Wed Title: The Last Horcrux
Chapter 23: Epilogue, Part 2
THANK YOU to Warriora for beta-reading this chapter and all the others before it. This story has been so much better for all your advice and proof-reading skills. You rule!
She turned, attempting a smile that ended up looking a grimace. "Hey, Chris," she said wearily, a little bitterly, "I guess you couldn't keep ignoring how messed up I've been lately, huh?"
Chris frowned at the tone. "Come on, Lily, don't do that," he said chidingly, "I just wanted to say 'hi.'"
It was a lie and they both knew it, but she didn't call him on it.
"Yeah, sorry." She tried to smile again, this time with a little more success. "So how're things with you?"
"Fine," Chris said, "Rehabilitation is proving to be a hell of a job, even these many months after…" His voice trailed off, his expression clouding slightly. He didn't want to remind either of them of that.
Lily tensed slightly, but otherwise left his unspoken words unacknowledged. "Yeah," She said, "It's the same for my dad."
An awkward silence ensued.
"How are you doing?" Chris asked.
Lily looked at him levelly. "You know how I'm doing. That's why you're here."
Chris didn't try to deny it this time. "I can tell that you're frustrated," He said, "Why?"
"You know why, Chris. Talking about it isn't going to help me."
He looked at her, surprised that she had managed to see through his questions so easily. Then he sighed. "You have to understand, Lily. Your father-"
"-wants to protect me. Don't you think I know that? But I am his daughter, I grew up with this war hanging over our heads, and I can't just sit around in the castle feasting in the Great Hall when people out there are starving and dying and-" She cut herself off, taking a deep, calming breath. "I just want todo something to help, Chris. Something useful. Why is that so hard to understand?"
Chris regarded her silently for a second, once again troubled by how frustrated and bitter she sounded. "I'll talk to your father," He said at last.
Surprised pleasure flitted across her face. "Really?"
"Yeah. It's obvious this is important to you, and I do get where you're coming from. But I can't make any promises."
"You don't have to," She said, all but beaming, "Thank you, Chris."
Her eyes were shining with a warmth that made him fight the urge to shift uncomfortably, because, like a lot of other things, it was an unwanted reminder of how she felt about him.
"She's losing her mind, Mr. Potter," Chris told Harry seriously, "She's so frustrated, so desperate…frankly, I'm concerned that she'll do something reckless if you don't let her do this."
"But I can't just let her become an Order member!" Harry protested, "She's never even seen the outside world; she needs to be trained, she needs to be protected, and I just don't have the time to do all that-"
"There are other people who can protect her, you know," Chris said, "The other Order members- the Aurors-"
"Aurors just aren't good enough, Chris. I can put her in a safe-house that's Unplottable, and put up the most powerful wards known to wizard-kind, and she'll still not be safe." He shook his head and sighed. "For so long, I thought Hogwarts was safe, and then I found out that Wyatt and the other demons could have gotten in and out at will if they wanted to, all these years. The only reason they didn't was because we weren't involved in their war, and that's changed. You know as well as I do that there were those who followed Wyatt out of faith as well as fear. She's a target, and there's no way she'll really be safe outside of Hogwarts. Even here, the protections aren't fool-proof anymore now that everyone living here aren't your charges. There's no way I can let her go into the outside world without proper protection."
Chris didn't say anything for a long moment. He knew that things couldn't continue like this for much longer. Harry hadn't realized it, but Chris could feel Lily's frustration and depression firsthand, and he had not exaggerated when he said he was scared she would do something reckless. But he could see where Harry was coming from, too. The older man feared losing Lily the way he had lost Ginny, and that fear was so profound that Chris knew there wasn't a lot he could say or do to convince him. Except for…
"What if I could offer Lily fool-proof protection?" He said slowly, stifling a sigh, because he really didn't want to do this.
"How?" Harry asked him.
"I take over her training," Chris said, "She lives with me at the Resistance, and because she's my charge she'll be magically protected there. I can unlock her Wiccan powers and help her to control them. The Potters were a really old pureblood family, one of the few Light ones, weren't they?"
