just like you said it would be
life goes easy on me
most of the time
and so it is
the shorter story
no hero in her sky...
- Damien Rice, "The Blower's Daughter"
She's eighteen years old and free from the confines of Hogwarts, marching head held high into the brave new world of London. It's the adult world, the world her parents and their friends inhabit which surely must make room for her. After all, she's Lily Evans, Head Girl, top of her class, Gryffindor to boot. To Lily, the world looks shiny and new and she can see her place in it – succeeding, like the over-achiever she is – and she is eager to partake.
Of course, it's not that easy. She's picky about the job she'll take – she wants to do something exciting, and being a secretary at the Ministry does not fit that position. She was always ace a Potions, so she takes a summer job at Bingle's Apothocary in Diagon Alley. She enjoys her work, and it pays well, and allows her time to fill out applications for apprenticeships at St. Mungo's.
Adult Wizarding society is very different from Muggle society, she's coming to realize, with predictably archaic notions about a woman's independence. She can work side by side with men at the potions table, but she cannot live alone; she must have a roommate, and so she chooses Marlene McKinnon, whose penchant for dark-haired gentlemen means that Sirius Black ends up wandering out from Marlene's room at all hours, night or day, clad in only the trousers of his pajamas. It's a small price to pay for the freedom of living without parental supervision, though, and so Lily avoids looking at the dark line of hair that travels south, into the land she cannot think about.
Sirius, for his part, seems to enjoy his arrangement, inviting James over on the pretense that Lily must want to see her boyfriend. She finds this infuriating: she wants to see James but on her time - not when she's fresh out of the shower, wrapped up in a towel with water dripping down her arms and legs onto the wood floor. This is herapartment, not Sirius', and she has every right to dictate when her boyfriend can call.
"You need to mind your own business," she tells Sirius, who is sprawled on the couch watching the Muggle news on her telly.
"How so?" he asks.
"You can't just invite James over here whenever," she says. "You don't pay rent."
"You should be grateful I invite your shagbunny over here," Sirius says. "Don't want him shagging anyone else."
"Like James would do that," Lily says with a frown. "But really, Sirius, sometimes I just want my own space. I've gone from living with my parents to living in a room with four other girls to living with Marlene and I can't go straight to living with James without being able to breathe."
It all sounds so funny when she says it out loud like that, but its painfully true. She needs her own Lily-time as desperately as Sirius needs to be adored.
"Please, Sirius," she says, almost begging (but she will never beg him).
"Sometimes, Evans," Sirius says, "you have no idea what's good for you."
She rolls her eyes and retreats to her room to lie down for a bit. When she wakes up, everyone is there - Sirius, Remus, James, Peter, Alice Neville and Frank Longbottom, Dorcas Meadows, the Prewitt twins. Marlene is making drinks in the kitchen, and Lily leans against the doorway, feeling defeated.
"Lovely party," she comments. Marlene smiles.
"Isn't it, though?" she responds, stirring a tall pitcher of something pink. "Sirius' idea. Thought you could use some cheer."
Lily sighs. Part of her wants to retaliate, but retaliation will lead to bigger efforts on Sirius' part, as she learned in school.
In the other room, Sirius lets out a whoop of joy over something, but what Lily hears is a victory yell.
She meets Remus every Thursday for lunch. They go into Muggle London, order curry or fish and chips and talk. She can't do this with James – Muggles are far too interesting to him, and he'd just gawk. It's also nice to spend time with Remus, away from his marauding friends. There are days when she feels she know him better than any one else, because of all the hours spent working on homework or patrolling or just talking (it hurts her he didn't confide his secret until seventh year, but she can see why). She knows him, and he understands her in ways that no one else – no one who hasn't lived in the Muggle world – can.
Its curry today, naan and spicy chicken and basmati rice with raisins and nuts. It's after a full moon and Remus looks pale and tired, but happy. He's just found work at a small publishing house, where he copy-edits and sometimes sets type. It's a job well-suited for his meticulous nature, and it's a small accomplishment in a time where, it seems, accomplishments for people like them. The small, but proud, minority which despises Muggle-borns has taken to acts of outright violence and intimidation, and it's just…it's not a good time for them.
"I am going to kill Sirius Black," she says between bits of chicken, "and I wanted to apologize in advance."
"I hope it's for a good reason," Remus responds, "because Sirius would refuse to die for something mediocre."
"He keeps inviting James over when I'm in the shower, or when I'm sleeping. I'm half-inclined to think he's having a secret affair with him, right under my nose, than any of Sirius' so-called intentions."
