Chapter 15 : No Turning Back
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Regulus stopped, putting his quill down abruptly. He looked down at the mostly empty piece of parchment, not knowing how he was going to fill it with words. His hand trembled slightly and his eyes threatened to spill tears no matter how much mental effort he put into holding it all together.
How hard could it really be to say, especially to someone whom he wasn’t even sure he considered a friend? Lily, I give up. He frowned. The deal—
Yes, there was that small matter. Releasing himself meant releasing her as well.
He began again. Severus is moving on to bigger and better things and he doesn’t need to be held back by a Mudblood like you, anyway. It hurt to say, a pain in his heart that he had never experienced before, and so he scratched it out, balling up the sheet.
He glanced around his room, unsure how so many photographs of him with his older brother had come to be strewn across his bed and the floor. Until his hands began searching, he had not realized he still possessed them. But yes, he had saved them little by little as Sirius and his parents discarded them, as if for a rainy day.
With a childish sniffle, the tears spilled from his eyes, careening sloppily down onto the balled-up parchment and the photographs, protests arising from their occupants. He could scarcely look at them; the smiles returned quickly to their faces in spite of the temporary disruption of a rainstorm, too quickly. Instead, he stared around at the comforting darkness, sobbing in the quiet.
He didn’t have to look at the photographs. He knew them all well, could recall enough memories to fill an entire Pensieve. There was one of him and Sirius at his third birthday party, when Sirius accidentally set his cake on fire and revealed himself to be a wizard. Another depicted a back alley game of Quidditch, one in which their brotherhood team had barely beaten Andromeda and Bellatrix, Narcissa reclining and sighing on the ground below. In a third, they posed awkwardly for a family photo at one of Horace Slughorn’s summer parties, wearing robes too big. Regulus wished he could not pick out the moment the smiles faded quite so easily.
He couldn’t take the smile falling from another face, even that of a mere acquaintance. What Lily Evans did not yet know would not hurt her.
There was a knock at the door, and Regulus sat up straight, hastily wiping at his eyes. Quickly, he used his wand to collect all the photographs and put them away in his nightstand. He dropped the ruined parchment, spotted with tears, in the trash.
When the door opened, Mulciber and Avery stood there. They parted suddenly, and Wilkes slipped between them, saying nothing to Regulus as he got into bed.
“You coming, mate?” Avery said after a beat. “Everyone—” He paused. “Everyone’s here.”
“Yeah,” Regulus replied. “Come on, let’s go get something to drink.”
The boys headed downstairs to find a social gathering in full swing. There were a few gossiping girls dotted about the dark corners of the room, but mostly young Slytherin men dominated the space. As he descended the stairs Regulus noticed Rosier sitting by the fire and talking to a squirrelly-looking first-year named Mundungus Fletcher, whom he appeared to be daring to sneak out and get more Firewhisky from the kitchens. Regulus’s eyes also caught Severus Snape sitting on the couch, a worn textbook at his side, as if at some point the party might bore him.
As he walked by, flanked by Snape’s friends, several people wished him a happy birthday. This brought a smile to his face; it meant even more than his parents’ early present. He had felt right at home in Slytherin from the moment the Sorting Hat left his head. The sound of The Hobgoblins’ newest hit, “Meet Me in the Moonlight,” echoed through the chatter from an unknown source. Someone pushed a glass of what little Firewhisky there was into his hands; his mind told him to push it back, but he tipped it down his throat as smoothly as possible and then reached for a half-empty tankard of Butterbeer sitting on the hearth to wash the taste from his mouth. With only a little remaining in the cup, he cleared his throat, walking over to Rosier.
“Is all this for me?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.
“Of course!” Rosier exclaimed, chasing the first year away. “Happy birthday, mate.”
“Thanks,” Regulus said, sipping on the Butterbeer.
“What did your mum and dad get you?”
“A new broomstick.”
Rosier smirked. “Figures. Better you than me. I’m shit at Quidditch.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll let you enjoy the Cup with everyone else,” Regulus laughed.
