Chapter 24 : Christmas Day
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Gorgeous CI by heartfelt. @ TDA
Chapter 24 - Christmas Day
Lily tiptoed down the stairs, Alice and Belle right behind her. She kept her wand close to her body, not allowing the light shining from the tip to travel farther than a foot or so. They were a few steps away from the main floor and Lily was pleased that they’d managed to stay quiet enough to avoid waking Mr. and Mrs. Potter. Mere seconds after that thought tumbled through her mind Belle let out a muffled shriek from behind them. Lily whipped around, the image of Bellatrix instantly flashing through her memory. She let out a sigh as she realized that no one was attacking Belle, and crossed her arms in front of her.
“Why on earth did you scream?” Alice snapped.
“It was ze cat,” Belle answered, pointing toward the top of the staircase. Lily moved her wand a bit, and could just make out her pale-amber kitten as it darted up the remainder of the stairs.
“Because kittens are so terrifying?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at the blonde.
“He rubbed against my feet! I ‘ardly expected him to be zere and it surprised me!” Alice and Lily giggled at their friend, who let out an undignified huff. Lily turned back, smiling at Belle who (despite her best attempt) couldn’t pretend to be mad for more than a few seconds. Once the blonde finally smiled back, Lily turned from her and they finished their descent onto the ground floor, then maneuvered through the living room and into the kitchen. Lily waved her wand at the lanterns and brought them to life, small flames pulsing behind the glass.
After the flames grew large enough to illuminate the entire room, the girls set to work digging through recipe cards that Mrs. Potter kept in a cupboard near the sink. Lily let a yawn escape, which was passed over to Alice and ended with all of them taking turns trying to stifle the contagious things. It was just past five in the morning on Christmas Day, and their bodies obviously weren’t adjusted to waking at such an early hour. But it was worth being up, because they’d decided the night before to surprise Mr. and Mrs. Potter with breakfast. James’s parents had done so much the last few days... the last few months, really.
After Healer Knowles allowed James and Lily to leave St. Mungo's the Potters had invited the entire group − all eight of them − over to their home. This way they could spend Christmas Eve and Christmas together. Lily was sure that Olivia and William realized the group would be worried the second they left the hospital, so having them all at the house eased everyone’s minds. Still, all of them being underfoot couldn’t be convenient. Lily knew breakfast probably wasn’t the biggest ‘thank you’ ever, but it was at least something they could do.
The girls finished choosing the recipes, then began dancing around one another to rifle through cupboards and gather ingredients. A large pile formed as they placed everything they’d need on one section of the merlot colored counter. After a few arguments to decide if something was actually necessary or not, they were finally ready to cook. Eggs were cracked into bowls, scoops were measured, and milk was spilled, but they trudged along.
Belle finally got the pancake batter to cooperate and was stirring it carefully, her face streaked with flour, as Lily fiddled with the flame for the oven. Olivia had a passion for Muggle cooking, so she had quite an odd set up for the stove. It took the girls a few minutes to figure out, but once they did it was actually a rather genius idea. There were five ceramic jars hanging above the unit, each with a flame in them. Four of those controlled the cooking on the stove top and regulated the temperatures by the size of the flame, then the last one mastered the oven and worked the same way. It took them some experimenting, but they were finally able to get it all burning at just the right degree.
Once the French toast was spread out over a copper skillet, the pancakes dribbled into another, and an egg casserole cooking in the oven, the girls finally took a moment to tidy up around them. Lily began putting away the unnecessary ingredients while Belle and Alice set to work washing and drying the dishes.
“You know, I’m pretty impressed with us,” Alice said, leaning against the sink and drying off her soapy hands. Lily poured another steaming cup of tea from the pot, then hopped up on the counter and let her legs dangle toward the ground. She didn’t want to admit it, but her body was feeling much weaker than it ought to.
“And I zink it didn’t take us too very long,” Belle added. They all glanced toward the giant clock sitting in the corner. As if on cue, it bellowed out six deep, powerful chimes. No, it really hadn’t taken them long at all. Especially considering that none of them were great at cooking. Lily loved baking, but had trouble with everyday meals. She supposed that’s what happened when you’re served breakfast, lunch and dinner through the majority of the year.
