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Chapter 25 : Chapter 25
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“Is this seat taken?”
She looked up to find the source of the query and found one Sirius Black, looking both smarmy and serious all at once. She thought about protesting, but found she wasn’t much in the mood for it, and perhaps talking with Sirius could serve as her penance for what she had said to James this morning.
She gestured for him to take it and he sat down without hesitation, shoving a very full glass of the most foul smelling liquid in front of her. “You’re going to need a drink.”
There was something on his mind; you could tell by the way his whole body seemed to hum with nervous energy. He thumped the table a few times, Lily recognised the pattern as the tune of a Nick-Knack and the Kneazles song, but before she could ascertain any semblance of meaning from his behaviour, he very calmly gave her his reason for being there.
“Penny Thistleton’s family have been found dead, the Dark Mark was hanging over their house. Mother, father and two young sisters have all been murdered.”
He said it so steadily that you could be forgiven for thinking that he didn’t care, but Lily could tell by the determined look on his face and the tension in his hands that he cared very much, so much that he’d have liked to have gone after those Death Eaters himself.
Penny was one of the students that Lily tutored sometimes, she was an intensely bright Ravenclaw but seemed to suffer from an intense mental block when it came to the subject of Potions. She was a very sweet and funny girl, and Lily couldn’t think of a single person who disliked her, even Snape found her tolerable.
“Like, I said, you need a drink,” he signalled to Rosmerta to bring out some more Firewhisky and indicated that she should drink her own.
“No, I…I have to get back, someone should be there for her,” she said shakily, raising herself from her seat.
Sirius grabbed her wrist and pulled her back down. “James is taking care of it, it’s all right. I just thought you should know, you two seemed on pretty friendly terms.”
Lily laughed sardonically. “Who wasn’t on friendly terms with Penny?”
Sirius’ face clouded. “Someone, obviously.”
Lily looked down at the tabletop; someone had scribbled a dirty poem to the left of her forearm, she tried to decipher it, but the words began to blur and run together. “He doesn’t count, he’s hardly human,” she said softly. Sirius hesitantly reached over to give her a few awkward, but sincere pats on the hand as a gesture of comfort.
Rosmerta hurried over to their table to serve his drink, freeing Sirius from his efforts. He stuffed a few coins in her hand, gave her a sunny smile and turned back to Lily, his features dark with malcontent.
“You might as well drink up, Evans, it might make you feel better.”
“I doubt it,” she said miserably.
“You drink enough of this stuff and it can make you forget your own name.”
She looked up at him, his dark eyes glinted and his mouth was set in too hard a line, distorting his features into an ugly rictus. He downed half his glass and sat back in his seat, eyeing Lily closely.
Under his intense stare she felt very compelled to drink, so she hesitantly picked up her glass and examined it. Even the fumes made her feel a little dizzy. She’d never quite had the daring to taste Firewhisky, only going so far as to enjoy smuggled Butterbeer or mead with her friends, or a glass of wine at home.
Taking a too large mouthful, she sputtered and gagged, thumping her chest and desperately trying not to throw up.
“Very graceful,” Sirius said coolly. “ I can see why James has spent this week pining about you now.”
She scowled at him, her already red face darkening a shade. “Shut up,” she said scratchily and defiantly took another sip.
Sirius looked mildly impressed and they sat quietly, drinking and mulling things over, the din of the crowded pub compensating for their silence.
“Those your parents?” Sirius asked abruptly, sliding back in his seat like a qualified lounge lizard, long limbs and pale skin thrown about carelessly.
“Yep,” Lily replied. The two of them were entirely stuck for conversation, having had very few civil things to say to one another during their time at Hogwarts. Lily sat hunched over her drink, fussing with an errant strand of hair.
Sirius stared her down. “They shouldn’t really come here, you know,” he said casually.
Her head snapped up and she glared at him viciously. “Why? Because they’re inferior?” she spat.
He gave her a haughty smile and actually laughed at her. “You might want to ease your grip on that glass Evans, I don’t care to see if my Healing Charms are up to scratch.”
