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Breaking Even by TenthWeasley
Chapter 7 : A Course of Action
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 10


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The sun was sinking fast below the distant horizon, a sliver of a golden disc over the tops of the shadow-cast houses across the street from James and Lily’s own. James used the back of his hand to brush the netted curtain aside, watching it dip lower in slow increments, painting the sky around it in soft swathes of orange and yellow and purple. They were, he thought abstractly, colors you couldn’t have gotten by magical means. They were just there, beautiful and intangible.

You sound stupid, a tiny voice in his head reminded him helpfully – it sounded rather like Sirius sometimes, that voice. Nevertheless, James smiled to himself and removed his hand, letting the curtain swing back into place. He didn’t quite know when he had grown so sentimental, noticing things like the color of the sunset. Perhaps when Lily had had Harry; perhaps when the pair of them had moved to hide in Godric’s Hollow, and life had become a bit more precious and finite than it had always seemed at Hogwarts. There was a physical ache in James that longed for those days; he felt he had grown up immensely since then, more than only three years’ worth.

Everything was so different than James had expected things to be, and it was almost difficult to make sense of everything. The house in Godric’s Hollow had been placed under strict protective spells, a cautionary measure neither of them fully understood, though Dumbledore had deemed it necessary. Their former headmaster had also heavily warned them against leaving the house too often for frivolous reasons; their duties to the Order had been lessened, but that only served to frustrate James more. He hated being cooped up, hated not being able to be as free as he liked. He was never able to tell Lily just how scared he was, scared for her and for Harry. The world was darkening; the tides were turning, and he couldn’t see in what direction.

Of course, the Potters hadn’t been the only ones to pay prices – he wasn’t stupid enough to think that he and his wife and son were the only ones whose lives had been altered by the battles that were, with frightening speed, shifting into a war. Remus looked more and more sick every time James saw him, and he knew he wasn’t the only one to notice; Peter had grown quieter and more thoughtful than he had been in school; and Sirius had become somewhat withdrawn and distant, even more so since Beth had been pulled from mission work.

And then there was Beth herself. James felt a small lump of pity well in the base of his throat, which he tried unsuccessfully to swallow down. She was one of his best friends in the world, the sister he had never had, and she had been hit hard. She had lost Severus, and he, James, wasn’t blind enough to miss how much that had hurt her. She had cared for him more than she’d been able to tell any of her friends, he knew – and now a part of him wished he had been more open to that part of her life. He and Sirius had never made it a secret that they disliked Severus Snape, just as Severus had always made it known that he despised them in return. But now he didn’t know how to help Beth in dealing with the fact that, point blank, he had had his memories of her removed. What were you supposed to say, what words of comfort could you offer, when something like that happened? Was there a precedent for this?

James sighed and removed his glasses, rubbing his eyes with the knuckle of his right index finger. He was tired of fighting, tired of having to be strong, simply because there wasn’t another way to be. He wanted his wife, and his son, and his friends, and a normal life. He had never imagined that that wouldn’t be exactly what he’d have; he wondered if he ever would.

From somewhere upstairs, a door opened, and the sound of Lily talking in a cheery, high-pitched voice reached his ears. James smiled and resettled his glasses on his nose, tilting them slightly to the left – they were a bit crooked, as Harry had recently grabbed them and found them to be a highly amusing toy, and he’d not yet had the energy to bother fixing them, though he was sure that the spell would have taken all of a few seconds, once he’d found the right one. There was the sound of slow, careful steps on the stairs, and Lily emerged at the bottom of them, Harry on her hip; James’s face instantly broke into a massive grin.

“There’s Daddy!” Lily cooed, beaming at her husband before turning her eyes back on Harry. Harry giggled, a bit of drool already glistening on his chin – he was quite adept at drooling, and could scarcely be held without soaking whoever was holding him.

“What’s so funny about Daddy, then?” James asked with mock sternness, pouting exaggeratedly in his son’s direction. Harry giggled again and stretched his arms in his father’s direction, thumping his right leg against his mother’s ribs.

“Da!”

