Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Harry Potter or Harry Potter related copyrights, but I do own all original plot, characters, and dialogue.
"I'm sorry," he whispered as the nearly unconscious girl in his arms shivered. It was one of the few times in his life that he had said the words and meant them. If he had thought about the matter in any depth he would have noticed that she was the only person other than his mother that he had ever been truly sorry for hurting or failing to protect.
He wished that he could place a warming charm on her, or even something that would just keep the rain from drenching her, but he wasn't sure what curses had been placed on her in the past weeks and was afraid of anything he might react badly and do would cause more harm. All he could do was hold her tighter to his body and try to cover her with his cloak as much as possible.
Severus Snape sighed as Lily's only response was a mumbled gurgling sound that turned into a pathetic cough. He wasn't even sure that she knew that it was he who had rescued her from the pit of hell she had gotten herself into by being so ridiculously brilliant, a force to be reckoned with and a bright spot in the grim reality of the wizarding world and especially his existence. That was fine with him. In fact, it was probably better that she not know. He hoped that she might not remember any of the details of her stay at his master's home. It was possible considering the state he had found her in when he went to release her. Severus had impersonated the healer who took care of her most severe injuries after a confrontation with Lord Voldemort. Therefore, she had not been healed yet. The damage was substantial and almost incredible. Severus vomited twice before he was able to collect himself enough to get the two of the safely out of the cell.
He shivered at the memory of finding Lily and glanced around at the tree-lined lane that once seemed so comforting but now in the dead of night felt like a never-ending avenue of sinister enemies and inevitable torment.
After what seemed like a lifetime, the unusual, unlikely pair finally reached the gates of Hogwarts. As gently as he could, Severus placed Lily on the muddy ground in front of the gates. His heart jumped in his chest as the love of his life, the only thing that was ever good in his life, groaned like a wounded kitten. For the first time Severus truly doubted the path he had chosen. Then he shuddered to shake out such thoughts out of his head; the time for choosing was over. Now was the time to live with the decisions he had made.
Hastily, Snape conjured a cloak to cover Lily and then cast the dark mark in the sky. He was sure that that would catch Dumbledore's attention. With one last look at the huddled mass of bones and muddy, bloody, wedding dress that was Lily, Severus briskly walked back the way he had come.
Knowing that the healer he had framed would be killed did not hinder Severus's actions. Collateral damage. It was the first time he had killed in Lily's defense but it would not be the last.
"Where is she?" James Potter bellowed as he burst into the lobby of St. Mungo's. Dumbledore, who had personally delivered the good news as soon as Lily was safely in the care of the best healers the hospital had to offer, was right behind him.
"This way," he said soothingly as he placed a calming hand on James's taut shoulder. "The healers are probably still working with her; I brought her here no more than ten minutes ago."
"I need to see her," said James as his voice cracked with emotion.
"And you will," stated Albus matter-of-factly. "She is safe now."
James felt as if he was walking through slug slime as he followed in the footsteps of his former headmaster. The fog of an alcohol induced sleep had not quite left him yet, but the overwhelming bliss of hearing the news that every one of his cells had ached for was clearing it away like the sun burns through a cloudy day.
He only got to see her for a moment before the healers shoved him out of the room so they could work, but that moment was enough. She was alive! As if in a dream, James walked back to the waiting room and there was Sirius, sitting on the edge of a seat, actually looking uncomfortable for once. He stood up as soon as he saw James, his question on his face but the words dying on his lips.
"She's alive," said James joyfully but tiredly. "The healers are with her now."
Sirius hugged James tightly. James then sank into one of the waiting room chairs and fell into the first restful sleep he had since the night before the night before his wedding.
James felt like he could have slept for a year and that Remus's voice was a very unwelcome invader in his dream world. But a certain word, a certain person's name, pierced his subconscious and he snapped back to reality.
"Lily's awake and she is asking for you," Remus said with an enormous grin on his face.
"How long have I been asleep?" he asked worriedly as he jumped out of his chair, the blanket that had been covering him sinking into a puddle around his feet. He rubbed his face and felt the rough stubble that came from a couple days without shaving. He looked to Remus with alarm.