"Well, even though your mother was Muggleborn, Lily's magic should be quite powerful with a Weasley for a mother," Chris continued, "And with Wiccan powers, she'd be better able to protect herself in fights."
"I don't want Lily fighting," Harry said immediately.
"I know, but she has me for a whitelighter. I'll do everything I can to protect her, you know that. I won't let anything happen to her."
Harry did know that if anyone could protect Lily, Chris could. But… "I can't put that on you, Chris."
"It's already on me," Chris replied, "She's my charge…and well, she's your daughter."
Silence. Chris could tell that had touched Harry. After a long moment, he said, "Alright."
Chris smiled, but his stomach was churning. This was the last thing he had wanted. How would this turn out? Living with someone who had feelings for him that he could never return but never escape? The idea was completely deranged. Especially because Lily knew he had empathy, too; he had felt her embarrassment over it time and time again. Being in such close quarters with each other would be excruciating.
Well, he thought wryly, at least it'll be interesting.
"Wait, I'm going to be living with you?" Lily all but shrieked.
Crap. This is even more embarrassing than I thought it would be.
"You should know that I am empathetic to my charges even when I'm nowhere near them physically," He said. "So it won't make any difference-"
"Please can we not…" She muttered, blushing crimson.
He winced, regretting speaking so plainly. "I'm sorry." Bringing that up had obviously been a bad idea. "Look. You want to join the Order, don't you? Well, these are the only conditions your father will agree to."
"Why are you doing this?" She asked suddenly. "Why are you taking so much trouble to help me?"
Because you're Harry Potter's daughter, and even though that shouldn't matter, it does.
"Because you're my charge," Chris responded, "And you need help."
An awkward silence.
"Well then," She said, smiling falsely bright, "When do I move in?"
"Come on, Lily, focus!"
"I'm-" she gasped, "trying!"
"You have to picture yourself in the air," Chris said, "You have to will it with everything that you are. I know it's difficult but-" He broke off as she suddenly lifted two feet into the air. "That's it! Now, try to hold it for a couple of seconds-"
She faltered, her control snapping, and she fell back down, landing hard on her feet. He caught her arm quickly, keeping her knees from buckling. "Well done," He said.
She smiled, not so much because of the praise, but because for once he hadn't let go of her arm immediately. "Thanks," She said.
He smiled back at her, but dropped her arm at once when he sensed the reason for her smile.
She drew away from him, embarrassed, and for a few moments, neither of them spoke.
"Let's try this again," Chris said.
"So how is Lily doing?" Harry asked, "She seems…much happier now."
"Yes, she is," Chris said, genuinely pleased, "Just training to be a part of the Order, knowing she's finally doing something useful, has made a world of difference in her."
Despite all the awkwardness and embarrassment between them, he and Lily had somehow managed to become friends. She was very disarming, and the fact that she never for one moment expected him to return her affections had made him relax around her a little, not to mention respect her.
"Well, that's good, then," Harry said, "Thank you, Chris, I would never have let Lily join the Order if it wasn't for you. It was the right thing to do."
Chris smiled. "Her training is going really well," He said conversationally, "She's quite powerful –levitation and astral projection are unusual powers to have, and it's even more unusual for someone to have them both. I'm teaching her martial arts, too."
Harry grimaced a little. "She'll be one of our most valuable assets when you get done with her, won't she?" So much harder to protect.
"Yeah, she will." Chris smiled slightly, remembering Lily's infectious enthusiasm when he had hinted as much. The thought had pleased her to no end.
"She'll be right in the thick of things," Harry sighed.
"I'll keep her safe," Chris assured him.
"I have no doubt you will," Harry answered.
Lily looked up at Chris's hasty entrance, surprised to see Hope in his arms. "Hey, Chris, what's up?"
"Lily, there are some demons acting up with some innocents in North Dakota and I have to get there ASAP," He said urgently, "So I don't have time to find Charlie. Can you please go and get him to watch Hope?"
"I can do better than that," Lily replied, smiling at him, "I can watch her myself."
Chris hesitated. "Lily are you sure you-"
"-know what I'm doing? Yeah, I do. I helped Charlie out with the kids loads of times back at Hogwarts. I even watched Hopes a few times when he needed an off. And I sometimes help out at the nursery here, too. Hey sweetheart," She added, holding out her arms, "Remember me?"
