Dress and Distress
Slowly, I swirled the noodles in my soup. The sunlight glittered off the spoon so that my warped reflection gazed back at me. I looked pretty glum.
"Of course we'd still go," Fleamont was saying, voice still bogged from lack of sleep. "We all need a reason to get out of the house. It gives us something to celebrate."
"Ugh. Don't tell me they'll be extra security."
"How can there not be, James?" Fleamont scoffed.
I heard James crunch on his toast, "I hate that."
"Well I rather you 'hate that' than disappear because some Death Eater decided to drop in."
"Yeah, yeah," James sighed. "Still…"
I didn't listen to the rest of his argument; I was trying to not pay that much attention to him, thank you very much. It dawned on me that I spent a lot of time paying attention to him- A lot of time with him, period.
You do live with him Lily, paying attention to him is kind of inevitable.
Not like this though.
"Think she could pass for a Weasley?"
"Definitely, even if she is a different shade of ginger."
I had a problem.
Ever since the Petunia Event ™ I felt this shift between us. Or maybe it was just me.
I thought of James Potter in an... dare I say it... endearing way.
"You will have to go out shopping with Euphemia and Stella. Can't have your cover blown now. Euphemia can get you some dress robes, Lily."
How had I let him get so close to me? And how was I comfortable with it? What had changed? Me? Was I a completely different person before arriving here? Perhaps now less judge-y and more sympathetic? What else could explain why I now considered James Potter with a smidge (smidge) of affection?
Or was it he who changed? No one, besides Severus, could deny James' increased maturity.
Or maybe I became more susceptible to his charms because anyone with eyes could see he had grown into a rather fit young man.
"Oh jeeze, Stella? As long as she doesn't see me, I'm good." James shuddered, "The way she pinches my cheeks… good luck Evans."
I'm sure James thought my sudden distance came as a side effect of losing all contact with Petunia, and I'd let him go on thinking that; the reality could never be known.
"Lily? You awake honey?" Fleamont tapped my side of the table.
"Oh!" The spoon slipped into my soup. "Sorry." I shook my head. I concentrated on taming my rising blush. "What did you say?"
Fleamont gave me a funny look, yet he didn't press. "Just that Aurelia is having her annual summer party in a few days. We'll be heading up there for a week. Mum and I figured you guys have been cooped up in this house for too long. It'll be nice to take a trip, won't it?"
I nodded weakly. The thought of going to a wizarding party, having to see James dressed up... to pretend I wasn't endangering everyone there...
"I know what you're thinking, and yes everyone will be safe. You'll learn some of the Weasley family tree too, and that party has enough aurors as guests that having people on duty will seem ridiculous-"
James opened his mouth, finger already raised.
"-Don't even start, James- We'll need for you to go shopping, Lily. Can't give our cover away now."
I furrowed my brows. "For...food?"
Fleamont chuckled, "For clothing! You need evening wear and casual robes."
Fleamont stood up and pushed in his chair. "Euphemia and Stella will take you."
James snorted, "Have fun."
You should consider that noise to be obnoxious. Obnoxious. Obnoxious. Nothing other than obnoxious. Or annoying.
"…. You feeling okay?" Fleamont peered at me while he slid into his jacket.
James leaned his arm on the table and cocked an eyebrow, "She's been a little quiet lately dad, I don't know what we've done with her, but maybe dress shopping with wonderful Ol' Stella will bring her out of it."
"Wonderful ol' Stella" was a woman who, while rather sweet, insisted on pinching every surface of my body upon our introduction. I swear, If she pinched my bum I wouldn't have been surprised.
"Oh darling!" Her large chest squished into me while we hugged. Instantly she pushed me away, holding me at arm's-length. "This is the girl you have been raving about?" She didn't even glance at Euphemia for confirmation. "She is so precious!" Cheek pinch one, "Look at those eyes! Her hair!" Her stubby fingers picked up some strands, "This color! Well we certainly can't put you in green or pink now can we?!" Cheek pinch two, "You'd look like a walking Christmas tree!" The laugh that rose from her bosom shook her whole squat frame. "Wonderful, wonderful!"
"Yes, yes, quite." I noted Euphemia's silent apology towards me.
"I know just the robes for you! You have such a nice figure!" Cheek pinch three.
I suspected I'd see bruises on my face later.
"Let me get you a selection! You'd look fabulous in what I have in mind!"
Thus began the madness.
Euphemia ushered me into a dressing room, big poofs of cloak in my arms and fabrics tangled at my feet. Luckily, amidst the chaos and constant undressing and re-dressing, my time to think about James Potter was limited.
"Now, now dear, try that one!" Stella exclaimed from outside the door.
Euphemia sighed while she slipped the new selection onto the rack, but her smile was good natured.
"She's just being helpful…."