The smell of bacon sizzling and syrup warming over a flame for the pancakes made Lily realize just how hungry she was. She hadn’t eaten much since leaving the hospital early yesterday, but being hungry was a good sign. It meant her body was feeling closer to normal than it had since the attack. She was actually slightly astonished by how well she was taking everything. Maybe her body wasn’t completely back to normal yet, but her mind didn’t seem as messed up as she would have thought. True, she’d had a few nightmares the last few nights, but those had been a problem since her parents' accident. Now, instead of watching the car crash over and over in her sleep, she was seeing the twisted face of Bellatrix Lestrange. Which was actually a bit better than reliving the death of her parents.
It was odd, but in a way she nearly felt relieved about the whole thing. Almost like she felt satisfied that the attack on Beowulf tied into the one on her and James; now they knew they didn’t have to continue convincing themselves that the owl’s interception had been nothing. It had happened for a reason and now that reason had come to a head. They’d been cornered and attacked by one of the most terrifying women imaginable, and they lived through it. Would they have survived without Sirius and Belle? Absolutely not. They were lucky that their friends had ended up coming the night before. Lucky that Christophe had been called to the Leclairs’ and Sirius had punched him, because that brought them to Swansea.
Even if they’d mainly survived on luck, at least they knew now to be aware. They could protect themselves better. Knowing that they weren’t safe really was more of a comfort than trying to force themselves to believe they were.
“What’s going on in there?” Alice asked, tossing a dry rag at Lily.
“Sorry,” she said, shaking her thoughts from her mind. “I was just thinking, I suppose.”
“About zat steamy night you and James shared?” Lily’s cheeks flickered from cream to pink at her friend’s words.
“I knew I shouldn’t have told you two,” she grumbled.
Alice smirked, or tried to. On her face it looked more like a silly smile. “Yeah right, you couldn’t not tell us anything. So, do you think that you and James will...you know... soon?”
“I think I humiliated myself,” Lily answered, not even wanting to remember the night and how forward she’d been.
“You did not ‘umiliate yourself. James spent ze entire next morning drooling over you while you were getting ready for ze wedding. It really was a tad pa’zetic, poor boy. ” The girls broke into a hushed round of giggles, and Lily couldn’t stop herself from being pleased about the idea of James wanting her.
“I just don’t know how any of this is supposed to work, I guess,” she answered after they all quieted down. “I wish my mum was still here so I could talk to her about it.” The familiar sense of pain washed through her, but it passed quickly. Her mum was gone, and so was her dad. It was a fact that could still break her if she let it, but she learned to allow the agony sweep through her then shooed it away. She had to let herself feel it, or else she’d risk burying everything, but she didn’t have to let it overtake her.
“Well, that’s why you have us,” Alice said, stepping over to Lily and placing a hand on her arm.
“Do you wish you would ‘ave done it zat night? Zough, I’d rather not zink about it ‘appening so close to where I was sleeping.” Just like that, Belle managed to diffuse the rest of the tension in Lily.
She thought for a moment about her answer. Most of her knew that she was happy it hadn’t happened that night, because James was right when he talked about what she wanted her first time to be like. But that didn’t mean she didn’t want it to happen. She was about to tell her friends just that when the sound of creaking stairs stole their attention.
“Girls?” Mrs. Potter said as she lifted her wand and gave it a few flicks. The oil lamps that filled the living room were all set ablaze, and the small candles tucked throughout the Christmas tree sprung to life. Lily would never get over how gorgeous the Potters’ home was at Christmas time. It was beautiful any time of the year, warm and inviting despite the size, but the huge evergreen tree full of golds and reds really was a sight to see.
“What are you doing awake so early?” The older woman’s voice was still heavy with sleep, her dark hair crumpled.
Lily slid off the counter, stepping aside so the platters of food were visible. “We wanted to make breakfast, Mrs. Potter. There’s warming charms on everything, so we can wait until everyone is awake.”
The skin around Olivia’s eyes crinkles up as she smiled. She finished tying the belt of her night-dress, then made her way over to kitchen and pulled the three of them in for a group hug.
“That was incredibly thoughtful of you all.” She kissed their cheeks, then glanced from Belle to Lily. “My boys and Frank are very lucky to have you girls, aren’t they?”