"Lily!" Hope gurgled happily, to Chris's surprise. Wordlessly, he handed his daughter over, and watched, amazed, as Lily bounced her easily in her arms and made some funny faces at her.
She looked at Chris and grinned. "We'll be fine."
Chris shook his head, still amazed. "I had no idea you were so good with kids." What he really meant was, I had no idea you were so good with Hope.
His daughter tended to get quite edgy around strangers, especially women, probably due to the fact that she had already lost so many would-be mothers. She often woke up at night and cried inconsolably, and though when it had first started he had worried that she was falling ill, he had quickly realized the truth. And now, to see her so happy in Lily's arms…he smiled at Lily with sudden warmth. "Thank you."
She smiled, obviously pleased. "You're welcome."
"That was really, really good," Chris said, out of breath.
"Yeah, maybe for you," Lily grumbled good-naturedly, "You're not the one lying on the floor."
Chris held out his hand and she took it, allowing him to pull her to her feet. "You actually tired me out," He said. He studied her for a moment, and then said, "I think you're more than ready to join the Order."
Disbelief, followed by joy, danced across Lily's face. "Really?!" she shrieked excitedly.
He smiled at her enthusiasm. "Yes, really," He said, "You're in complete control of your powers, and your sparring is as good as it will ever be. There's nothing more I can teach you."
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" She exclaimed excitedly, throwing her arms around him.
He stiffened slightly, but could sense only pure excitement and joy coming from her, so, hesitantly, he hugged her back. "Don't thank me. You've earned it."
"So I guess this is like… graduation?" She grinned at the idea.
Chris frowned. "I wish you wouldn't be so flippant about it," he began, but she cut him off, rolling her eyes.
"Hey, I get it," She said, "I grew up with this war, remember? I lost my mother and so many of my family and friends to it. I know it's not a game. The only reason I'm so happy is that I'm finally getting to join the Order. I'm nineteen years old, and I've wanted to be an Auror since I was twelve. I don't think you really understand what it's like to feel useless; neither does Dad, you're both always so much in the center of things."
"I do understand, actually," Chris said before he could stop himself, "I've felt your frustration, and now I can feel your enthusiasm."
He cringed inwardly a moment later as she flushed and looked away from him, smile dimming. There was a reason that they both avoided the subject of Chris's empathy like the plague, a reason they pretended that it didn't exist at all. It was the only thing that kept their friendship intact- and Lily had become quite a close friend over the last ten months, which was how long it had taken to train her. It had started out with Hope, really, and how good Lily was with her. After that they had got to talking, and in a romance novel, the rest would have been history…except for the fact that he was already in love with Bianca.
"Lily, I know things are-" He began.
"Don't, okay?" She interrupted as she had had almost a year ago, the only other time he had come close to acknowledging the way she felt about him. "Just…don't."
"I'm sorry," He said.
"No," She said with quiet regret, "I'm the one who's sorry."
"You look happy," Chris told Harry, who was indeed beaming with uncharacteristic brightness.
"Lily did amazingly well on her mission today," Harry explained, "It was her first solo one."
"Ah. Well, I guess congratulations are in order than." He glanced around. "Where is she?"
"I don't know. Probably with her new boyfriend."
Chris froze. "Come again?"
Harry half-grimaced, half-smiled. "She's dating Sirius."
"Sirius- as in Sirius Weasley? Her cousin?" Chris was so surprised that he couldn't conceal his reaction.
Harry shrugged. "To be frank, I had the same reaction, but the wizarding world can sometimes be a little…Victorian…in their worldview. First cousins get married all the time within the old pureblood families- it's considered old-fashioned, but perfectly acceptable. Besides, they are cousins, so it's not incest."
Chris squinted at Harry. Something wasn't quite right, here. "There's something more to this you're not telling me about," He said.
"Honestly? It isn't my secret to tell."
Chris stared at him for a moment, and then nodded. "Well, I'm happy for Lily and Sirius" He said, and then, because his curiosity could not be denied, he asked, "When did all this start?"