"Well... I certainly have options!" I replied cheerfully. I plucked a dark blue dress from the hook.
"A bit frazzled," I admitted while I tugged it over my head. It got stuck. Euphemia huffed and grabbed the ends. After some struggling, we fit it over.
"I hate to bring this up to you now…"
"What is it?"
"No, this...this isn't a great time for you…"
"No, no," I assured her, smoothing down the crinkles, "It's fine, go."
She held my eyes in the mirror.
It struck me how similar her eyes were to James'.
"James...has….always-" She squeezed her eyes shut, grimacing. "This is ridiculous."
I fingered with my necklace I had planned to give Tuney. "What...is?"
"He's very fond of you."
My stomach burned.
"Ever since he was little, really around third year, he wouldn't stop talking about you."
"I mean," she laughed nervously, her hands swiping my hair over to fasten the back of the robe, "He would doodle your initials on his notes! Can you believe that?!"
I could not.
Her laughter died down. She patted her chest in a flustered way, "For the past year, however, he hasn't said much," her fingers worked the buttons, "nor have I found anything in his school books. So, please don't worry about that!"
For once I hadn't been. Not even a little bit.
"It was just a small crush. I'm glad you two are friends now. And he still is very fond of you. I think he really admires your charm, Lily. He likes having friends who match his wit." She finished clasping the back.
I nodded numbly. My head buzzed with the words, "your initials in his notes", "for the past year he hasn't said much" and, "friends."
"So, since you two are finally on good terms, I'd hate to force either of you into anything…you are completely free to do what you wish and decline… "
"W-wh-" I cleared my throat, "What do you mean?" My face felt hot.
"Ah, you're aware, we have to pretend you're a Weasley. Fleamont and I agreed it'd be a good excuse to also say you're James' girlfriend. Why else would we have a girl from another family over for such a long time?"
"Say I'm James' girlfriend?" I repeated. I'm James' girlfriend? I'm James' girlfriend?
"Yes. Now, I know it's silly, but it's an extra safety measure, and, well, people would probably wonder anyway."
"Did she get the dress on?!" Stella shrieked.
I met Euphemia's eye in the mirror again. Her gaze was asking.
"Sure." I forced a smiled, "I wouldn't mind. It… makes sense...I'll...I'll talk to James about it."
"Oh, really? You would do it? I don't want either of you uncomfortable. Please, you're a guest here Lily. And you'd only have to say you're dating. Your regular display of friendship should convince enough people."
I looked down at my bare feet and then turned to face her. "I'm a guest because you're basically saving my life. Pretending to date your son for a few days is the least I can do." For good measure I added an eyeroll and a smirk, "It makes my relocation less obvious anyway. We'll all feel safer."
It was true, too. So why did I feel so nervous...and let down?
I stepped out of the 2467th dress, my jaw set and shoulders squared. Not only was dress shopping exhausting, my mental battle didn't make it any easier. Before you go on berating me, no, this sudden rise of affection towards James wasn't from his physique, or his mum letting me in on a few embarrassing secrets. It didn't influence how I felt comfortable crying in his embrace, how he made me laugh despite my heart breaking, how his fiery attack on my sister lit my fury up too.
I sighed. "For the past year he hasn't said much."
"Lily? Dear are you alright?"
"Yeah," I called out, and then cleared my throat. "Getting on the last dress."
The facts were this:
Somehow, impossibly, James became sweet.
Somehow, even more impossibly, I enjoyed that.
He was fit. Duh.
I...cared about him? Maybe?
He must care about me, given his reaction two days ago.
Scratch that last one. Given his mother's speech, he no longer had those feelings.
He had matured.
I had become less hostile towards his behavior.
Despite all the points mentioned above, the world had not spontaneously combusted.
Now that was the prize winning question: how had the world not spontaneously combusted?
I zipped up the last gown.
Clothing floating behind us, our trio walked up to the shiny marble counter.
"Will this be all of it?" The worker asked. Her bright pink lipstick reminded me of muggle makeup.
"Yes." Euphemia answered for me. She appeared tired, as usual, but content.
"They're friends of mine, Tiffany, give them a discount." Stella said while
she bustled behind the counter and began folding our clothes with a flick of her wand. 'Tiffany' rung us up.
"That'll be 300 galleons."
Immediately Euphemia laid a hand on my arm.
"It's fine Lily. You deserve a good set of formal wear. Think of it as a gift for…." She tilted her head, "our agreement…?" Proposition?
Surprising myself, I laughed. "You mean bribe?"
"Since you're dating my son," She handed the galleons over and smiled cheekily, "absolutely."
We returned to the Potter Estate with bags upon bags of wizarding wear, tired ankles, and in need of a nap.
I didn't get a nap. What I got was more bad news.
"Essex this time." Fleamont tossed the paper to us while he agitatedly ran a hand through his hair.
