So... this is it. :D Thanks so much to my wonderful reviewers- and a special thanks to those of you who recommended this fic at the Reviews Lounge, I was flattered and really appreciate it- and I would love to hear what anyone reading of this thinks of this chapter, good or bad, or even just a 'hey, i read it' means a lot since... well, I spent my Saturday morning finishing it and it makes it feel worthwhile. :D Actually, the majority of this chapter was the first part of this story I wrote... so I suppose it's all been coming out of (coming down to?) this.
anyways, hope you enjoy- I thought about having another conversation for symmetry, but, I finished and this really felt like it. In a lot of ways, this is a story about conversations. So this is it for Thrice, but I have more stuff coming for a while, so if you like, Author Alert me or just check back. Thanks again for reading- lyin'
James looked twelve again when he slept, without the glasses that hid his long eyelashes and drew attention to the sharp line of his nose. He'd promised to tend the annuals he'd planted, but Lily felt sure the hot July morning would wilt them, for the expected rain hadn't arrived, and she was stir-crazy already, awake, alone, and hesitant. She hadn't learned, yet, how to harden her heart and shake him awake before noon when he only rolled over at her touch, murmuring and pulling at the sheets like a boy.
She took her wand and went out the side door to water the flowers he'd gotten her. They were colorful in the morning sun, the purple and pink of the impatiens looking almost obnoxious for a moment beside whatever subtler flower James had put next to them, the sky blue ones with the white center.
Casually, Lily cast the charm silently and sent water spurting from her wand tip into the parched soil. While watering the baby blue ones, she caught the scent, wafting in the air– a scent of crushed apples.
James had crushed one of the flowers in his palm once, to let Lily get a whiff of the scent they emitted when walked on. It had made her want to stamp them down, just to feel for a moment like she had her own apple orchard outside her door.
Lily looked over her shoulder, to the flowers on the other side of the door, and noticed that the ones that looked like daisies were matted down and not springing back up. She'd half-expected James to be awake and watching her, or more likely, Sirius to have arrived for morning tea and been careless where he was stepping, but instead Lily found no one.
There was only an almost solid haze, though she could see through it, as if heat were pouring off some fire and weighing on the air.
An invisible someone was standing on the chamomile.
She should have been frightened, but she merely turned her wand and jetted water at the heavy-looking air. It framed a cloaked shape for a moment, pooling over stooped shoulders and a bowed head, and then Severus Snape, only slightly wet, pulled off an Invisibility Cloak.
He stared at her, meeting her eyes. "Lily-"
"You're not welcome here," she said coolly, ending the spell and keeping her hand clutched around her wand. "And I don't recall giving you a forwarding address."
She'd have to improve the wards, later, preferably before James woke and worried and tried to do it himself. She was so much better at wards- though apparently not good enough.
"No," he agreed, echoing her tone as he shook scattered drops out of his hair with as much dignity as possible. "That you didn't."
She should have soaked him more. His hair could use a good wash.
He never could take care of himself properly.
"And I must say I'm surprised," Severus said, with a touch of a sneer. "I would've expected Potter to manage to get you at least a manor."
It was a little house, still bigger than the cottage she'd dreamed of, but she felt for the first time defensive of its size. They'd picked it out before James lost his parents, and though they'd talked about taking his parent's home, Lily didn't think she could bear starting their marriage in shadows of loss and memory anymore than James could. They were new. The house was, too. "It's our house," she said, a touch angrily. "I love it."
A flash of old awkwardness danced across Sev's face and then the sneer was back in place. "I suppose you would."
"What do you want?" Lily demanded impatiently, lifting her wand. She'd had too many years of this game, and she'd outgrown it years back. It felt like a long time ago now.
Still, she was too impatient, perhaps. She hadn't seen Sev since school, except across streets and alleys without so much as a wave, and already she was wishing her once-friend gone. It made her feel a little sorry for them both. His expression looked sorry now, too.
"I came to offer you a last chance, Lily."
"Oh," she said, horrified. She almost lowered her wand in surprise but thought better of it. "I wish you wouldn't." She suspected, she knew, that he was still with Mulciber's crowd, and she knew where they were, but in her heart of hearts she hoped he was better than that. If only by a bit.
He wrung the glimmering Invisibility Cloak in his hands, presumably to get the water out. His knuckles were whiter than the rest of him. "Lily…I don't want to see you dead."
"I'd rather see you dead than with Voldemort," she said, quietly, and watched him wince. She wondered if it was in response to the name or to her.
He didn't deny it. "I hope you don't mean that," he said instead.
"Is this the part where you tell me your Dark Lord is merciful to give us another chance to take his side- especially a Mudblood like me?" Lily asked, more flatly and cruelly than she could remember hearing her own voice in a very long time.
Severus' jaw slackened. "He is anything but merciful," he said rapidly, half-hissing it. "You don't know what I've -
"I don't care to know," she said. "Get out of my garden, Snape."
