Author's Note: most unexpected epilogue ever? Yeah, I'm awful. Sorry. I could give a bunch of excuses about having a real life or losing my computer and files to storage for a year while living abroad, but I'm pretty sure you don't much care. I DO want to say that I have read your reviews over the years and it has made all of the difference – THANK YOU. It's probably not worth the wait and it might make more sense if you re-read the last few chapters, but…
"Sirius Black," Dumbledore enquired, his deep voice reverberating in the hall.
Sirius froze, and turned. "I would like to speak with you in my office please."
The look of guilt was automatic, even if his brain could not immediately remember any cause for a trip to the Headmaster's office.
Sirius disclosed nothing as he followed Dumbledore to his desk and positioned himself appropriately in his regular chair. Dumbledore steepled his fingers and looked over his half-moon spectacles, his face contemplative.
"You do not, I am sure, know the reason you are here," Dumbledore began. Sirius relaxed slightly, possible excuses slipping from his mind for past actions. He leaned forward slightly, intrigued.
"Remus has come to see me regarding a position here."
Sirius, while normally very skilled at hiding his emotions, was unable to contain the look of surprise overtaking his face. Dumbledore noted this before continuing.
"While I believe that one day he will make a fine teacher, it is my belief that one must spend time in the world in order to bring a definitive perspective to their field of magic. Remus has yet to find his path, and while I believe he knows that, I fear the directions he may head if he does not have a firm idea of where he desires to go."
Sirius grimaced, his frustration building as he spoke. "Remus is struggling more than the rest of us. He's never thought he would have a normal life, even having gone to Hogwarts, and now that it's over, he feels like he should be grateful for being given that and nothing else. Remus has always been un-ambitious in his desires, but he seems to have lost all hope for ever becoming anything else."
"He did mention becoming a shopboy," Dumbledore mentioned, almost as an aside.
Sirius snorted loudly, a derisive smirk on his face. "Remus will take what he thinks is within reach, and if he puts himself on par with a pre-teen squib, then that probably shows you just how pitiful his self-esteem is. You need to talk to him, Dumbledore. You need to show him that he can live a normal life."
"This is what I have been trying to do for the past seven years, and yet here we are. I can't offer him a job here," Dumbledore said. "But you are correct in your assessments. Remus needs direction."
Dumbledore was quiet for a long time, and Sirius, sure that he was about to presented with a plan, waited.
"Sirius," Dumbledore chided softly. Sirius blinked, startled.
"You aren't suggesting that I need to be the one to give it to him?" he scoffed loudly, half amused and half insulted.
"Is that not already what you have intended?" Dumbledore asked quietly, raising an eyebrow delicately. Sirius was silent, his eyes glittering with suspicion.
"Why am I here, sir?" Sirius demanded.
"Because I am in need of certain things that I cannot acquire on my own."
Finally, Sirius understood. "Things you ought not to be associated with publicly, things that a dark history or background might not be so tarnished by, things that would allow you to gather information."
Dumbledore raised his eyebrow again. "So you have given this some thought," he mused.
Sirius's expression darkened. "More than some, sir."
"Then we have much to discuss."
Their last day at Hogwarts felt strange. How long had James thought about this day? Wished for it, desired it to pass, and now here he was wishing he could hold onto it for as long as he could, to be caught in this day forever.
Lily came up behind him, her arms sliding around his torso, and she rested her cheek on his back. They stood there breathing and she listened to the dizzying sound of his heartbeat.
"So I'll have everything set up at the flat when you arrive next week, but if for any reason you want to arrive early, you know you can," he said, but he felt like he was pressuring her. He'd already felt like a coward for leaving her to deal with her parents on her own, so he added, "Or if you need another couple of days, just send me an owl so I don't worry."
"You're being too accommodating. I'll have training, same as you, and I'll need to be settled before then." She ran comforting little circles with her hand on his stomach. "I'm excited to see my family, but I know that I won't get to see them like this again for a long time, maybe ever. I'm going to miss my family, but I know that I can't be with them and with you."
Unvoiced was that she was choosing him, and it filled his insides with a desperate heat, both exciting and nauseating in equal measures. Whoever had said that having butterflies was nice had clearly never had them.
"Are you all packed?" he asked, feeling as though his thoughts were little birds dancing around his head, unable to find a perch. Clinging to the mundane, he tried to focus on the simple tasks in front of him for the next few days.
"Not even close," she said softly. "That's something you should know about me: I'm awful at packing."
He smiled. "Good to know. It will be hard for you to leave me if I can spread your things around the apartment well enough. If we get into an argument, fair warning I'm heading first for your toothbrush."
"Why would I want to leave you?" she asked, amused. He was quiet for a long time.
"What if I said I was considering what Sirius is talking about?" he turned to face her.
"Do you mean give up being an Auror?" she asked, frowning and pulling away.
