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In My Time of Dying by Stag Night
Chapter 26 : Apologies and Proposals
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 21


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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E N T Y - S I X
Apologies and Proposals




It was with a feeling of sheepishness, foolishness, and a resigned sigh that Sirius picked up his mirror and contacted James late one night. For the last several days, he'd done nothing more than lounge around and mull over the words of Mr Potter, mull over Moody, and mull over the bored ways in which he ambled around the flat while everyone else was in a meeting.


Though it frightened him, and he worried about the safety of the few people he actually gave a damn about, he missed the war and the few battles he had been a part of so far. The feeling of excitement and fear, the adrenaline rush. The feeling of defeating somebody he knew was out to get him, the feeling of being better, of winning.


He was much less stressed out now that he’d stepped away from it all. He didn’t know if he liked it. It wasn’t exciting or reckless or fun. And he had to consider the way they used to be in Hogwarts, the chances they took and the feeling of being invincible. Of course, he knew they weren’t invincible now. They had all seen more death than any nineteen year old ever should, and they’d only seen it a few times.


But Sirius had never been a coward. Proud and haughty, perhaps. Stubborn and broody, most definitely. But never a coward, and he felt shame when he thought of what the Order members must think of him for walking away from it all.


“James,” he finally said in the night. He was lying on his back in bed, holding the mirror above his face. He didn’t know why he bothered; it was too dark for James to even see him, so he grabbed his wand off the bedside table and lazily lit it, letting it rest where it lay. The glow it cast around the room was eerie, the shadows seemed exaggerated. It made him feel, for some odd reason, terribly alone.


“Come on, Padfoot,” groaned James after a moment. It was dark in James’s mirror, too. “Don’t you know what time it is?”


Sirius grinned into the mirror. “Arse o’clock,” he said, referencing their old joke.


James didn’t seem to find it funny. “What do you want,” he moaned impatiently.


“I want to know when the next Order meeting is.”


There was a pause, and then James seemed much more awake. “You’re coming back?” he asked warily, as if reluctant to get his hopes up.


Sirius took a deep breath, wondering how he could answer without hurting his own pride, but he finally just shrugged and muttered, “Yeah, if you lot still need me, I mean…”


Even in the dark, he could recognise the smile on James’s face, and he could also recognise the way James fought to get rid of it. His best friend took on an impatient voice, one that Sirius knew wasn’t real, but they all fought to hide what they really thought for some reason, even when they knew they could understand each other perfectly anyway.


James was acting like he didn’t care quite as much as he really did, and his voice became muffled as he rolled onto his side, as if ready to dismiss Sirius and go back to sleep. “You couldn’t go and ask Moony?” he said impatiently.


Sirius rolled his eyes. “He’s asleep.”


“Well, so was I!”


“I thought you’d be out staying the night with Evans or something, Prongs. And Moony seems… different. I didn’t want to wake him.”


“What do you mean, different?”


“I don’t know. He seems detached. Like he just sits back and observes, and he used to be a bigger part of things.”


James only sighed. “How much gillyweed tonight, Sirius?”


“Shut up, wanker, I haven’t. I’ve only done it occasionally. Only twice so far. I can’t handle… And I’m trying to remember, and I’m trying to forget…”


“All right. I know, Pads, I was just being an arse.”


“Really,” said Sirius sarcastically. “Tosser,” he added under his breath.


James ignored him. “I’m not with Lily tonight because we have a meeting first thing in the morning. Early. Be at the Hog’s Head at five.”


Sirius groaned. “All right,” he said reluctantly, and he felt suddenly nervous at the prospect of facing them all again. He started to put the mirror down, but then lifted it again and added gratuitously, “Good night,” to his best friend.


James only grunted, and then there was silence. It was a while longer, Sirius continuing to stare at the ceiling and at the shadows cast by his wand, before he finally dozed off. He thought, at one point, that he heard somebody scream far off in the distance, and he wondered if a lone Dementor may have swept down from the sky in a fit of hunger. And he wondered when he became able to consider such a thing without being horrified, and he wondered at what point he became so immune to such thoughts that he didn’t go rushing outside to try to save the person.


He knew he would never find them in time. It sounded far away. And he tried to forget about it as he finally closed his eyes.







II.

Remus, who had gotten dressed and ready in his bedroom, who had also already wandered into the kitchen and made himself a cup of hot cocoa, was surprised to enter the living room and see Sirius already up, and Sirius regarded him with a careful gaze from where he sat in an armchair by the fireplace.


