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Chapter 23 : Acceptance.
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“Did you ingest the map?” I asked, looking up from my Transfiguration text book. After weeks of practice being cancelled due to the snow (which came suddenly and all at once after the anniversary of Mary’s death, then hung around for much too long), the Quidditch pitch had finally defrosted enough to allow the Gryffindor Quidditch team several hours to bat around balls and actually fly (which was a relief, as I think James was having withdrawals if his restlessness was anything to go by). Peter had wanted to watch the practice and had somehow persuaded Remus to go along too, although if his sighs were anything to go by he wasn’t too happy about the prospect. “Only this is a library, Sirius, and you informed me last night that you planned to never set foot in one again.”
“How was practice?” I asked. Sirius had evidentially just got out the shower and it had to be said that Sirius definitely improved with hydration – although how anyone could put up with someone so insufferable was still beyond the range of my comprehension, Mary notwithstanding, given she’d been just as irritating.
“Long,” Sirius said, “James is still out there.”
“Have you and James had sex yet?” Sirius asked.
“Sirius!” I hissed, glancing at Madam Pince who had definitely heard that question and was definitely not happy with such a conversation happening in the middle her library. On that note, neither was I.
“What? It’s just a question,” Sirius shrugged, “no need to get defensive about it.”
“This isn’t defensive, Black. This is we’re in a library and are about to get kicked out.”
Sirius tried to send one of his smiles in Madam Pince’s direction, but was met with utter indifference. Good; it was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one unimpressed with his so called charm. Especially given, in the past few weeks, he’d been starting to flaunt it about again.
“Damn,” Sirius said, “should’ve bought Remus with me, Pince loves him.”
“She doesn’t love you,” I said, depositing my books in my bag and sighing, “damn you, Sirius, I was trying to revise.” Madam Pince was squinting at the pair of us and setting down her books. Mostly thanks to my association with the Marauders, I’d been chucked out the library more than enough times to know when she was raring for a fight. Last time I’d gotten half an hour speech about inappropriate behaviour after James kissed me on the cheek when she was in range.
“Let’s just get out of here,” Sirius said, pocketing my quill for me and standing back up, “after a two hour practice with James I do not need anyone else to yell at me.”
“I hope he gave you hell,” I said, pulling my bag on my shoulder and quickly heading for the door before Pince could start screaming about inappropriate conversation.
“Oh yeah,” Sirius grinned, running a hand through his half wet hair (classic Marauder trait – blatant evidence that they were all much to close), “mostly because I tried to have this conversation with James beforehand.”
“You mean about getting kicked out of the library or your completely unwarranted invasion into our personal lives?”
“The latter,” Sirius grinned, “oh come on, Evans.”
“What did James say?”
Sirius looked at me for a few minutes. “No,” Sirius said, slowly, “because James would say what you told him to say whether or not it was the truth.”
“And why would he do that?”
“Because, Evans, he’s smitten. I miss you arguing. That, at least, was entertaining.”
“So you think I’ve told James what to say?” I asked.
“You might not want me to know.”
“Surely not!” I said, rolling my eyes at him.
“You’d have told him to say no even if the answer was yes –”
“So he told you no?”
“Or,” Sirius said pointless, “the answer could be a definite yes and you just don’t want to admit it.”
“What did James say, Sirius?”
“Nah, I’m not dumping my best friend in the shit.”
“Is he really your best friend, Sirius, if you can’t even trust him on an important detail like that?”
“Don’t wind me up, Evans.”
“That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” I asked, stopping in the corridor to look at him, “Sirius, I’m sorry. I never meant to get in the way of your relationship with James – ”
“Oi, Lily,” Sirius grinned, shaking his head at me, “I’ve had it up to here with you invading my life. Your little sleepovers in my dormitory. Not knowing when it’s acceptable to sleep naked -”
“- okay, I did not need to know that you did that.”
“All I want to know,” Sirius said, “is one little thing. And frankly, I think have the right to know.”
“You want me to tell you whether I’ve slept with James?”
“James knows all about who I’ve slept with.”