“Come on,” James coaxed, reaching his own arms out, though his fingers were still inches away from Harry. “Say ‘Daddy’! You can do it, Harry-boy! ‘Daddy’!” The baby blew a raspberry, another talent of his, and kicked Lily again.

“Ow,” she laughed, wincing. “Here, James – take him before he cracks a rib.” She passed Harry into James’s arms, where he instantly reached up and made a swipe for his father’s glasses. James stopped the assault just in time.

“You’ve done enough damage to these, haven’t you?” he said, again pretending to be stern, and laying his forehead against his son’s. Harry responded by drooling once more. “Charming,” James laughed. “You’ll be a real hit with the ladies at school, I’m sure.”

“Unlike his father,” Lily retorted sarcastically, slumping onto the loveseat facing James and Harry and smirking.

“Oi! I got you, didn’t I?” James gently set Harry down on the carpet and watched him make a crawling beeline for his wooden hippogriff pull toy, half-hidden behind the loveseat. James sat down beside Lily and smirked over at her.

“Small miracles,” she teased, leaning over and kissing him lightly on the lips. He pretended to look affronted, even while his stomach flipped happily. He didn’t think he would ever get used to this: The looks, the teasing, the kisses. A small part of him still didn’t quite believe that he had been so lucky as to have Lily fall in love with him.

James and Lily looked over at a gurgling noise from their son; Harry had picked up the largest hippogriff of the wooden line, the rest dangling helplessly from their strings as he hoisted it in his small hands and began gumming its head. More drool pooled on his red-and-gold-striped sleepsuit. “He’ll drown,” James said mildly, and Lily reached over and whacked him in the stomach with the back of her hand. He doubled over, as though in great pain.

“And you wonder why he likes me best?” she laughed.

“Nope,” James grinned proudly. “He’s his father’s boy.” He ran a hand through his hair to ruffle it – a long-ingrained force of habit he no longer took note of. Lily’s cheeks turned pink, and she lightly hit him in the stomach again, which only made him act again as though she’d caused him great anguish. Harry gurgled from his little patch of carpet.

“Harry, what is that?” Lily moved from off the couch to kneel next to him, and James followed instinctively. "What're you holding, buddy? Can you say ‘hippogriff’?”

“Guff!” Harry said proudly, removing the wooden hippogriff from his mouth and handing it to his mother. James crawled over to the baby and scooped him up onto his lap, trying to pretend he had not just wrapped his hand around one of Harry’s soaking wet sleeves; there were some things that no longer bothered him, now he was a dad, and touching unsightly substances was high on this list, if only from numerous occasions to practice.

“Can you walk, Harry?” He stood Harry up on his legs, holding him firmly still under the shoulders. Harry’s legs wobbled beneath him, and he plunked right back down onto the carpet. He turned and gave his father a toothy grin, and James couldn’t help but smile back. “Your mummy says you have to be really good at walking before you ride a broom,” he whispered slyly, knowing full well that Lily could hear every word.

“It is going to be a long, long time until he goes anywhere near a broom!” Lily said firmly, though a grin lifted the corners of her lips. Harry’s head swiveled back around to her; he looked rather confused, which was, in James’s eyes, an extremely funny expression on a baby’s face.

“Sirius will have a say in that,” James pointed out, as Harry wriggled himself free of his father’s hands and began crawling away towards a stuffed dragon lying beneath the window James had stood in front of earlier, the hippogriff pull toy forgotten beside his mother. Lily scooted back over to James and, once more, laid her head against his shoulder; they watched Harry attack his softer target.

“I hate being shut up like this, Lils.”

James didn’t know he was going to say it, and instantly regretted doing so; he didn’t want to spoil this family moment with his own worries. Lily shifted beside him, and he could sense, rather than see, her green eyes studying him closely. She let out a small sigh, the breath tickling his cheek.

“I know,” she said. “I know you do.” She laced her fingers with his, pressing closer to his side, and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, hit with a sudden, inexplicable urge to clutch her tightly to him.

