A 12 Step Program
Disclaimer: Maybe for Halloween I'll dress up as JK Rowling. That's not going to mean I'm actually her, and better still, that doesn't mean I own the rights to the franchise I've disfigured and twisted here. Harry Potter is not mine, in case you didn't catch the drift.
Rating: R (adult themes, sexuality, language)
Summary: 12 steps. 12 steps, and you can cure alcoholism, sex addiction, a love of coke, an uncontrollable rage or that hatred within yourself. 12 steps and you can dance in reverse, fall apart, and watch the carefully constructed fabric of your life unravel. And in 12 steps, two people can foolishly fall in love.
Author's Note: Um, so second to last chapter? What? And I made you wait over two months? My apologies for that, and I must say, I can't believe this is almost over and done with. It's kind of sad actually, because this story really is such a part of me and means a lot and the fact that I have over one hundred reviews on this story means all the more. So thank you, because, really, without all of you, this story probably wouldn't still be chugging along. This chapter may not go as some expected, but, really, it's been the vision all along. I leave you with Chapter 11, and the final chapter shall be posted soon. Thank you again!
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11. Tracks of a Train
Horses in my dreams
Like waves, like the sea
On the tracks of a train
Set myself free again
I have pulled myself clear
- "Horses in My Dreams" PJ Harvey
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She's not going to talk about it. She's not going to think about it. It's over and it never should have started and that's all there is and all she's left with: an ending.
The scenery through her sunglasses bores her as it whips past the window. Half an hour out and there's still half an hour left to go.
August tastes stale and the morning came after the night before and the day before that, and Lily realizes, that ever since that day at Remus Lupin's, everything has had the same kind of ring to it, and it's not sad, nor is it particularly memorable. Just there and kind of empty and she guesses that makes sense.
She guesses that makes sense because she's never felt so lost before.
The signs announce they are a town away.
Lily is visiting her mother's dying grandmother. Her mother sits behind the steering wheel, strangely tense and quiet and they haven't exchanged a word since they pulled out of the driveway.
It's good not to talk and it's even better not to think.
The radio plays and the BeeGees sing about staying alive and Olivia Newton-John is the one that John Travolta wants. As the Commodores filter through the speakers, her mother turns it off with a quick flick of the wrist.
The silence is strange and it is August and they are driving the hour to go visit Grandma Katherine, the woman that raised Lily's own mother after the death of Katherine's daughter.
Lily hasn't seen her in what must be ages. She imagines the whole magic thing might have something to do with it, and the fact that Grandma Katherine has believed that for the past seven years Lily has been attending a boarding school for the exceptionally gifted. She knows it's not and that her father is the one to blame.
Lily twirls a strand of red hair around her finger and the silence is strange and the window is hot pressed against her forehead. Her legs are tanner than she remembers and strangely long beneath her skirt.
"How is Grandma Katherine doing?"
Her voice sounds strange, strained almost, maybe even fake. Her mother clears her throat, and gives her a sidelong glance.
"She's old, Lily. And not well. The doctors don't give her much time, and you know how ever since your grandfather passed she doesn't care for visitors, family or otherwise, so the mere fact she invited us over says enough. The old woman knows this is it."
That morning had been the first time Katherine's name had been mentioned in awhile. There was some sort of familial drama swirling around the marriage of Lily's parents, which should be romantic and dashing and the stuff of fiction, but really it was just the falling out of Lily's mother and Lily's great-grandmother, and rather than thrilling and epic-worthy, it was really just kind of sad.
Lily had her bowl of cereal and half-empty glass of juice precariously at her elbow. Her mother was humming an ambiguous pop tune, and her father announced that the crops were failing, too much rain, from behind the front page of The Daily Prophet that yelled of four more dead by Death Eaters' hands.
The phone rang, and her mother dried her hands on the floral dishtowel and answered it. A lyrical hello and then nothing but a brief muttering and the return of the receiver to its rightful place.
She had moved to the sink with a broken kind of grace, and Lily was trying to not think of trees and the grass and the way it felt to move above and below it all with a boy who never should have existed in her life, and the heavy clink of dirty china and glassware was the only noise in the sunny kitchen.
"Grandma Katherine is dying," she said, and her father put down the paper, and Lily, her spoon.
Her father went to cut the grass. Lily went upstairs to change.
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The house is old, but the landscaping immaculate. The bushes are pruned and the flowers face the sun and the grass is green and an aesthetically pleasing length. The porch is long and white, wicker chairs and a hanging swing that sways and creaks on the afternoon breeze.
They knock once and a nurse opens the door promptly. No one smiles, and Lily would guess that's appropriate when visiting the house of the dead or the dying.
"She wants to see you first," she whispers to Lily's mother, and wraps an arm around her shoulders and steers her towards the stairs.
Lily stands in the foyer, kind of dumb and useless, and watches them ascend the landing.
The clock strikes two, and the sound echoes in the empty hall.