“Good morning, Padfoot,” said Remus. “You’re up early,” he added, setting down his beverage and pulling on his cloak. He carefully wound a scarf around his throat as Sirius watched in silence. At last, Sirius spoke.


“I’m going back to the Order,” he said reluctantly. “It’s too sodding boring sitting around here by myself while you lot get to have all the fun.”


Remus chuckled. “Fun. Right.” His eyes met Sirius’s, who didn’t look quite as amused as Remus sounded. They surveyed each other for a moment, and then Remus pointed a thumb towards the door and blurted awkwardly, “I was just on my way to a meeting, Sirius, if you want-”


“I know,” interrupted Sirius. “Prongs told me there was one this morning.”


“Right,” said Remus. “Well… Shall we?”


At his words, Sirius seemed to abandon his scrutiny. He stood from the chair, stretched and offered a rarely seen (as of late) smile. “Let’s,” he said in a fairly pleasant tone, and Remus nodded, and they turned towards the door. Down the stairs, around the side of the building, and into the empty (though narrow, and even narrower thanks to the snow drifts) alley. After a quick check on Sirius’s hidden motorbike while Remus sipped his hot cocoa, they Disapparated to Hogsmeade.


The bar was empty at this hour, except for a lone figure sitting at the bar. James was already there, making small talk with the bartender, Dumbledore’s brother. He glanced their way when the door opened and quickly stood from his barstool to greet them. He nodded at Remus with a smile, and clapped Sirius on the back.


“All right, Pads?” he asked with an amused chuckle.


Sirius nodded and swallowed.


“You look nauseous,” James observed with a laugh. Sirius groaned, because James knew he was feeling nervous about rejoining the Order after he'd stormed out, and yet continued to poke fun. “Rather peaky today, isn’t he, Moony?”


Remus only offered Sirius a small smile, and avoided responding by draining the last of his cocoa instead.


“Shut up, James,” muttered Sirius, giving him a small shove. “Are we going downstairs or not?” He didn’t want to admit that he didn’t want to enter the room alone.


“Waiting for Lily and Wormtail,” said James, leaning back against the bar. He smiled at Sirius again. “But feel free to do down there, Padfoot, you don’t have to wait on us…”


Sirius sometimes wondered why he considered this boy, who clearly enjoyed torturing him for fun, his best friend.


The tiny bells over the door rang a moment later, and Peter squeezed in, trying not to let the cold from outside in with him. His cheeks were red and he looked out of breath. “I’m not late, am I?” he asked frantically.


“No, Wormtail, you’re right on time,” said Sirius quickly, before anyone else could answer. He was glad to see Peter, what with Remus seeming so subdued and James doing nothing but teasing him.


All four of the boys could see that something was clearly very wrong when Lily finally entered the Hog’s Head Inn. She didn’t look as presentable as she usually did. While she had never been huge on cosmetics, she’d worn just enough to enhance her eyes and still look natural. Today her eyes were puffy and red and unremarkable. Her cheeks were flushed and spotty, her hair was sort of all over the place, and she appeared to still be wearing her pyjamas beneath her travelling cloak.


“Lily!” said James instantly, jumping towards her in concern. “Lils!” He put an arm around her shoulders and led her into the room, kicking the door shut behind them. “What’s wrong?”


He was reminded of a time, little more than a year ago, the first time he’d seen her cry. It was just before Christmas, and it was in the Prefect’s bathroom at Hogwarts, where he’d had a good snog with another student, not realising she was there, hiding behind the curtains and upset about a Slytherin prank. He remembered his concern, asking her what was wrong, and the shame he felt for making out with another girl in front of her. He could also remember the way she denied anything being wrong, and the look she gave him as she walked out of the room.


He pulled her closer to him, kissed the side of her cheek, and then tried to comb her hair better into place with his fingers. “Good morning,” he added.


Lily seemed in a daze. “Morning,” she responded absently, looking at the floor.


“Have you been crying?” asked Sirius bluntly. James threw him a look that clearly stated, shut the hell up, you aren’t helping, tosspot. Sirius responded with a small but earnest smile; for all the joking around they sometimes did, sometimes it was the tiniest of looks that only he could understand that made him realise how important James was to him. James turned back to Lily.


Lily self consciously wiped at her eyes. “Last night, a bit,” she admitted with a guilty, uncomfortable smile, and she seemed to become more aware of her surroundings and the fact that they were all watching her.


