Copyright Jo Rowling
Before: At the end of sixth year, Adam McKinnon tells Marlene he loves her, but she turns him down, and he starts dating Prudence Daly. In August, Lily, the Marauders, Donna, Sam Dearborn (a cousin of James's), and Marlene attend a protest in the Ministry, and then they go to Frank and Alice's wedding. On November 2nd, there is an attack on the annual conference of M.F.P. (Magic For Peace) members—an organization headed up by James's mother and including Sam. Mrs. Potter, having missed the conference, survives, but eighty-seven attendees, including Sam and Adam's sister, Sarah McKinnon, lose their lives. Such a blow to the magical community causes classes to be postponed, and students are allowed to return home to spend time with their families. Lily decides to stay at the castle, because she hasn't told her mother about the war.
Chapter 36- Soldiers
(Don't Fear) The Reaper
Mr. Denham was a tall, thin man of about fifty. He was completely bald, the top of his pale head reflecting the artificial light of his office. He had a yellow pencil mustache, small blue eyes, and a long, flat face. His black tie seemed to choke the narrow neck extending from it. The office in which he stood appeared well suited to him: neat, new, prim, and shiny, quite the opposite of the aurors' chaotic offices, from which Grace Potter had just come.
"Mrs. Potter," began Mr. Denham in a soft, inoffensive voice, as he offered the witch the chair in front of his desk. "Please, I hope that you understand the purpose of this meeting. It's merely a formality."
Evidently flustered by the lack of response, Mr. Denham sat down. "Now, Mrs. Potter..."
"Grace," amended the woman, quietly but firmly.
"Of course. I only have a few questions for you. I imagine that it has been a very difficult morning for you... I'm sorry to have to ask you to..."
"Mr. Denham, I promised Mr. Moody that I would assist him with the identifications as soon as I am finished here," Mrs. Potter interrupted briskly. "I don't take any offense at being asked to speak with you. Eighty-four people died this morning, I hardly think the fact that I ought to have been one of them is going to go ignored."
"A witch of your position..."
"Mr. Denham, I am aware that my position is the reason that I am sitting in your very nice office, rather than in an interrogation room downstairs. Believe me, I am quite grateful for that. But witches and wizards of the same status as I were killed and have killed today, so let's set aside the business of positions for now. Your questions, Mr. Denham?"
The wizard nodded. He folded his hands on the top of his desk, at last relaxing a little, though he still spoke formally. "You are member of the organization known as M.F.P., Mrs. Potter?" he asked.
"You were not at the conference in Rutland?"
"I was not."
"Where did you spend last night, in that case, Mrs. Potter?"
"I was at my home."
"There were others there as well?"
"My husband and two house elves."
"I see. And why did you choose to stay at home?" Noting his guest's hesitance, Denham added apologetically: "You understand that I must ask."
"Yes." The witch swallowed. "My husband is ill. He has been for some time. Healer Bergmar at St. Mungo's will be able to confirm this. Alex—my husband, has been seeing him for a year. The last few days have been particularly... uncomfortable, and so I stayed home with him."
"I'm very sorry to hear that."
"I'm very sorry to say it," replied Mrs. Potter lightly. "Of course, I hope that once confirmed, you will only share this information with those who need to know it. We haven't even told..." She stopped abruptly. "It's very personal."
The wizard nodded. "Mrs. Potter," he went on, businesslike again, "Had the organization, to your knowledge, received any threats before the conference? Pertaining to the conference or otherwise?"
"Not since July—the ones we all knew about."
"There had been no additional contact, that you know of, between death eaters and Magic For Peace?"
"None that I know of."
"Did any member that you spoke to seem worried about attending?"
"Almost all of them."
This surprised Denham. "Why?"
"Because of the war. Because of what happened in July."
"Were you worried, Mrs. Potter?"
"I—I suppose the problem is that I wasn't worried enough. If I thought... if I had truly believed that they were in any real danger, I..."
"You—would have stopped the conference?"
"No. I would have gone, too." She frowned, but a little life returned to her as she carried on. "Mr. Denham, if it isn't too much of an intrusion, I have a question for you." He nodded. "How does a group of witches and wizards murder eighty-four other witches and wizards without taking a single casualty of their own... without allowing for a single survivor?"
Denham unfolded his hands long enough for one to rub the shining skin on his head, as if smoothing back hair that did not happen to exist anymore. The other bony hand rested flat on the desk. "Eighty-seven witches and wizards," he said at length.
"Three more victims have been found."
"A reporter and two wizards who we believe were hired for security. So there were eighty-seven victims." His tone changed. He leaned forward, and a near perfect triangle formed between each of his elbows and the top of his head. "To answer your question, Mrs. Potter, the way you kill eighty seven witches and wizards without taking a single casualty of your own and without allowing for a single survivor, is the same method you would take in killing just one. You disarm him."
Now, Denham spoke over her. "Mrs. Potter, is it common practice at such gatherings as these for the members to turn in their wands? For security purposes?"
"No," said Mrs. Potter quickly. "No, of course not."
"Can you think of a reason why the members might need to use their wands, through the course of the conference?"
Sharply: "Perhaps to fend off attackers."
"And yet none of them seemed to have done so."
Mrs. Potter frowned deeply. "I don't understand..."
"I'm simply asking," Mr. Denham said, a distinct chill growing in his voice now, "How eighty-five wands ended up scattered across the hall, nowhere near their owners. Eighty five, because the two dead wizards hired for security seemed to have carried theirs."
"How is that...?"
"Possible? To disarm eighty-five witches and wizards?"
"My theory," said Denham, leaning forward, and, as if in response, Mrs. Potter straightened, so that her back stretched flat against the chair behind her, "is that they gave up their wands willingly."
"Why would your comrades give up their wands at such a potentially dangerous event, Mrs. Potter? For an event which you have said yourself gave them some anxiety?" Mrs. Potter nodded. "I imagine," said Denham, "they did it because someone that they trusted asked them to."
Mrs. Potter nodded again. There were tears in her eyes, but her expression remained stoic. She had already begun to understand, after all. "Did you call this a formality, Mr. Denham?"
"Yes, Mrs. Potter."
"That claim might be the only formality in the whole thing."
"I take formalities quite seriously, Mrs. Potter. Perhaps more seriously than your friends downstairs in the auror department... your husband's former coworkers in D.M.L.E. might."
"You mentioned my position," Mrs. Potter murmured. "Did you mean as a pureblood or as a member of M.F.P.?"
"Both. The combination of the two, really."
"I understand." Her hands shook a little, and she folded them purposefully on her lap. "You see, I was raised to believe that purebloods are untouchable. I was raised a Dearborn, Mr. Denham. My mother was an Abbott. My grandmother was a Selwyn. I was born a Dearborn, and I married a Potter. I never believed that I was better than anyone, but I don't think that I ever really understood the lie of it all... the way I was raised. Being an untouchable. My cousin Sam—who grew up with my son—was born a Dearborn, too. His mother was a Travers. She claims ties to Nott, Greengrass, and Ollivander lines, and Sam is one of those eighty-seven, so I'm not asking for your formalities, Mr. Denham."
"Then we'll both stop playing games."
"Your game is pretending to be scared, and mine is pretending to have the patience for this," said Mrs. Potter. "So you'll excuse me if I don't stop just yet. Your questions, Mr. Denham?"
Denham smoothed back his phantom hair again. "I believe we can cooperate, Mrs. Potter."
"Grace," she amended again.
"Yes. I'll need the names of those house elves..."
(Three Days Later)
The clock in the hallway had not yet struck eight, but Grimmauld Place was dark and practically silent when Regulus Black sat down to supper. He chose the sitting room and took a seat on the sofa directly in front of the fire. The crackling flames alone cut the quiet, and Regulus reflected that if he were not so used to the place, he might have found it a bit eerie. After a bit, however, Kreacher's creaking movements in the kitchen could be heard, and that comforted Regulus a little, knowing that the house elf was tidying up, having prepared the supper before him—chicken, potatoes, carrots, and a large mug of butterbeer. At a time like this, it was easy to let fear of imagined danger take over when unexpected movements haunted the old house, but Regulus preferred to be calmed by the indications of any company. Anyway, most evenings, even a ghost would've been welcome relief from the solitude at Grimmauld Place.
Kreacher had come to collect him at Platform Nine and Three Quarters an hour before, with the assurance that Regulus's parents would be home in time for supper, but he had chosen to eat alone... partially because he did not care to sit in the dining room and endure a dozen reminders to eat slowly and sit up straight (much less the questions about school), and partially because Regulus did not believe that his parents would be home any time soon at all. So why wait? They'd gone to the Malfoys' this evening—something about Cissa's engagement... Regulus had mostly ignored Kreacher's excuse—and they would, he assumed, be there late into the night.
Consequently, the sound of the front door, not ten minutes after he sat down to eat, did shake Regulus a little. Kreacher remained in the kitchen, no one else ought to be about the house, and so, when footsteps and a low voice, calling his name, drifted through from the foyer, Regulus set down his plate and rose from the sofa.
It was a woman's voice; he recognized it a moment later.
Bellatrix Lestrange entered into the sitting room rather as if it were a part of her own home. She was overdressed for an evening check-up on her fifteen-year-old cousin. As she collapsed onto the sofa, sleek, chocolate brown dress robes spilling over the cushions, she looked like a young debutante returning from a ball.
"What are you doing here?" Regulus asked, while Bellatrix toyed with a strand of her long, shining black hair.
"'Came to see you," she said. "And dinner was a bore. Poor Cissy couldn't slip out, but I could, so I did. Home to mourn our fallen brethren, are you?"
"I couldn't very well stay at the castle with almost everyone else gone," Regulus replied. His cousin had taken his seat, and so he pulled a large chair closer to the fire and sat there instead.
"Well, you won't have to worry about that much longer, I suppose," said Bellatrix. "One more year, isn't it?"
"Two," came the correction.
"Really?" Bellatrix shrugged. Her lovely, sharp profile shown in the firelight. "Bit of a waste of time, Regulus. You've got prospects of your own, you know. Seems a bother. As long as that old bat Dumbledore's in charge, nothing's going to change."
Regulus dropped his gaze. "I take my O.W.L.s this year," he muttered. Bellatrix turned her head inconsiderably, but enough to observe Regulus. She studied his face, his gestures. She noted in his voice the strange blend of hesitation and longing. "I—I don't have to continue after that."
Bellatrix sat up. "No," she said softly. Regulus looked up to her again. The reflection of the firelight in her eyes stared back at him. "You are the heir of your line, now, after all. You'll have... greater responsibilities, soon." She smiled, clueing him in that she did not refer to the responsibilities of being heir to Grimmauld Place. Not exclusively, at any rate.
"Soon?" he echoed.
Bellatrix detected that the hesitation outweighed the longing in that single syllable. She rose from the sofa and walked toward the fire; when she reached the mantle, her words were carefully chosen: "Second thoughts, cousin?" She turned her head in profile to him again.
"No," replied Regulus. "But it's... difficult... to understand."
Eighty-seven witches and wizards. It was difficult to understand how that was meant to be his cause.
"What I'm to do," he lied.
Bellatrix relaxed. She smiled and faced her young relative full on, but in doing so turned away from the fire, and as a result, obscured her own face almost entirely in shadow. As though speaking to a favored pet: "Don't worry about that, Regulus. When it's your time, you'll understand exactly what's asked of you."
"Where's Twitchet?" James inquired of the dark foyer, just before his father waved his wand and lit the lamps along the wall. Sirius took a seat on the bottom step of the great staircase that stood between James and Mr. Potter, and when he did, the suitcases he had been levitating at wand point—his own and James's—dropped to the floor with an indelicate thud. "It's barely nine," James carried on rapidly. "Is he in bed already?" Mr. Potter tied up his dressing gown, looking as though, before the arrival of the two younger wizards, he had been in bed himself. James continued, before his father could reply: "Or is he in town again visiting Mariette? He's there more than here these days, isn't he? I don't see why he doesn't just get a job there instead, but I suppose he's got his Potter code or what-have-you. Anyway, where is he?"
"He is in town," said Mr. Potter, taking full advantage of the quick breath in James's monologue. "But he isn't visiting Mariette. He's left the house."
James raised his eyebrows. "Left the house? He's been sacked?"
"If you like. With the other two as well."
Moving away from the kitchen—toward which he had advanced in his search for the house elf—James approached his father. Sirius stood up as well. "The elves have been sacked? Why?"
Mr. Potter shifted uncomfortably. "Your mother thought it would be best."
"Why?" James repeated, astonished.
"Because they were required to testify on your mother's behalf, for her alibi, and she believed letting them go would put off the Ministry from complaining that they might have had a conflict of interest, as her employees."
"But they were free elves," said Sirius. "They wouldn't have to lie for her."
"The Ministry scarcely recognizes an elf's testimony as it is," said Mr. Potter. "The fewer conflicts of interest, the better."
"Why did Mum need an alibi? They can't believe that she had something to do with Peverell Hall! Where is she anyway?" James looked up the staircase, enveloped in shadow as it was, as if expecting her to appear in response to his demand.
"She's in bed," said Mr. Potter. "And I understand that the inquiry with the Ministry was a mere formality. Have you two eaten?"
