Chapter 9 : Unshakable
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News of Martha's death and the explosion in Hogsmeade spread like wildfire. Accounts and rumors soon blurred together, and it seemed no one person knew exactly what had occurred. Of course, I did. But I didn't want to. I'd have given anything to erase the memory from my mind.
Students were horrified, rightfully. And scared. I was horrified. And scared. And angry. And many other emotions that didn't make it particularly easy to focus during class the next Monday.
Defense Against the Dark Arts, Charms, and Divination passed in a haze. The only real sensation I felt was in Charms, when I felt Lily reach beneath the desk to squeeze my hand. My heart constricted in response − in equal parts pain and happiness. My head had a hard time issuing any thought anything other than I don't want her dead on a cobblestone street.
Potions class consisted mainly of me staring at the wall blankly and Remus hesitantly poking me to make sure I was conscious. His face was a portrait of concern.
"Maybe you should bow out, Prongs," he whispered to me as Professor Slughorn droned on about the Drought of Living Death at the front of the classroom. "I'm sure Slughorn would believe you if you made a Heads excuse," he offered.
I spared him a sideways glance, saying "I'm fine" with what I hoped was a encouraging smile thrown in at the end.
He regarded me unbelievingly, but let the subject be. I swallowed, wishing for nothing more desperately at that moment than a pint of Living Death.
I stood in front of my mirror, tying my favorite dark green tie. It was a week after the explosion in Hogsmeade, and a memorial service was being held for Martha at Hogwarts. It was to be a simple affair, right outside the Black Lake, a safe distant from the Whomping Willow.
I'd donned dress pants and a neat white shirt for the occasion. It seemed silly to me that people always had to dress up nicely when mourning. Did it really matter what we were wearing? Martha was dead. No matter what we wore, nothing would change that.
I scowled at my reflection in the mirror. Stop it with the stupid philosophical wonderings, James. I shook my head. You'll think yourself to death.
I immediately reprimanded myself for the inadvertent pun.
"James?" I heard Lily call from her room across the hall. "Will you come here and help me zip up?"
In lieu of an answer, I exited my room and entered hers, where she stood beside her bed, back to me, her long hair held up by a hand. "I can't reach that far back," she informed me, glancing at me from over her shoulder.
I moved to stand behind her, my breath hitching in my throat at the sight of her exposed back. Very gently I tugged the zipper up the length of the black material, my fingers only slightly grazing her bare skin. I felt a shiver run up her back and smiled for a small moment.
Lily released her hair and turned around to face me. "Thanks."
The black of her dress made the light smatter of freckles on her cheeks stand out. I reached up to trace them with my thumb. They formed a celestial map, some unknown constellation, a dash of stars floating across a universe of smooth white skin. I felt myself getting lost in the galaxy, and leaned forward to capture her mouth in mine. For a few moments, I willed myself to let go of the inclination of time. I didn't come up for air; I was seeing stars.
When I finally drew back, Lily's brow was knit. "What was that for?"
I smoothed back her hair tenderly. "For being alive." Against my will, my voice cracked ever-so-slightly.
I wanted so badly to hide that I was breaking on the inside. Breaking because though we had only officially been together for five months, I had loved her for eleven years, and losing her was simply not an option. Breaking because I'd almost lost her once, and I didn't intend on letting it happen again. Breaking because the world was a scary and unpredictable place and I never knew which moment would be our last.
Lily's beautiful eyes glowed with an overabundance of emotions. In a matter of seconds she had enfolded me in her embrace, her fingers skirting my back. I clutched her to my chest. She turned her head and pressed her lips against my neck, saying in the softest of whispers, "I'm not going anywhere." Her eyelashes fluttered against my collarbone. "I'm not going anywhere."
The memorial for Martha was short, but the length in no way downplayed the magnitude of sadness surrounding it. The turnout was unbelievable. The professors had to conjure at least two hundred more chairs for all of the students that showed up. I doubted half the students that were in attendance had known Martha or interacted with her, and yet there they were. Waking up at 9 on a Saturday morning to show respect for a fallen comrade.
Dumbledore led the memorial, his familiar voice tinged with regret as it washed over us in its usual eloquent and graceful manner. The girl who had pointed to Martha's body in Hogsmeade, whose name I learned was Alice, also spoke, her quiet voice quivering as she spoke of her friend. An elegant older women − who was the spitting image of Martha and could only have been her mother − also spoke, as well as Professor Vector, articulating that Martha had always been an above-and-beyond Arithmancy student.
Thankfully, the dreary end-of-March weather held out during the memorial, though the sky above remained a steadfast palette of grey mixed with white. The sun was nowhere to be seen, perhaps acting out of respect for the solemn occasion. It wasn't dreadfully cold anymore, and the guarantee of spring was visible in the budding trees lining the Black Lake and edging the Forbidden Forest. It seemed wrong somehow for new life to begin when a life had just ended − but it was always like that, I supposed. Life and death were inevitably one massive, continuous cycle, and the earth could never have one without the other. No matter what tragedy stilled the lives of people it involved, life went on.