“Everyone knows who you’ve slept with.” I said, rolling my eyes and beginning to walk again.
“Look, Evans, I usually get an update about these things within twenty-four hours. This silence is very unusual.”
“What do you think?” I asked, raising my eyebrows at him.
“I don’t know!” Sirius said, holding his hands up in exasperation. “I mean, you’ve stayed over enough but I doubt you’d do anything with us in the room – or at least that’s what helps me sleep at night. Definitely not as innocent as your Head Girl good little routine.”
“How do you work that out?”
“I’ve always known that,” Sirius said. “Call it a good judge of character. Even before your indiscretion with Diggory and that tattoo thing. Merlin, Evans, will you just get your shit together and tell me?”
“That joke got old in second year, Sirius.”
“Are you just … no. Lily, you’re just going to lie. Or you might be telling the truth, but either way I’m not going to know.” Sirius face had crumpled and he looked like he was thinking about all of this a little bit too hard. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and just tell him because this had the potential to be greatly entertaining.
“Well, that’s always a risk.”
“Damn you,” Sirius said, “well, even if you haven’t, your innocence has got an expiry date on it.”
“By the end of the Easter holidays,” Sirius said, “definitely.”
“If you say so.”
“Oh come on,” Sirius muttered, turning to the Fat Lady and delivering the password with a grimace. “Dragged yourself away from your broom then?” Sirius asked, throwing himself down into one of the spare sofas opposite James.
James has just got out of the shower too. James definitely looked better when fresh out the shower; his hair wasn’t quite so unforgivably messy when it was soaking and his eyes were lit up with the whole Quidditch thing (a mixture of the fact that James just really loved Quidditch and the self-esteem boost from getting to boss people around for a few hour). I liked James.
“Hey,” I said, sitting down on the arm of James’s chair and feeling his hand brush against the edge of my back, pulling me closer instinctively, “I was just having this really interesting conversation with Sirius.”
“Oh really,” James said, glancing at him and brushing some of my hair out of my face. James raised his eyebrows.
“He has some interesting theories on my innocence,” I said, “he seems to think we’re playing mind game with him.”
“That’s a great idea,” James said, “why didn’t we think of that before?”
“God,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling, “what’s a guy got to do to get some straight answers around here?”
“Have you packed yet?” I asked James. He narrowed his eyes slightly and shrugged. “James,” I sighed, “we’re practicing defence spells after dinner, then a prefect’s meeting, then we’re patrolling. When are you going to pack?”
James seemed to think about this for a few minutes.
“In the next ten minutes?”
“Yes,” James said, “exactly. Come on, Evans, if you help me I’ll be done in five.”
“This is my problem,” Sirius said, loudly and to no one in particular, “how am I supposed to know if packing is a euphemism for sex or not?”
Remus threw a cushion at him. Peter, along with a large proportion of the Gryffindor Common Room, seemed to find the whole thing exceedingly funny. I was not part of the larger population.
“Either way,” I said, taking a few second to send Sirius a look, “I’m not helping. If you’d packed when I told you to pack then this wouldn’t be a problem. And Sirius got me chucked out of the library.”
“That’s not my fault,” James said, pouting slightly.
“Well, it’s certainly not mine.”
“Lily,” James said, lips tracing my hairline for a second, “you are helping me pack, whether you like it or not. If you don’t come voluntarily I’ll just carry you.”
“Lovely,” I said, twisting around on the arm of the chair to smile at him, “you’re threatening to carry me to your bedroom in the middle of the day, in lieu of your best friend speculating about our sex life.”
“If it helps, it’s really not a euphemism.”
“Sadly,” I said, “I know. You’re hopeless, Potter. Fine.”
“You are my favourite person,” James said, grinning at me.
“Yes, yes,” I said, slipping my hand through his to pull him up to his feet, “and you’re great too. But, if you make me late for dinner, I’m really not sure how long this can last.”
Halfway up the stairs James slipped his hands around my waist, and by the time we actually got into the dorm I’d been turned to face him and was stood much too close for efficient packing.