"We got a bite in London," said Sirius.
"Then it won't make much difference to you that the house elves aren't in tonight anyway," said Mr. Potter. Still, James struggled to comprehend this latest development, spoken of so casually by his father, and his confusion thwarted his ability to articulate the many questions suddenly swarming him. He did manage to express that he wanted to go upstairs and see his mother, but her husband quickly frustrated that scheme. "She hasn't been sleeping well, James. I am sure you can understand. You really ought to let her have these few hours, and you may speak with her at breakfast tomorrow." He fidgeted a bit, and then started for the kitchen. "I'll make some tea, shall I?"
"Tea?" James mouthed to Sirius, as Mr. Potter moved beyond them. Sirius only shrugged.
Bridget Shacklebolt had fallen asleep on her sister's shoulder, and even the older witch seemed ready to drop off as they bobbed along in the dark backseat of a taxi. The closer they came to the Shacklebolts' home, the more apprehensive Lily became—the more regret crept over her for agreeing to go home with Donna for the next few days.
"Well you can't stay here by yourself, can you?" was Donna's response, when Lily had told her that she couldn't very well go home—to a muggle home—on account of a war her mother didn't even know existed. "You ought to come home with Bridget and me. There's enough room, and you'll be much better at talking about this sort of thing with Isaiah and Brice than I will."
Even if she hadn't detected a hint of genuine concern behind the excuse tagged to the invitation, Lily would likely have accepted. She didn't know what to say about any of it; she certainly was not going to explain anythingto Donna's younger brothers, but the idea of missing the memorial—and of spending the weekend in an empty castle—was unbearably lonely.
That line of reasoning made less and less sense as they approached their destination, though. Surely she would be intruding. The Shacklebolts, having lost their own parents not too long ago, would want to mourn as a family, and Lily would only be in the way—an outsider, standing awkwardly on the edge, unable to participate in her friends' grief. They would be very polite of course, very kind to her, but at a time like this, she would not belong.
She wished she'd stayed at the castle. She wished she could write her last letter to Sam over again. She wished she'd said goodbye to James. Said something to him, anyway. He'd been there at the station and she had just...
"Shouldn't be long now," said Donna, breaking a quarter of an hour's silence in a low murmur that would not disturb her sister. She stared listlessly out the car window. "I can't stand traveling this way, you know. Tediously slow."
Lily didn't bother reproaching her friend, though the cab driver kept sending them curious glances. The owl cage strapped in the front seat (Donna's, for Lily had left Niko in the owlry at school) set him off the moment they climbed in, and now every strange comment Donna made earned them a wary eye in the mirror. Little time remained in this man's company, however, and Lily intended on tipping well.
"I'm sure there won't be any supper left out for us," she went on. "The boys will have eaten already. Kingsley won't be home yet, and I'm sure they haven't fixed anything for us. We might have to go out to fetch food. We ought to have caught something in London—stupid, really, but..."
"We'll sort it out, Donna," Lily interrupted.
"I suppose so."
Bridget stirred; she was awake a moment later, and as she sat up, she massaged the red spot on her face that had perched against Donna's shoulder. "You're not very soft, Donna," she said with a yawn.
"Neither are you," replied the other. "We're almost home."
They arrived all of five minutes later. Against Donna's protests, Lily paid the fare, though she did allow Donna to carry one of her bags into the house. The entryway was dark, but there came a visible glow from the dining room, and there, the three newcomers found Brice, Isaiah, and an older woman whom Lily did not know, but Donna greeted at once with surprise.
Donna bore no great resemblance to her aunt, Lily thought, except that the older witch, a tall and stately woman, bore the same broad, angular shoulders of her niece. Dahlia's eyes were black, however, and her short, coarse curls carried heavy streaks of white. She had a longer nose and more pointed jaw line; her face was longer, too. Her mouth, though, seemed to have the same shape as Donna's, especially when she spoke:
"I sent the housekeeper home two days ago," said Dahlia. She extended a brief hug to both Bridget and Donna, and then raised an eyebrow at Lily. "You're not my niece."
"This is Lily, she's staying with us," said Donna, distracted. "And Audrey's not the housekeeper. Kingsley didn't mention you'd come in..." She set down her bags and ruffled Brice's hair by way of greeting, nodding toward Isaiah as well, but keeping her attention focused primarily upon the unexpected visitor.
"He's hardly been home more than ten minutes since Tuesday," Dahlia went on. "Lily, was it?" Lily started at the somewhat sideways address, and then nodded, proffering her hand.
"A pleasure. Dahlia Shacklebolt. Have you three eaten?"
Dahlia had a direct, efficient manner of conversing; after ascertaining that they had not had supper yet, she went about fixing plates for each of them, while Donna levitated their bags into their respective bedrooms. Only when they were all seated did Dahlia make the expected inquiries about the trip and the term.
"How long are you staying, then?" Donna asked, gathering up the last of her potatoes with her fork.
"A week or two. Perhaps a little longer." She glanced purposefully at Brice and Isaiah, and Donna must have understood the significance of that, for she nodded and offered no comment. When supper was finished, Donna led Lily back to her room, and the two set up a bed. Donna transformed one of her pillows into a spare mattress, and then disappeared into the hallway for a moment, before reappearing with a stack of blankets. Lily made up the bed, while Donna sat down on her own, staring uselessly at her suitcase.
"Do you want to go out somewhere?" the hostess asked at length. Lily looked up from smoothing out the thick, tangerine colored bedspread. "London or something? We can see Marlene or Mary or someone... go to the Leaky Cauldron..."
"Is something wrong?"
"No." She answered a little too quickly, though. "I just don't feel like being home after all. And Aunt Dahlia can look after Brice and Isaiah and Bridget."
Lily sat down on her own newly constructed bed. She watched her friend frowning at the bedroom, as if searching, half-heartedly, for something she'd misplaced. "All right," she said.
"...Elinor Ulvan says the Ministry won't release any more information about the attack, but I expect they'll have to in the next few weeks. At least for immediate family." John Lupin's knife sank into the side of the slab of beef on his plate. He paid diligent attention to the separation of a neat little bite, and disposed of it, without once making eye contact with his son.
It was a cheap cut of meat, certainly inferior to what they served at Hogwarts, but prepared on the rarer side and therefore more to Remus's taste. That was a nice gesture, really. Remus, himself stirring mashed potatoes around on the green china plate before him, wondered if his father had done it on purpose or merely out of habit.
"...This can't go on much longer," Mr. Lupin continued pedantically. "The Ministry has to take more drastic action. Crouch ought to have this in hand. There has to be some sort of solution to catch..." The expected, oh-so-typical break, "...Well, You Know Who." At this, he glanced up at Remus's plate, still half full, and that prompted an actual look to his son. "You're not hungry? I can get you something else if you want..."
"No, it's fine." Remus took a dutiful bite. "Haven't much of an appetite."
"You look... tired."
"So do you."
"Coming off a double," said his father. "You... you have another week, don't you?"
Remus could not clearly remember a conversation with either parent that didn't contain that hint of apprehension and that did not, eventually, circle back to his furry little problem.
"Yeah, another week. Did you make these potatoes?"
Mr. Lupin laughed (nervously, maybe) and returned to his supper and the lecture on the war.
It was almost nine o'clock when Lily and Donna showed up at her front door, and Marlene could have cried for relief. "Agrippa's sake, let's get out of here," she said, before Lily had quite finished her invitation. She was already wearing her pinstriped pajamas and her hair was pulled into very slight pigtails, in anticipation of spending the evening curled up in bed with the record she'd purchased on her way home from the station, but going out with her mates meant physical escape from the flat—the ideal. "Mary said she wanted to go to bed early," Marlene added, pulling the elastic bands out of her hair, "but you might go over and have a word with her anyway. I doubt she'll say 'no' to a drink at the pub."
"Should we wait for you to dress?" Lily asked.
"No, go ring Mary. Mum's asleep." She closed the door before Lily or Donna could respond, and they were compelled to obey. Mary agreed to come out with them as well, but she, at least, asked them to sit in the kitchen while she fetched her coat. Mr. and Mrs. MacDonald, always eager recipients of any news from the fascinating and bewildering magical world, welcomed them enthusiastically. Tonight, even Lily labored to contrive cheerful information, and she found herself rambling about the bed that Donna had conjured up at the Shacklebolts'. The MacDonalds found it thoroughly entertaining and drilled her for details, until Mary emerged from her bedroom, having applied a coat of peach colored eye shadow and touched up her rouge.
"Let's fetch Marlene," she instructed loudly, pulling on her maroon coat. "Bye Mum, bye Dad..." Kisses for them both: "Don't wait up."
Now fully dressed, Marlene stood by the lift, when they stepped out of the MacDonalds' rooms. "I don't believe I ever realized how little I have to wear this time of year... muggle-wise, I mean," she said, as her friends approached. She opened up her iron grey jacket to reveal a thin blue t-shirt. "I didn't bring much home, either. I wasn't thinking when I packed."
"We'll be back at school in a few days," Donna reminded her. "So where are we going?"
They agreed on the Leaky Cauldron, especially since Donna was fairly convinced Tom would give her free drinks, and they apparated from the lift.
Peter went to bed early. From his room, he could hear the wireless and his mother's vague, worried murmurs in response to its incoherent voices, and he didn't know if that comforted him or not. The flat was draughty, and he considered rising from his bed to draw the curtains in front of the window—as if that might help—but he didn't end up doing it; he didn't even turn off the light. He stayed under the thick flannel blankets his mum had stacked there for him and did not move, except every once in a while, when he angled his head just slightly to the right—to glimpse his wand on the bedside table.
He tried not to think of the eighty-seven dead people—many of whom he'd met over the summer—and yet he found himself morbidly fascinated with the thought of what had actually transpired in Peverell Hall. Had they fought back? In all that chaos, hadn't anyone been able to—to hide or anything? He imagined himself in the room as it happened—ducking behind a chair, or apparating away... why hadn't any of them managed that? What could possibly have kept eighty-seven witches and wizards in a room full of death eaters?
The thought lingered in his mind until the hum of the wireless in the next room lulled him to sleep.
Without communicating their intention, the four girls—Lily, Donna, Marlene, and Mary—paused before the door to the Leaky Cauldron, taking a breath before the plunge. Yet, when they entered, the fear that perhaps none had really understood turned out to be irrelevant: the pub wasn't crowded. Witches and wizards occupied a handful of tables, but they did not face a crowd.
"It looks like a bloody Tuesday," said Donna, surprised. "I've never seen it this quiet on a Friday."
All eyes had turned to the witches upon their entrance, but they reverted back to their own business quickly. Mary raised her eyebrows, almost offended by the lack of interest, but only said: "Let's get a table, shall we?"
"I'll fetch drinks," said Donna. She made her way up to the bar, while the others started for a vacant table. They hadn't quite made it there, when a witch at a table in the corner rose and waved them down, calling "Marlene!"
She was a petite, round-faced witch, with dark brown hair cut in a bob—an unfamiliar look on her, so that it was a moment before Marlene properly reacted. "Audrey!"
Audrey McKinnon—Adam's older sister—flagged them over to her table, the only other occupants of which were another witch and wizard, in their early twenties like Audrey. "I almost didn't recognize you—your hair, sorry, it's so short," Marlene was saying as they took the offered chairs.
"I could say the same to you," said Audrey. "And you're taller, too. I don't think I've seen you in..." She shrugged indefinitely, though Marlene could have told her it had been over a year. This last was the first summer in years that she had not frequented the McKinnon household.
"How are you?" asked Marlene shakily. "How's your family?"
"About as well as can be expected..." She introduced her two companions as Isadora and Seth, but provided no additional background. Marlene, in turn, reminded Audrey of her own friends' names, and then Donna returned with drinks. Audrey greeted her with some awkwardness, and then added: "I hope you weren't terribly surprised by your aunt staying at the house. She turned up on Wednesday and I said I ought to write to you, to tell you I wouldn't be around, but Kingsley said he would attend to it..."
"He didn't," said Donna, a little curtly. "But he never does."
"These are friends of my younger brother's," Audrey told her friends. "And I take care of Donna's brothers while she's away at school."
"Shacklebolt, then?" asked the witch, Isadora. Donna nodded. "I suppose you must know a thing or two about what really happened at Peverell Hall?"
"Izz," Audrey muttered, blushing.
"I don't know more than anyone else," said Donna. "My brother can't go spilling secrets to everyone, just because he's an auror."
"Your brother's an auror?" Isadora pressed.
"Isn't that what you meant?"
"Shacklebolts are old wizarding blood," said the wizard, Seth confidently. "Your parents must know something. That's how the Ministry works..."
Audrey turned scarlet; she opened her mouth, but Donna cut her off. "My parents are dead." That resonated; they all sipped their drinks uncomfortably.
"How are your mother and father?" Marlene asked of Audrey after a moment.
"Dad's not taking it very well," said Audrey. "Mum's a little better... especially now that Felicity's come home."
"Oh, that's good, then... that she could make it back..."
"For the memorial, yes. And there was a private ceremony yesterday. But..." Audrey hesitated; "I think she's had a bad influence on Adam. She's... she's angry, that's all, and now Adam's getting worse."
