Chapter 24 : Comfort.
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Ever since I had discovered I was a witch, things had been different. Mum and Dad were both extremely supportive and excited when I talked endlessly about magic and spells and my classes. It was no wonder Petunia hadn’t been able to stick me after those first years; I was a child who’d just found out that magic was real, and Petunia had discovered the same thing and had yet been told she was not ‘special’ enough to be a part of it. She’d been upstaged by her little sister.
By then, things had always been heading on a down spiral with Severus. That relationship was doomed from the start, because I challenged everything he’d formerly believed in but, apparently, not enough for him to renounce it all together. Instead, I’d unwittingly thrown Snape into a year’s long internal battle over whether or not he actually hated Mudbloods or not. All the while, my other primary friendship – with Petunia – was steadily growing more strained too. With both friendships doomed to failure, I’d started to develop a bit of a complex about the whole thing, which had only made everything worse.
Now, Severus had tried to torture me and Petunia had denounced me as a sister. I believed that both of them were utterly serious in their conviction of hating me, and that didn’t exactly make me feel good about anything. Dad was dead and I was no longer allowed to mention magic in the house. We’d broken my mother’s heard irrevocably, and the more I was in the house the more I made the problem worse. I didn’t have a home anymore; I was just locked in a purgatory where I was forever screwing things up a little more.
“Hands out of the jam, James,” Carolyn Potter said, slapping her son’s hand away with a scowl, “and wait your turn.”
“May I have some jam, Mrs P?” Sirius smirked, sending James a wink as he began to butter his toast. It didn’t seem to matter that the Potter’s had the biggest house I’d ever seen, we were still all crowded round a dining room table so small and so covered in food that I could barely see the table cloth between all the plates. There were glimpses of red and gold gingham, though, and I suddenly had a vivid flashback of meeting James for the first time on the train...
So bloody Gryffindor.
“Of course,” Carolyn said, beaming, “Remus, dear, would you like any Jam after Sirius?”
“No, thank you,”
“Please” Peter grinned as Sirius passed the James over James’s head, “Lily?”
“No thanks,” I said, grinning.
“Please may I have the Jam, mother?” James said, his politeness so sarcastic that I could barely understand him. I grinned.
“That’s right,” Magnus said through a mouthful of toast, “you teach him manners.”
“Magnus,” Mrs Potter sighed.
“You’re voiding my point with that fine display of half chewed toast.”
“Please,” Magnus said, waving this away.
“And thank you,” Sirius winked, reaching across the table for another stack of toast.
“Can I have the Jam yet?” James asked, flicking a crumb in Sirius’s direction with an easy grin.
“I call in a vote,” Magnus said, “Yes from me.”
“I vote no,” Carolyn said.
“No,” Sirius added.
“Abdicating,” Remus piped up.
Peter turned his beady eyes towards the pair of them for a second, considering both Sirius and James from a moment before delivering a concise “Yes.”
“Bloody suck up,” Sirius said, sending Peter a look, “and you bore, Moony.”
“I think you misunderstood democracy,” Remus said lightly, “and this gives Lily the deciding vote.”
“Hmmm...” I said, grinning at their expressions. Carolyn Potter mouthed ‘say no’ and sent Sirius a conspiratorial wink. There was something lovely about home domesticated and familiar this was. I didn’t feel like an add on; it felt like everyone sat around the table actually wanted me to be there.
“Don’t turn my girlfriend against me too, Mum. This is crap.”
“That’s no way to talk to your mother, James,” I said, “show some respect.”
“Ganging up on me,” James whined, “Muuum, all I want is some Jam,”
“Fine, you cry baby,” Carolyn said, using her spoon as a catapult to fire a spoonful of jam at James’ face.
The whole table erupted with laughter, and I found myself laughing too. James made a big deal of wiping the jam off his chin, nudging my food under the table. I belonged here. I felt great here amongst the Potters and the Marauders, bickering about jam.
“Showing off in front of my friends,” James accused, “not cool, Mum.”
“We only come to visit your Mum, James,” Remus said, his expression serious, “didn’t anyone tell you?”
James arranged his toasts crusts into a sad face and pouted.
“Don’t play with your food, James,” Magnus reprimanded, and suddenly everyone laughing again.