NEWTs were coming up fast and, after all the distractions (meaning James, really), I’d suddenly realised that I’d barely learnt anything all year and had been hitting the books big time. James had been obsessing about Quidditch and the millions of many responsibilities he seemed to have landed himself with. The world outside the walls of Hogwarts was getting darker, and thus our attempts at learning how to defend ourselves had been kick-started and our efforts doubled. In the middle of all of that, I wasn’t entirely sure when Sirius thought all these euphemisms would be occurring.
“This is rubbish,” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck, “this is like a long distance relationship.”
“Hmm.” James said, reaching forward to kiss me.
“You need to pack.”
“Lily,” James said seriously, “I’ll just levitate it all into my trunk tomorrow morning before we leave.”
“I can’t say I’m not pleased,” I said, grinning, “didn’t really feel like sorting out all your dirty underwear. But, seriously, your poor house elf.”
“If it makes you feel better,” James grinned, “I’ll fold it all after I’ve gotten home.”
“That’s acceptable,” I said, reaching up to kiss him properly.
We were, in fact, late to dinner.
“All I’ve got to go back to is my empty flat,” Sirius said, “that’s worth serious depressing points.”
“Sirius,” James said, “you’ve been invited to dinner with my parents every day.”
“Yeah,” Sirius said, “but not for breakfast. Think about how lonely that’s going to be.”
The compartment was quite clearly not big enough for all of us. Frank and Alice were squashed into one corner, practically on top of each other, and I didn’t think I’d ever been wedged so completely under James’s arm before. Sirius seemed to be taking up a disproportion amount of space, but then again he always did, whilst Remus and Peter seemed slightly uncomfortable about their close proximity.
“Frankly,” I said, “that’s nothing compared to the prospect of a week with Petunia and Vernon. I’d take the lonely breakfasts.”
“They can’t be that bad,” Alice put in.
“They are,” I assured her, “although Vernon just loves James. They set up the television together.”
“Is she ever going to tell him you’re a witch?” James asked.
“She hasn’t talked to me since I left for Christmas,” I said, resting my head on James’s shoulder and taking a deep breath, “and then … well, my Mum… I have no idea how she is either.”
It’d been all too easy to once again leave behind my family problems whilst I was at Hogwarts, and it would have been even easier to stay at Hogwarts for the Easter Holidays and not have to deal with it until summer, but I knew that definitely wasn’t the right thing to do. That didn’t mean I hadn’t been dreading the prospect of leaving the castle and stepping out into the real world since the 9th of March, though.
“What about you, Alice?” Sirius asked. “Anything to out angst us two?”
“I’m staying with Frank,” Alice smiled, “don’t fancy seeing my family all that much.”
James slowly raised his hand, grinning.
“Oh, that’s right,” Sirius grinned, “James Potter, the loser of our whose-going-to-have-the-worst-Easter-holiday, because he lives in a mansion with the two best parents the planet’s ever seen. Share some of the luck around, would you?”
“You’re all invited over, you prat,” James said, “stop complaining and get excited. Sleepover at the Potters.”
“There’s no denying it’s going to be a highlight,” Sirius grinned, “but I don’t think it’s going to quite eclipse the weeks of being alone in my flat.”
“Hours upon hours with the most hideous Muggle to have ever accidentally stumbled across magic.”
“Full moon,” Remus piped up, “alone. With my mother fussing continually.”
Remus didn’t often make reference to the fact that we all knew about his so called furry little problem, but James assured me that it was sometimes the subject of jokes between the four of them when no one else was around. I thought that the fact he was willing to bring it up was progress and definitely a stamp of approval.
I tried very hard not to grin.
“Ha,” Sirius grinned, “she does do that.”
“It’s ‘Remus honey, did you sleep well?’ and it’s like, no mother, I turned into a wolf and ripped up your hydrangeas.”
“Actually,” James said, through the laugher, “that was Peter. We just couldn’t tell Mrs Lupin that without serious explanations needed.”
I wasn’t sure whether I was permitted to join in the laugher or not, but I couldn’t help the fact that I was smiling slightly. Honestly, I was still privately horrified about the fact that Remus had been putting up with that level of pain for his whole life and would continue to do so forever.