Remus consulted his watch and replied, "About thirty-seven hours, give or take a few minutes, but don't worry Lily has only been awake for about three minutes."
"She's- she's awake? She's ok?" asked James as reality crashed around his shoulders like the familiar rush of putting on his invisibility cloak.
"Yeah mate, she's going to be just fine," said Remus with a chuckle.
James ran his hand through his mess of hair and took off down the hallway toward the best thing in his life. He was a bit disoriented and didn't quite remember where Lily's room was, but luckily was guided there by the symphony of his best friend's bark like chortle and the lilting laughter of his (still) fiancée. James stood in the doorway for a minute, just leaning against the doorframe and watching the scene in front of him.
Sirius was in a chair next to the bed, leaning back on two legs with his leather boots propped up on the edge of the bed near Lily's hips. He looked a little tired and his hair was a bit stringy, but otherwise seemed… good.
And Lily… well Lily looked like crap but James didn't see any of that. He didn't see the bruises, scabs, or the scars. He didn't see the crusted blood or layers of grime in her hair. He didn't see the loose baggy skin around her eyes or the dry or the cracked skin on her lips. All he saw was Lillian Evans-soon-to-be-Potter, the love of his life, smiling.
And then she noticed him. Her attention shifted from Sirius to James and her face truly lit up; at long last she was truly home safe and sound.
It was the first time Lily and James had to heal after the direct, personal, malicious, destructive, damage caused my Lord Voldemort but it wouldn't be the last.
"Ah, James, just who I wanted to see," said Albus calmly. He was leaving Lily's hospital room as James was attempting to enter.
"Oh, hello Albus," said James distractedly as he tried to skirt around the elderly man. Lily had convinced him to go back to his home to sleep in an actual bed and shower, but now he was desperate to get back to Lily.
"I know you probably would like to see Lily, but I'm afraid that she's sleeping right now. Perhaps we should go to the Tea Room; there is something I would like to discuss with you."
"Umm… sure," James replied reluctantly as he once again followed his former headmaster.
A few moments into their conversation and James was not reluctant any longer; he was incensed.
"You want to do what?" he bellowed, unafraid of raising his voice because Dumbledore had surrounded their table with a number of protective charms.
"Just temporarily," said Dumbledore calmly. He had expected such an outburst from the hot-tempered young man and was fully prepared to win this battle. "It is in Lily's best interests to leave the country for a while, both to recuperate far from the place of her torment and, to protect her from those who would like to recapture her."
"She would be safe at my house!" James almost literally cried.
Dumbledore surveyed James over his half moon spectacles for a long moment, unleashing the full non-magically manipulative power of his icy blue gaze. "It will only be for a few months," he continued at last. "Lily will be under the care of the best healers and psychiatrists the world has to offer. She will be allowed to resume her studies at the Institute to whatever degree she is able. I understand that she would like to attain a Healing degree. She will be among friends and trusted colleagues who are also very skilled warriors; she would have the full force of the greatest witches and wizards and the resources of the Institute behind her. That is no small matter."
James stared off into space. Dumbledore's plan made sense, far too much sense for James's comfort. Could he live without Lily for another few months?
Before James could say anything else, Dumbledore stated, "I know that it would cause you great pain to be separated from her for another lengthy period of time. However, you can be in contact with her and she will be happy and safe, not imprisoned. Her stay abroad would be mutually acceptable and she could be returned to England whenever she feels well enough to do so. Please, put Lily's best interests before your own."
"Of course I will," snapped James. "I always do."
"Then we are agreed?" concluded Dumbledore slickly. "Excellent. I have already spoken to Lily and now I will make the arrangements to have her transferred tonight."
"The morning is the absolute earliest time I will allow her to be taken away from me," said James stubbornly and with such ferocity that Dumbledore flinched for a split second.
"Tomorrow morning then," said Dumbledore as if he was indulging a small child.
"If you'll excuse me," said James politely, though all he wanted to do was storm away and crawl into Lily's arms to cry.
Dumbledore nodded and took a sip of his tea. James's tea sat untouched on the table.
James burst into Lily's room like a hurricane. "You're going away?" he asked though he and Lily both knew he knew the answer.