I felt strangely light. I’d forgotten what it was like to sit and eat as a family; handing the jam from hand to hand, passing toast across the table, making jokes and poking fun. I liked the teasing and the laughter, a stark contrast to the silence Petunia and I had eaten in since I returned home.
It made my heart ache slightly. I hadn’t realised how much I missed having a family.
“Is it always like this?” I asked Sirius as I stood near the lion knocker, pulling on my coat.
“Oh hell yeah,” Sirius said, “breakfast at the Potter’s saved my life last summer. The morning after... well, actually you probably don’t want to hear about...”
“ – when you slept with that Muggle, you mean,” I put in. It wasn’t often that Sirius voluntarily offered information like this. Since the 9 March, neither of us had mentioned Mary or grief or emotional trauma. Sirius was the poster boy for repressing emotions and dealing things either privately and silently, or loudly but in a way you weren’t supposed to mention to him. This... this offering information as certainly new.
Besides, they’d all been right. Sirius had the right to sleep with whoever he liked whenever he liked. Somehow, my concern for Mary’s honour had now twisted itself into concern over Sirius... and, well, whilst I still didn’t think he was particularly ready for a relationship himself, the sleeping-with-a-Muggle-incident had been a long time ago. And maybe it was something he needed to do at the time.
Grief wasn’t necessarily always comprehendible.
“Bloody James,” Sirius muttered, rolling his eyes at the ceiling, “yes, Evans, after that. Anyway, James turned up at my flat bitching about me missing breakfast... I wasn’t really in the mood, frankly, but I dragged myself along and it was the first time I’d laughed in months.”
“I don’t want to go home,” I half laughed, hugging an arm around my waist as I glanced at the door. I really meant it. There was just nothing left for me at that house, and it seemed I was just dragging the disintegration of our family out for no reason but my own guilt. I wanted to stay with James and his parents, and Sirius, and Remus and Peter, who’d somehow become mine too.
“Yeah,” Sirius said, glancing up at the lion locker, “does that,”
“Merlin, Evans,” Sirius said, voice gruff, “just, I get it, okay? But I can’t talk about family shit so just...” Sirius shifted uncomfortably for a second, before dropping his gaze back to my level, “you need a hug?”
“I think I do,” I admitted, stepping forward and wrapping my arm around Sirius’ neck.
I didn’t think I’d hugged Sirius in months, but – god knows when it had happened – he’d become irreplaceably important to me. I think, in part, it was Mary, but maybe loving James meant you just had to love Sirius (Remus and Peter, too), because James sucked me in to see the best of people.
Pretty ironic considering the lectures I used to give him about treating people like people.
“Oi, hands off my girlfriend.”
“Like I’d dare,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling for a second, “I’ll skip the saliva swapping thanks…"
He stepped back into the corridor, exchanging a loud joke with Remus and Magnus Potter in the corner of the corridor. Sirius was different here; less serious, more barks of laugher and sarcasm and playfulness.
Sirius’s animagus was a dog. It was easy to forget, with all that was going on, that Sirius’ soul was a playful creature.
“You okay?” James asked, stepping forwards, hands brushing over my hips.
James’s soul was a stag. Proud, majestic, beautiful. And I was a doe.
“Yeah,” I said, although I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not that was the truth.
“Everyone’s out,” I said, nearly crying, pacing the length of my room and ringing my hands, “Petunia ripped up my invite for the wedding, Vernon keeps talking about holy water and my mother will not stop crying!”
“What did you say?” James asked, sat on my bed with his hands folded over his knees. He’d been listening to my rant for the past twenty minutes, which was only slightly different from the rant I’d offered him in paper form for the past three days solidly. “To Petunia.”
“Vernon said I was an unnatural object.”
“So I a levitated a tea cup and told him that was unnatural, and then he couldn’t speak because he was so outraged. And I thought it would be funny to tell Petunia I’d put a spell on him too.”
“Lily,” James sighed, “what did you expect?”
“You’re supposed to be supportive!”
“Well, Merlin, stop pushing then!” James exclaimed. James sucked in a deep breath, obviously regretting his slight outburst, before he distractedly ruffled up his hair. “I’m not saying this isn’t difficult, Lily, but you don’t help yourself. You keep pushing people to see how far until they break, and…”
“So, you think I push people away?”
