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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 19 : Train Rides and Memory Lane
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 11

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Perfect CI by heartfelt.@TDA
Chapter 19 - Train Rides and Memory Lane

Lily bundled her thick, ivory colored scarf tightly around her neck. After pulling her curtain of hair out from under the fabric, she slipped on a matching hat and zipped her coat up tightly. She was just stuffing her fingers into her gloves when James came darting up from behind her.

“Okay,” Lily’s boyfriend −boyfriend? It still felt so foreign for her to refer to James as that, even in her own mind − began as he ran up to her, pausing to catch his breath. Lily assumed he must’ve sprinted all the way from the Heads’ Quarters to the Entrance Hall. “Beowulf is with my luggage. I packed Scotch’s food in my bag, and you have her bed, right?”

“I have Butterscotch’s bed. I don’t know who on earth Scotch is,” Lily answered, crossing her arms. Just because Sirius and James had taken to calling her kitten by the name of a liquor, did not mean she’d play along.

“Perfect,” James said, giving Lily a smile that made it obvious he didn’t care how many times she corrected his use of the name. “I think we’re both packed, then. How long until everyone starts-”

James’s question was drowned out by the sound of noisy laughter, and he and Lily both turned to glance at the Grand Staircase. The sea of students making their way down the stone steps signaled that it was time to face the freezing air.

James grabbed the handles of the doors, glancing at Lily as he spoke a bit louder so she could hear him over the voices. “Well then, shall we?” She nodded, wiggling her fingers to make sure they were all cozy in her gloves. Just as the students were stepping onto the ground floor, James pushed open the double doors. A gust of chilly December wind blew into the castle and devoured the warm air, making Lily thankful that she’d overdressed. James held the door open, letting her go first, then they both rushed to stand alongside the path where the carriages were lining up.

Lily smiled as Mary McDonald, who had the handful of Gryffindor first years behind her, made her way down the path. “Put the students in these two,” the head girl instructed, glancing over them. “Each carriage seats five, so it should be perfect. And don’t forget, this is the first time they’ve ridden them, so you may want to remind them of the rules.” Mary nodded at Lily before escorting the wide eyed students up a few yards to the tall, black carriages waiting along the path.

James held up his wand once Mary game him the wave, and sent a shower of green sparks into the air, causing a collective ‘ohh’ from the younger years. The sparks signaled the lead carriage to move forward, and the two that had just been loaded started to roll along the path at a comfortable pace. Once those two were out of the way, James sent up another shower of sparks, only these were a vivid blue. The next two carriages came forward, and the process started all over.

The mass of students continued on, with a prefect escorting each group of first years. Once they got to the second years, things sped up considerably. The wind was just beginning to numb the tip of Lily’s nose and frost her lips when they finally reached the seventh years. She did her best not to look away as Rosier met her eyes, and she felt James tense beside her, as if he was waiting for the Slytherin to make a move. Someone else in line nudged the boy forward, and Lily was thankful for it as he continued up the path.

“There’s the group,” James said, pointing toward the end of the line. Lily stood on her tip toes trying to get a glimpse at them. Just as the unmistakable stands of Sirius’s dark hair came into view, she felt her boots slide under the snow. She reached her arm out to grab onto James and steady herself, but she was too late. Her balance had already failed and she was plummeting backwards.

“Lily!” James’s shout did nothing to ease the thump as her back hit the ground, her head half buried in the flakes.

“Lily,” came the unmistakable yell of Alice’s voice, and as Lily struggled to open her eyes she saw her friends rushing forward.

When she got past the blinding light from sun hanging over her, she could just see Sirius’s face, twisted in all sorts of angles as he tried to stop himself from laughing.

“Lily,” Alice cooed again, bending and grabbing the hat that must’ve slipped off when she fell. “Are you okay?”

She wiped away the flakes on her face and lifted her head a few inches. Her gaze landed on Sirius, who was now openly letting his laughter out with James right beside him, poorly concealing his own smirks.

She glanced at Alice and gave her a small nod, assuring her she was okay, before sitting all the way up. She took advantage of both boys being distracted and gathered a ball of snow, packing it tightly. She glanced at Remus and Peter to make sure they didn’t see her. Both boys did, but their smiles made it clear they weren’t going to warn the other two.

Before James and Sirius could compose themselves, Lily stood up and launched the ball at the back of James’s head, then grabbed another and threw it at Sirius.

