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Chapter 18 : Chapter 18
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There was a tentative knock on the door, James looked up from his essay and smiled at the figure standing in the doorway.
“I was wondering if you wanted to go see Dumbledore, find out what’s going on then go see Sirius and Remus, fill them in.”
He considered this, stretching languidly. “Sounds like a plan.” She continued to stand in the doorway, looking as though she was waging a mental debate, James guessed the subject matter. “You can come in, you know.”
She looked startled, though extremely tempted. “Oh. I don’t think I should.”
“Afraid of being alone with me?” he inquired.
“I just don’t think it’s appropriate,” she stuttered and shrugged her shoulders, but still not budging an inch.
He shook his head, chuckling, “Don’t worry about it. Come in, Mi casa, Su casa.”
She took an anxious first step in to the dimly lit room, she looked as though she was half expecting something to leap out and disembowel her, but realizing that she was quite safe, she strode confidently across to James’s bed and stood rigidly near the end of it, as if waiting for further instruction. “What’re you doing?” she asked him, fighting to keep her voice as nonchalant as possible.
“Potions. And a bit of Arithmancy,” he told her with a sigh.
“I can’t believe you’re doing homework, I only just escaped from Marjorie, Vi and Marty. And, well, my mind is elsewhere,” she babbled, wringing her hands fretfully.
He grinned up at her and pushed away the parchment, quills and ink and swept his arm out by means of inviting her to sit down.
She did so hesitantly and chose a seat on the edge of the bed, but close enough to him (after all, there wasn’t that much bed to go around.) James moved backwards and propped himself up against the headboard, smiling sardonically at her. “You’re right, this is incredibly inappropriate, what if someone walked in all this debauchery?”
She glared at him disdainfully for a moment then sighed. “I’m still not sure how this works.”
He groaned. “Merlin, you like to talk about things, don’t you?”
“I know,” Lily said dully. “But everything’s changed. I like this, I like you, I like ‘us’, but…” she stemmed her current rambling and transfigured it into coherent speech, “look, the only other steady boyfriend I’ve had was Thurston and that wasn’t ever anything terribly serious,” she explained. “I just get this feeling that I’m out of my depth with you.”
“Why’s that a bad thing?”
“Because it scares me witless. I like knowing my boundaries, being prepared and the only things I know about you are second hand or things I can see for myself. Both highly biased.”
“So ask,” he said abruptly. “Ask me anything you want.”
She paused. “All right,” she said slowly and she searched her mind for a question. “What’s your middle name?” she blurted after a few moments of consideration.
He grimaced. “Cyril.”
She burst out laughing and immediately tried to muffle the sound with her hands. “Sorry,” she said, still giggling. “Why?”
“Thanks for your sensitivity,” he grumbled. “Old family name,” he explained, still looking quite sour, “every male Potter is blessed with it. What about yours?”
“Renee. Lily Renee. Don’t know why, first names are more the tradition, my family likes flowers though if you hadn’t noticed.”
He nodded. “Your sisters’ name’s Petunia, right?”
“Right,” and now it was her turn to frown. “So, that leads us to our next question: Family. Brothers/sisters? Parents?”
“Only child. Bit of a trend among wizarding families, usually one, rarely more than two,” he observed. “My parents are named Ignatius and Calista. My dad’s a high up Auror in the Ministry and my mum is an official for the Ministry of Law Enforcement. Your turn.”
“Well, you know about Petunia, but my parents are Daphne and George Evans, my mum used to be a primary school teacher and my dad owns a book shop. Common Muggle jobs.”
“I do know about the Muggle world, Lily, quite a bit actually.”
“How? You don’t take Muggle studies.”
“I went to Muggle primary school up until I was seven, my parents wanted me to socialise you see.”
The thought of a young James Potter rampant in a the Muggle world was entirely too troublesome a concept. “Why’d you stop going?”
“I discovered that if I really wanted something to happen, then it would. I had a lot of little girls in floods, turning their dollies into insects and monsters and the like, scaring the teachers by levitating the chalk and dusters. Caused quite a stir, I did. Most of the town seemed to think that the Devil must have been present and went on witch hunts, but nobody suspected the skinny kid with glasses,” he grinned puckishly at Lily who found that the tales of his escapades were quite amusing, really. “So my parents had to take me out of there; mostly ‘cause I was breaking all the Secrecy Laws, and I got educated at home, where I could set fire to the hedges as often as I liked, even if mum did wollop me for it.”