"Of course she's angry," said Donna, before Marlene could voice the shock that clearly registered on her face. "She should be angry."
"Not like this," said Audrey, but Isadora spoke over her in noisy agreement with Donna.
"It's about time people were angry," she said. "That's what Barty Crouch was talking about the other day. The aurors have to be allowed to act, or else nothing is ever going to get resolved, and the death eaters and—and You Know Who are just going to keep up like this..."
Isadora, Seth, and Donna continued their branch of the conversation and Marlene, leaning back in her chair, drew Audrey with her. "What do you mean Adam's getting worse?" she asked in an undertone.
Audrey's face fell. Ready to cry, she began, "I don't know what to do anymore, Marlene. Oh, the family's all right. We've all got each other still, you know? It's only Adam. We all sit up and talk after supper, but he hasn't been coming out of his room at all."
"Have you asked him about it?"
"A little—he won't really speak to anyone. He was all right when he first came home," she explained earnestly. "But the last few days, he just stayed in his room all day, and Felicity was the only one who could talk to him at all. And then he left for half the night, and I think he just wandered around. Dad tried to have a word with him, but I don't think he would say anything. Today he went out again around lunch, and then he was in his room the rest of the time, and he didn't eat anything that I saw... his girlfriend was over for a bit, but I don't know that it did him any good, because she left after about twenty minutes, and he still wouldn't come out of his room, after." Audrey frowned into her drink. "Now he's said that he won't go to the memorial on Sunday, and that's got Mum in pieces... I shouldn't be out at all right now..." This she added regretfully, "But I've been in that house for the last three days, and I just..."
"Oh, of course," said Marlene. She patted Audrey's shoulder comfortingly. "You can't be expected to take care of everyone."
At last the tears that clung to Audrey's eyelashes slipped down her cheeks, and, sniffing, she said: "I just miss Sarah."
"I'm so sorry, Audrey." Marlene ached with pity, but it felt so fuitle; there didn't seem to be much she could say or do, much as she wished there were. Then, as if she'd heard this wish, Audrey answered it the next moment. She brightened, even as the idea occurred to her.
"Won't you come over and talk to Adam?"
"Oh, not tonight… tomorrow." The idea took form, and she found more and more encouragement in its conception. "Come over tomorrow and see Adam. He'll talk to you, won't he? You're his best mate..."
The idea had both occurred to Marlene and appealed to her, but she wasn't sure it would be entirely appropriate. "I don't want to bother your family."
"Oh, Mum loves you, and it won't be a bother at all. Please come."
"All right, I will."
"Thank you." She sniffed again. "Tomorrow... better make it a little later. My grandparents will be in for the morning. Would four o'clock do?"
Marlene said that it would, and the plan was set. Across the table, Lily sat beside Mary, neither girl really paying much attention to the dominant conversation there—Isadora, Seth, and Donna's—though it was difficult to tune them out entirely.
"Well this is an upper," said Mary, staring into her bottle. Lily smiled weakly.
"Not exactly a cheery night out, I suppose."
"Not exactly, no. Why is the pub so quiet anyway?"
"I suppose people don't want to go out," said Lily. She glanced about; mostly everyone seemed to be keeping to themselves. "I suppose they're afraid."
"It's not as though You-Know-Who is going to attack the Leaky Cauldron, for Merlin's sake."
Lily shrugged. "Why not?"
"Because that would be mad. It's... it's the Leaky Cauldron! It's an institution!" Mary took an indignant sip of her beer.
"I don't think Voldemort cares much for institutions." If the pub had been quiet before, it fell silent now. Isadora and Donna momentarily ceased their debate, and the witches and wizards at the surrounding tables paused as well. It was a few seconds before Lily realized that she had been the cause of this, and even then, she did not immediately recognize how.
After nearly a minute, the strangers returned to their own conversations, but those at Lily's table remained still.
"I didn't mean to, I'm sorry," she said quickly, and that was the truth. She hadn't meant to say the name. She'd said it before, sure, but always with a bit of hesitance... always consciously, if at all. This time, it had just slipped out.
Just as the conversation resumed, a little awkwardly, Lily finished the last of her beer and announced that she was going to get a bit of air. Marlene anxiously offered to go with her, but Lily shook her head and slipped out before anyone could argue. She walked to the nearest streetlamp and stood under its yellow light, wishing she'd brought a hat and gloves. Standing there, she lacked the energy to resist the reminders that naturally came to her... the smell was a little different, for it hadn't rained tonight; she wore a black coat, instead of the flimsy blue dress; her legs and neck had been bare... even in the cooling evening air of August, she'd been warm from drinking and laughing and singing... The last time she stood here outside the Leaky Cauldron had been after Frank and Alice's wedding reception.
She'd spent that night with Marlene and Donna and Frank and Alice and their families and the Marauders and the Prewetts and Sam. It seemed to Lily now that she had spent most of that time with Sam. He'd kept coaxing her into singing. They'd all stumbled into the pub soaked from the rain—the end of the drought—and then it was all just an exhilarated blur... how wonderful they had all felt, fresh from victory and alive with a sense of hope that they had a chance to change things. And now when she closed her eyes, she saw his name in the minute black newspaper print. Dearborn, Samuel.
How different from his funny, graceless signature.
Up the road, there was a liquor shop, and Lily headed over there. In the hideous florescent lighting, she bought a pack of cigarettes and then started back toward the pub. Mary met her several paces from the door.
"I've been sent to find you," she said.
Lily lit her own with the matches the clerk had given her and leaned against the side of the building.
"I just wish everyone would stop talking about it," said Mary, sighing.
Mrs. Potter sat at the breakfast table when James came downstairs the next morning. She appeared collected and clean as ever, but looked awful.
"Good morning," said James, taking the seat closest to her. She must have caught the resentment in the greeting, for she started at once on an apology for having failed to see him the night before. He disregarded it with a hasty, "Don't worry about it, Mum," and then added: "How's Adele?"
"Not very well off." Mrs. Potter scooped a portion of the grapefruit before her with a spoon; she chewed and swallowed before continuing, in a forcibly even voice; "She's lost her son, after all. And there's been a note from Caradoc for you."
"Where is it?"
"In the vestibule."
There were two additional place settings, each with a grapefruit sliced down the center and a spoon. James selected one and left the other for Sirius. As if just noticing that her son's friend had not come down with him, Grace asked: "Is Sirius still asleep?"
"Yeah, he'll be at least another hour, I reckon." It was early still—not yet eight—and Sirius lacked his best mate's appreciation for the youngest hours of the day. James eyed the breakfast before him uncertainly and then sent the same look to his mother. She was pale; her eyes were bloodshot, and her hand trembled slightly over her breakfast, and that negated the implicit orderliness of her black mourning robes. "Mum—the house elves..."
"I've let them go."
"That's what Dad said. What happened? The Ministry doesn't really believe that you had anything to do with... what happened? They can't."
"Of course not." Another bite of grapefruit. "Just a formality."
"Then why did you—?"
"Because it was the right thing to do, James," she said impatiently. Seeing he had not begun on his breakfast, she went on, "Eat your fruit before it gets warm, and then you had better attend to the note from Caradoc. He likely wants you to go over to the Dearborns'."
She was right. The note contained an invitation to their home in Poole that afternoon. Some family was coming over to sort through Sam's belongings, and Caradoc wanted James there. James passed Sirius on the staircase—the latter going down to breakfast, the former up to speak to his mother, who had by this time relocated to a study upstairs, and updated him on the day's schedule.
"You sure I should go?" Sirius pointed out. "Family, and all that."
"They won't care, and you can't very well stay here. You won't even have the elves to talk to."
Sirius shrugged, "You're the boss," and continued his descent, and James hurried up to find his mother. Mrs. Potter sat at the desk in the blue room, attending to letters of her own, when James entered.
"Doc says to go over after luncheon," he told her. "Is that all right for you?"
"Yes, of course. I won't need you this afternoon." The owl perched beside her on the desk ruffled his wings. James frowned.
"Don't you want to come along?"
"Be reasonable, dear," said Mrs. Potter wearily. She sat with her back to him, but the quill in her hand paused over the parchment before her. "I'm the last person the family wants to see."
"Mum, I'm sure..."
"Well, then you're wrong. Adele said that she doesn't wish to see me, and frankly, I don't blame her." James had considered this possibility somewhat, and so the statement didn't completely surprise him, except for the apparent certainty of everything. As he did not reply, Mrs. Potter supposed he required clarification and went on in an oddly unemotional way: "James, M.F.P. was mine. My project, my cause. They were my friends, and I wasn't even there. I was home. Home in bed, and Sam and all of the others were out there because I recruited them." She lost herself in a thought for a moment; James was frozen in his spot several paces away. When his mother resumed, it was with more force: "...They were all just—sitting there... Tilly and I picked out that particular place, and that's where..."
"Mum, please don't," her son pleaded suddenly. He couldn't stand to hear it. "None of it's your fault. I won't go to the Dearborns.' If they don't want you..."
"Rubbish." Mrs. Potter regained herself. "I've got loads of things to do, James. I'll be in Rutland setting up portkeys and floo stations all afternoon, and I'm supposed to tea with Tilly's daughter. Caradoc will want to see you. And you loved Sam..."
James agreed mostly just to end the conversation, so that she would stop saying his name. It hurt more to hear her say it than anyone else, because he knew that she had seen him. She had gone to identify bodies, and in her voice he could tell there was a vision of Sam that he could not bear to imagine. He went downstairs and joined Sirius in the breakfast room and told him that they were to go to the Dearborns' at one o'clock.
Saturday morning there was a bit of a row at the Shacklebolts. Lily sat awkwardly on her makeshift bed as one does in such situations, while Donna, her aunt, Bridget, and Isaiah had it out in the corridor. Donna wanted to return to Diagon Alley that afternoon for potions supplies; Bridget and Isaiah wanted to come along, though Donna did not think it safe, and Aunt Dahlia did not want any of them to go. She seemed to think it a question of safety, though she hadn't made such a fuss the night before.
As the four older Shacklebolts bickered in the hallway, the bedroom door creaked open. At first, Lily thought Donna had slipped away, but her arguments still sounded out in the corridor, and Lily saw that her visitor was, in fact, six-year-old Brice. He hesitated by the door, small hands clutched to the golden door knob, until Lily smiled at him. Then he came into the room. Lily had helped Donna put him to bed before their expedition to the Leaky Cauldron, and so he felt quite reacquainted with her. He trotted the length of the room, stopping when he reached the foot of Donna's bed and leaning against it. He dropped his gaze shyly.
"I've never seen that bed before," he said.
"Donna made it yesterday."
Brice twisted a bit of the blue blanket of Donna's bed around his finger, eyes fixed on that little project, even as he said in a loud whisper: "I heard Aunt Dahlia crying this morning." Lily nodded. She had no response, but she patted the space on the bed beside her and Brice came to sit there. "When is Donna and Bridget going to Hogwarts again?"
"On Monday, I suppose."
"And you too?"
"Is Isaiah going?"
"No, not on Monday. He'll go someday. So will you."
"When I get my letter."
"That's right." Lily smiled. "And do you know when you'll get your letter?"
"When I'm eleven."
"Kingsley is twenty-four," Brice told her after a while. "He went to Hogwarts before I was born."
"Who told you that?"
"That sounds about right. I remember when Kingsley was at Hogwarts. He was captain of the Quidditch team."
"Now he's an auror."
"Mhm. And you're proud of your brother, aren't you?"
"Mhm," Brice mimicked, without really understanding the question. "Will you take me to the playground today?"
"I think so, yes. With Donna. But not until later."
"Yes, this afternoon."
At length, Donna had her way—partially, anyway, for she agreed to take Bridget and Isaiah, and it was decided that they would floo to the Leaky Cauldron just before lunch. Brice alone would stay with Aunt Dahlia.
Of course, when it came time to leave, the plan complicated again, as Donna could not make up her mind the exact order that her younger siblings ought to floo. At last, Lily grabbed a handful of the powder by the fireplace, went on ahead, and allowed her friend to sort it out for herself. Donna, then Isaiah, then Bridget followed.
Donna asked Lily to wait with the children for a moment while she, once again, gave her regards to Tom, who was a little busier this afternoon than he had been the night before, but Lily was not alone with Bridget and Isaiah for more than a minute before a young witch in maroon robes approached her, beaming. It was several seconds before Lily grasped that this woman—leaner and stronger, and with a short crop of golden brown hair—was, in fact, Alice Longbottom.
"Agrippa's sake!" Lily exclaimed with a jump, and Alice laughed. "Oh my Merlin, Alice, I didn't even... how are you?"
They embraced tightly before Alice responded. She was paler, too, Lily saw; her face as well as her body had leaned, and she looked much older—but Lily was simply accustomed to seeing her with more make-up. She smiled brightly at Lily, however.
"I'm all right. Agrippa, I've missed you."
"I've missed you," Lily agreed, giving her hand a squeeze. "And what have you done to your hair?"
"Do you like it?"
"I love it. Are you starting a band, then?"