He jumped out as if snake-bit, moving onto the little walkway between the garden bed and the grass.
"You think you'd all get the idea," said Lily, throwing back her head a little to push her hair off her face. "We're against you. All of you."
His expression stiffened. "I grasp that concept perfectly well," said Snape. "We're not blind to your little army following us around. Black and Potter appear to lack even the remotest competence at surreptitiousness."
James and Sirius weren't exactly subtle, Lily knew, and the motorcycle didn't help. But she still bristled at the slight. "Sorry," said Lily, lifting her wand a little, "but by Potter, are you referring to James- or me?"
The molten blackness of his eyes showed no emotion, but they seemed to darken almost imperceptibly. Lily couldn't distinguish his pupils from the irises anymore. "Ah yes, Mrs. Potter," he said silkily. "I suppose you spend your days gallivanting with Black as well, when you're not playing housewife."
"I really don't care what you think," she said, and stepped towards the door.
"Please," said Snape, looking as if his neck was being wrung to squeeze the word out. "Listen to-"
"We're not going to join you," snapped Lily, still keeping her wand on him and reaching behind her for the doorknob. "And Regulus Black, at least, asked politely-"
"The Dark Lord doesn't want you anymore," said Snape lowly. "He doesn't ask twice."
Her hand froze on the knob mid-turn. "Then what is it he wants with us?"
"He doesn't care about you," said Snape, in a rapid-fire hiss. "Not yet. The Dark Lord has your names, Lily Potter, you and all your impudent friends, and he doesn't care what sort of blood you might possess or have married into, only that you're standing in his way."
"Yes," she said. "We are."
"Don't sound so pleased with yourself! You're all marked- your time's coming- but Lily, you and Potter – he'll let you go. He'll let you live. All you have to do is stand down."
She didn't respond. Snape seemed to find this heartening, and stepped forward a touch, stooping his head and plunging on. "Pride," he spat. "It will destroy you. You can't stop him, Lily. Who do you think you're saving, you and your precious Order with its pureblood children and their insipid pride- the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts- oh, yes, we know exactly who you are."
"We're not hiding," said Lily. "We're not the ones wearing masks."
"And that is your downfall," he said, black irises swallowing the whites of his eyes. "He's going to start coming for you fools. Day by day you are writing your own death sentences and this is the only chance you will have at reprieve. Today, you can leave. Run away- take a honeymoon, move if you must, but defy him again and he will find you wherever you go. You're not the only side with foreign allies. Nowhere will be safe, unless you stand down. You don't see the MacMillans rising up," he said, growing more desperately angry. "Nothing from the Spinnets or Scrimgeours or even the godforsaken Weasleys. No noise out of the Crockfords or Delaney-Podmores-"
That wasn't entirely true but Lily thought better of saying as much. "I've never sat back simply because that was what everyone else was doing." She met his eyes. "Or have you forgotten, Snivellus?"
This time his features betrayed nothing. "No," he said carefully. "I forget nothing. I am only trying to give you one last chance to save you from yourself. Else you best pray- pray- it is years before his eyes turn to you." He made a motion as if he was going to step closer and reach for her hand, but stopped as she straightened out the wrist of her wand hand. The Invisibility Cloak hung limply in his hand, catching the shimmer of morning glinting in the air and off the dew glistening on grass blades and flower buds.
He must have been waiting beside her door for some time to say this to her, standing on her flowers. Snape knew exactly how early she'd be up in summers. She used to run over to his house first thing after she got up, though he was always already waiting. Lily pulled her lips back under her teeth, and watched her old friend for a moment.
"Seventh year," she said at last, and the curt words tasted of long ago on her tongue though it was little more than a year past. "Miss Crouch. Was that you? Sev?"
He said nothing for a moment, then, quickly, "That's irrelevant."
She shook her head, back-and-forth, very gently. "You'd best pray for yourself."
"Lily," said Snape, and she flinched because this time her name was a plea. "Don't throw this chance away so carelessly." She thought he was forcing himself to speak softly. "Shouldn't you see what Potter has-"
"I'm his wife," said Lily, hurling the words at him even as she flung open the door to her house. "I can speak for us both. So you tell him, your Voldemort, you tell him we said to try. Come on then, come and get us. The Order's waiting."
He stared at her, paling. Lily wondered if he would tell him, or if Voldemort would simply pluck it out of his head.
"You silly girl," breathed Snape.
"Quite possibly," said Lily. "Telling me to stand down, though- what do you call that?"
She stepped back through the open door, studying his by-now anxious expression. "You don't know me at all," said Lily Potter.
And she flicked her wand.
The door shut in his face. She made another gesture, swishing it, and the locks clicked into place.
Lily took a deep, steadying breath and found her hands had started shaking, worse than after the fight against the dementors in Holyhead, worse than the first time she saw Voldemort, or when the ground shook, too, with the giants crossing the Channel.
She strode towards the bedroom, quickly, speeding up until she was racing through her house and bolting towards James.