Remus sat at Lily's bedside holding her hand. "I'll be going with her," he stated as Lily nodded her head yes. "Well back to my apartment anyway. I'll be nearby. Vicky has already been informed of the developments and will be keeping a close eye on her."
Lily and James both heard the words, but neither listened. They just stared at each other. Finally Remus got up and left the room with a smile on his face. He was glad that Lily was safe, that James was returning to normal, that Lily and James loved each other with such a passion, and that he was going back to his apartment where he could see Vicky with some frequency.
James and Lily cuddled and talked until Lily's voice disappeared. Her throat was healing, but had undergone severe damage from all the screaming, among other things. After that James just talked. He talked about their past and he talked about their future. He never mentioned a syllable about their ruined wedding or any of the events that led up to her rescue, and she never indicated that she had a desire to know. Around the time that James started mentioning possible baby names for their seventh child, Lily fell asleep. James smiled and rested his chin on top of her head and was just about to drift off himself, when Lily began screaming and awoke with a start and copious tears. This was the first time that Lily woke up screaming from nightmares, but it certainly wouldn't be the last.
James wasn't much good at comforting her, because her terror was well out of his realm of knowledge. Luckily, the staff at St. Mungo's wasn't new to patients with night terrors, especially in recent months. Not many patients had been rescued from torture before irreversible damage was done, but a few had and the staff had learned from those experiences.
A team bustled into the room with efficiency and as they set about calming Lily, a Healer in training explained the process and procedures to James because she could see that James was thoroughly frightened by the thrashing and tormented soul in the hospital bed in front of him. It was then that James realized that going abroad truly was the best decision for Lily. He wouldn't be able to provide her with the proper level of care, and certainly when the summer ended and he returned to the Auror Academy as Lily had vigorously insisted only an hour prior, she would truly suffer from lack of the care she needed.
Somewhat naively James had ignored the knowledge that Lily would be scarred by her experiences. Of course he could see and understand the physical signs, but she had been smiling and laughing… then James remembered just how phenomenal of an actress Lily truly was and how much she constantly worked to protect him from the ugly parts of her life. These thoughts comforted James as he watched Lily being taken away from him again. He felt a sense of loss, but as Dumbledore had insinuated, it didn't feel the same as when Gills had held a knife to her throat and kidnapped her.
"Excuse me, Mr. Potter?" inquired a secretary.
"Yes?" he answered distractedly.
"What would you like to do with the clothing Miss Evans arrived in?"
"And what clothing would that be?" he asked confused.
The secretary looked repulsed but put a gloved hand into the bag she was holding and pulled out the tattered wedding gown that Lily had worn for far longer than the average bride. James vomited at the sight and stench of it.
"Please, destroy it," he gasped.
"Ok sir," said the middle-aged woman softly as she returned the remnants of the dress to its bag marked "biological hazardous materials". Not wanting to cause the young man and further harm she waved her wand to clean up the puddle of vomit and left to dispose of the bag.
It was the first time the new secretary had to face evidence of such great torture, but it would not be the last.
"I'm so glad to hear that Lily was moved out of the country," said Marlene as she bounced her baby to try and get her to burp.
"Yeah, Dumbledore thinks it was the best thing for her and he got James to agree somehow," grumbled Sirius as he leaned against the kitchen counter and folded his arms across his chest.
"You don't agree?" asked Marlene, more surprised by his stance than her baby's burp, normally a great feat.
"No I don't. You saw how miserable James was the whole time she was… gone and now as soon as he gets her back Dumbledore sends her away again? It's insane," he finished, nearly shouting at the end.
Soothed by the presence of the sweet smelling baby on her shoulder, Marlene didn't rise to Sirius's anger level as rapidly as she did in the past. "But the most important thing is that she has a safe place to heal. Remus will keep an eye on her and keep us all posted."
"She's fine!" Sirius protested. "A few days of care from the Potter's house elves and James and she would be back to normal."
Marlene sighed. "She's not fine. She may well have been laughing at your jokes like the old days, but did you actually talk to the healers?"