She gave him a venomous glower and went to get up.
“You certainly jump to conclusions, don’t you?” Sirius said as soon as her back was facing him; she looked around at him, looking incredulous. “I meant for their own safety.”
“Did you now? Thanks for your concern,” she retorted waspishly.
He leaned over the table, almost lazily and once again his fingers encircled her wrist, entreating her to sit down, not only with his grip, but there was something of a look in his eyes.
She sat down in a petulant manner, not caring if she looked all of five years old as she pouted and crossed her arms defensively.
“It’s not safe for any of us these days, but especially for people like you and your family. You know that.”
“‘People like me?’” Lily repeated
Sirius groaned exasperatedly. “Oh shut up. You know I didn’t mean it like that.”
It was as close to an apology as she’d get, so she explained. “They were protected, Dumbledore organised for them to be escorted by Aurors.”
“Do you know how many Aurors I saw around at my parent’s place? How many Ministry officials? Don’t assume anyone is on your side, Evans, because you don’t know where loyalties lie.” He took a deep breath and considered his next words carefully. “And to declare them could mean a death sentence.”
She gave him a questioning look.
“Do you know why Penny’s family were killed?” he asked her, his voice was smooth and sharp and humming with tension, his graceful fingers twitching upon the over his empty glass, itching to act in some violent way. “They were working against Voldemort, they had openly denounced him. Purebloods. They were made an example of.”
“How do you know this?”
“Who else can you think of who fits that bill? Prominent pureblood family, not siding with Voldemort?”
“James’ family? They’re not…”
“They’re in danger of being made an example of. As are you.”
“Why? I’m not important, I’m not even Halfblooded.”
He laughed briefly and bitterly. “Surely you can see that? A Muggleborn Head Girl in these times? A talented witch who disproves everything that these people preach?”
“Oh.” There seemed to be little else to say to that. She was beginning to understand that being patronising and crude was Sirius’ way of showing he cared.
“Yes, ‘Oh’. Just watch it, okay? Don’t start baiting them, don’t put you or your family in any position where you make yourself a target.”
She looked up at him, her eyes blazing fiercely. “And what if I want to put myself in exactly that kind of position?” she whispered, in a challenging tone.
Sirius leaned back again; he smirked at her briefly and shook his head. “I guess I’ll see you there.”
They seemed to have reached some sort of accord and they sat in easy silence.
Lily’s body ached with inaction, the Firewhisky was thumping through her veins and suddenly she didn’t want to be here any more.
“Guess I should get back,” she raised herself up and thought about what to say to Sirius. A thank you didn’t seem sufficient or appropriate.
“I’ll walk you back?” Sirius suggested.
“Hagrid…” she started, but Sirius cut her off.
“Hagrid is three sheets to the wind and won’t even notice you’re gone, besides, he’s not much protection in this state,” he gestured towards Hagrid who was merrily indulged at the bar, crooning some unintelligible shanty with a couple of hags.
“I need you to protect me?” Lily scoffed.
Sirius leered at her, “Sweet, innocent, virgin redheads are going for a small fortune these days, can’t be too careful. Who knows, I may need some galleons in the future.”
She rolled her eyes, and signalled to Hagrid that she was leaving.
“Don’t worry Hagrid! I’ll protect her!” Sirius called out over the din.
Lily gave him a shove and he stumbled out the door, laughing gleefully.
The two of them tumbled out into Hogsmeade; the streets were lacking their usual bustling crowd, so Sirius and Lily were able to amble comfortably down the street. The two of them were silent as the effects of the whisky started to take their toll. Sirius' pace had slowed down, his footsteps mimicking Lily's. The rhythmic fall began to unnerve her and she whirled on him. She immediately felt dizzy but his steadying arm around her waist just incensed her more.
“I don’t need coddling,” she said haughtily, shoving his arm away.
“You need a walking frame at the moment,” Sirius replied, leading her to a wall where she could steady herself.