"Sirius would never shag James," Remus points out. "He likes tits too much, and don't tell me James can be a tit because I'd expect more from you, Lily Evans."
She smiles around her fork. "You know me too well," she tells him, and he ducks his head, amused and embarrassed by the sentiment.
"Yes, but I don't have any idea how you'd go about with the actual homicide," he says, looking up finally, cheeks an attractive shade of pink, and she thinks that if she's ever to have a torrid one-last-chance affair, she hopes it's with him.
"I could use some help," she says with a sly smile.
Marlene seems to like Sirius, and keeps him around far longer than what could be considered healthy, which means that Lily puts up with him throughout summer and into autumn. When Marlene goes to work at the Ministry, he blasts the Stones like the sodding arsehole he is, distracting her when she's filling out applications. She is thankful that she is a wizard, with an arsenal of spells at her disposal. But, despite the peaceful quiet of her room, she will always be hit with a wall of sound when she enters the hall to use the loo, or make tea.
And god forbid she eat on her days off: Sirius is at the counter, begging for her to make him a sandwich too, like the pitiful dog he is. And if the whole brown eyed pout doesn't work, he'll actually transform and she'll have to put up with a dog pawing her leg until she gives him her ham sandwich.
She can't tell James – not really, because if she says his best friend is a gigantic wanker, he'll pout and then he'll be adorable-looking and it makes her want to kiss him. She can't tell Marlene, because she doesn't want to hurt her roommate by questioning her taste in men. And Remus, it seems, is numb to all that Sirius can do, having spent seven years putting up with it. All of the ideas he gives her – charming the shower to turn cold when Sirius steps in, itching powder, even charming all the furniture from the living room to throw him off – do nothing. Sirius stays, Sirius lingers, Sirius is the pest that will never go away, albeit with cigarette butts on the coffee table and socks in the hall.
"I think you're trying to drive me insane," she tells him one morning, over tea. He's still half-naked, like he always is (doesn't the man ever get cold?) and he slurps at his tea, which annoys her.
"Don't have to try much," he says with a smile. "You're wound tight like a drum. I thought my boy James was doing a better job than –"
"No," she says, slamming her fist onto the tabletop and standing up. She is angry – irate – furious, that he would be ridiculous, and angry at herself for being so angry. She walks to the sink, and places her mug in it. "You will not make accusations about my boyfriend, or my own proclivities, not while I –"
She doesn't really see it coming, because it's all so fast. His hand is on her wrist and he pulls her around and his hips press her back into the counters, his free hand in her hair, drawing her close, and then he kisses her, softly, slowly, and she's grateful she is pressed against a solid surface because she goes weak in the knees.
Suddenly – as sudden as it happened, and while she's still shocked – he steps back, runs hand through his hair, apologizes or, she thinks he apologizes, but she doesn't hear a word he says because he's gone, the front door slamming and all she can think about as she slides to the floor is that this is a very quick and easy way of driving her insane.
War is coming, and the first causality is Remus' position in the publishing house, which he loses when the owner realizes he's a Muggle-born who misses too much work. He moves in with James to save money and it's convenient to have her two favorite men together. She spends more time there than at her own flat, as the kiss has made things uncomfortable between them. Marlene teases her that her third-year crush on Remus Lupin has blossomed anew, but Lily knows it's a desperate effort not to be alone, in her flat, with Sirius, at any point in time.
When they were at Hogwarts, she never thought of him in any remotely sexual manner: he was always the twit who teased her and played absolutely un-hilarious pranks on her involving slime and other nasty things. He was even more horrible when she started going with James, acting like a total prat and making it difficult to like him even for James' sake.
And now – she tries not to think about him in any way other than James' idiot twin, the boy with Gryffindor courage who left his family for the sake of his misfit friends. He doesn't work, he's too rich, he has no sense of propriety, and she finds the way his hair curls against his neck to be oddly alluring. It's too much, to be honest, and she tries not to think about it.
Autumn drags on. Muggle-born shops are bombed by people calling themselves the 'Death Eaters' and she hears more about a wizard calling himself Lord Voldemort than she wants to in a lifetime. James and his lot run errands for Dumbledore, who she assumes is leading some sort of resistance against this supposed Dark Lord. She hardly sees Sirius, so whatever interlude occurred in the kitchen – well, it's over with now.
She receives letters from St. Mungos that start, Dear Ms. Evans, Thank you for your interest but we regret to inform you that - and she doesn't read any further. She doesn't want to know why she's not wanted, keeps working at the apothecary, and tries to ignore the warning signs.
