The plot bunny has returned with a vengance.
Dedicated to: HPBeatles (600th reviewer on The Story of James Potter), FrightninglyObsessed (new beta for said story) and Gochan Son (who beta-ed this)
It was pissing it down.
Lily Evans and James Potter stood outside the fence of a towering house, huddled together under a tiny, black umbrella, while two trunks lay behind them and a car drove off down the street. The light of a nearby street lamp flickered and went out, throwing them into now complete darkness. Lily barely noticed. She was still staring up at the massive, dark construction in front of herself and her boyfriend, rainwater dripping in small streams from holes in the gutter, a few pigeons hiding from the storm in the niches of stone and under gargoyles.
"Is this it, then?" she said in a low voice, casting a doubtful look upwards towards the face of her companion. His glasses slipped about two centimetres down his nose as he consulted a small piece of parchment in his hand, the ink on it already stained and running from the rain.
"Yep, this is it," he replied, pushing them back up with his knuckle and looking about as doubtful as Lily did. He shoved the piece of parchment back into his coat pocket and brought out his wand, handing the umbrella handle to the girl beside him. He levitated the trunks a few inches off the ground and shuffled through the gate of the house, up the driveway and came to the large, black double doors, adorned with a silver keyhole, and the silver letters spelling out: 'Godric's Hollow'. He fished about in his other pocket for a minute and produced a silver key, that opened the door and let them inside.
As soon as the door slammed shut, the 'G' in 'Godric's Hollow' dropped onto the doorstep with a soft metal 'ping'.
Inside, Lily dried out the umbrella with a spell as James stacked the trunks in the corner of the hall.
At least the magic candles still worked, as soon as they had entered, the flames had woken up in the wicks and given them light. Lily thought this was a very good thing as there were a number of cardboard boxes and crates laying around in the dingy hall that would have been very easy to trip over. Everything was dusty, the large, ornately framed mirror on the wall was cracked and there was a rhythmic leak to the right of the huge, wide staircase.
"My parents had never even set foot in here after my granddad inherited it," James told Lily, a little apologetically.
"I thought as much," she nodded, her large, grass-coloured eyes sweeping over the room in a sort of morose awe.
It was Thursday, the second of July, 1981, supposedly summer, but the temperamental British climate had disappointed them once again. Lily and James had come in search of his parents' old house in the country, the one that hadn't been lost along with their lives, and apparently, they had found it. James sighed.
"Merlin, what a mess," he remarked.
"It's not too bad," Lily tried timidly, made nervous only because of the blatant disrepair of the house glaring back at her.
"No, it . . . really is a hideous mess," James accused the house, nodding his head and pulling a face. "You feel brave enough to test those stairs?"
Something sparked in his heart when he felt her take his hand.
"Really, James," she said, giving his a despairing look, "are we Gryffindors, or not?"
Gryffindor or not, James cringed at every creak and whine of the staircase. The massive structure swept up through the middle of the massive hall to the equally impressive expanse of landing above. Suddenly, Lily gave a small cry as the step gave way below her foot and she sunk a few inches.
"Whoa, whoa," James said, getting the shock of his life. He squeezed her hand tighter and helped her out of the hole in the staircase, where the thick red carpet had ripped from all those years it had been left to rot.
"Alright?" he asked, trying to slow his heart rate. Holy Hippogriffs, if anything happened to her . . .
"Yes, yes, fine," she shrugged it off, but it had shaken her as well. "Onward," she motioned, and they made it to the top without a hiccup.
The landing had a somewhat . . . mysterious atmosphere. Lily didn't notice it at first, but then she began to notice little things. The portraits on the walls seemed empty and abandoned by their subjects, but then she spotted movement in the portraits from subjects staying out of sight, and the very faintest hint of whispering filtered through her ears.
There were some very questionable stains on the walls and the carpet, large ones at that. Spiders and rats disappeared into cracks in the floorboards as soon as Lily tried to catch them in her gaze, and there were some curious, but nevertheless sinister-looking magical instruments displayed on tables and shelves around the landing. Lily couldn't exactly be sure what they were for, but if she had to guess, she would have said . . . torture.
They tried room after room, discovering three bedrooms, with moth-eaten quilts on four-poster beds with their curtains torn. Lily could hear the disgusting, rippling noises of the Guwelrows under the beds, a magical creature that resembled a cross between a four-inch slug and a maggot, and survived under wardrobes and beds by eating upwards through the mattress or wood.
James and Lily clasped each other's hands tightly, as they gathered enough courage to open cupboards and chests of drawers, uncovering many unpleasant things such as a ladies' corset that was slashed across the middle and caked with a red substance. Lily gasped what she opened the bottom drawer of a chest and found what looked like the skeleton of a small kitten, scatted between old shirts and ties.
On they went, hands still clasped, walking closer together than they had ever walked before. The library had nothing on its expansive shelves other than a couple of outdated newspapers, being slowly consumed by decay. The kitchen was decidedly empty of food, but full of insects, and James didn't even want to think about the bathroom.
With every room they ventured into, James's spirit sank lower and lower. After the destruction of his parents' house, he had been banking on his granddad's to give him somewhere to live. Maybe it would have given Lily a place to live too . . . if she'd wanted, he though shyly.
Now it was clear that the house was nowhere near fit for living in. It would be easier to just buy a new house.
The only room that seemed to be halfway presentable was the living room downstairs. It still had a recliner and a sofa, plus an armchair and a fireplace. Most of the keys were missing from the dusty grand piano, but there was a pleasant absence of insects and deceased creatures.
