Chapter 3 : Turning Tides
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Was it odd, Lily wondered, to be curled up in front of a fire, flames crackling away as they devoured the wood? It shouldn’t be. In any other circumstance it wouldn’t be odd. If they were tucked into the cozy sitting room of William and Olivia Potter’s house… if they were back in Hogwarts, textbooks piled high as they argued over who had done what incorrectly… then it would be completely normal, completely right. But here, in the house of Minerva McGonagall, surrounded by witches and wizards who were all united in what felt to be an impossible cause, it seemed wrong to let the warmth the fire wash over her.
“Hey,” a soft voice spoke from above Lily. “Lily, yeah? I’m Dorcas. Wasn’t able to be here when you met with everyone else the first time.” Lily watched the small brunette reach a hand to her neck as she spoke, barely touching the concealed skin before drawing it away. “I’ve heard loads about you, though. All of you, in fact.” She gestured to Remus and Sirius sitting on the other side of the room flipping through books, then to Peter and James at a table nearby.
“Dorcas, nice to meet you. You were a Prefect for Ravenclaw in my first year, I believe.”
“Sure was, and you’ve already met the rest of the group, right? Well, apart from Dumbledore’s brother. You'll rarely see that bloke.”
Before Lily could pick up her jaw to ask about Dumbledore having a brother, the Prewett twins were making their way over. As they began questioning Dorcas about the work she’d been doing in Romania, Lily let her mind check out. She untucked her legs and took in the sight of the flames once again. Her nerves were humming. The excitement of another Order meeting just moments away from beginning caused a steady energy to fill her. But as that energy tried to flow through, she could feel her emotions fighting it.
She was restless and angry, angry that she still felt like such a large piece of her was missing, like ever since Belle had been taken from them their typically bright world was dusty and dull. Even angrier that she was in the position once again of trying to cope with the loss of part of her heart.
It felt as if she was wading through quicksand, and knew she needed to put her own kaleidoscope of emotions aside and get her attention focused on the evening ahead.
Lily took a slow, calming breath then dipped her quill in the ink pot resting on the table and wrote July 16 in bold at the top of her parchment, preparing to take notes as McGonagall had instructed. Seconds later, the deep boom of Alastor Moody’s voice drew the attention of the room.
“This will be easier to show you all at once. Move closer to the fire.” Lily glanced at James as the rest of her friends made their way over, along with the half dozen or so Order members. Once the whole group was scattered on chairs, a sofa, and the floor, Mr. Moody pulled what looked to be a copy of the Daily Prophet from his robes. With a flick of his wand, he forced the parchment to grow at least triple its size and urged the flames around the room to burn hot and bright.
Lily’s eyes fell over a picture of Barty Crouch, The Head of the Department of Magical Law, his face twisted in angry lines and wand-arm raised. Under his picture, a short but telling quote stood bolded against the parchment.
"We will fight fire with fire. I will see neither my Aurors nor the people whom we protect die because our law enforcement fears being penalized for using an Unforgivable Curse. Times are dark, and they’ll only grow darker. Voldemort and his followers are no longer attempting to disguise their massacre of Muggles. They are leaving the bodies of innocents lining the streets of villages. Wizard families are being terrorized, and fear is amongst the most prevailing weapon harnessed by this evil. We will use any means necessary to subdue an attacker. We will fight fire with fire! We will kill rather than capture!
“Crouch gave us the order a few weeks ago to kill if necessary,” Moody began as silence filled the circle. “Things are getting worse, and he had little choice in the matter. The Death Eaters discovered our weakness with our inability and sheer hatred of using one of the three Unforgivable Curses. But no more. We’ll try to subdue by other means first, but if it’s between one of us and one of them, we won’t hesitate. We can’t.”
“I have some reservations…” Marlene McKinnon, who’d only been one year ahead of Lily and her friends, held Moody’s gaze as she spoke. “Not that I don’t believe the Aurors should have the freedom to use whatever is in their power, but—”
“There is no but,” Moody growled.
“Please, let us hear Miss Mckinnon out,” came the quiet voice of Benjy Finwick. Lily scanned through her mental log, trying to remember what Dumbledore had said about the middle aged man. He worked somewhere in the Ministry… The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures? She was almost sure of it.
“Thank you, Benjy,” Marlene said, her eyes fixed on the Auror’s as she spoke. “Again, it’s not that I believe an Auror shouldn’t have full authority in making the decision of how to subdue a threat to save their life as well as innocent people’s lives. But, we know the Ministry isn’t clean… we are even nearly certain the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has been infiltrated.”
“My department is clean. I made sure of that,” came the same growling voice.
