A/N: So…last chapter. Oh my word. Even I can't believe we're really here. There's really not much to say. Here's the chapter, end-of-story speech is at the bottom there. I really hope you enjoy this last one. Sorry for the age and a half I took to write it – I just really wanted it to be perfect. I had to rewrite the middle about ten thousand times before I was pleased with it; but it was worth it because I think you'll like it.
This chapter, you should listen to…
First few paragraphs: Come On, Come Out, A Fine Frenzy
Getting ready/pre-ceremony: Lisztomania, Fences, 1901, Rome, all by Phoenix
Ceremony: Falling Slowly, Once movie soundtrack
During Dance: Reasons to Love You, Meiko
Afterward: Bookends, 500 Days of Summer soundtrack
The summer sun is setting now, high in the sky like some golden orb smoldering in some glorious fire from the heavens, spewing remnants of its light in the space around it like messy, bleeding water colors. I'm sitting in the backyard, on the patio swing I sat in so many times as a child, and I'm watching it happen, watching these vivid colors mixing and swirling and inspiring something beautiful in me, something that I can't exactly put my finger on.
Today's been a long, strange sort of day and; as I've done on many other long days this year, I think I ought to write about it.
Petunia's wedding was this afternoon. All the preparation, all the melt-downs and tantrums and tears and hours planning – it all came down to this afternoon. It took place in Vernon's stately garden – he and his family live in the nicer, exclusive side of London and have this ridiculously huge plot of land that looks like it was planted in the middle of the British scene from a fairytale, all greenery and shrubs and flowers spilling out of every orifice.
The wedding was set for twelve thirty, but we were there by eight in the morning. Vernon's parents decided they wanted everyone here in the morning so that there were no commute worries and offered us their spare bedrooms to get ready. Obviously, we took immediate use of them.
Being eight o'clock in the morning, I was barely awake, stumbling around half-dead through the halls, my voice echoing through the marble tunnel as I wondered aloud where my pantyhose was. Voices and bodies clashed as we attempted to find everything. Mum went hysterical several times, because she'd look for something, not find it, scream, and then have it turn up in some bizarre place minutes later. She spent most of her time screaming at someone or crying – she was in such a state and I wished I was more alive/coherent/honorable so I could help her out a little. She looked like she needed it – Dad had been hailed by the Dursleys to help the decorators set up and Petunia was shrieking for something or another every few seconds.
I was about to slip into my pink bridesmaid dress, but it felt odd, getting so dressed up without my best friends, primping and being silly beside me. They were obviously coming to the wedding later, but I found I didn't want to face all the preparation alone. Besides, I'm sure Mum wouldn't mind a couple of extra hands running around, getting things done. So I slipped out to borrow the telephone and I asked Alice and Livvy to come over to Vernon's place and get ready with me. Both of them said yes; and after I gave them the address, they were over within a few minutes, armed with dresses and in Alice's case, make-up.
"Hey, darling," said Alice, giving me an affectionate hug. "You okay? You looked slightly…harangued."
"That's putting it lightly," I complained, though I returned her hug and gave Livvy one too. "My mum's going mad, so all of us have to."
"It's all right," said Livvy soothingly. "We're here now. Let's get dressed – we can worry about everything else afterwards."
"Sounds good," I said gratefully. Even just hearing her tell me to calm down made me feel better, saner, more myself. "Now if only I could get into this dress…"
"Were you eating too many chocolates again?" Livvy clacked her tongue at me and came to help me squeeze into the dress, managing to zip it up and not completely cut off my circulation. "When was this sized?"
"Over Easter," I said.
"Well, you're lucky you're so damn skinny," said Livvy. "You should be obese by now – but actually, this dress is rather flattering."
"Thank goodness," I said, staring into my reflection. "I was afraid it wouldn't fit."
"We could always alter it magically," Alice reminded me as she took off her pajamas and replaced them with her dress. "But I can't guarantee success with that one."
I snorted and picked up my shoes from the corner, slipping my feet into them. "I wouldn't let either of you near my dress. I'd Apparate into town and beg someone to help me. Perhaps even bribe."
"Oi, Alice, do you have any lipstick that would look good in this?" Livvy asked Alice as she put on a pair of small pearl earrings. She looked very pretty in a knee-length red frock with a scooped neckline. "I don't want anything too bright, though."
"Try this one." Alice rooted through her bag and pulled out a tube of lipstick, tossing it to Livvy before turning her attention back to her eye-shadow.
"Thanks," said Livvy, opening it and examining the color. "Yes, this looks about right."
I crossed the room and picked up the clip Mum had made me this morning. It was basically a freshly cut pink flower from Vernon's garden taped to a tiny old clip I'd had when I was younger – she put it together in all of about three seconds, right in front of me, and stuffed it in my hands before scampering off to do something else.
"Hey, that's cute," said Livvy, noticing me putting it in my hair. "Where did you get that clip?"
"Mum," I said.
"Pretty." Livvy smiled and smacked her lips one last time to admire her lipstick. "And this color is luscious, Alice, thank you."
"It's nothing." Livvy threw the lipstick and Alice caught it, tucking it safely back in her bag. Her eye-shadow was done to perfection, as usual, and now she was applying her own lipstick. I picked up her bag and rooted through it to find a glossy pink sort of thing – I didn't want too much on my lips, but a little would be nice. Alice noticed me looking once her lipstick was done and came to help me.
"This should do," she said, steadying my head with one hand and applying the lipstick for me (without asking) with the other. "Yes, yes…lovely. You are a real beauty, Lily Evans, when you feel like it."
"I wish," I said, smacking my lips and taking another peek in the mirror. "I feel like rubbish."
"You don't look it." Alice smirked and put on her shoes. "There, done," she said, giving us a twirl so we could admire her short periwinkle dress with matching periwinkle shoes (that I must borrow some day because they are adorable). "What do you think?"
"Very nice, Alice," I said, grinning. "Honest. You look incredibly beautiful."