"No, I would still pursue Aurorship…but I would be willing to serve more than one agency if I thought that the Ministry alone wasn't enough." He sighed heavily.
"I grew up in the shadows of Ministry affairs, I know how quickly the politics and personalities of those in power manipulate the truth, and I don't know that I will always be loyal to our government when I know how easily it could be corrupted."
"So you would be a double agent?" she asked.
He winced. "It sounds quite underhanded when you say it that way, but I don't believe that the two are diametrically opposed. I think that the struggle we will face was like you said: it isn't something you can prepare for like an exam and it isn't something we can fail. Auror training will be intense and important, but information in the war will be key, it may be everything, and I think Sirius is right too – that the war is already beginning."
"Hmm…" she said, and that was the end of the conversation for now.
She sat with Marlene and Alice and Dorcus that night at dinner.
"So what are you telling your parents then?" Marlene asked Lily.
"You still haven't told them?" Dorcus laughed.
"It's not like I'm telling them I'm becoming a professional Quidditch player," Lily teased back, chucking a roll at her at the newest Hollyhead Harpies recruit. Dorcus dodged it easily and stuck out her tongue in response.
"But surely they've got to know that you've been trying for it?" Alice asked. She too had gotten her offer of Aurorship, and her family had been so thrilled, they had sent her new professional robes.
"Mum does, of course, and she hinted at it in her last letter. I think she knows that I got accepted because I haven't said anything actually. It's hard to get much of anything by my Mum, and I think that makes it worse because I know that she's going to be supportive. It's going to break her heart that I'm leaving right when she thinks I'm finally coming home.
"Usually her letters just before holiday are filled to the brim with all of the things we are going to do, with what she's going to cook for me and what she's been experimenting on in the garden. I thought her last one would be excited, you know, asking about all of the magic I'd have learned this year and would be able to practice around the house, but she just said that she couldn't wait to cuddle me up in her arms."
Lily couldn't help tearing up slightly at the memory of the words on the page. It was such a short missive, as if her mother couldn't bear to voice any other thoughts about her daughter's return.
"What about you Marlene? How are your parents taking the news that you won't be returning home?" Lily asked, deflecting her own worries in favor of her friend.
"Well Dad's thrilled of course and has been bragging for weeks to his brothers that he's provided the only worthwhile heir. Mum sees it as a blanket refusal on my part to ever want kids and cries every time Dad brings it up. Honestly, she's so old-fashioned that way."
"What?" Dorcus choked. "Who at our age is thinking about children already? I mean, besides Alice."
Alice blushed to the roots of her hair, but said nothing. Lily giggled, both because she couldn't really imagine it yet, but also because she and James had spoken about kids in a distant future sort of way. Alice caught her eye and glared, raising an eyebrow as if to drag her under the bus too, but Marlene replied.
"Her and Dad were promised at my age, so she thinks I should be too, keeps sending me owls about prospective young gentlemen I should meet next time I'm 'round for tea. I figure I can avoid her until Christmas, but that might only make it worse. I'm glad I don't have to suffer going home. I don't envy you one bit, Lily."
Lily sighed, and tried to push the feeling just a little further down. She still had one day before she had to face it.
By unspoken agreement, Lily and James spent the evening in the Gryffindor common room with their classmates and friends, listening to stories and reminiscing on their grand and not-so-grand adventures through the years. They spent the evening laughing and crying, maybe not until those moments realizing really how miserable it would be to say goodbye.
Lily touched the rough stone walls, thinking about her first day at Hogwarts, how that same stone had looked so cold and intimidating. Now, her fingers caressed them like she would an old friend. These walls had kept her, had taught her what it meant to belong in this world. Her hot tears pattered like rain, little droplets sinking into stone, absorbing with it all of her heartbreak. How she would miss this place.
"Somehow, the train rides home always seemed so long, and this time it feels so short," Remus said as they watched the countryside give way to sprawling city out the window. Everyone agreed.
"You should change," James said into Lily's hair, but she made no move to uncurl herself from him. They weren't usually so openly affectionate in public, but holding his hand wasn't enough when she knew she wouldn't see him again for a week. He didn't lift his arms from around her either.
"It's strange, isn't it? Thinking this is the end?" Peter said, not meeting anyone's eyes.
"It's not the end!" Alice said, but even she had trouble believing it.
"This is too depressing. I'm getting some sweets," Sirius said and headed into the corridor.
"Tell me that a week isn't that long," Lily whispered so only James could hear. "Tell me that I won't miss you at all. Tell me that a week won't change your mind about anything, about us."
He placed a kiss on her head, desperate to kiss her for real, but it would have to wait. "Forever wouldn't be enough time to change my mind about you."
He could feel her sigh against him. He couldn't ask her for any reassurances, not when he knew what she was sacrificing already. Still, she knew. "I love you," she whispered into his skin just below his ear.
He soaked in the words, let it wash over him. He thought he would never get tired of hearing them. He held her tighter as the train pulled into the station.