“Yes, I believe the Aurors are all completely loyal. Now, at least. And I know you did what you needed when you set the trap to discover who’d been slipping information…though the proof of Davis being under the Imperius Curse makes it easier to stomach… But that doesn’t mean the Hit Wizards or Witches are free of moles. Or the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol, for that matter. And what if Voldemort has someone from his side in either of those departments who uses an Unforgivable Curse? Who acts to kill instead of capture? They’ll say it was necessary as their life was being threatened.”
“Marlene,” It was the first time Frank spoke, and Lily glanced over to see the boy she’d known for nearly a decade look so much older than he should. “Marlene, you weren’t there last week.”
Silence filled their room, and Lily struggled to muddle through her memories of the previous week. But all she could see was pain…the absence of their best friend gashing holes so large and dark into their lives. What had Frank and Alice been through that the rest of them hadn’t even realized occurred?
“It was just Moody and I training the different binding spells while we dueled. We were inside the training ground wards, and before either of us could act there were four of them. Four masked, soulless Death Eaters pointing their wands at us. They weren’t there to intimidate us, to scare us. They were there to kill us.”
“You made me proud, boy.” Frank didn’t even blush at Mr. Moody’s compliment before continuing.
“We bound them and sent them in for questioning, but they escaped hours later. If we would have killed them…”
“But what about the innocent people that may be killed?” Lily heard the passion in Marlene’s voice, angry and fierce, and it sparked something inside her own chest, a reminder of why she was there, why they were all there. “What about the fact that Death Eaters are sure to find a way into the departments, then kill freely, under the guise of fearing for their lives?”
“They’re already killing freely!” Sirius said sharply from his place on the sofa. “They’re already killing whoever the fuck they please.”
“And what about the people that those four who escaped will now kill?” Alice said, her whisper a contrast to the rage Sirius’s outburst had held.
“I don’t think there is a correct answer to this,” Dumbledore said, giving the room a sympathetic glance. “I don’t believe we can say what is right for the whole of things, as it may not be right in every situation that makes up that whole. And this, my friends, is one of Voldemort’s greatest weapons. The fear of the unknown. It’s why he’s struggled for so long to keep the Daily Prophet under his control, though he seems to have lifted that control…”
“He doesn’t care anymore,” Dorcas cut in. “He’s gotten what he wanted. Enough time to keep the eyes of half our world covered while he gained as much support as he deemed necessary.”
“I suspect you’re right, Ms. Meadows. The fear of the truth has brought our world into a darker place than we’ve ever known. And it is with that tool he gained the most support. It’s with that tool, he continues to gain support. Fear. Keeping us all so uncertain of whom to trust. I believe he uses that tactic even amongst his own ranks.”
Silence followed Dumbledore’s words.
“We have no way of knowing how many Death Eaters he has,” Lily whispered, focused on what Dumbledore had just said.
“Ms. Evans?” She blinked up at her former Headmaster and glanced around the faces.
“We don’t know how to prepare,” she said after a moment. James’s eyes were glued to hers from his place on the sofa, their expression unreadable. “We can’t know how to fight him because we have no idea what his numbers are. I don’t believe he himself knows what his numbers are.”
“Only the most trusted are marked, I know that much.” Sirius interjected. “It’s… I think it’s his way of making sure those who are most valuable to him can’t get free of him.”
“To reward them for their loyalty?” Peter asked, his own expression confused. And just like that, despite the fact that they were surrounded by wizards who were double, triple… even quadruple their age, Lily watched her boys slip into the conversation as if they were sitting in James’s bedroom bouncing ideas off one another.
“In a way, I suppose,” Remus said in answer to Peter. “To reward them, but also to force that loyalty from ever wavering.”
“Exactly,” Sirius agreed, standing up to pace. “Exactly, because let’s say one of these bloody gits, Hell, let’s use Regulus…we know he was marked—“
“How do yer—“
“And because we know he’s marked—” Sirius shot an apologetic look to Hagrid as he spoke over him. Lily just shook her head. Once the four of them were on a rant together, it was impossible to break them free. “Because we know he was marked it can help us figure out where the motivation comes from. Regulus is a wank—”
“Sorry, Professor McGonagall. Anyway, he’s no good. But he’s not evil. Not their kind of evil. It’s more that he’s brainwashed by my lovely mum and dad’s pureblood supremacy attitude. But I’ve seen him leave the room when Kreacher was being punished, couldn’t stand to watch it. So he’s not as bloodthirsty as Voldemort likes his lot. But, the Blacks hold power among the pureblood wankers—sorry Professor—and they have a lot of ties to, well, almost anything. So, what does marking Regulus do? Assures Voldemort now has access to that.”