Old portraits hang on the wall, and for the briefest of seconds, she expects them to move and wave her way, but they don't. They remain still and somber, monochromatic, behind their gilded frames.
Lily's shoes echo on the parquet as she wanders closer.
Families of the past hang there, blank faces, strict poses, dressed darkly and ornately. They all look the same and they all look a bit like her.
She wanders the line and stops before the last portrait. Her mother hangs there on the wall, all red hair and slight smile, a younger version of the woman upstairs; a mirror image of herself.
The floorboards creak and the stairs whine and her mother turns the corner at the base of the staircase.
"She wants to see you now," she whispers.
Lily nods and grips the banister.
The room is dark, the shades drawn and the wallpaper heavy and old. An impossibly tiny woman sits in a bright pink armchair, pillows all around her, warm blanket wrapped around her frame despite the summer heat of the room.
Lily smiles wanly and takes the chair across from her.
"How are you, Grandma?"
"I'm dying, child, that's how I am. But I think a better, and far more interesting question would be, how are you?"
Lily stares, slightly dumbfounded. She had forgotten more of this woman than she had thought; she had forgotten, more specifically, her special blend and breed of humor.
"I'm…you know." Because, really, at this point, there is no honest, acceptable way to answer that without Lily coming across as anything short of a fool and a trollop.
"No, I really don't know. I haven't seen you in what might as well have been forever." She takes a slow, patient swallow of her tea, the cup shaking in her tiny hand, and grimaces as it washes down. "You look like a real woman now, Lily. A real woman. And here I am, closing in on ninety fast, so you'll have to excuse an old woman when she says that no, she doesn't know what it's like to be young and carefree again."
Lily smiles, polite this time, and looking back, back to May, this summer, the school year leading up to it, she has nothing left to say, she has nothing left except people change and things change and she doesn't know what she wants anymore or if that's supposed to mean anything at all.
"Things are…well, things are different."
"And how so?"
"Pet, my eyes are no good and I've read enough Jane Austen in a lifetime to never have a desire to pick up a book again. My soaps aren't on, so you are my entertainment for the day. Elaborate, darling."
Lily takes a deep breath, and barrels ahead without thinking.
"Things aren't the way they once were and they're never going to be again. Petunia is married and has a house and a family of her own. School is over and I need a job and my friends are getting married already, and, and… The world…the world is changing, and it might not be for the better. It's just…not the same. And I don't know what to do with it."
Katherine laughs appreciatively and Lily doesn't remember ever saying anything particularly funny.
"What's that line people love to say? That everything is going to be alright? Love, it's bollocks. Every word of it. Things are not going to be fine. Things are going to change and it is everything but 'alright.' But they are going to keep on moving forward. And you best have your wits about you, girl, because you're moving along with it whether you like it or not."
Lily sits there, quiet. And she feels as though she shouldn't be here, that instead, she should be behind the walls of a church, shrouded deep within the confessional and asking for help, begging for salvation.
But she is here, with a woman she scarcely knows.
"I've made mistakes," she whispers, unsure what or why she's speaking. "And I've been stupid…and, and I don't know how to fix it. I don't even know if I want to."
She rests a small hand on Lily's knee.
"You haven't been stupid, child. You've been young. To live without regrets is to hardly live at all. Or so they say. Doesn't make it all the easier, now does it? At least you recognize it. It's a start. You're not a child anymore. It's time to grow up and face what's waiting for you, ugliness and responsibilities, disappointments, and all. Regrets come with the package. But there's no point in dwelling on it. Deep down, you know what you want and you know what's right. You are my great-granddaughter after all."
She inhales heavily, coughs hard and shakes her head. "My time here is up. Doesn't make me a pessimist for thinking it. Makes me rational. My time is over and a new era is upon is. Nothing will be the same.
"But you don't want to sit here listening to a sentimental old sap."
She nods her head and a nurse appears at the door. Lily takes this as her cue to go and rises, slow, a little unsteady, and a frail hand closes around her wrist.
"Before you go, child, here. Have these. Won't be much use to me when I'm in the grave, and it is true what they say. No lady should ever go without pearls. Be good, child.
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The downstairs of the house is empty, save for the portraits and the furniture covered prematurely in white sheets.
The nurse shows her to the door and closes it soundly behind her.
The roses by the porch smell too strong and the bees buzz around her head.
She walks to the car and opens the door, slides onto the hot leather of the passenger seat.
Her mother sits there, behind the steering wheel, hands limp in her lap, crying.
"I'm really going to miss her," she finally whispers.
Unsure, feeling slightly unsure, Lily presses the pearls into her mother's hand and closes her fingers tightly. The birds chirp and there is the sound of children laughing, a dog barking and an angry car horn blaring.
The radio announces breaking news, her mother's shoulders continue to shake, and Lily is tired and the pope is now dead.
The car starts with a broken purr.
It's the start of a new era.
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The part of her brain that is still functioning recognizes this as panic.
It was supposed to be her first mission and it was supposed to be something easy and she was supposed to go with James, and she did, and there were awkward silences and disjointed comments and she quit trying, and so did he.