She took a couple of deep breaths and attempted to straighten. “I guess I don’t handle my liquor very well,” she chuckled, resting her head against the brick, it grated on her cheek, but it felt cool and right now, that was a godsend.
“Well, I didn’t figure you for a big drinker,” Sirius told her, leaning on the wall next to her.
“I do believe I’m utterly pissed. Thanks ever so.”
Sirius smiled slyly, “You know, were you any other girl, this would be ideal for me.”
“I’m not that drunk, Black,” she told him bemusedly.
“You’re not that drunk at all, you know, you’re just not used to it.”
“I hate to think what really drunk would be like, then.” She splayed one of her hands out beside her on the brick, the rough surface made her fingers tingle.
“It doesn’t matter, you don’t remember any of it the next day,” Sirius said drolly.
“Just pray that you kept your pants on and no one had a camera?”
“Something like that.”
“Look, Black, you go back to school, I’ll just…stay here for tonight.”
“Dumbledore would have a pink fit,” Sirius said, “besides, James would kill me.”
Lily growled. “It’s not up to James what I do and where I stay.”
“He can’t exactly help himself.”
She looked over him suspiciously, “Since when do you care?”
He groaned, looked as though he might say something to explain, but a devious grin spread over his face. “I care quite a bit, according to James. So do you apparently. Quickie in the library? I had no idea you were up for a bit of adventure.”
She flushed bight red and buried her face in her hands. “Oh god, he told you that?” she asked, her voice pitching towards a screech.
“There are many things James is talented at, keeping things from me, is not one of them, as you’ve seen first hand.”
Lily didn’t reply, she can only recall two other times she has ever felt this level of embarrassment, one time involved a boy named Darren Mears and some particularly bad timing by her parents and the other had involved James and Sirius, from a time and an attitude long passed.
“Look, how about I take you some place where you can cool off, sober up or calm down,” Sirius said, he reached over to help her up, but she didn’t particularly feel like making any sort of contact with him right now and pushed herself away from the wall, hoping that she could at least be allowed the dignity of balance.
Sirius stayed in step with her, his hands thrust deeply into his pockets, his stature crouched over and yet he still towered over her. “Look, I’m trying to…fix this, it’s my cock up, what James said and what he did…he did it because of me, okay?” She could tell that this admission pained him, but it was a relief to both of them that they had stopped dancing around what they had actually wanted to say.
“I didn’t see you holding the puppet strings, Sirius. Let James take responsibility for himself,” Lily retorted angrily. Her hair was whipping in her face as the wind grew more vicious, she yanked it back artlessly and tried to knot it in to staying in place.
“Fine, he’s a big boy, he said those things and he’s sorry, okay? Let him at least tell you that.”
“Did he send you here?” she accused.
“He was a little preoccupied, Evans, what with the tragedy and all that. He’d kill me if he knew I was here, stupid git wants to fight his own battles.”
“I’m a battle now, am I?”
“You’re an uphill battle, complete with bloody turrets and muggle explosives. You make things difficult for him and for you.”
“Thanks for the advice, but I think I know how to manage my own life.”
“Like right now, for instance,” Sirius pointed out calmly.
“Right now I am trusting you not to walk me off a cliff and hand me an anvil, where are we going?” she replied smoothly.
“You,” Sirius corrected, “You’re going to the Shrieking Shack.”
Lily halted in her steps and gave him an incredulous look. “You can’t be serious.”
“Why? It’s an excellent place to dry out,” Sirius started off again, forcing Lily hobble after him in an effort to keep up. “Not scared are you, Evans?” he teased.
“No,” she replied moodily. “I know it’s not haunted, but the whole place looks like it’s going to pack in on itself.”
“Charmed to look that way, stronger than Hogwarts, it is,” Sirius informed her.
“Ah.” Lily still felt incredibly dubious, there must be a reason why she had entrusted Sirius Black with her safety, because only mad people and drunks did that. She was pretty sure she was the latter.
He walked her as far as the house itself, which hung over them ominously, creaking and groaning with age and wear.
“Right, well, this is where I leave off, surely you can find a door?”
