Chapter 24 : Sleight of Hand
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Chapter 24: Sleight of Hand
“Sometimes the closer you get to something, the harder it is to see it. “ - Kieran O'Donnagh
“James…can I talk to you for a second?” Lily asked, dithering as she stood by the front door.
I blinked, shocked that she would want to stay here one more second now that the aurors had lifted the perimeter. Hadn’t we put her through enough? “Sure”, I managed; reminding myself that flirting with her was not an option.
She hesitated before leading me to the kitchen and sitting in what had become her usual chair. One of the house elves offered her a drink, but she shook her head, her red curls bouncing as she did so.
Cassie told me that I needed to be her friend. I had to ignore the desire to touch her hair or tell her how beautiful she was when she smiled. I had to push past the feeling I had when she looked me in the eye, or when she called me James instead of Potter.
“James?” She asked, raising a thin eyebrow.
I smiled, “Sorry. Just thinking. What did you want to talk about?” I sat across from her, knowing full well that if I got too close, concentration would go out the window.
She bit her lip, looking nervous. “I just…I feel like I don’t understand you. Not anymore.”
With a sinking feeling, I leaned back in my chair, looking into those green eyes and wondering what I wouldn’t give for her to see me the way I saw her.
I understood Lily, now. The way I’d felt about her before, the childish infatuation, the jokes, the pedestal I’d put her on, they were gone now, abandoned relics of an adolescent crush. I just saw Lily now. She made mistakes, she got angry too easily, and sometimes she spoke too soon.
Nevertheless, I was more captivated by her than ever. The chagrined look on her face when she knew that she had gone too far, the way that she forgot how small and innocent she really was when she did get angry, the small chip in her tooth that she could have fixed with magic, but chose not to….everything about her forced me to appreciate just how amazing she was.
I knew her. Lily was a romantic and she wanted a happily ever after, even if she dismissed such an idea as childish. She wanted to be a healer, but she was growing more and more fond of the idea of spending her adult life fighting against Voldemort. She was intrigued by Cassie and Sirius’s lifestyle but wanted no part of it.
Yes, I understood Lily now. I knew her like a real friend would. But that didn’t stop me from caring about her in the most unplatonic way possible. So, when she said that she didn’t understand me, it felt like a knife to the gut.
“I want you to understand. I’m an open book. Ask me anything.” I said honestly and lightly, getting lost in those green eyes. It was so easy to do that.
She sighed, “Are you?”
“For you? Yes.” I said honestly. Friends could talk like that.
She looked down at the table, “James…I thought I understood you. I really did. But the past few days…who are you? Sirius and Cassie and Remus….They’re some of the most dangerous people I’ve met. And they look to you for direction. Are you dangerous too? Are you like Sirius, just less open about it? Do you think the way he does? You once said that you didn’t like to lie? Is that just another ploy? I’ve been watching you. You’re more than you pretend.”
I swallowed. “I could lie. I could say that I’m harmless, that I’m rubbish at lying. I could say that I never lose my temper, and that they all follow me out of pure admiration at my goodness. But I will never lie to you.”
She looked up, raising her eyebrow.
“It’s true.” I said quietly, “I lie every day. We all do. I lie to teachers, my parents, strangers, and sometimes even my best friends. But I won’t ever lie to you. I want you to trust me.”
She was waiting for me to explain.
“I’m a bad person, sometimes. I lie. And I’m brilliant at it. I think that’s why I hate it so much, though. It scares me when I look someone in the eye and tell them something that isn’t real, then they trust me. It’s so easy. Trust is so fragile. And people only have so much of it before it’s lost forever. Besides, how can you truly respect someone that you can also manipulate?”
I swallowed, hating the truth.
“I never really realized it. But I am the leader here. It’s not something I aspired to. It’s not because I’m a saint. You know my friends. A kitten can’t manage a pack of wolves. I pretend, Lily. I pretend that I’m a terrible liar, that I don’t hear the double meanings of their words, that I’m honorable and clueless. And to some extent, they all know that it’s a charade, but it’s how we are. It’s like those sleight of hand things that Sirius does. They work best if someone is up close, trying to see what’s happening. No one knows, not really, because no one has distance and perspective.” I looked at her.