Alice gave me a sly smile and batted her eyelashes at me. I laughed, and I was about to say something, but Mum suddenly burst dramatically into the room, her eyes practically falling out of her face with worry.
"Lily, need you!" she said, gasping for air. "Petunia needs help with her hair and make-up, and we're short twenty chairs, so we have to run out and get some, and the food tables are defective, and we can't find Petunia's bouquet, and I'm still not ready yet—"
"Mum, breathe," I interrupted. "Alice can do hair and make-up for Petunia; Livvy can Apparate out to town for chairs and arrange some flowers from the backyard, she loves doing that; I can fix the food tables and you can get dressed."
Mum started as she realized Alice and Livvy were in the room – in her flurry, she had evidently missed their presence in the room. But she got over that quickly – she needed them and she was thrilled to have them, as Alice had predicted.
"Can you do that for me, girls?" she asked, her eyes shining.
"Sure," said Livvy. "Let me have a look at the other chairs so I can mimic it." She disappeared downstairs to do just that.
"Definitely," said Alice, beaming and picking up her make-up bag, although her smile was a little less than sincere. "I'll get right on that. Lily can tell me where the room is."
"Thank you so much," Mum said blissfully. In truth, she looked close to tears with hysteria and relief. "That would be such an enormous help."
"I'll be downstairs fixing the table, then," I said. "And I'll help Livvy with the flowers."
Mum thanked us about a thousand times more before I pushed her out the door and into what had become a temporary dressing room. I only left once she began putting on her dress – Mum is about as easily distracted as I am and I wanted to make sure she had at least half a brain on her current task before I left her – and then I went downstairs to distract Vernon's family so I could fix the table magically without witnesses.
It wasn't a tough job – being as clumsy as I am, I'm pretty good at repairing the things I break in a bad moment – so I got a jump-start on the flowers before Livvy arrived. She didn't take very long either (Alice was the one with the eternally long job), which left us plenty of time to sit together in the garden, making Petunia a new bouquet.
As Livvy put the roses we'd picked in color order on her lap, she sighed a mournful, shallow sort of sigh.
"I just love weddings," she said. "It's such a…I dunno, a pure thing. A man and a woman, giving themselves to each other and promising to love one another for the rest of their lives."
"Sadly, it doesn't always stay that way," I pointed out, gathering some white flower I don't know the name of to balance all the pink. "Weddings are the fun part. The marriage is what you have to work at."
"I know…but I still love that fun beginning part," said Livvy. "It's like the start of an adventure, the start of bigger things yet to come."
"I'm not entirely sure Petunia's wedding will feel that way," I said, rolling my eyes. "Vernon has all the romance of an egg-salad sandwich. I don't know how on earth my sister – a girl I always thought was clever – chose him."
"That's not always for you to understand," Livvy countered. "Their relationship is theirs. Maybe Vernon is very romantic when he's around Petunia."
I snorted. "The closest Vernon gets to openly loving another is when he smothers his toast with jam every morning at breakfast."
Livvy paused, both with breath and with her flower arranging, and I looked up to make sure she was all right. She had a very fragile look on her face, like she was this close to bursting into tears, right here and now, with all the lovely make-up Alice had helped her with.
Part of me wanted to ask if she was all right, but another more rational part of me shut that other part up, knowing as it somehow did that Livvy would tell me in a moment or two.
And she did.
"Russ and I talked about getting married sometimes," she said, so quietly I had to lean in a little to hear her. "At night, when we'd cuddle and just talk about things, he would ask me if I'd still love him enough to marry him when we were done with school. I told him I couldn't imagine spending my life with anyone else. We'd make wedding plans, honeymoon plans…the whole lot of it. And I always thought…you know, maybe we could get married in the next couple of years, live together for the rest of our lives."
Livvy was very close to tears, sitting there with those flowers, in her beautiful red dress. I was kind of at a loss for words, unsure of how to respond to this.
Putting my hand on her knee, then, I said, "Well…if it's too difficult for you to be here today, I'll understand."
"I'd feel horrible no matter where I am, so I figure, I might as well stay with my best friends," said Livvy, sniffling and tucking her hair back. "I'm sorry, I'm being a little silly, I know…"
"You're not silly," I said firmly. "You two loved each other and I can understand that. It's only been a month or so and you've been extraordinarily brave."
Livvy shook her head, chuckling softly. "I've been a lot of things, but I've never been brave," she said. "Not like you or Alice. For that month or so, I've been lonely and miserable and grateful and confused. I've been selfish, resenting you and Alice sometimes, because you have your wonderful relationships and you're happy when I can't be. I've cried myself to sleep more nights than I'd like to count. It's all I can do to get out of bed every morning. Everyone asks me how I feel and I say I feel fine, but I'm a mess and I don't remember how not to be. I'm here, but that's all. I'm not brave. I'm never going to get over Russ."
"Livvy, if you need someone to keep you company, you can always call me or just Apparate over," I told her, my voice quivering slightly. "And it's…perfectly normal to hate anyone in a relationship. I don't love you any less for it. And…the fact that you're here is commendable. Being brave doesn't mean you're perfect and okay and over it. It just means…it means that you're trying. That's all any of us can ask of you."
Livvy looked at me, her brown eyes large and shiny, her gaze unwavering. "I don't know what to do with myself, Lily," she said.
"None of us do," I said. "With the Order and all this, I feel like I'm going through a roundabout, never sure if I should get out now or keep running around in circles. Add in the fact that you've lost Russell…of course you feel out of it. But it's okay. I do believe you're going to figure it out – that you're going to be fine."
"I can't seem to stop crying long enough to consider that," said Livvy wryly.
"I've heard crying is the body's natural process for getting rid of hormones related to stressful emotion," I offered. "Crying can be a good thing. Get it out of you, you know?"
Livvy's lower lip trembled, but tears didn't come.