On Halloween, James charms a jack-o-lantern to sing 'All You Need is Love' and gets down on one knee, shiny ring in hand. She says yes, because she is happy. It's a small accomplishment, in a way, to get married, and she wants this – wants married life, with James, because it's not complicated then. James Potter is nothing if not straightforward and easy.
They throw a small party the next night. Remus kisses her on the check and looks at her with something that vaguely resembles sadness, and she can't help but wonder what for. Peter is meek and grateful to be included, Marlene envious, and Sirius stumbles in drunk and kisses Lily sloppily on the cheek before passing out on the sofa. The party can be considered a moderate success.
The next day, James asks her to come with him to a meeting. She agrees – she thinks it's with the wedding planner she knows his parents will have hired – but instead, she finds herself in a room with a serious-looking Dumbledore.
"Miss Evans," he asks, looking at her over his spectacles, "do you care to hear a story?"
Her days are filled with work for the Order, work at the apothecary (which she is loathe to quit), and planning the wedding. She is rarely at home and when she is, she immediately falls into her bed, grateful to give her weary bones a rest.
The Order doesn't give her complicated work. Mostly, she reports on things she hears around Diagon Alley but she knows, given time, she'll have more difficult assignments, like those that bring Remus back bruised and bleeding and which keep James away for days.
Sirius is involved, and soon Marlene too, and there are Order meetings at their apartment. It becomes a safe-haven, with the Prewitt twins sleeping on the floor and Sirius making everyone eggs in the morning. Marlene and he aren't even dating anymore, but they are shagging because things feel desperate – the deep breath before the explosion.
Dumbledore decides she needs to relearn defensive spells, so Remus spends one day testing her skills, which she hasn't used much since she left Hogwarts. As Remus presses on, eventually Sirius comes in to watch.
"Not nearly good enough, Lils," Remus says, throwing a curse at her and she is frustrated. She was a good student, but Defense Against the Dark Arts was never taught well and whatever knowledge Remus has acquired is far above what she has ever learned.
When Remus is satisfied – for today, at least – she pours herself some firewhiskey. Sirius slinks into the kitchen, and leans against the counter.
"What?" she asks, and he says nothing, just stares. He takes a drag from his cigarette, and the room is too small, too confusing, in all the smoke.
"Fancy a whiskey?" she asks, not looking at him.
"Fancy a lot of things, love," he responds.
Lily is tired, and does not want to deal with him. She throws the whiskey into the other room, hearing the bottle hit the floor and imagining all the crystalline shards across the wooden floorboards.
"Fetch," she says angrily.
He could have yelled "What the hell is wrong with you?" but he doesn't. He doesn't say anything as she leaves and it's not unusual. She hasn't had a civil conversation with him in months, not since their brief interlude, and she's not sure if she hates herself for hating him for no reason, or hates him for driving her insane. Either is good enough, in her book.
She spends Christmas with James' parents, which is nice and strangely scary, since she's entering another level of her relationship with them. They eat an early dinner, and then she and James go to her parents, where Petunia and her idiot husband stare at them contemptuously and leave early.
That night, they make mulled wine and exchange gifts with Peter and Remus. Peter leaves early after getting his presents, and Remus lingers. He's looking more tired than usual, and Lily knows it's his work with the Order that's causing it. She's frightened, because soon she will be involved. She is frightened because people are getting injured and sooner or later, someone will die. She does not want to think about it, so she takes another sip of wine.
Sirius arrives late, and in a pleasant mood for a change. They talk about things and it feels like they're old friends, especially when he teases her about her hair. Eventually, she goes back to the kitchen to refill their drink, and Sirius follows her.
"Don't, Lils," he says. "You don't need anymore."
She spins to face him. Who is he to question her merely having more to drink?
"Lily," Sirius says, "you've been drinking too much lately. I know it's what you do to forget about all this shit but you –"
She glares at him. She's not sure what frightens her more – his silent observations, or the fact that he's right.
She returns to James' side and when he asks where her drink was, she shrugs and says she doesn't care for another.
That night, curled up next to James, she wonders how much Sirius knows about her, how much he's observed, and if that's why he's such a prick to her all the time.
The day before New Year's Eve, she is at home, listening to David Bowie and cleaning for the party. It was a good idea at the time – a New Year's Eve party, with the Order, wishing themselves good luck in the coming year.
She hums along to Ziggy Stardust as she sweeps the floor. It's a Muggle notion, to actually work whilst cleaning, but it clears her head. James is in Bulgaria with Remus, and Sirius is with Fabian and Gideon and she is alone, just cleaning.
Suddenly the door opens suddenly, slamming against the wall and she sees Sirius, drenched from the rain and looking for all the world like a little lost puppy.