"After Lily moved back to Hogwarts," Harry answered, "Sirius and Lily have always been close, but when she came back, they started spending even more time together than usual. And they're both rookies in the Order, so I suppose that strengthened the bond. I never knew, though, until a month ago when she came to me and told me herself. It was something of a shock, as you can imagine."
"I'll bet it was," Chris said, still a little stunned, "That's…wow."
His whitelighter senses hadn't registered a shift in Lily's feelings. Had he not been paying attention again? He wondered. There was no way he could tell with his empathy who she was attracted to, just that she was attracted to someone. Her awkwardness around him had given it away the first time around, but he hadn't seen much of her in the last few months. She had been unrequitedly attracted to him for two and a half years, and he had known it was a pretty serious crush, so he hadn't expected her to get over him so suddenly. But he was happy she had; in fact, he was unspeakably relieved. It was good that she had finally moved on.
"So I hear you and Sirius are dating now."
"Oh, yeah, we are." She flushed a little. "He's…uh…we've always been close."
Chris grinned at her embarrassment; thinking how much fun it would be to tease her now, a liberty he could take now that they could finally be real friends, with no invisible elephants present whenever they were in each other's company. "I'm really happy for you," He said, "Was it a torrid affair? Seems a bit sudden..."
She blushed even more. "Yeah, we…talked a lot after I got back from SH-5. I…er…I needed a shoulder to cry on, after everything." She looked away from him then, and he sensed a stab of pain, and something else he from her, but she didn't dwell on it and it was gone before he had a chance to analyze it.
"I'm glad you had someone to help you."
"Yeah, me too. So…" She hesitated. "So we can be friends now, without any awkwardness?"
"Good. Because I missed you."
Once again he picked up on that stab of hurt, and for the first time, Chris regretted the fact that he had distanced himself from Lily over the last few months. He had wanted to spare her of the pain of constantly being in his presence; he hadn't realized that his avoidance might have hurt her in itself.
"I missed you too," He said, his voice an apology.
Her eyes lightened and she smiled at him, and he smiled back.
"Chris!" Lily's terrified, pain-filled voice rang through his ears, and instantly, he orbed to her side.
She was lying on a street corner, pinned to the floor by a knife, the hilt of which was protruding from her arm. There were about seven Death Eaters and surprisingly, two Upper Level demons, surrounding her. Apparently, Evil had decided to follow Wyatt and Voldemort's example of working together. The demons shimmered away the second he caught sight of him, obviously more familiar with his reputation than the Death Eaters. The Death Eaters advanced on him with their wands, and rolling his eyes, he waved his hand and orbed their wands out of their hands. Less than a minute later, they were lying unconscious on the floor.
"Lily!" He hurried to her side, his face a mask of concern. "Are you okay?"
"No! I've got a knife stuck in my arm!"
"Sorry, stupid question." He began to probe the wound. "Why the hell didn't you Apparate out?"
"Because they put up- ow, bloody hell! - Anti-Apparition wards. I think they were planning on taking me hostage."
"Typical. I wish they'd come up with more original ideas once in awhile." He exhaled softly. "The good news is that Anti-Apparition wards won't prevent me from orbing. We need to get this knife out of your arm, though."
She nodded and he gripped the hilt. "This might sting a bit."
"Get on with it already- ahhh!"
Her body arched and she let loose a scream as he wrenched the knife out of her arm. He through the knife aside, pressed his hands to her arm…and then he went white. "Oh, shit, it ruptured an artery, hang on for a moment-" He tried to orb them out, and discovered, to his horror, that he couldn't. "Fuck!"
"What?" She asked hoarsely, painfully aware of the blood gushing out from her arm with her every heartbeat.
"I can't orb out!" Chris's voice was tinged with the beginnings of panic. "Those demons must have put up wards to stop me from orbing too- damn it!"
"What…are we going to do?" She gasped out, trying to be stoic. She knew that ruptured arteries were bad, and that she would bleed out if she wasn't healed in the next few minutes.
"We need to get you healed before I can even think of getting out of here," Chris said, "Michael!" He called out. No response. "Michael, Lily's hurt! Damn it, why isn't he answering?"