Alice laughed again; the sound reverberated in the dull hum of the pub. "Sadly not. It's frightfully practical, though. I don't know about the darker tone, though. I can't make up my mind which I like better, and Frank is frustratingly unopinionated on the subject. Says he likes both, the uncooperative git."
"How is he, then? Oh—I'm sorry..." Lily remembered her companions. "This I Isaiah and Bridget Shacklebolt. This is Alice Longbottom. She—she works with your brother, and she used to go to Hogwarts with Donna and me."
"I guess you've got Donna here too somewhere, then?" asked Alice.
Lily explained, but Donna herself returned a few moments later. The two exchanged greetings, and then Donna was in a bit of a hurry to get on with the shopping, and Alice hadn't much time to have her lunch. Lily suggested that she stay with the latter and meet up with Donna when it came time for Alice to return to the Ministry. Donna agreed, and Lily and Alice took places along the bar.
"I've missed you so much," Lily repeated, when they were seated. "You and Frank."
"Merlin knows we miss you," said Alice. "And Hogwarts. Training isn't anything like schooling, if you're wondering. Except the studying. Loads and loads of studying and memorizing spellwork, but then loads of legalistic business, too."
"And do you do any field work?" Lily prodded.
"First years don't do field work properly," Alice told her. "We work in the auror department, but we—first year trainees don't actually go out, no."
"But you work with all those aurors, so..." She trailed off a little, but Alice understood.
"And here I thought you missed me," she said dryly. "You're just trying to get information out of me."
Alice waved her off. "Some of the older aurors will take on trainees as assistants... we're really just owls with prospects—sending memos, taking notes... we're actually working with Magical Law right now, to see if they've got a case against these blokes—the Hartwright brothers... but that's not what you're asking about, of course. Frank and I will do work for Moody quite a bit," she admitted, "So—so that day, we did go to Peverell Hall..." Alice tapped the bar idly with the bottom of her wedding band. "We saw it. We're some of the few trainees that did."
"And?" Lily pressed.
The younger witch sighed. "What happened, Alice? How did it happen? How could they kill eighty-seven witches and wizards all at once... why weren't there any survivors?"
Alice dropped her gaze. "I can't talk about that, Lily. I can't talk about anything like that, of course."
"But you know?"
"I can't even say what I know, dear. I can't talk about it at all. Telling you that I was there is probably technically against the law. I hardly know anything, and everything is always classified anyway."
Lily wanted to protest; she fumbled about momentarily, in search of some question that could be answered, but conscience intervened, and she surrendered. "You're lucky," she said eventually.
"Sure. You're working towards something. You don't have to sit around, cooped up in the school when everyone else is dying."
"I think I'm lucky, yes," was Alice's measured response. She continued to stare at the countertop, and the heaviness in her voice suggested meaning Lily could not understand. "In many ways I'm very lucky. But you'll get your chance too. And it's not... it isn't easy."
"I know that." She did, of course. She couldn't explain it—not even Alice would understand it. This wasn't a game for her—she wasn't simply angry... She was—well, she just couldn't explain it.
"But tell me about something nice," Alice went on. "Tell me about Hogwarts."
"Something nice?" The last time Lily had seen the castle, on the other hand, half the student body had been crying as they shuffled onto the train to be with their families. "I don't know."
"There must be something. Quidditch or gossip or something..."
"I don't know," said Lily again and honestly. She couldn't seem to remember before Tuesday. Alice frowned.
"I've been thick, Lily, I'm sorry. Of course—they were your friends too..."
"I barely knew them, really."
"But they were your friends."
"Sam Dearborn and I were writing to each other all term," Lily said after a moment. Alice nodded, leaning forward in anticipation of something else—but that was it, really. Sam Dearborn and she wrote to each other all term. That was the extent of things. He was James's cousin. She hadn't said goodbye to him. To James. To Sam. Her last letter had been a self-absorbed mess—she couldn't even remember how she'd signed it. She ought to have said something to James at the station in London, too. Had Sam even read her last letter? Did it make the slightest difference? The next morning, after her letter, after Halloween, when she'd found out about James and Carlotta, she'd thought I've got more to tell Sam, and she'd thought about her next letter to him, and she'd thought how much would have changed by the time she wrote to him next, and he's dead, he's dead, he's dead—she'd be sick if she didn't stop herself from thinking right this second: "How's Frank?" she asked again.
"He's well. He loves the training. And the flat—Merlin, he's madder about the flat than I am. 'Acts like a ten-year-old at his first sleep-away party"
"Sure, the place in..." Alice stopped. "I must have written you about that..."
"You didn't reply to my last, dear," said Lily. Alice's fingers disappeared in the roots of her short hair. How much had changed since they'd last exchanged letters...
"It's just—you can't imagine how mad everything is right now. Twelve hours of work a day, and a—a dozen little side projects... Mum stopped by last week to point out I hadn't spoken to her in a month, and..."
"It's fine, Alice."
"It's not. I'll be better, I promise."
"Don't worry about it. Concentrate on saving the world first, yeah?"
"I'll see what I can do."
"Want to eat?" Lily asked, and Alice sighed with relief.
"I thought you'd never ask."
In a spell of uncharacteristic impetuousness, the Dearborn patriarch of the early nineteenth century had done away with the Dearborns' ancestral domain and constructed a new home for his family in a briefly fashionable quarter of Poole where several other magical families were simultaneously putting down roots. These houses all vaguely resembled one another: large, square, brick, with terraced roofs, and though the other families' roots proved brittle—they had vacated the manses within a generation or two, and the houses were thereafter "muggled," as Adele Dearborn called it—the bond of similar origin was strong. Most of the muggles in the neighborhood insisted their homes were haunted, and half of them might have been right. At any rate, it was taken as a matter of course that the house at the end—with the immobile cream lace curtains that so diligently concealed the interior—was the home of a witch. And they were quite right about that.
It was the home of a witch and, until recently, her young wizard son.
The neighborhood knew of no substantial reason for suspecting this house; it was simply traditional to do so. Everyone who had lived on that road for a hundred years had suspected both it and whoever happened to be living in it, and there did seem to be something strange about the place. Hardly anyone was ever seen coming or going; the young man might step out occasionally, but not the old woman. On top of that, there were a dozen little things—like Mrs. Dearborn's apparent interest in nocturnal birds, for on the rare day that an upstairs window was left open with the curtains drawn back, one might spot a large brown owl perched there. Then, when someone from the city had come by once during the black outs, the old woman had refused to let him inside—insisted there was no problem and she would inform the authorities if anyone attempted to interfere with her again. There was a cat, too—an ugly yellow thing that wandered about the yard and never strayed beyond. Perhaps there was nothing strange in that itself, but when one already suspects a witch, the presence of the cat seems to be a crucial piece of evidence.
Only the long-time residents of the neighborhood paid the house any attention, however, and only because they were so used to it. Newcomers invariably ignored the place, and even those familiar with the stories of the odd old Dearborns often forgot that it existed. Most days, if called upon for whatever reason to think on the block's residents, one would remember the Andrews, the Lanes, the Parks, Mrs. Hordoddle, and that awful American or Canadian or whatever he pretended to be in the house with the badly kept garden—but not the Dearborns. In recollection, the mind seemed to step around the last house on the road all together.
Nonetheless, James took care to make a good show of opening the black iron gate at the front of the walkway, though he knew perfectly well that it would have recognized him and opened on its own. Sirius followed him through, watching the approaching edifice with a kind of suspicion. He had never been here before, but he felt that he had. He'd spent his childhood trapped in addresses like these: subtly disguised houses, whose neighbors had no concept of the contempt the residents held them in.
When they reached the front porch and James rapped twice upon the door with the elaborate gold knocker, Sirius said something or other which reminded James of his friend's skepticism, and he said: "Sorry to subject you to this." But Sirius only grinned.
"'Ought to be the motto of our friendship, that."
"The truly pathetic thing is—we've already got a motto."
"Merlin, we're annoying."
An almost naked house elf opened the door for them. His name was Galloway, and James greeted him as such, receiving a slight bow and a reply of "Master Potter," as the two young wizards were ushered inside. "You will go up to Master Samuel's room," said Galloway, as he led the way through a wide corridor. The walls were cream colored, the floor a soft white carpet: the entire foyer gleamed.
"Where's Aunt Adele?"
"She sleeps." Sam had explained Galloway's unusual accent to James once: Adele Dearborn loathed "those abominable elfin voices" and from a very young age, trained those in her house to speak with what she deemed a more pleasant intonation. The effect was awkward, but Adele must have approved of it well enough, as she kept up the practice.
"Just as well," James muttered, in response to Galloway. They continued to follow the elf up a set of stairs. The second floor was much the same as the first—still, white, and somewhat antiseptic. A thin line of gold ran along the trim on the walls, and that constituted just about all of the color in the décor. Four doors were visible from where they emerged on this storey. All but one was closed, two concealing guest rooms, the third a lavatory, and the last, tucked in the corner and slightly ajar, was Sam's. Or had been. James moved ahead of Galloway to reach it.
Sam's bedroom was large, and the walls were dark green, covered extensively with pictures and posters. A large banner for The Hobgoblins canvassed the space over his wide, plushy bed, and stuffed behind the pins that secured it was a worn ticket for one of their shows. Most of the decorations were for musicians, but there was one for some racing broom brand popular in Italy, and, draped over the disorganized desk by the window, was an ugly orange Chudley Cannons flag. Of course Sam had liked the Cannons. A set of glass doors in a white wooden frame opened up the wall furthest from the door into a small balcony, and a small bay tree growing in a whicker basket was visible through the window.
Sam's brother Caradoc sat on the edge of the bed, but he rose when James and Sirius entered. Dorcas Meadowes had come, too; she stood, looking somber, near the desk and the Cannons flag, which clashed with her own deep purple robes. Besides the two of them, the others were strangers. There were two witches and a wizard, all apparently in their twenties and pacing about the room anxiously. The witches were eventually introduced as Clo and Simone, the wizard as Oscar, and the lot of them as "Sam's mates from the book club."
James looked unimpressed. "This is it?" he asked of Caradoc.
"Afraid so," said the older wizard unhappily.
"They weren't—on excellent terms, toward the end."
"But it's his brother."
"You were at the Ministry in August. You know how it was."
"Well what about the cousins then?"
"They'll be at the private service on Tuesday."
"Bully for them, but they ought to be here now..."
James continued his debate with Caradoc, but Dorcas had caught Sirius's eye, and he moved toward her at the window.
"Gryffindor Black," said the older witch with a smile. "This is not the occasion I would have hoped to see you next."
"No," agreed the wizard. "How's your sister?"
"Vance was a good bloke."
"The very best."
"You knew loads of them, I reckon?"
Dorcas nodded. "And I suppose I'll know many more." She dragged her index finger along the rough material of the Cannons flag. "It was very good of you to come. Sam had many friends, but few close ones, and most of those went with him. But maybe that's a blessing." Sirius couldn't speak to that, so he changed the subject.
"I've only been to one of these things once," he told her. "And I was about six, so I don't really remember how it goes." There hadn't been anything like this for his uncle Alphard, as far as Sirius knew. Once the will had been read, the family apparently went from nostalgic, if reluctant, lamentation to complete denial of the wizard's existence. Even if they had done something for Alphard, Sirius doubted he'd have attended.
"Oh we box things up, arrange the personal items, burn or save the letters," Dorcas told him. "Sam didn't have a will, only a child, but his mother has a list of things she would like—family things, mostly, and the rest is disposed of. I don't know how Adele wishes to do that."
"Isn't anyone else coming?"
Dorcas shrugged her round shoulders. "Is Grace Potter expected? I would think she would..." She thought better of the sentence and let it drop off, but Sirius raised his eyebrows indignantly nonetheless.
"It's my understanding that she wasn't invited," he said curtly. "And she would've done anything for Sam."
This returned the smile to Dorcas's lined face. "A Black defending a Potter. Good Merlin, it feels like the forties again. But you needn't be hurt for Grace. She's a great witch. I know it."
"Glad to hear it."
James and Caradoc arrived at some kind of understanding, at least enough to proceed with the business at hand. The former joined his friend and Dorcas by the window, greeted the witch, and said to the other that they would stay for a few hours at least, if Sirius didn't mind. Sirius didn't, and they returned their attentions to Caradoc, who was speaking again.
"Thank you all for coming," he said, like these words might sap the last breaths of life from him. "I know it would mean so much to my brother to have you here. The house elves have arranged most of his things already—clothes and what-not. It's really the personal items that are left for us: anything you see about. I think I have collected everything Mother wants saved, but if you'll just speak to me about anything you wish to take—I would be very grateful." He checked the gold watch on his wrist. "Galloway will bring along something to eat shortly, and we'll do the letters in an hour or so, I think."
They set off, packing things away into boxes at wand point for the most part. James wandered over to the wall with the Hobgoblins poster and plucked the ticket from behind the pin that fastened it there. According to the minute black print, the show had been in 1974—and that seemed to agree with James's memory of Sam telling him all about something that had happened there... some idiotic story about a wizard who mistook Sarah McKinnon for his mate's girlfriend, and Sam had almost dueled him... it was ridiculous really, just the sort of situation that always arose around Sam—like a surprise birthday party for his aged and perpetually bad-tempered mother or a protest in the Ministry of Magic.