"No," she said. "Today's a happy day, a unity for two people who are committed to each other and want to remain so forever. I don't particularly want to cry today."
"Sounds good." I kept my voice gentle, passive, leaving her room to speak if she needed it, but she didn't. She wiped her eyes – carefully, so as not to smudge her eye make-up – and continued arranging flowers, like nothing had ever happened even though we both knew it had. And, tentatively, carefully, I let myself fall back into our task as well, asking Livvy's opinion on certain flowers and giving her my opinion on the ones she'd already ordered.
Roughly twenty minutes later, the bouquet was ready and Livvy disappeared into the house to give them to Mum. It was already nine thirty and the morning seemed to be an unusually cooperative one – all sunny skies, no clouds to speak of, just the slightest bit of playful wind.
The backyard was shaping up quite nicely as well, with all the white furniture, the chairs Livvy had secretly cloned when no one was looking, the refreshments coming in and being placed on the table by waiters dressed in black and white. The cake was sitting in the kitchen, immaculate and beautiful – and free of charge, after what they did to the first one and the fuss Mum threw.
Small tables with small vases of flowers were set all around the extraordinarily emerald grass, around the white aisle Petunia would seen be walking down, with the idea that people could sit at their tables, watch the ceremony, and then eat. Some ways away from this, a large plastic sheet for people to dance on was set up. The band was due at noon to set up and perform.
Much of the morning passed in a blur from that point, a blur of white and pink and flowers and Mum screaming. Alice, Livvy and I were herded all over the Dursley's property, doing something or another, and we were tired out by the end of it, even with magic. We had to distribute glasses and napkins and plates and goodness-knows-what-else to every table; we had to help trim the already-trimmed bushes; we had to help mop up the bottle of nail-polish Petunia spilled and calm her down when she knocked over the bleach Mr. and Mrs. Dursley brought in and cried.
And, if that wasn't bad enough, we were given the wonderful job of entertaining Melina, Summer, and Isabelle – Petunia's other bridesmaids – when they arrived on the scene at noon.
"You couldn't get me something to drink, could you, Lily?" Melina asked me haughtily. "I'm parched!"
"Ooh, yes! Do you have fresh India tea with two spoons sugar and just a dash of skim milk?" Summer asked eagerly. "That would be lovely!"
Summer wasn't as unbearable as Melina (the bitch) or Isabelle (the anxious princess) but she did have her moments.
"I could do with a nice, freshly-squeezed lemonade with four spoons sugar," said Isabelle.
"Same for me, but only three spoons sugar," Melina said. "I'm watching my weight."
"Sorry, but all I can offer you is strawberry punch or a soda," I said testily. "And they're all on the table over there."
"It's been a long journey over here," Melina declared. "Amy had the chauffeur today, so I had to drive here myself. I can't possibly cross the entire garden to get drinks."
"I've been getting ready for this wedding all day—" I began heatedly, but fortunately, Livvy chose this moment to ask me to have a final check on the bouquet and I had to leave. Melina huffed irritably, but ended up making Isabelle get the drinks by saying the exercise would do her good. I swear, Isabelle will become an anorexic, the way Melina makes cracks at her (extremely skinny) figure.
"Thanks for that," I said to Livvy once we were safely on another side of the garden. Both of us knew perfectly well Petunia already had her bouquet and was very pleased with it. "I was ready to hex her."
"Don't mind her," Livvy said. "C'mon. Alice says it's already ten past noon and we ought to be ready to start greeting guests."
"I'm sweating like a hog," I complained. "Look at me!"
"You look beautiful," said Livvy sweetly. "Stop worrying."
I sighed, but I knew it was no good saying anything else, so we began making our way back up to the house. Guests were expected to come to the front door, take a drink, walk through the long route to the back door so they could admire the Dursley's home (which was admittedly gorgeous) and then wander out to the yard, where they could sit and nibble on appetizers. Mum and Dad want me, as Sister of the Bride, to join them and the Dursley parents for welcoming duty. Lucky, lucky me.
Livvy walked with me to the house, giving me her silent moral support, but once we got there, Mum swooped down upon us, whisked me away, and told Livvy to find Alice and relax after all her help. Livvy obediently disappeared and left me there with the four parents – and the dull work began.
Since the Dursleys are rich and influential, they have about a million friends/acquaintances/family members, and pretty much all of them have been invited to the wedding. They all file through the house and I'm expected to smile mechanically and offer to fetch them a drink. Most of the time, they do make me get them one. It's a dreadfully boring job – plus, it makes my cheek muscles ache – but I'm forced to do it…
…until a torturous twenty minutes later, a group of familiar faces show up.
I didn't notice them at first, so busy was I trying not to spill champagne on my dress as I poured my hundredth glass that afternoon. But then I heard a familiar voice say, "Lily? Is that you?"
I turned on instinct (mercifully, I did not spill any champagne in the process) and there, I saw the Marauders (minus James) and Frank standing before me in matching tuxedos, grinning away at me. It was Sirius who had spoken. The anvil in my stomach that had been steadily growing that day suddenly lifted and flew away. I put the glasses down on the counter, forgetting them instantly, and ran forward to greet them all.
"Oh, I'm so glad you're here," I said, hugging each boy in turn. "You're not going to make me get you champagne, are you?"
"It doesn't sound half-bad," Sirius said mockingly, his eyes glittering with mischief.
"If I had something non-breakable to smack you with, I would," I said, though I didn't sound convincing with that huge smile on my face. "Get your own damn champagne. It's out in the backyard."
"Where's Alice?" Frank asked.
"She's outside in the backyard as well, likely with the champagne," I said. "You'll have to go find her, I'm afraid. I haven't seen her for about an hour."
"Right-o," said Frank. "I might get some of that champagne while I'm at it…"
"Do you mind fetching some for me, old boy?" Sirius inquired.