“Yes,” she replied, a little less snippily than usual. “Thank you, I guess.”
“Don’t mention it,” he replied, grinning. “Be careful, okay? You know they’re all going to blame me if anything happens to you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind when I start running with the scissors and playing with the stove.”
He flashed her another smile and sauntered away, hands in pockets.
She approached the door tentatively, gently testing the doorknob, it opened without any further need for experimentation and she stepped inside the house.
It looked even worse from the inside than it did out. The warped floorboards protested under her weight, the windows were boarded up so only the slightest sliver of light was able to invade the house. The air danced with specks of dust, they reflected what little light there was: sparkling in the gloomy atmosphere, the only sound from outside that could be heard was the howl of the wind.
Lily had the feeling that she had stepped into some old horror movie and even though she knew the house was safe and sturdy, the part of her that accepted things at face value couldn’t get rid that unsettled feel in her stomach.
She climbed the stairs carefully, the banisters rattled and shifted beneath her grip, the stairs bent and ached with each footfall, she reached the second floor and found an almost comfortable little arrangement: a dilapidated bed, couch and piano, all remarkably well kept; they seemed such odd things to find in a place that she knew a werewolf inhabited once a month and on closer examination, she could see that there were deep gouges in the floor and walls, wall paper had been torn and shredded by huge claws and lay in messy clumps in the corners. The bed itself had been restored using magical means, she was sure it was Remus’ handiwork.
She reached over to touch the bedspread; it felt warm and worn beneath her fingertips and in her current state, was the most inviting thing she’d ever felt. She flopped down on top of the bed, curling up.
The bed smelt like boys: sweat, dirt and musk, none of them had actually learned a thorough Cleaning Charm, obviously.
She closed her eyes, breathing deeply and trying to forget about her parents, Penny, Voldemort and James, sleep was an inviting option at the moment and the bed was warm.
There was a loud pop, a thump and a surprised yell and Lily woke up, gasping for air.
“Lily?” came a shaky voice. Her eyes adjusted to the dark and she could make out the blurry form of James.
“What’re you doing here?” Lily asked him groggily, her heart pounding
“I…came here to, ah, relax,” James replied. “I went into Hogsmeade, but there were too many people in the pubs,” he explained rapidly, his hands knotting together. “This place is usually abandoned, you know.”
“I know it is, why do you think I’m here?”
James stepped closer to her, his face becoming clear. “Yeah but, how did you…”he trailed off and his face hardened with resolve. “Sirius.”
“Did Sirius bring you here?” he asked rather forcefully.
“Yes,” Lily said slowly, curiously. “Why?”
“He came back about 10 minutes ago, all flustered and insistent I come here to…relax.”
Lily noted the way he kept hesitating when he said he’d come to ‘relax’, she wondered what possible reason could be behind it but then remembered the incident that had set off this whole chain of events, that coupled with James’ pale, drawn appearance gave her the answer.
“How’s Penny?” she asked.
James exhaled loudly and stood very still, crossing his arms defensively. “She’s not good.”
Lily supposed it was a very stupid question to ask in lieu of the situation. “What’s going to happen now?”
“Ah…” James took a moment to compose his thoughts, clenching his hands anxiously, and scuffing his feet on the dirty floor. Against all reason Lily wanted to take him into her arms and comfort him. “Dumbledore feels it’s best she stays at the school, she’s safer here, but her aunt and uncle are coming to stay with her, she’ll go home to them, I suppose.” His voice trailed off to a whisper towards the end and suddenly looked incredibly young and defeated.
“How are you?” Lily asked cautiously. Whether it was the Firewhisky or the severity of the situation, Lily could feel her anger at him ebbing away.
He looked down at her, her eyes were wide and honest and he wanted to reach out and touch her, to take comfort in her… “I’m fine, I’m not the one who lost my whole family today,” he said, attempting to shrug it off.
“James…” she chided softly.
“I’ll go, Lily, you don’t want me here. I shouldn’t have…” he swallowed and then repeated rather desperately, “I’ll go.”
