Chapter 15 : Foreign Waters
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James led her back into the sitting room that she had abandoned half an hour ago. Frank and Alice were still there, of course, but they were joined by an elderly couple whom Lily recognized immediately to be James’s parents: she could see traces of him in them. All four of them looked to be in animated, pleasant discussion, and it was because of that that Mrs. Potter, who was sitting facing the door, was the only one to notice the entrance of the two additional members of the group.
“James, when you told me that you were going off to look for your house elf, I didn’t realize it was a euphemism for sneaking off with a girl!” she spoke up to her son. The smirk on her face was quite familiar, even though hers was warmer, supplemented by laughter lines.
Lily blushed, but James just rolled his eyes at his mother. “Ha, ha, very funny Mum.” He cleared his throat. “Mum, Dad, this is Lily Evans, who coincidentally also came with Frank and Alice.” He looked briefly at the young couple, almost accusatory, as if faulting them for not warning him. They both wore falsely innocent looks. Gits. “Lily, these are my parents: Charlus and Dorea Potter.”
Mr. Potter nodded in acknowledgement (he was kind of intimidating; he did look like the Head of the MLE type), and Lily smiled warmly at them, trying to talk, but Mrs. Potter beat her to it. “It’s lovely to meet you, Lily dear. Lily Evans, did you say?” This last part was directed at James. “As in, the Lily that Sirius was talking about?”
James grunted something that might have been a yes.
“Oh, then, it’s especially lovely to meet you, dear. I’ve heard quite a lot about you.”
“From Sirius,” James quipped, shooting his mum a look.
“Yes, from Sirius,” Mr. Potter agreed, and was met by a thankful look from his son. “And mostly from James,” he added, winking at Lily. Lily grinned weakly back, but Merlin, even a wink from that man was scary. The thankful look that James had sent him earlier was traded in for a glare.
Lily was starting to feel a little nauseous. “Not completely awful things, I hope,” she said, reusing the line she’d used on Tilly; it was unoriginal, but she was distracted. Merlin, James Potter was a fearless one, wasn’t he? Did he just tell everyone he knew about her? And why?
“Not completely awful, no,” chimed in Mrs. Potter. It did not make Lily feel much more at ease. “But I know that you two have a history, and that’s why I definitely can’t trust you two kids alone.” Her eyes were twinkling, and she looked to be highly enjoying this, making her son uncomfortable. Frank and Alice just watched the scene with amusement.
“We’re not kids,” James said automatically.
Almost simultaneously, Lily said, “We don’t have a history.”
“Certainly not,” James agreed. “Except for the one that all human beings share and that has been existing since hundreds of thousands of years ago.”
“Yes,” said Lily, “discounting that.”
Mrs. Potter did not look convinced: rather, she looked amused. She didn’t say anything further on the topic, though, as James and Lily took a seat and were integrated into the conversation: a discussion of the politics of professional Quidditch matches.
(“They’re not rigged beforehand,” James shot in.
“Sure they are. How else do they make sure that the spectators don’t get bored of the match?” Alice shrugged.
“You don’t just get bored of Quidditch,” Mr. Potter pointed out, and both James and Frank nodded emphatically.
“Lunatics, the lot of them,” Mrs. Potter whispered over to Lily, and she grinned.)
Eventually, teatime leaked into suppertime, and Mrs. Potter managed to convince them all to stay for dinner. Lily didn’t mind, she realized with a jolt, since she was actually enjoying herself. Frank and Alice hadn’t minded either, so that was established. Besides, though Mrs. Potter was shorter than the lot of them, she exuded an aura of someone to be listened to. And no one wanted to upset a kindly old lady, anyway. Though Lily saw the glimmer in the older witch’s eyes that indicated that she liked to play up that appearance to her advantage.
“Hey,” he said, catching her elbow.
She spun around, quirking an eyebrow. “Following me after I excuse myself from the table, Potter? No wonder your parents are giving you so much shit.” The teasing sentence had slipped out before she had even thought about it, and she froze, wondering not for the first time that evening if she had crossed a line. She and James Potter were not friends. But for some reason, in that moment, it was easy to slip into the illusion that they were.