“Because what’ll happen if you’re marked, but then become too afraid and want out? Or if you’re captured then try to pretend like you weren’t willingly doing his bidding?” James stood as well, joined in on the pacing as Peter and Remus remained on the sofa. “You’re going to be tortured to death by the bastard himself, or in Azkaban. You took his mark, after all. Once you have that Dark Mark, you’re his. For good.”
“Yes, I agree,” Remus spoke, a finger tapping against his lips. “Voldemort may have hundreds of followers doing his killing and partaking in his destruction. But, he’s hardly going to mark all, or even the majority, of them. He’s going to mark the ones he either needs the most out of, or the ones that are just so sick and twisted he knows they’ll do his bidding with nothing but pleasure.”
“Like Bellatrix,” Peter said, his voice heavy. Lily watched the glint of light fade from Sirius’s eyes. The distraction and the concentration he’d needed to piece the puzzle together with his friends had put a spark there, and for a moment he’d seemed so completely okay. But the reminder of Belle was all it took to force his head back under that surface of grief.
“Yes,” Lily whispered. “Like Bellatrix. And she’ll pay, Sirius.” She waited until he met her eyes, green on grey, then held him. Even from across the room she could feel the misery seeping from him. “We’ll make her pay.”
“Bloody quick at figuring things out, aren’t they?” Fabian said, adding a lighter tone to the mood as he glanced between the group. “I mean, it’s not like we’re thick or anything—“
“I”m not thick,” his twin, Gideon, interjected. “Your intelligence on the other hand is, well, lacking.”
“Oye, don’t you think you can talk to your elder like that!”
“One minute, Fabian. You’re one measly minute older.”
“Mr. and Mr. Prewitt, please.” Despite McGonagall’s chastising tone, Lily could tell it was just what they’d needed. Something to diffuse the moment.
“They are exceptionally quick, aren’t they?” Dorcas agreed. “In fact, I would like to expand on your thought process. Voldemort is certainly not marking everyone that he can convince to follow him. What you lot just worked out in under five minutes took us a bit longer to get at, but we got there. So, where do their strengths lie? Do you reckon we should be attempting to neutralize the smaller threats—though let's not pretend that any of this is a small threat— or do we shift our attention on trying to break apart Voldemort’s inner circle? What would be a better use of our resources?”
“We need inside information,” Lily said, a chill running through her spine when she thought of just how inside information would need to be gathered.
“Precisely,” Dorcas agreed, her short dark hair bobbing as she nodded her head. “That’s exactly what we need. And we need to gather it in a way that--”
“That doesn’t get us all killed,” Fabian finished. “Well, let’s think on it and table that for next meeting. For now, can you tell us how your project went?” Dorcas moved her hand back to her concealed neck.
“Oh yeah, how did yer meeting with the Romanians go?” Hagrid asked. Lily couldn’t help but smile at how out of place the large man looked in the cramped room.
“Well...I’m alive, so it certainly could have been worse. I spoke with the wizard in charge of the Dragon Sanctuary. He said he’s positive that they aren’t missing any of theirs--”
“Then what on earth did the Muggles see before the village in Ireland was burnt to the ground?” Edgar’s voice was sharp as he spoke, his arms placed on the back of a chair as he leaned into it, impatience simmering in his movements. Lily thought about what’d he’d been through, thought about the attack on his family only a few months back. Everything had seemed so safe until then… until Frank had returned to Hogwarts after witnessing Death Eaters kill both Edgar’s parents and his wife’s family.
“He said they aren’t missing any,” Dorcas repeated. “But you’re right. The few Muggles who survived knew exactly what they’d seen before we erased their memories. The description fit perfectly with the breed that the Sanctuary typically houses. The wizard in charge wouldn’t let me get into the grounds to look around myself, and when I tried…” Dorcas lifted her hand to her neck and removed the scarf covering it. The burns that trailed along the skin, covering almost the entire column of her throat and down her chest, looked unimaginably painful.
“When I tried to get into the sanctuary to see if anything looked off myself, I was attacked by a smaller dragon.”
“That can’t be right,” Hagrid argued. “They don’t go attackin’ if they can help it. Scared creatures, they are. Misunderstood, don’t fancy being cornered.”
“Exactly,” Dorcas said. “And this dragon wasn’t scared. It wasn’t misunderstood. It was angry, almost like it was being controlled…”
“Fuck,” Edgar whispered. “You think Voldemort’s already been there? Already got control of the dragons?”
“He has the giants,” Gideon responded. “Not a far leap to consider he’d want an army of flying, fire breathing animals, as well.”
As the question floated around the room, Lily kept careful notes. When it was all over, they would lock the paper into a cupboard that Professor McGonagall had bewitched to open only for her. They couldn’t risk giving everyone a copy of the parchment…it wasn’t safe, even among this small circle.