“Except you, Lily. I feel like you can see straight through the glamour, right to the seedy underbelly. I feel like you see everything. Maybe that’s why you say no to me.
“It scares me, what I could be. I’m not as bad as Sirius. But it would be easy to get lost like that. It terrifies me, what I’m capable of.”
She surprised me by reaching out and putting her hand on mine. “James.” Her eyes were so beautiful. How could I ever be with her after admitting to all of that?
Somehow, though, I could feel a sense that everything was going down an inevitable path and that I would never lose the eleven year old girl that I had seen all those years ago on the train. Even then, I had felt it. I’d been drawn to her by a magnetic force. It was obvious, to me, even at eleven. It had been as simple as breathing. Eventually, she would see it too, that we would end up spending the rest of our lives together.
I had been right all along, even if I had expected the rest of our lives to last much longer than they did.
How could I see it, when she couldn’t? Was she trying so hard to understand who she was supposed to be with that
“James,” She repeated, squeezing my hand, “don’t you see? The way it all terrifies you, the lengths you’d go to just to protect them….James, you’re a good person. You are capable of atrocities. You are capable of lying. But you avoid it all whenever you’re allowed to. It’s your choices, James. Not just your abilities.”
I opened my mouth to tell her something, how beautiful she looked to me right then, how much I cared about her, I wasn’t sure what, but Peter walked in, looking distressed. “Where’s Cassie?”
I felt a prick of annoyance, but simply shrugged, “No clue. Probably off with Sirius. I’m happier not thinking about it.”
He looked annoyed, at my words or my tone, I wasn’t sure, and left.
Lily opened her mouth to call him back, but I shook my head and she closed her mouth looking like she was thinking about something distasteful.
“Lily?” I asked, watching her face carefully.
“Sorry,” She said, pushing her hair back, “I was just…sometimes I wonder about…Peter.”
Had she changed what she was about to say? I smiled, “What about him?”
She bit her lip, “You know that he’s my friend. But sometimes I just don’t understand his…motivations. And do you ever notice that he’s just as protective of Cassie as you are?”
I tilted my head to the side, “Pete’s a good guy. He’s very competent…he just lacks confidence sometimes. It’s why his grades aren’t great and he has trouble with girls. He’s always been that way. He’s just less vocal than I am because he’d never call Sirius out like that. I don’t know if he could ever say no to either of us.”
Lily nodded, “Remus doesn’t seem to be bothered by their....activities.”
I rolled my eyes, “Remus has to choose his battles because he nags so much as it is. He’s always been like a brother to her, but he understands her perspective better. And he has more fun needling me about them, anyway. As you’ve seen.”
Lily bit her lip and looked down at the table again.
I found that I was amused, “Yes?”
“Just…you…you’re very vocal about Cassie and Sirius…as you said. And you’ve always been very protective of her…are you…um…jealous?” Lily squirmed in her seat, unable to meet my eyes as she asked.
I refrained from laughing, “Are you?”
She blinked rapidly and spoke in a quiet jumble, “Of…of you and Cassie? No! No. No. Not at all. I’m just curious. That’s it.”
Deciding not to tease her, I replied nonchalantly, “I suppose that I am a bit jealous-“ She cringed, and I smiled, pretending not to notice as I finished my thought, “-but only in the way that a brother would be jealous of losing his sister’s attention. My annoyance at their public affection is the same as any brother’s would be. I mean…she’s been practically living here for years. She calls my parents ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. She’s all but legally adopted.”
She did look at me, then, but her expression was doubtful, “But she’s…gorgeous.”
I shrugged, “Well, yes. She is sort of nice to look at. Too nice looking, if you ask me. It’s disquieting. But I’ve never thought of her that way. I mean, once I tried, trying to empathize with Sirius. Disgusting. I lost my appetite and everything.”