Lily wasn’t surprised when she felt her face heat up. She always blushed, and knew when to expect it. What did surprise her was the glow of pink forming in pools under Belle’s skin. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen Belle blush...
She supposed her French friend hadn’t thought that Mrs. Potter would know there something was going on between her and Sirius, though it was pretty difficult to miss. She wondered for a moment if she should break the silence, but Belle managed to shake herself out of her temporary muteness.
“Yes, I suppose zey are, aren’t they?” she replied, her lips curving into a smile that matched Olivia’s. Belle had never said that she and Sirius weren’t together, but if Lily wasn’t mistaken, this may have been the first time she really acknowledged something between them.
Lily was sure neither Belle nor Sirius would ever actually ask the other where their relationship stood, but she didn’t think they needed to. Ever sense the blonde had started willingly spending time with the group, she and Sirius just seemed to understand one another. Lily suspected that would carry over to any sort of romance. It seemed fairly likely that they’d never feel it essential to define their relationship.
“Thank you again for letting us all stay, Mrs. Potter,” Alice said, and the woman pulled her into another hug.
“Having all of you here does more joy for my heart than I can say. Lily, you’re sure you feel strong enough to be up and about?” Her all knowing eyes turned to Lily, and she gave a convincing smile and nod. Well, what she thought was convincing.
“How about you girls go get comfortable on the sofas. I’ll make another pot of tea, or maybe some cocoa, and we’ll relax until the rest of the house wakes up. I have a few new novels. Maybe we can all read a while,” Olivia suggested.
Curling up in one of the blankets with a book in hand and a steaming mug of cocoa sounded just perfect to Lily. They all agreed, not needing to be told twice.
“Girls?” Olivia said, reaching forward and taking Lily’s hand in her soft, slender one. “I really am so happy to have you all here. Merry Christmas.”
A bright tune flitted through the house, coming out of a few decorative elves bewitched to sing. The music was lovely, but for the most part it was drowned out by all the voices filling the rectangular table and the clinking of silverware. James hadn’t been lying when he told them about the Christmas dinner his parents held. It could probably rival Hogwarts’s feast.
“You take some more of that, dearie,” Augusta Longbottom said, scooping another heap of mashed potatoes onto Alice’s plate. “You’re looking a bit too thin lately.
“Oh Augusta, leave the poor girl alone,” came William’s booming voice, causing the two adults to get tangled up in friendly banter. Alice glanced across the table at Lily, all the redhead could do was give her an apologetic smile. She wasn’t sure just how Frank’s mum had managed to get herself seated next to the brunette, but it certainly wasn’t by choice of the latter.
James leaned over toward Lily and she arched her neck so he was able to whisper into her ear. “You know, rumor has it that once you have my mum’s Christmas feast, you’ll never be able to keep from coming back.”
“Is that so?” she asked, faking a curious tone. “I suppose I’ll just have to try and keep you around. You know, only for your mum’s delicious cooking.”
James’s laughed. It was a happy sound, nearly identical to his father’s.
“So Remus’s mum and dad are friends with Peter’s mum?” Lily asked once James directed his attention back to her. She looked out of the corners of her eyes at the three adults down the table, who seemed very into a conversation. Lily was certain they were more familiar with one another than just the yearly gathering.
“Sort of. Remus’s dad delivers the lantern oil to shops and some wealthier families that don’t want to go out and buy it. They get it cheaper for purchasing a lot at a time too, I think. Every day Remus’s dad goes around to different wizarding villages throughout Britain and does the deliveries. Well, Peter’s mum recently moved into a flat above a joke shop. Not one in Diagon Alley, it’s a smaller village than that. But he delivers the oil to that shop, and she sees him most days that he’s there. I think they chat a while and stuff, and sometimes Remus’s mum will go with his dad on the deliveries and then spends the afternoon with Mrs. Pettigrew.”
Lily kept her eyes on James’s expressions as he answered. He seemed much happier than he’d been earlier, his quiet mood having lifted considerably. She’d mentioned James’s sort of detached attitude to Remus a few hours before dinner, and he suggested just letting it blow over. He told her that it was hard for James to not blame himself when bad things happened, but that talking to him while he was feeling like that wouldn’t do any good.