Euphemia's eyes darted along the page, "A family? Again?"
"Just the father of one. Everyone else seems safe. They won't disclose names for that reason."
"That's a bit different." I mumbled. How casually I reviewed the information worried me. Was this really normal now? I sunk down into the kitchen chair, staring at the counter. One minute you're dress shopping and worrying about a boy, and the next...
"The family said he vanished instantly." James filled us in. "His daughter left the kitchen and when she came back the father wasn't there."
"Maybe he apparated? They didn't have a fidelius charm did they?"
"They're not sure how he left, and apparently they didn't have one. Doesn't seem like a murder, though, just a kidnapping. Might turn up."
I swallowed. "Might turn up...good news then…"
Yay for kidnappings! Better than murder!
The odd part was amidst the killings, disappearances, and Euphemia's urgent calls into the Ministry, we were getting ready for a week-long party.
So when we talked about the latest death, I was packing my glittering new robes into a trunk and James was mumbling to himself and hunting down his gold cufflinks.
James had been searching everywhere in his room, from his highest shelves to underneath his dresser for a good seven minutes. "Blimey," he screwed up his face, his arm reaching as far as it could go. "Hate how we put anti-theft charms on these things."
"James! I found them!" Fleamont called from the other room.
Once he exited I let out a sigh of relief.
It wasn't that I didn't want to see him. It was...that I..did -for reasons I won't list again- and seeing him reminded me of the 'fake dating' proposition.
After the conversation with his mum all of his actions shined in a different light. It all made sense. Of course he no longer acted like a complete shit face around me; he didn't like me anymore! He didn't try and 'impress' me now. He treated me like a friend!
Shouldn't I feel relieved? I wanted this before coming here. So why not now?
Also, how does one go about the topic of fake dating?
"Lil's, did Archie die two days ago or three?" James came back into the room holding a small velvet box.
I blinked. Oh, the article. Quickly I shuffled through my piles of clothing and located the paper. "Uh...the report says, from the autopsy, he must have died…" I flipped the page, "Oh! Here it is -two days ago."
"Before the one-dad disappearance then."
He was quiet for a moment. "D'ya think they're all connected?"
I finally looked at him. "No. Some might, yeah. Not all of them."
"Yeah," his face grew grave, "Not all of them…"
I continued packing, determinedly fixated on everything but him. Well you surely can't act like this around him at the party.
"I wonder how the Death Eaters are doing it. How they're picking their targets and how they kidnap and kill people without anyone being for sure how."
My fingers smoothed the pattern in one of my pajama shirts. I nodded silently.
"What'd'you think qualifies someone to be targeted by them?"
I didn't realize til a few seconds later he asked me a question.
"Oh. Uh. Not sure." I winced at my obvious awkwardness. I knew from his furrowed eyebrows that my answer didn't convince him. "I guess they go after anyone who doesn't agree with them or has political power or connections...or… isn't a Pureblood..?"
His eyes narrowed as he absentmindedly played with the cuff links. With a sigh he tilted his head but didn't say more.
Within the next few days there are four more disappearances, some of them Pureblood and some Half Bloods. There's one muggle-born family whose house gets set on fire. None of these reports come from around the area, so while they make for a tense conversation they don't appear of immediate threat, not really.
Until five days before we leave for the party.
It's 10:46 PM when an owl nearly smashes into the sliding glass doors. We all jump in our chairs and James drops his tea cup, effectively ruining his socks ("Leech sucking hell! That's hot!").
Euphemia set her book down and got up to open the door with a look of quizzical concern on her features. Fleamont continued eating his biscuit but watched her with one eyebrow raised.
He cleared his throat, "What does it say, love?"
James is already crouching over in his seat mumbling about tea and wet socks when Euphemia answers.
"It's from the Ministry…"
"Aha," Fleamont dropped the rest of his biscuit into his mouth, "so another 'safety tips' letter?" He resumed his read-through of the Quidditch Highlights.
"My god," James huffed. He flung his wet socks off after quite a battle. "If I have to read through another one of those stupid, 'don't go near a building with the Dark Mark above it' tips I think I might implode."
At another time, if Euphemia didn't look so pale, and I didn't think of James so fondly, I would have smiled cheekily and went, "Please do." Yet Euphemia did look pale and I did think of James fondly, hence I frowned at Euphemia and went, "Is everything alright?"
Fleamont raised his head again.
"We need to visit a crime scene."
A/N- ha...aha... so...hi.
I'm almost done with my first semester of college! Which explains why I haven't been around. Sorry about that. Suddenly I had 0 time to do anything.
My phone also broke which had all the plot notes on it so I need to try and remember all the details I had planned, which might take a while? At least I'm on break now!
Thanks for reading if you do! I really appreciate it.