“And now for a final bit of business,” Moody said, and Lily broke away from her thoughts to watch the Auror’s gaze travel to Frank and Alice. “Longbottom, Christopherson, let’s get this over with.”
“Moody!” Alice said with a sharp hiss, and Lily’s smile broke free as she watched Alice turn and glare at the Auror. “This isn’t the time.”
“And why not? Sure seems like the time to me.”
“It’s not the right time,” she hissed again.
“Well then, make it the right time, girl.”
Lily watched as Alice looked at Frank, speculating on what she could possibly be missing. The rest of the Order had gone just as quiet, no one sure if they should intervene or let it play out.
“Well,” Frank began. “As you all know, Alice and I bought a house right after graduation and have been engaged.” They paused, eyes locked on one another.
“Earlier today we decided there was no reason to wait to start our life together,” Alice added, and sent an apologetic look to Lily. “Well… actually it started when we challenged the last half of Auror training this morning. What would be our first year was condensed into the training program through Hogwarts, even more so with doubling the classes during the last half of the year. And we’ve been training non stop since… anyway, Mad-Eye gave us the option to challenge the program and if we succeeded, we’d have six months left of being trainees before taking our boards, instead of two years.”
“Did bloody amazing, you did. Both of you. There are only three, now five, people in the history of magic to successfully challenge the program,” Mad-eye said with a mixture of a smile and scowl on his face.
Alice blushed, and was about to sit down when Mr. Moody growled at her, “The rest, girl.”
“Alright, alright. After we passed our challenge tests, Frank and I made a decision. We saw no reason to keep waiting to start the next part of our life. We went to the Ministry, got the paperwork, and...well… we’re married! Mr. Moody acted as our witness.”
Lily’s eyes widened to double their size, her jaw dropping. “But the wedding Augusta is planning, I mean, you and Augusta—”
“We don’t need it,” Frank said, putting his arm around his new wife and pulling her into him, then placing a kiss on the top of her head. “We just wanted to belong to each other, in every way possible.”
Lily’s eyes filled with a misting of happy tears. She couldn’t help but let her gaze shift from Alice’s face over to where James was sitting and their eyes met in a moment that felt too intimate, too private, to be sharing with a crowded room.
“Well, this certainly calls for a celebration,” Professor McGonagall said, an actual smile gracing her lips. “We’ll call the meeting at an end for the night. I believe champagne is in order!”
It was nearing nine o’clock when the group ducked into the small sliver of wards created specifically to allow enough freedom for Order members to Disapparate, but held firmly against any others trying to Apparate in. And in the blink of an eye, they were gone, reappearing miles away in James and Lily’s London Flat. James gave himself a moment to settle, the distance and emotional exhaustion of the evening depleting some of his energy, then lifted his wand. Once all seven of them were standing safely in the room, he sent his stag to Professor Dumbledore to alert him that they’d arrived. Remus and Alice pulled their wands out, checking for any cracks in the protective wards.
“We’re safe,” Remus said, slipping his wand back in his robe and glancing at Alice. She nodded, confirming his assessment.
“I can't believe you two are married!” Lily said with a squeal that James firmly believed was programmed into every female. He watched as his girlfriend threw her arms around Alice and Frank, and was about the congratulate them himself when his attention focused on Sirius. His mate gave Alice a quick hug and peck on the cheek before following the dark corridor to his room.
James took a breath, and tried to drown out the symphony of excited questions and laughter floating through the room. Not that it wasn't brilliant-- hearing all his friends laugh and talk was like music to his ears. But he needed to think over how to handle Sirius…It wasn’t as if he was frustrated with him. How could he be? How would James survive it if Lily had been ripped from him? He wasn’t sure he would… and he understood Sirius had cared just as deeply about Belle.
James didn’t expect him to be okay. But Sirius was as close to his boiling point as James had ever seen. They'd arranged to go out for a night, and James was certain that it was still what Sirius needed. But now that Lily didn't need to stay over at Alice’s...
So, he needed a new plan. James scanned the room and watched as Alice and Lily continued to hug and laugh. Peter and Remus had taken a few books from McGonagall’s home with them, and were now settling them onto the shelves amongst the other piles of books. Frank stood to the side, a proud smile on his face as he watched his wife--his wife--talk with Lily. James hated to do what he was planning, but as he thought again of the feral energy desperate to escape from Sirius, he thought it may be the only way to keep both his mate and his girlfriend safe for the night.
Instead of following Sirius like he planned, he turned and walked to Peter and Remus. After a few moments of discussion, his mates nodded and he moved over to Frank. He kept his voice down, filling Frank in on his plans and asking the favor of him. Once he agreed, he joined Alice and Lily, giving Alice a brotherly peck on the cheek before taking Lily’s hand and pulling her towards the kitchen.