“It’s just –“ he began in frustration, and ran his free hand through his hair again, making it stand on end even more. He couldn’t even begin to articulate everything he was feeling: The anger at whoever had done this to them, the sadness at not getting to live out his life in the normal, wonderful way he had envisioned nearly two years earlier, pledging to love Lily until death parted them.

James would never say this to her – but he was afraid, so afraid, of how long that truly meant. He had to grow old with Lily, watch Harry grow up, watch their other children grow up… He had only just begun living. And this, sitting on the carpet in the sitting room of a tiny house in a tiny village, wasn’t life.

“I love you, James.” Lily’s voice was quiet but firm, and this time, he did look down to meet her eyes as they bored into you. He didn’t realize he’d been quiet for as long as he had, wrapped up in the thoughts he would never let pass his lips. So he said the only thing that made sense to him at the moment.

“I love you, Lily.”

*

James made sure that nothing he said for the rest of the night strayed anywhere near the seriousness of his thoughts; he wasn’t stupid enough to think that Lily wasn’t just as scared as he was, but he needed to be brave for her. That was something he didn’t question. He distracted himself instead by playing with Harry (and preempting one of Harry’s frequent attempts to pester the Potters’ cat, whose tail the infant was fond of yanking) and helping Lily put him to bed. By the time he had descended the stairs again, as quietly as possible, she was already in the kitchen, putting on the kettle for a last mug of tea before they, too, retired for the night.

“Honey?” she asked over her shoulder, before James had even taken the time to sit down.

“Don’t like honey, thanks,” he responded automatically; he frowned a bit, knowing that she knew this, but figured she was as tired as he was. However, when Lily turned around and pushed a mug at him, she was grinning.

“I mean, James,” she laughed, and he grinned back abashedly. Lily tilted her head to one side and toyed with the string of the teabag in her own mug. “Is something the matter?”

“It’s like I said,” he told her, gnawing a bit on his bottom lip. Suddenly, he didn’t really feel like drinking a cup of tea. “I don’t like being cooped up. Need to stretch my legs, cause mischief, all that. It’s a bit boring, being so good all the time, isn’t it?”

Lily smiled, but shook her head slightly. She leaned forward across the small kitchen table and covered his left hand with both of her own. “That’s not what I mean,” she said gently. “You’re not yourself lately, James. I know when something’s up.” She increased the pressure on his hand in a reassuring squeeze. “You know you can tell me.”

James looked at their stacked hands for a long moment, chewing now on the inside of his bottom lip. Finally he raised his eyes to meet Lily’s; just for a moment, he was distracted by how green they were. It was almost unnatural, that green. And even through what he was going to tell her – and he suspected that there was a very good chance that a part of her, however small, would immensely disapprove – James felt a warm surge of love course through him, as though it was a sip of the tea he still hadn’t touched.

“I keep thinking about Beth,” he said at last, and saw a small crease of confusion emerge between his wife’s brows. “And her situation with Snape,” he added, and the crease cleared away, though a different sort of frown replaced it. Lily took her mug in both hands and settled herself back against the kitchen table.

“What about it?” she asked cautiously.

“Lils,” James began seriously, leaning forward to counter her movement, and then tried a new conversation starter. “Imagine if that were us,” he said, pulling one of her hands back to him and running a thumb over knuckles. “If I had to live alongside you, with you not having a clue who I was –“

“It’s not the same,” she interrupted, with more force than he had expected. Apparently Lily’s tone surprised her, too, because a look of contrition flitted briefly across her face. “Severus chose that,” she amended. “Beth told us he did. He did it to protect her, James. It’s not like – it isn’t as though he was forced to against his will, is it? If I didn’t remember you, it wouldn’t be like that.”

He was silent for a moment. “She’s so hurt by it,” he said at last. “She’s not the same either. The old Beth was – and now she’s so –“ He had no words to explain what he was trying to say, and so switched tack again. “Remus was up at Hogwarts not so long ago. Snape’s memories are being kept somewhere in Dumbledore’s office.”

Lily’s eyebrows shot up on her forehead. “They’re what?”