He looked sound asleep, but when she stopped short at the edge of the bed, breathing hard, he cracked open his eyes. To his credit he didn't bolt upright, but barely moved, reaching to the night table for his wand.
"'S'matter?" he said, still lying down and rubbing at the sleep gunk in his eyes. "Who died?"
"Nobody died," said Lily immediately. "Not today."
James sat up and put on his glasses. "Alright, what did Sirius do then?"
She held onto the bed post, leaning forward. "Haven't seen him yet, so I don't know the latest. And no, it's not Remus or Peter either, nothing like that, James."
He tried to untangle himself from the covers, to no avail. "You look sad… The last time you looked like that there was a dead dog on the doorstep." Lily remembered. It hadn't even been their dog, just the neighbors'. It was why they didn't let the cat out anymore. At least one of the Death Eaters seemed preoccupied with pets.
"Do I?" she said absently, and pulled herself up onto the bed, sitting cross-legged and sinking into the mattress. "Snape was here."
He was getting better. James didn't react, though she could tell by the vein that appeared on his arm what he thought of that news. "Oh?" he said. "Ol' Sev?"
"That's funny," said Lily, with a glare. "I called him Snivellus."
"I love you."
"I still love you," James assured her, still smirking and finally kicking himself free of the covers and tossing them off the bed entirely.
"Don't you want to know what he wanted?" asked Lily, dodging as James plunged to kiss her.
His brows lifted towards his very mussed hair. "Oh, I know what he wanted. And you'll tell me what he said he wanted," he added, flopping back, out of her reach, as Lily went to hit him.
"Gave us a last chance to stand down."
"What, me too?" said James, amused. "From You-Know-Who?"
"Oh, don't call him that, it isn't funny- yes. Threats and ultimatums, the usual."
James touched her wrist lightly, and she tilted her chin up to meet his eyes, which looked rather soberly brown at the moment. "Didn't try to Imperius you, though," he muttered thoughtfully, and it wasn't quite a question.
She thought about that for a moment, let James pull her closer. Her hands weren't shaking anymore. "I'd only have thrown it off," she murmured confidently.
"Yeah. You're good like that. Told him to shove it, hm?"
"Essentially." Lily hesitated, because it hadn't quite been the usual. "He didn't want us to join this time, James. Only to stand down."
"What, Snape told you to stand down?" He was frowning in concern, but there was still the tug of a smile in the corner of his eyes.
"We said no," she informed him, letting him slide an arm around her waist and pull her back against the propped-up pillows.
"I wouldn't have said it so nicely."
"I wasn't at all nice," said Lily, letting annoyance seep in.
"Right. And again, I wouldn't have said it so nicely."
She leaned back against him, his warmth almost too-hot in this summer weather. His skin was still pinker than usual from sleep. James blew on the back of her neck, making her start a little.
"He stepped on the chamomile," she told him, feeling rather muzzy. "It looked crushed."
"I'll plant more."
Lily found herself thinking maybe she had left bed too early, that really it might be quite nice to stay in all day, and that it was a good deal more comfortable with the covers off and James awake…
There was a whoosh from downstairs and an immediate clatter.
"Not the Floo," muttered James against her neck, his head half-under her hair.
"PRONGS!" bellowed a voice from downstairs.
They waited to hear what was wrong before they moved.
"GET OUT OF BED! BIG DAY AHEAD OF US!"
Lily laughed a little as James made a very small, unhappy sound, before muttering, "I'll kill him…" She sprang up.
"I'M SCRAMBLING EGGS!"
"Sirius does make good eggs," said Lily, smirking, as James slid his legs off the bed and blinked at her.
"Funny, given that he's such a bad egg…"
She reached for the nearest balled-up shirt, the golden bird showing through even inside-out, and tossed it as his chest. "You both are."
James caught it perfectly, of course. "We both are," he said, and smiled.
Lily really liked being Lily Potter, quite a lot. She hoped Snape was wrong. He was wrong quite a lot, whatever he thought, at least in the company he kept. She could hear pots banging as Sirius rummaged through the cupboards downstairs. He never could remember where she kept things.
"You know," James said, lifting his finger to his lips in a funny sort of shush as he reached under the bed for his shoes, "speaking of good eggs and all, there really is no one I'd rather have on my side than you, Lils."
"Not even Sirius?"
"Oh, he might be prettier, but you're a better bet in a fight."
Lily felt a bit selfishly proud of that. It was starting to feel, somedays, like James was her best friend along with everything else, even though Sirius was his. "You're a pretty good choice, too, Potter."
He looked up at her, still searching. "No regrets?" he said, almost teasingly but not quite.
She knew he was thinking of Severus and rolled her eyes. She didn't know what was coming but she hadn't budged an inch as Lily Evans- except over James, but that was right- and Lily Potter certainly wasn't giving ground either. "Never."
"Good," said James, jumping up and stifling a yawn. "You won't tell Sirius I said that, though, right?"
"Cross my heart," she said, and took his hand, and they went out together to defy the day.