"Well no," admitted Sirius. "I mean she looked a bit banged up and they certainly spent a lot of time working on her when she first got there… but"
Marlene interrupted. "There is no but, the healers said she can't even walk and that some of her internal organs may have been damaged beyond repair, even by magic. She is going to need months of physical therapy, not to mention emotional and mental therapy… I mean what she must have gone through…"
Sirius shuddered involuntarily.
"We all want her to be just fine Sirius, but she isn't. And she isn't going to be fine for a long time. I miss her too, but I really think it is best for her to be away all of this… craziness for a while. She'll be back you know."
"But what if she doesn't ever want to come back? I don't know if I would."
"She'll be back," said Marlene confidently as her daughter began to squirm and whine.
"Here, let me take her," offered Sirius as Marlene's method of bouncing the infant up and down was only serving to cause her whine to evolve into a full cry.
Marlene sighed, irritated that Sirius was sometimes better at comforting her child than she was, but she handed over the child anyway.
Sirius adjusted the baby's blanket, wrapping her in a tight cocoon, and cuddled her tightly in his strong arms. As usual Marlene had to stifle back a giggle as she saw the sight of Sirius with a small pink baby covered in a fuzzy pink blanket snuggled up in the folds of his leather jacket, the baby's body not much bigger than his forearm.
"There, there, Gracie-loo," Sirius cooed. "Shhh shhh shhhhhhh, no need to fret."
"You're so good with her," said Marlene with admiration. No many times she watched it, it never ceased to amaze her. And then Grace smiled her first real smile while looking directly at Sirius, and Marlene's heart just melted. She felt something she hadn't felt in a very long time, not since she had first found out she was pregnant.
"You're a good dad to her," said Marlene before she could really think about it.
Sirius's head shot up and he looked at his former girlfriend, and now he was pretty sure just friend, with shock. I mean really, they had been living together for months, and she walked around like he wasn't a man. She flounced around in old sweatpants and t-shirts, didn't bother to put on make-up or do her hair, and didn't mind it if he saw her covered in baby vomit. Yet now, she was talking about him being a father to her baby…? What the hell did that mean?
Marlene's hand shot up to cover her mouth and she stammered to try and correct herself. "I mean uncle… like a really close uncle… good ol' Uncle Sirius! You know what I meant!"
Sirius had jostled Grace in his shock and as he cradled her back to complacency he asked, "No Marly, what did you mean?"
Sirius had had feelings of a sexual nature for Marlene for several weeks, but had resisted because he was pretty sure that she did not felt the same. Now, it almost sounded like maybe she did feel for him more than in just a friendly way, and he definitely couldn't let an opportunity like that to pass him by, not this time.
"I- well- I," stammered Marlene as Sirius walked toward her. She cursed the fact that he was having such an effect on her. She thought she was over him; things hadn't worked out in seventh year and then Christmas Eve was just closure. Him moving in was just a friendly thing to do… and yet she couldn't deny how much she enjoyed watching him walk about of the bathroom still damp with nothing but a towel around his waist… "Did you want it to mean something?" Marlene challenged, summoning a bit of her usual spark.
"You tell me," he said smoothly as he grinned that ridiculously self-assured smirk of his.
"I'm not going to play this game with you," she warned him though the smile on her face and the blush on her cheeks said otherwise.
"I think it's time to put Grace down for her nap," said Sirius with a smile as he left the kitchen. "Any maybe when I'm done with that, I'll put Grace's mom down for a nap too."
Marlene's knees went weak at the thought of it, and when Sirius returned a few moments later, she knew what her decision was and she didn't hesitate. Maybe Alice was right when she said that the two of them living together would only lead to sex and then to heartbreak… Marlene dismissed the thought and instead let Sirius lead her toward her bedroom with his fiery kisses.
It was the first time Sirius and Marlene shared a bed together in that flat, but it wouldn't be the last.
"Excuse me, do you know where I could find Frank Longbottom? He wasn't sitting at his cubicle," Alice asked the receptionist in the Auror's office politely.
The frazzled woman looked up from her mounds of paperwork and exasperatedly said, "I have enough trouble tracking down and notifying the families of the dead and maimed ones and now you want me to keep track of all the living ones too? Try the loo."