Lily thought back to her days in primary school and the rudimentary magic she had done back then.
“All right, your turn: Embarrassing story.”
“That wasn’t embarrassing!” she protested.
“Lily, I told you my middle name’s Cyril. James Cyril Potter. Cyril,” he reminded her.
She restrained herself from telling any story involving blackberry nip and some rather shady truth or dare games and instead told him about the time when she was five and decided to paint the bathtub with red house paint.
At that moment James felt a kind of…kinship with Lily, seeing the way she flushed and grinned impishly as she delved into other stories of a misspent youth. Including her early dalliances into magic.
“How old were you when you first realised you could do it?” James asked her, genuinely curious.
“About seven, I guess, I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, but in retrospect…” she shrugged, “I just thought I was weird.”
“We all are, it’s all a big surprise when you realise that you can do those things, I mean, I grew up in a Wizarding household and it still didn’t stop me from being completely dumbstruck the first time I really got a hold on a spell.”
“The Great James Potter?” she snorted, “I would have thought you’d have been levitating your rattle and flying your own broomstick by the time you were one,”
“Well, yes, but it didn’t stop me from strutting around the school like a pompous arse when I transfigured that hairpin first day.”
“I remember,” she said serenely. “You were such a berk.”
“Thanks,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“You still are,” she added brightly.
“Charming Evans,” he drawled, reverting back to her old title, “make a guy feel special.”
“You have your fan club for that,” she replied tartly, the use of ‘Evans’ and its associations making her feel a touch bitter.
“They only meet on weekends, and I need constant pampering,” he shot back, un-phased.
She hated how he could make her smile when she was trying to maintain an irritated glower.
“You’re a softie,” he remarked slyly, gleefully triumphant and she this time aimed a revealer at his head.
“Hey!” he protested, fending himself from the threat of more stationery themed attacks. He straightened himself up and grinned passively at her, his hand sneaking across the covers to rest next to hers. “Feel like you know me?”
“Hardly,” she replied. “But you have piqued my interest.” She tried to make her voice sound mysterious and seductive, instead she heard the shrill edge of hysteria tinge it and groaned inwardly. James did not have to know that he did funny things to her pulse.
His hand captured hers and she stared down at it, fascinated by the way his slender fingers adroitly intertwined with her own, softly stroking the tender webbing between thumb and forefinger; something helplessly sensual but playfully innocent.
She shifted closer to him, coming to kneel awkwardly to face him, his long legs arched on either side, fencing her in.
There was something wonderfully exciting about being in a boys room, alone with that boy, his hands threaded through your hair, deceptively coy smile on his face.
Every second she was thinking about how wrong this was, how many school rules she was breaking, but the lure of the forbidden was enough to keep her firmly in place. In fact it was enough to draw her closer to him.
She covered his mouth with her own, fingers twisting in that unruly hair, his arms now slung against her back, pulling her closer to him.
Thud. Thud. Thud. “Oh. Sorry.”
Both of their heads snapped around to see a very embarrassed looking Second Year standing in the doorway, his eyes downcast and his hands wringing nervously.
“Um…did you want something?” James asked in a would-be-calm voice. Lily untangled herself and hurriedly stood up, distancing herself from the bed and James.
“I, ah…yes. Um, Professor McGonagall is downstairs, she said that the Headmaster wants to see you,” the boy said to the floor.
“Thank you Parnell.”
The boy gave a timid nod and dashed from the room, quite clearly wishing he had knocked beforehand.
James cleared his throat and look up at Lily who had her hands over her mouth and a mortified expression on her face. “I can’t believe that just happened,” Lily groaned, the sound muffled by her fingers.
James quickly turned a laugh into a hacking cough. “Bound to happen sooner or later, and I seem to recall you suggesting that we, ahem, do that at every available opportunity.”
She glared at him. “How can you be laughing?” she accused viciously, as he now reclined lazily, looking utterly smug and confident. And infuriating.
“It’s not a big deal, Lily, we weren’t doing anything wrong.”
“Ah, except for me being alone with you in your dorm room,” she replied caustically.
“Is that a rule?” he asked casually.
“I thought you would know, seeing as you went about breaking all of them systematically.”
“Still got a few to go,” James responded, keeping his face remarkably neutral, “haven’t committed a murder or impersonated a woman. Except for that one time.”
Normally she would have yelled, but his jovial, owlish face, the gentle humour in his voice was soothing in way, and she allowed a begrudging smile and he beamed back.
