A/N: this monster is dedicated to petalstofish who has listened to me babble for the last few months and encouraged me to keep going, but mostly because she's just wonderful and deserves a million puppy snuggles and endless mac and cheese :)
Idk if this is fun for anyone else, but I got the idea as a mix between a dance from SYTYCD, a little bit of the Mummy (the 1999 one) and the picture I'll post as the icon for this story. Let me know what you think because this was just kinda a weird idea I got out of nowhere so it's super different for me.
A cloud of dust puffs out as Lily tugs another musty tome down from the shelf, ladder creaking beneath her scuffed boots. She blows a few stray hairs out of her face and expertly makes her way down the rungs, jumping the last couple, then freezes, cursing herself for the careless sound.
With more care, she slides the books onto the broad, overcrowded table, hiding them behind the scrolls and texts that already litter the top. She's just cracking the first open when footsteps sound from the corridor. Rapidly, Lily throws a few stray maps over top and turns her back to the table.
"Did you finish Lord Malfoy's research, Evans?" Mulciber's mealy voice grumbles from the doorway.
Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, Lily smooths her shirtfront and steels herself for yet another interaction with her less than lovable supervisor. "Certainly. The books – and notes – he requested are on the desk, arranged alphabetically by author."
Mulciber's disdainful gaze tracks over her and the scattered books before he nods stiffly. "That will do. You may leave for the day."
Lily quirks a brow as Mulciber sweeps imperiously from the room without even examining the texts. Perhaps he can't read, she thinks with a smirk. After packing her satchel, Lily darts down the dank back hall of the library, stashing the books for her personal research project in a hidden hovel of a room nestled beneath a staircase, which no one but her seems to remember exists.
After relocking the door, Lily slips the key back into her pocket, retrieves her coat and bag from the main library and strides out the front doors just as the guards begin locking up for the evening.
Sustenance and sleep are necessary evils that Lily accepts, but she forgoes the finer things – settling for a cold supper snuck from Mrs. Sinclair's kitchen before the official meal and what can only be called a nap in her cramped rented room.
When she wakes, like clockwork, the sun's long set and moonlight ekes across the warped floorboards. She uses the natural brightness to her advantage, rifling through her half-full trunk and tugging on trousers and a worn but clean collared shirt. For her final bit of styling, she briskly tucks her hair into her cap and tugs on her same well-loved boots.
Within minutes, she's out the window, down the lattice, and on the empty street headed back toward the library.
Early on in her employment, she'd made it her business to charm the guard's rotations out of an overeager new recruit and managed to work out exactly when and where she could work after hours.
The low creak that used to accompany the opening of the door had been eliminated in her first few late night trips, knowing her stealth was imperative to continued research, which was crucial to – anyway.
Soon enough she's tucked in her cozy room, books, dry biscuits, and her trusty flask her only companions.
Time passes quickly, and Lily easily tunes out the aches that riddle her body from endless hours spent hunched over the ancient wrinkled texts. The myth, Lily's favorite myth – partially because she has good reason to believe it's not so mythical – isn't particularly well known and really can only be found in the most obscure places.
Thus, the otherwise undesirable employment Lily currently calls hers is a necessary evil. Lucius Malfoy is a well-known lord who tends to be constantly busy and yet accomplishes little of value. Aside from amassing the most extensive collection of books and ancient texts on rare mythological tales in the United Kingdom, which Lily has found extremely valuable.
So the job as Lucius' underpaid research librarian meant she accessed what she needed in a fairly unnoticeable manner and got a salary. Which, however meager, was going toward financing her eventual travels.
The large clock tucked in the drawing room three floors away signals the witching hour and Lily startles at the sudden interruption. There's a small window nearly at ceiling height that shows the still dark sky, the onyx shade reassuring Lily that she has at least another hour before she'll have to return to the boarding house for propriety's sake.
Her hand flies across the paper, fingers ink-stained and chapped from the chill air she subjects herself to nightly, as her eyes drink in the words before them rapidly.
She knows the story well enough – an ancient warrior famed for his exploits, frozen in time for his appointed purpose that would come in the distant ages. The timeline was amorphous at best, the only indications of when the warrior would return focused on certain events occurring and the all-important awakening.
All this meant those who knew the prophecy and its truthfulness were divided into two camps – those waiting to bring the warrior back, and those doing everything they could to keep him asleep. The struggle lay largely in the reality that those with the power and wealth tended to be on the side of leaving the prophecy unfulfilled and allowing the dark power that loomed to succeed.
So far, they'd done so largely by exploiting that power and wealth, but Lily wasn't without her own tools, which were less fungible but just as powerful when used correctly. That had been the unofficial motto of Lily's people for as long as she could remember. Each generation, one child was chosen to continue the search, learning from their ancestors and adding to the knowledge until the time came for the awakening.
And while she couldn't be sure, it seemed now more than ever would be the time everything came to a head.
Although she was well aware of the implications and responsibilities that went along with triggering the prophecy's fulfillment, from the time she was a child and received the call over a bitter Petunia, Lily had a certainty that she would be the one to complete the work of her ancestors and awaken the warrior they preserved.
It was only because of luck that the prophecy followed the female line and Lily was able to remain unnoticed in her efforts without falsifying identification documents. Which meant Lucius had let a wolf into his hen house, and consequently unknowingly financed his enemy.
Lily smirked to herself as she tugged a new book toward her, index finger running down the hand written table of contents. Lord Malfoy should learn to be more careful if he is so devoted to the cause.
The bell tolls half four when Lily finds it, and her heart nearly stops. The location had been relatively easy to narrow down – a trip to the North was soon at hand – but the incantation and ritual to reawaken was particularly hidden and difficult. It wouldn't be enough to simply reverse the spell and turn the warrior human again – he had to almost be completely reanimated simultaneous with his shift from stone to flesh, otherwise his heart would remain still and the centuries of waiting would be for nothing.
Which is why Lily's green eyes stutter over the small loopy letters countless times as her mouth moves to silently speak the words, novis lapis viribus. It's as if she can hear the generations before her sigh with relief as she drops back against the rickety chair she'd scrounged up weeks ago when her feet protested the endless hours standing.
It's pointless to write it down, now that Lily has seen the phrase, the words are as familiar as her own name, and that feeling more than anything else is what makes her sure she's finally done it. Her eyes well with relieved tears and she tilts her head back to keep them from falling and takes a few deep, steadying, breaths.
After a few moments, she stuffs her papers into her worn satchel and tucks it between the shelves, then gathers the books she'd borrowed to return them before anyone can notice their absence. Although she's confident in her knowledge of the guard rotations enough to be certain that no one will be patrolling this hall for at least the next half-hour, Lily treads cautiously across the uneven stonework, the only light afforded emanating from the gas lamp she clutches in her fist.
Quickly enough, she reaches the library and carefully inches the back door open, green eyes peering through the crack to ensure she doesn't have any unexpected guests. After a moment, she strides through the aisles and ascends the ladder, sliding the books back into place with practiced ease. She's just pushing the last one into its slot, griping the rungs with one hand as she leans precariously when the ladder shifts unexpectedly and ends up balanced on one leg.
The book slips from her hands and falls to the floor with a thud, loss of the weight leaving her off balance as she attempts to right the ladder. Lily shifts her stance, quickly re-balancing the ladder and rushing down the rungs, heart pounding loud enough in her ears that she almost misses the slight squeak as the main doors open.
But Lily does hear it, although she has nowhere near enough time to react in any way beyond freezing like a panicked deer, eyes wide as saucers when a dark haired guard saunters into the light, grey eyes searching the room until they light on her and linger. "Fancy meeting you here young chap," he pauses and his lip curls mischievously, "Or should I say young lady."
Despite her precarious position, Lily snorts and finishes her descent, folding her arms as she leans against the shelves. "I'm hardly young to you. We must be nearly the same age."
The guard shrugs easily and mirrors her relaxed pose as he props his hip against a nearby table, kept impeccably clean by the staff that sweep the library after she leaves each evening. "How about we share names then?"
"I'm hardly going to volunteer my identity to a guard who can get me arrested," Lily scoffs.
He quirks a brow, obsidian locks glinting in the low light, "And I'm hardly one to tell tales, contrary to my job description."
"How am I to trust you on that point?" Lily asks skeptically, despite the flicker somewhere in her mind that tells her she can do just that.
"First, I'll offer my own name – Sirius Black – and a bit of personal history," he pauses, picking at his nails with nonchalance, "In case you don't know the name, I'm Lucius' least favorite and most deplored cousin. And I like it that way."
Lily sighs, "I s'pose it wouldn't take you long to find me anyway. Plus I rather trust you, despite my better judgment."