Cowed by the woman's aggressive statement, Alice meekly replied, "I'll just wait for him at his desk then."
The secretary didn't even dignify that with a response.
Alice sighed as she sat back down at Frank's immaculately organized desk. In just one more year she would have a desk of her own just like this one, though it would probably be covered with stacks of files, crumpled memos, and a week's worth of coffee cups among other things. Pushing away thoughts of the terrifyingly grueling exams required to graduate from the Auror Academy, Alice contented herself with absentmindedly spinning around in Frank's desk chair.
As Alice relaxed and reclined in the chair slightly, her outstretched foot caught the edge of a drawer of the desk that was filled to the brim with paperwork. As the drawer sprung open, the top layer of paperwork spilled out and onto the ground. Cursing under her breath, Alice quickly stopped her spinning and hurried to replace the papers before Frank saw the mess she had caused. Unfortunately for Alice, her cleaning abilities were impaired by the dizziness from spinning, and in trying to put the papers back, she only succeeded in pushing more over the shallow sides of the drawer.
Alice sighed and closed her eyes, gathering herself. Then she opened her eyes and saw that it was nonsensical to put the paperwork back laying down like it was; it would make much more sense to store it all on its edge. She tried it out and found that the drawer was wide enough and tall enough to be stored on its long side. So then she went about taking out the whole pile. It was only when she reached the bottom that she realized there might have been a reason that Frank chose to stack the papers in that way.
At the bottom of the drawer there was a small black velvet box. Quickly Alice realized that it was no where near her birthday, anniversary, or Valentine's day… so it could only mean one thing, couldn't it?
Alice's gasp in shock was nothing compared to Frank's when he returned to find Alice sitting on the floor of his cubicle surrounded by papers and holding a little black box in the palm of her hand.
Frank blanched and nervously tried to cover up the situation. "Aw well I see you found my hiding place for my mother's birthday present. Did you have a look to see what I got her?"
"Your mother's birthday present?" asked Alice with surprise and an awful amount of disappointment in her voice as she handed the box to her boyfriend. "No, no, I didn't open it."
"Ah. Good then. You know my mother could get a secret out of a skeleton and I wanted the gift to be a surprise."
"Oh, of course," said Alice quietly. "Ready for lunch then?"
"You look terribly glum all of a sudden," Frank observed audibly.
"Oh it's nothing," replied Alice with a weak smile.
"It doesn't look like nothing," said Frank seriously as he nervously played with the box in his hands.
"I'm fine, don't worry," said Alice, feeling foolish for thinking that the box contained a special something for her.
Frank sighed. "Well, this isn't the way I wanted this to go, but I suppose now is as good a time as any."
And then Frank got done on one knee and popped open the box, offering it's contents to the love of his life. "Alice, I love you more than life itself, will you please do me the honor of marrying me?"
Alice gasped as a couple of tears began to trickle down her face. "Of course! I love you too!"
Frank slid the ring on Alice's finger among cheers from his coworkers who had overheard the commotion and emerged from their cubicles to inspect the scene. He then gave her a kiss and enveloped her in a tight hug. "I really did have a better plan than proposing to you in the office," he whispered to her.
"This is just fine," she whispered back as she admired the addition to her left hand.
It was the first time that Alice looked at Frank's grandmother's engagement ring with sheer joy, but it wouldn't be the last.
"Hullo Prongs," said Remus cheerfully as James stepped out of his fireplace and into his small, but still cozy living room. "Lily isn't here yet, but she should be soon."
"How's she doing Moony?" James asked nervously. He hadn't been allowed to see Lily for almost two months and he was due to report back at the Auror Academy the next day for his third and final year of training. He had had to plead with Dumbledore for hours to arrange this one visit.
"She's… healing," responded Remus vaguely. "The time she is spending at the Institute is good for her I think. At her current rate, she thinks she will be able to finish her healing degree by the end of the year."
"I know," said James tiredly as he sat down on the sofa and rested his face in his palms. "Do you think she's working herself too hard?"
"When you see her, you'll know," promised Remus quietly.