“Hey!” Sirius shouted, turning around and cupping his hand over the part of his shoulder that was now covered in the frozen substance.

It was Lily’s turn to try not to laugh as James and Sirius looked at her, wearing identical expressions of confusion before they realized that it was actually her who’d thrown the snowball.

“I’d be careful, Lily,” Frank warned, stepping closer to her.

“Frank’s right,” Peter added, “they don’t often turn down a chance to retaliate...”

The words were barely out of her friends’ mouths when James came speeding toward her. She tried to leap out of the way, but his arms were already clenched around her as his body launched them both into the snow. She was once again half buried in the fluff of white, and was about to wiggle out of James’s arms when she noticed that her friends were all engaged in a full on snowball war. Maybe this was the safest place to be just now...

“Excuse me.” The sound of Professor McGonagall’s tone brought reality spinning back, and James was quickly standing up and pulling Lily along with him. “I assume all the students have been escorted into the carriages?” The deputy head mistress continued as Lily struggled to brush off the snow clinging to her coat.

“Yes, Professor,” James answered with an easy smile.

“Well then, I think you lot should be on your way.”

“Yes, Professor McGonagall,” they chorused, everyone dropping their ammunition.

“And a very happy Christmas to you all,” the transfiguration teacher added. It was one of those rare times when Lily was nearly sure that their Head of House was smiling. They all wished her a happy Christmas as well before heading off toward the two carriages that were left empty.

“I’m going to get you back for that little incident,” she whispered into James’s ear as she, James, Frank and Alice all climbed into one carriage, with the remaining five occupying the other. 

“I’d like to see you try,” he joked back as he laced his fingers through hers. “Don’t forget, I have an entire holiday to torment you now,” he added with a wink before the sounds of the wheels bumping along the cobblestones drowned out any chance of continuing the conversation.

Lily glanced out of the small window, mesmerized by the sight of the feathery snowflakes catching in the wind. A hum of excitement strengthened in her chest as they continued down the path. In a few minutes, they’d be at the Hogsmeade station, then they would be on the train back to London!

“It’s an odd feeling, watching the carriages take away the majority of our school, isn’t it?” Minerva turned as the Thestrals faded into the background, surprised to see Albus behind her.

“I can only hope it proves to be a quiet holiday for them,” Minerva answered, trying to stop herself from worrying about the children who weren’t even hers.

“I spoke with Edgar again last evening. He and Miss Meadowes have made all the necessary preparations to keep an eye on Mr. Potter and Miss Evans while they journey into Wales.”

“Did we do the right thing, Albus? Should we have told them about our concerns for their safety?” Minerva tried to hide the doubt in her voice. She knew it was too late to change anything. And having the students know about their fears wouldn’t benefit anyone. The Order had all agreed on that, and it wasn’t as if Mr. Potter and Miss Evans would be unprotected once they left London, even if the students themselves didn’t know of that protection. But Minerva still couldn’t shake the leaden feeling in the pit of her stomach that something was terribly wrong.

“We can’t ever be sure that our decisions are without fault. All we can do is act on our instincts. I trust Miss Evans and Mr. Potter will have a more enjoyable visit without the knowledge that we’re concerned.”

Minerva let out a sigh. She knew Albus was right. They had no real reason to believe Lily and James were in danger, and she supposed the attack on Beowulf had given her more stress than called for. Dorcas and Edgar would be close by and watching for anything suspicious, at least until the wedding was over and the children were safe and sound in the home of the Potters.

“They’ll all be back and roaming the corridors in two weeks’ time, Minerva. Enjoy the hours of solitude you’re so rarely given.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she finally responded, wiping a stray flake of snow away from her glasses.

Though she didn’t voice it, she knew she could never enjoy an empty castle more than a room full of students all waiting to be taught.

Lily closed the door to the prefects’ compartment, slinging her rucksack over her back and mentally going through the checklist to make sure she’d covered everything. There wasn’t very much to go over, and the meeting had only taken about thirty minutes. The bulk of the time had been used to discuss the safety guidelines that Professor Dumbledore had asked everyone to familiarize themselves with.

It was odd, briefing students on how to stay safe while they were out of the castle. Travel in pairs. Be sure proper precautions are secured around your home. Don’t accept any sort of parcel from a stranger. To Lily, it was another unwelcome reminder of the war that they all tried not to dwell on.