"As do many," Sirius answers with a smirk.
"Evans. My name's Lily Evans," Lily grinds out. It's been a good while since she's had to introduce herself to a stranger, let alone chosen to trust one with anything important.
"Well then, Evans. What are you doing in a musty library before the sun's up?"
She moves to stand in front of the dropped tome and offers cagily, "Just reading."
Sirius hums thoughtfully as if he's considering her statement, but his gaze soon falls to her feet. "'Just reading' strange books no one cares about."
"I like myths," Lily tries, shrugging her shoulders as her mind whirs.
They eye each other for a handful of moments, sizing up their potential opponent before Sirius breaks the silence and takes two strides toward her, closing the distance, his brows raised challengingly before he bends down. When he rises, he's holding the book she'd dropped earlier. "I know this one."
Lily's slowly inching away at this point, aiming for unnoticed subtly over speed as she prompts absentmindedly, "Really?"
Sirius hums, "Yes, and I think it's true."
It's as if the air's been sucked out of the room, Lily's steps stuttering in the darkened library. Lost for words and fearing further self-incrimination, Lily simply looks at him questioningly.
"You're not the only secret academic," Sirius supplies with a devilish smirk.
Unable to tamp down the intrigue that rises, Lily leans against the tall shelves as Sirius threads his free arm through the ladder, lounging elegantly as if it's a fainting couch. She narrows her eyes and whispers, "Why do you have to keep it secret?"
He laughs rather hollowly at that, dusting the book off before he ascends the ladder to replace the tome, strangely familiar with the order of such unused works. "Can't have dear Lucius roping me into his under the table schemes; learned pretty quickly as a young one the best way to avoid that was to avoid his notice completely. I make being underestimated by my bloody insane family a life's pursuit of sorts."
She can't help the laugh that bubbles out of her throat, but it passes quickly when her mind latches onto the purpose of Sirius' explanation. "So you think it's – the myth – it's real?"
Settled on one of the middling rungs, Sirius runs a casual hand through his hair and grins down at her, "You don't? Seems unlikely that a skeptic would go to all this trouble just for a good bedtime story – much more probable it's true."
Excitement flits across Lily's pale face as she turns and strides from the library, calling back over her shoulder, "It'd be quite an adventure if it was."
After finishing out the week, Lily gives her notice for leaving Lucius Malfoy's employment with a carefully crafted letter with vague statements about a serious illness in the family. Even with her rather impressively pitiable story – however false it was – Lucius holds her to the standard two weeks notice, only allowing her to leave at the end of the proscribed period. It's not much loss on her part, considering she could use the extra pay and it'll take about that time to ready herself for the trip.
She has enough saved away to have the appropriate clothes made – both for climate, terrain, and any possible need for disguise of her form. Lily's crossing the busy street toward the tailor's when a muscled arm slips through hers. "Heard you quit."
A stiff wind blows between the buildings, stirring up dust and nearly taking her hat with it. As she presses it down with her free hand, Lily smirks at her companion, "I'll call a bobby on you."
Sirius releases her arm and tugs the shop door open where a bell rings their entry. "Somehow you don't strike me as the type."
Lily runs her fingers across the rich fabrics, weighing their thickness some velvety, others gauzy and transparent, all gloriously well made, before she slides a few from the shelves and shoves them at Sirius' chest. "Try me."
He stumbles back a few steps but grins, "Come on Evans."
"Why should I trust you?" Lily challenges as she flips through the book of standard styles before pulling her own patterns from her coat pocket.
"Because I know who you are."
She waves to signal the shop attendant and crosses her arms over her chest, brow quirked as she levels Sirius with a glare. "And I know who you are."
"I mean I know who –"
"Are you threatening me?" Lily interrupts before he finishes.
Mindlessly, he passes the bolts off to the attendant and rolls his eyes, "My God no, I am trying to say I've got more than enough inheritance to finance your excursion."
"Why the job then?"
He shrugs, toying with an abandoned pin cushion and avoiding eye contact, "Way of keeping an eye on my family's machinations; and from time to time I tried my hand at researching your myth."
Lily hesitates a moment before speaking, "Not to sound judgmental but – "
Sirius' smile is rueful now. "I'm a Black? And related to Malfoys?"
Her nod is regretful, but she agrees, "Well, yes. One has to wonder why you're attempting to assist your family's enemy."
"Mum disowned me when I came of age and wouldn't comply," he supplies, matter-of-fact.
Barking laugh slicing through the din of the small shop, Sirius fiddles with his cuff links. "Secret gift of another disowned Black."
After a few moments of internal debate, Lily takes a steadying breath and squares her shoulders. "Maybe it's foolish but I think I do trust you."
"I've many faults, but being disloyal isn't one of them."
That wins a small chuckle and a curious glance. "You're loyal to me then?"
There's enough of a pause that Lily begins to wonder if she's making a terrible mistake, but he simply winks and leads the way toward the counter, replying over his shoulder, "More like the cause."
As expected, the next weeks fly by while Lily and Sirius prepare to leave, the former ensuring they'll be properly outfitted with tools and garb, while the latter pulls strings (mainly by lining pockets) to get them tickets and travel documents.
They're settled at a small table in a cozy tearoom, far enough from the Malfoys and Blacks that they won't be spotted together by anyone who'd care, less than a week before they're planning to leave.
"I've reserved us passage on a steam ship," Sirius explains around the rim of his teacup, "Just have to officially purchase them day after next."
Lily nods her approval, mouth occupied with the small sandwiches they'd ordered to share, and Sirius explains further. "I'll pose as your trusted guardian."
"Wayward brother might be more believable," she snorts, dusting her fingers on one of the delicate serviettes.
Busying herself with preparing another tea for herself, her brow furrows once her brain catches up to the full extent of what his plans require, "But the names?"
One of the wait staff comes and asks if they'd like any sweet treats and Lily's eyes grow childish in their excitement, prompting Sirius to order the sampler platter without hesitation. He waits for the waiter to leave before speaking again in low tones, ignoring Lily's reluctantly grateful expression, "I've a mate that can fake them – the papers. Pete."
"You do get around," Lily answers, eyeing the newly arrived tray calculatingly before carefully lifting a meticulously decorated petit four, biting back a moan when the tangy bite of orange rolls across her tongue. "How much will it set us back?"
Sirius grins and mirrors her actions, selecting a pink confection topped with a sugary faux strawberry. "Peter and I go way back – no need to pay when you've gotten in and out of as many scrapes together as we have. Plus he knows how to keep a secret."
"Good man, Mr. Black," Lily sums up, and the rest of their tea passes in casual conversation, a brief argument over who will be paying the bill – 'I'm your patron, Lily dear' – and finally emerging into the cloudy afternoon light, the smell of impending rain hanging in the air.
As they wind their way through the streets, eventually hailing a handsome cab, Lily tucks her arm through Sirius' companionably. "Thank you," she hesitates, "And not just for afternoon tea."
"Anything for my favorite sister," Sirius shoots back, lounging back with his silvery eyes shut, falsely dozing in the seat across from her as they jostle down the street.
"Believe me, even if I was your sister, it would be no guarantee of kindness," Lily says, ending with a dark laugh.
His eyes crack open at that, jaw set as he plays with a gold ring that rests on his pinky, a small lion poised intimidatingly across its face. "True enough. Familial ties do not secure loyalty," he grimaces, "Just look at me."
Lily lets out an irritated growl, kicking his shin for good measure. "Don't even try and persecute yourself for leaving a family bent on world domination."
Sirius sighs, "It was more like continental – the Blacks prefer Europe."
They dissolve into laughter at Sirius' dark humor, calming as the driver slows near their final destination.
"Don't think I didn't notice you casually avoiding any specifics about your family, Evans," Sirius states plainly as he helps her from the carriage, "Mutual familial abandonment could be our bond."
Lily lingers a moment on the stoop, but doesn't respond, so Sirius is re-entering the carriage when she answers quietly, "She was jealous. My sister."
"Because of – " he trails off, ever mindful of listening and unfriendly ears.
"I didn't realize it at the time, but, yes."
"Lucked out with our families, eh?"
She sighs, but grins ruefully. "Fools."
He climbs into the compartment just as the first raindrops fall, head peaking out the curtained window in a rather doggish manner, "Aye Evans. The lot of them."
"Do you have any idea how many times they tried to talk me out of buying these tickets?" Sirius asks across the dimly lit table, muffler wrapped tightly around his chin so only his reddened nose and steely eyes are visible.
Lily smirks, readjusting her thick fur collar absently. Slowly she lifts her rum-laced tea to her lips and settles back into the cozy armchair in the hugely overdone room Sirius had paid for with part of the mountainous inheritance he seems so eager to part with at times. "Don't be a baby."