James groaned in frustration. He absolutely hated that Remus saw Lily once a month and he was restricted to encoded letters. Dumbledore had actually confiscated his two-way mirrors so that they couldn't be stolen and used to find out where Lily was! As if he would ever let that mirror out of his sight if Lily were on the other end…
Then suddenly James sat up straight. He could hear Lily's laughter. It amazed him that after all she had been through she could still laugh. The therapist he was seeing said that her laughter was just a strategy she used to cover up or express her pain in a disguised way. James preferred to think that it meant that there was still some core part of her that was stronger than the pain, that refused to be defeated by it and mocked its attempt to destroy her.
Then he heard a feminine yelp followed by a muted thud and a loud hiss of pain.
"Remus!" shouted Vicky in a rare moment of panic.
As Remus and James approached the front door of the apartment building they heard a low male voice, chastising Lily by saying, "I told you to bring to let me bring your crutches just in case."
"I just tripped!" said Lily, clearly frustrated.
"Over what?" replied the man. "There wasn't anything in your path! Not even a crack in the sidewalk."
"My own two feet okay!"
"This is just your vanity showing through! You just didn't want to be on crutches in front of your beloved; now let me help you up."
"Lily, just let him help you, or let me help you," sighed Vicky.
"I can do it myself," protested Lily as she struggled.
"Let her do it herself," demanded James in a voice that caused both Vicky and the man, whose back was to James, to back away.
"James!" cried Lily joyfully. "You're early!"
"I couldn't wait to see you," he answered as he walked swiftly to Lily's side and the rest of the world melted away. "Can you get up by yourself?"
"I think so," she admitted.
"Ok then, you can grab my hand if you need it, but I think you can do it too."
Slowly but surely Lily stood up and only grasped James's outstretched hand when she felt as she was losing her balance and about to fall back down.
"See you are just fine," said James softly, willing both of them to believe it, but he could not ignore the way that Lily looked.
She seemed foreign to him, like a different version of herself. The bruises, swelling, cuts, and all other physical signs of her torture were magically removed, but everywhere he could see the remnants from the way she carried herself to the way she had changed her hair. Gone were the self-assured poise and her brilliant red locks and it their place was a hunched over stance that looked as if she just wanted to be invisible and dull mousy brown hair that was cut just long enough to touch the bottom of her chin. Gone were the figure-fitting clothes and beautiful accessories; simple and loosely fitting clothing that seemed to swallow Lily's shrunken body were in their place. And yet, she was still beautiful and as James wrapped his arms around her and felt her warm breath against his neck, he knew that she was still his, and that the Lily he fell in love with was still in there somewhere.
"Well," began Lily's male escort. "It looks like I am no longer needed. I'll be in the pub if anyone needs me."
"Thank you Bära," said Lily gratefully.
"Teddy?" asked James questioningly as well as angrily.
"I'll explain when we get inside," said Lily soothingly. And with that, James and Lily made their way to Remus's apartment while the other three headed off into town.
Before James could say anything else, Lily explained, "The person that was Teddy is nothing like the person you just saw. He is Bära, meaning bear in Swedish, now. He is kind and protective without being arrogant, flirtatious, or mean about it. Vicky says that as soon as he heard that I was… abducted, he started to change. He became quiet and contemplative. My other friend Francesco thinks it was because he was fundamentally shocked that someone he held in such high esteem, thinking I was equivalent, or at least almost, to his own abilities, could be captured. I mean everyone was shocked, but I think Bära was affected the most.
"When I returned, he was the first one to visit me in the medical wing, skipping class, which was unheard of for him, to do so. We could see the changes in each other immediately. He promised me right then and there that he would stop trying to win me over, wouldn't compete with me anymore, and that he would be there for me in whatever way I needed him for as long as I needed him. He has been true to his word and I have found that he is actually a good person, that he just had a troubled past and expressed it differently than I did. He is now going to therapy and convinced me to go to talk to someone as well. You have nothing to worry about because I don't love him and I will never feel for him what I feel for you. He knows that the only thing that kept me alive in that hellhole was the thought of getting back to you. So that is that and I don't really want to talk about it any more."