As he stepped off of the train, James no longer felt the somber feeling that clouded his thoughts since breakfast. There was a sense of both returning and longing in the air. He knew his parents weren't there, but it didn't matter. He and Sirius would be going to their new home, and in a week, Lily would follow. His parents had sent him a letter, letting him know that their housewarming gift was already waiting, and in their own way, James knew this was their sign of approval.
"Have you seen Peter?" Sirius asked. "He was here a second ago…"
James looked around, but couldn't see him in the tide of parents and children. "I can't ever seem to find him anymore," Sirius was lamenting.
"Perhaps he's finally gotten tired of you," Remus said distractedly, looking for his own parents.
Sirius grinned and barked out a laugh, swinging his arm heavily onto Remus's shoulders, causing him to wince. "You know that just isn't possible, Moony! If it was, you would've gotten bored of me in third year!"
"Who says I didn't?" Remus replied, shoving him off, but Sirius just smiled, as he always did.
"Come for tea tomorrow, and I'm not asking, so you can't say no," James said.
"I'm not coming," Remus replied, spotting his parents and waving.
"Around two, and bring biscuits, yeah? Your Mum makes the best," Sirius interjected. "Now shove off, I've got to talk to McKinnon," and Remus, who had been struggling to get away was politely pushed by Sirius into the crowd.
Lily squeezed Dorcus tightly. "You'll be there for my first game in the fall? I'll send tickets!" Dorcus asked.
"With bells and whistles on," Lily replied.
"I shan't say goodbye to you. I'll see you in a week, and I'll only start crying if I do," Alice said to her. Lily smiled and was about to reply when she saw Frank from behind Alice tap her shoulder. A girlish shriek erupted from the tiny girl as she launched herself at him, and he spun her around laughing.
Lily turned to say goodbye to Marlene, and realized she was in a conspiratorial conversation with Sirius. To anyone who might not know them so well, it almost looked as if they were quite close. They quieted as Lily came near, but she couldn't help the grin on her face.
"Isn't that your Aunty Lynn just there picking up your cousin?" Lily asked, and Marlene's darkened face scanned the crowd to see a woman taking a keen interest in the pair.
Marlene gave a wicked smile, turned to Sirius and said, "Try not to grimace." She proceeded to throw herself at him in a hug. Shocked, and unsure what to do, he put his arms around her and gave Lily a gaze that said he clearly thought she had gone mad.
When she pulled back, her eyes scanned the crowd before returning to him triumphant. "You have just saved me from the most awkward Christmas. Thanks for that. Aunty Lynn will have told Mum about this before I can even get off the platform."
He gave her strange look. "I don't know what that was about, but you definitely owe me one."
Lily just laughed, but it caught in her throat as she saw her father standing in the back of the crowd. She felt James tug on her hand, and she followed. He had her luggage, and passed it off to her father.
James, face full of determination, stuck out his hand again to her father. "Sir," he said, and for a long moment, her father simply glared. But then, he reached out and shook his hand. He said nothing, until James turned and said goodbye.
James tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and smiled, cupping her face in his hand. He felt like he was supposed to say something – I love you, or I'll see you soon. But she smiled at him, nodded once, and he let his hand fall away. He turned and made his way back into the crowd to find Sirius.
"Are you ready to come home?" her father asked stiffly.
"Dad," she said. "I'm leaving in a week. I'm moving to London. To train as an Auror. I've been accepted."
"I'm just getting you back."
She wasn't ready for those words, as true as they were. She felt like she had been hit in the stomach and it took everything to stay standing as her eyes filled with hot tears.
"You aren't losing me," she managed to choke out.
"You wouldn't understand," he said. "You don't have children."
"Then explain it to me!" she cried.
"It's hard to explain. The ideology of youth doesn't carry with it the guarantee that one will make it into adulthood," he said. "Petunia, for example, has always played at being an adult, and she'll never be one. But you…my dearest Lily, I've held you so close because I knew, long before you ever did, that you never needed me. You were always going to be fine on your own, but I didn't want you to feel like you had to choose that path.
"And you haven't. I may not approve of your plans…but then, there was never going to be anyone good enough, a cause noble enough, to be worth giving up my selfish love for you. I will always love you, always miss you, always worry about you. You're my child, and there is nothing you could do that would make me less proud to say that."
"Daddy," she said, and threw herself against him, his arms holding her with a strength she had always relied on. He pressed his face into her hair, and she felt an aching tension she hadn't realized she had carried in her give way, relaxing back into place.
She pulled away reluctantly, knowing as she did so that she was letting go of the last part of her childhood, the last part of her that would ever need her father to take care of her. She was going to be on her own now, maybe not alone, but she could never go back.
Thinking about everything she had struggled through since she first got her letter, she felt an unexpected calmness sweep through her heart. She thought about how much she had endured, but how much stronger she had become.
When she opened her eyes, they were clear. She was ready now, for anything.