“You’d better.” Rosier glanced around, frowning. “You know, I pegged the firstie to go get the goods because I thought he’d be quick. I swear, if he gets caught—”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Rosier lowered his voice despite the cacophony of conversation already present. “Listen… heard your meeting the other night went well. For you, anyway.”
“Yeah,” Regulus said, remembering Wilkes still in bed in their room.
“If he likes you, you’ll have a place. I imagine he’ll be summoning you to get yours any day now—I mean, you’re still a bit young, but it’s not like it matters to him.”
“Yeah,” Regulus repeated.
“What did you think of him?”
“I—” As if they had been called, Avery and Mulciber appeared, leaning against the back of the sofa and casually joining the conversation. Regulus glanced over at Snape; he wasn’t watching them, but his fingers had left the spine of his book, signifying that if he was eavesdropping, it was at least mildly entertaining for him. “I’m definitely going to do it whenever he calls for me. I don’t care how old I am.”
“That’s a boy,” Rosier said, grinning. Regulus suddenly felt a chill run down his spine; did recruiting new soldiers really make the other boy this gleeful?
“Yeah, good to have you,” Mulciber cut in.
Avery nodded. “Too bad we’ve got no respectable drinks for toasting.”
“I’ll buy you one next time we go to the village,” Rosier said, putting his hand on Regulus’s shoulder. “I’m proud of you. It’s a relief to see that your whole damn family hasn’t gone yellow on the inside. Screw that traitor brother of yours, yeah?”
Regulus felt the couch move slightly. Now Severus was definitely listening.
“The least I can do is find you a pretty bird to keep you company.” Rosier stood up, looking around. “You stay here and think about some charming things to say.” He walked across the room, followed by Mulciber and Avery and their empty glasses.
Regulus felt the couch move again. He turned around to find Snape watching him.
“So, did you mean all that?” the other boy asked, bemusement etched into his face.
“I did.” Regulus moved around the couch, sitting down next to him.
“It hurts,” Snape remarked. “Getting his Mark, I mean. That’s what I’ve heard.”
“I can tolerate pain,” Regulus said blankly.
“Yeah.” He fell silent for a moment, looking over at the fire. “I—I’m glad you’re joining up. You’ll be good to have out there, unlike your friend—what’s his name?”
“Right. Well, he—you know—he knows how to choose the right people. He’ll help you out if you do what he asks. That’s what he told me, and I believe him.”
“I doubt he’ll help you get Evans.”
“That’s not what I meant. It’s Potter. I’m going to kill him one day.”
“Do you mean that?”
“Yes, and anyone else who gets in my way will suffer a similar fate.” Severus turned his eyes back to Regulus, and somehow the irises looked darker than before.
Regulus spoke before he knew what he was saying. “She thinks you’ve changed.”
“I have. I’ve realized that I can’t be passive if I’m going to be the one she wants. I have to play the game as good as he does, until the day when I can play it better.”
Snape’s companion said nothing, too preoccupied with the bitter taste in his mouth. They sat in silence for several long moments as the sound of idle conversation from all sides filled their ears. Eventually Snape stood up. “Have a nice birthday, Black.” He strode across the common room, apparently intending to go study in his room.
I hope Fletcher doesn’t turn up again, Regulus thought. He already felt nauseous.
The evening breeze softly ruffled the edges of Lily’s rust-tinged locks, goose bumps prickling to life in its wake only to be overpowered by the fading sunlight and lingering warmth of the day. The girl felt preoccupied by the horrific notion that her companion, not the teasing wind, had brought these tiny, temporary blemishes to the skin of her bare arms. The unusually friendly temperature of the mid-March day wasn’t helping the romantic mood she had tried to avoid. She frowned slightly, feeling the cobblestones press uncomfortably through the soles of her simple shoes as she and James wandered along the main route through Diagon Alley.
“Where are we going?” she asked finally, giving up on trying to figure it out herself.
James’s expression barely changed. He had been unable to suppress a grin since leaving the castle with Lily late that afternoon. “We’re almost there,” he replied.