James emptied the contents of a desk drawer into a box and considered the fact that Sam was a much better person than he: this prompted by the finding of a photograph of Sam and one of his dull, elderly aunts...the sort James never had the patience to visit. Sam would drop in on them all the time. Have tea, sit for an hour, chat, and probably be genuinely interested in what the healer had said about the aunt's aching knee. Sam could talk to anyone. He would, too. He'd completely skipped a phase of adolescent self-absorption, James supposed, because even when he was sixteen and James only twelve, the older wizard didn't seem to resent time spent with his young cousin. They endured the weddings their mothers forced them to attend by sneaking out and playing cards; Sam had tried to take him fishing once—a colossal failure—and, though James couldn't really trust his memory on the matter, it seemed to him that they had gone to a great number of Quidditch games together. There was one he remembered in particular, though, because it had been in his second or maybe third year—no, definitely second year, because Abraham Dyer had been chasing, and that was his last season—and Sam spent half the match hassling James with questions about Hogwarts. Well, not hassling; James hadn't quite reached his imminent adolescent self-absorption himself, so he'd been more than happy to tell everything about the school. But James remembered it now, because it was the first time he noticed that Sam was no longer telling him about the great and mysterious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but rather the reverse; James had by then spent more time at the school and passed into a realm beyond Sam's experience.
James helped Clo and Simone with clothes. Clo, who, though initially somewhat frightening, with her studded boots and heavy eye-liner, turned out to be a very good-natured witch. She fell in love with every jumper in the chest of drawers, and she fought with the box for custody of several of them. Simone laughed at her friend's dilemmas, and Oscar expressed confusion over each and every decision made.
Merlin's sake, Sam could be an idiot, though. Did he really imagine Adele would let him get away with being a Hufflepuff? That woman had the narrowest definition of acceptable behavior James had ever witnessed, and that meant her children were to be Slytherins or Ravenclaws—respectable houses: certainly nothing as frivolous as a Hufflepuff.
If, of course, that was the real reason for Sam's departure from Hogwarts. James only half believed it. James's mother had once hinted that it was really Lon's doing—Sam's father, but James always supposed if there was another reason, someone would get around to telling him when he was older.
Sam liked the Hufflepuff story, though. It suited his self-mythologizing. He was always saying those things, like how he was the shortest Dearborn in six hundred years, or how a house elf had cursed his fingernails as a child, and now they never grew. It seemed ridiculous, of course, but if it were to happen to anyone...
Sirius and Dorcas worked very slowly; they spent half an hour just throwing shoes in a box and discussing other things in low, earnest voices. James drifted into their conversation for a little while, when he was looking through some blank postcards from places Sam had never been. Dorcas recounted to Sirius how she had heard about the attack—the cup of coffee in her hand, the innocent gesture of switching on the wireless, the hours spent in frantic search for Emmeline, whom she thought might have attended the conference with her husband... Why did Sam have those postcards anyway?
He hadn't been to any of these places, and no one had sent them to him—anyway, there was on writing on them. Whatever did he keep them for? The unimpressive photographs of buildings or grey-cast beaches or a quaint stone bridge with a babbling brook...? There were a handful of muggle cards in there, too—what did go through that bloke's brain anyway?
Caradoc monitored everyone. It was a disgrace, really, that Adele couldn't even be bothered to get out of bed. She ought to have been there—she ought to have organized the thing, rather than leaving it to Caradoc to throw together at the last moment. At the very least, she ought to have made sure that people knew about it. More than just a few random mates and a spare cousin ought to have been there. Sam always had a hundred friends; every time James saw him, he seemed to be dashing off to meet some new mate or just arriving from an appointment with one. Adele always dismissed this, though, and now she seemed to be dismissing Sam's death.
But no, James regretted that particular resentful thought: it was unfair.
The letters were the main event for that afternoon. That tradition in James's family—and maybe in others, he couldn't really be certain—was to gather after an unexpected death like this, all the family and friends, and sort through saved letters... not to read them, of course, and one could only take or examine correspondences of one's own. The rest were burned.
Sam had kept a great many of his letters, stored in a little wooden chest and tied in stacks. Unfortunately, the organizational system stopped there. Letters from his mates in Boston from two years ago sat just below a month old note from Sarah McKinnon; there were Christmas cards tied with a letter from an apothecary that had just received a special order for him; James found two of his own saved letters bundled with a curt note from a muggle library.
Lily had written to Sam. James knew this, and he wondered vaguely if hers were in here. But they'd be burned with the rest. They weren't his, and you couldn't take any letters that weren't yours. That was it. The rule.
He had tried to speak with her, with Lily, at Kings Cross the day before; they hadn't spoken since she'd handed him the crumpled up letter in the Head Offices, before they knew for sure, and then a few days had passed, and James thought he'd like to say something to her. He couldn't think want, but he'd seen her across the platform and started towards her, and he thought she'd seen him (he was almost certain she'd spotted him, really), but maybe she hadn't, because she turned away when he drew near and went off with Donna, and he hadn't stopped her, because, after all, he didn't even really know what it was that he needed to say. All the same, he wished he'd said it.
The whole group sat on the floor of Sam's bedroom, surrounded by envelopes—some with return addresses, some without—everyone searching for their own handwriting or stationary or anything that looked familiar. James found all that he thought could be his from over the years, but he had already decided that he didn't want to keep them and set them with the unclaimed letters. He also found two or three of his mother's—those, he kept to return to her.
Sirius and Caradoc offered occasional remarks to James (Sirius having nothing to do, except to observe the experiences of the others), but otherwise, only Simone and Clo consistently talked throughout the process. Then, they had not been at it very long, before the house elf Galloway returned. He stood in the doorway until Caradoc took note of him, got to his feet, and approached the elf. They spoke in muted voices for a moment, then Caradoc returned and said to James: "Mum wants to see you, James. Galloway can show you the way, if you don't mind terribly. We'll wait for you to burn anything..."
"Don't worry about it," James assured his cousin. Galloway led the way out into the corridor and guided him up to the third floor, which consisted almost entirely of his great aunt's bed chamber. The elf bowed slightly to him outside the room, and James was left to open the door and announce himself.
Adele Dearborn's bedroom maintained the spirit of the rest of the house far better than Sam's did: pale yellow walls, lace curtains, a crystal chandelier, and a fluffy white bed, in which his aunt—in a grey dressing gown—lay, propped up by half a dozen pillows and mostly covered by the thick down comforter.
"James, dear, won't you come in and close the door?"
Never had "dear" been attached to a name with less warmth. However, James complied with Adele's request, as well as a second one, to bring the painted chair with the cream velvet cushions from the desk to the spot beside her bed, so that James might have a "nice chat" with her. As he sat down, he fancied his aunt might invite him to kiss the mildly ostentatious diamond rings on her fingers, but she did not.
Adele Dearborn was a small woman. Her yellow hair was smoothed back away from her face, collecting in a wispy knot just above her neck. She had beady blue eyes and a pinched face, and—along with the jewelry—she seemed to have powdered her face and applied a smattering of dark purple paint to her lips, so that the bed-ridden routine lost some credibility for James.
She was ugly, he thought. He'd never noticed it before, but she was. And she'd been ashamed of Sam. She blamed her niece, and she'd been ashamed of Sam.
A few pleasantries, if that was the word for it. (They were rather painful for any categorization that included the word "pleasant.") It was so good of James to come. How were things coming along? Would he like some tea? Didn't Caradoc look well? By the time he left the house that afternoon, James couldn't remember replying to any of these, but he must have, because Adele kept asking him things.
He would, very distinctly, recall the more substantial portion of the meeting, which began with the blank statement of: "I suppose your mother has informed you of the situation."
"She mentioned you didn't want to see her anymore," said James dully. Adele took exception to his frankness and required a moment to compose herself. I'm an invalid after all, she might have said. Practically did say.
"I am sorry that this might cause you some discomfort, dear boy. I assure you that the affair hurts me a great deal more."
She didn't hear him. "What did you say? Speak up, my dear."
"I said it's a shame," James repeated, louder, "that all of this dreadful business should cause you any discomfort."
It was funny, really, how many of James's conversations with adults went like this: he would be snide, and they would pretend they didn't understand. Thinking about it, he really did get away with loads. At any rate, Adele pressed on: "However, I wanted to speak with you today, because I want you to believe that I do not hold you responsible for what your parents have done."
"Parents? I thought it was just mum who'd thrown Sam to the lions."
Adele winced, but she wasn't sure how seriously to take James. "My niece," the witch all but whispered, "chose to reject her family many years ago. But it is only now that my son had to die because of that."
The anger swelled, the heat rose to his face, the blood pounded in his ears, all the usual symptoms announced themselves. In a corridor at Hogwarts, faced with Snape or someone, he'd have drawn his wand and hexed something. He'd have punched Mulciber in the jaw. Knocked one to Sirius. Shouted at someone. Seen red and that would've taken over and he would've gotten angry.
He would've shouted at his aunt that it wasn't his mother's fault. That Grace was brave and Sam was brave and all of M.F.P. was really, very, very brave. If anything, it was Adele's fault, more than Grace's. Sam took pleasure in annoying his parents—they were going to be ashamed of him anyway, weren't they? Why did she think he took such pride in M.F.P.?
James had it in him to tell Adele this. But he was tired—so bloody exhausted.
"I'm very sorry," was his strained reply. Adele mistook the tremor in his voice for sincere remorse—guilt, even, for his parents' supposed crimes. In her obvious appreciation of the apology, however, she belied her own claim that she did not blame James. She almost smiled.
"Your mother"—with so much loathing, though—"has made some... questionable decisions, with regard to your upbringing..."
Merlin, the maternal affection must have been bloody overwhelming for Sam...
"...But I firmly believe, James, that you are a good boy. Certainly the family has worried about you in the past...
Well that's nice to hear.
"...But now, you are such a strong young man—Head Boy, Quidditch Captain... you have always favored the Potters, but there is something Dearborn about you..."
It's the chin. Classically Great Uncle Rogan, right there.
"...And you must know that you have—other family, James. If you so choose, you are—we are perfectly happy to have you any time at all, dear boy. I do not want you to think that your parents' choices will prevent you from being a member of this family. You are a Dearborn, and you are a Potter, and as long as you want it, there will be a place for you here."
"So why did he stay?" Sirius had asked him earlier. They'd approached the front of the Dearborn house, and James—before he could stop himself—had half-choked on the confession that Sam had always hated this house and that his family had been ashamed of him and he'd felt a fiendish need to make them ashamed of him and they never appreciated him for what he was. Which was excellent. He was excellent. Maybe Sirius hadn't been able to help himself either, for he'd asked: "So why did he stay?" After all, Sirius hadn't stayed... He'd gotten so sick of the place that he'd have gone mad if he stayed at Grimmauld Place another minute.
To Adele, James, rising from the chair, said, "Thank-you. I'd better get back to the others—don't want to miss the letters."
Even when the bedroom slid into sufficient focus, and even after she'd recognized it as belonging to Donna, Lily struggled to remember why she lay there. Then it came back to her, and she rolled onto her back.
Generally speaking, Lily found that falling asleep in blue jeans was a mistake. The copper button cut uncomfortably into her stomach and left red ridges in the skin just below her belly-button. The trousers had probably lost all their shape, stretched out as she curled up into a ball on her side, and now that she lay on her back with her legs extended flat against the bed and her stomach pulled in, the jeans felt too loose.
Distant, muffled voices drifted into the room. She pushed herself off the bed and followed them into the kitchen.
When Lily emerged, bleary-eyed and disheveled, Donna was directing milk into a cup with her wand, Brice—deeply focused on not spilling—held said cup with both hands, Bridget and Isaiah sat at the table eating biscuits, and Aunt Dahlia leaned against the counter beside the sink, concentrating on the newspaper and twirling a quill between her fingers—presumably working on the crossword. The whole room smelled of the biscuits.
Donna finished pouring the milk and glanced up at her friend. "How was your nap, then?"
"Good, yeah... how long did I sleep anyway?"
"Long enough for me to make biscuits." She offered one to Lily.
"Long enough for you to become the sort of person who makes biscuits, too, I see."
Donna made a face, but forfeited the opportunity for a more characteristic response due to the presence of immediate family. Instead she said, "Don't be thick: I'm brilliant at everything." Then she added: "Kingsley's just come home, actually. Took an early day."
The auror in question revealed himself a moment later, coming from his room. He greeted Lily politely and inquired about that morning's trip into Diagon Alley. Then he sat down at the table and pilfered one of Isaiah's biscuits.
"We ran into Alice Griffiths—er, Longbottom, whatever it is," Donna told her brother, as she put the milk away again. "One of yours, Kingsley."
"Mmmm, it's a wonder," said Kingsley absently. "The trainees don't generally see the light of day."
"She was at luncheon."
"Still a wonder. This isn't bad, Donny." He indicated to the biscuit he was chewing on. Donna, who was wiping down the counter, froze.
"Did you just call me 'Donny,' you bast..." She broke off and cleared her throat, while Kingsley chuckled to himself. "Donny is never allowed to resurface as a nickname. Donny ends now."
"I like it," said her older brother.