Frank rolled his eyes and this was answer enough. Sirius mumbled something about bad friends, but went outside with Frank for a drink, maybe also to find Livvy. Peter, also interested in the talk of champagne, followed them out, leaving me alone with Remus.
"Hey," I said. "How are you?"
"All right," said Remus amiably. "It was a project getting out of the house, though, so I hope you don't mind that we're not exactly on time."
"It's fine," I said, smirking. "I feel your pain. My place has been a bit of a madhouse as well. Where are you all camping out right now? And where is James?"
"I knew you'd ask," said Remus with a smirk to match mine. "As it happens, he got held up at home – his mum needed him to do something for her before he came to the wedding. We had to Apparate here without him. We're all at Sirius's place at the moment. I'm sure James told you – Sirius's uncle died a while back and left him a bit of gold and a house, so we've ditched our parents to be there. Well, except James…he's sorting out his affairs at home before joining us."
"Sounds like me, then – we're all in transition," I said. "Livvy's mum has some contacts in real estate, and they're trying to help me and the girls out, but we haven't exactly gone flat-hunting yet. Or job-hunting."
"We don't have jobs yet either," said Remus, laughing. "Well, I mean, unless you count me and Peter bagging groceries at Tesco. It pays a pittance, but it's better than nothing. Barely."
"I assume you have bigger aspirations than bagging groceries," I said, grinning.
"Of course," said Remus reasonably. "But the more I think about it, the more I think I'm just going to work for the Order full time. I don't really know what else I want to do."
Something in my stomach knotted and cooled several degrees in temperature, but I fought to keep my face clear of this turbulence.
"I always had an interest in Healing, and I may pursue it later, but I'm not entirely sure at the moment," I said. "It depends on what the Order wants me to do."
Remus shrugged. "That's the only thing that bothers me about joining the Order – I hate having so many factors in my life dependent on one thing."
"My life has always worked out that way," I said wryly.
Remus smiled. "I find that difficult to believe. You've always been quite resilient – lots of things keeping you busy."
I snorted loudly before I could stop myself, the déjà vu too much for my limited self-control to handle. "Why do people always think I'm resilient? I have never understood it. I'm…well, I'm not completely hopeless, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it resilient."
Remus shrugged. "You should give yourself more credit than that. You're quite extraordinary, you know."
"Where are you when I'm having one of my I-can't-do-anything-and-my-life-is-pointless chocolate binges?" I asked, smiling wryly.
"We all have those kinds of moments," he said, "but come on. You were top of our year, you were the Head Girl, you've single-handedly tamed my best friend and made him one of the happiest people in the world, and you somehow got Livvy through one of the worst periods of her life. I think it's extraordinary."
"I've had help," I pointed out.
"Everyone does," said Remus calmly. "But that doesn't demean what you do."
I stared at him for several seconds, just stared at him, and he stared back at me with that way he has – like he's x-raying you or something, able to look into your very soul without requiring your permission.
"Thanks, Remus," I eventually said, a smile working its way into my mouth. "It means a lot to me."
Remus shrugged again, a smile on his mouth too. "There's no need to thank me," he said.
"Well…I dunno, I just like knowing that we respect each other," I said. "I've always thought you were the calmest, most rational and sensitive out of the group – what you think of me matters. It always has."
Remus chuckled. "Well…in case you were worried, I've never had any complaints," he assured me.
"Good," I said genuinely. "So…do you want to sample some of that famous champagne outside?"
"Sure," said Remus.
Together, we walked out of the house into the garden. Behind me, I shouted out to Mum that I was done welcoming guests. I'm not sure she even heard me, but I'm sure she didn't miss me regardless. Hardly half of the people I did welcome even noticed me at all, even if I was getting them drinks. Besides, I was entertaining the guests and helping the ceremony run smoothly – that had to count for something, didn't it?
By the time we were supplied with drinks and some of the butterflies taking a wild excursion through my abdominal region were calmed, we found that Livvy, Frank, Sirius, Alice, and Peter had already found their table. Mum and I had made up a seating chart for every table (talk about another bloody boring job) and I had made sure we eight had our own table, somewhat near the aisle so I could make a quick escape to and from my position as a bridesmaid. Sirius was already doing much of my entertaining for me, telling us all a funny story about the day his favorite aunt, Andromeda, got married. Apparently, someone's wand malfunctioned and turned her hair bright blue, and she got married that way, finding it quite amusing. I laughed along, blissful to be back in the company of our little group. We hadn't all been together since Hogwarts, after all.
However, several minutes later, as Sirius began telling us the punch-line of some other joke, I heard someone call my name from across the yard.
My head whipped back by instinct and at once, I smiled.
James had finally made it to the wedding; and Merlin was I glad to see him.
I waved to him and began getting up out of my seat, trying not to tear my dress or knock something over on the table. Noticing this, Peter looked in the direction my eyes were in, and caught sight of James. He groaned.
"Yeah, figures he'd say your name instead of any of ours," said Peter, shaking his head. "I swear…"
"He spent years chasing her," Alice pointed out. "Let him have his fun."
"I remember the good old days, when she used to run away if dear old Jamie called her name," said Sirius remiscently. "Those were the days…"
I blushed and stuck my tongue at them both. They stuck theirs out at me in return, but by then, I was already stumbling through the grass towards James. He opened his arms wide to accept me; and when I tripped on my heel two paces away from him, he managed to catch me before I hit the ground.
"Hey," he said, grinning as he helped me to my feet, hazel eyes twinkling with mischief behind his glasses. "How are you, Lils?"
"Just fine," I panted, smoothing out my dress and checking my heel to make sure it wasn't broken. "You?"
"Mum was making some kind of cheesecake at home and decided she needed company," said James, chuckling. "I haven't the faintest idea how to cook, even with magic, so she decided to give me a crash course instead of letting me come here."
"It's okay," I said. "I love the tuxedo, by the way."
"And I love your dress." He grinned. "Pink is a nice color on you."