“I hope we can sit. My feet are getting tired.”
“There it is.”
Lily stopped short, looking up at the building in front of her. She had passed it without much thought every time she went to Diagon Alley—which, admittedly, was less often than she would like to visit—because she was used to seeing a slightly run-down and mostly empty shop. The letters that remained in the store’s name had been peeling steadily, threatening to drop with a subtle gust of wind. Before her stood an elegant little store tucked neatly between Flourish and Blotts and the Magical Menagerie. The door was painted a cheerful yellow color and adorned with a whimsical OPEN sign; the sign seemed to have been charmed so that the ‘P’ and ‘E’ opened and closed like miniature doors, adding an additional layer of welcome for prospective visitors. On either side of the door were clear glass windows bordered by happy yellow shades. It was difficult for Lily not to imagine the whole building bobbing back and forth to an unheard tune. Her eyes snapped to the freshly painted sign hanging from the roof: Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour.
“Ice cream?” she asked, smiling brightly.
“Was it a good idea?”
“Sure!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t even realize this place was still in business.”
The two of them stepped inside and moved toward the counter. Lily could hear the faint tinkle of a bell signaling their arrival; she wondered if the man who owned this shop was half-blood, or perhaps Muggle-born like her. The idea made her smile.
The object of her thoughts suddenly emerged from the back of the store. He was perhaps two or three years out of Hogwarts, handsome with chestnut hair and hazel eyes. The apron he wore was stained heavily with a diverse palette of wet splotches.
“Good afternoon!” he said merrily. “Welcome to Fortescue’s! What can I get you?”
“I’m not sure, honestly. Still a bit blown away by your grand re-opening,” Lily said.
“Yes, I just inherited the place from my father. The sugar got to be a bit too much for him, honestly. The Healers said he should retire for the good of his heart and teeth.” The owner pointed to a painting on the wall, which depicted a man who looked much like him except for a spectacularly full and curly handlebar mustache. The gold engraved tag at the bottom read Fiorello Fortescue, Founder.
“I see,” James remarked. “Well, how many flavors do you have?”
“A hundred, at least. I invent new ones every day, when business is slow.”
“I don’t know how I’m ever going to decide!” Lily exclaimed.
“Perhaps you can make a suggestion or two?” James inquired.
“Certainly.” Fortescue retreated into the back, returning with two cones piled high. “This one is vanilla ice cream with bits of Droobles folded into it, and the other one is made from a combination of peppermint toads and chocolate frogs. They’re both part of my new collaboration with Honeydukes Sweet Shop in Hogsmeade. It’ll be coming out in spring to properly celebrate the revitalization of the store. But since I don’t get many visitors while it’s still cold out, I’ll let you have an early sample…” He extended the cones to them. “As long as you tell me what you think.”
“We will,” James assured him, paying for the cones. “Thanks.”
“Yes, thank you,” Lily added. “They look delicious.”
The owner returned to the back again, and James and Lily chose a table near the window. James handily lopped off the top scoop from each cone and switched them so that both he and Lily could taste each new flavor. They sat in silence for a few moments, their nods signifying their shared agreement that both flavors were great.
“So,” James said at last. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“This is nice,” Lily replied, nodding. “In fact, I’m glad you brought me here. I would have walked by out of habit and not even noticed that the place had re-opened.”
“It was never closed. It’s just that with the faded sign and the peeling paint, no one thought it was anything special, and it’s hard to make improvements with no income. You watch, now everyone will be coming by to take a look at the new shop. We’re just the first ones to get to experience it.”
“Yeah, I’ll have to tell Celestine and Ellery. They’ll definitely want to come.”
“Are you going to tell them that you came here with me?”
Lily glanced up at him, licking a bit of bubble gum-speckled ice cream off her thumb. “Maybe,” she admitted. “There’s nothing wrong with us having ice cream together. You’re a respectable bloke. I don’t know if it’s a date, though, strictly speaking…” She looked at him thoughtfully, with a hint of fear in her eyes. “Is it a date?”
