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Chapter 26 : Hope
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Remus led me over to my bed.
“Hey,” I said, weakly, “I didn’t… I didn’t want to wake the Matron.”
“What’s going on?” Remus asked.
“She’s not going to make it,” I said, tears welling up in my eyes without permission, “she’s still weak from… from when she was sick before. She’s unconscious. Remus, I don’t think she’s going to wake up.”
“Shit,” Remus said, sitting down and swallowing.
“They’re holding off on the funeral,” I blinked, “Until… I think there’s going to be a joint service. They… they didn’t want to let us stay, but Dumbledore talked to the Healers. I didn’t want to leave him, Remus, but…” I swallowed and took another deep breath. “They said two could stay as the absolute maximum, and Sirius… he needed to be there.”
“Yeah,” Remus said, looking down at his knees, “I can’t believe it.”
“She said I could be part of their family,” I said, balling my fists up against my things. I hadn’t cried yet, because that wouldn’t have been fair to James – he’d never depended on me for anything before and I wasn’t about to let him down. “They were so kind.”
“Had to be, to bring up someone like James.”
“It’s not like with Mary,” I said, “it’s so sudden.”
I was thinking of my own family, too. I wanted to draw them in close but I wasn’t allowed. After the events of today, it was now even more important than ever to keep away from my family at all costs. I was thinking of my dad dying; a heart attack, just like that.
A magical fire, a flash of green light… it’s so easy to die, it’s remarkable anyone lives at all.
“I want him to be okay,” I said, and then the tears came too, “I want him to be okay so badly, but he won’t be. That’s all the family James has left… and, I know, losing a parent it’s… and there’s no pictures or anything it’s all just gone. I just want him to be okay.”
“He’ll survive,” Remus said, but his voice sounded hollow, “and he’s got us.”
“Yeah,” I said, wiping away the tears furiously, “Yeah.”
“Lily,” Remus said, “We’ve been through a lot, you know. Peter’s Dad died right after his first year… and when Sirius was disowned, and Mary, and... well, then there’s me. I… I never thought I’d fit in,” Remus looked wistful and sad, “and then James bought us all together. We’re not alone, here.”
“Thank God for that,” I said, into the quiet of the hospital wing, “If I couldn’t trust in you four I don’t know what I’d do.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Remus said, “because that’s not going to happen.”
It was a stupid thing to believe in, but friendship was what made James beautiful. Despite his pureblood heritage, Carolyn and Magnus bought him to be compassionate and loving and to have the most infuriating sense of humour I’d ever come across. He accepted Sirius despite his heritage, which meant nothing to me but would have been infamous to him – Carolyn and Magnus, too. He accepted Remus, wolf tendencies and all, when prejudice against werewolves was printed across wizarding culture. He accepted Peter, too, even though he was just slightly awkward and lost without a group of people to fall in with. He accepted me even though I was a Mudblood and sure to bring him nothing but trouble.
He pissed over all the expectations and became the prankster Head Boy.
Maybe I could believe that even death wouldn’t be so cruel is to tear apart such a pure friendship.
Death changes people.
James was beginning to look a little better, but not the same: when you lose someone you’re not the same. He was still James, but he was different. I think there were edges to James that might have been lost forever – youthful, positive, naïve edges – but we were all on our way to being jaded.
I no longer had faith in youth protecting you from death. I’d lost faith in my childhood best friends, my sister and my mother. I was beginning to understand that people weren’t fundamentally good and that maybe people could be truly evil.
James didn’t smile as much.
I’d become so accustomed to sharing things with James it was difficult not to share the full extent of the grief, but I didn’t have all those memories and affections. Carolyn and Magnus Potter were not my parents.
It’s was strange to be sitting on the other side of grief, watching as it ate up someone’s insides. Now, when James had his arm around me, it didn’t feel like he was holding me together – it felt like he was holding onto me for support. A reminder. Look, here we are, we’re still surviving. No, better, we’re living.
“Hey.” James muttered, pushing a piece of hair from my face and pressing a kiss on my forehead. We were sitting under the tree in front of which Severus Snape had called me a mudblood and under which Mary had overheard Sirius and the others talking. Well, more lying than sitting; stretched out across the grass, with James’s possessive arm around my waist and the early summer sun beginning to shine. It was too perfect, really, when the rest of the world was so awful.
“Hey James,” I muttered in return, propping myself up with my elbow and curving my body towards him, “You look pretty today.”
James’s lips stretched into a smile, which meant maybe today, would be a better day. Carolyn was still hanging on in St Mungos, just about, but she hadn’t woken. We were all holding our breath waiting for the day she passed. James wouldn’t visit.