"I kept telling Petunia I couldn't pull off pink with this hair of mine, but of course she never listens to me," I said, rolling my eyes.
"Well, I think you look beautiful." He leaned in to kiss me, but I pulled my head back before he could.
"Sorry," I said. "You can't kiss me today. Alice will murder me and you if she finds you've done something to disturb the lipstick job she did for me this morning."
"Why do you even need lipstick?" James asked. "It's so fake-looking – and it makes you taste bad."
I couldn't help myself – I laughed aloud. "What? Do explain."
"Well, you have a certain taste when I kiss you, and lipstick screws it up," he said matter-of-factly, without the slightest bit of embarrassment. "Besides, your mouth is far too pretty for that gunk. Take it off, won't you?"
Charmed as I was, I knew Alice would be irritated, so I said, "It's my sister's wedding and I had to get dressed up. The lipstick stays."
James stared at me ponderously for several seconds, as though wondering how to respond to this. I crossed my arms and arched my eyebrow challengingly at him, daring him to do something about the situation.
Then, without warning, he launched himself at me and caught me in a kiss.
"Stop it!" I tried to push him off of me, but of course Mr. Quidditch Athlete Buff-pants overpowered me and held both my wrists in his one hand, securing them behind my back, and using his other hand to gently move my hair out of my face.
I wriggled as much as I could, but come on. I'm a soft little marshmallow compared to James Potter and we both know it. So I gave in and let him kiss me, long and luscious, right there in the middle of the backyard.
When he was satisfied, James let go of my hands and broke the kiss, grinning evilly at me. My lipstick had successfully been removed from my mouth and I pretended to smack him.
"If Alice asks, it's all your fault," I said.
"Like she could take me," he scoffed.
"You'd be surprised," I told him, smirking. "Now come on. Your friends want to see you."
"I've seen them every single day since graduation, Lily," James reminded me. "I think they're going to be fine if I take my time walking over there."
"Whatever," I said.
He took my hand in his, squeezed it tightly, and together we made our way back to the table. James was hailed by his friends (who, obviously, acted like they hadn't seen him in years and years) and he laughed as he plopped down in his chair between Sirius and Frank. Alice teased me about having withdrawal since I wasn't sitting by my boyfriend, but I ignored her and conversation started up again, as James described the experience he had making cheesecake with his mum.
We laughed until we cried, making us three girls grateful we had used waterproof eye make-up that morning. Upon noticing our make-up, then, Alice obviously got irritated by the fact that I was no longer wearing lipstick and threatened to hex James from under the table, where no one could see her. Remus and I immediately went into moderator mode, and we managed to get them to agree to a footsie fight under the table – which Alice won by shoving her shoe's heel into James's shin – and the argument was resolved. Somewhat.
Our careless joy continued on for quite some time, just talking and giggling and making bets and bribing Sirius to get us more champagne. I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt so free, or I'd laughed so loud, or I'd smiled so much. My cheek muscles ached like they had inside, when I'd been welcoming, but it was a million times better out here, among the people I loved, enjoying their company and groaning when Peter tried to sing some rubbish song out of tune.
However, the fun came to a halt as Mum hobbled out into the yard, wearing her fancy heels, and put her hand on my shoulder. Her eyes glistened with tears and the pungent scent of too much perfume filled my nose.
"Darling, it's time," she whispered in my ear.
"Okay," I whispered back, feeling my gut constrict just a little bit. "Give me a minute. Where do you want me to meet you?"
"Back sun-room," Mum replied.
"Right," I said. "Go, I'm coming."
Mum nodded and scuttled back out, her red hair – even brighter than mine – visible in the distance, almost as though her head was on fire. I felt for her, trying to organize this whole monstrous event practically all by herself. I gave my friends a significant look – they understood what was going on here – and I got up to follow my mother into the house, my heart pounding away in my chest.
When I reached the back sun-room, as ordered, most of the procession was there already. Mum was fussing around with the line-up, trying to pair up Vernon's groomsmen with Petunia's bridesmaids without having someone complain. When she saw me, she seized my wrist, handed me the ring Petunia had picked out for Vernon (I had to give it to her at the altar, since I was her maid of honor) and she forced me at the end of the line with some horrifically smug-looking guy that I can only assume is the best man. He looked pleased to be walking beside me and I find myself wanting to vomit.
As Mum becomes distracted trying to get the line-up together, tell the first bridesmaid/groomsman couple the signal to come out, and scuttle out to her seat at the front table, Mr. Best Man decided to initiate conversation with me.
"Well, hello there," he said smoothly.
"Hi." I didn't want to answer, but I also didn't want to be rude. This was my compromise.
"I don't think I've ever seen you before," said Mr. Best Man.
I managed a tight-lipped smile, but that was all. Mr. Best Man was a lot like the groom – a little on the plumper side of life, with a rather large jowl hanging down from his chin – and looking at him was not exactly an enjoyable experience.
"So…what's your name, love?" he asked.
"Lily," I said.
"Well, now, that's a pretty name," crooned Mr. Best Man. "Pretty name for a pretty girl. Have you got a boyfriend, Lily?"
"I do," I said. Honestly, I was just trying not to burst out laughing – or murder him.
"That's unfortunate," said Mr. Best Man. "Maybe you'd like to get a drink once the procession's over?"
"No, thank you," I said.
"Are you quite sure?"
Only now did I turn to look at Mr. Best Man, hideous jowl and all. He looked like a future member of Parliament. I narrowed my eyes at him, gave him my most obnoxious glare, and said, "Look. I've already told you I have a boyfriend. If you don't stop bothering me, wedding or not, I will kick you in the balls with these sharp heels and it will hurt like hell. I'd suggest you shut up and make this as painless as possible for us both. Understood?"
Mr. Best Man, at the mention of his precious balls, immediately stiffened and, pouting like a little kid, said, "As you wish, Lily."
"Good," I said curtly. "Now, c'mon. Mum gave the signal and we're supposed to go out. Smile."