“This is just what tonight needed,” she said, relatively breathless from excitement as she smiled over at Alice. “Something happy. And, I can honestly say I’m a bit relieved to not have to deal with how perfectly terrible Augusta would have been planning her only son’s wedding.”
“Funny, I was thinking the same thing earlier about the news being just what we needed.” James stared into her green eyes, relief rushing through him as he saw how much happiness they held. God, he’d buy Alice and Frank whatever wedding present they wanted for at least giving him this one moment of seeing his beautiful Lily happy again. “It felt good too, to be productive tonight. Be with the Order. But I don’t think everyone is feeling as cheerful.” He shot a glance toward the dark corridor that led to Sirius’s room.
“Oh, James.” He saw her heart break apart again as her eyes met his. “God, I should have thought about how this must be affecting him. I feel terrible for being so happy when we don’t even have her to—“
“No, that’s bollocks,” James cut her off. “You can’t do that. Belle would be irate if she believed you were refusing to be happy for your best friends simply because she can't be here to be happy with us.” He lifted a finger and tilted Lily’s chin up, urging her gaze to meet his. “It’s time for us to stop doing that, stop feeling so guilty every time we forget for just a moment that she’s—” He felt himself choke for a moment before powering through— “That she’s gone.” He used his other hand to push aside her long hair, drawing it down her back and dancing his fingers over the base of her neck.
“We’re going to stop letting the fact that we miss her take over so much of our lives. Alice and Frank’s news is brilliant, you should be happy. I’m thrilled for them. We need to work on moving past the shock of losing her, so we can help him do the same.” James nodded again in Sirius’s direction. “And speaking of, I talked with Frank. He and Alice want to stay here tonight, said they don’t want to risk going home and having a Howler waiting for them. Augusta won’t take too kindly to the news of their eloping.”
“Oh, well, of course they should if they want. We still have an extra bedroom that just sits empty, anyway.” James could tell her thoughts were hardly on his words, probably dwelling on Sirius.
“Yeah, so, they’ll be sleeping here for the night. And you won’t be alone when Peter, Remus and I take Sirius out.”
Ah, now she’s paying attention, James thought as she shot her green eyes back to him.
“I certainly don’t need a babysitter,” Lily argued, and James was starting to think there would have been a better way to go about the situation. “Besides, after the Order meeting tonight, discussing how many secret followers Voldemort really has, it can’t be safe.”
“Lily,” he softened his voice, though he knew his friends were quieting down around them, trying to appear as if they weren’t listening when they were in fact hanging on to every word. “We can’t live our entire lives hidden in a flat or in McGonagall’s.”
“No, of course we can’t, but tonight… after everything we just talked about…”
“Yes, and we’re safer because of it. We’re in London, a huge city filled with people. We made the decision after Bellatrix found Belle here that we wouldn’t run and hide. We could move countless times and we’d still be easy to find. So instead, we put every charm possible on this building. We’re as safe as we can be, and we’re prepared—“
“Constant Vigilance,” Frank piped up, earning him a glare from Lily.
“We are in no more danger going out to a muggle pub than we are in this flat. That’s why we aren’t going alone, or leaving you here alone.” James watched the war of emotions spread through her. Fear, anger, the fight to try and hold both in.
“Come on,” he said as he grabbed her arm and started tugging her down the hall. “Let’s talk about this privately.” He shot a glare to his mates, not surprised to see a snicker on Frank’s face. Bloke was all arrogant now that he went and got himself a wife.
As James pulled her into their bedroom, he shut the door and flicked the lock before setting the lanterns aflame. Lily stood, back to the door with her arms crossed.
“You knew we were going out tonight,” James said, his voice patient as he faced her and moved his hands to rest on her hips. She stood, silent and still, with the fire bringing to life the countless emotions her eyes held. So many times he’d looked into those same eyes, witnessing some of the same emotions.
James found himself thinking, not for the first time, how much more beautiful she was than he’d ever realized. The years he’d spent fancying her, well, he’d obviously found her good looking. What bloke wouldn’t? But now, after everything they’d seen and been through together, her beauty was almost unearthly.
“Yes, I know you'd already planned it,” she said, her tone quiet as she glanced away from him. “But I don’t need Alice and Frank to spend the night. They just got married, for heaven’s sake.”
“Lily, I’m sorry, I can’t leave you here alone. Plus, Frank wants to—“
“Of course he doesn’t want to! This is their wedding night! Is there even a howler he’s worried about, or did that just seem to be a convenient excuse?” Her eyes shot back up to James as her temper started to flare again. She looked every bit like an indignant fairy.