“What’s wrong?” asked James again, though he seemed more relaxed about it this time, as if expecting it was simply the war getting to her now and then, or the loss of her parents. Perhaps they had all felt like crying at one point since leaving Hogwarts, even if they were too manly to succumb to it.


She took a deep breath. “I… I can’t afford my rent. My parents were paying for it…” As she admitted this to her friends (for she had long considered all of the Marauders her friends by now), a wave of nausea swept over her again at her predicament.


“Oh,” said James. “Oh,” he said again after a moment, upon realising that there was quite literally nobody left to take care of Lily. “Er… what about your grandparents?”


Her eyes watered as she looked at him. “Retired… they aren’t exactly rich. They live in a community for older people… They can barely take care of themselves, at times…”


James’s eyes narrowed as he thought of Lily’s flatmate. “Well, is Lucy kicking you out?” he demanded.


“Oh, James, it isn’t her fault! She already paid last month for me, which I completely forgot was due because of my... My parents.” She swallowed thickly. “She feels so terrible, James. She just can’t afford to pay it by herself. She even offered to find a third flatmate to lower the cost for me, I just… I have no income, so even that wouldn’t work…”


A determined look crossed James’s face, and they could all guess what he was going to say next. “Well, I can cover your rent, Lily, it’s not a problem.”


“I can’t let you waste all your savings that your parents have put aside for you to pay my rent, James.”


Remus looked uncomfortable at that.


“Well then we’ll buy a house,” said James quickly. “A nice little cottage, Lily. It wouldn’t be a waste then. It’d be an investment. If I wanted to sell it later, I could, and get all the gold back.”


There was a pause in which Lily’s green eyes met James’s hazel ones, as they both considered the wild idea, whether they might be ready to live together, something they had yet to even talk about, whether they might be married in the future, and how appealing the idea actually was. At the very least, it did make sense, although Lily found it quite absurd to have James decide to buy a house on her behalf.


“James…” she began, half-heartedly trying to object to the idea. She didn’t fully want to - the thought of owning their own home together was utterly warming - but she felt she had to at least try to talk him out of it. It was only right, after all.


“It could work,” he insisted, cutting her off.


She opened her mouth to say something more, but with his usual stubborn attitude, he interrupted her again. “The meeting’s about to start, Lily, we can talk about it later.”


She could only nod, and for the first time since Lucy had approached her the afternoon before, relax. James was here. It would all be all right.


Sirius, on the other hand, could not be so easily comforted. A wave of nausea welled within him at the thought of entering the room, and he knew all eyes would be on him, and he wondered if anyone would have any sarcastic comments about his presence. He mostly dreaded seeing Moody, although he knew now from James’s father that Moody struggled to understand him. He respected Alastor in a different way now, but it made the man no less difficult to deal with.


James patted his shoulder knowingly as they walked down the stairs to the basement.


And it wasn’t quite as bad as Sirius was anticipating. In fact, he felt his heart swell at the site of some of the people he had already been through so much with. People, he realised, that he was almost beginning to consider as family. He had missed them; he hadn’t even known it.


A few of the people only smiled at him. A few caught his eye and then turned to whisper excitedly to his or her friends. As for Alastor Moody, he saw Sirius, immediately scowled and then looked away. Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled when he saw Sirius had returned, and Sirius had a feeling Dumbledore had always known he would be back.


When the meeting officially started, Dumbledore said only how nice it was to have him back, and most of the rest of the Order mumbled or nodded their agreement. And then the usual things were said. The Prewett twins had done their weekly check on the giant situation in France, and the news was nothing new, though no less terrifying.


The giants were still on the move. They were still coming. There would, eventually, when they got here, be a battle. And it would be difficult. A few villages had already been trampled in the movement and many people had died. The French Ministry were at a complete loss as to how to deal with the situation and had already lost many of their Aurors trying.


“I recommend getting all of our Aurors together and possibly trying to form an alliance with France and assist them in driving the forces back to the mountains,” said Fabian from where he stood with his brother at the front of the room.


“All of our Aurors are currently working to locate the Minister,” said Frank automatically. It was only then that Sirius noticed how tired he and Alice looked. Of course, between being in the Order and working as full time Aurors for the Ministry, they had put more hours in than anybody, along with the others who held jobs at the Ministry. Feeling almost concerned, Sirius spared a glance at Moody, who was twice the age of the Longbottoms, and appeared twice as worn.