She’d taken Remus’s advice, and also made sure to be extremely upbeat around James to show him that she was perfectly fine; nothing about what happened was his fault. She was relieved that the mood seemed to be wearing off, and they’d spent the majority of dinner joking with one another and the rest of the table. Maybe she’d convince him to talk about what had been bothering him tomorrow or something, that way he could get it out in the open and she could make it clear that not for a second did the blame of the attack belong on his shoulders. He was the only reason she was still alive. If he hadn’t been with her...
“All right friends, I’d like to make a toast,” William said, standing from his seat at the head of the table and interrupting Lily’s train of thought. “I just want to thank you all for being with us this evening. In past years, this was always a way to get our boys together during the Holidays so they didn’t mope around like the whiny little things they are-”
“Dad,” James interrupted.
“Well, not as whiny anymore as they used to be,” he said with a wink. “But what I’m saying is, what started out as an idea to make sure the boys got an evening together over the Holidays, became something my wife and I look forward to every year. I know we don’t all see much of each other in the surrounding months, but when this day comes around and we’re all eating my wife’s impeccable cooking and catching up with one another... well, it’s something that I’m blessed to be part of.” A bottle of champagne lifted itself in the air and began going from person to person filling their flutes. “Thank you friends for being here to celebrate Christmas with us.” He lifted his glass for a toast, and the rest of the table lifted theirs as well. Just as Lily was about to take a sip, James reached up and pulled her flute from her.
She turned to him to ask why he’d taken her drink, then noticed that Frank had done the same to Alice and Sirius to Belle.
“What-” she started, but was cut off as Olivia opened her mouth. Instead of words coming out, there was some sort of chiming music. Augusta tried to speak as well, and the tune of Jingle Bells came pouring out. They all tried to talk at once, and a loud cluster of different Christmas tunes filled the house.
“Thank you, thank you,” James said, standing. Sirius got up as well, followed by Remus, Peter and Frank.
Sirius beamed at them all, then spoke loudly enough to be heard over the music. “This year’s prank has been bought to you by none other than: James Potter, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Frank Longbottom, and of course myself, Sirius Black. We hope you enjoy your next few minutes of singing. If you’d like to thank us for pulling such a delightful gag on you all, we accept sweets and butterbeer as tokens of your appreciation.”
It seemed everyone had realized that they’d fallen right into the boys’ trap, and the only person left looking truly annoyed was Augusta. But Lily was certain she usually looked annoyed. She couldn’t help herself, and joined in on the fun of trying to coax the parents into talking. Angie and John Lupin seemed to be enjoying it the most, taking turns singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer back and forth to one another.
“Hey,” James said, leaning into her. “I have a present for you.” She waited for a moment, expecting him to pull out some sort silly thing to go along with his prank, but instead he stood from the table. She glanced around, and after deciding they wouldn’t be missed, stood and followed him out of the dining area and toward the Christmas tree.
“I didn’t say anything this morning because I didn’t want you to open it in front of everyone.” He reached toward the back of the tree and pulled out a pillow sized box. The silver paper covering it was wrinkled and ripped in places, pieces of tape trying to hold it together. Something about that, the proof that James had wrapped it himself, warmed Lily’s heart.
“Wait, I have something for you too. It’s up in my room, though,” she said as he plopped down onto the overstuffed chair, the present in hand.
“Well well, Lily Evans. I didn’t know we were giving each other those kinds of presents, but I suppose that’s okay with me.”
She crossed her arms, copying the face her mother always used to make when she or Petunia had said something completely ridiculous.
“Only kidding,” he added, his arms up in mock surrender.
“You wait right here, I’ll go grab it.” She didn’t stick around to hear his response, but ran off toward the curving staircase. She had to slow down after a few steps, her body feeling shaky, and held the railing carefully as she climbed to the first floor. Once she made it to her room, she moved the careful stacks of clothes from her trunk and pulled out one relatively large parcel, and another small one. She turned to leave the room and had just gotten to the door when she sighed. After a second’s thought, she walked back over to her trunk and replaced the clothing she’d removed. This wasn’t her room in the Heads’ Quarters... she couldn’t just leave it a mess and wait until she had more time to clean it.