He grunts at her, refilling his own cup generously before pouring the same in her waiting mug. "Since we're halfway through our trip into ice country, I think I've been pretty patient with your minimal instructions."
The rather threatening sounding content of his statement is offset by the mischievous grin that twitches around Sirius' mouth. Lily's expression matches his as she rests her elbows on the table. "Wondering how I end up looking for a statue from the ancient world on a small Nordic island?"
"Probably has something to do with my habitually terrible luck when it comes to catching breaks," Sirius laughs, rising to peer out the small round window that looks into the darkness.
"There was a cargo ship, about fifty years ago, mysteriously wrecked in the dead of night."
Sirius leans against the wall, brow furrowed in thought. "Not to sound negative considering our current location, but how is wrecking out here that surprising?"
Lily toys with her cup and saucer, chewing her lip before she speaks, "How much hope have you got left for reconciling with your family?"
"Is there something less than none?" Sirius queries wryly.
Sighing, Lily pushes back from the table slightly and stares at her joined hands. "It was brushed under the rug after it happened. No inquiries beyond those initially done by the Norway's government – but every account by the scouts that surveyed the wreckage indicated an on board bomb."
"Dare I ask how you discovered this?"
She gets a distant look for a moment before answering, "I actually can't take the credit for this one – my Grandmother was the last member of my family truly devoted to the cause. She worked for the government for a time, a secretary. No one paid much attention to the little red head – "
He laughs, "Sounds familiar."
"Anyway, she managed to find some archives with abandoned investigations. Never did manage to let the issue drop after that."
Silence falls for a beat before Sirius speaks, "Do I want to know why you prefaced this conversation with a question about my familial ties?"
Lily shrugs, "The only British citizen's associated with the file was Malfoy. Didn't want to be the end of your last hope."
Sirius hums thoughtfully for a moment. "I fear that came long before you, Lily dear."
Wordlessly, Lily lifts the bottle of whiskey and fills their cups with the amber liquid, dispensing with the pretense of adding tea. Sirius sips his generously and slumps back in his chair. "So care to tell me what'll be happening once we reach shore then?"
"As much as a can I suppose," Lily hedges, still unused to having a trustworthy companion. Still, she takes a gulp of liquid courage and toys with one of the decorative lace doilies that are strewn across various surfaces in the lux stateroom.
"Aside from the recent political upheavals, we've experienced two lunar eclipses within the last year, with more predicted, and astronomers are nearly certain a full solar eclipse will occur by the end of October next." Lily pauses, rubbing at her sore temples, "all of that coupled with the small blips of change over the last half century and the fact that the current keeper – me – has finally figured out the complete puzzle, well," she shrugs and swallows the last of her drink, waiting for Sirius to laugh her out of the room and demand she pay him back in full.
His silvery eyes narrow as he considers her for a moment, brow furrowed in thought before he responds, "I'm going to defer to your expertise, but this all sounds convincing enough."
She laughs shortly, "Seems strange since you have so much skin in the game."
Sirius rises with surprising agility given the amount of spirits he's imbibed in such a short period, and strides toward the door that leads to his own private room, pausing with a slim hand on the knob. "Burning a hole in my pocket, plus I love a good adventure."
"For its own sake?" Lily asks with a grin.
Smirking, he nods, "Always."
"Can't say I hate it either."
Despite the chill that bites through their bones, Sirius and Lily make it a habit to take a turn about the deck of the ship at least once a day, mostly after lunch when the sun is at its peak, yellowy rays warming the waxy planks. The ship moves slower than it could as it cuts through the water, avoiding the icy masses that litter the dark waters. Still, the trip takes less than a week and they're soon docking at a large port city with bustling docks and convincing peddlers selling their wares while sailor's songs drift from the towering crows nests.
After buying some salted fish and heady lager ladled from giant casks, they stow their bare minimum belongings in a nearby inn and set out to find a guide to lead them toward the small island Lily had pinpointed on a map the night before.
They quickly weed out a particularly seedy looking man who visually frisks them, eyes sizing up just how much money he thinks the travelers have with them, an older woman who looks a little too closely when they introduce themselves as brother and sister, and a wiry teen who reads the map upside down for almost a quarter of an hour before Lily takes pity and thanks him for his time. As Sirius' laughter dies down, Lily collapses back in her chair and brushes a hand over her face. "How many more Sirius? At this point we're probably better off braving the wild fjords on our own."
Sirius' answer is prevented by a quiet but definitive knock at the door, followed by shuffling footsteps. "Still looking for a guide?"
The first thing Lily notices is the newcomer's lack of accent, or more accurately his familiar accent. "You're not local."
"That's what they tell me," he says with a grin, extending his hand in introduction, "Remus Lupin."
Eyeing him speculatively, Sirius takes note of well mended but worn coat and trousers, scuffed boots, and fingerless gloves that reveal scarred digits. "Pleasure, Mr. Lupin."
After he shakes each of their hands in turn, Lily clears her throat, "Our tour isn't particularly usual. In fact I'd say it's quite an unusual undertaking."
Lupin's face brightens with a mischief filled grin. "Quite my favorite kind I'd say."
Lily's expression matches his as she shares a glance with Sirius. "Well it seems you've found the right group, then."
All three agree that it's best for all parties involved to draw up a simple but written contract outlining everyone's expectations, including compensation. Lily also includes a bit about confidentiality that Remus accepts with raised brows.
Still, despite the business like nature of some parts of the meeting, they fall into easy companionship as Remus offers to show them a local pub with excellent fare and prices. They're crowded around a table in a musty but private corner, each with their own catch of the day with various vegetable sides, when Lily decides to let her cohorts in on the finer points of their journey. "I've mapped out exactly where we'll need to go, and it seems fairly straightforward, at least I assume it will be to someone with experience navigating the fjords."
Remus nods. "You're likely right, and I'm as experienced as the next guide. Though the locals will have you think differently."
"We're fans of ignoring what the loud and boisterous masses have to say," Sirius answers with a commiserating smile.
They meet again the next morning, early but filled with the brightness of adventure that makes sleep simply a necessity. Remus closely studies the maps and charts Lily's brought, stroking his sparse beard as he considers the information. "I can get our supplies and transport together today and we can leave mid morning tomorrow, I'd say," he pauses, eyeing his employers for a moment, "You realize this is quite the trek for something that, as far as I know, will simply be an ice cave."
Lily's wide green eyes blink twice as she considers Remus before responding, "Misgivings about our choice of destination aside, you can get us there – and back – safely and without pomp and circumstance?"
"Stealth is a particular strength of mine."
They part – Sirius off to enjoy the town, whatever little interest it supplies, Remus to rent a sled for the still thick snow cover and a pair of horses, and Lily to review her research with a fine toothed comb – and promise to reconvene early again the next morning.
Which they do, the sun just peeking over the horizon when Remus urges the horses forward and down the coast, chill white clouds surrounding their brown muzzles in the pale morning light. None of the trio feels particularly inclined to speak, preferring to remain bundled in their layers and left to their own thoughts.
Despite all her bravado, Lily can't help the doubt that niggles at her mind – what if she's wrong. It's no longer only her private hopes and dreams, but Sirius' wealth and Remus' livelihood resting on the venture. Still, her heart thrums with excitement and a sense of sureness thrills up her spine, girding her against the encroaching doubts as she feels the centuries of ancestors watching and waiting – ready for their birthright to come to fruition.
Occasional breaks to water the horses, stretch their legs, and stop for meals don't slow them much, all equally eager to reach their destination with as little delay as possible. The motivation pays off in the end when they reach the small port town just after nightfall and rent three small rooms, each too tired, chapped, and cold to do much beyond swallowing down bland fish stew and crusty bread.
Lily collapses on her bed after loosening the stays on her corset and slipping her boots from her feet, silently resolving to dress for warmth and practicality rather than propriety the following morning.
And even with the innkeeper's dubious glances toward her trousers in the early light, Lily can't find it in her to regret the choice and simply glares until the man turns his face away and shuffles off to check on their breakfast.
Sirius doesn't comment until they're headed toward the marina where Remus had sent a telegram ahead to reserve a small and easily maneuverable boat to navigate the icy waters. "You're quite scandalous today, Lily dear."
Remus hides a chuckle behind his mittened hand as Lily tilts her chin in false haughtiness, "Jealous I look better than you in trousers, Black?"
Luckily, Remus' expression at the slip of Sirius' real name is less surprised and more gratified. He'd looked less than convinced when they introduced themselves as brother and sister but Sirius had managed to turn the conversation toward his 'Beloved mother' – an exclamation that had him looking as though he wanted to cut his own tongue out – before Remus had a chance to question them.