I think he didn’t want to say goodbye. I could almost understand that, if I hadn’t missed my own chance at a goodbye before.
He took hold of my hand, running his fingers over my hand before capturing it.
Both James and Sirius had been permitted time of class, and I considered skipping classes more important than leaving James to suffer through it alone – at least, when he wanted me there I was to be there. He’d held me up so many times it was only right that I should do the same.
I lay back down on his shoulder, hooking my feet around his legs and kissing the side of his jaw.
James closed his eyes.
“Lily,” James said, so quietly I could barely hear him, “Marry me.”
“Are you pregnant?” I asked, pressing one of my hands against his stomach. James grinned, one of his old unblemished grins, and then rolled over so that he was facing me –pulling me into his arms.
“I’m serious,” James smiled, pressing his lips against mine, “let’s get married.”
“James,” I said, wriggling out of his arms slightly so that I could look at him properly. My stomach clenched. My head spun. James looked as James-like as ever, eyes crystal clear and <em>serious</em>, “You just... I don’t think this is a very good time,”
“I know,” James said, sitting up and stuffing his hand in his pockets, “but, I’d have asked you anyway.”
“We’re pretty young.”
“I don’t care,” James said, shrugging his shoulders and looking at me with that serious I-want-to-kiss-you-expression, “I just don’t give a shit.”
I smiled without meaning too.
“Come on, Lily,” James said, his eyes sparkling again, “let’s get married: we can get a little house and cat and we’ll have children and grow old together.”
“It sounds great,” I muttered, reaching forward and wrapping one of his arms around me, “I just don’t know if this is a good time to be talking about it.”
“What, because my Dad died?”
“That,” I said, squeezing his hand. It was one of the first time he’s said the words out loud. I knew how that felt. We were broken in some of the same ways, now, but that was a bitter realisation. It was selfish of me, but James had always been concentrated light and I’d wanted to hold on to that for as long as possible, but… the world was a dark place. “And, James, we’re in the middle of a war.”
“I don’t give a crap about some stupid war!” James said, holding me much too tightly. “Voldemort can get stuffed, the Death Eaters should go get laid and the Order of the Phoenix can just leave me alone for a minute – that’s all a back story, Lily, it’s irrelevant. I don’t care about that. I care about you.”
I blinked at him.
“Lily,” James implored, “I want to marry you before anything inconsequential can stop me.”
“Like getting killed?”
“Yeah,” James breathed, his forehead touching mine, “I wouldn’t care if I died, as long as you married me first.”
“I’d care,” I muttered, reaching out and touching his face, “I’d care if you died.”
“It’s like you said,” James said, “there is no perfect time for things like this, because everything is really messed up. You’re messed up and I’m messed up. We’re eighteen years old and we can’t scrape together more than two family members to invite to a wedding, and if we invite them they’ll probably wind up murdered, but I don’t care because I want to marry you.”
“And I don’t want you to think you have to say yes just because my Dad’s dead and my Mum’s dying, Lily. I can take another no from you if that’s what your answer is. I didn’t mean to do it like this.”
“James,” I said, “I couldn’t say no to you anymore if I tried.”
“I’ve got a ring,” James said, his hand drifting up to his head, “but it’s, uh, in my dormitory. Before, I was going to cook you dinner and ask you properly but then you just looked really pretty and… you must think I’m a right prat for throwing this on you right now, look…” James’ hair was steadily getting messier and messier, “I’ll just… I’ll just go and we can pretend I never mentioned it, if you want.”
I reached out and put a hand on his chest, to stop him rambling or leaving or whatever else he was about to do.
“James, shut up,” I said, “I need a minute.”
“Put a guy out of his misery, one way or the other Evans,”
“You prat,” I said, “I already said I’m not going to say no, you just didn’t listen.”
“Lily,” James said, eyes beginning to shine again, “if you’re not going to say no, then there is only one other answer. It’s a multiple choice question with two answers.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Is that a, yes I’ll marry you, or yes there’s only two answers.”
“James,” I said, pressing a finger to his lips, “shush. The other answer is not yet. I’m working through that one, understand?”
“Not yet,” James said, cheerfully, “talk me through it some more. They both sound like yes to me.”
“I… I had thought we might get married,” I said, finger still over his lips, “but, I didn’t think it would be now.”
“We’re not getting married, now, Evans. I may be a saint, but I’m not actually ordained. And I hope we don’t have three witnesses at current, lest they go tell the Matron that curse has given you brain damage.”
“Will you stop being a git for a moment?” I laughed. “James, this is serious.”