Luckily, he laughed it off. “That’s all right; they’re always suspicious of me.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “I did have something I wanted to say, though. I, er -- I wanted to apologize for being a total dick before. I’ve been thinking about what you said at Rosings, and I really am sorry for making all the assumptions that I did.”
Well, there was one thing that stayed consistent: James Potter was good at making her feel terrible about herself. But this was for a different reason than before. “James, you’re not the one who needs to be apologizing. I should be. Your letter--” Fingers disappeared into her red hair. “Your letter was more than enough. The things I said, you didn’t deserve that. Well, maybe some of them, but--” Fuck, she was bad at this. “Anyway, point is, I was being more dickish, so--”
“How about,” he interrupted, fighting a smile, “we agree that we both make mistakes, and put all of that behind us? A fresh start.”
“A fresh start?” She furrowed her brows. “You’re willing to give me a second chance?” A conversation they had long ago bubbled back up to her memory. “I thought you didn’t believe in those.” It was official: James Potter was a better person than she was. Lily never thought she would say that.
He shrugged. “Once someone loses my good opinion it’s hard to regain it.” He met her eyes. “But you never lost it in the first place.”
She was not quite sure what to say to that. They were treading into foreign waters, and she seemed to have forgotten how to swim.
But he kept throwing her lifelines. “So, friends?” he continued, extending a hand.
“Friends,” she confirmed, and like the complete dorks that they were, they shook on it.
After that, dinner went without a hitch, with the exception of the knowing looks that everyone seemed to be shooting James and Lily when they rejoined the table. Lily found herself comparing the dinner to the ones she had had in Rosings, and was satisfied at the difference. She was glad that, for all of her nosy questions, Mrs. Potter was not mean nor criticism-wielding, and that despite his status as a high-ranking Auror, Mr. Potter was easy-going and funny, and that even though Pemberley was quite huge, it was also cozy and welcoming. She began to feel more and more at ease, the more time she spent there.
Conversation flowed easily. It would not have been easy to guess, with the age gap between the two elder Potters and their son and his acquaintances. But the Potters were natural conversationalists, and there hardly was ever an awkward silence present, not even in thoughts.
“So, were you a Gryffindor too, Lily dear?” Mrs. Potter asked, as they all settled once again into the sitting room after dinner.
Again, she found herself comparing. It resembled one of Druella’s first questions at Rosings. The context and the tone were different, though. This wasn’t a question meant to insult her or anything of the like. “Yeah. The Sorting Hat wavered between that and Ravenclaw, but it pegged me to be a lion. It was rather unfortunate, really.”
“Unfortunate?” Mrs. Potter asked, surprised. “How so?”
The entire room consisted of Gryffindors, she realized. She hoped that they hadn’t taken it the wrong way: she’d loved being a Gryffindor. She just thought that sometimes, it would have been easier, being a Ravenclaw. She considered herself smarter than she was brave. “Well, it rather clashed with my hair,” she joked, and sure enough, the room chuckled appreciatively. “Also, there was a lot to live up to, you know? But I can’t imagine being in any other house.”
“The Sorting Hat almost tried to put me into Hufflepuff,” Alice volunteered. “I think it was the haircut. Made me look innocent.”
“Which is far from the truth, as we now know,” Frank chimed in.
“Oh for the love of Godric, Frank,” James interjected, “we really didn’t need to know about your bedroom habits.”
“You just have a dirty mind, Potter.”
“Watch the use of surnames there, eh Longbottom?” Charlus Potter had chimed in, amused. “You just insulted half the room.”
“Practically two thirds,” Dorea Potter added, and Lily wondered if she was imagining the wink that the older witch had shot her.
“Sorry, sir.” Frank made a cheeky salute towards his superior. “And madam,” he added. “Anyway, Lily insulted the entire room just now, so that’s hardly a record.”
“Oi, I redeemed myself in the end with my cheesiness, didn’t I?” Lily protested.
“Mad-Eye,” James’s dad said suddenly.