She sat up quickly and slid across the bed, capturing his hand. “I didn’t say that. Stay, James, just sit down.”
His hands shook nervously as she pulled him towards her, he seemed to have given up any thought of fighting her but he kept his eyes on the floor, away from her.
He half fell on to the bed, his eyes still wild and unfocused, Lily pulled herself up to sit next to him, tucking her legs beneath her and watching his face warily, he held himself still, forward facing, trying to ignore Lily beside him, though thinking about her, and smelling her and feeling her warmth detracted his mind from the thought of Penny, of those children, of what they had been put through before they’d been murdered.
He shuddered involuntarily and raised a shaking hand to his face, cupping his jaw.
Lily sidled up closer to him and took his hand in her own again; it tore her up to see him in this much pain, as much as she could hear his spiteful accusations ringing through her ears she could also see the anguish behind his eyes, and in the pull of his mouth.
He looked down at their hands intertwined and recoiled from her as though her touch was vile.
“It’s okay James,” she said softly.
He short, harsh laugh and told the wall in front of them. “It isn’t.”
She wanted to roll her eyes and shake him until he saw some sense. She wasn’t offering anything except than comfort and he needed it, she could see it in the way he held himself like a weeping plant: too long in the sun and starved of water.
“We can play this game all day, James, but I’m not going to let you alone. Sirius is a…he’s many things, but he was right to send you here, right to send me here to find you,” she pulled his face around to hers. “We don’t have to talk or anything, just stay here, okay?”
He nodded numbly and turned away again. “Our talks haven’t been going that well lately anyway,” he mumbled. The subject is awkward for her, and still fresh and riddled with pain and guilt, but at least he wasn’t shaking anymore.
“No,” she said gently. “Look, I wanted to apologise for what I said to you this morning, it wasn’t fair of me.”
“I deserved it," he mumbled softly causing her to strain to hear. "I deserved worse and I damn sure don't deserve you.”
She smoothed a crease in the bedspread, trying to think of a way to respond and how to say what she felt. It would have been nice to understand what she felt herself, but there wasn’t time for that right now.
“Nonsense,” she said bracingly, “you deserve all the good things in life James Potter. Despite not being able to think before you speak, you are a good man,” she finished emphatically.
He looked around at her again, his eyes looked a little more hopeful; the deadened look had disappeared at least. “I’ve no right to…Lily I’m sorry, I’m sorry for what I said and that I hurt you. God, if only I’d thought ten seconds into the future before I opened my mouth for once…”
“You were trying to push me away, I get it James.”
“It worked didn’t it? I can’t take it back; I can’t make it go away…” he dropped his head in his hands, the raspy broken tone of his voice catching Lily off guard. "I'm a fool. What happened to Penny...." she could hear him suck in a breath, " it made me realise how much we all stand to lose, but that doesn’t matter…I’ve already lost you.”
She reached out and stroked his face gingerly, the pads of her fingertips tracing a scar on his cheek, he was sitting so still that a thin layer of dust had settled on his head and shoulders, right now he looked more afraid of her and what she was doing to him rather than Voldemort.
His vulnerability surprised her…in the time that she'd known him, she thought she had seen the James Potter Spectrum of Emotions. But he had never once let his armour slip - never once let her witness the tiny cracks that pierced through to reveal how things affected him. Penny's situation had amplified his emotions, she realized that, but how could she have so easily misjudged his character? She silently thanked Sirius for knowing him better than she did.
It had occurred to her that perhaps she was still a little tipsy, but she banished the thought as she leaned forward and kissed him, at first he was surprised and she thought for a moment that he might try and get up, but he didn’t; his breath was warm and ragged on her lips, his hands slid from her waist to her hair, aching for contact like he’d been starved for months, moving around so he could wrap her up in his arms entirely.
She breathed him in and didn’t let him push her away.
A/N: so yeah, here tis, the thing I've been promising for an age. I really hope you enjoyed it.
The picture is of James, supposed to be a photograph taken by Lily, but drawn by me, I drew it about a year ago, so...er, not that good, but I figure I can use them for something.
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