He smirked. “My mother always told me that it wasn’t my place to determine that.”
Lily grinned in response. “I never expected to hear James Potter quoting his mother,” she mused. “In fact, if we’re being honest… I’ve seen and heard a lot of things I never expected lately. You’ve actually been sort of decent.”
“Oh, come on, I don’t think I was ever indecent to you.”
“You know what I mean. You’ve barely made fun of me all year, and what you said the other day about me joining the Order if I wanted to, well, it was really sweet.” Lily let a beat pass before continuing in a lower voice. “And the thing with Remus—”
“That was as much for him as for you. Besides, I’ve been nice to you all along—at least I haven’t tried not to be nice. This year just brought more opportunities.”
“Why so modest? You afraid I’ll tell Sirius you’ve lost your backbone?” Lily quirked a brow.
“He’s ten steps ahead of you.” James grimaced. “Stop it, you’re embarrassing me.”
“Sorry. I just want you to know that I think it’s a good change.”
James said nothing, busying himself with the chocolate peppermint ice cream.
The sweet treat barely had time to melt, so consumed were the pair with finishing their portions. Lily began to wonder for the first time if she had offended James. As for her companion, he was incredibly self-aware of how uncomfortable he felt as a changed man. Could he even talk to Lily if he wasn’t overtly flirting with her?
Eventually the ice cream ran out, and after pausing to tell Fortescue how much of a hit they anticipated the new line of candy-inspired flavors to be, Lily and James began walking back toward Hogwarts. Lily waited a few steps before opening her mouth, intending to remind James that she had enjoyed their outing—anything to make him stop looking so downtrodden. Before she could, he spoke instead.
“I still like you. I think I pretty much always have.”
She looked at him, blushing faintly.
“I really wanted this to be a date.” James looked ahead at the familiar path instead of at her. “I know things have always been weird between us, but I want to get to know you, and I want you to get to know me. I don’t think I could stand it if we graduated and you and I never had a proper chance to see if this could be something.”
“We are something,” Lily insisted quietly, crossing her arms. “We’re friends.”
“Maybe that’s all you want. I’m not trying to pressure you. I just don’t think that will ever be enough for me. I had to at least give it a try. A real try, no teasing about it.”
She looked at him. The castle had just come into view. “James—”
“And I guess I was hoping we could keep going, if this seemed to be going okay…”
Lily stopped, placing her hands on the side of his face. As the breeze picked up the edges of their hair—James’s was getting a bit long, really, she noticed offhand—she leaned forward, pressing her lips decisively against his own. They kissed for a long moment, long enough for a passerby or two to notice but not so long that the bit of warmth shared between them could chase away the chill that danced around the pair. As they broke apart, James staring at her in adoration and disbelief, Lily felt extremely annoyed that it wasn’t yet dark enough to hide her girlish smile.
“What was that?” he managed.
“Just giving it a try,” she murmured, blood flooding her fair cheeks and forehead. Then, biting her lip and pulling her jumper around her protectively, she nodded at him. “Goodnight, James.” She moved toward the castle, leaving him behind.
James broke into a breathless grin. He almost felt like standing in the street and laughing because of his sheer lack of comprehension. Instead, he called to Lily’s rapidly retreating back. “So, was it a date?”
She didn’t answer, but he knew she could hear him.
“When are we going out again, Evans?” James chuckled, lowering his voice, talking to no one but himself now. “You know, I’ll have to clear my busy social calendar…” He put a finger to his lips, tracing the place where hers just were, mere moments ago. When would it happen again? What else would they share over the coming days?
They had at least one more thing in common—neither of them slept that night.
Thanks for returning for another chapter—hope it was worth the wait!
Everything you recognize from canon, as always, belongs to J.K. Rowling. This includes The Hobgoblins, fronted by Stubby Boardman (but the song is all mine). The name of Florean’s father, Fiorello, means “little flower” in Latin. Appropriate, I think, considering that his son really caused the ice cream shop to bloom after many years.
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