“He reckons there will be a howler, though he may not be particularly worried about it. That isn’t the point, though. They’re fine staying overnight. Thrilled to be, in fact.”
“James Potter, I don’t appreciate you being cheeky--”
“My hands are tied, Lily. We made these plans when we thought you would be at Alice’s. You wouldn’t care to have me alone in the flat in the middle of the night. Well, I don’t want you alone, either.”
“I am perfectly capable of—“
“No, love.” In a rare flash of annoyance, James moved his hands from her hips and placed them against the door on either side of her head. How could she say that, after all they’d just lost? If Belle hadn’t been alone… “Don’t be dense. Being capable has nothing to do with it.”
He watched her eyes flash. “Dense is it? I know how to cast every bloody protection charm you do. I know every spell used to keep this flat safe. I’m not unaware of the dangers like she was. Knowing I can take care of myself certainly isn’t being dense.”
“And why the fuck is it worth the risk?” James knew he was losing the battle against his own temper. But how bloody stubborn could she be? “Is it worth your fucking life, Lily? Proving you can be here alone?”
He watched as her face paled before anger flushed it again. “Is it worth your life, going out to get sloshed?”
“That's not what it's about!” He wanted so badly to grab her and shake some sense into her. “It's the fact that either way something will happen. If I don't go with him, Sirius will take off. He needs out for a while. Christ, I need out!”
Lily lost the color that had seeped into her cheeks. “I didn't realize you needed away from me that badly,” she hissed as she tried to move away from James, his arms still caging her.
“No, no Lily. That isn't what I meant.” He tried to get a grip his own impatience, pulling it in inch by inch as he kept his gaze fixated on her. He leaned closer, intending to place a kiss on her forehead but she turned her face away from him.
“Lily, I didn't mean it to sound like that,” he said again.
“Love,” he removed one hand from its position on the wall and let it rest on the spot where the soft curve of her neck tapered down to shoulder. Then, used the other to cradle her chin and coax her head to turn and meet his eyes. “I didn't want it to sound like that.” He’d hurt her, he could see that clearly. “I do need out, but not away from you. Never away from you. I couldn’t handle it if something happened to you,” he whispered, moving his body closer into her. He let his thumb trace the contours of her neck, dipping under her jumper to rub small circles over her delicate flesh.
“I know, without a doubt, that nothing in my life would ever be good again if I lost you. Do you understand that?” His eyes stayed on hers as he moved his other hand to her throat, drawing the tip of his a thumb along her jaw then allowing his lips to follow. He caught the soft scent of her, the deep hints of flowers, fresh and sweet, as he kissed along the heated skin.
“I couldn’t live with myself if I put you in a position to get hurt.” He felt her body tremble under him as he spoke, the warmth of his breath flirting along her skin as he continued to suck and nip over her, moving slowly down her neck.
“I couldn't live if I didn't have you.” A tremor run through her again, either from his words or the way his mouth moved over her body, James wasn’t sure.
“I'm not going anywhere,” she whispered, and he knew her anger and hurt were dissolving little by little. He pulled her body firmly into his so every inch of him was pressed against her and continued to use his tongue and lips to explore the outline of her shoulder, fluttering and dipping under the fabric of the jumper. He used both hands to trace up and down her ribcage, before allowing them to settle under her clothing, fingers hot and probably just a bit too hard as they dug into her hips.
James heard the air catch in her throat as he moved his lips, his tongue, his teeth down to the swell of her breasts, only the slightest ribbon of skin accessible above the jumper. Her chest rose up and down; her breathing became just as unsteady as his.
Before she could adjust to the heat left behind with every path his mouth traced, he raised his head and used his lips to seize hers. He forced himself to be gentle as he captured her. He wanted so much from her, and he knew it wasn’t fair. It was too much. But bloody hell, he wasn’t made of stone. And as he parted her lips with his tongue, gently easing her open, he couldn’t help the way his body pressed even harder into her, begging for more.
“Lily,” he said, breathless now as he pulled away. What he'd intended to be a way to soothe, to distract, had turned into his own desperation breaking free of his control.
He took in the sight of her, the lanterns still burning hot and bright, and felt himself tense again. Her lips were swollen from his, her eyes glazed and needy.
“Fuck,” he said in a whisper, resting his forehead against hers. He knew he had to, but he couldn’t keep his hands off her. He couldn’t stop his fingers from tangling into her hair and pulling the red strands back, urging her lips up to meet his again. Her moan echoed through the flickering room and vibrated through James, further weakening his restraint. It nearly broke him. He kept one hand tangled in her hair and let the other, still digging into her hip, travel further up her ribcage.