As promised, Remus navigates the icy waters like a professional and Lily is more than glad they didn't try and go it on their own as the sharp ice swirls around their small boat. Her gratefulness only multiplies once they're in the heat of things, navigating the tiny rivulets of coastal waters that lead to the cave Lily's bet everything on. They travel, slowly, carefully, and Lily can't help but commend whoever plotted this particular location for the prized statue, using itself nature as a security force.
The cave top is low enough that as Remus guides them forward, Lily briefly wonders whether they'll even make it through the opening, but bites her tongue, only showing nervousness in her white knuckled grip on the strap of her soft leather satchel, chill air biting against her chapped knuckles.
Sirius is less hesitant; his stray mitten tossed casually in his lap as he runs his aristocratic fingers through the dark water. Lily doesn't challenge it, until he looks like he's deciding whether he'll be able to get his hand stuck to one of the jutting stalagmites capped with icy water. She's mid harangue when Remus twists over his shoulder. "You certainly argue like brother and sister."
Their eyes narrow in unison, folding their arms defensively as Sirius drawls, "That's because we are."
"No bother to me either way, sir," Remus answers with a shrug. "We're here. Or as far as the boat can take us."
Remus secures the boat and the trio disembarks carefully onto the slippery cave floor. Lily dries the surface of a table-like rock formation nearby and slips her notes from the innermost pocket of her bag, studying the instructions she's had memorized for most of her life. Sirius and Remus linger a few paces off, possibly surmising her pause is less for review and more to steel herself for the task passed through the generations. It's a heady feeling to be the one who just may finally finish things, but weighty too, but Lily takes a steadying breath and girds herself against the pressure as she stands and gestures for the two men to follow.
She's more grateful than ever as Remus lingers behind, noting the turns they choose on a small leather bound notebook and driving small flags into crevasses just in case.
Most of the time they spend wending their way through the veins of the chilled cave is a result of following Lily's research by the dim light of their gas lantern. When their stomachs are grumbling and they manage to find a cavern that's more stone than ice, the trio breaks for a cold lunch. Remus is polishing off his chicken sandwich when he speaks, "Not to be nosy – "
"The only time people say that is when they very much want to be nosy," Sirius drawls, head tipped back against the cave wall as his eyes droop to slits.
Apparently not one to be cowed by silky sarcasm, Remus shrugs as if he'll simply wait them out, so Lily decides to step in. "We're art collectors. Family business."
Sirius' unwavering stare invites Remus to even entertain the idea of questioning the explanation and Remus' jaw clenches. "If you'd rather I wait outside like a dog – "
Rolling her eyes, Lily leaves them to their stand off and figures they deserve tidying duty – plus she's impatient ant they'll need a while if their steely glares are anything to go by.
She wanders, following her scribbled directions carefully until she reaches the last one, pausing outside a dark slot in the angry rock. A deep breath and a bracing forearm against the scratchy surface lets Lily steel herself for a moment and when she breaks the plain of the cave she almost thinks her research is wrong. Until her lamplight catches on milky white hidden in the dank corner.
A yelp escapes her throat and she's striding across the uneven floor, boots sure and face set as she gains on the towering statue. Because it is – towering that is – she's nearly eye level with the trim waist, anything above remaining cast in shadow.
Still the powerful calves and thighs show beneath the customary skirt that drapes over them, the stone expertly mimicking the soft folds. Slowly, gingerly, Lily picks her way up makeshift handholds and footholds along the nearby wall until she can step onto the broad base that gives the subject its false height.
Lily's second foot nearly slips from the wetness of melting ice and her hand desperately grasps the stony forearm, where she feels a surface mottled by scars either won by years of battle as a human or centuries of jostling as a statue. She can't help but marvel at the powerful sinews that chord over graceful arms, ending in long fingered hands grasped in fists.
It takes her a moment to gather the courage to look into his face and when she does it's with a gasp and an embarrassing blush that shouldn't come from inanimate objects. Hopefully inanimate – a few thousand years motionless but aware might be a bit uncomfortable.
Mentally deriding herself for the cowardly stalling, Lily tilts her head back, furry cap falling to the cave floor as her auburn hair spills over her shoulders in sweat damp, waves.
Apparently her companions noticed her absence, their footfalls sounding down the icy corridor, but Lily knows she has a moment to herself so her fingers somehow find their way to the marble face looming inches away. She runs the pads of her fingers across his furrowed brow, mouth falling open at the determined expression in the colorless eyes. Until her palm is cupping his sharp jawline, set in a grim line as he faces a nonexistent opponent.
Mind just barely registering the almost warm feeling that leeches from the stone, the words Lily's soul seemed to know – novis lapis viribus – fall from her chapped lips and she's slicing across her palm with the dagger previously tucked at her waist. The pain barely registers as her dark red blood pools at the statue's base, stark and vibrant in the dim lamplight.
There's a small rumble and Lily nearly loses her footing again, bloodied palm swiping across the statue's upraised arm in a fiery streak as Lily's lantern falls from its perch, sputtering out in a cold puddle below.
As Sirius and Remus' voices are getting closer a golden glow cuts through the darkness in unpredictable rivulets that cut across her vision until there's a strange light-show recreation of the statue piercing the midnight blackness.
It gets brighter as the men cross the threshold and Remus flinches backward when a spear of light shoots toward his feet. Lily's about to leap from her perch when she sees the shards simply refracting off of whatever they touch, bouncing around the cavern and leaving no signs of scorch marks behind.
The cracks seem to settle into a steady glow after a spell and soon random bits of stone glow red and fall away in unpredictable pieces that clatter to the ground and this time, Lily really is in danger of injury. She leaps with cat-like agility toward the cave wall and grasps the hand holds again as tanned skin is revealed beneath the thick marble.
Once she realizes the last to break away will be the stone at his feet, Lily slides into place again, arms winding around his ice-cold middle as he stumbles forward, sword falling from his free hand. The round shield at his back slices across her forehead and Lily can feel the tinny blood sliding down her temple.
He quickly catches his footing and holds his own weight, pulling away with a confused expression that sharpens to distress when he glances at her and Lily is almost offended. Until his hands rise – calloused and rapidly warming – to the sides of her head and undecipherable utterances fall from his lips. For a moment, she fears he's addled and can't speak coherently anymore until she realizes the obvious truth – he's speaking his language.
Why she'd expected a warrior frozen in marble for millennia to somehow understand Germanic English is beyond her, but it's still a blow.
Despite the language barrier, Lily and the warrior manage to help each other down with a little help from equally shocked Remus and Sirius. The man stumbles again when his likely frigid bare toes catch on the rocky floor and Lily helps him right himself.
Sirius' throat clears from over her left shoulder and Lily realizes how close she has the man clutched, her face a mere breath away from his extremely defined pectorals. She pulls away, blushing once again, as her hand somehow ends up patting said pectoral as if it's done her proud in some way and she's congratulating it. If she's honest, if any pectorals deserved congratulating, it'd be these.
Apparently, she's not the only one utterly without words or coherent thought because when she backs away fully, it's to find herself pinned by his hazel gaze. Something warms in her chest when the dim light catches his boyish grin and the freckles scattered across his long, slightly crooked nose like constellations.
When his legs give way again, Sirius and Remus are there, shouldering his weight and helping him to one of the rock formations that litter the cavern.
As soon as his thighs brush the stone, the warrior shivers violently and Remus grins wolfishly, "Cold there, mate?"
He shivers again but stares blankly, confusion evident in his narrowed eyes.
Lily steps toward him again and can't seem to keep from touching his cheek, her fingers itching to brush through his dark locks, but she restrains herself. "Iacomus?"
His eyes spark when he nods.
Remus regains himself enough to grin. "Quite the mouthful," he pauses and eyes Sirius and Lily, "and much more attention grabbing than I surmise you're looking for."
They fall silent for a moment before Sirius drops his pack on the ground and leans against the cave wall, arms folded. "James would be the closest modern name."
Lily smirks. "I always forget you're not just here to be pretty."
Sirius scowls childishly but tugs his pack toward towards himself and begins pulling various articles of clothing from inside. "While we're discussing my unbelievable value, figured we'd need these."
After a confused glance from James, more blushing from Lily, and a cooperative shrug from Remus, they agree that between the three of them James can get dressed while Lily stands watch.
She's caught up in her own head, puzzling over his curious gaze almost as much as what exactly she's supposed to do next with an ancient warrior with a vague prophecy to fulfill who doesn't even speak her language, when Sirius shouts across the cave, "Evans, tell James he needs to wear socks."