“I bloody hope it isn’t Sirius –“
“James,” I hissed, tackling him to the ground so I could slam my whole hand over his mouth to shut him up. “What I think is that I don’t feel as though I am old enough to get married, although I have every intention of marrying you at some point in the future.”
James licked my hand.
I withdrew it, quickly. It was pretty remarkable that we having this kind of conversation with me half sat on his chest… then again, this was James Potter and James acting like a child. I supposed this was potentially to be expected. I had fallen for <em>Potter</em>, of all people.
“Okay, Lily,” James said, “but… that still seems to me a hell of a lot like getting engaged which is actually what I was suggesting in the first place.”
“– there’s no point this ring getting dusty, if we’re basically engaged anyway.”
“James…” I said, rolling off him. James sat up.
“Lily,” James said, “I feel old. I’ve never felt tired like this before… I’m bone tired and you make me want to keep playing pranks and tease you and act like we’re kids, even though the whole world is crumbling around us. I know… it’s going to get better, but right now I just… Lily, I don’t see a way out right now. There’s just Voldemort and the war and a whole future of pain. The whole time I watched you and Sirius last year, I just wanted to shake you both and tell you to grab hold of the things that you feel happy and just have those without guilt,” James says, looking at the floor, uncharacteristically and horribly serious, “I know it was horrible, Lily. This is horrible. It’s <em>horrible</em> that there’s a war and… and my Mum isn’t going to get better, but death has become part of our lives. We can’t… we can’t stop living because we lose people, because then we really lose. We’re in danger. You were in danger. It terrified me, Lily, and I still haven’t told you how mad I am that you put yourself in danger like that, but that’s our lives. That’s who we are. It’s inevitable,”
“And I love that about you, Lily,” James said, “I’m more madly in love with you than I am mad. And I think that, rather than putting off living we have to live right now, to say to the Death Eaters and to Voldemort that the fear he’s trying to bring won’t win. He won’t stop us from throwing a party and getting married and he won’t stop us from fighting and laughing and living and surviving.”
“I’m not saying I want to marry you just to suck it to the Death Eaters,” James says, quickly, running his hands through his hair again. “There’s the practical stuff. If I die, you should be looked after financially. My Mum wanted it, too. She wanted you to be a part of the family. It’d just be… making it official,”
“Bugger, this isn’t as romantic as I thought it would be. I had a plan, but it…”
“James, yes,” I said quietly, “I’ll marry you. For all of those reasons. Because it’s sticking a middle finger up at Voldemort, because I want you to be the first to be told if something happens, because I love you.”
“It’s going to get worse,” James said, voice still quiet, “But it’s backstory, right? Our life isn’t about some stupid war. I just…damn, I just want to marry you.” James cleared his throat, fixed up his hair, sent me one of those cocky smiles. “So, you wanna be my widow?”
“No,” I returned, “but... I could be your fiancé, if it makes you happy.”
“Would it make you happy?”
“Yeah.” I whispered, and I meant it. I didn’t think I could ever really mean it.
“Then,” James said, grinning as he faced me, “Lily, will you marry me?”
James looked radiant. It seemed like a stupid way to describe a guy, but every time I glanced at him he seemed to be glowing with some sort of inner joy – and then he’d catch my eye and I’d grin back without even wanting too. I felt wrong for this to be our reality; for James to be mourning his father and subconsciously preparing to mourn his mother too, for a war to be brewing under the surface of our lives and yet to feel so utterly happy all at the same time. To sit under a tree and decide to get married and then disappear into the forbidden forest together, walking and walking because we still could.
I felt guilty, sometimes, because I was living whilst too many people I loved died. I felt like I should be mourning even though there was nothing left to mourn – I guessed sometimes people died, and you just had to accept that and move on. To keep on living. To survive.
“Lily,” James grinned – it almost sounded like he was about to start laughing – “Lily Evans.”
“Potter,” I corrected, catching a hold of the sleeve of his robes and pulling him round into a kiss, “Lily Potter.”
Then we really were laughing; desperately clinging onto the material of each other’s cloaks and watching the other’s glow.
“Lily,” James said again, pulling at my wrist. I tripped over slightly in my effort to get to him. James grinned – with only a hint of that haunted look lurking in the bags under his eyes – “you’re not supposed to believe in marriage.”
“No,” I agreed, “I’m not. I guess that was stupid.”
“You really want to marry me?”
“I do,” I said, and then we were both grinning again, “look, James. If… if you die, if I die… we’ve watched Sirius this past year and… this isn’t just some kid relationship. Or maybe it is but… the point is... I want the world to take us seriously.”
“I take this seriously,” James said, “I’ve always taken you seriously.”