“Sorry?” Lily asked, confused. But he hadn’t been addressing her. The fireplace was alight, and before she knew it, someone had flooed into the room. She recognized him, of course. Alastor Moody: how could she not? He was the most famous Auror in Great Britain, and in her fit of excitement, she had leaned over to whisper that to James.
“I know,” he had chuckled. “I work with him.”
“Is there a problem?” James’s dad had stood up. His expression was now serious. The unexpected appearance of Mad-Eye Moody in one’s home often made one anxious, even if one was his superior. Besides, there were different shades of anxious, and different reasons. If something had happened-- while he’d been on vacation, no less--
Moody shook his head. Focusing on Charlus, and then Frank and Alice, Alastor Moody didn’t even bother looking at the other inhabitants of the room-- though she was sure that his other eye was. It had focused on her, and she blinked twice, feeling uncomfortable, before it moved on to James. “Nothing to worry about, Potter,” he said bluntly, though not in an unfriendly way. “Dumbledore told me that I could find Longbottom and Gardiner here.”
“How is it that Dumbledore knows everything?” Lily had whispered once again to James, but he just shrugged. Truth was, he was liked her whispering to him, more than he would care to admit.
Frank and Alice had stood up, too. “That would be us,” Alice had volunteered the information, looking confused.
“It’s about the case that you two collaborated on,” Moody answered the unspoken question. “An issue came up and the Chinese merchant refused to talk to anyone except the ones that he dealt with earlier. Apparently, no one except Dumbledore knows where you lot are,” he said almost accusingly.
“We were on vacation. Are, actually,” Alice explained politely.
(“Alice knows how to speak Chinese?” James asked.
“She’s a liaison,” Lily clarified. “And anyway, there are translating spells.”)
“Well, I’m sorry to call you away, but--”
“But you’re not that sorry, because it’s important,” Frank finished for him. Moody nodded, and the couple exchanged glances. “We’ll floo to the Ministry in a few minutes, sir,” Frank said.
After the older Auror left, Frank started to turn to the Potters, thanking them for their hospitality, while Alice came over to Lily. “Merlin, Lily, I’m sorry that your vacation is being cut short. But we have to go, and that can’t be helped.”
“It’s fine, Alice, really it is.”
“We’re going outside to get our trunks-- Frank can give you the car keys and you can drive home? I’m so sorry--”
“No, don’t worry about it Alice,” Lily reassured her. “Go solve that case.” The other witch grinned gratefully, and after a flurry of goodbyes, last minute errands, and depositing the keys with Lily, the engaged couple had flooed away.
Lily was dismayed at their trip being cut short, as she had looked forward to the short vacation that had been planned, but she could not fault Frank and Alice for it. They had been kind enough to offer for her to join them, and this was beyond their control.
“Well,” she said finally, as the dust from the fireplace died down. “I guess I ought to go now.” She turned and smiled warmly at the Potters. “Thank you so, so much for your hospitality.”
Perhaps her disappointment had shown on her face, because James spoke up. “You don’t have to go, you know.” He hesitated, and then clarified, “You could stay here. With us.”
“Why, James, that’s a great idea!” Mrs. Potter enthused, as she had grown to like Miss Evans on her brief encounter. Besides, she had seen the way that her son had looked at the witch, and she always did love playing matchmaker.
Lily hesitated. “Er. I don’t want to intrude--”
“Nonsense, my dear!” Mrs. Potter brushed off. “I insist. It’ll be nice to have another witch in the house to talk to for a while,” she winked. “And if you want to thank me for my hospitality, well, thank me by staying longer!” The woman was awfully persuasive when she wanted to be, and would not take no for an answer. It was not hard to see where James had gleamed that trait from. “Besides, any friend of James is always welcome here.”
Lily was positive that there was an emphasis on the word friend, but the moment passed without comment.
So that was that: Lily Evans was to remain at Pemberley, or as its inhabitants fondly called it, Potter Manor.
A/N: Ah, so sorry for the long wait! This semester kind of swallowed me. I'm on break for a couple of weeks now, though, so hopefully the next few updates should be more timely!
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