“Finally,” Belle said as Lily slid open the compartment door and slipped inside, finding a place among all of her friends. “I zought she was going to ‘ave a ‘eart attack or some’zing.” The blonde girl lifted a fluffy blanket up to Lily, with Butterscotch curled somewhere inside, meowing over and over.

“She’s never been on a train,” Lily reminded them, then moved the blanket back so the kitten, who seemed to be growing everyday, could see that she was there.

“Where’s James?” Sirius asked, his voice more impatient than usual.

Lily wedged herself into a seat before glancing up at her friend. “He went to patrol the train while I held the prefect meeting. He should be back soon.”

“How can we plan the annual Christmas feast if he’s off roaming about?” Sirius answered, his voice sounding like that of a whiny child.

“You don’t want to help plan the Christmas feast,” Remus said, laughing at their friend. “You know it’s nearly planned anyway. You just want him here so you can plan the annual Christmas prank.”

“Well, obviously!” Sirius agreed, mischief filling his smokey eyes.

“What’s ze annual Christmas prank?” Belle asked Alice in a hushed tone.

“Only the best part about the Holidays!” Sirius, who had evidently heard the whisper, said. “You know about the dinner, when everyone will bring the best desserts, and Remus’s dad roasts the rack of lamb, which is all lovely and junk. But then, sometime in the middle of it all, we always play a prank on everyone, when you’re least expecting it...”

Lily let her thoughts wander as Sirius continued describing the Christmas feast. Lily had never been to the Potters for one, but she’d heard so much about the dinner and pranks from James for the last month that she felt like she had.

She knew that Peter and his parents − well, probably just his mum this year − Remus and his mum and dad, Frank, Alice and Augusta, and of course Sirius, would all get together at the Potters on Christmas evening for a huge celebration and a delicious feast. Belle had even received her own invitation from Olivia, which Lily knew had really made her feel like she was welcomed into it all. Alice’s parents were always invited as well, but they made it clear that they didn’t agree with the type of dinner the Potters hosted. One that was loud and chaotic and fun. At least, that’s what James said. Then somewhere in the thick of all this celebrating, the boys would pull off a prank that, as James told her, was a sworn secret and for the boys’ ears only. Lily just hoped it wasn’t too over the top.

“You and Sirius are all set with your Portkey?” Lily asked quietly as she turned toward Belle, with Sirius still going on about Christmas to no one in particular.

“Yes. Ze Regulation of International Travel in France wrote back to me after getting it cleared zrough ze Ministry. Zere will be a Porkey waiting at ze bench by ze pond on ze Christopherson’s estate.” Lily nodded at Belle, feeling better that everything had been confirmed. Her french friend would be going home with Alice when they got off the train in London, which Lily didn’t envy her for. Alice’s parents were terrifying and easily the most pretentious people Lily had ever met. But Belle had assured Alice when she’d voiced just as much that she was very accustomed to dealing with that sort of attitude. Sirius would be going with her and James of course, then he’d Apparate to the Christopherson’s mansion tomorrow morning and he and Belle would be off.

“Are you nervous?” Lily asked, meeting her friend’s royal blue eyes.

“Yes, but not as nervous as I zought I’d be. It will be tedious. I’ll have to wait for ze proper time to tell zem zat ze only reason I’m there is to make it clear zat I am moving on with my life.”

“Can’t you just blurt it out right when they open the door?” Lily asked, wanting her friend to be able to get it all over with as soon as possible.

“No,” Belle answered with a soft laugh. “No, zat isn’t how zings are done in zeir world. And if I want to be taken seriously, and not treated like a child throwing a fit, I need to go about zis ze proper way. We will be expected to have tea and dine with zem tomorrow evening, and zen when zey move into ze parlor for evening conversation, zat will be the most acceptable time to address my reasons for coming.”

Lily let Belle’s words sift around in her mind as she thought about how thankful she was that she hadn’t been born into the same type of world as Belle... or Sirius or Alice. Even if her parents were gone, at least they’d given her enough happy memories to last a lifetime.

“And what about you?” Belle asked, leaning her head back and letting half of it rest on Lily’s shoulder. “Are you feeling nervous about seeing your sister again?”

“Oh god, thinking about it kind of makes me want to vomit,” Lily said in a joking tone, though she knew that part of her was serious. She was about to ask Belle if she thought Sirius would do all right in France, but before she could, James slid open the compartment door and the entire group broke into an animated discussion about all the things they’d do over the Holiday.