“Over summer, the morning after she asked me if I was feeling tense.”
“Tense?” Sirius repeated, beaming. “Tense. Fucking hell.”
“What did you say?” Peter asked.
“Well,” Remus grinned, “I snapped at her.”
“Delivered a few biting remarks,” James added, his whole face lit up with the amusement of it all. Sometimes I wanted to freeze his expressions and keep them forever, because he looked so truly happy and it was stunning.
The Marauders, when they were together like this, were beautiful and it reminded me just why they were so magnetic: people who accepted each other so wholly were always attractive, and their friendship was the most beautiful thing about them.
“Course,” Sirius said, “I bet she was howling with indignation after you lost your temper.”
“Oh yes,” Remus said, “really expected me to be sheepish -”
“- which is illogical,” Peter said, “given circumstances.”
“Exactly. She was dogged about getting her apology, though. My mother positively transforms when she’s angry.”
“The problem still remains,” Sirius said, “that there are endless jokes about wolves and rats and dogs, but there’s still no decent stag jokes.”
“Other than the obvious.”
“I mean, of course, there were a lot of joke about James going stag.”
“Until Doe-eyed Evans steps in,” Sirius said, grinning, “and ruins the only joke we ever had.”
“Antlers?” I suggested, “You’ve got to be able to come up with something about antlers.”
“You’d think,” James said, turning to smile at me, “but they’ve come up with nothing decent.”
“Before we leave Hogwarts,” Sirius said, “we’re going to come up with something so good, that you won’t be able to keep your antlers on.”
“Challenge accepted,” James grinned, “if not, you owe me unlimited fire whiskey.”
“I’ve got a question,” Peter said, “if we’re all – except Prongs – dreading going home so much, then why didn’t we just stay at Hogwarts?”
“Sleepover at the Potters,” Sirius deadpanned, grinning as he nudged me with his foot, “Evans can’t wait.”
I arrived at my so called home with the high of James’ goodbye having not quite worn off (ten minutes of solid kissing, James being lovely and Sirius gagging very loudly in the background; no more than I could expect, really) which pushed back some of the dread of entering my house after such a long period of time.
Mum answered the door. And she was drunk.
I could tell that straight off from the hazy way she smiled at me, even without her stepping forward to envelope me in a hug and the sweet, sickly taste of alcohol hanging around her. Oh God.
“Lily,” Mum said, quietly, “There’s a bit of an issue…”
“Issue?” I asked, my voice emerging my throat all wrong. I sounded much too bright.
“Petunia told Vernon,” Mum said, “that you’re a witch.”
She whispered the final word, ushering me in through the doorway. I blinked at her. My mother had never acted even slightly ashamed of the fact that I was magical before – it had been all I could do not to have her telling all our family friends – and suddenly she was whispering about it in our own house.
“Mum,” I said, placing my trunk in the corridor and straightening up, “so what if I’m a witch?”
“Shush!” Mum said, her fingers closing over my wrist as she pulled me towards the kitchen. “Petunia’s only just stopped crying.”
“What?” I asked sharply. “Did he leave her?”
“No,” Mum said, pulling me into a seat in the kitchen. There was a bottle of wine open on the kitchen table. I wanted to pull out my wand and smash it into a thousand pieces. “Petunia had gotten it into her head that he would leave her if he knew, but I insisted…” Mum glanced at the wine bottle. My hands reached out and clenched the wood of the table. “Anyway, Vernon didn’t really know what to say, apparently, but he’s told her it’s not her fault that her sister is a -”
“Is a what?” I asked sharply.
“Well, a witch,” Mum said, glancing at the door again, “but he won’t have any of it mentioned in front of him again, and now Petunia won’t … she won’t let me talk about it in front of them. I only said that you’d be apparating to the train station but she…”
“She’s got no right,” I said heatedly, “to not let you do anything. Where is she? Is she in the living room?”
“Lily,” Mum said, eyes wide, “please.”