"We need to get a message to Ian," Lily said, "He's good with wards, isn't he?"
"Yeah, he is; I'll just tell-"
"Lily, what the hell are you doing?!" He exploded as a silvery white dove blazed out from her good hand, "You don't have the energy to waste, you idiot!"
"Well what would you have done?" She retorted weakly, "Informed Adrian of the situation and told him to find Malfoy? It would have wasted way too much time, especially since Adrian probably doesn't even know where Malfoy is right now. My Patronus will reach him in less than a minute, and hopefully he'll be able to get the wards down in time." She turned to the dove. "Malfoy, this is Lily Potter. Chris and I are trapped by Anti-Apparition and orbing wards somewhere in Birmingham- you can find our exact location on the O-maps. I have a ruptured artery and I have six minutes at most before I bleed out, so you'll have to hurry."
The dove bobbed its head and vanished, leaving Chris staring at Lily. "For someone who might have six minutes to live, that was surprisingly matter-of-fact," He said.
Lily smiled slightly. "Yeah, well, I learned from the best."
She sagged slightly beside him, and he quickly pulled off his jacket and then his shirt, ripping the latter into strips and binding the wound on her hand as tightly as he could. Within seconds, though, it was completely stained with blood.
"You look hot," She said, looking almost stoned as she eyed his bare torso.
"Er…in this weather?" Chris joked weakly.
She moaned a little and reached for his hand, and he took it in his without hesitation. "Michael!" he tried again, "Michael, please! We need your help!"
"Give it up, Chris," She murmured sleepily, "The wards are probably blocking him."
"Lily, you have to stay with me, okay?" Chris said urgently as her eyelids fluttered.
"I'm cold," She whispered, shivering.
He draped his jacket over her and dragged her up into his arms, so that her back was against his chest. "Better?"
"Much," She whispered, laying her head against his shoulder.
They sat in silence for a minute or two. Chris's mind was trained on Malfoy, who had begun to work on the wards- but judging by the frustration Chris could feel emanating from him, it wasn't proving as easy as he had hoped. He looked down at Lily, surprised at the peaceful expression on her face, and realized with dismay that she was falling asleep again.
"What are you thinking about Lily?" He asked.
"I'm thinking about what it would be like to stay like this forever."
She was beginning to slur, he noted worriedly. "What about Sirius?"
"Sirius isn't my boyfriend," She mumbled dismissively, "He's just…" Her words trailed off, her eyes beginning to slip closed.
Damn it, Ian, hurry!
"He's just what, Lily?"
She mumbled something he couldn't catch, and he shook her gently, jerking her back to awareness. "Come on, Lily, stay with me."
She turned her face slightly so that she could see his face. "With you? I wish I was strong enough for that, but I'm not." She whispered tiredly, "Loving you hurts too much…knowing that you'll never love me back, hurts too much."
He froze. Loving you? She loved him? No…yes. He recognized that look in her eyes; even without his empathy they would have told him everything. And the way she felt about him, he could sense it; like a warm glow over his heart, and he recognized that, too- it was the real thing- the deep, undying kind of love he had sometimes felt from Bianca in the quiet moments when they'd sat just like this in the privacy of their bedroom.
Crap. Lily loved him. And she was letting herself slip away because she thought he'd never reciprocate…and she was right.
Damn it, Lily, I'll never forgive myself if something happens to you.
"Lily, I do love you back," He said softly, hating himself for the lie, but knowing it was necessary. He hesitated for a moment before kissing her softly on the temple. "I really do, and I need you to stay with me, because I can't lose you, okay?"
She sighed softly and leaned into him, a smile on her face.
Fuck. I hate this...
The blood from her arm had completely soaked his pants.
"I love you," He said again. The lie was getting easier and easier ever time he uttered it. "Stay with me."
She lasted another minute before lapsing into unconsciousness. And then, just as her pulse began to go faint and he was on the verge of panicking for real, he sensed a spurt of relief and jubilation from Ian, and inferred that he'd finally managed to take the wards down. He immediately orbed to SH-5's Sanatorium, setting Lily gently on a bed and standing back as a frantic Michael rushed forward to heal her. He barely heard the whitelighter's hurried explanations about how the wards around the place had kept full whitelighters out.