"The Prewitts," he says. "The Prewitts are dead."
She doesn't know how to react. At first it's denial, then shock, then a cold nothingness because she's never had anyone die but grandparents and you expect them to die, they're old. Not young, twenty-three year old men who have their entire lives ahead of them.
"Death Eaters." The words leave Sirius' mouth with a bitterness usually reserved for when he talks about his family. She shudders, because there's a very real chance that it i was /i his family responsible for their friends deaths.
"I need a drink," he says, stomping past her, tracking water onto her clean floor, and she stares at the puddles, unable – unwilling – to understand any of this.
He brings back the bottle and takes a swig, making sure to stay off the furniture which she absentmindedly thinks is very polite of him. He sits on the floor, and she joins him. He passes the bottle to her, and she takes a swig, despite what he might think.
She doesn't know when everything changed – when her bright London life became one of drudgery and failure and hatred and sadness and death, lurking in the corners when they least expect it. This will be the first, and there will be far too many to count by the end.
If she lives to see it.
"I liked the Prewitts," Sirius says. "They were such good men, and such fun."
"Yeah," Lily says. She pauses. "Sirius, why did you come here?"
He shrugs, takes another drink, his dark hair falling haphazardly across his face. "Just…felt like I needed to be here."
She doesn't know what comes over her – fear of dying, or death being so close, or just the raw desire to i live /i for a change – but she leans over and presses her lips, her body, against his.
The opposite of hatred is always – always- love.
It's the deep breath before the plunge, the deep breath she is constantly living in, ready to fall into the abyss but it is Sirius now, Sirius who notices when she is lonely and asks for James to come over and Sirius who tells her not to drink and makes her eat and watches out for her, even though she hated him for it so much.
It's surprisingly easy to kiss Sirius – to press against him and feel his body and know he wants to kiss her as much as she wants to kiss him. They untangle themselves from the floor and find their way to her bedroom, where she pulls his wet clothes off his body and falls back onto her clean sheets, eager to feel the way his hips press against hers and the touch of his hands on her body.
It's nice, to lose herself in someone she cares about, someone who cares about her, in this time of need and darkness. She feels carefree and wonderful and like she's breathing again, regardless of all the things that threaten to smother her.
It's amazing, how their hips move together and their bodies bend and twist, his lips against her neck, her hands in his hair. She lets herself go, feeling peace for the first time in a long time.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I'm sorry I was such a wanker. You drive me in circles, Lily Evans.
"I don't understand the words that are coming out of your mouth, Sirius Black," she says, though she understands them completely, because she feels the same way.
"I don't understand you, Lily Evans," he says, kissing her forehead. "And I certainly don't understand myself."
"At least we're in agreement," she says softly.
"I just – I worry about you, more than I should worry about my best mate's girl, but –"
She places her finger on his lip, because while it's all confusing, she understands.
"You know," she says, "at first I was going to retaliate, find a way to get back at you for being such a shit. But I never could think of anything good enough, and Remus was no use, so I didn't. And now look at where we are."
"I don't mind it so much," he says, shifting, though there is the lingering feeling that this is all wrong, that James or Marlene or someone else will find them. She shrugs it away.
She kisses his chest and curls up closer. It's nice to feel a warm body against hers. "And so it is," she whispers softly, because she doesn't mind it that much either.
They fall into a light doze, and when it's almost morning, Sirius wake suddenly.
"I better go find James," he says. "I think he was in Bavaria."
"All right," she says, sitting up and blinking her eyes. Sirius is out of bed and picking up his clothes from the floor. She watches him, the corded muscles of his arms as he casts a quick drying charm, then reaches for his trousers.
"You know," she says as he dresses, "I always thought my last single shag would be with Remus."
Sirius buttons his trousers and shrugs. "You've still got a few months before the wedding. Might as well give it a go." He smiles around the cigarette, and she remembers what she always liked about Sirius – his ability to make everything seem much simpler than it always is.
"Maybe," she says with a faint smile, the feeling of dread that is always there these days, but was absent for a few short merciful hours coming back and sitting in her stomach, "maybe."
He pauses in the doorway, and she expects him to say something stupid, like he normally does, to lessen the severity of the situation. Instead, he crosses the room, kisses her one more time, and says, "I'll see you around."
She falls back into the bed as he leaves, naked back against the warm sheets. There is no longer a calm before the storm, the breath before the plunge. She is in the midst of the current now, and there's no way to fight it.
Written for lj community Red and the Wolf's Tales of Dogs and Scoundrels Challenge. To disclaim: none of this is mine, I just took them out of the box for a bit. I'll put them back neatly, I promise.