“Come on, McGonagall’s downstairs.”
That effectively destroyed her mood. “Oh God. What’s she going to think? What’s she going to say?”
“Stop worrying about other people’s opinions,” he said, throwing his legs over the side of the bed and pulling his shoes towards him.
“You might not mind being viewed as a…a…a trollop! But I do.”
“A trollop? Oh, my honour,” James retorted blandly, not reacting to Lily’s increasing hysteria.
She made and exasperated noise and turned to leave, his arm flashed out with all the reflexes of a well-trained chaser and caught her wrist.
“Don’t.” It wasn’t an order, but a gentle request, the deep thrum of his voice catching in her mind, immediately dulling the panic and anger. She turned to him and he stood up, his movements slow and deliberate, his height quite evident as he towered over her.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly, using his limited knowledge of female behaviour to rectify the situation. “I don’t know when to shut up, it’s a chemical imbalance or something,” he said earnestly.
“All right,” she sighed. “We’d better get going anyway. And no more ‘tasteful’ jokes from you.”
“What? Me? Never!”
McGonagall’s only acknowledgement of their synchronised exit from the boy’s dorm was a disapproving but largely indifferent expression. James thought that they might have looked less conspicuous if Lily hadn’t immediately tried to explain and then promptly coloured as red as her hair.
The walk to Dumbledore’s office was mostly silent, with the occasional and slightly desperate inquiry from McGonagall about their health, state of mind, homework, home life, families etc.
James wondered idly if he should reach for Lily’s hand, but as she had folded them across her chest, this was out of the question.
“Acid Pops.” And with that, they were directed into the Headmaster’s office, leaving McGonagall to wait outside the door, ever obedient.
“Ah, Mr Potter, Miss Evans, I’m very pleased to you both up and about,” Dumbledore said jovially, sitting behind his vast desk, with it’s impressive and interesting array of gadgets, “though I am a little surprised; Poppy is usually reluctant to let her go of her charges before anything less than 2 days, and after that those patients are usually cured of every ailment known to wizard kind. Very thorough.”
James smiled puckishly and chanced a joke, albeit a lame one, but he was slightly nervous. “Perhaps she feels that my presence can only be cured by my absence.”
“No doubt,” Dumbledore agreed. “Take a seat please.” He conjured up a couple of cushy chairs and gestured for the two of them to sit. “You are, of course, curious as to the content of information I’ve collected over the course of the past twenty-four hours,” Dumbledore began calmly.
“I guess you could say that,” Lily replied haughtily, still rather on edge.
Dumbledore peered intently at her and then shifted his gaze to James, he appeared to be choosing his words, sizing them up for assessment. “As Head Boy and Girl, you will know that you were chosen for specific skills, abilities, character traits. Things that are important to maintain the morale and the atmosphere of this school.” James and Lily knew that Dumbledore liked to indulge in highly cryptic messages, so they didn’t complain at the ambiguous beginning, they merely, sat, watched, waited, listened.
“James, you have perhaps wondered, as with the rest of the school I wager, why you were chosen for Head Boy; I want to assure you it had nothing to do with favouritism or a particular fondness for your practical jokes, and everything to do with your mind and your heart. You are a fine young man James, an exemplary student and person, students look up to you, and follow you even in your less inspired moments, you possess the ability to lead, to provide understanding and guidance…and the capacity to control Sirius Black,” he added as an afterthought.
James had sunk into his chair like a sullen teenager being extolled by his mother, embarrassed by the attention and the praise stinging his adolescent sensibilities. Lily thought it rather a joke that he could be so boastful about something as trivial as Quidditch and yet find Dumbledore’s honest commendation of his virtues dishonourable to his Code of Misconduct or something.
She mused a moment on the complexities of a teenage boy’s mind before she realised that Dumbledore was now watching her with that intense, off-putting stare. “Miss Evans, your appointment to Head Girl, I feel, was inevitable, you have always been sound of heart and mind, an extremely talented and promising witch, even from a young age, headstrong and brave, disciplined and kind to almost everyone,” he indicated with a slight nod in the direction of James, just who was the exception to that rule. “Despite what they may think of you and your heritage.”
“There is no fence in this war, no happy medium; you are either in agreement with Voldemort or you are not.” He paused, his hands steepled in front of him. “Remus’s conjecture about Lord Voldemort’s intentions during yesterday’s attack was quite correct, from what I can gather, it was an exercise in showing the Wizarding populace just what He does to those who oppose him.”