He waited only until Michael had healed her, and then orbed to his room, completely shaken by the events of the evening. Lily had very nearly died. And she loved him. And he would never love her back. She was beautiful, and she was intelligent, and she had an amazing figure-- but he wound never love her back. And he would never hurt her, either; by telling her so.
So what the hell kind of mess did that leave him in? He hadn't a fucking clue.
"Lily. I see you're awake."
She tensed visibly. "Hey, Chris." He sat down beside her, and tried to take her hand, but she pulled away at once. "Don't," She said.
He sighed. "Come on, Lily. We need to talk about this."
"No, we don't." She paused, took in a shaky breath. "I know I owe you some explanations about Sirius."
"I have been curious," Chris admitted.
"Sirius is gay," Lily said, and Chris blinked. Whatever he had expected, it hadn't been that. "He and Justin Macmillan have been seeing each other for the last two years. The problem is that the wizarding world can be a bit archaic about homosexuality, and Sirius, well, he's the son of two war heroes, and he's Harry Potter's godson. Simply put, he can't afford to be gay; not with Dad and Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione still running the country. You know they're under enormous pressure already from everyone."
"So…what?" Chris asked, "Sirius asked you to pretend to be his girlfriend so people wouldn't suspect anything?"
"Actually, I offered," She said, "We told Dad the truth, of course, and Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione as well. Uncle Ron took some time to adjust to the idea that Sirius is gay, but he did eventually. As far as everyone else is concerned, we're in a relationship. It's helped Sirius and Justin a lot, too; they don't have to worry nearly as much about people suspecting that they're gay."
"But that wasn't the only reason you offered, right?" Chris persisted.
"No, it wasn't," She admitted, "I was so tired of being embarrassed around you all the time. It was bad enough that I had feelings for you, but you actually being able to sense it every time I so much as chanced to think you looked hot? I couldn't stand that. I hated the things always were between us; I wanted to us be normal. And face it. We became a lot closer and much more comfortable around each other after I'd convinced you that I'd moved on."
He hesitated only for a second before he uttered his most life-altering lie. "Yeah, well, you should have told me the truth from the start," He said slowly, "It would have saved us both a lot of heartache."
"What do you mean?" She asked, giving him a sharp look.
"I mean that if I'd known you weren't seeing somebody else all this time, I'd have told you how I felt about you a lot sooner."
She actually scoffed at him. "Don't bullshit me. I know when you told me you loved me last night you were only doing it to save my life, keep me conscious. I'm not a charity case, and I'm not dying anymore. You don't have to keep lying to me."
"I'm not lying to you,"…he lied to her, "No, I'm not in love with you. But I am attracted to you, and I want to be more than just your friend. I've wanted that for months, and I would have pursued it, but I thought you were in love with Sirius."
She was still skeptical. "What about Bianca? From what I've heard, she was the love of your life."
Forcing his expression not to change at these words was one of the hardest things he had ever done, but he managed it. "She died four years ago, Lily," He said, "Four years is a long time."
Lily just kept staring at him, unconvinced, but he sensed the hope stirring within her, almost against her will. She wanted to believe him.
"I know this seems sudden," He said, "But it's not. When I first found out you were dating Sirius, I have to admit that I was relieved. The awkwardness between us was gone, and you let your guard down around me, and for the first time, I got to know the real you. Without all the embarrassment and the blushing and all the rest of it." That part was true, at least. "And I fell for you." That part wasn't.
"You have no idea how long I've wanted to hear that," She whispered, her voice choking.
Actually I do, He thought somberly, That's why I'm doing this.
Her eyes were filled with tears, and her voice was shaking uncontrollably, but she had to say it. "Chris, I won't come out of this in one piece if I find out you're only doing it out of pity, or if I find out you're just messing with me. If that's the case, it then please just tell me now. If I find out that you were lying later, I won't survive if it."
"You won't have to," He said, and then walked up to her, not stopping till they were inches away from each other, "Because I'm not lying to you."
Because you'll never know the truth.
"You'd better not be," She said.