And then the ambush came.
She's not sure when the rest of the Order apparated in, or hell, how the fuck they knew to come in the first place, but Frank is running full speed ahead and yelling words she can't understand and Remus and Sirius are throwing punches rather than spells, and Lily, Lily is just standing there.
She goes to move, but isn't sure which direction to travel, and she ducks as a searing line of green zings her way, up and over her head. Over her head, yes, that's it. She's in over her head.
The panic is overwhelming, and maybe she'll be sick, and she just wants to close her eyes, and more than that, she just wants to go home.
A deep breath in, and fuck, James was right. James was right. She's not ready for this.
And she can't hear anything. There's an overwhelming silence, full of slow movement and sharp punches that don't move fast enough and mouths that move but make no sound and she stands there, stock still, and watches it all fall away, watches it unfold, and suddenly it all rushes back and the sound is deafening, an angry cacophony of Latin phrases and shouts and cries of pain.
Lily lands heavily on her back, her breath leaving in a hard huff, and she stares up and up and up and she can't see the stars, just the dark night sky with nothing to light it.
She closes her eyes and red crosses light the sky, a baby is born, and she is dressed in white. She closes her eyes and thinks this is what it feels like to die, and she waits for the ground to slip away and for there to be nothing.
Something connects with her forehead, and as it all goes black, it's James's face she sees.
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"Ow," she mutters.
Sitting up, her elbow digging into the cool dirt, grass sticking to her arm, James is there before her, towel pressed to her head.
"You alright?" He asks, eyebrow quirked in what she can only guess is compassion.
He chuckles. "You got hit in the head with a rock."
"That's not funny," she mutters.
She waves his hand away and presses her own against the towel and the wound and winces slightly.
"How long was I out?"
"Long enough to miss the battle."
"I feel like such an idiot. I mean, I didn't even do anything. I just…stood there." She shakes her head, and grimaces as the pain increases. "I shouldn't be doing this. You were right. This…isn't for me. I'm not…I'm not brave like the rest of you…and I'm just…"
He looks at her, startled and confused, and Lily quits speaking.
"That's never what I meant."
"I never thought you couldn't do this. I just thought, well, I thought you needed more training. To be kind of eased into it. It's never easy to start out with, and you didn't want to hear it…and, I'm not making excuses and, fuck. I don't know what's happened between us. I'm not sure when I became the villain in your life, Lils, or when you quit wanting anything to do with me. This summer, it hasn't been right, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry if I offended you and I'm sorry if I haven't always been the man you've wanted, but, Lily, you have to learn to trust me. You have to start…talking to me and telling me things. Because otherwise, otherwise…"
She can't look at him. Lily can't meet his eyes because he's right and if there's one thing that James Potter does damn well it's always being right and always being correct and this time is no exception.
"I thought I wouldn't have to," she says, softly. "I thought if you loved someone, that somehow could be enough." And it's really kind of sad, because she is speaking the truth and deep down somewhere she really did believe this: that loving someone was enough and talking was unnecessary because they already knew everything there was to know about the other person.
"It's not," he whispers.
"James. I don't want…I don't want to be just yours. I don't want to become nothing more than James Potter's wife, and I don't just want to be a mother and a housekeeper and I don't want that life."
"I don't want that for you either."
"Alright then. Alright." There's nothing left to say, she thinks, but the truth, and she stares straight ahead into nothing, before turning to face him again.
"Do you think…do you think we can….Do you think we're meant to be together? I mean, James, we're not the same anymore. I'm not the girl you fell in love with and you're not the…"
He waits before he answers.
"No. We're not the same. But does that have to be a bad thing? I mean, people evolve. Why can't love too?"
She chuckles, because that's so easy, and he's right, and isn't this why she wanted him in the first place?
"Lily, I love you. God, you have to know that much. I know we've fucked up and things haven't been right for awhile, but I love you. Okay? I love you."
It's not what you expect it to be. And it's not what you might have wanted in the first place. But this, it's quiet, it's controlled. It's strangely adult.
It's time to grow up and face what's waiting for you, ugliness and responsibilities, disappointments, and all.
Deep down, you know what you want and you know what's right.
"I love you, too." And she does. She always has. She always has.
She looks at him, and she wonders. Invisible connections. Maybe that is what this has all been about, her and Remus. That desperate, almost sad, attempt to string together two people, string together two people and at the same time try to string along the world and let it all make sense, and in the end, the eventual end, find and reach a completion she can't even imagine and where it all makes a perfect kind of logic.
She doesn't think she found that answer; she knows she hasn't. She knows she never reached that satisfaction. Not with either one of them.
She does see the world a little different now. And maybe that is what growing up, mistakes and the passage of time allow to happen. A change in outlook, the coloring, the shading of the world becomes just a little bit different. Just a little off the balance of the way it once was.
"I'm sorry," she whispers.
He nods and he holds her, and he never asks her why.
She can see the stars from here.
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