"Ok," said James simply. After having to consider the possibility of Lily dying, nothing else really seemed like an issue, not even her falling in love with someone else. "So I wanted to tell you something in person, so please don't yell at me for telling you sooner."
"What is it?" asked Lily curiously.
"Frank proposed to Alice!" he said excitedly. "And Alice was absolutely dying that she can't write you a letter, so she gave me this to give to you. But before you read that, I also need to tell you that Marlene and Sirius are back to dating, though they think no one knows about it, but actually everyone knows about it. And I think there's probably something about it in this letter that Marlene asked me to give to you. And also here are letters from Sirius and Peter too."
"What?" exclaimed Lily ecstatically. "You have to tell me more about Alice and Frank first! He proposed?"
"Yeah," chuckled James. "In the middle of the Auror office. Apparently she accidentally found the ring in his desk in his cubicle so then he decided to give it to her."
"Aww, that's cute," Lily smiled genuinely, her green eyes lighting up in a way that James was afraid they never would again. "When's the wedding?"
"I don't know, maybe it's in her letter."
"And Sirius and Marlene are back to dating? I guess I owe you a million galleons then," she joked. "I can't believe that they would do that when they know how it has ended in the past!"
"But on the contrary, how could they not when they were living together and taking care of her baby together? They were bound to fall into bed with each other sooner or later."
"I suppose that's true," sighed Lily. "Do you remember when we were all out shopping on Diagon Alley and Sirius was holding Grace and some old witch told him that Grace has his eyes?"
James laughed. "Was that before or after those two girls who were barely out of Hogwarts drooled all over him and Marly hexed them both?"
"It was definitely afterwards," joked Lily. "Have you seen Grace lately? She must be getting so big!"
"She is beautiful and she smiled at me the last time I saw her a few days ago. She isn't talking yet but Sirius thinks it might be soon even though Marlene says that it's like nine months early. I think Marlene put a couple of pictures of her with your letter."
"That's so sweet of her! I'm so glad that she seems to be adjusting so well. Any other news from home? How about Peter and Beth?"
"I haven't heard much from Peter lately, so I think he and Beth are doing really well."
"How is your dad?"
James gulped; he knew she would get to that question sooner or later. "Well, he's dying. You know that."
"In your last letter, you said that he was worse than ever."
"Well, he was doing better once he heard that you were… home, and every time I read one of your letters to him he perked up a bit, but he was already beating the odds by living this long and I think he can't hang on much longer. He asked me to bring you to see him one last time. I know that Dumbledore would forbid it, but my dad really cares about you and he wants to say good-bye."
"Of course I'll come," said Lily softly as she brushed away the tear that had formed in the corner of James's eye. "Let's go right now. I think I can even manage to apparate the two of us there."
"Ok, you're sure that you can handle it?"
"Yes, I'm absolutely positive. The one thing that is back to normal for me now is my magic."
"Let's go then, my mum will be happy to see you too. She is so sorry that she didn't get to see you in St. Mungo's but my dad was doing so poorly while you were gone and she didn't want to leave him."
"I totally get it. Now hold my hand tightly and let me concentrate."
James took a deep breath, hoping that she really was up to the task and he wasn't about to get splinched somewhere over Europe…
And then before he knew it, he and Lily were being hugged and kissed by his mother and standing outside of his dad's bedroom.
"Oh Lily, I'm so sorry about all of that wedding nonsense! I was horrible to you and I am so so sorry!" Mrs. Potter gushed as she nearly smothered Lily with affection.
"Mum, you have to let her breathe," said James softly. "She's still a bit… delicate."
"Oh! Of course my dear! How silly of me…"
"How's dad doing?" James interrupted what he was sure would be another string of apologies.
Marilyn sobered immediately. "I think it's the end. I just sent owls to your Uncle Harry, Auntie Eileen, and Sirius. They should all be here soon. But why don't you two go in now."
Lily nodded, her face blank. James grabbed her hand for support and led her into the bedroom after a soft knock.
Four months ago Lily would have gasped at the form of Mr. Potter lying on the bed, but she knew that she had looked just as horrible when she arrived at St. Mungo's. The room was almost completely dark, lit only by a dim lamp in the corner. Even so, Lily could see that he was shriveled and his skin was yellowish, dry, flaky, and hung on his form like a baggy old wool sweater.