He looked into her tear-filled green eyes, and knew that he had closed a door, and that not even God would be opening any windows for him. He could never look back from this. With that thought in his mind, he bent his head and kissed her on the lips. She tasted soft and sweet and surprisingly good…but she wasn't Bianca. And that was okay, even though it wasn't.
"I'm sorry; did you just say you wanted to marry Lily?" Harry exclaimed.
Chris shifted before him, uncomfortable. "Why is that so surprising? You didn't think we'd just keep dating for the rest of our lives?"
"No, I just-" Harry shook his head, still all but gaping at Chris, "I just didn't think you guys were that serious."
Chris stiffened. "I would never mess around like that, Mr. Potter."
"That's not what I meant," Harry backtracked as he saw the hurt look on Chris's face. "It's just, you're kids. I honestly thought you were just dating casually; I thought your relationship was more physical than emotional. I know you wouldn't mess around with Lily, Chris. But youngsters today are even worse than they were in my time, so you can't blame me for being surprised."
"Well, I'm completely serious about this, Mr. Potter," Chris said, averting his eyes, "I really do want to marry her. That's why I'm here. I wanted to make sure I had your blessing."
Harry gave him a look that knew entirely too much. "Of course you have my blessing, Chris," He said, "There's no one other man I'd prefer to marry my only daughter…but what about Bianca?"
"Bianca's been dead five years," Chris said harshly, "You're the one who said I would move on eventually, and I have."
"I thought you promised yourself that you'd never lie to me, Chris," Harry said quietly.
Chris flushed. "I'm not-"
"Yes, you are. Chris, I know who the ring around your neck belongs to."
Crap. Bianca's ring.
He had never been able to take it off, even though he'd felt guilty about it after he'd started seeing Lily. She had asked about it once, and he'd told her the truth- it was his mother's wedding ring, the last thing he had left of hers. He just hadn't told her who the ring had belonged to after his mother.
"If you're still wearing your dead fiancées wedding ring around your neck, you're still in love with her," Harry continued, his tone even, "So I'll ask you, again. Why do you want to marry Lily?"
"Because she's loved me unrequitedly since she was seventeen years old," Chris blurted out after a short, tense pause, "Because she nearly died in my arms last year, thinking living was pointless when I would never love her back. Because she's one of my closest friends, and she's kind, and beautiful, and intelligent and perfect. Because Hope needs a mother. Because I want to make her happy. And because I want to make you happy."
Harry shook his head, stricken. "You can't make a sacrifice like that, Chris," He said in a hushed voice.
"It's not a sacrifice," He said. "Make no mistake, if Bianca was here today, I'd choose her over Lily in a heartbeat."
"But…?" Harry prompted.
"But Bianca isn't here today. She's dead. And Lily loves me the way I love Bianca. If I can't have Bianca, at least Lily can have me."
"That's really messed up," Harry said, stunned by the young man's logic, "You say you're doing this for Lily - how is this not a sacrifice? What are you getting out of this?"
"Companionship. Family. Friendship. Love. Take your pick." Chris smiled slightly. "If you ask me, Lily's the one who drew the short straw."
For a long moment, Harry had no idea what to say. Suddenly, impulsively, he reached out and drew Chris into a tight hug. "You're a good man, Chris," He whispered huskily.
"I try," Chris said.
They stayed like that for a few more moments, and then Harry drew away.
"Of course you have my blessing," He said in a much lighter tone, "On one condition."
"You have got to stop calling me 'Mr. Potter.' It's way too formal…"
It was just after the handfasting, and Chris was feeling not a little overwhelmed by the amount of people that had come to attend. Most of them had been invited out of obligation combined with a desire not to offend, and there were so many of them that the only place big enough for the ceremony had been the Great Hall. It wasn't every day that the son of a Charmed One married the Chosen One's daughter. Tiring of the throngs, Chris muttered something to Lily about checking on security (eliciting an amused remark from her regarding his paranoia), and headed to a curtained alcove; from where he could see but not be seen.
He started when he pulled aside the curtain and saw that someone was already there. "Mr. Potter! I mean, Harry! I didn't know you were here."
"I was feeling a bit overwhelmed," Harry said, "I'm guessing that's why you're here, too?"