Lily’s expression did not change.
Knowing that I was probably on the verge of making a mistake, I decided to convince her, “Do you want to hear a secret?”
She raised an eyebrow, but leaned forward.
With a small smile, I leaned in, “I’ve only been jealous, really jealous, once in my life. It was horrible. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. Sirius and Remus had to talk me down from cursing a guy into oblivion.”
She just stared at me.
I leaned forward a little more, “That one occurrence of jealousy was when you had your first serious boyfriend, earlier this year. Austin Griffith. I’m ashamed to say that I could have killed him and enjoyed it.”
She blinked, “I thought you were being serious.”
I sighed and looked down, “For all intents and purposes, Cassie is my sister. There’s only one girl that I’ve ever been serious about, Lily, and it is not, nor will it ever be, her.
I sighed and stood, leading her to the door before I could do something I’d regret. She followed me in thoughtful silence, then opened the door and looked fondly out at the snow. What was she thinking?
“And Lily?” I said, watching in absentminded horror as my hand reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear, “I was being serious. It’s only ever been you. It looks different now, but that’s just because I’m not playing around any more. But don’t worry, I’ve learned my lesson. I want to be friends. I’m waiting until you’re comfortable.”
She staggered back, blushing and gaping, “Potter, don’t look at me like that. This….no.”
I smiled as she tripped across the lawn, not shutting the door until I saw her enter her house from a distance. Look at her like what? I looked at her the same way I always had.
I had no idea that her acceptance was just another milestone before my world fell apart.
But even if I had known, I wouldn’t have stopped pursuing her. It was nearly a compulsion, certainly not a choice. I’d known since I first saw her that I was stuck with her. At different ages, it had meant different things to me. At eleven, it meant that I had to tease her and deny the truth that was plain as day before me. At thirteen and fourteen it meant that I needed to flirt with her, to make it a joke. At fifteen, I’d put her on a pedestal, thinking that love was an ideal, that I had to see her as perfection embodied if I were to have a chance.
Now, it meant that she was Lily. Now, I knew what I’d felt that moment when she’d walked into the compartment. She didn’t see it yet, but that was okay. She was Lily and I was James. And somehow, I wasn’t worried anymore. I was more sure of Lily Evans than I was of my next breath, or tomorrow’s sunrise. There was no point in worrying about either of us being ready for this. When she was, I would be too.
So I smiled at her panic, shutting my door, content just knowing that she was safe for the time being.
Nothing could change this course. Even if we had known ahead of time that our happily ever wasn’t coming, nothing would have changed.
We still would have fought, right down to the bitter end.
** ** **
“So now, we don’t need to see my parents.” Sirius summarized with an asinine smile, pacing slowly around the room.
I rolled my eyes, wondering if I had a suitable dress at home, or if I needed to go buy one. “Yes, you’ve dazzled me with your skills at making the media report whatever you want. But what do we tell our friends? ‘Oh, yes, we know that they want to recruit us and will likely steal us out of our beds to do it. But we don’t feel like reconciling this issue right now.’”
Sirius glanced at the closed door and sat close beside me, “Cassie. Are we really going to this thing just to keep up appearances with James and the others? My family already thinks that I’ve been trying to get back in. We have no reason to go. We can’t flaunt our position. Besides…we both know that they don’t trust me. We got the information we needed, didn’t we? For all we know, Bella has been playing me. She was my only contact. I should back out now.”
I sighed, “What excuse do we use, then? This will look suspicious.”
He leaned back and stared at the ceiling, “We could just tell them.”
I frowned, “What do we say? ‘Oh, by the way, did we mention that we’ve been spying on death eater initiation meetings inside Hogwarts? Also, Sirius has been talking to his family again. Pass the pudding.’”
He grinned, “Well that pudding bit wouldn’t make sense coming from you, but yes.”
I sighed, “So you want to stop trying to get back in?”
He shrugged, “Maybe I like it this way. They aren’t sure what I’m thinking. This way, they don’t move against me, but they don’t give me orders either. I can fall on either side if I have to.” He leaned forward, an intense light in his eyes, “That’s my goal, now. I will end them.”