When these 'stupid philosophical wonderings' invaded my mind during the service, I shook them out, having earlier promised myself to cut it out. It helped that Lily's arm was locked through mine, anchoring me to the earth, keeping me grounded.
As Dumbledore took the stately podium to conclude the memorial, I glanced down the row I was sitting in. Lily was next to me, Charlotte next to her. To Charlotte's left was Sirius, whose arm − I was surprised to find − rested gently around Charlotte shaking shoulders. At this sight, I afforded myself a small sense of satisfaction. Perhaps they'd ironed things out finally. Next to Sirius was Remus and Peter, respectively.
I took in the scene. My closest and dearest friends, all in one place at one time. But what a horrible reason for us all to have to sit down next to each other − to mourn. I hoped with a great sense of urgency that we wouldn't be reunited like this again anytime soon. At least not for this particular reason. If losing Lily scared me, losing any of the people sitting next to us terrified me equally. Death had never seemed so real to me before.
That was the biggest part of it, I concluded right then and there. Death had always seemed a distant warning − always possible, but never imminent. But the newspaper article on the killings and the incident in Hogsmeade had drawn the world into a sharp perspective. Things were changing.
I had told myself that over and over, but it wasn't until I was there, sitting at the funeral of a fellow student, arm linked with the girl I wanted to marry, surrounded by people I felt knew me better than I knew myself, that I realized just how different things were already. The most important thing in my life was no longer my Divination grade − it was the safety of the world itself. Heavy load for a teenage boy wizard, huh?
I think so, too.
The next couple of days, we all tried our hardest to forget what had happened. Well, not exactly forget. We would never − could never − forget. But we tried to remember it less. We needed to put distant between ourselves and the incident if we were to have any chance of finishing out the year in a normal manner.
And the end of the school year was, indeed, in sight. There was a surprisingly small amount of time between the present and the day we would graduate Hogwarts. This in mind, Lily and I had our work cut out for us.
If our approaching graduation wasn't daunting enough, we had another event to plan and organize the weekend right before our commencement ceremony. It was an annual gathering held for 'Young Wizards United', an association that had been established the year Hogwarts was built in order to celebrate young wizard leadership across the globe. Head boys and girls from all over Europe, and even two from America, would attend the reception to be recognized for their leadership during the year, as well as have the chance to meet and get to know other student leaders. Every fifth year, Hogwarts hosted the event, and when it did, most of the preparation, appropriately, fell the to the two student leaders whom the event would honor.
It's not as if I already had enough on my plate, what with my very last set of exams approaching, or my graduation ceremony speech being completely unwritten, or the fate of the wizarding world itself in hanging in the balance. I definitely had a lot of extra time for one more thing.
So it was because it just had to be the fifth year in the cycling of schools that Lily and I stayed up till midnight on a Thursday night, reviewing seating arrangements and looking at sample menus and deciding which Merlin-forsaken musical ensemble to hire for the event.
"Tell me, honestly. Does it really matter if it's a string quartet or quintet?" I asked Lily, exasperated. We were sitting on the floor, hovered over the coffee table in front of the fireplace, the same position we'd been in two hours prior. There was parchment covering practically every inch of it. My head was close to bursting. “Does one string player make that much of a difference?”
She gave me an amused look. "Tired, are you?"
A well-timed yawn accented the exuberant nod I answered with.
Laughing, she returned her attention to the paper in front of her. "I don't get how you don't love this stuff − this deciding sort of stuff." Her lips curled into a smile. "Don't you just love it?"
I looked at her incredulously before falling back onto carpet beneath me. "I love you, yes, but no I do not love 'this deciding stuff'," I admitted. "I'd rather leave that to you."
Lily was silent for a moment. I heard gently scratch of a quill across paper. "Hmm. I think you just inadvertently handed the power in our relationship over to me."
I sat up immediately and looked at her with a concave brow. "Oh, no, no, I don't think I did."
She didn't spare me a look for a full minute. "I think we'll go with the quintet." She then looked over at me and beamed. "It feels so good to be in control of the decision making."
She was being ridiculous. I shook my head, laughing in spite of myself.
Beam still on her face, Lily turned back to the papers and began to stack them up. When she was finished and she'd capped up the ink bottle, she shifted her position so she was facing me. I observed her curiously. "And what will your next decision be, Miss Evans?"
She regarded me carefully. My mind drew me back to the first time we'd sat like this together, a fire blazing in the backdrop. A lot had changed since then. We'd come a long way. I was looking into her eyes with a different mindset, and my thoughts were filtering differently. I knew her better, and her me. We weren't two separate people anymore − we were more like two halves of one whole.