After a very long time of wondering around, trying to figure out just how far this festering decay and rot went, James and Lily finished up back in the entrance hall. Lily let out a sigh of relief.
"I'll say," agreed James, sighing himself. He was pleasantly surprised when she pulled him down into a hug. It was only then that he realised how much he needed it. Neither of them knew how long they stood there, squeezing each other so tightly that their arms got tired, revelling in the feeling of each others arms and presence in their own. It was probably half an hour at least.
"Are you . . . thinking of heading off now?" James asked, pushing his glasses back up his nose as they pulled apart. "I don't mind if you do. I'll be alright here tonight."
"Are you mad?" asked Lily in disbelief, "you can't stay here. Not to be harsh, but this place is a wreck. Where will you sleep, what will you eat?"
"I haven't got anywhere else to go," James said, hopelessly. "Sirius and Remus are out of the country until tomorrow, Peter's dad hates me, your sister will probably swing a cricket bat at my head the moment I step in your door . . . Go on, get back to your parents' house. They'll be wondering where you are. I'll be fine here."
Lily stared at him for a minute with her leafy green eyes. James reflected that they were the only colourful and precious things in the entire house.
"Well, that's it then," she said, stepping round him and moving into the living room.
"Lil, what are you doing?" he asked.
"Don't be stupid, James," Lily said, lighting the fire with her wand and filling the room with a sphere of light and warmth. "You stay, I stay. That's how this friendship thing works, you know."
James opened his mouth to argue, but stopped himself. He did want her to stay. Just as Lily had finished conjuring up a plate of sandwiches and some tea, she felt his arms rope around her waist and the pressure of his lips on the back of her head. James's stomach growled, and Lily laughed.
As she turned around, James bent down to kiss her, but she took the opportunity to shove the end of a sandwich in his mouth.
"Eat." She told him.
They sat down on the worn sofa and emptied the plate of food. Lily poured two mugs of tea, and they leaned back against opposite arms of the sofa, facing the fire, sipping slowly and talking of nothing in particular. Sooner or later, the subject of conversation was bound to get around to the house.
"It's just such a tip," sighed James, hopelessly.
"Well," Lily said, swilling all the sugar up from the bottom of her mug, "at least it's a house . . . and one that you don't have to pay a mortgage on."
"I think that's stretching the term 'house' a bit too far," James said, "It's more like an abandoned zoo for household pests." He took another gulp of tea and laughed quietly and humourlessly.
"What's funny?" asked Lily, regarding him oddly.
"I can't believe I was actually thinking of asking you to live with me in a place like this," he said, looking around and shaking his head.
Lily held his gaze for a moment.
"I would love to live with you," she said quietly.
James's eyebrows hopped above the rim of his glasses.
"What?" he asked, sure that his hearing was going.
"I said, I would love to live with you," she said, matter-of-factly.
"Here?" he asked again, gesturing around with the hand that was holding the last sips of this his tea and sloping a drop onto the carpet.
"Here, there, a room at the Three Broomsticks, up a tree, Azkaban . . . wherever!" she said, smiling, "I would just . . . love to live with you."
James only gaped at her.
She said yes! She said she would live with him! Here, of all places! She said she would live with him!
Lily smiled in a satisfied way as he continued to gape.
"Well," she said, tipping her cup with her little finger sticking out and peering into the bottom of it, "if you've changed your mind . . ."
"Oh, Merlin no!" James exclaimed, abandoning his mug on the arm of the sofa and lunging forward to fling his arms around her. Lily had a dull sense of the mug falling off the arm of the sofa and spilling the last drops of tea on the carpet, but she didn't care. She squeezed James back as hard as he was squeezing her, and laughed.
"Do you know how much I love you?" he asked, his cheek against her ear.
"Enough to ask me to live with you in a rotting house, it seems," she teased, and James smiled ruefully with her. "But that's alright," she continued, "because I love you too."
"Enough to say yes to living with me in a rotting house," James agreed, still grinning. They sat at Lily's end of the sofa, still with their arms around each other as the fire slowly began to die.
"It won't be left to rot for long," Lily said.
"Agreed," James said sleepily. "We'll start tomorrow. We'll strip out all the carpets, we'll get Remus to help us get rid of all the . . . wildlife, we'll replace all the furniture, magically strengthen those stairs . . ."
"Put some books in the library," Lily put in.
". . . food in the kitchen, . . ."
". . . new portraits, . . ."
". . . candle holders, . . .
The list went on into the night, as they lay there, shifting every so often to get comfortable. Rain continued to patter on the windows, giving them a background symphony to their brand new ambitions and promises for the old, decaying house.
After maybe a minute of silence when neither of them could think of anything else to strip, replace, paint, buy, evict, build, demolish or decorate, Lily conjured a blanket over the two of them. She took James's glasses off his nose, and set them down on a small table next to a vase containing a single wilted sunflower.
"We'll make it into a place that even the Queen would be proud to live," she told her boyfriend, but James had fallen asleep on her shoulder.
She smiled and pulled him closer, burying her fingers in his messy black hair, and felt sleep slowly soak into her own mind and give her sights of a new home that she was going to build with James Potter.
Outside, where the front door was being drenched in rain water, the silver letter 'G' glowed gold for a moment. It slowly floated up and affixed itself to its rightful place in front of the other letters in 'Godric's Hollow', if only from the power of their combined dreams.