“No,” I said heatedly, standing up and reaching for my wand, “that’s not fair.” I pushed back the chair and found myself stalking to the living room, wand ready in my hand. Petunia had, indeed, just stopped crying.
Normally seeing her so pathetic would have produced some rise out of me, but I guessed our relationship was now so minimal that it only made me angrier. She sat facing the television Vernon had bought us, engagement ring pressed to her mouth and her eyes rimmed red.
“Petunia,” I said, “I’m home.” Petunia didn’t react. “You know,” I said, loudly, “your witch sister with her trunk and her wand and her pet cat that her wizard boyfriend bought her with wizard money, back from her magic school were she learns how to transfigure tables into pigs and jinx you until you don’t even know your name any more,” Petunia was shaking slightly, “or maybe someone’s performed some sort of memory charm on you. Maybe you’re not just being a bitch, then, maybe this is dark magic that’s making you forget that I’m your sister and you wanted to come too.”
“Lily,” Mum said, crying. Her fingers reached out and gripped hold of my arm, “stop it.”
I pulled out my wand and ran it through my fingers.
“Maybe you’ve forgotten how after first year you used to beg me to show you magic even though it was against the rules, and the fact that you seem to remember everything I’ve ever said about Azkaban and Herbology and potions. But that’s fine, Tuney, you feel free to write me out your life because Vernon doesn’t like it. Fine by me. I’m only your sister.”
“You’re not my sister.” Petunia spat, turning to look at me. Her eyes weren’t green like mine. She didn’t look anything like me. If you put us in a room together you wouldn’t guess that we were related.
Apparently, we weren’t anymore.
“Fine,” I said, “I’m going for a walk.”
“No!” Mum said, holding a hand up to her face to try and stop herself crying. “Lily, it’s late, it’s dark, it’s not safe –”
“It’s fine,” I said, “I’ve got my wand.”
Then I was out the house less than half an hour after I’d entered it.
Later I wrote both Sirius and James short letters. Mother drunk and sister decided to disown me. I’m winning on angst points this time, Sirius. And, to James, I really, really wish that you were here.
“It got worse from there on in,” I said, sat crossed legged on a sofa in one of James’s many sitting rooms facing the rest of the Marauders, “Vernon came round on Thursday. He tried to tell me that he’d be able to accept me into his family if I renounced magic. I think he was about to suggest an exorcist.”
“Nah,” James said, squeezing my shoulder as he re-entered the room with a tray of butter beers, “he’s far too uptight for any of that.”
“I kept making magic jokes,” I said, “he didn’t understand most of them, but Petunia started shaking every time. In the end, Petunia stormed out, threatened to break the statute of secrecy or have me sectioned. Mum cried a lot.”
“What a bunch of Muggles,” Sirius said, shaking his head as he took two bottles off the tray and placed them next to him.
“I think we might have collectively broken my mother’s heart.”
“My mother,” Sirius said, contemplating his bottle, “did not have a heart. If you like, Evans, you can join the disowned club – at least in part.”
“Do you have badges?” I asked. James paused at the edge of the sofa, and I relaxed into his shoulder. James was like an external source of strength whenever mind seemed to be running dry; that no longer seemed to be such an issue.
“No,” Sirius said, “but we could make some.”
“I’m partially disowned,” Remus put in, taking his own butter beer, “if you count the extendeds.”
“They can count,” Sirius ruled, nudging Remus with his foot and offering him a deep look that they probably never intended me to see, “you can be treasurer. Evans, secretary?”
“No,” I said, “I’m in too many depressing clubs as it is. Mudblood club. Ginger club –”
“- worst Head Girls ever, club,” Sirius interjected, “if rated on number of times chucked out of the library for indecency.”
“There is that,” I agreed, “god you guys are a terrible influence.”
“Damn straight,” Peter said, grinning.
“Where are we sleeping?” Remus asked.
“Ah,” James said, “right. Well, due to slightly differing circumstances this year… we’re all sleeping here.”
“Instead of in any of the hundreds of bedrooms.” Peter finished.