She whimpered again as his thumb danced along the underside of her breast. Christ, he could barely stop himself from moving further under her bra, from cupping and molding and filling his palm with her flesh. James knew she could feel how hard he was against her, and he was minutes--fuck, her cries became soft pleas as they filled his head--seconds away from making their first time together a frenzy of heat, fast and hard and hot against a bedroom door.
“Bloody fucking hell,” he said, pulling his mouth from her again but keeping his hand under her jumper, unable to let that contact go. “You’re incredible,” he whispered and moved his head to rest on her shoulder. “You’re incredible, Lily, and I couldn’t take losing you.”
His words seemed to bring her back to how they'd gotten there, how they’d ended up frantic and frenzied for one another.
“I couldn’t take losing you, either,” she whispered. He couldn’t figure out of it was surrender or frustration in her voice, his own ears too filled with the sound of his blood pumping.
“James, I want to come.” James smirked as he moved his head from her shoulder and glanced down at her. Her cheeks turned bright red in the candlelight, making her look even more aroused.
“No, I mean— dammit, James, I want to come with you and Sirius and—“
“Now Lily, don’t make me go kick my best mates arse.”
“Oh just shut up,” she said with a throaty laugh as she pushed her hands into his chest. “I want to come with you all to the pub tonight. I don’t want to stay back. I don’t think I can handle being here, in this quiet, dark room.”
James stared down at her, realizing how daft he’d been not to see that she was just as eager to get out as the rest of them.
“Let me go talk to Sirius, yeah?”
She nodded as he pulled his hand from its perfect position on her flesh, and wiggled her jumper back into place. Watching it cover the skin he'd been unable to stop touching did nothing to calm him down.
Christ, he was an adult. A far cry from a cranky old codger, but he was old enough to have better control of himself. He’d had sex. He’d had really great sex, and spent an entire month with a fun, spontaneous and…adventurous girl he’d met while he holidayed with his parents. He should be able to show better control with Lily.
Yet, as he stared down at her, he couldn't stop himself from imagining peeling her clothes off and taking every part of her. Between fantasizing about making love to her, slow and soft and warm, and fantasizing about fucking her hard and fast against the door, he was certain that he couldn't survive much longer.
“James?” Lily said, cocking her head to the side as he continued to stand, staring at her. “Going to talk to Sirius, yeah?”
“Er, yeah,” he said, trying to shake his thoughts away as he unlocked the door and left the room before he could attempt and follow up on those fantasies.
As he walked down the hall, he heard his mates talking as they sprawled around the room, tossing around their opinions about the night’s events and the information that they’d all discussed. James tried to keep quiet, not wanting to answer questions yet about how his and Lily’s, er, conversation had gone. He crept to Sirius’s door and went in without knocking.
If James had needed any reminders of why they had to start working toward normalcy, the sight before him would have served as one. Sirius sat on a wooden chair, facing a desk with Butterscotch curled in his lap, and photos of the beautiful woman he’d lost spread over the top of the desk. An empty glass bottle stood beside the photos, and James tried, without success, to recall how much had been left of it.
“Alright?” James asked as he walked into the room, though the answer was obvious. Sirius only lifted his head to meet James’s eyes, then glanced back down at the photos.
“I’ve been thinking about what Adeline said that day at the cemetery,” Sirius began, and James was surprised that his tone wasn’t nearly as dark as he’d anticipated. “About how Belle would have rather had the short life she did, than live years in the world her family tried to force her in. I think she’s right.” Sirius traced a finger over a photo of Belle in the common room, her hair messy and her smile mischievous as she glanced at the camera Sirius must’ve used to capture it.
James kept silent as he walked to the bed and sat down. The room was a mess of clothes and papers.
“I wish you could have seen the house she grew up in. It was fancy enough, sure, but so bloody…cold. And sterile. So different than her.”
“I don't think I've ever known someone who could get as angry or as happy as Belle,” James said as a smile crept over his lips. “Except maybe you,” he added, raising an eyebrow in Sirius’s direction. “What's all this about, mate?”
Sirius kept silent for a moment as he seemed to consider his next sentence. “She should have have had the chance to do more, experience more. I wish I’d have let her drive my Motorbike on our way home from Swansea. Wish I’d have shown her padfoot, watched her face when I turned into a great big dog and leapt on her. Did Lily tell you… Did you know Belle and I, er…” he trailed off and James thought it may have been one of the only times he's ever seen his mate uncomfortable talking about sex.
“Sort of figured,” James said with a shrug as Sirius stared at him. “I mean, you weren’t preening or anything, but there were certainly day where your mood seemed to be considerably brighter.”