“Don’t argue with me, or you’ll prove my goddamn point,” James said, holding up his hands, “I’m not the enemy here. In fact, there are no enemies here.”
“You-know-who?” I suggested.
“Fine,” James grinned, “look, just stop pushing them for a bit, okay? Maybe a bit of distance is for the best now, anyway.”
“It’ll make it easier when you move out,” James said.
There was something odd about the words coming out of his mouth that I couldn’t put my finger on. I stopped pacing the length of my doorway and sat down next to James on my bed. There was silence for a few seconds.
Although I was stressed out and I was livid at my sister, it wasn’t the kind of deep rooted stress that permeated the surface and made feel sick; this was just superficial annoyance, an almost regular occurrence. Things went a little deeper, but James’s flyaway comment seemed to smack of something a lot more earth shattering.
My voice was supposed to sound calm and level, but there was an edge of hysteria to it that I hadn’t realised I felt. Oh God oh God oh God…
I could feel the serious nature of the conversation seeping in through the cracks and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it one bit.
“Lily,” James’s voice had dropped slightly, his expression softened, “Lily, you can’t live here after we finish Hogwarts.” The words stuck in my brain, incomprehensible. “We...we’ve joined the Order of the Phoenix, Lily, we’re fighting. You need to live somewhere with magical protection... you can’t live with Muggles. I’m sorry, Lily, but that’s just how it is.”
I think I might have spoken, but I’m sure it wasn’t words. I leant forwards on my bed and dug my fingers into my stomach.
“You... Lily, you’re not going to be able to get a job,” James’s voice was the only thing in the whole world. I squeezed my eyes shut. “You’re a Muggleborn. That’s... that’s why we’re fighting.”
“What am I...?” I was trying to grapple around the air for words, or something solid, or something that made sense, but everything was convoluted and up in the air and too far away for me to hold onto. “What am I going to do?”
James’ hand was on my knee. I didn’t remember him putting it there.
“You’re going to live with me,” James said, “I know... I know it’s not ideal, Lily, and obviously if you don’t want to then... then we’ll work something out with the others and set you up, but I thought that might be best.”
“Live with you?”
“If you can stand it.”
“How long have you been thinking about this?” I asked, opening my eyes and sitting up enough to look at him. The tears seemed to have come out of nowhere.
“Since your Mum was nearly attacked on the platform,” James said, his voice still that low apologetic tone that almost didn’t suit him. “See, this was a big year. If I hadn’t.... if you weren’t with me then I wouldn’t be able to help you, Lily, and that was inconceivable. I... I love you.”
I was crying. I thought there was a chance that I had a right to cry, really, because I’d been pushing back my fears about the future for months and suddenly it was laid bare and I had to deal with it: I had nowhere to go and no way to support myself, whichever way I thought about it I was going to become dependent on someone. My family – or what was left of them – weren’t my biggest fans at the moment, but maybe that would be better for all of us. Maybe they just needed time.
“James,” I said, my hands reaching out, fighting the distance, just wanting to hold him. My fingers, slightly blinded by the tears, settled on his chest. I gripped hold of the material of his shirt and cried. “James you can’t argue with me and be mad, you just can’t anymore because everything is such a mess and then if you’re mad at me then nothings right and I just love you and I need you to be okay and... and I need -”
James pulled me into his chest, an arm curving around my back as my forehead pressed into his heartbeat.
“Its okay, Lily.”
“- arguing just not worth it I don’t care anymore, James, I just don’t think I can deal with all this if you’re not... and I know I might die or you might die, but as long as you’re alive will you promise me that you’ll... that we’ll be okay.”
“Does this mean you do want to live with me?” James asked. I looked up from his chest to find the grin sliding onto his face. James. He was so much better at smiling than everyone else and I wasn’t sure why, but on everyone else the expression was irritating or patronising or somehow false but James always grinned even in that second before I turned him down and with the prospect of a future of hell.
I reached forwards and kissed him.
I’d began to feel like I was somewhat acclimatised to James. Not that he was in any way boring, just in that it was easier to relax into his touch and kiss him and know which kisses ran the risk of turning into other things and which wouldn’t. I knew him. I knew what it felt like when his arm was round me, or on the few occasions we’d slept next to each other, and how it felt when his lips pressed into my neck.