After tidying up to her own satisfaction, she finally left the room and crept back down the stairs. William’s voice was easy to hear from the next room over, but it seemed like he was the only one who’d gotten back his ability to speak.
“James,” she said as she reached his chair, only to find him with eyes closed tight and head flopped back. “James Potter, I know you aren’t sleeping.” She waited a moment, resisting the urge to flick his nose, then let out a theatrical sigh. “Fine, I suppose I’ll just give this brilliant present to someone else. Now if I could just find Remus...”
“Don’t even think about it,” James said, laughing as he sprang back up in the chair. “Sit with me.” She squeezed herself in next to him, enjoying the heat radiating from his body. She’d give almost anything just to curl up and fall fast asleep...
“Here, open yours,” he prompted, passing the silver parcel to her. She’d always loved presents, and didn’t need to be told twice as she ripped into the twinkling paper. A piece got away from her and hit the ground. Then, out of nowhere, her kitten came darting in and attacked it like it was the last mouse on earth.
“You get that scary piece of paper, you tough kitty,” she cooed before turning back to her present.
It seemed kind of like a blanket, but not a blanket at the same time. The deep purple fabric was nearly transparent, but in her hands it felt heavy, like a down duvet. She unfolded it, surprised when the color started swirling around in itself.
“It’s something that I started working on a few months ago,” James began explaining, talking faster than usual. “I thought of the idea over the summer actually, but it took a lot more time than I originally thought. The guys all helped, and Alice and Belle.” She lifted it up and wrapped it around her shoulders, surprised that it did actually feel quite warm despite the thinness of it. But there was something else... almost a kind of energy coming from it.
“I don’t...” she started, not knowing what to say. It was gorgeous, absolutely beautiful, but she still couldn’t figure out if it was just a blanket or not.
“It’s for sweet dreams,” he continued, and pulled it completely around her. “Pretend you’re about to go to sleep and imagine something sad or scary.”
She did what he asked and closed her eyes, taking a few breaths like she was just getting ready to lay down for the night. It didn’t take much prodding for the face of Bellatrix to come crashing in. The woman’s nearly black eyes so cold as they drilled into Lily, the way she’d taunted Lily, trying to force her to relinquish the hold on her own life... the memory playing out before her became fuzzy and whirled into a mixture of colors on its own accord, and when it reformed the deranged witch was gone. Instead, the faces of Belle and Alice were dancing around her, both of them laughing as they trudged through the snow. She watched herself turn around, a few feet ahead of her friends, and say something that had both girls nearly doubling over with laughter.
After a few seconds Lily realized that the memory was from a month or so ago when they’d been walking out to Herbology. She opened her eyes and blinked away the images in her mind, still somewhat distorted when she began speaking. “James... how did you...”
“I got the idea when you were having really bad dreams about your parents. I wanted there to be some way that, when the bad dreams started happening, something could replace them with good ones. We all put loads of our happy memories in the blanket, so you should have enough to last a lifetime. I thought that it would be sort of useless now that you haven’t been having nightmares much anymore, but then after the other night...” A mask crept into James’s eyes, and he turned away from her.
“James, it’s perfect. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen,” she whispered, taking his hand and trying to get him to come back to her. When the feeling of detachment didn’t disappear, she decided now was as good of a time as any to bring it up. “I know you’ve been upset the last few days about everything that happened and have decided that, for some unknown reason, you should take responsibility. What happened to us was... well, I can’t even describe it. But James, nothing about it was your fault. If you keep blaming yourself I’m going to start getting angry.” He glanced back over at her, probably to see if there was truth behind her words.
“I’m not trying to be... to seem like there’s something wrong. I’m really happy you’re okay, Lily.” He tried to pull her into him, but she stiffened up.
“No. That isn’t how it works. You can’t be happy that I’m okay and try and make me feel better, but then keep putting this misplaced guilt yourself. What happened was neither of our faults, and if you’re going to say it was yours, I might as well think it was mine, too.”
“It wasn’t you she came for,” he said, his tone too quiet. “It was me. And if she-” he cut himself off, his body tensing beside hers.
He stayed silent for a moment, then smiled up at her. “You’re right. I’ll try and stop blaming myself,” he agreed, but there was still something else there. He was keeping something from her.