Fabian seemed to bristle as he lowered the parchment upon which his report was written. He stared evenly at Frank. “And is saving one man worth all the lives that are being lost right now as vicious giants run loose? Do you understand, Frank, how violent they are in nature? Do you realise how difficult they will be to take down? How in a single step they can overpower you if you try to run? How thick their skin is, that normal spells can’t penetrate? Do you realise, Frank, that violence is their very nature, and that every town they come across is doomed?”


Frank clearly didn’t appreciate being spoken to in such a way, and quickly rose to defend himself. “And where would we be without the Minister of Magic?” he said loudly, interrupting before Fabian could say anymore. Both of the twins had fire in their eyes as they watched Frank; Gideon would clearly back his brother. “We would be fucked, is where,” shouted Frank. “What do you think will happen if we don’t return the Minister soon? The Ministry will be forced to appoint somebody else to that position, and do you know what will happen then, Prewett? Do you know how many Ministry employees we are currently watching? Do you know how many we currently suspect of being involved in some way with Voldemort or his Death Eaters? All of the most ambitious lot, all of those most likely to be appointed.


“Do you know how many are to frightened, too desperate to save their own arses to fight back? They will succumb out of fear, and the Ministry will fall.”


By now, Frank was pounding his fist into his palm to make his points. He was red in the face, and clearly his exhaustion was causing him to lose control. Everyone else simply watched, half fascinated and half bothered by the fact that they were losing their tempers with each other.


Frank was breathing heavily as he looked upon the twins at the front of the room. “If the Ministry falls,” he panted. “Then this war is over. Why do you think they took the Minister? Why do you think they’re focusing on the Ministry rather than killing all of the Muggleborns? Because killing the Muggleborns is only a sport right now. It’s the Ministry they need to accomplish what the Dark Lord wants. The Ministry is priority.”


Fabian didn’t look happy at being yelled at, particularly because Frank was five years younger than them, only a third year when they were in seventh at Hogwarts. He gathered up his parchment rather roughly in his fist, and then jerked his head at his brother to imply that they should sit down, that he wasn’t going to argue about this. Both twins shuffled back to their seats, where Fabian fumed silently and Gideon looked rather affronted.


Dumbledore took the front of the room again. “We know what war can do to people. But we must always remember,” he said kindly, but with stern looks at all parties involved. “We fight this together, on the same side. We must be patient with one another, for we are all worried about the outcome. We are people with something in common - a desire to end this nightmare.”


Sirius felt like Dumbledore was speaking to him as well. He fiddled with his wand uncomfortably as his former Headmaster continued speaking. The rest of the meeting involved going over some of the places they had already searched for signs of the Minister, and discussing what other places should be checked. Some of the Order members had been spying on suspected people, but upon learning no information, they were assigned to follow somebody else instead.


Dumbledore didn’t give Sirius an assignment. He soon learned why, as the meeting ended and the old man quickly pulled him aside.


“How do you feel, Sirius, about checking in on your family?”


It took Sirius a moment to catch on, for his immediate thought was that something might be wrong with the Potters, James’s parents. Why would Dumbledore suggest that he check in on them? He just saw them yesterday, and fear and unease welled in the pit of his stomach.


But something in Dumbledore’s eyes made his mind shift elsewhere.


“Do… Do you mean, my parents?”


Dumbledore squinted and tilted his head thoughtfully. “Yes. Or no, perhaps not so much. Perhaps on your brother, Regulus, or your cousins, Bellatrix and Narcissa?”


Sirius’s heart sank at the thought of seeing any of them again. It sank even at the sound of their names. A feeling of dread that he’d wanted nothing more than to get away from, and now that he had Dumbledore was suggesting he face them again.


“I’m sorry, sir, can I ask why?”


“Certainly.”


Sirius glanced at James, who was waiting several feet away with Lily. “Er… why?”


“I have, through observations of my own, come to an understanding that your family is in very good standing with Voldemort. Particularly your cousin, Bellatrix. Your brother, however, is one that Voldemort looks to have high hopes for, as Bellatrix speaks most highly of him. Your other cousin, Narcissa, is not so involved, but her significant other is rising through the ranks quite quickly.”


“Right…” said Sirius. Not exactly good news, and certainly nothing that made him proud.


“Sirius, if you were going to hide a precious secret somewhere safe, where would it be?”


He knew the answer to that question. The Marauders already hid a precious secret. “It would be with the people I trusted most.”


“Precisely. And if you were evil enough to capture the Minister of Magic, where would you put him?”