And then there was this startling desire to grab hold of him and never let go and kiss him until I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be alone.
This feeling of needing him so much wasn’t new, but the few occasions I’d felt it I’d instantly taken a step away. I couldn’t need people because then they might leave, and certainly not how I needed James. It had never occurred to me to push closer.
“I promise, Lily.”
But I knew that. Of course I knew that.
“Okay,” I said, nodding and pressing my lips against his. “Okay,” I said again, and again, gripping hold of the material of his shirt and holding tight. “James,” I muttered, forehead pressed into his chest, “I really think... that you should probably take off your shirt.”
“I’m not used to you propositioning me, Evans,” James grinned into my lips as I shuffled closer.
“And maybe,” I said, dropping a kiss on the corner of his lips, “maybe the rest of your clothes too,”
James caught hold of my wrist and quirked up his eyebrows.
“This sounds like something we should talk about,” James said, fingers still encircling my wrist, looking uncharacteristically serious. I blinked. “Lily, I don’t want to fuck this up.”
“James,” I said, “the whole god damn world is fucked up. Petunia wants me to die, my Mum wants herself to die, my ex-best friend probably wants to kill me, You-Know-Who wants to kill everyone and I’m never going to get a job and I’m never...”
“Lily,” James said, silencing me with a kiss, “this is my point. We haven’t talked about this previously and you’re ever so slightly emotionally vulnerable right now,”
“I am emotional vulnerable permanently!” I protested, “James, I purposefully got myself tortured. I am emotionally messed up. That’s not going to change.”
“I appreciate that, Lily,” James said, hands curling at my waist, “but, I just think that maybe this isn’t the best time.”
“At school,” I said, “we sleep in dormitories. Your parents are liable to stumble in on as at any moment and my whole family are out, probably plotting my murder. When is this situation going to arise again?” James smiled slightly. “I’m not saying this is perfect,” I said, “but, none of this perfect. It’s good enough and that’s a damn site better than everything else we have to deal with and...I love you,”
“Mmm,” James said, hands sneaking up my sides, “you’re forgetting that I, in fact, am perfect.”
James was grinning again, that grin that I wanted to freeze and hold onto forever. There wasn’t much that I had complete faith in, but I had complete faith that – through all the crap that was no doubt coming our way – James would still have that beautiful smile.
I hummed slightly, twisting my hands up through James’s hair and grinning.
“I am prepared to remind you, though,” James grinned, pulling my t-shirt up over my head.
“You arrogant prat,” I returned, laughing as James kissed me again and again and again.
Sometimes I felt like I was drowning. It felt like the weight of the world was going to fill up my lungs until they collapsed in on themselves. I felt like there were no happy endings, and only endless tragedy and loss. But sometimes I felt like I was much more than just a survivor.
Sometimes I felt like I was living.
“Bloody hell!” James hissed, his voice muffled due to the fact that I’d accidentally Apparated on top of him. I struggled to sit up slightly, to avoid accidental suffocation (which didn’t sound very romantic). I pressed a finger to his lips to quieten him, blushing slightly in the dark.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I muttered, “I wasn’t concentrating properly... I didn’t land on anything did I?”
“Apart from me,” James said, his voice quieter this time, amusement evident, “No, Evans, you missed most of the vital organs. I’ll live. What’s up?”
“Another argument,” I said, “couldn’t sleep. Wanted to see you. Okay?”
“Great,” James said, “nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to find your beautiful girlfriend straddling you.”
“Hmm,” I said, reaching over to his bedside table and putting his glasses on for him, “don’t get used to it. I’m too scared of Carolyn and Magnus.”
“Sushh,” I hissed, replacing the finger on his lips with my own for a split second. “I might have pushed Petunia too far this time,” I muttered miserably, sitting up in James’ bed, “she said she never wanted to see me again.”
“Has she never said that before?” James asked. His voice was soft and warm in the dark, and he looked all sleepy and gorgeous. I shifted over to lie next to him and curled into his side. He wrapped his arm around me.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, “When we were little, all the time. She’s probably said it more recently too, but I don’t think she ever meant it.”