Nodding slowly, I stood, “Alright. You’re the boss.”
“However, I did buy a dress for you to wear there, just to make it look like I was planning on attending.” He said with a devlish smirk.
“Oh, really?” I asked, stepping forward as he stood too and leaning into his kiss.
“Yep. And I’m pretty sure you’ll love it, even though we’ll need to find a new occasion for it.” He said against my lips, kissing me a second time and pulling me close.
The door opened and I instinctively leaned away, laughing as Sirius continued to hold me tight. “Hey, Pete.” I said, poking Sirius in the ribs. He only smiled.
“Oh, hey.” He said looking slightly uncomfortable. “I was just…”
Sirius sat back down on his bed, pulling me into his lap. “What, Pete? You look like you’ve been worrying.” He said, resting his chin on top of my head and squeezing me tight. I smiled reassuringly and looked more closely at Peter trying to see what the problem was.
Peter sighed, “I was just thinking. Do you guys really need to go to that horrid party, now?”
Sirius grinned and tipped me unceremoniously onto the mattress, standing and clapping Peter on the shoulder, “Finally, someone with a lick of sense. You’re absolutely right, Pete.”
Peter smiled at the praise, but he still looked sad. “Are you guys hungry?” he asked, stepping away from Sirius’s exuberance slightly.
“Starved.” I said standing and walking toward him with wide eyes in an attempt to cheer him up.
He snorted and shook his head, “Too bad. I think we only have werewolf, lover-boy, and small guy in stock. James is a delicacy, I know, but he can’t donate for a few weeks.”
Sirius chuckled and approached me, throwing me over his shoulder, “Tough break, Princess. Let’s go downstairs and get some food. Mrs. Potter left stuff for us to warm up. Maybe you can have just a teensy bit of James a la mode for dessert.”
“When are these jokes going to stop?” I asked, with amused silence as my only reward.
Peter eyed me doubtfully, then led the way downstairs, mumbling incoherently.
“Where is James, anyway?” Sirius asked, glancing around the living room.
“He was talking to Lily, then he….” I blinked, feeling shocked. “He…he’s in the entryway.”
“How do you know that?” Remus asked from his place on the couch, staring up at the ceiling. He seemed too preoccupied to care overly much.
“I….I don’t. I mean…I know. But I don’t know why.” I said blinking.
Just then James wandered in, looking dreamy, “Did you need something, Princess?”
I blinked, “Just…what is going on?”
James shrugged, still looking blissful, “I don’t know. Something feels…”
Sirius stepped forward looking slightly jealous and worried, putting me down slowly. “I’ve heard stories about this. It might wear off. But then again, it might not.”
“But what is it?” Peter asked quietly, his expression mirroring Sirius’s as he stood by the fireplace.
Remus tilted his head to the side, “It might be that there’s some kind of weird connection between them since she snacked on him.”
I winced, but everyone else just looked contemplative.
James sighed and joined Peter by the fireplace, sitting in his chair. “I don’t know what’s going on. But we need to make sure that we look normal by five tonight. That’s when my parents will be back. And they’ll have only just heard about the house being broken into. Maybe they’ll have Lily over for dinner so they can ask her about it..”
Nodding and ignoring James’s obviously girl crazed state, I retreated to the couch, shoving Remus’s feet playfully out of the way. He smiled slightly, swinging them into my lap once I sat down.
Sirius took the chair by Remus, leaving Peter standing. “I don’t know much about this stuff. But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. And it will probably wear off soon.”
“The creepy link, or the goofy look on his face?” I asked, smirking at my friend.
I didn’t want to think about what I’d done to James anymore. The guys thought that they could make it into a joke. They thought that if it was funny, then it wouldn’t be so dangerous anymore.
That was the real danger, though. They minimized what had happened and made it into nothing when they had no idea how horrible it really was.