Sirius made a face. “I’d probably tell James and we’d shove him in the basement at his parents’ house.”


“Exactly. Or anywhere similar, but James would be involved, correct?”


Sirius nodded warily. “I couldn’t do it on my own.”


Dumbledore smiled. “With your family being so important to Voldemort, Sirius, I can’t help but wonder if they might be involved in all of this. Perhaps they are hiding the Minister themselves. Perhaps they simply know where he is, and if one were to listen hard enough, they might say something. Regardless, they are important people to watch, and you are probably the only one who could get away with it if caught spying.”


“They would kill me,” Sirius objected, in disgust and without a doubt.


“You could claim a change of heart,” said Dumbledore with ease. “You are still the family heir, if I am correct?”


The thought was appalling. Sirius stared dumbfounded at the old man for several moments. “I’ll think about it,” he finally said unhappily. He was reluctant to commit to any such idea without at least brooding on it first, and Dumbledore seemed to understand that.


“Very good.”








III.

He was pulling his cloak on. Sirius was eyeing him from all the way across the room. Moody moved slowly, and Sirius knew he was off to work in the Auror offices for the rest of the day. Perhaps it would even be a late night for the man, what with every Auror on a desperate hunt for the Minister.


Now was his only chance. Sirius took a deep breath.


“I’ll meet you later,” he said in a low voice to James. “My place. Or yours. I’ll find you,” he added impatiently, and James glanced at Moody and nodded in understanding. He placed a hand on Lily's back and ushered her out, glancing back over his shoulder one last time before they were gone from sight.


When Alastor saw Sirius approaching, he straightened with a grunt, his eyes wary and his lips pursed. He said nothing as Sirius drew near. He only watched, and Sirius was immediately on edge around the older man. But he had to set aside his differences with Alastor if he ever hoped to successfully be able to work together in the war. And Alastor had seen and done so much to protect people like him; at the first least, he deserved a little respect and an apology.


Wasting no time and wanting to get it over with, it was the first thing Sirius blurted.


“I’m sorry.”


Moody only looked at him suspiciously. Finally, after several long moments of Sirius fidgeting uncomfortably, Moody sank back into his chair and tapped one nearby with his wand. “Have a seat, boy.” Sirius obediently did.


Moody opened his sentence with a sigh, heaving out, “Sirius Black. The Blacks of Twelve Grimmauld Place.” And he glanced at Sirius for a reaction.


Sirius narrowed his eyes. “This Black is from Godric’s Hollow,” he said firmly.


Moody winced, as if more than aware of how wrong he’d been to be so judgemental (or at least Sirius hoped so), and nodded. “Let me tell you something, Sirius. I’ve been in that damned house you grew up in more times than you can count. I’ve raided it in search of Dark artefacts while you were in school. I’ve interviewed your parents for suspicious activity while you slept in your bed. I’ve seen the things that people like your family is capable of.”


Again, Sirius shook his head. “They’re not my family,” he said determinedly, although his voice had turned mildly hoarse.


“I know that,” said Moody, holding a hand up to stop him. “I know that. But some of the things I’ve seen come out of houses like yours…” He shook his head and shuddered. “I didn’t think anything that came out of houses like that had any good in them. Including people.” He surveyed Sirius sternly. “I thought wrong. I’ve been tough on you, tougher than on the others, and you keep proving me wrong.”


Sirius didn’t say anything. He only waited, though for what, he didn’t know. Perhaps an apology, though he doubted that was coming.


“I’ve been threatened and attacked. I’ve grown paranoid, and I’ve learned to act on instinct rather than wait to find out. To be frank, Black, I was certain you were putting on a big act to be a spy. But then you were with Potter when you both nearly caught that fellow in the alley - the bloke that killed Brookhouse.”


It seemed like so long ago, Sirius thought. But he still remained silent.


“I was quite proud of you boys,” said Moody, his gruesome looking face cracking into a smile. “And I thought I had been proved wrong about you. But I never said anything because of my own pride. I meant to tell you it was a job well done, and I never did. And then, when I watched you let your brother escape, Black, I lost it. It was like my suspicions were coming true, right after I began to think you were worth something, after all.”


“He’s my brother,” shrugged Sirius. He tried to sound casual and not too attached. He could never explain to Moody that as a child, he’d shared a bed with Regulus when it thundered outside, or that Regulus had cried when he left for Hogwarts the first time. The way Bellatrix had teased Regulus for caring about a house elf, or the way their mother glared at them when she had a bit too much to drink. He could never explain the sympathy Regulus had given him when everyone else in the house shunned him, the tiny connection they still had that grew weaker by the second.