"I decide..." she whispered, a mere inch from my body but not touching me yet. "That we should kiss."
I nodded. "Yes, I agree with that decision."
Hi, journal, James here.
I know we haven't spoken in a while. Things have been crazy of late. Maybe in the future I'll write about them. But for now, I'd like to continue an entry I wrote a while ago. Specifically, the one illustrating my, er...sexual frustrations. Because yesterday, Lily and I had a frank discussion about such things.
We were just getting out of Charms class, where we'd had a rather uncomfortable history lesson regarding charms that elicited sexual responses. In that hour and half, I came to learn that even the oldest students at Hogwarts were still incredibly uncomfortable with the topic. It was a period filled with blushing cheeks, awkward and avoided eye contact, stifled giggles, and most amusing of all, the occasional look of pure horror.
Anyways, when it was over and we left, Lily wasn't very talkative. I wasn't sure if it was because she was tired from how late we'd stayed up the night before or if the lesson had made her embarrassed or uncomfortable. I wanted to ask, but I knew the crowded hallway wasn't the place to do it.
Her unusual silence bothered me for the rest of the day, and so I decided to address the topic during our nightly patrol that evening.
"Hey, are you okay?" I asked her gently, as we ascended the third floor staircase.
"Um, yeah," she said, a little confused. "Why do you ask?"
I shrugged. "I don't know, you've been a little quiet today."
There was a beat of silence. I looked over to see her rubbing her lips together, in contemplation or hesitation, I wasn't sure.
Finally, she replied. "Well, I've been thinking."
"Yeah?" I wondered, trying to keep desperate curiosity out of the question.
"Yeah," she nodded. I could tell she a little uneasy. "About that lesson we had today in Charms."
"Ah," So I’d been correct in my assumption. "What about it?"
She was looking anywhere but at me. "Well..." she cleared her throat and restarted. "I was just thinking about how I know you have...well...needs."
I looked over at her dubiously. But I didn't have a chance to respond the statement because she looked over at me quickly, and upon seeing my expression, immediately began to talk again.
"I mean, I know we've been taking things really slow, probably mostly because of me, and my er, inexperience, and just my overall nervousness about...well, that lesson we just had, I mean it really was a wake-up call, because it got me thinking about how you've been a real gentlemen about, um, handling me, and I really appreciate that, but it also got me thinking about how you're a boy, and you’re 17 for that matter, and your hormones are probably just raging and I don't exactly know what I'm trying to say, well, actually, yes I do. What I think I'm trying to say is if, say, in the near future, you wanted to, I mean we could-er, we could, well, I mean, only if you wanted to and the time was right and we were both−"
She looked over at me, her face guilty. "God, I'm sorry. I'm rambling, aren't I?"
I laughed. I couldn't help myself. I loved her more than own breath in that moment. "I'd like to take a moment to address several points in that uh, speech you just gave."
When I glanced over at her she was blushing feverously. "Okay."
"First of all, you mentioned your inexperience in the matter?" I smiled. "I can't imagine what sort of escapades you thought I was up to when I wasn't dating you, but I am equally as inexperienced, okay?”
Lily looked over at me, and I could tell she was surprised by the confession. “Really?”
I nodded. “Yeah. I think that's really important that you know that, because if we ever did go that far, well, it would be just as new to me."
"And secondly, what you explained as me being a 'gentleman' isn't exactly true. I mean, well, I don't know," I laughed nervously and scratched the back of my head. "I just knew I would only have one shot at dating you and I want to do it right, and these needs you think I have well, yes, I have them because you're right I'm a 17 year old male, obviously I have hormones, that are ‘raging’ as you have put it, but none of this means I started dating you because I wanted to have sex with you."
The red on Lily’s cheeks deepened as I pinpointed the subject. "Oh." She said again, quieter this time.
"As for your, um, offer," I laughed again and stopped walking, turning to face her. Then I reached out to gently hold her shoulders and look her straight in the eye. "Lily, I love you, and I want to make this work between us. If eventually we're ready for that next step, that will be great, I'm sure, because it will be you and me and we'll know we love each other and it will just make us that much closer. But you have to understand that I have no expectations, or anything like that. When you're ready, I'll be ready. It's really as simple as that."
"Okay," her voice was very soft. I think that my straightforward talk of the topic maybe scared her a little bit, but her lips still quirked into a small smile. "That sounds...it sounds..." she laughed quietly and looked down at her hands, wrung together in a knot. "I think it will be nice."
With my pointer finger I tilted her chin upwards so she was looking at me. "I think it will be fantastic."
She laughed, and though her cheeks were still red, she wrapped her arms around my neck and put her head against my chest. Inside of it, my heart was doing gymnastics.
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