"You really are turning into Dad, Agrippa's sake."
"It suits you, Donny."
"Not in front of the children, Kingsley." Donna resumed her cleaning. "You know how it goes—Brice'll hear it once and then start saying it, and his mates' parents will complain about their little tykes being exposed to that kind of language, and I'll have to explain what a bad influence their older brother is..."
"Anyway," Bridget interrupted, "we could always start up with Kiki again."
Kingsley laughed out loud now. "Merlin, that's worse..."
"Kiki?" Aunt Dahlia questioned, looking up from her crossword puzzle.
"It's what I used to call Kingsley when I was a baby," Isaiah said. "I couldn't say his name—Kingsley came out sounding like Kiki."
"It amused Donny over there to no end, as I'm sure you can imagine," Kingsley exposited.
"I used to introduce him to my parents' friends as 'Kiki,'" Donna recollected fondly. "Remember when those witches from Mum's work came over..."
"When you told that woman that she and I had the same name? Oh, you were a brat." He hopped up from his chair and set the kettle. "Tea, anyone?"
"Merlin, you were furious. You thought you were so excellent. You'd just made prefect, I think..."
"And Quidditch Captain!—You'll have some, Dahlia?—Don't forget Quidditch Captain!"
"You won't let me."
"Well, that story gets funnier if you—where's the blue cup? No the dark blue..."
"Brice is using it."
"Brice can't use it!"
"You're such a child, Kings..."
"I'm not being a child—he'll break the cup."
"I will not! Look!"
"He's fine, Kings, just use one of these..."
"How does the story get funnier, Kingsley?" Bridget wanted to know.
"What? Oh yes." Kingsley had now arranged the tea cups along the counter and turned to face Bridget at the table. "As it turns out, that witch works on the floor above mine now..."
"You're joking..." said Donna.
"'Remembers, too. Calls me 'Kiki' every bloody day!"
"'Does, too. Moody hollered at her entire office for sending irrelevant memos to our floor, because she'd sent one to me labeled like that..."
"Isaiah, I think Kiki might be your best invention yet..."
"I was a clever baby, wasn't I?"
"Did you ever tell you boss that it was intended for you?" asked Aunt Dahlia.
"Wait a minute, I'll have a cup, too, Kings."
"Yeah, yeah—so I'll tell you what happened. Moody finished shouting at half that floor—bad day, you know..."
Kingsley continued on, and Lily—who had drifted toward the wall furthest from the action—tried to disappear into the scenery. The Shacklebolts had so little time together, after all...
That, anyway, was the more comforting narrative Lily imposed upon this moment, though it oversimplified everything.
Truthfully, she didn't feel like an intruder at all. The Shacklebolts could carry on perfectly well with her there; they might have enjoyed the audience even. The easy back-and-forth, the comfortable, familiar nature of everything—and yet they managed to have a referential, nostalgic conversation without seeming exclusive. It was possible, Lily reflected, that the ache of longing stemmed from the knowledge that she hadn't experienced a familial relationship like this in, well, years, possibly ever (she'd been so young, after all). More likely, however, she realized how much she would have liked to have gone home this weekend.
To spend time with your loved ones, Dumbledore had said. They were to go home to be with their loved ones. Because when things like this happened, you were supposed to be with your family. You were supposed to be home. She was supposed to be able to go to her mother—at least her mother—and be held by the person who loved her more than anything else, who was more familiar, who knew her better, who would've done everything in her power to assuage the overwhelming sadness of all of this. And it hurt even more, because when Lily closed her eyes, she couldn't properly picture her mum's face.
Kingsley's water had boiled and he began pouring it from the kettle into a series of cups. "Have one, Lily?" he asked, but she smiled and declined.
Marlene started at the sound of her name, called from the kitchen as she flipped through the record crate in the sitting room, and—in such a small flat—the young witch marveled that she had managed to miss her mother, standing there by the counter with a glass in hand.
"Where are you rushing off to, then?" Vivian Price asked, as Marlene turned back toward her, pulling her arms through her jacket.
"Adam's," said Marlene. "I didn't know you were home from work yet..."
"Off at three on Saturdays. And what are you taking with you there?"
"What? Oh." Marlene glanced at the sleeves she had selected. "Just a few of the classics. Do you mind?"
"Go ahead, Sugar, but there'll be trouble if they don't come home again in perfect playing condition."
"Mmm. Have fun with your mates."
The unlikelihood of this notwithstanding, Marlene assured her mother that she would, and she once again turned toward the door, only to be stopped by the repetition of her name. "Mhm?" Vivian frowned now, and the green glass in her hand shook a little, Marlene noticed. "What's wrong?"
She opened her mouth to reply, closed it abruptly, and then set down the glass. She seemed to choose her words carefully before beginning again: "What's going on, Marlene? What are you doing here?"
"I told you..."
"Marlene—I didn't go to a fancy boarding school, much less one for witches and wizards, but I know it's a touch out of the ordinary—even for Hogwarts—to send the lot of you home in the middle of the term."
"They were fixing the plumbing, Mum—the Ministry of Magic said it wasn't safe for..."
"Try again, Marlene. I told my mum more tales in my time than you do, so it'll be a while before I'm convinced. I'd wager you were suspended or the like, but they'd have written to me, I'm sure, and with all your mates around, too, I don't see how." Vivian folded her arms, and Marlene considered her options. This was rare, a confrontation, but she knew that if she only stood her ground long enough—and long enough might not be much more than two minutes—her mother would give in and decide that she would rather believe the lie than start a fight over it. Between mother and daughter, there was the understanding that if Marlene lied to Vivian, she had a good reason. After all, Marlene usually did not need to lie: few expectations were placed upon her and fewer limitations. Consequently, she took even herself by surprise when she replied to her mother's demand with the truth.
"There's a war," she said. "In our—in the wizarding world, there's a war, and a lot of people died in it last week, and there's a memorial on Sunday morning, and Professor Dumbledore sent us all home to be with our families beforehand."
Vivian stared. "A war?" she asked, before turning skeptical. "How could there be a whole war that no one's bloody noticed?"
"Well..." Marlene tucked the records into her bag and advanced further toward the kitchen, eventually sitting down at the counter, though still trying to find a way to explain. "It's not that you haven't noticed, you just don't know what it is. Last week, in the papers, there was something about a pipe exploding in Rutland, yeah? An old building was half demolished... something like that..."
"I dunno." Vivian didn't read the papers much. "'Mighta seen something about it."
"Well, the building wasn't empty, and it wasn't an explosion. It was an attack, and—and loads of people died." With reluctance, but she had little to lose at this point: "Including Adam's sister."
"An attack?" Vivian repeated, panicked. "The war is here? But who's attacking us?"
"It's—it's not like that, Mum. It's not with—you know, countries and bombs and that... it's more like a—a rebellion, or—something, like that, I don't know. You see, there's this—man, this wizard, and he's got some... followers, and they're trying to... to take over."
Vivian's blue eyes were wide. "Take over what?"
"Well..." Marlene frowned. "The country."
"The magical one, you mean?"
"I mean," she went hurriedly on, "He can't very well sack the Prime Minister, for Christ's sake, can he? He can't just knock off the queen! Not when no one's even heard of him—what's his name?"
Marlene sighed. "You're right," she lied. "And you—you won't have heard of him, that's true, so... it's—it's just the magical world that's... fighting." (What good would it do to tell her the truth anyway?) "It'll all be over soon enough, I'm sure."
"So—you don't think this... wizard will win?"
"Oh no." Marlene managed a smile, and perhaps she was a better liar than her mother gave her credit for, because Vivian seemed to believe her when she added: "They'll catch him any day now." Then again, the lie was more palatable. "But this is like all the rest, Mum, please remember that. You can't talk about it. Not to anyone. Not even the MacDonalds, see?"
Vivian surrendered the point, but Marlene took the time to lean over the kitchen counter and kiss her mother on the cheek before she made her way for the door, adding—though no inquiry was made—that she would be home later, but she didn't know when exactly.
"Marlene, sugar..." Marlene waited, hand on the door knob. "You're safe, aren't you? No one's going to try to hurt you, yeah?"
"Perfectly safe, Mum. Love you."
"Love you too."
After that, Marlene hurried out in the hallway. She never could stand apparating in front of her mother, and it wasn't exactly advisable to do magic in the flat itself. The advantage of living in a densely populated area was that the "underage magic" bit was difficult to assign to any one underage witch or wizard, but there wasn't much point in taking the additional risk. Anyway, as long as she was stepping out, she could visit Mary on her way.
By Mrs. MacDonald's instructions, Marlene found her friend down in the MacDonalds' shop. Her father was working behind the counter, and Mary stood at his side, twirling a strand of dark hair around a pencil and not appearing particularly helpful.
"Apples are marked down this week," said Mary, when Marlene came up to the counter and leaned over it.
Marlene ignored this and replied: "Can I have a word?"
"Sure." Mary climbed out from under the counter and led the way to the front of the shop, beyond Mr. MacDonald's earshot. "Something wrong, Mar?"
"I told Mum," Marlene replied. "About the war and everything. I told her not to tell your mum and dad, but I thought you should have a warning anyway."
Mary frowned. "I wish you wouldn't have. Viv can't keep a secret to save her life."
"Oh, I don't know about that—I haven't seen any 'Newham Woman Unveils Entire World of Witches and Wizards Secretly Living in England' headlines lately. And she's had six years to muck that one up."
"'Doesn't mean she won't have a chat with mum and dad about our potential peril," said Mary. She grew increasingly irritated. "You might at least have warned me beforehand."
"She asked me and I told the truth, that's all. I didn't want to lie."
"Why not? It's worked well enough for the last six years, hasn't it?"
"Well she's bound to find out eventually. They all are, Mary."
"Maybe not." Mary folded her arms over the bright floral print of her blouse. "It might be over sooner than we think, and we'll just have worried them for no good reason."
"Well, they are parents," said Marlene sullenly. "It won't kill them to fret a little."
"Easy for you to say. You've never given them anything to fret about."
"You're not so bad, Mary."
"I wasn't talking about me."
Marlene softened. She reached out and wrapped an arm around her friend's shoulders, drawing her closer. Mary sighed and relaxed. "I'm sorry, Mare. I know it's... but you're parents aren't as fragile as you think they are. If anything, they've proved that by now."
"I know." Mary gave Marlene a quick squeeze around the middle before moving back. "Aren't you supposed to be at the McKinnons'?"
"Mmm, I'm going now. Late, actually. I'd better leave... but I'll see you tomorrow. We can go to the memorial together."
"I don't know," said Mary. She began to twirl her hair again, this time around her finger. The glossy red polish on the nail peaked through the chestnut brown curl. "I was thinking of skipping it."
"Well where am I supposed to tell the parents I'm disappearing off to for hours on a Sunday morning, anyway?"
"I don't know... Church?"
"Agrippa's sake, Price, I need something that's at least possible. Preferably likely."
"Well, figure something out. Please, you have to come with me."
Mary sighed again, but her resistance was weak. She nodded and agreed, and Marlene gave her another quick hug before returning to the back of the shop. She waved to Mr. MacDonald, and slipped into the loo—for employees only, but they never minded for Marlene—not bothering to lock the door, because she had apparated before it clicked shut.
A short, familiar walk from the town of Ford, the McKinnons' house sat tucked away amongst trees and shrubbery and roads to other places. It seemed centuries since Marlene had stepped from the muddy brown road onto the grey flagstone path up to the front porch—to the forest green front door in its stone archway, the half-moon amber glass window overhead casting the welcome mat in a strange light and hinting that the house may have entered the twentieth century—the seventies, even.
Marlene wiped her boots on the mat underfoot, but she was procrastinating, really, because she didn't know how to face the McKinnons now. If she hadn't already lingered on the porch for a whole minute, and if the embarrassment of fleeing and being caught were not such a strong deterrent, Marlene might not have mustered the courage to knock on the door at all. But then she did, and it was all right, because Audrey opened the door.
"I'm late, I'm sorry..."
"No, you're perfect, thank you," said Audrey, very quickly pulling Marlene inside. She closed the door by magic, and then steered Marlene through the entry way—made narrow by the staircase that ran along the wall to their right—and into the dining room. As they entered, Audrey stepped on something red and plastic: Marlene couldn't see what, but it made a loud crack sound beneath her shoe. She bit her lip, apparently to hold back a curse and hollered: "Donald McKinnon, for the last time, pick up your toys! Sorry—" Audrey added to Marlene, who dismissed it graciously. Donald trotted out from one of the bedrooms, face half hidden behind a crop of dark blonde hair, and gathered up the wreck of the toy in question, only stopping for a moment to smile at Marlene before disappearing back into the other room.
The whole house seemed quieter than usual, and it felt stiller, too; Adam didn't jog through the corridors, throwing a quaffle at the walls, for one thing, and Felicity wasn't telling him to stop it, and Mrs. McKinnon wasn't moving through the rooms, rapidly dictating something important-sounding to a pursuing quill and parchment. Only Frances McKinnon made an appearance, sitting on the stairs with a book open on her lap, and after she said her "Hello," to Marlene, she resumed her reading at once. Mr. and Mrs. McKinnon were nowhere to be seen. Audrey did not explain.