Moody nodded and looked down at his gnarled hands. “Let me tell you something else, Black,” he said after a moment. “We might not get along or agree on most things, but if I had to pick one person to fight beside me in this war, it would be you.”


Sirius’s eyes widened as he glanced at the man in confusion. “Me!” he blurted suspiciously, and his eyes quickly narrowed again.


Alastor only nodded. “You. Everyone else here is fighting for whatever personal reason. Some of them fight in revenge after the Dark side has taken a loved one. Some of them fight for their beliefs. Some of them fight because they enjoy it. But you…” he stopped and smiled crookedly at Sirius.


“You fight because you have something to prove. When you first joined, and I was hard on you, and I could see you were ready to quit, you stayed because of pride. You want to prove that you aren’t like the rest of your family. You hated me, but you were determined. You wanted that more than you wanted to get away from me, more than you wanted to hex me back for all the things I’d done to you.”


Sirius looked at the floor, feeling uncomfortable at the thought of being understood by somebody he didn't even get along with.


“And also,” Alastor added as an afterthought. “You want to protect more than harm. It’s why you let Regulus Black go. It’s why you killed the vampire you thought wanted to harm James. I was just too blind to see it.


“You will never fail, Black. Never. Because if you screwed up, I don't think you would want to show your face around here again. If I had to choose one person at my side, Black, it would be you.”







IV.

It was a quaint, two bedroom cottage with a lovely garden in the back and a huge tree growing in the front yard. Stone steps led from a wrought iron gate to the front door, and the grass grew sparse around them in the shade of the huge tree, so that if one were to reach down and touch the earth it would be cool against their fingertips.


“Think about it, Lils,” said James, grinning widely. “If you were really bothered, you could have your own room separate from mine. But, you know… We could buy a big bed, just in case…” He lifted his eyebrows suggestively and then burst into giggles.


Lily rolled her eyes. “It’s adorable,” she said, looking at the cottage. She didn’t want to admit that she loved it, that she was already picturing herself and James living there, her cooking breakfast, or having their friends over for tea. Or perhaps, though she barely dared to think on it, teaching their young toddler to walk. She could see herself gardening in the yard while James cut the grass and their offspring played in the giant tree.


She could see the family dog barking and playing in the garden. The family dog looked oddly like Sirius’s Padfoot form, and at that thought she also burst into giggles.


The older Muggle woman who had given them a tour of the cottage rolled her eyes. “You can think on it,” she said briskly, clearly in a hurry to get away from the couple. “Do you have my business card?”


James immediately straightened, his face going slack and businesslike. “Actually, I think I’m going to buy it.”


“What?” yelped Lily in surprise, and the older woman’s eyes widened.


James gave her an easy smile and the grin lingered as his eyes surveyed the outside of the house once more. “Yes, I think so. Why not? It’s about time I moved out of my parents’ house, after all, and Sirius’s flat is full. I ought to get my own place, and this one is rather cracking, isn’t it?”


Lily didn’t say anything; in fact, she could do nothing more than look at him in disbelief.


“Well,” said James, after a few moments of standing amidst the silence. “I’m buying it, Lily, and if you want to stay here with me, then you can.” He turned to the sale woman. “And you. What are you doing just standing there? Get the paperwork!” He ushered her away with a wave of his hands.


When she was gone, Lily stepped closer to her boyfriend. “Are you nuts?” she hissed.


James appeared to give it some serious thought. “I don’t believe so,” he responded pleasantly. But then he caught sight of her worried expression and sighed in exasperation. “Come on, Lily. It’s the middle of a war. We could go at any time, you know. Let’s just… forget about it and live a little for once! What are we fighting for if we can’t enjoy ourselves and have a life?”


She could only shake her head in wonder. “Will you let… it’s okay if I stay here with you?”


James gaped at her. After all this, she still had to ask? He immediately dropped to his knees and grabbed her hand. “Lily. I would love it very much if you lived here with me. On a permanent basis… What I really mean is… Merlin, you have the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen.” A fit of nervousness came over him, and he trailed away.


“Thank you,” she said pleasantly, as he clutched her slender fingers in his and determinedly looked anywhere but at her face. His own face felt terribly flushed.


After a moment, he took a deep breath, looked up at her, and blurted, “Marry me, Lily. I haven’t got a ring yet, but I swear if you say yes, I’ll do this again the right way.”


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