin. Surely, after this, things couldn't get any worse. He'd blink, and then he'd be back here with Harry, laughing at how he'd moped here ten years previously.
"It's just..." the hostess said. "It's just terrible."
"I'll come back, I promise. With a young boy, for a much happier occasion."
"I'll probably still be here," the hostess admitted. She handed his napkin back to him, then gave him a good look-over as if committing his features to memory. "I'll be waiting."
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