They couldn’t see into my head. They had no idea how badly I’d wanted to drain James, to drain all of them. I didn’t want to kill him, not really, but I had wanted to consume him. The desire was lessened now, but it wasn’t gone.
I didn’t want to think about it.
“Pete, are you okay? You never really answered earlier. Then you said something about food, but now we’re all just sitting here.” I said, leaning away from Remus’s feet.
Peter looked up and blushed a bit. “Yeah…just…just thinking.”
I raised an eyebrow, intent on taking down his walls so that I could ignore the weaknesses in my own, when Sirius interrupted by standing and approaching me with a knowing smile.
“Lets be more cheerful, love. Why don’t you try on the dress I got for you?”
I stared at him, “Yes, I’m sure that will be wildly entertaining for everyone. Why don’t we go outside and have a snowball fight, or terrorize the neighbors? Or better yet, see what’s going through Prongs mind to make him look so silly.”
James rolled his eyes at me, but was unable to lose the blissful grin.
“We all know that we’re still being watched. And I’m not exactly willing to let you run around outside when it’s possible that one of us will be kidnapped by vampires. Or worse.” Sirius said conversationally, crossing his arms and looking down at me speculatively.
I shrugged, “We can do much better than dressing me up.”
“What can I say? I just want to see you in it.” He flirted, forcing me to roll my eyes.
“Later then, if that will make you happy.” I said, meeting his eyes with amusement.
James made a disgusted sound.
“Calm down, Prongs.” Sirius said with a chuckle, glancing down at me with a wink.
“Tell me how your talk with Lily went, James.” I suggested, ignoring the amused look on Sirius’s face.
“She’s jealous. She’s worried that I think you’re attractive.” He replied, sounding scornful and disgusted at the thought of me.
“Thanks, pal.” I said tonelessly, unable to stop myself from smiling when he nodded and continued to grin.
“Don’t worry, princess. I think you’re attractive. James just hasn’t see you like I-” Sirius began, before James tossed his shoe at him.
He dodged it and smirked, as I caught it and dropped it to the carpet with a wrinkled nose. “Just trying to cheer her up, Prongs,” Sirius explained. I rolled my eyes, ignoring Sirius’s second wink. He was out of control today.
James shook his head, “Back to more important matters. I told Lily that I liked her. And she didn’t get angry. She blushed.”
“Only a matter of time now, Prongs.” Sirius said, turning to look at his friend.
Remus shook his head at his friends and stood too, “Bathroom. Sirius, don’t steal my spot.”
Sirius saluted, then sat down in Remus’s former seat and pulled me close as soon as his friend was out of the room.
“Do you two always have to be touching?” Peter asked, causing James to stare at him in shock.
Sirius just laughed. “No, but I do prefer it that way.”
He kissed my temple for emphasis, ignoring the less than impressed look on Peter’s face.
I sighed and stared into the fire, forcing myself to contemplate what had happened between myself and James. What was happening?
“I don’t know.” James responded, casually making me jump.
We stared at each other for a long moment.
“How did you do that?” I asked, wondering if James could suddenly read my mind.
“Well, the lock on the door only works on the living. And we were both invited into this house back in 1865. Coincidentally, we were looking for you then too.”
I knew that voice before I could gasp and turn, standing to see what I was dreading.
It was impossible.
Kaelyn Crescent stood before me as expected with a small smile. She blinked a few times upon seeing my face, but then she darted forward and hugged me tightly.
I was only able to stand and stare over her shoulder, my mouth open in shock.
Kaelyn had not come alone.
Standing in the living room of the Potter’s house was a man that I never thought I’d see again. He raised an eyebrow, at me, otherwise maintaining a stony expression.
For a wild second, I thought I was staring at Sirius, but then I glanced down at him and back, feeling like I’d been punched in the gut.
Rigel Black was still alive.
So...long time no see? I can't even apologize. I suck, guys and I'm sorry. I want to thank everyone who reviewd after the first one year wait. If there are any readers left...If there is anyone who wants me to finish this story (and I will continue, even if it is only one) let me know and I will finish it for you. Because you are worth it. :)
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