"Daddy, daddy, take a picture before it gets away!"
Marlene and James and some butterflies, 1973
The third photograph was found, folded and creased, in a pair of robes that James had hoped to never put on again.
Marlene had broken them both. Her smile, her laughter, her wit and candor- they were all gone. And as Remus arrived home and crumpled in the living room, simply stating that he had arrived too late and curling inward on himself, Lily denied this fact. Marlene would walk through the door for pizza friday the next night. Pizza friday wasn't something you could just miss without coming over to explain yourself.
But when she vocalized this thought aloud, a choked sob from James seemed to rattle around in her brain, its echo cutting through any thoughts of denial Lily might have been holding onto.
Her best friend was dead.
And this was when the cries began to rip through her chest and send tongues of fire through her eyes, when the world suddenly seemed like it was going to be bleak and colorless for the rest of her life, and when she realized that the people she loved most never seemed to stick around.
"Fuck," she found herself muttering through gritted teeth. She felt strong arms wrap around her, pressing her face into a thick wool. "Fuck."
"I know," James managed to choke out. He rested the top of his head on Lily's hair as he felt her little hands ball into fists on his chest.
They remained this way for a long time, curled into a ball on the couch, Lily's hair growing damper and damper with each passing minute. Remus had long since gone back to headquarters to tell the next patrol when James felt Lily's hand uncurl. He raised his head slowly and felt her head leave his breastbone.
"I can't do this anymore," Lily said, breathing sharply. "I can't."
James didn't say anything. He didn't have anything to say.
The funeral was two days later. They had to do it quickly, because, like it or not, there was a war on, and they had to get back to work.
But James had to put on his only pair of black dress robes, the garment that had been so hated in his youth, being donned to accompany his parents to the funerals of people he'd never known. As he'd grown older, the distaste had only gotten more prominent. He'd worn them to more funerals in the past two years than he cared to count, but he'd never seemed to hate the lack of formal black robes in his closet until now.
He'd been sat on his bed, staring at his closet, for what seemed like hours. The door was shut and he couldn't see any of the clothes, but he knew they were there, hanging in the back, hidden behind his old shirts and school robes that he hadn't gotten around to throwing away.
Lily ambled in eventually, disappearing inside the closet and coming out holding the robes in her hands. "You have to wear them, James."
James shook his head like a child, pulling his knees up to his chest on the bed. "You have to," Lily repeated. "We have to go soon, and you can't go like that. It's disrespectful."
"To who?" James asked sullenly.
"You know," Lily said, sounding resigned.
"She wouldn't give a solitary shit," James muttered. "She'd want me to wear pink knickers and pink knickers only."
"I know that, and you know that, but-" Lily began, and then stopped short to press a hand to her forehead. "I can't argue with you right now, James. Just put on what's proper and let's get this over with. You can whine with Sirius' drunk arse afterwards."
And so James buttoned up his collar and grimaced as Lily handed him the robes, the heavy cloth pressing down on his arms. "Let me," Lily murmured, a peace offering, and she helped James to slide his arms in the sleeves.
James' shoulders drooped as they made their way out of their bedroom and into the fire, arriving at Marlene's childhood home covered in soot and only mostly put together. The bunches of flowers placed by the doorway were the only decorations, conjured by Dumbledore as a condolence for being absent.
"I can't do this," James said frantically as Alice began to approach them, Frank trailing behind her with red eyes. "I need to get out of here. Lily, please, I can't stay here, not in this house, not in these robes-"
Lily glanced at Alice and back to James, whisking him into the under stairs cupboard as his eyes grew wider and wider with each short intake of breath.
"Breathe, James," Lily instructed carefully, holding one of his hands in both of hers.
"We're here again, and she- and it's like- I can't do this, not again, not again-!" James' voice rose in pitch ever so slightly, hitching a bit.
Lily squeezed his hand and then let go, gripping the front of his robes. "I need you to calm down, love," she said, knotting her hands into the fabric. "We're in a cupboard and there's spiders, and you know how I hate spiders."
James didn't reply. His eyes were screwed shut as he forced air out of his lungs in ragged puffs, his glasses slipping slowly down his nose. "Too- many- legs," he wheezed out.
Lily laughed breathlessly. "This one's white all over, and it's about two inches from the top of my head."
Lily kept her hands on James' robes, tugging gently. "Terrifying."
James' shoulder slowed their rapid movements, his breath becoming quieter as his eyes relaxed. Lily pulled him close, crushing him with an embrace that made his eyes shoot wide open.
"D'you want to go home now?" She asked, her voice muffled against his shirt. "I want to go home."
His hand covered hers as they made their way out of the tastefully decorated front hall, James breathing slowly and Lily's red eyes betraying her attempt to look strong. He almost splinched when he apparated home. The only thing that kept him in one piece was Lily's iron grip on his wrist.
The first thing they did was take off James' robes and hang them up in the back of his closet to resume their ghostlike qualities, but not before finding something in the inside pocket, something that James felt bending the hanger.
He unfolded it wordlessly, drinking in the blonde head of curls chasing after the flutter of blue on the breeze, missing her fiercely. He didn't show Lily. He couldn't.
He folded up his childhood and put it slowly back in the pocket where he found it. He would let himself forget it all, let the memories get trapped in the fabric of his father's old dress robes. He wouldn't think of her hands reaching for the wings of a butterfly in June. It was so much easier to just forget it all in the back of his closet.