“Too many broomstick jokes,” I said, closing my eyes and breathing in James. It wasn’t completely and utterly terrifying to consider moving in with James when we were all wrapped up in each other’s arms, but the rest of the time it was. In a good way.
“Lily,” James sighed.
“I know,” I muttered, “you told me to stop. I couldn’t do it.”
“I know you said you couldn’t sleep,” James said, “but are you going to keep me up all night too?”
“No,” I said, “goodnight, James.”
“That’s not the answer I was looking for,” James smirked, kissing me briefly.
“Goodnight,” I said, laughing and curving myself around him, “love you.”
The world’s still felt a little foreign on my tongue, but I was beginning to decide that I quite liked them.
I had a nightmare that my Voldemort killed my mother, Petunia and Vernon whilst I watched. In the dream, Mary hovered in the background and I was screaming at my family to run but they couldn’t because magic was trapping them there, sticking them to the ground.
And in all three of their eyes was the accusatory awareness that none of this would have happened if you weren’t a witch, Lily, we’d all be safe and free and happy.
I woke up crying which would have been embarrassing enough if I’d just had James to face, but it quickly became apparent that my subtle midnight-apparition into James’s room hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“Morning, Lily dear,” Carolyn Potter said, hovering in the doorway and waving.
“Urgh,” James muttered, reaching for his glasses and instinctively pulling me closer, “are you okay, Lily?”
“Nightmare,” I managed, glancing back up at James’ parents feeling my face flush a rather unattractive shade of pink. It’s not like we’d done anything, as our state of fully dressed (in pyjamas) clearly showed, but there was still something a little embarrassing about waking up to find my boyfriend’s parents cheerfully hanging around in the doorway.
“Coffee?” Magnus suggested, just as the Potter’s wizened old House Elf appeared in the middle of the room clutching a pot and two mugs.
“Was the nightmare about my parents looming over you when you woke up?” James asked, absently playing with a lock of my hair as he glanced – slightly nervously – over at his parents, “uh, Lily had an argument with her family and she just…”
“That’s quite all right,” Carolyn interjected.
“What about my bloody honour?”
“Oh,” Magnus said, grinning, “I didn’t realise you actually believed that business. I told you, Carolyn.”
James flopped back down onto his bed and muttered a series of swearwords into his pillow, as well as something that sounded a little like ‘worst parents ever.’ I laughed despite the fact that I was still near crippled with embarrassment, and brushed one of the lingering tears off my face.
“Sorry for just appearing in your house,” I managed, smiling as James threw a cushion at his mother’s face, “and… thank you for the coffee.”
“Why are you in my room?” James whined.
“I wanted to talk to Lily,” Carolyn said, “before she snuck off this morning.”
I blushed again.
“Maybe I could steal you for breakfast?” Carolyn suggested, mischievous smirk and all.
The more time I spent around James’ parents the more I felt I understood the beautiful enigma that was James. It was easy to see how he started Hogwarts slightly spoilt but with a wicked sense of humour, held little prejudice towards werewolves and purebloods but plenty towards Slytherin’s… why he wasn’t used to getting exactly what he wanted, why he sort to be popular and adored.
“Okay,” I said, nodding.
The prospect of breakfast with Mrs Potter was infinitely better than the prospect of breakfast with my family.
“Lily,” Carolyn said, after we’d eaten our first slices of toast, “I wanted to talk to you about your family.” Usually her expression was all wit and humour, constantly on the edge of the joke, but it had morphed into something a little more serious over the course of breakfast.
“James said… about us moving in together?” I asked. No doubt, Carolyn was going to ask me to be more mature and responsible. She was going to say I needed to reconcile with my family and that I was too young to move in with James. All those things were true.
“Yes,” Carolyn said, “he did. I think you’re beginning to understand how hard this war is going to be, and I wanted you to know that – if you need someone to talk to about it – you can talk to me, Lily. I understand war and I know war. You can’t tell your mother and your sister how things are, because they’ll be scared and upset and it makes that vulnerable. Lily, I know that this… this is difficult, but it’s best if – until the brunt of this over – you have as little contact with your family as possible.”
I gaped at her.