“Yeah.” James ran a hand through his hair, practically able to feel it standing on end. “I don’t know why… but they’re still around.” He said this last in a rush, and his eyes flicked back up to Lily’s. If he had hoped for some approval there, he was sorely disappointed; if anything, they were carefully devoid of any emotion at all. She was obviously keeping herself in check.

“Sirius and I were talking, too,” James said. He ran a finger around the rim of his mug, which was slowly growing cooler the longer he let it sit. “We reckon… that they could be restored. Somehow.”

This time, it was Lily’s turn to be a long time in answering. She stood up from the table with her own barely touched mug of tea, crossing to the sink and tipping its contents down the drain. She didn’t appear to really be aware of what she was doing.

“I thought you didn’t like Severus,” she said at last, her back turned towards him. James pushed back his chair, rising and walking over to her. He leaned one hip against the counter so as to face her head on. She had braced herself over the sink, hands clenched into fists on either side of it.

“I don’t,” he admitted. “But Beth… Merlin, Lily. I can’t even explain it. But there was something there. She’s torn up about him, and I don’t know what else to do. She misses him.”

Lily pressed her lips together, closing her eyes briefly and sucking in a long breath through her nose. “He’s going to hurt her,” she whispered. “He already has. And I knew he was going to – Merlin, I even warned her, didn’t I? That’s the kind of person he is, James.” She turned her eyes to him, and he saw a sort of angry spark in them, one he hadn’t been on the receiving end of since his sixth year at Hogwarts, at least. “And you and Sirius are going to risk putting her through that again.”

James waited a beat, and then responded, “Yes. You know it’s true, Lily, he’s so different where she’s concerned. And I – I think she loves him.” He’d never said it aloud before, and it felt a bit weird; she was as good as a sister to him, and it was difficult to think of her being in love with anyone. But that wasn’t the issue anymore; he wasn’t even sure it ever had been.

“Snape told her that he was doing it to protect her,” he continued at last, when Lily remained silent on the subject. “If he had had any idea how much it would hurt her in the process, I’m positive he wouldn’t have.” And that felt like the absolute truth.

“It’s risky,” she said in a low voice.

“I know,” he said back simply. “But they’re worthwhile, as long as it works. I hate seeing her so unhappy.” He didn’t want to articulate any further the unspoken question that naturally went along with the middle bit of that sentence.

Lily breathed out heavily, her cheeks puffing out slightly, and gave James a half-exasperated look; the tilt of the corners of her mouth made him know that it wasn’t entirely a bad gesture. He raised his arms, holding them out toward her, and she leaned into them wearily.

“You’re right. I know you’re right.” Lily stood on tiptoe and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “You and Sirius need to do what you think is best.” She paused, and then added, almost as an afterthought, “You’re right about Severus being different, too. Around Beth. He is.”

James said nothing, but pressed Lily closer to him, kissing the top of her head. “Thank you,” he murmured. It wasn’t as though he’d been asking for Lily’s approval – knowing Sirius, he, James, would have still found himself wrapped up in some scheme concerning Snape’s lost memories at some point in the future. But it was going to be infinitely easier to plan said scheme when Lily wasn’t shooting him looks. He’d had enough of those from her in his life to last forever, thank you very much.

He lay awake in bed for quite a while that night, long after the slow, deep breaths from next to him had let him know that Lily was fast asleep. His thoughts were on Beth, and how on earth she was going to get Snape’s memories back to him. Would it even work? Would they even be able to find the memories in the first place? She had become determined to try once she had learned that there was still hope to be had, and nothing any of them had said had been able to sway her off course one inch.

He just didn’t want to imagine what might happen if it didn’t work.

A/N: Happy Easter, dear readers of mine! I hope you have a very lovely and relaxing holiday, and remember to eat as much chocolate as you can get your hands on. I never plan out exactly what days my chapters will be posted on, but I was quite pleased to see that today's included quite a bit of baby Harry. Consider that an Easter present from me to you!

And James is being lovely again, as he so often is, and he wants to help Beth get Severus's memories. Ah -- but the question is, will he succeed? Only time will tell!

Thank you all for reviewing and reading! (And if any of you have been silent up until this point, don't be shy!)


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