Lily turns around and her mouth goes dry as she drinks James in – from his pout to the half buttoned shirt and bare feet. When her gaze reaches his eyes again, he's blushing a bit and ruffling his hair in what she guesses might be a nervous tick. He's smirking when his rumbling and heavily accented voice fills the space between them. "Evans?"
Despite the trying circumstances, Lily manages to maintain a serious expression, simply quirking a brow impatiently, which has a newly sheepish James cooperating and slipping the socks over his feet.
She's mostly turned back toward the cave mouth when James leans over and whispers something to Sirius and Remus, which has the former rolling his eyes long-sufferingly and looks at Lily, "He says you're beautiful."
"Mother loved forcing me to learn dead languages, probably for some nefarious purpose that surprisingly didn't involve helping you, Lily dear. But are useful in that endeavor nonetheless."
James glances up from his battle with the pearly buttons on his crisp white shirt, chewing his lip as he murmurs a quiet, "Lily."
Remus is full on snickering now as he slaps James' hands away and takes over with the buttons, James is blushing, and Sirius's barks fill the cold chamber until James freezes, face serious. At first, Lily's the only one to notice, a predicament she quickly remedies by hissing for quiet.
Carefully, she ducks her head out into the dark passage, but nothing seems out of place. Until she hears voices.
Quickly, they scramble to remove most of the evidence of their presence – nothing much can be done for what remains of James' statue – and Lily and James hide in a small cave a few paces away, hidden well by it's sliver of an entrance.
Meanwhile, Sirius and Remus play a confused heir and his guide, the former prattling on about unfounded rumors and a desire to re-ingratiate himself with his family. Somehow he manages to convince the thugs that his trip was a dead end while Lily and James find an alternate route and hide in the bottom of the boat, Lily shushing James when he gasps at the modern vehicle.
After a quarter of an hour, Sirius vaults over the side of the boat while Remus, making no efforts at slowness, shoves them away from shore, throwing their packs inside and following soon after.
Quickly, Remus has them cutting through the dark waters and Sirius catches Lily up, translating for James after the fact. "They may have just happened to step under a loose shelf of ice, which will tragically have them knocked out for a few hours," he waits while Lily laughs, "Plus our Remus pulled out his markers and placed them at random points so when they try and follow them out like they did in – "
He lets the thought go unfinished as they each slump into their seats, silent and contemplative. By the time they return to the small port town, night has truly fallen, inky black and sparkling. Instead of drawing attention and dipping further into their coffers by renting a third room, the men agree to sharing one between them. Which is probably for the best since James has already burned three fingers by poking oil lamps by the time they've reached the first landing.
It's nearing midnight when Lily gives up attempts at sleep with a longsuffering huff and pads across the hallway, cozy knit blanket layered over her nightclothes and dressing gown. She knocks twice before letting herself in with the spare key Sirius had passed off the when they arrived the previous day, and finds her companions far from sleep – pink cheeked with laughter rather than cold, Remus burying his face in a cushion to muffle the sounds.
Both Englishmen notice Lily's entrance and have the sense to look abashed but James' grin widens, completely unconcerned with his bare chest.
When Remus notices her dropping gaze he shrugs, "We figured ol' James could do with some relaxed modern customs in private."
Sirius' expression is entirely too knowing when he lounges across the mussed bed. "Yes Lily dear. That's not a problem for you, right?"
Remus catches James' frown and nudges Sirius with his foot, then nods toward the now broody James. When James turns toward Sirius, his face is set and he shoots a glance at Lily before leaning close and murmuring some sharp sounding words in his ear.
A cheeky smile slowly grows on Sirius' face before his barking laughter fills the night. James looks half confused and half angry while Lily throws a cushion at Sirius. "Care to enlighten the rest of us, Black?"
"He wanted to know if I was your 'intended.'"
Lily gags dramatically, face screwed up in distaste, and James lights up with some kind of hopefulness. At his still shuttered expression, Lily softens, "Let him know I'm just your sister, yeah?"
"Will do," Sirius says with a wink.
They try to resume English lessons after that, but James' gaze keeps finding Lily despite Remus' extremely helpful peanut projectiles every time he looks too loved up. Even Sirius tires of mocking the duo and dozes in the cozy armchair, Remus soon doing the same in his own bed. Lily's own lids begin drooping, but she can't manage to tear her eyes away from James' awed expression as he stares out the cloudy window at the fishermen making their way through the moonlit streets.
The only time he shifts is to turn in Lily's direction, and she panics, slamming her eyes shut. After a moment, she cracks one eyelid open and finds his eyes still lingering on her face. She can't seem to look away, and he doesn't seem to want to. Still sleep finds her, and she doesn't recall exactly when, but when she wakes the next morning, James' back is to the glittering water and his face tilted to hers.
Money greases the wheels of progress, according to Sirius, and although this earns a snort from Remus and an eye roll from Lily, he manages to get the four of them tickets on a steamship back to London so he must be right about something.
At some point, they figure Remus has proven trustworthy enough, so they fill him in on the bits he hasn't managed to figure out on his own – which ends up not being much. When they ask him to return to England with them he agrees easily enough, ready to leave his relatively solitary life behind. Which is excellent for all parties concerned because he turns out to be particularly useful in finding friendly transportation officials who don't ask questions about strange men without traveling papers.
Considering Lily's joblessness and their general agreement that James needs to be kept under wraps, the foursome decide to take advantage of a small countryside manor that was part of Sirius' inheritance. James' days are divided between physical training – which if you ask Lily is not necessary but highly…informative – and learning English with Sirius, who decides swear words should come first. Remus and Lily are almost always nearby; studying the texts Lily and Sirius had managed to swipe in their last few days in London, along with the surprisingly useful ones in Sirius' personal library.
When he's not teaching James, Sirius makes inquiries to trace exactly where the leak of their whereabouts came from, using his network of what a more snobbish circle would call 'undesirables' to avoid entering the city where his family has entirely too much power and influence.
So the next month passes relatively quickly and with less drama than one might expect from a group that includes a centuries old warrior learning training to best an as yet undetected enemy.
It's a fairly usual afternoon that finds Lily holed up in the much cozier library than the one she'd previously haunted, reading over her notes in conjunction with the older scrolls she'd uncovered in the manor's basement. A small wrinkle forms between her brows as she struggles with a particularly archaic turn of phrase when two sharp knocks sound against the doorjamb.
When she glances up, tension riddled through her hunched shoulders, James is ruffling his hair and looking entirely too adorably bashful for Lily's sanity. "Alright James?"
A blush rises on his cheeks, already more colored since their time in the countryside where he spends as much time in the fresh air and sun as possible. For a moment, it seems he's forgotten what prompted the visit, but his eyes catch on the parchments before her. "Can I – help?"
Deciding to curse herself later for not thinking of the fact that she has a walking, talking dictionary in the house with her, Lily grins and shoves the chair next to her out welcomingly. A light breeze blows through the open window and Lily bites back a sigh at James scent – which can't be described as anything but manly – and directs him to the section she's been puzzling over.
He's quickly wrapped up in the words, giving Lily all too much time to watch the rise and fall of his breaths, his arching neck, the muscles that curve along his back and fill out his gentleman's shirt, the top two buttons released to reveal even more bronzed skin. She takes a steadying breath and refocuses on his face and makes a mental note to ask Sirius about getting him some spectacles – James squints entirely too much when he's reading.
Lily's lost in a daydream about James in glasses when she finds he's trying to get her attention, smile bringing delightful crinkles around his hazel eyes. He drags the scroll between them and leads her through the translation, which uses language much more colloquial than she's used to and alludes to another spell to be used when the prophecy is fulfilled and Lily feels a headache forming at the base of her skull.
Forehead dropping to the cluttered table, Lily almost moans when James' broad hand finds her neck, fingers rubbing gentle circles just where her pain is worst, and sliding to her tensed shoulders. They remain silent, utterly alone since Sirius departed for the small town that services their land and Remus vanished in the early hours to 'explore' the forest to the south, until Lily sighs, "Oh I love you."
She can't tell his reaction, since he doesn't make a sound and she jolts away from the table before it's clear whether his hand stilled. "I'm so- I just – "
James' grin is easy when her frantic eyes finally settle on his face, and he offers her a simple shrug and grasps her hand in his, tugging her from the manor and into the sprawling gardens.
There's a small copse of trees by the water, and James has her climbing one in particular with him following after, eyes definitively diverted from her looming skirts. By the time he pulls her to settle on a thick branch and points her toward a break in the leaves, the sun is setting over the horizon, oranges and reds giving the world a warm glow.