I knew… I knew that it was going to be the case, but it felt strange to have it said so starkly. Say goodbye to your Muggle family, Lily, if you keep writing them letters they’re going to get murdered.
“In my nightmare they were murdered and… and it was my fault.”
“I thought as much,” Carolyn nodded, “my son has talked about you for half his life, Lily, and I don’t want you to be without a family for the duration of this war. You can have us, Lily.”
My eyes were suddenly watering slightly. I could burry myself in with the Potters and still have some semblance of a family. I could have breakfast with Carolyn, Magnus, James and Sirius. Maybe… maybe things with my family were broken and shitty now, but they’d be time to fix it up when I knew I was endangering their lives. There would be time.
“Just promise me,” Carolyn said, “that you will keep giving James a reason to survive.”
“He has lots of reasons,” I said, quietly.
“You all want to fight,” Carolyn said, looking older than I’d ever seen her (even when she was ill and in St Mungo’s), “but none of you want to survive. I’d like you to do both… but all of you, survival is an afterthought. You’re all so ready to throw yourself on your wands so someone else doesn’t have to. I don’t want my son to be a martyr, Lily dear, I want him to grow old – do you see?”
“James is brave.”
“Of course he’s brave,” Carolyn said, “he was bought up believing bravery is better than sanity. His bravery is selfless, but it lacks perspective. You are all young and lucky, and so ready to surrender it all at a moment’s notice. It’s not that illness that has made me old, Lily… it’s knowing that you all might die, and I understand… I understand that someone has to stand and fight, but I wish with my whole being that it wasn’t my son, and you, and Sirius, and Remus, and Peter.”
“You don’t think we’ll survive.”
“I think it will break you,” Carolyn said, “but I think that if my son knows that he has you, then his desire to keep living might outweigh the desire just to fight till the death.”
“I’m… thank you,” I said breathlessly, because here was so much information being delivered and I wasn’t sure whether I could process it.
It was certainly true of Sirius… Sirius had no future plan but to fight in the war… and we didn’t talk about any other kind of future but the near present. James and I had never talked about marriage or children. We’d only talked about what was going to happen right after Hogwarts. We didn’t talk about the future. I hadn’t realised that was because none of us were very convinced that we were going to get there… there was only now, and the war, and You-Know-Who.
That was all we’d focused on since Mary died.
“I think that you should move the rest of your belongings from your home before the end of the Easter holidays,” Carolyn said, her voice low and gentle, “you are family, Lily Evans. When the war’s over you may reconcile with your mother and your sister, but James is right. If you have made the decision to fight rather than hide then you are in danger. You will never forgive yourself if you are the reason they are hurt, Lily, and until the day we are your family.”
I nodded. It was only when I dropped my gaze to look down at my toast that the tears came, but then they were flooding down my face and Carolyn Potter was reaching forwards – towards me – and pulling me into a hug.
On the day before the end of the Easter Holidays I wrote a letter to my sister and my mother to say goodbye. I wrote another two to be delivered on the event of my death and hid those at the bottom of one of the drawers.
I put everything I owned into my trunk. I hugged my mother whilst my sister watched with pursed lips and refused to touch me. I could not stop crying.
And then I left home, and my family, and the last scrap of my childhood at the front door.
Okay first off, I AM SO SORRY THIS TOOK SUCH A LONG TIME FOR ME TO PUT UP. There are no real excuses, but I’m going to give you a few anyway… I’ve had two sets of exams since I last updated (ouch) and, um, university, and I went travelling around Europe for a month… and I’ve making lots of progress on ‘mission: let’s be able to write forever’ so it’s all GOOD STUFF but I am very sorry. It’s never taken me this long to update this story before and the GOOD NEWS is it won’t ever take that long again.
This, I can promise because there are going to be approximately four more chapters and I’ve written at least 50% of every single one. So I’m going to try and have this whole thing written and posted by the end of my summer holidays (which is the end of September… but I’m in china for most of September… so let’s call it the beginning of September).
Once again, I am very sorry. Thank you to anyone who’s still with me!
PS. to my beta, I'm locked out of my email address and could think of no way of sending this to you. If you're still around, I'd still like your betaing services?
Edit: this chapter has now been beta'd by the lovely Mutt N Feathers. Isn't Amy awesome? :D
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