There was a lengthy silence wherein Lily and James expected him to say more, but he appeared to be finished and now waiting for their reaction.
Lily gathered her wits and tried to dull the sense of bafflement at his words (which induced anger for some reason). “Sir, with all due respect, there’s a school full of students who don’t know what to think because they don’t know anything. I understand all about examples and choosing sides, but we can’t tell this to a frightened 12 year old, they need facts,” she finished resolutely, her head held high, defiant and proud, she stared at the Headmaster, his expression relaxed into one of patient benevolence and she wilted. “Please, sir.”
“You’re quite right, Lily, but I’m afraid there’s not much more to give. Voldemort works in secret, we only see what He allows us to see and we must work with educated guess and imprecise details.”
“We?” James interjected suddenly, shaking from his apparent stupor. “Who’s ‘we?”
But Dumbledore just smiled benignly and ignored the question. “I can tell you that Voldemort has grown more confident, that this attack is likely to be the first of many similar, very public attacks.”
James slumped in his chair, looking for the first time as tired as he felt. “What can we do?” he sighed, remembering asking his father the same question last year.
“You can remain safe, James, and you can keep others safe.”
James scowled. “That’s what my dad said last year, we’re not children, I think we’ve proved we can do more than play ‘keep-away’.”
“No, you’re not children,” Dumbledore said placatingly, stroking his silvery beard thoughtfully, “but neither are you adults. We all have our parts to play and I feel it’s far to early for your performance.”
James did not answer this, instead choosing to adopt the pout of a petulant child.
“I will, however, do my best to keep you informed. Knowledge is, at the moment, the most powerful weapon we have.” The Headmaster moved one thin fingered hand gracefully across the table, picking up a quill, slowly and deliberately, he fingered it absentmindedly for few seconds before speaking again. “Is there anything you wish to ask or tell me?”
James and Lily exchanged a look. James started speaking, his eyes still fixed on Lily’s. “Some of the students, have, er, expressed concern over the fact that none of the Slytherins had been hurt, how they all managed to clear out in time, like they knew what was going to happen.”
“Be careful what you say, James,” Dumbledore warned gently.
“They’re in on it,” James replied viciously, abandoning all eloquence. “They’ve got to be. Everyone knows that they’re not afraid to use the Dark Arts, ambitious enough to fall under any git who offered them a bit of power.”
Dumbledore did not say anything at first, he merely cocked his head at an odd angle, as if listening for something neither of them could hear, his long, spindly fingers again arched in front of him. “And what would you propose I do?” he inquired calmly.
“I don’t know. Expel them,” James suggested angrily.
“I cannot make rash decisions based on a generalisations, James. We Gryffindors are naturally inclined to be suspicious of Slytherins, however it does not do well to hold biases against all of them. Not all Slytherins are ‘bad’, just as not all Gryffindors, or Ravenclaws, or Hufflepuffs are ‘good’. People are bound by character, their house does not define who they are necessarily.”
James snorted derisively. “Death Eaters are more likely to be Slytherins, it’s a fact, its part of their whole creed.”
“If I expel them, they will most certainly fall into league with Voldemort. I will not abandon my students; they too need protection, James.”
“I think it’s too late to ‘protect’ them, Headmaster.”
“It is never too late. People are allowed to change.”
Lily remained silent throughout James’s little diatribe. She agreed with Dumbledore and thought that James’s vision was impaired by his contempt for Slytherin house. People were always worthy of second chance and James should know that, he was best friends with a Black afterall.
“What do we tell the students?” Lily asked, seeing that James was now quietly smouldering in indignation, knowing that Dumbledore had a point.
“What you will,” he replied munificently. “The truth perhaps.”
He dismissed them with beatific smile reminiscent of the ones they had seen on his face in their early years, somewhat bitter sweet now, because they knew it was a gesture of comfort.
Dumbledore watched as James held the door open for Lily, still sullen and moping from his talk with Dumbledore, he never the less managed a smile when Lily grazed his arm with her delicate fingers.
McGonagall entered the room almost directly after James and Lily had exited it.
“Did you tell them?” she asked brusquely; Minerva McGonagall had never been the kind of woman to beat around the bush.
Dumbledore smiled in a hollow sort of manner. “No.”
A/N: So I know it's been a long time coming, sorry...lots of stuff going on, like graduation and all that that entails, the next chapter shouldn't take as long, but don't hold me to it.
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