“Well,” James said, flushing slightly, “my parents seem to think that if we were in bedrooms, then some of us might be tempted to … oh, sod it, my parents have gotten it into their heads that if we’re all sleeping in the same room – in true sleepover style – then there won’t be any -”
“Shenanigans,” Sirius grinned, “so it’s Lily’s fault.”
“Apparently, my parents have archaic views about their teenage son’s sex life.”
“Maybe this is why it took them so long to have you,” Remus interjected, “archaism.”
“I’m entirely sure the lack of fertility was a more pressing issue,” James said, “but, I believe they’re levitating mattresses down the stairs right now. Apologies in advance for any conversation they try to make, guys, they’ve been missing you.”
“Excellent. Carolyn and Magnus with concerns about their son’s honour,” Sirius said, sitting up, “this is sure to be hilarious.”
“Behave, Sirius.” James warned. He leant against the arm of the sofa and I wrapped my arms around him without really meaning too, breathing him in and closing my eyes for a second.
“Always,” Sirius grinned.
“Don’t tell my parents,” James whispered, climbing over Peter and onto the sofa.
I smiled and shifted over to make room for him.
The world was so crazy and horrible; I hadn’t realised it was possible for my family to fall apart even further after my Dad died, or that best friends could die and other best friends could be ordered to kill you, that the world could hate you because of how you were born and that teenagers could murder and hurt.
I’d thought I was going to be a downer on the whole sleepover (an apparent Marauder tradition, that I was now allowed to participate in), but I’d found myself being sucked into their fun and edgy happiness that existed despite everything.
James was so lucky, but I thought that even if he wasn’t this lucky, he’d still have his own source of happiness that he could fall back on. A private generator fuelled by their friendship, I guessed.
“James,” I said, closing my eyes and feeling him breathing behind me – his chest rising and falling and his breath against the back of my neck – “James, I love you.”
James’s arms tightened around me for a second. Then, he was sitting up slightly and leaning over me. His eyes were impossibly bright considering how dark it was. James was dazzling.
“Are you serious?” James asked, not quite smiling, but very nearly.
“Yes,” I said, my stomach turning over slightly. Love was scary and unpredictable and, seemingly, could happen to just about anyone, but apparently James Potter could make me happy even when there were a million reasons not to be happy, and I felt like there was a chance I could be happy forever if he didn’t leave. And I didn’t think he was going to. “I’ve missed you a lot this week,” I breathed, “and it doesn’t seem so shitty now that you’re here.”
“Lily,” James said, properly grinning this time, “I have been waiting for you to say that for years.” James’s nose brushed against mine for a second. “Obviously, I love you too. But we both knew that.”
“Hmmm,” I said, and then he kissed me. “I’m scared.”
“Advice,” James said, “don’t deal with the fear by turning into an idiot, levitating your object of affection’s best friend and trying to blackmail them into a date. Sadly, it’s a largely disproven method of wining someone over.”
“I think you’d definitely be won over if I did that to Sirius.” I smiled.
I closed my eyes and pressed my forehead against James’s chest.
I’d told Sirius that a line would be drawn under my grieving process with those words, but I was surprised with how okay that felt all of a sudden. It wasn’t like Mary or my Dad were going to be forgotten or that they didn’t matter anymore, but life just didn’t stop and I’d changed so much this past year… I almost didn’t recognise myself. And I was so unbelievably tired of being broken and feeling unfixable, when all I wanted to do was wrap my life and James and be okay. It still hurt that people had died and there was a war and my sister hated me, but I was a survivor. I could deal with this. It didn’t define me anymore.
I’d said goodbye to Mary in my head over and over, each time believing it would stick, but now was the time for one last repeat. It felt good to be done with it.
I did what you challenged me to do. I fell in love. I loved you. I miss you. I let you go. I grieved, I lived, I moved on. Goodbye, Mary. Thank you for everything.
The update too longer than I planned... but, this is a chapter so full of fluffy bantery goodness (and a bit of drama) that I hope you forgive me? This chapter has been beta'd by the lovely mutt n' feathers! Thanks for reading guys, you're great!
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