“James, if you want to tell me something, anything...” He glanced down at his fingers as she spoke, then back up at her.
“I will. But later, okay?” She nodded at his answer, not wanting to get into an argument about it right then. She knew whatever it was he wasn’t telling her would gnaw at her, but it was Christmas. It wasn’t the day to dwell on this kind of thing.
“This blanket... it’s really incredible,” she said softy, deciding a change of subject was probably best. “How did you do it? What kinds of charms did you have to use? Everything about it just feels so... magical.”
His serious expression lit back up, and he simply shook his head, refusing to tell her the secret behind it. She couldn’t imagine the kind of magic that it would have taken to make it happen, the amount of work he must’ve put into it... She decided to break the rule she’d just made about not hugging him while he was blaming himself and leaned forward, slipping her arms around his neck.
“It’s perfect, James,” she whispered, letting their embrace linger for long enough to have her wanting more.
“Okay, my turn!” His hand snaked over Lily’s lap to the bigger of the two presents. Oh, why did he have to pick that one first, Lily thought as she chewed on her lip. She tucked a red strand back behind her ear, annoyed at the loose piece for getting in her eyes, then tried to put on a brave face.
He tore open the paper just as haphazardly as she had, which of course brought Butterscotch back to attacking the balls of shiny rubbish. She was tempted to close her eyes, unsure if she wanted to see his reaction or wanted to hide from it. Time ran out for her to decide as his gaze fell upon the canvas that was now free of all its wrapping.
“Did you...?” he asked, glancing up at her. The admiration in his face brought a wave of reassurance through her, and she nodded.
“Lily. It’s amazing. Well, you know that, you did it.” He stayed focused on the painting, and though Lily wasn’t leaning over his shoulder, she could picture it perfectly. She’d spent every free hour she could get away with on the piece of art, wielding the brush and strokes of oil paint as carefully as possible. A few times she’d made an error and had been tempted to use magic to correct it, but always resisted. Painting wasn’t about perfection, but about getting emotion into something that couldn’t speak for itself. She knew his eyes were scanning along the stag, something she’d wanted to paint ever since she’d witness his Patronus in Professor Dumbledore’s office. She watched his gaze follow the lines of the trees that the stag stood in front of, the dark greens and browns housing the silver animal perfectly.
“Here, open this one too,” she said, placing the small box on his lap. He stared at the painting for one last second before moving it carefully to the side then picked up the gift, pulling the wrapping off with steady fingers. He reached inside and retrieved a Golden Snitch with a date carved into it.
“It’s not the one from the match. I wanted it to open to your touch, so I got a new one. There’s something inside of it, but you can’t look. You have to wait until I’m not with you anymore. And that’s the date that Gryffindor won the match,” she added, pointing to the loopy numbers.
“And the day you kissed me in the hospital wing,” James said, smiling as she blushed. “These are incredibly, Lily. I can’t believe you painted this.” He turned back to the picture and Lily saw it again for the first time since she’d finished wrapping it. She realized that she was rather pleased with how it came out. Some of her coloring for the forest was a bit off, but the stag was just as Lily had wanted it. He was proud but graceful, strength and purity all mixed into his stance.
“I know this Christmas is probably really different for you,” James continued, placing all three of their gifts on the table in front of them then pulling Lily closer to him. “And with everything that happened, I didn’t think there was any way that it was going to be a good one. But this might be the best Christmas I’ve ever had.”
Lily felt her heart melt at his words. She’d have to ask one of her friends if they knew the charms James had used on her duvet, because this was one memory she really wanted to include. She tilted her chin up, meeting her lips with his and losing herself in their kiss.
“Happy Christmas, James,” she whispered when they parted. Even though it was the first Christmas without her parents and they’d been attacked just days ago, it was still more wonderful than she ever could have imagined.
Hi guys! As always, thank you to my wonderful beta, CambAngst! I also want to thank Arithmancy_Wiz for her always helpful reviews. She offered some invaluable suggestions in this chapter and I just want to hug her for them!
I told you all that the Death Eaters weren't invited to Christmas! I hope you guys liked the lighter chapter. We needed on after the last few. What did you think of their gifts to each other?
Thank you so much for reading and reviewing!
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