Mr. Best Man grimaced at me, but there was not much else he could do. The procession line was moving. The priest and groom were already outside, waiting – the priest looking stately and statue-esque, Vernon looking smug – and since we had no flower girl, the flowers were already spread and all we had to do was walk out and take our places. We'd practiced this at some point, over the long, shapeless, wedding-filled days, and I remembered that I was supposed to stand closest to Petunia, as her sister and maid of honor.
The sunshine was bright and utterly un-English as we made our way out of the house and into the backyard. The band was playing some familiar procession tune I didn't actually know the name of. People turned to stare as we made our way down the aisle. I saw Mum crying quietly into her handkerchief – alone, because Dad was waiting inside with Petunia, since it was his job to lead her down the aisle and give her away. My friends gave me encouraging smiles from their table and I felt their support like a warm hug inside of me. I put on my best my-sister-is-getting-married-and-I'm-so-glad-for-her smile, tried to forget Mr. Best Man's arm linked with mine, and concentrated on trying not to slip and fall.
Nothing could go wrong today; my clumsiness could not ruin one of the most important days in Petunia's life.
After what felt like an age and a half, I finally made it to the altar, where I stood in my assigned spot and waited for the bride. The band made a dramatic pause in the music (a cue to tell Dad and Petunia to start walking out of the house) and then, almost all of a sudden, the bride and her father appeared.
Petunia looked radiant – so young and beautiful – in her white dress, her veil set in her dark hair, so much like Dad's. Her smile could've lit up the country on its own. Despite the fact that Vernon was the one waiting for her on the other side of the aisle, she was happy, happier than she'd ever been, and I melted a little for her.
Maybe I hated Vernon with every fiber of my being, but Petunia didn't, and I guess that's what marriage is about – honoring the fact that two people meant for one another, no one else, have found each other.
Dad brought Petunia to the end of the aisle, gave her a kiss on the cheek, whispered something in her ear, and sat in his seat by Mum. Mum's tears were flowing freely and he held her hand, holding her protectively against his chest, tears glistening in his eyes too. I'm sure they were remembering the day they did all this themselves – standing there at the altar, teeming with excitement, ready to make their vows and be together forever.
Standing beside my sister, her energy practically radiating off of her, I felt tears in my eyes too. Tuney, my big sister, the one who played with me and brushed my hair and yelled at me for borrowing her clothes, was really getting married. She was going to be Vernon's wife and she was going to move in with him and start a new life with him, a life that likely wouldn't include me. Dad really was giving her away today. And for the second time in a few hours, I thanked Alice for having water-proof make-up.
Finally, though, after a bit of prattling, the priest asked the big questions we'd been waiting months and months to hear:
"Vernon Dursley, do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do you part?"
"I do," said Vernon. His smug grin had somehow evaporated from his face, leaving him serious, as he took the little ring in Mr. Best Man's hand and slipped it on Petunia's finger.
"And do you, Petunia Evans, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do you part?"
"I do," said Petunia. Her voice was wobbly, her fingers shaky, with nervousness in her body, but she took the ring from my hand and slipped it on Vernon's finger.
The priest smiled at the two of them, almost affectionately, like a wiser grandfather.
"All right," he said. "Vernon and Petunia, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Vernon, you may kiss the bride."
The millions of guests sitting around the backyard exploded into applause (and Mum into a fresh wave of hysterics) as Vernon and Petunia kissed on the altar. I found myself bawling right along with Mum and I was glad when I could escape back to my friends, where I could cry in peace. My companions were, to put it lightly, bewildered by my tears.
"Oh, Lily, darling, what's wrong?" asked Alice, hugging me and stroking my hair. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, yeah," I sniffled, blowing my nose disgustingly in the tissue Remus silently handed me from over Alice's head. "Just…I don't even know."
Alice kept hugging me and asked Remus for another tissue, which she used to wipe my face. "Aww, it's all right, I understand," she said, although I'm pretty sure she didn't. "Now come along, there's a good girl. Stop crying."
"I'm not five years old, Alice," I said, half-laughing through my tears and hiccups. "Let me be."
"I just want to make sure you're stable," said Alice. "Livvy's been crying her eyes out the whole time as well."
"Has she really?" I softened at the sound of this. "Where is she?"
"She went to the bathroom to wash up – she's a complete wreck," said Alice. "Sirius went with her. And James went for champagne, before you ask – and Frank went with him." She looked vaguely irritated by this last part.
"I've never understood why people cry at weddings," said Peter conversationally. "I mean, it's just a wedding. Someone's getting married. What's there to cry about?"
"It's an emotional thing," I said. "She's my older sister, Peter. She and I grew up together. Now she's got a new family. She's ready to move on without me."
"Just because you guys don't live in the same house, doesn't mean you're not sisters," said Remus fairly.
"She's living with her husband from now on," I said flatly. "And…well, we haven't been close in years, so I highly doubt she'll bother keeping in touch."
Remus opened his mouth to counter, but at this exact moment, Frank and James returned from the champagne table, holding their glasses and grinning. Frank went to sit beside Alice and James came to sit beside me. In one glance at my extremely pink, tear-stained face, he somehow understood all the emotion currently dwelling in my gut and held my hand, letting me know without words that he was there for me.
"Hey," he said in an undertone. "You want some champagne?"
"Yes, please." Gratefully, I took his champagne glass and sipped some of it, trying to let the bubbles in the drink ease some of my anxiety. "Thanks."
"No problem," he said, smiling.
Alice, however, groaned loudly.
"Oh, would you believe it?" she grouched.
"What?" I asked, interested.
"Sirius keeps declaring champagne is the answer to all of life's problems and now I can see that he's right!" said Alice, rolling her eyes irritably. "Damn that Sirius."
The table laughed, thoroughly amused. James appeared ready to make another crack about champagne, his hand still holding mine protectively, when Mum suddenly appeared, still quite pink from all her crying.