"Adam graced us with his presence at breakfast," she said instead, leading the way up the steps, though Marlene knew the way perfectly well. "For about fifteen seconds, and then was off again once Felicity and Mum started a conversation."
"Audrey, I don't know what you think I can do," Marlene began. "He's upset..."
"I don't expect you to do anything, dear," said Audrey tenderly. "Just find out if he's going to the memorial tomorrow... and, well, if he isn't, then I suppose I do want you to do one thing."
"Convince him to go."
"That's right. You see, I don't want a scene tomorrow morning when we're all setting off. That's the sort of business that sticks with a family—if he didn't go..." They reached the second floor, and Adam's bedroom door was mere steps. "Shall I announce you?"
Marlene smiled. "Better not."
"Right. And thank-you."
"'Course." Audrey descended the staircase, and Marlene wished she at least had the procrastination aid of a doormat this time. She sighed deeply, stepped over to her friend's door, and knocked. He didn't answer. "Adam?"
She heard the confusion in his voice when he replied, muffled through the door: "Who's that?"
Inexplicably, the sound of his voice came as something of a relief, and Marlene smiled. "Zip up, McKinnon, I'm coming in."
Still, she was additionally relieved when her warning proved unnecessary, because Adam, though reclining on his bed, held a book, which was propped up on his stomach.
"Hello," she said as she came into the room and dropped her bag on the floor.
"What are you doing here?" He sat up and set aside the book, but otherwise failed to react with any discernable emotion.
"I came to visit Donald. He misses me so."
Adam rolled his eyes. "Right."
Adam's room looked the same as ever. She walked with the comfort of acquaintance to the desk and sat down on the chair, draping her arm over the back to face her friend on the bed. The posters were all the same, the LP sleeves that lined the entire perimeter of the room along the ceiling, his old, frayed Gryffindor scarf stuck on the wall above the desk with a red pin... scarcely any of the white walls beneath were visible through all the—stuff, she didn't know what else to call the assortment of things adorning them. And then, as she thought about it, the familiarity of the room lost its comfort and became something sad, like an old, lost toy she'd found but couldn't quite locate the feeling once associated with it.
"Audrey asked me to check up on you, y'know," Marlene said, looking away from the walls and at their owner. "'Thought you should know. I'm actually a spy."
This seemed to surprise Adam, and Marlene was glad, at least, that she'd dispelled the nonchalance of before. "What're they worried about?" he asked. "I haven't done anything."
"You haven't locked yourself away from everyone and gone on mysterious walks at all hours?"
"Well, if you put it that way." He crossed his arms over his chest, and Marlene could see him pulling away from her. "I'm supposed to be cheerful now, am I? And you're supposed to cheer me up? Is that it?"
"No, that's not it."
"Then what is it?"
"I just—I just figured you might want some company."
"Well, I don't." He looked sullenly down at his blue and green plaid coverlet. Marlene nodded.
"Okay, then." She didn't move, though, and she didn't think that he expected her to. "I'm so, so sorry, Adam," she added a minute later. Adam closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, and when he opened his eyes again, he did so to look at Marlene. "So—" he began coarsely, "what did you bring me?"
Marlene smiled as she hopped off the chair to retrieve her bag. She went over to the record player on the dresser by the door and withdrew from her bag the three records, which she set down beside the player, while she removed the vinyl already set and returned it to its jacket. "So, first on our agenda is one of my mum's," she told him as she worked. "And it's so bloody good that even the fact that they're mum's can't ruin them."
"Why would that ruin them?"
"Whenever she was sad about a bloke, she'd get sloshed and play them so loud the whole flat shook." Marlene shrugged.
The music filled the room and Marlene turned back to Adam, who was watching her. "This isn't even a sad song," he pointed out after a few measures. Marlene sat down at the foot of his bed, tucking her feet underneath her, and she shook her head.
"Well, you've got to listen for it."
They listened for a while, not saying anything, until Adam asked: "Did Audrey write to you, then? To get you over?"
Marlene explained about meeting her at the pub. "And now she's worried that you won't go to the memorial tomorrow, so she wants me to convince you to go."
"I'll go if they want me to," said Adam. "But I don't see any point in it. It won't mean anything to anyone there, or me, or Sarah."
"What about your family?"
"I didn't think they'd care, but I reckon they do if Audrey mentioned it."
"Of course they care," said Marlene. "You thought your mum wouldn't mind about your not going?"
"Why should she? I don't." Then his expression changed; lines appeared across his forehead, his face contorted in concern. "Is that wrong? Why don't I feel like I—owe it to her, or something? I don't know, I..." He gathered urgency, "I feel like she's alive, most of the time. I know she's not. I force myself to remember that she's gone. But I haven't seen her body—it's like she's just left the room. I'm trying to convince myself that she's really not coming back, but I've done that so many times, it's—even that doesn't sting anymore, and it's just nothing." Marlene went to turn the record over, and Adam concluded: "Doesn't it make you want to—go live somewhere else? Go get a house and live like a muggle or something?"
"No," said Marlene. "I understand that—that's what Mary said, but no, not for me. Maybe because I do live with a muggle, you know? It just..." she shrugged, "makes me want to kill death eaters." The thought sounded far more gruesome when voiced, but Adam took it well. He actually looked amused when she turned around and faced him again, the b-side humming along.
"That's why we're mates, Price."
"The fact that that didn't frighten you is why we're mates, actually." She sat down on the bed again, this time next to Adam at the head. She adjusted one of the pillows so that it cushioned her back against the headboard.
"Do you mean it?" he asked. "About the death eaters?"
"I don't know. I think so."
Adam mimicked her position with the other pillow. His socks ended up several inches beyond the toes of her boots. "How is anything going to be normal again?"
"It—I don't know."
"D'you suppose it will?"
"How do you know, then?"
"Oh. I don't know. It's not a very good story for today."
"You don't want to tell it?"
"No." Adam accepted this, and Marlene was grateful. She patted his hand, in between their bodies, gently. "You don't have to think about things going back to normal yet, though. And until they do..."
"Yeah. And, you know..."
But Audrey McKinnon interrupted them, knocking on the door but not waiting for a reply before she opened it. Marlene thought she would only arouse more suspicion by moving from her position, but, at any rate, Audrey didn't seem terribly shocked. "You'll stay for supper, won't you, Marlene?" she pressed, probably assuming (and correctly) that Adam would be compelled to play social with his family so long as his guest was there.
"Yes, Aud, thank-you, bye," said Adam. Marlene made a face at him.
"I don't want to trouble your family..."
"No trouble, no trouble," said Audrey.
"But really, I..."
Audrey half closed the door, but then opened it again and stuck her head through; "Do you eat meat, Marlene?"
"I... very much so."
"Killer," said Adam, when his sister had gone. Marlene kicked him. Then she hopped off the bed. "Where are you going?"
"To help with supper."
Adam groaned. "You don't have to do that."
"I'm still going to. C'mon."
His protests fell on deaf ears, and, dragging his feet, Adam followed her out of the room, downstairs through to the kitchen. Audrey was alone there, searching through one of the cabinets, and, balancing on her toes as she was, she nearly toppled over when she saw Adam there.
"We're going to help," said Marlene.
"Oh, that's not necessary..."
"Then give us the tedious tasks, and I'll make Adam do them."
They were assigned the potatoes. Marlene washed and peeled half a dozen of them, then Adam, using his wand, sliced them into thin, even circles. Then, Adam found Marlene's arrangement of the slices in the white china casserole dish unsatisfactory, and his own placement of them in long rows was, indeed, more aesthetically pleasing, though Marlene maintained it did not matter how they looked. Audrey unconvincingly assured her that she hadn't done terribly, although she did not stop Adam from fixing them.
While Audrey assumed the lions' share of the work with the roast, Marlene labored to chop garlic ("Don't scoff, McKinnon—the most food preparation we do in the Price household is paying the bloke who drops it off..."), and Adam sautéed onions and stirred the cheese sauce on the stove, gloatingly managing both tasks at once.
They were thus occupied when Felicity—Adam's oldest sister—entered the kitchen. She was a tall, willowy witch with light red hair and the same blend of blue, green, and brown eyes as her younger brother. The gold band on her left ring finger was an addition Marlene had not yet seen, but on previous summer days, when she had been a more frequent visitor to the McKinnons, she had known Felicity well, though never to the same degree as Audrey or Sarah or the little ones. As a McKinnon, Felicity was generally good-natured, but as the eldest, she tended still to affect the authority she'd wielded in years gone by.
Today, she certainly seemed the worse for the situation, coming into the room with the air of Professor McGonagall approaching rowdy students in the corridor.
"Aud, if you needed help, you could've asked me," she said quietly. "I hope we don't need to make the guests work to get supper on the table."
Audrey blushed, but Adam spoke up quickly: "Marlene volunteered us, actually," he said, and Felicity visibly started.
"Marlene? I didn't..." She blushed, too, and Marlene realized what had happened. Felicity hadn't recognized her.
"Oh yes, all my hair's gone," she said, abandoning the garlic. "Existential crisis. Just sort of chopped it." Adam raised a curious eyebrow, and Marlene lightly finished: "It was very dramatic."
A short, uncomfortable pause, and then Audrey inquired about Felicity's husband. "He went on the walk with Mum and the children," the oldest sister replied.
"Didn't Dad go?" Audrey asked.
"No, he had to stop by the office."
"On a Saturday?"
Felicity shrugged. "Let me help, then. Mum'll want supper when they get back."
"You can fix the salad," Audrey told her. "Or slice the bread. And we'd better hurry along with those potatoes, Adam."
"No lip from you, brother."
Marlene found no way to botch the setting of the table, and she'd just finished, when Mrs. McKinnon, Felicity's husband, Prateek, and the three youngest McKinnons returned from their walk. Mrs. McKinnon looked exhausted but functioning. Her greying brown hair was set in a long, shiny plait, and she wore black mourning robes. On entering the dining room, the witch lacked the strength to be surprised at Marlene's setting the dishes on the table, but she managed a weak smile and inquiry as to her guest's well-being.
Supper was ready shortly thereafter, and when Mr. McKinnon—wearier in appearance even than his wife—arrived, they sat down to eat.
"What is this?"
"The Kinks, of course."
"I don't like it."
"I don't like you."
Adam rolled his eyes again, Marlene sat down at the desk again, it was almost nine o'clock. Supper had gone—tolerably well, and then Marlene had managed to keep Adam out with his family for ages by cleaning the kitchen with Felicity and Prateek, and making coffee for Mr. and Mrs. McKinnon, and suggesting they accompany Donald and Frances to the market to fetch ice cream. In reality, Adam had offered very little resistance—nothing beyond a perfunctory "Do we have to?" and then, when all was said and done and they might have retreated to his room to listen to records again, he voluntarily joined his siblings in the sitting room to chat about—well, anything but Sarah.
That was when Marlene had planned on making her escape, but Adam sent her a pleading look, and she relented and joined the McKinnon children. She remained alert for the hour or so spent there for the indication that she was intruding or that she ought to leave, but as self-conscious as she was, caught no sign, and so stayed until Frances went to bed, and Adam said: "All right, then, let's have a go at the rest of those records."
Which brought them back to the room, Marlene at the desk, Adam on the bed, and the Kinks on the record player.
"You really need to get your head out of the sixties, Price," he said after a song or two.
"Never. Anyway..." She rested her chin on the top of her hands, "this is 1970. Or '71?"
Adam dropped his head onto a pillow and closed his eyes; Marlene tried to focus on the music, and they were quiet for a time. "I've got to sort this out," Adam said eventually.
"What d'you mean?"
"What to do next. How to get on—go back to Hogwarts, work up the momentum to be worried about potions assignments. Quidditch matches. N.E.W.T.s. I haven't even been properly sad yet, and I don't want to be, but if I'm not, I don't know how I'm meant to go on and do the rest. But if I am I don't know how I'm meant to go on and do the rest either. I don't know how to do anything right now—I haven't spoken with my mum or dad about it properly, I haven't gone to her flat, I haven't been able to do anything except sit in here or walk around by myself because... well I don't know why, I just can't." Marlene got up to switch off the music, but Adam interrupted her: "No, don't." He'd opened his eyes when he'd heard her rise, perhaps, because he looked at her when she turned to face him. "Just—just sit for a minute?" Marlene nodded. She sat down on the edge of the bed, and Adam closed his eyes again, massaging the bridge of between his eyes. "Now... tell me that everything is going to be okay, all right?"
Every inch of her ached, and as such it was a tremendous effort, finding the words and beginning: "Sarah loved you so much, and you loved her. That will never, ever go away, I promise, not even when you—when you sort out how you want to be normal again, not at all. So—no listen to me. Everything is going to be okay." Her voice strained. "All right?"
Adam swallowed. "All right."
He's dead. He's someone that you barely know. He's a signature at the bottom of a page. He's a lot of stories. He's a whole person and you don't even know him.
It didn't help at all, repeating these phrases to herself like a mantra. It made things worse, even, because it destroyed the small hope that Lily could somehow formulate sentences around the feelings and thereby control them.