Lily's back is pressed against the trunk, feet dangling uncounted meters above the ground when she speaks, "All this must be strange – coming back and it's all so, so different. How do you feel?"
He shoots her a wry grin. "Old."
They share a chuckle, James' bright smile flashing in the shaded light, but he soon sobers and answers with a little more gravity. "A little sad. My parents, my whole family is gone for who knows how long."
Throwing caution and propriety to the wind – who is she kidding that happened the moment she absconded with Sirius like a couple of marauders – Lily scoots closer and clasps his hand in hers. "Well you've got us now."
By the following day Sirius and Remus have returned from their respective journeys and the foursome have descended on the sprawling grounds for a day in the fresh air. James is beating up yet another bale of hay with a wooden shaft when Sirius tosses an apple core toward his growing pile. "Maybe it would be useful to fight an actual human?"
James grins and pulls his loose tunic off in one go, swiping the fabric across his sweaty brow as Lily determinedly doesn't watch and buries her nose further in her book. Still, her ears perk as James challenges Sirius and Remus to duels and defeats them handily one after another.
She's biting back laughter at Sirius' impassioned demands for a rematch when James' boots enter her field of vision, along with a fighting stick that's the twin to his own. Surprise shoots through her when his face doesn't hold a placating expression but instead one of genuine challenge, and Lily's never been one to back down, so she tosses her book toward her discarded shawl, takes one last look at his miles of muscled chest, and brushes the dirt from her trousers, steeling herself.
His fighting stance mirrors her own and soon they're circling each other in tense circuits until James flicks his brows upward and takes the first jab. Lily dodges easily, avoiding what would have been a bracing blow to her ribs, and lands a crack of her own to his bicep. Still, despite the small victory he barely flinches and dives forward again, locking his weapon with hers as her considerably smaller frame fights to push his backward.
Knowing brute strength fights will never end in her favor, Lily slides one foot between his and drags them apart, sending James to his knees and landing her stick against his neck and down his spine, forcing his head to duck in a prayerful pose.
Her victory can't be this easy, she knows, and is soon proven right when she finds herself splayed on the ground, breathless and pinned between James' knees, his weapon at her throat.
With a few practiced twists, Lily's feet are cradled in his hips and push him backward and flat to the soft grass, and soon she's looming above him, both sticks clenched in her fists, crisscrossed over his neck.
Sweat trickles down her temple and James' gaze locks on hers, lips parted, and looking at her like he's never seen her before, like she's all he ever wants to see, when Sirius cuts in, "As your friend, I want to ask if we should leave, but as your pseudo guardian I feel like I shouldn't."
James doesn't move, chest rising and falling in heavy pants when Lily notices a scrape along his stubbly jaw. Barely registering Sirius' snort and promise to be waiting in the sunroom, Lily finds her hand reaching toward the gash, cupping his chin gently. Somehow she's on her knees now, and James is sitting forward, legs splayed beneath her when he leans into her hand, and she flashes back to that moment in the cave, where instead of his warm, living breathing form, cold marble had leeched the heat from her body.
It's this comparison that has Lily pulling away awkwardly, clearing her throat as she scolds herself for not considering the possibility before – that while her feelings might be genuine, she can't know that James' attachment isn't a result of her being the one who woke him.
Still, she can't help but notice his expression falter when she offers him a hand up and lets go immediately. "I've got to go pressure Sirius into cooking supper."
Over the weeks spent in Sirius' manor, Lily's made it a point to explore the house and the grounds, finding her favorite nooks and secret spots to hole up when she needs a respite from her three loveable but occasionally overwhelming companions. And although one's room-filling liveliness in particular is decidedly more pleasant, Lily still needs to escape for her own insanity on occasion. Which is why a dry laugh bubbles in her throat when said individual appears at the cozy sitting room's doorway, cracking the door open smirking at her, likely because of the colorful language that no doubt left her lips a moment before when she pricked her finger yet again. Her eyes flick up to his laughing ones, but she plows ahead with her shoddy mending while James, clean and casual, lounges against the doorjamb like he hasn't a care in the world.
When he snorts again, Lily drops the torn dress and narrows her eyes dangerously. "You can do better?"
He saunters over and sits entirely too close on the settee, gesturing for her to pass the garment over. Sadly neither notices the other casually sniffing the other in the exchange. Once James has the glinting needle in his calloused hand, he glances toward her, expression mischievous. "Just because I'm ancient doesn't mean I don't have household abilities."
Lily nudges him with her elbow. "Didn't think sewing was part of warrior training."
"Guess again," James answers, bent over the cotton day dress, and if Lily shivers at his still heavily accented voice, no one's there to see. After a moment, tiny stiches already appearing in the wake of his flying needle, he pauses, "But really it was for – mother – her sight wasn't so good by the time I was old enough to learn."
"And your father?"
"Hopeless with a –," he gestures with his working hand and Lily catches on, murmuring, "Needle."
He nods thoughtfully, as if filing the word away for later consideration, and Lily takes a moment to marvel at his mind – the speed with which he's adapting to a new language, a new culture, a new millennium, is astounding. James ties off the careful line of stitches and finds another tear, passing the needle over to be re-threaded. "Gifted healer though – my father was."
They share small smiles before he begins along the new seam with tiny stitches, "Helpful in battle though – the sewing."
Lily's eyes fall to the scars that litter his bared forearms but she doesn't speak.
He notes her silence and follows her gaze, shrugging as if discussing the weather rather than a lifetime of near death experiences, "Sometimes shields aren't as helpful as you'd like."
Lily chews her lip for a moment. "What's your worst?"
"You'd probably rather not see it."
"My stomach is iron," Lily grins.
His lip quirks and he lets her dress drop to his lap, turning to pull his shirt up, twisting to show his shoulders and reveal a jagged trio of scars descending from his right shoulder to his left hip.
Before she can think, Lily reaches out to touch it, fingers following the marked skin. James jolts at her touch and she almost pulls away, but something has her pressing her full hand down, warm and steady despite her pounding heart, "It doesn't still hurt?"
Shirt dropping back down, James twists back to face her, mending forgotten, "A few thousand years should have been enough time to heal."
Then they're swaying into each other, and Lily doesn't know who leans first but James is cupping her jaw and her eyes are drifting shut –
Until a clang sounds from somewhere in the manor and Remus' voice follows, "Sorry! I'm alright!"
And James is back at her mending and Lily's wishing she could dissolve into the stout paisley cushions.
Time passes predictably after that, with their daily lives remaining much the same, although Sirius doubles down on discovering where exactly the leak came from. Despite their best efforts, his 'network' of spies is unsuccessful and Sirius decides to risk going to London himself to poke around, relying on his wits should any undesired encounters occur.
In the meantime, Remus becomes more invested in Lily's research now that she has a more definitive goal – determining what exactly this other spell is, when it's got to be used, and who has to use it. They're sprawled across the formal dining table when Lily realizes she's forgotten one of the texts she needs and sets off for the library.
She's already blustered into the room when James' hunched form comes into view and it's too late to leave quietly or simply knock first. Upon closer inspection, it seems James has been studying the genealogies and histories collected by Sirius and Lily's families over the years.
James startles slightly when she enters but doesn't seem guilty. "Just trying to figure out what happened to my – "
Lily's face softens. "Your parents. Of course. I can help if you want. But we might not find much."
His face falls, but he shrugs his shoulders lightly and gestures for her to come closer. "They were already so old when I came along – then they had me and, maybe I was more trouble than I was worth."
Before she can think about it too much, Lily's hand finds his, squeezing it gently. "I highly doubt that."
Apparently that was the right thing to say, because James looks hopeful for a moment, and it's almost more than she can bear when the blaze of his smile hits her, so she looks away before he sees her rising blush.
Switching to professional Lily, she strides over to the far shelves and climbs the squat ladder with ease. "These'll be the census logs for the years your parents were alive – we can probably find you in here too – but it's got death records along with the rest."
It's surprisingly easy to guess the right era and locate the Potters – Fleamont and Euphemia – in the census, and then follow the trail to their deaths by scouring burial records. Luckily they were wealthy enough to avoid unmarked graves and Lily's fairly certain they could locate the spot with a relatively low level of difficulty. James seems to need a moment, as he stares at the sets of dates, so Lily sets about righting the tomes they'd used and a scrap falls from between the pages.
Upon closer inspection, she discovers it's a sketch, unsigned, of a pair of stone caskets, simply carved with trio of figures and blocky ancient letters. Across the bottom of the yellowed paper, tight script curls in a line, Beloved, held close always.