"Hello, everyone," she said, smiling weakly and waving.
"Hello, Mrs. Evans," said Remus, pleasant as ever.
"Everything looks great – and the food's good," Frank volunteered.
"Thank you," said Mum, utterly pleased. "Erm…Lily, may I have a word?"
"Sure." I gave James's hand a last squeeze and got up to speak to my mother. She backed up a couple of paces and took a breath.
"Right," she said. "Well, Petunia and Vernon are going to have their first dance as a couple now. They're going to dance alone on the floor for a bit – then Petunia wants everyone else to join in with her. Could you and your friends lead that for me? You know, step on the floor and dance once Dad and I go out?"
"Of course, Mum," I said, smiling. "Let me herd them all to the dance floor – start the band and we'll be right there."
"Thank you." Mum's lower lip trembled with joy and she looked like she might burst into tears all over again. "Oh, Lily, your mummy is a right old wreck, isn't she?"
"It's all right," I assured her, smiling back and feeling my own tears surfacing just a little bit. "I think I can forgive you."
Mum gave me a warm hug and a peck on the cheek. "Thank you. Let me get Petunia ready. Hurry out please?"
Mum gave me one last, fond look before disappearing into the crowd of wedding guests, barking something at the band and sweetly ushering people towards the dance floor. I, in turn, returned to my friends and told them they were expected to dance – and fill Livvy and Sirius in on this when they returned from the bathroom. James smiled at me and we held hands again as we stood on the fringes of the crowd watching the dance.
It was a beautiful thing to see, if I'm honest. The band played something tenderly, achingly lovely, perfect for a couple just married a few minutes ago. Petunia, in her white dress, and Vernon, in his obviously expensive suit, held each other and danced, like they were in a place and time far away from here, sharing their own secrets.
Again, I loathe Vernon, and I don't believe he's anywhere near good enough for my sister, but she looked like she would rather die than be anywhere he wasn't. She looked like she was having the time of her life, dancing with him, and they were untouched in their innocence, twirling around the dance floor as though it was theirs and only theirs.
Twenty seconds later, Mum and Dad, in their parent-appropriate finery, stepped out and began to dance as well. They danced with surrender, with sadness, realizing that their oldest daughter was no longer theirs to protect and nurture. They had to let her go. Dad smiled down at his wife of twenty four years, his face full of love. Mum looked like she wanted to cry again, but she didn't – she held herself together – and she danced with more grace than a woman a decade younger than she.
This was obviously the cue for me, the sister of the bride, to come in and I did. James's sweaty hand linked with mine, we wordlessly got into our waltz position, his hand on my waist and mine on his shoulder, and we danced, losing ourselves in the music, in the magic of the moment.
Our friends came in after us – Alice with Frank, then Livvy escorted by Sirius, Remus with a cousin of mine and Peter with some girl on Vernon's side of the family – and gradually, others came too, pairing up and making the floor theirs. Couples and more couples, celebrating their lives together, filled that stately backyard and we just danced, swept away by it all.
However, as the climax of the song swelled, filling the air with its splendor, we opened conversation.
"So…today's it, huh?" said James. "Today's the day of the big wedding that you were so freaked out about."
"It is," I said with a sigh. "Petunia's wedding day. I still can't seem to wrap my head around the fact that it's actually here."
"Well…it is," he said. "And you're handling it well. It can't be easy, watching your sister sort of walk away from you."
I could only shrug. "She loves him," I said simply. "If he can make her happy – somehow – she deserves him."
James paused, seeming to weigh options out very quickly in his head.
"This could be us someday, you know," he said shyly, quietly.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I mean…all of this," said James, going the slightest bit pink. "The dancing, the champagne, the crap food. It…well…we could be next."
I paused as well, processing this remark, spoken so gently that the words were almost lost in the whirl of the dancers.
"Are you asking me to marry you?" I blurted out, in my usual boorish, insensitive way.
Instantly, James went cherry-red and I joined him, embarrassed by my own idiocy.
"Well…no, not formally," said James, smiling. "But…I dunno. It's an option we should…you know…keep open."
I went even redder at this, if it was possible. That night with my mother in the kitchen loomed suddenly in my mind – her amused expression, her girlish assumptions. Merlin, what a sense of déjà vu that was.
"So…you're saying that you maybe want to marry me," I said.
"I know how you are about commitment," he said respectfully. "I know that it frightens you and that you need a lot of time to think about something before you get into it. I am perfectly fine with that. But…well…if you want my two cents, I think we should get married some time. I can't really see myself with anyone but you."
I continued to blush, probably looking infected by now. "I'm your schoolboy crush of three years," I said gently. "And we're only eighteen."
"I know," he said. "I'm not saying we should do anything right away. But it's something we should talk about, you know? I mean, we love each other. You make me happy and I don't ever want to think about a day when you're not with me, when I can't touch you or talk to you or kiss you."
"That's so funny to think about," I remarked. "Me, the sheltered workaholic, with you, the messy trouble-maker. Who'd have known?"
"I knew," he said softly.
I pursed my lipstick-less lips and smiled at him, taking in every bit of that lovely face I knew so well – his long eyelashes, the full lips and lovely bone structure, the hazel eyes that can twist my arm and make me do anything he wants. I pulled him in closer to me and the smell of him – grass, coffee, and something indescribably sweet – filled me up, made me light and weightless, like I could fly away if I wasn't careful.
"And now I do too," I replied in his ear.
The music played on around us, people dancing and talking and writing more lines for their own love stories, but from here, I lay my cheek on James's shoulder, wrapping my arms around his neck and letting him hold me, not really dancing anymore but rotating slowly on the spot, removed from our world.
Everything about us – the sadness, the sweetness, the happiness, and everything in-between – seemed to overlap, natural like two blades of grass blowing together in the breeze. We weren't him and her – we were us, close and together in all the ways that counted.