"Hi Dad," said James quietly as he sat in the armchair that was all too familiar to him by now.
Mr. Potter's eyes fluttered open and his gaze fixed on James to show that he was listening. It took far a lot of energy for Christopher to talk, so he didn't waste any words.
"Christopher," said Lily, tears already streaming down her cheeks, as she knelt by his bed and took his hand in hers.
"Lily," said Christopher whispered slowly in a raspy voice. "You're safe."
"Of course I am, of course I am."
"I am absolutely still going to marry your son. He is the only person getting me through all of this. He has kept me alive for years, now more than ever. He ismo chuisle, my life blood."
Christopher smiled and looked peaceful.
"Thank you for giving me a home and most importantly, thank you for accepting me into your family. I will never forget that and I will never forget all of the things we have talked about. And I will take good care of your son. I love you Christopher."
"Love you Lily," said Christopher with great effort as he closed his eyes.
"Be at peace," she said softly. She kissed his forehead and stood up and walked over to James and stood behind his chair, putting a comforting hand on James' shoulder. He shrugged her off and went over to his dad, visibly crying.
"My son," gasped Christopher as his eyes slowly opened again. "So proud you."
"I know Dad, I know. You were a great dad. I know I didn't always say that, and sometimes I said the opposite, but you were still a great, great dad. I wouldn't be who I am today without you. I'm going to miss you; please don't leave me."
"I'm old. It's my time. I go happy."
"Stay with me," James begged him.
"You're good man. Member what I taught you. Love you."
There was a knock at the door and Sirius gingerly walked in. James continued kneeling by his dad's bedside as his brother took the place right next to him.
"Mr. Potter," said Sirius as he choked back tears.
"Dad," Mr. Potter corrected him.
And then Sirius lost it, as he openly sobbed. "You changed my life. You saved me. You were the dad I always wanted and never had. When I have a son I am going to name him after you because I want him to grow up to be even half the man that you are."
"Take care of you, baby, and Marly. Be good man. Love you."
"I will," he sobbed. "I will."
Sirius wiped his eyes, patted James on the back and sat in the armchair James had just abandoned.
Moments later, Eileen and Harry drifted into the room, and said their heartfelt good-byes. Finally Marilyn walked in, and the circle was complete. Marilyn sat on the bed, James knelt next to it, Harry and Eileen stood together at the foot of the bed, Sirius sat in the chair, and Lily sat on his lap, unable to stand any longer.
Christopher's labored breathing, the only sound in the room, slowed until finally he breathed his last and was gone. James rested his head in his hands and cried. Sirius and Lily held each other and sobbed as a typical brother and sister would. Marilyn sat silent and numb on the bed that she had shared with Christopher for over thirty years. Harry stared at the floor as he felt the full weight of the loss fall upon his shoulders. Eileen hugged him tightly, but he didn't even feel the warmth of her body.
They stayed like that for a long time, until finally the house elves popped in to do their traditional duties. Each of the house elves bowed first to the body of their former master, and then acknowledged their new master by bowing to him and saying, "Master James," in unison. They then busied themselves with preparing the body for burial as they had done for James's grandparents.
Marilyn dried her eyes and led the way out of the room. James cast one last lingering gaze on his father, and closed the door.
It was the first time James really said good-bye to someone he loved, but it wouldn't be the last.
Author's Note: So dear readers I threw a lot at you in this chapter and now I'm really interested in hearing what you think! Here's what I would like to know, but as always, please feel free to give me any feedback that is on your mind.
What do you think of Severus's rescue of Lily? What about the fact that he basically had someone killed in order to save her?
What do you think about Albus's decision to send Lily back to the Institute?
What about Sirius and Marlene getting back together? Do you think it will last?
How do you feel about Frank's proposal? About Frank and Alice getting married?
What do you think about Teddy's apparent transformation? Is it real? Will it last?
How do you feel about Christopher's passing? How do you think his death will affect his family?
I hope to hear from many of you! Until the next time,