Wordlessly, she passes the drawing over to James, his eyes filling with silvery tears. After a moment, now settled back next to him, Lily presses a kiss to his cheek, salty with tears and James offers her a watery smile. He takes a breath, shaky but calming and turns to her, moving slow enough that she could stop him, and threads his hand into her loosely bound hair.
It only takes her a fraction of a second to see the pureness of his expression, unclouded by feelings of obligation or childish idolization, to know his judgment is no more hindered by their past than hers. So with a deep breath of her own, Lily pitches forward and her lips meet his, gentle but desperate as she tugs him forward by his shirtfront.
They've just pulled away, merely a breath apart when Sirius comes storming in disheveled and raging, Remus hot on his tail. "It was Peter. Lucius knows about us – about James – and it's only a matter of time before Riddle does too."
James' jaw hardens and his hand grips hers tightly, and it's a statement more than a question when he says, "He's back."
"Resurrected a few months before I met Lily."
Heart thumping in her chest, Lily's eyes dart to Sirius' grey ones. "Did you know?"
He's pouring four healthy classes of some amber alcohol when he answers, "Nah, but lucky for us apparently Peter's just an equal opportunity rat."
Sirius passes out the libations and slumps in a chair near the low-lit fire, flexing his swollen knuckles. "A rat who has three fewer teeth."
After that, working quickly seems more imperative and although they still don't have an exact timeline they all double down and crowd around the library tables to find exactly how they're supposed to defeat Riddle.
A week and a half passes where the only progress is discovering Sirius' propensity for making lewd jokes in ancient languages, James gives a sudden shout one afternoon that has Remus upending his chair in surprise.
"Looks like this requires more than just me," James surmises, turning to Lily with a half smile.
Brows rising in question, Lily tugs the book close and finds the place he's marked. 'Defeat of the Timeless One will come when New and Old come together – carmine and onyx in tandem. Forma excudo to loosen the shape, saxum fissure detergeo to rend evil from the mortal plain.'
Sirius breaks the silence that fell once Lily's voice quieted. "That sounds oddly specific, yeah?"
By now Remus has righted his chair and is pouring aromatic cups of tea all around to keep his hands busy while the reality of everything sets in. Lily's hands tremble as she prepares her own, simultaneously glad to finally have their answer and petrified of the responsibility and the impending nature of their task.
James stokes his jaw thoughtfully for a moment, accent thicker with his tiredness. "I guess the next step is figuring out where's the best location, strategically speaking."
Remus shakes his head, "Perhaps not – seems you've got to go back to where it all began. That's the fault point in time."
By the time he finishes, Lily's already jotting down a list of the necessary preparations, initials next to each denoting who is ideal for the job. Glancing across the cluttered table, Remus jabs his finger toward step three. "I'll call in some favors for travel arrangements if I have leave to use your purse generously, Sirius."
A dangerous grin slides across Sirius' mouth. "Spending money liberally is my favorite pastime, and if that money staving off a manic villain bent on world domination, all the better. Plus wiping that smug look off Malfoy's face is always a desirable."
Clapping his hands to his thighs, Remus quickly departs with promises to return for a late supper and Sirius follows soon after, off to purchase current maps for the appropriate region – what the Roman Empire called Gaul and is now the French countryside.
Once they've left, Lily slumps back in a decidedly unladylike manner and sighs. "I suppose I'll need to train more to avoid being a liability."
James matches her posture and shoots her a sidelong glance. "You were hardly a liability, but more training couldn't hurt."
Which is how they end up clashing with dull but weighted swords in the yard, exchanging barbs that increase in goading the warmer the sun's rays.
Lily swipes her arm across her forehead, wiping the sweat and dust away as they reset positions. "I'll need a sword I suppose."
Clangs sound as James advances on her challengingly. "Well I've already got one."
Before she can think, Lily lets her eyes drink him in. "I've noticed."
And then their gazes lock and she flushes. "I didn't mean – bloody hell."
This simply earns her a rakish grin and another slash with his sword, glinting in the midday sun. "So."
Lily smirks as she parries. "So."
Blocking easily, James returns the advance with a carefully placed jab. "About that kiss."
Stumbling, Lily manages to fudge a defense just barely. "What about it?"
"When can I expect another?"
"When you beat me."
Their blades lock and James' face is a breath away. "So any second now."
Grunting with the effort, Lily presses him back, if only a few inches. "If you say so." Then she's twisting just enough to disconcert him and he's sent sprawling over a stray root, air knocked from his lungs. "Not so smug now eh, Iacomus?"
His eyes flash with something Lily doesn't dare examine and then his legs are scissoring in some complex movement and she's gasping for breath same as he is, tall grasses swaying overhead.
Then he's there, blocking out the blue cloudy sky with his flushed face and dancing eyes. "Does that count?"
Despite her pounding heart, Lily manages to somewhat control her trembling voice when she answers. "Still fancy a snog now, eh James?"
His bravado slips for a moment as a quizzical expression spreads across his features. "What's a snog?"
Taking advantage of his confusion, Lily manages to flip their positions, and James is sprawled beneath her, a flash of what she thinks – hopes – could be desire flashes in his eyes. Drawing her courage, she lets her nose brush his and she finds her courage and her footing. "Guess you'll have to win and find out."
After a brief discussion, all four are in agreement that a quick departure is in their best interest for a whole host of reasons, not least of which is the benefit of getting the 'first look' at the battlefield. Which luckily rests near a small village nestled in the countryside rather than a more populated area. Once they arrive, Sirius plans to use his abilities with language and persuasion to cajole the mayor into temporarily evacuating that particular region of the province.
Remus books four places on an overnight ferry to the continent with enough extra that all concerned will turn a blind eye to James' lack of travel papers.
Lily excuses herself from dinner after a light dessert while the men head off in search of gambling, alcohol, and imported cigars, and finds herself abandoning the route back to her room and heading towards the upper levels. The moon is wide and ivory overhead by the time she breaks onto the main deck; chill night air whipping her hair free of its intricate twist. She's made it around half the ship when strong, sure steps sound out behind her and she's gripping the dagger James had gifted her before they left, 'for luck.'
She's got him held against the rail, blade at his jugular before she registers the familiar features. "James."
He ruffles his hair nervously as she lowers the knife. "Glad to see the sparring paid off."
Lily hums in agreement as she tucks her weapon away and they continue her circuit of the ship. "You never collected on our bargain."
James flushes. "I wasn't sure if you wanted to – I'd like to be a," he pauses to recall the phrase, "gentleman."
Not breaking stride Lily sends him a flirtatious wink, "Well when a gentlewoman asks to be kissed, the gentlemanly thing to do – "
Apparently his misgivings are assuaged because his lips are on hers, arms banding around her waist as she sighs into the kiss, wrap slouching down her back as the embrace deepens. When they finally break away, James looks glad but hesitant as he asks, "Maybe when this is all over – "
Careful hands stroking along his jaw, Lily nods and brushes a peck to the corner of his mouth. "I'd love to be courted by you."
A jubilant grin splits across his face as he nuzzles her cheekbone, "You'll have to teach me."
Rising on her toes, Lily dips forward until they're sharing breaths, "I've a good lesson in mind for now."
Dawn breaks the next morning and Lily can't recall anything but the blissful feeling tickling her bones and her hand goes to touch her lips, where the phantom of James kiss lingers. Until her eyes fall to the dagger on her bedside table and reality crashes back with a dull thud. Still, the fact that every moment brings them closer to confrontation only means it brings them closer to being finished, so she slips quickly into a serviceable day dress and shoves trousers and a tunic into her satchel, her dagger stowed in the holster beneath her skirts.
By the time she's leaving her cabin, Remus is doing the same across the cramped hall and she spies a still dead to the world Sirius sprawled across a still made bunk, fully dressed and drooling if her eyesight serves. As they stroll toward the breakfast room, Remus holds the door and gestures for Lily to descend the stairs first. "I'm glad you took care of James last night."
Lily's grateful Remus can't see her rising blush when she answers vaguely, "Right! We got on just fine."
For her own sanity, Lily ignores the smirk that rides on Remus' face and they pass the rest of the journey to breakfast in comfortable silence.
When they arrive, James is already seated, catching the host's attention so his companions can join him. Not so unsurprisingly, Remus manages to maneuver in such a manner that Lily ends up sitting cozily next to James, forearms brushing as they go about the meal.
She passes the time mindlessly eating and forcing the color from her cheeks every time James' earthy scent drifts past the aromas of her breakfast and his warmth presses into her side. After Remus' umpteenth knowing glance, Lily sets her silverware down with slightly more force than necessary, drawing the attention of their fellow diners for a moment. She offers an apologetic smile before turning to her companions. "Perhaps we should save some for Sirius?"