"Guilty as charged," Chris said with a sheepish laugh.
They lapsed into a comfortable silence.
Harry looked across the packed Great Hall, at all the laughing, jovial people, and then he looked at Chris, standing silently beside him, and felt a sudden pang.
"Can…can I ask you something, Chris?"
"Sure," Chris said.
"Are you happy?"
Chris didn't answer immediately, but looked across the Great Hall. He saw a laughing Lily, looking stunning in white, dancing with Sirius. He saw Snape, sitting quietly in a corner, sipping from a glass of wine and looking more relaxed than Chris had ever seen him. He saw Draco Malfoy and his family talking and laughing together. He saw Hope, trying to reach the ice cream on a too high table, and saw Lily notice her and break away from the dance to serve her a couple of scoops. And suddenly he remembered what Harry had once told him, a long, long time ago, on one of the darkest days of his life.
"One day, you'll be able to look around you and not think about the people who aren't there, but appreciate the people that are."
"Yes, Harry," He said, "I think I am."
I know some of you won't be thrilled by this ending, and I'll admit that it leaves things at a less than satisfactory place as far as the Chris/Lily relationship is concerned. I honestly believe, however that it is the only thing approaching a happy ending that was possible for Chris with the amount of loss and heartbreak he went through in this story. There are some things you just don't recover from. I think Bianca was Chris's one and only, and I don't think he'll ever love anyone else the same way. I think the mere thought of being with anyone else would feel like a betrayal for him…except when it comes to Lily, who is a special case because of who she is.
Let's examine the facts- Lily is Harry Potter's daughter, as I've said more than once, and Chris cares about Harry, looks up to him as a father. He promised Harry he'd keep Lily safe and wouldn't let any harm come to her; and because of his empathy he can feel how painful it is for her to love him unrequitedly so faithfully and for so long. Obviously he feels guilty about this, especially since she's a good friend and he cares about her. When it's revealed that she never stopped loving him, he realizes that she never will. He also knows he's never going to fall for anyone else. He wants to make her happy, he wants to make Harry happy, and he wants Hope to have a mom. Lily's attractive (which is, face it, important to every young guy, heartbroken or not), intelligent, and a very good friend. So he lies to her about how he feels about her, and then asks her to marry him.
I know die-hard romantics will think of this as a sacrifice on his part, and consider his actions as unfair to both himself and Lily. But bear in mind that in the end, he IS happy, and so is she, and so are Harry and Hope. I don't think with his past it can get better than that.
I'm sorry for this long note justifying this ending, I just thought it wasn't uncalled for considering that everyone had pretty strong opinions on whether or not Chris and Lily should end up together. I'd like to thank you all for the amazing responses this fic got, and for the amazing hit count and review count you all gave me. Also, a special thank you to Warriora for doing such an amazing job beta-reading.
On a side note, I'm not sure about whether or not first cousins marrying is considered incest in the U.S or the U.K. In India, it's taboo and very much discouraged, but it does happen. In fact, I have a distant relative on my mom's side of the family who married her first cousin- it created quite the scandal at the time. I got the impression from sodoto's fanfic "Neurotic" that first cousins marrying isn't considered incest (doesn't Chris's brother have an affair with his cousin?) but of course, I could be wrong. In England, in the Victorian era, I know that first cousins married all the time among the gentry so that they could keep estates within the family, so I know that in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was perfectly acceptable. I know it isn't so now, so I hope I didn't offend anyone.
I'm both happy and sad that this fic is over. It's possibly my best work on this site, and I doubt I'll ever be able to top it, at least in the Charmed fandom. On the other hand, this will free me up to write my Supernatural fanfic, tentatively titled "The Way It Goes." It will be a Pilot AU fic set in Stanford, starring Sam, Dean, Jess and a couple of OCs, and will be about Sam's desire for normality and how it affects the brothers' relationship. Done before, I know, but I promise I'll be original about it. I hope you'll all watch out for it- I hope to start posting in the next few weeks, unless I decide to first finish my LOTR fic, which I'd put on hold until I finished this. But even the LOTR fanfic is nearing it's end, so it shouldn't be too long.
Again, thank you all very much, and I hope to see you again!