As the conversation slowly died down, Lily let herself lean against Alice, stifling a yawn. She’d been up since five in the morning, excitement and nervous energy not allowing her to sleep in. That was clearly wearing on her, and as she cuddled Butterscotch closer to her in the thick blanket, she let her eyes close. She was just going to rest them, just for a moment.

“Come on Petunia, mum left lunch out and it’s going to spoil.” Lily knocked at her sister’s bedroom door, not waiting for a reply before heading into the kitchen.

She only had a few more days before it was time to head back to Hogwarts for her fifth year of school, and she hadn’t even finished reading all the books on their supply list. She certainly wasn’t going to waste ten minutes knocking on her sister’s door.

She held her copy of ‘The Art of Advanced Potions’ under her arm as she perched herself onto a chair. Her mum had made a plate of sandwiches before leaving to go into town, and her dad was somewhere in Eastern Europe on a business trip. So it was just Petunia, Petunia’s best friend Matti, and Lily for the afternoon.

She was relieved that her mum had thought to purchase covers for her books, so now they all just looked like regular school texts. She’d had close calls in the past when Petunia had a friend over and Lily had left one of her books out. This year she’d made sure that would be avoided.

“Hi, Lily,” Matti said, smiling as she followed Petunia into the kitchen.

Half the time Lily didn’t even know how Petunia and Matti had been friends for so long. The girl was always nothing but kind, and hardly said a bad word about anyone. Which was quite the contrast to how Petunia had acted for the last three months that Lily was home. Her older sister was full of mean gossip, talking nonstop about anyone she deemed ‘weird’ in her high school. Lily knew her mum hadn’t liked what she called Petunia’s new ‘seventeen-year-old attitude’ and Lily could see why.

The last time she’d seen her sister, before this summer holiday of course, had been Christmas in fourth year, and Petunia had changed so much since then. Lily couldn’t figure out why, but she hoped that when she turned seventeen she wouldn’t start acting like such a brat.

“Hi Matti,” Lily answered with a smile as she moved her chair over so both girls could have room. “How did the film go last night?”

Matti had spent a lot of the summer at the Evans’ home, so Lily knew that she’d had a big date with someone from her high school the night before.

“Oh, not too bad, but I don’t think it went great either. He’s rather... dozy. A duffer. I never talked to him enough in school to pick up on that, though I wish I had. It would have saved me the trouble of getting all dolled up for a pointless date.”

“Lily,” Petunia said, a glare fitted over her face. “You can’t just go asking my friends about their personal lives.”

Matti interrupted before Lily could. “Be nice, Petunia. I don’t mind. So how’s school going, Lily? Are you excited to go back to Scotland?”

Lily glanced up at Petunia, who was frowning down at her lunch. She didn’t want Petunia to be cross, but she had every right to talk to someone.

“Yes, I suppose. I wish it wasn’t so long between holidays, but it will be nice to see the rest of my friends again.”

“Hah,” Petunia laughed in the sarcastic tone she’d recently picked up. “You mean other friends besides the gross boy that lives down the street?”

Lily felt her anger rise. She was about to stand up for Sev when Matti quickly intervened, changing the subject. “I’m so jealous you get to go to boarding school,” she said, taking a bite of cucumber sandwich. “I’m sure it gets tiring being there all the time, but it still seems so brill.”

“It’s not that cool, you know,” Petunia counteracted in a venomous tone. “It’s not even normal.”

“Petunia,” Lily shot, her anger evident.

“Well it’s not. It’s just a freak’s school with freaky people.”

“Why are you so mean to your sister?” Matti asked, rounding on the elder of the Evans girls. “She’s always nice to you. You spend all year talking about how terrible she is, then when she comes home she’s nothing but kind and you’re the terrible one!”

Petunia’s face lost all of its color, and Lily could tell her sister was struggling with her control.

“Petunia’s just joking when she’s mean,” Lily said weakly. Part of her didn’t even know why she was defending the girl, who really hadn’t been anything but nasty all holiday. But Lily also understood that, even if Petunia wouldn’t admit it, she’d always be jealous of the fact that Lily had something different about her. And she didn’t want her sister to feel like she had to be jealous.

“No, she’s being cruel,” Matti said, glaring at her friend. “I listen to you talk meanly about everyone else, Petunia. And I don’t say anything because I know what a nice person you really can be. But-”

“But what? If you’re so sick of me talking about people, if you think that my sister is so much better than me, why don’t you just be best friends with her?”

Petunia’s dark eyes were lined with tears, and Lily struggled to find something to put a stop to all it all.