Thanks to Remus and Sirius' excellent preparations, there's a coach waiting for them as soon as the ferry docks and the driver is loading their belongings within a quarter of an hour. So soon enough, they're jostling along the road and Lily's dozing uncomfortably in her seat.
When she wakes again, her cheek is pressed against James' muscled shoulder and Sirius is sending him a searching and slightly threatening glare before he notices Lily's wakefulness and the frown slips from his face. "Sleep well my dear sister?"
James' expression similarly lightens when Lily turns toward him and the tension dissipates fully when Remus cuts in with a laugh, "We're here."
The small cottage Sirius rented is cozy and welcoming, and altogether more fitting to the man than his dusty and overly formal manor. He seems to agree with Lily's internal assessment if the spark in his grey eyes is any indication, but he doesn't linger for sentiments, but simply claps his hands, as the last of their baggage is unloaded. "Well, I'm off to persuade the mayor with my charm and purse if it comes to that. You let a carriage right, Remus?"
The man in question nods and brushes the dust from his suit jacket, "I'll drive you – keep up the gentlemanly appearance, yes?"
By the time the two men clamber into the carriage and set off down the road with a cloud of dust in their wake, the sun is high overhead and sweat trickles down Lily's spine under the bright heat. When she returns to the dim cottage, blinking sunspots from her eyes, James is perched on the bench in the kitchen, fiddling with a deep red apple absentmindedly.
Closing the distance between them, Lily places one hand over his, stilling his movements. "Nervous?"
James shrugs noncommittally. "Restless I'd say."
After placing the apple off to the side, Lily grasps his hands in hers. "Don't take any risks – we can always try again."
His grin is rueful when he answers, "I want to finish this, one way or another. It's gone a few millennia too long.
Lily's hand rises to his cheek, her eyes watery with unshed tears. "Don't give up on this century yet, yeah?"
Sirius gets back near midnight and they settle in for a late supper, regrouping briefly and then falling into a tense silence, each considering what the next weeks hold. The following morning, they plan to rise early and set out for the site to get a feel for the terrain and craft a plan beyond Lily swooping in while James distracts Riddle, and then vice versa.
Once they arrive, they quickly decide Lily will lie in wait in a conveniently located cave while James confronts Riddle and whomever he decided to bring as his second.
Kicking stray pebbles at his feet, Remus tucks his hands into his pockets and studies the clouds. "You lot are more in the know, do we send an invitation or – "
Sirius' voice is grim as he answers, eyes trained on the distant horizon, "It seems that may not be necessary."
Following his gaze, James frowns, beginning to ready himself, "They might not have seen us yet."
With quick embraces for Remus and Sirius, Lily kisses James swiftly but not without heat. "Remember what I said." And then she's ducking into the cave without a backward glance.
Sirius and Remus ready themselves trot off for the trees, ready with rifles 'just in case.' Clapping one hand on James' shoulder, Sirius nods toward the firearms, "Don't trust my family as far as I can throw them," and then he's gone, following Remus into the shadows.
They're all hidden away, securely watching the proceedings when Riddle finally strides into view, Lucius close by his side. James can't help but grin at the thought of Sirius' reaction. With that in mind, he summons up his best disdainful drawl. "You're hardly necessary, Lord Malfoy."
Lucius huffs but Riddle agrees with a short nod and a hissing voice, "That's correct Lucius, best you stay out of the line of fire. This should be over quickly enough. I won't need help ending our intrepid hero."
"Could've used it last time," James taunts.
Black eyes flashing dangerously, Riddle puts on a somewhat forced light air. "Oh Iacomus, I am not the one who hid behind a façade of stone for millennia."
Examining his blade with effortless nonchalance, James glances toward Riddle from under his lashes, "Nah. You just blasted yourself into oblivion."
And then as if a starting bell had rung, the two warriors lurch toward each other with expert form as Lily readies herself to enter the fray. She catches James' eye from within the cave once Lucius has backed away, a grimace on his face at the duel. Taking a deep breath, Lily leaps from her hiding place, wielding her sword without hesitance and Riddle produces a second weapon seemingly from nowhere. Still his attention is divided enough that Lily is able to squeeze the blood from the slice on her palm and intone the words, forma excudo – and a tremor runs through the grassy landscape, almost imperceptible.
But apparently not to Riddle, who shoots her a deadly glare as he advances toward her. "Foolish girl. I planned on letting you live."
In a flash, all his attacks are focused on Lily; any other attention is simply parrying James' attacks. Despite his best efforts, James can't break into the fray before Riddle's blade pierces Lily's shoulder in a clean shot. She tumbles back with the force of it and Riddle's about to deal the deathblow when James finally wedges between them and absorbs the clash with his shield, thrusting Riddle back with a desperate shove.
Lily's injury aside, the divided fight does knock Riddle down to one sword, making James' final assignment that much easier. Still, James' attention is half on Lily where she's dragged herself to the side of their makeshift arena. Lucius' attempts to finish Riddle's kill are halted when shots ring out from the trees, bullets spraying dirt and rocks up near his feet.
When James' attention drifts to her prone and bleeding form again, Lily shuffles into a sitting position and shouts across the distance. "Do it, James!"
So he practically shouts the words, rolling off his tongue with a familiarity he still hasn't achieved with English, despite his relative fluency. "Saxum fissure detergeo."
It grinds across the distance with a deadly accuracy and Riddle is stumbling again, but his rage intensifies in the face of impending defeat, and soon James' sword is knocked away. He manages to do the same to Riddle, and then he's abandoning his shield and they're scrabbling in the swaying grasses with grasping fingers and seething expressions.
Desperate, Lily's making her way back over, sword dangling in her weaker hand, until James sees and shouts, "Go Lily! I'll hold him off. Make this worth it."
Riddle's got a dangerous looking knife at James' throat now, just barely slicing his skin when he growls in his ear, "I'll kill you first Iacomus, make her watch and then she will be next and get her next – you will die knowing your sacrifice is for nothing, fool."
Gritting his teeth, James feels the blade stab into his belly with a burning slice as he snarls, "You are the fool if you think I'd let you disarm me by accident."
Before the taunt can register with an already boasting Riddle, James' golden dagger finds its home between Riddle's ribs and straight through his heart as James spits, "Saxum fissure detergeo," and barely rolls out of the way before Riddle's turning to marble and crumbling away to dust.
Then Lily's running over, her wound just starting to clot and silvery tears rising in her eyes. "You were not supposed to get stabbed, James."
James coughs a laugh. "I've never been one for sticking to plans, cara."
She can't hold back the tears as they rise over her lids, a devastated chuckle scratching out of her throat. "Well you promised me a date."
Shirt half shredded from Lily's attempts to make a bandage, James lifts a shaking hand to her cheek. "Don't hate me if I can't deliver, eh?"
"You can bet I'll hate you," Lily growls as tears track down her dusty face in salty torrents.
Sirius and Remus arrive quickly enough, taking James' legs and shoulders respectively and Sirius sends Lily a comforting smile. "How about we move this party to the doctors?"
And then, for James, everything goes black.
It's late morning when James finally wakes and Lily nearly jolts out of her chair, wincing as she upsets her sling. "You're one for dramatics sir – depriving me of proper sympathy because 'James is in a coma.'"
Despite her laughing tone, her eyes are watery and James is reaching for her free hand as he asks softly, throat dry and scratchy from disuse, "Has it been long?"
"Nearly a week."
He squeezes her hand gently. "You alright?"
Lily shrugs, grimacing when the habit jostles her injury. "Aside from my shoulder and a few bruised ribs, yeah."
Eyeing her shoulder and side worriedly, James decides to get the truth from Sirius later. "And my prognosis?"
She's grinning playfully now, more real than before. "Everything's back inside where it belongs."
Before he can finish, Sirius and Remus are storming in like a couple of bulls, door slapping shut behind them. "You may be my sister, but that doesn't mean you can disregard my explicit instructions to be notified of any changes in our hero's status."
Rolling her eyes, Lily drawls, "Can't a woman have a moment alone with her beau?"
Remus smirks at that as he settles in a cozy chair near the unlit fireplace. "I believe the correct answer is no. But technically she's not really your sister."
Sirius gasps, scandalized. "And what is that supposed to mean, Lupin?"
James laughs and tugs on Lily's hand, drawing her closer. "They'll be at it for a bit. Fancy a 'glad to be alive' snog?"
Lily leans in, skipping his lips and breathing into his ear, "If you ever pull a stunt like that again, I'll kill you myself."
Nuzzling her cheek, James manages to maneuver so her lips are hovering over his when he asks, "And if I promise to behave?"
"I'll make it worth your while."