“Yeah, well, it wasn’t something I wanted to brag about—“ James smirked, causing Sirius to scowl. “It wasn’t something I wanted to brag about with her. But now, thinking over what Adeline said about her life being better with us, now I’m so bloody thankful we did. There’s so much we didn’t have the chance to do together. Hell, we never even went on a proper date. But, she at least died knowing how bloody crazy I was about her. I don’t know if I could’ve dealt with it, if she’d died with that French fuck being the last person she slept with.”
James just stared, wondering why Sirius’s conversation mirrored so closely what him and Lily had nearly ended up doing in the room next door. Maybe the walls were entirely too thin…
“And then with Alice and Frank getting married today...Not that they got married because of Voldemort, but I'm sure it plays a part in how quickly they got it done…” Sirius stood, starting his mantra of pacing back and forth that was as much a part of him as the dark, wild hair. “And what if we would have lost Lily that night? If Rukin would have killed her, what would she have gotten out of the last few months of her life?”
James felt the sharp fingers of ice curl through him as he remembered how Lily had looked, nearly dead in her own bedroom.
Sirius looked down at the photo of Belle again as he stopped to lean on the desk. “I know Bellatrix didn't make Belle’s last few minutes alive easy. But we know it was short, Dumbledore was able to tell us that much. She didn't suffer for long.” He glanced back over to James, and the darkness of his grey eyes had James braced for whatever was coming next.
“I was thinking earlier of how I know, I absolutely know, Belle wasn’t scared. Even in her last minutes, she wouldn’t have been. She had too much anger in her, and Bellatrix didn’t have her long enough to…” he took a slow break as he trailed off, gathering himself before continuing. “But that night we almost lost Lily, Rukin had her for nearly an hour. I couldn’t ask this then...I just, I didn’t want to know. But when we found her she looked… wild. Like a scared, terrified, wild animal. She was so bloody and her clothes…Did he…?”
“No,” James whispered, letting his breath out as he leaned his head into his hands. He felt shaken at the memory of what had happened, and what could’ve happened. “You’re right, had her for nearly an hour, but the story she told to the Headmaster, the story that you heard, that was everything that happened. She just left out some details about things he said.”
“And she told you?”
“Yeah, she did. I think that fucker would have done anything to humiliate her before killing her. I don’t think it was even about wanting her dead— though he certainly did. More, it was about wanting to see how terrible he could make the last of her life and how long he could drag it out for. He thought he had gotten rid of me, had no idea I could still communicate with you lot, and assumed he had hours with her. Do I think he would have raped her if he’d had more time with her? Yes.” James felt anger, disgust, pure pain at what Lily had been through fill him. And God, only minutes ago he’d been ready to rip her clothes off and bury himself into her. A portion of that disgust shifted steadily over, and he knew he'd been close to pushing Lily too far. It was easy to forget the entirely too recent hell she’d endured, especially after they'd gotten so tangled up in losing Belle and the Order. But James knew he needed to be more careful, make sure he wasn't doing anything to Lily that she wasn't--
“Flat s’not that soundproof, mate,” Sirius said, seemingly reading James’s thoughts. “And by the noises she was making, I reckon you don't need to be concerned. She certainly seemed happy enough to—”
“How about you don’t finish that statement, Black,” James said as he tried to hide a grin. He should have been, but he wasn’t embarrassed. Lily would’ve been. But he’d been too fucking turned on to care if the whole flat heard.
“Well, anyway, I didn’t bring all this up to mess with your head or anything. I took this picture of Belle after our first night,” he motioned his head toward the photo of a disheveled girl smiling at him. “She just looked so...right. And I was thinking tonight when I saw it, how glad I am that we got that. I want to blame myself, and I’m sure I still will. But then again, you heard the talk tonight. No one knows what’s going on and who might die and who might kill them. We don’t know what would’ve happened to Belle if she never would’ve become friends with us. There’s just no way to know. But one thing we do know, is she loved us. All of us. And she was happy.”
James stared, surprised at how rationally his best mate seemed to be thinking.
“Yes, she absolutely was,” he agreed.
“So, heard Lily wants to come out and play with us?” A wolfish grin played over Sirius’s face. “Let’s go, then. We’ll see how many shots it'll take Miss Evans until she's flirting with me instead of you.”
Sirius sent a wink at James before moving toward the door and leaving the room. James could hear him bellowing for Alice and Frank to take off and go shag in their own house, then he shouted for Lily go vanish whatever love bites James had left her and get ready to go. It was time for a night out.
James shook his head, baffled but exceptionally grateful for the obvious shift in Sirius's mood. Though, one thing was certain: he would definitely need to put a muffling spell on his and Lily’s bedroom from now on.
I'm back! And planning on resuming Saturday updates :)! For those of you still around, thanks for sticking with me! Especially to cambangst for still being willing to continue his amazing beta reading!
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by Stephanie M