“Maybe I should be! Everyone in your family is so nice to you, then you’re just a bloody bitch to all of them!”

Petunia’s eyes hardened. Her cheeks flaring with red. “Get out of my house,” she said in a cold tone after a second of silence. “And don’t ever speak to me again!”

Matti stood frozen for a moment, her face angrier than Lily had ever seen. “Gladly,” the girl finally spat, before standing and rushing out of the room.

“Petunia,” Lily started, hoping it wasn’t too late to talk some sense into her sister and get the other girl to come back. Lily knew that Matti was one of Petunia’s only real friends. “You had no reason to-”

“Shut up!”Petunia screamed at Lily, “just shut your mouth and stay out of my life! I never want to talk to you again, you stupid freak!”

“Lily, wake up Lily, we’re almost to King’s Cross,” James’s gentle voice brought Lily from the dream and back into the comforting compartment. She started to adjust her body, then stopped when a heaviness on her lap became apparent. She glanced down and had to stifle a laugh. Belle’s head was resting across Lily’s knees, with Alice fast asleep and squished against the wall by the two girls. Clearly they were all a bit tired that day.

She noticed Butterscotch’s empty blanket and felt a quick rush of panic at the idea that her kitten may be buried somewhere between them, but as she glanced around, trying to use what was left of the fading evening light, she could just make out the splotch of golden fur curled up on Sirius’s chest.

She thanked James for waking her before gently easing herself off of Alice. Belle was still fast asleep, and Lily tried her best not to let her movements wake her. Lily leaned back as James took his seat next to Frank and Remus on the other side of the compartment. Both those boys seemed to be awake, along with Peter.

She closed her eyes as the soothing bumps of the train carried along, and couldn’t resist playing with the golden hair spread out over her. As her fingers started twisting the blonde strands into a braid, she let her mind think back over the dream. She supposed talking about Petunia with her French friend had brought the feelings to her mind’s surface, but the memory of what had happened a few years ago wasn’t what she needed to get excited to see Petunia again.

Of course the sisters had ended up on speaking terms again, making up only a few hours before Lily left for her fifth year to Hogwarts. But as far as Lily knew, her sister never spoken with Matti again. Petunia had blamed Lily for making her lose her only best friend, and even though Lily had felt immensely guilty at the time, now she as able to look back and realize that she really hadn’t done anything wrong.

She and Petunia were never as close again, but that fight really was nothing compared to the ones that had followed. Especially the one that they’d had the summer before sixth year. And Lily couldn’t even handle thinking about that just then.

But all that was in the past. And what was important now was that they still stood a chance at reconciling. Lily wouldn’t let that chance be tainted by bad memories. She’d hurt Petunia just as much as Petunia had hurt her during their childhood, and she wouldn’t let those feelings compromise what they had the potential of building now.

“James,” Lily whispered, needing to get herself out of her own thoughts. He glanced up from whatever he was reading, using the tip of his wand for light, and she felt a rush of butterflies escape through her stomach. Why did he have to have such a perfect smile?

“Yeah?” James prompted, and Lily realized she’d just been staring at him.

“I’m really excited to be spending Christmas with you.” The way James’s entire face lit up made Lily want to go over there and curl into him. He was such a happy person... just being around him did wonders for her when she wasn’t able to get herself from whatever negative thoughts surrounded her.

“I’m really excited to be spending Christmas with you too,” he answered, thought the end of his was drowned out by a loud whistle that broke away the sleepy silence of the compartment. Lily rushed to wake up both her friends, and then told them all she’d see them on the platform as she and James left the compartment to start their patrols.

In just a few minutes, after they made sure that everyone got off the train, they’d gather their luggage and head to the platform. Then of course she’d hug Alice and Belle goodbye even though she’d see them both in under a week’s time. Then she’d go home with James, Sirius, and Mr. and Mrs. Potter. She couldn’t believe how excited she was to be spending a Christmas with them. It wouldn’t keep the memories of her parents and the fact that this was the first Christmas without them completely away, but it would help ease the pain that those memories brought.

As laughter and chatter surrounded Lily, students all making their way from their compartments, she felt her spirits rise even higher. Yes, it was her first Christmas without her family, but it was also her first with James.

And she couldn’t think of anyone else she’d rather spend it with.

Thank you, as always, to my amazing beta CambAngst. I'm sorry this chapter is shorter than usual, but I hope you still enjoyed it! Thanks for reading ♥

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