Maybe Mum and James had marriage on the brain, but I didn't. In my opinion, marriage has always been something elusive, something larger than him or me. It's a rite of passage into a new kind of lifestyle – it's sacred and beautiful and something you can't do on a whim and expect to get right.
It's something you do when you know, know deep in your bones, that it's the logical next step; when there really aren't any reasons to say no.
I love James, I really do, but I'm not ready to commit to him that way. We've only been dating three months. We're close, yes; and we know each other, yes; and we have more than what most couples do after four months, yes; but for me, that's not going to cut it. I love him, and our relationship has solid foundations on respect and understanding, but it's young. We're young.
And I am, first and foremost, an emotional prude. I'm going to wait a little while before I dive into this one.
I think that makes sense now, to us both. As we stood on the dance floor together, wrapped up in each other, we knew we were going to be together in some way, some shape, whether or not we married later along the line – because as he had said, I couldn't imagine a day when he's not with me.
There's not much left to say, from that point on. Eventually, the dancing stopped, the cake was cut, the food was eaten and the bouquet was thrown. Alice ended up catching it. Then, as the party began to wind down and guests began to leave, I was separated from my friends, who had to go home as well. We all hugged and said good-bye, promising to see each other again soon. Sirius proposed an outing in London some time soon; James proposed a double-date with Alice and Frank in two days. We'll owl, call, whatever. Somehow, we will get in touch with one another and arrange something.
The sun was still high in the sky, high like afternoon, when Mum, Dad and I drove home. Petunia and Vernon were off in Vernon's car, after long and tearful parting embraces from my parents. I was their only child left in the car and much of the trip was silent, somehow trying to take in what had happened, the rift that we had all been expecting but now had to deal with. Petunia had officially become Vernon's wife and he had officially become her primary care-giver. She was in a new stage of her life and my parents didn't know how this part was supposed to go. Their hesitancy was almost tangible in the small, claustrophobic air of our little car.
We reached home as the sun was beginning to droop a little. Vernon's mansion isn't that far from the house, but Dad drove slow, seeming to be in his own world. We got out of the car and went into our tiny home, unlocking the familiar front door and walking down the familiar opening corridor. It somehow felt very empty, knowing Petunia wouldn't be sharing it for the foreseeable future.
Mum immediately declared the need for a nap and retired upstairs, still wearing the beautiful dress she'd bought for the wedding, still wearing her make-up from this morning. Dad, sensing that company was what she really needed, disappeared upstairs with her. And I, unusually somber, plucked my diary out of my bedside table drawer and brought it out here, to the yard, to the swing, where I sit now.
The light is fading now, evening blue starting to push down on the bright cerulean. The last flares of vivid orange light still linger near the horizon, like a dying wish. The swing creaks slightly on the left side, as it always has since we bought it, and I feel fragile somehow, as though if I breathe too hard or move too fast, everything will combust and leave me in the ashes.
I'm fully aware that this night is more than Petunia's wedding night. It's the final gateway, the final obstacle between me and The Rest of my Life. Just before he left with his friends, James whispered in my ear that he would come over some time in the afternoon to write the letter to Dumbledore, the one telling him we're going to join the Order. Alice, Livvy, and the boys all know – they're going to be sending their own membership letters soon enough – and we eight, we now-inseparable eight, will go wherever the Order wants us to go.
We'll find flats, support ourselves financially the best we can, definitely sharing the rent. We'll figure everything out. We'll be adults; we'll try to save the world. We'll support each other emotionally too.
Everyone has to grow up some time; and for better or worse, my age of innocence has ended. This world is big and cold and terrifying, but I'm as well-equipped as I will ever be. I have friends; I have my family; I've got ways to cope. I've also got a double-date in two days.
Maybe everything's not completely okay, with a war going on, but it's as close to okay as it will ever be.
I'm going to tell Mum and Dad tomorrow, about the letter. I want to give them some notice before their last baby bird leaves the nest. It's going to be rough on them, letting go of both their daughters so close together, but they've always been stronger and braver than I've given them credit for. They're going to do just fine. And so will I.
I now leave this entry with strangeness and sorrow, with love and bids farewell. You know, this diary has been one of my best friends this year, a silent guardian over my thoughts and dreams and fears and pointless rambles. It has watched me transform from an innocent, hopeful little girl to a woman. Can it really have been a year that did this to me? It's almost too much to believe; but I know it to be true.
Maybe I'll write in here again, maybe I won't. I don't really know what's in store for me next, as daylight continues to die and the coolness of the evening sets in. But you never know until you take that huge plunge forward.
Good-night and good-bye, then, diary. Until whenever.
A/N: So there you have it. An ending. And now you have your end-of-story speech, a big Zay tradition upon finishing a large story…
Right. Well, whenever I write a multi-chaptered story, it's always kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. I just write a chapter with a very vague idea of a plot in my head, and I post. It's not meant to be epic or anything. It's just…I dunno, something. And then you people, you wonderful readers from goodness-knows-where in the world, come and comment and make it bigger, somehow. You make it worth trying out and you get me excited to make that little bit of Something into my sun and earth for the next few months.
SSW was a bunch of random plot-bunnies gone wild. A lot of things in this story – Napoleon the kitty (who stays with Sirius, never fear), some of the random jokes and spiraling conversations, life after the first date – these were all things I'd wanted to write but didn't know where to put. It was also an exercise in plotting – which worked for the second half and not the first. It's been an experiment and it's been something I've adored trying out. It's been like a baby, really. It's frustrated me, it's tortured me, but I've loved it and nurtured it to the end.
Thanks, as always, for getting excited when I post and telling me exactly how it is, never holding anything back. It's been a ride – it always is – but it's been a good one, I think. Even if I look back on this story later some day and gag. It's the experience that counts after all.
And now that I've bored you all to death with that little ramble, thank you one more time, and please remember to leave your last review on your way out. If you ever want some more Zay-ness, you know where my profile is – it's linked somewhere at the top of the page.