“I know that,” I grinned, “And, well, it’s not that I care what people think. But the truth is, James Potter, that I love you.”
“Yeah,” I nodded, “Very good. The world should know that.”
“I brought you a ring,” James said, running a hand through his hair, “it’s in my room somewhere.”
“Excellent start,” I smiled, reaching out and removing his hand from messing up his hair, threading my fingers through his and pulling myself closer with his arm.
“I was going to cook you dinner, or something. But you just looked really cute sat there.”
“When did you buy a ring, James?”
“That Hogsmeade weekend,” James frowned – the weekend when Hogwarts was attacked and James lost his father – “Hope it fits.”
“You’re hopeless,” I grinned, resting my head against his chest. So, this wasn’t some spontaneous decision made because his Dad had died, James had been planning this already – he wasn’t about to retract the proposal. Which meant this was real.
Which meant that I was going to get married. That I was engaged. That the Lily Evans who was so sure she’d never get married was going to have a wedding before I exited my teenage years. Sirius was going to be beside himself with it all. Alice was no doubt about to highlight the fuss I made when she got engaged. Hogwarts was going to explode with it all. Petunia would be sick with her jealousy.
And I didn’t think I really cared. James was right; that was all backstory.
“Lily,” A voice called. It wasn’t a voice I was expecting to hear, but it was familiar and nostalgic enough to have me stalling in the middle of the corridor. There was no one else around. I was patrolling alone, because James was visiting his mother and I hadn’t told Sirius I was going.
“Snape,” I said, hand on the wand in my pocket.
“I heard,” He said, out of breath from trying to catch up with me, “What happened… to the Potters,”
“What does it matter to you, Snape?” I snapped. Snape’s gaze drifted down to the hand on my wand, then his expression twisted into a sneer.
“Has it really come to that?”
“You picked your side, Sev,” I said, temper raising despite myself. I was worried about James. I wished I’d accompanied him to St Mungos, but he’d wanted to deliver the news alone. “You put us on different sides,”
“Are you…” Severus began, then his jaw clenched. “Is he okay?”
“What?” I asked, throat tight, “What does it matter to you how James is?”
“It doesn’t,” Severus said, through gritted teeth, “I – ”
“What about everyone who was injured in Hogsmede? What about your friends showing up?”
“But you, you were fine,”
“I was knocked unconscious, Snape. I was cursed. Sirius’ bones were shattered. Peter was unconscious for days. This is a war, Sev. It’s a war and we’re all caught up in it,” I said, as Snape rang his hands, looking distinctly uncomfortable. He looked younger than I had seen him do for some time, like my kid-best friend who’d welcomed me into the Wizarding world. Snape taught me so much in those weeks before Hogwarts.
I let go of my wand.
“It’s not too late, Sev,” I said, through the lump in my post, “If you spoke to Dumbledore, I’m sure –”
“ – what’s that?”
“On your hand,” Snape snapped, then he was grabbing my hand, cold fingers digging into my flesh. I grabbed my wand with my other hand, brandishing at him before I realised what had caught his attention. The ring. “You’re marrying him.”
“Yes,” I said, face flushing.
“The Potter boy you professed to hate for years,” Severus said, expression twisting into a sneer. “That arrogant –“
“ – Shut up,” I said, “Shut up, Snape.”
“You’re going to lose,” Snape said, dropping my hand and disappearing into the darkness.
Sirius laughed for five minutes straight when we told them. He threw his head back and let himself be consumed by it and, as much as I was aware he was laughing at me, it felt good to be able to bring a little laughter, especially to Sirius. Somehow, Sirius had become impossibly precious to me. Perhaps, as Remus had suggested, like a brother. Siblings in grief. Siblings in losing Mary and loving James Potter. Siblings in war. Siblings in survival.
Remus hugged us both and Peter smiled his congratulations. Sirius disappeared to their dormitory and returned with a bottle of Firewhiskey and few glasses. James made a raucous, overly loud toast in the Gryffindor Common Room.
I tried not to think about Snape, or James’ parents, or the funeral we had yet to plan, or finishing school, or my family, or what Mary would think if she knew that I was going to marry James.
Once upon a time, my best friend died of a terminal disease. She fell in love with a guy and broke his heart, and I always thought that was so dumb. She challenged me to fall in love. I thought that was dumb too. But death and love seem to be those things that just happen, and you just have to keep breathing, keep going. Keep surviving.
A/N - OH MY GOD HI. It's been years. I'm so sorry. Due to recent events and the HPFF funding issues, I guess I'm trying to make a comeback to finish this story and Curiosity. The daft thing is most of this was already written and has been for years. There's going to be one more chapter left.
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