She wanted desperately to be rid of them, too. That fact was bad enough—it made her feel weak and cruel, but she lay in the dark in the spare bed set up in Donna's room, and there was nothing she could do about those feelings. They wouldn't bring Sam back; they wouldn't restore Tilly Figg or Sarah McKinnon or a bright perspective on the world, and she could not rest her head on her mum's shoulder and feel okay, so she wanted the ache to be gone.
Something was missing, though, and Lily could not quite figure out what it might be. He's gone. He's gone. He's gone. They're all gone. They're all gone. They're all dead.
She thought it over and over, burned the images of the words themselves into her brain, in some bizarre attempt to make herself cry and exorcise the feeling. It was guilt, too. Sam wasn't hers. Others—James and Adam and so many others—had lost much more than she had. The eighty seven witches and wizards had lost their lives, for Merlin's sake. She felt guilty for her own, pathetic sense of loss.
She just wanted to go home. She just wanted to curl up on the sofa; she wanted her mum to kiss her on the top of the head and tell her everything would be all right. She wanted warmth and love and unquestioning comfort. These were very selfish thoughts, she supposed, climbing out of bed. That she could even entertain these thoughts now shamed her—and Donna, asleep across the room, could never feel that warmth and love and unquestioning comfort again. But she couldn't help it. She just couldn't.
Lily changed her clothes, leaving her pajamas in a little pile on her bed and exchanging them for brown trousers, a green blouse, and a pair of boots. She pulled on her coat and gloves and hat and extracted her wallet from her luggage, tucking it into her front coat pocket, where it sat with a few receipts from last year's Christmas shopping.
She wrote the explanatory note and left it on her bed, just in case Donna woke in her absence (it was almost eleven—the Shacklebolts had all gone to bed early in anticipation of the early ceremony tomorrow). Then, quietly as possible, she made her way outside. The autumn air stung her cheeks—it touched the space behind her ears and made her lightheaded. She walked quickly down the road, pulling her coat tight around her middle, and, when she was a short distance from the house, in a pool of darkness beyond the streetlamps, Lily closed her eyes and apparated. When she opened them again, a new street stretched out before her.
She hadn't gone home, though. This was Camden.
The dark little alleyway in which she'd appeared was not empty, but the two intoxicated women who stumbled through took it for granted that their unexpected companion had surprised them due to their own inattention, rather than the fact that she had materialized out of thin air. Lily slipped quickly past them, starting toward the high street.
She didn't really know why she chose this place. She could reason why she selected muggle London... why, tonight, she should choose to surround herself with people who didn't know. She knew she could not go home, too, and she had needed to go somewhere. But why she chose this particular spot... Lily didn't even question it until she had practically reached her destination, and then she was climbing the steps into the pub.
The Lantern had changed little in the months separating it from Lily—the sign out front seemed different, but not irksomely so. She couldn't be sure, but it seemed like the same surreal, psychedelic song floating beneath the general hum of what seemed to be the same group of muggle clientele. Had they remained here all this time, happily unaware of the world tumbling forward in darkened alleyways, tucked away in an unvisited countryside?
She sat at the bar this time, rather than the table she had occupied with James over the summer.
While she waited for the bartender to finish up with a group of girls down at the other end of the counter, Lily made up one of those impossible scenarios which one invents when secretly hoping it will occur. If James Potter were to show up, drawn back here from that other lifetime, he'd sink into the seat beside her and, without glancing at her, make a crack that took her completely by surprise. He would ask her what she was doing here, fidgeting a bit with his spectacles, and she would swear from the sheer surprise of seeing him.
They wouldn't flirt, of course. They'd be miserable. They'd talk about how bloody depressed they were, and they'd exchange news of their respective living situations. She'd ask about his mother. He would tell her. She could practically see him in his dark blue shirt and black coat (the muggle clothing seemed improbable, but then again it was her invented scenario, wasn't it? She could dress him however she liked). They would talk about Sam.
"I don't know what to say," she'd tell him.
"I'm at a bit of a loss myself," he'd reply.
It wasn't totally impossible, as far as it went with impossible scenarios which one invents when secretly hoping they will occur. They had come to the Lantern together, after all, and that did nicely to explain why she thought of him at all. (Never mind that she'd once come here with Dursley and Petunia, too, and she produced no idle fantasy about running into them). They had come here just before the Week of the Demands, before the first M.F.P. deaths. It made sense. He could be here, couldn't he?
Her more rational self remembered that James was at home with his family and friends and would, in all likelihood, remain there, considering what had just happened. Anyway, she wasn't entirely sure that she would want to see him just now. She hadcome here to escape the magical world, hadn't she? But she didwish that she'd spoken to him, just once, while they were still at Hogwarts. She wished she hadn't cowered in the library and shouted at Colista Black, but that she'd faced James and just—just faced him, because that was as close as she could get to facing Sam and extolling this feeling. She wished she'd said she was sorry.
The bartender was suddenly free, and Lily half waved him down before removing her hat and gloves and placing them on the counter. At this point, she rather realized that she didn't much feel like drinking and ordered a coke. The bloke at the bar made a joke about it, and Lily—rather to her own surprise—responded... even smiled as she did so, for the chatter of the patrons, the song she almost recognized, the wireless that reported football scores, and the distinctly non-magical menu worked the effect that stepping into the muggle world always had upon Lily. A small part of her began to believe that she had dreamt magic up: that this was the whole of her existence, and the rest was merely a trick she played upon herself. An impossible scenario which one invents when secretly hoping it will happen. In the Lantern, her grief was the sham; she was a very ordinary seventeen year old girl. She would be studying for her exams in English and Mathematics and History and ordinary (real) things like that... considering a university education and complaining about—whatever muggles were complaining about these days.
She'd be out for a drink on a Saturday night, perhaps with mates or a boyfriend or something, and she would laugh at the bartender's joke at her drink choice.
She could see herself there, in that life. Terrible things happened in the muggle world, too—there were wars and deaths and tragedies. How did she know—as she did, with complete certainty—that the Lily in that other life would not sit in a Camden tavern with a broken heart for people she barely knew? What was the difference?
"All alone, are you?"
He wasn't bad looking, the bloke who posed this question to Lily, when she was a few sips into her coke. He was half a decade too old for her, but he wasn't bad looking.
His cheeks were flushed from drink, and he didn't seem to be hitting on her, exactly, when he asked the question. He had a friendly little crinkle across his forehead, and he leaned over the counter, angled only slightly toward her, so that his interest might really have been in the drink he had just requested—something called a Batty Betty. The only ingredient Lily noted was whisky.
Lily was, of course, alone, but the other Lily in the other life would not have been. The Lily who belonged here would have arrived with those hypothetical mates and that hypothetical boyfriend, whom Lily spontaneously named Nicholas.
"Afraid not," she said, not rudely but in a tone that lacked any invitation. "My boyfriend's stepped out for a cig."
Nicholas smoked—bad habit, that. Lily hoped he'd quit.
"Doesn't he know those things are dangerous?" asked the man, still waiting for his drink. He sounded like a Londoner. Nicholas was Welsh.
"It calms his nerves. Nick's very nervous." Whatever did Nick have to be nervous about, anyway?
"Cancer isn't supposed to be gentle on the nerves, either."
Coolly, because she really didn't care anymore: "My dad died of it." She returned to her drink. The bloke—she never did get his name—caught the hint; when he had his Batty Betty, he returned to his mates, and Lily ordered a beer.
Nicholas was going to be a doctor. Nicholas was a bit obsessive about the combing of his hair. He liked card games, but he was awfully competitive. He was sweet. He was politically conscious. He had rubbish taste in music and excellent taste in films. He was tall and blue eyed and sensible. Very sensible. He was as far from the romantic hero she had once thought suited to her. He wasn't Luke. He wasn't Robbie Castle. He wasn't Mr. Darcy. He most certainly wasn't James Potter.
Nick was simple, doting, and Nick didn't make her ache like this. He's dead, he's dead, they're all dead, he's dead.
Nick wasn't possible.
Her imaginary mates were probably rubbish, too.
"You're drinking alone?" asked James Potter, leaning over the counter.
The truth was, she had run away from him on Platform Nine and Three Quarters, but she'd regretted it immediately, and maybe she'd been trying to make it all up by coming here, to the Lantern. Maybe she'd been looking for him.
Which was all very nice, but it didn't explain why in Merlin's name he'd actually shown up.
"Bloody hell, Potter!"
James calmly took possession of the seat beside hers. She'd nearly toppled off it.
"Lily Evans, what would your mother say if she saw you here?"
"Not to speak to strange men, I expect," she replied incredulously.
Absolutely ridiculous. This whole situation was absolutely ridiculous.
"But I'm not a stranger," James reminded her. In a detached sort of way, Lily recognized that his voice, though vaguely teasing, lacked any humor or fun or joy. No surprise there, but all the same...
"Doesn't mean you're not strange," she said.
"You think you're clever." James ordered a vodka tonic.
"Agrippa's sake, Potter, what are you doing here anyway?" Lily asked, further recovering.
James turned to face her full on, one elbow resting on the same spot of the counter where the other bloke had placed his own minutes earlier. James was paler than usual, his hair looked just slightly more disheveled, and faint dark circles had formed under his eyes, although his spectacles partially obscured those. Anyway, they made the shadowy traces of sleeplessness a degree subtler.
"Do you want me to leave?"
"I didn't mean that," Lily contended. "You startled me, that's all."
She tried to remember the clever things she'd said in that Impossible Scenario, but she had the feeling he'd failed to set her up somehow. "How are you?" she asked quietly, taking a measured sip of her drink.
"Fantastic." (Very sarcastic).
"Are you—are you alone?" She glanced around, half expecting Sirius or Remus or Peter to pop up out of thin air.
"Yes." He too cast an eye about the room: "Are you?"
Lily nodded. "I sort of snuck out at Donna's. Couldn't sleep."
"Me as well. Sirius wanted to come, but I didn't really feel like talking. Or getting smashed, for that matter. And it would have come to one of those eventually."
"So why did you come here?"
He turned and leaned with both elbows on the edge of the bar now, shrugging noncommittally. "Some bird recommended it."
"Well she has good taste," said Lily, and then she also shifted to sit in profile to him. "Are you going tomorrow?"
"To the—thing? Mhm. You?"
"With the Shacklebolts, yes."
"That's... good. How are they getting on, then?"
"Oh, all right, I suppose. I..."
"Nothing, I guess."
"I just... feel a bit out of place there." Lily shrugged. "They're all family, and Donna's aunt is in town, and I just... I'm not sure I belong there. Oh, they're very gracious and all that, it's not uncomfortable, it's just..." She shrugged. Not how it was supposed to be.
"You could go to your own house, couldn't you?"
"I'd have to lie to my mum. She doesn't know about—you know... death eaters and what-not."
"You could tell her."
"There's just no point I suppose."
After that, Lily and James worked on their drinks in silence. The lack of conversation caused little discomfort, but persisted largely because they felt how little there was to be said. After all, they had both come out to be alone amongst muggles. This fact Lily remembered just as she emptied her glass.
"I'm sorry," she stammered suddenly; "You came out to be alone, and I'm... here. I'm sorry..."
"You were here first..." James pointed out, bemused.
"Yes, but I don't want anything else to drink anyway, and..." She had already set down the glass and begun to replace the gloves on her hands; her hat she stuffed into a pocket as she slid off the bar stool, "...it's getting late; I—I don't want Donna to worry."
"Yes, but..." (She didn't cut him off as he'd rather expected) "...I mean, of course, if you want to leave..."
"I'd better, yeah. I'll—probably... I'll see you tomorrow though?"
"Okay." She touched his shoulder in some abstractly reassuring way and added: "Goodnight."
The gloved hand that had made contact slid down the length of his arm while he murmured his reply, and then it disappeared into her pocket with the cap. Over his shoulder, he watched her walk to the door and, when she was gone, emptied his glass.
She'd gone again. Disappeared, run away, whatever. She was always doing that now. Since—since ages, it seemed, they hadn't stood together in the same room and spoken directly. She was always slipping past him, just before he could figure out what they were supposed to say to each other.
He wasn't supposed to care, of course, because he'd come here to be alone, but that had inexplicably lost its appeal.
Or maybe he'd gone looking for Lily, like he always was, because he hadn't been surprised to see her. Well, not very. When he'd spotted the red hair at the bar, he'd known that it must be Lily, and he'd thought well, of course, and his stomach had sort of turned, but not because he was surprised—just because it always did. And he'd spoken to her like he always did, and she'd finished her drink and left, like she always did, and it was all very typical, for such a strange scene.
Perhaps he ought to go sit and feel bitter with Sirius. Whatever Lily had said, it wasn't very late yet, not even eleven thirty, and they could sit up for hours still before he had to pretend to go to sleep. If it came to it, he could probably pass out on whisky, although with his luck he'd probably just get sick and then lie in bed while the room spun around him.
Lily had returned. She walked right up to him. It wasn't typical at all.
He turned on his seat as she approached. "Hullo..."
She was so pale—shockingly white, tonight, except for minor flushes in her cheeks—from the cold outside, probably. Being so ashen, the red in her cheeks and hair and the green of her eyes and the black lashes and the pink of her lips—which were pinched and frowning—seemed surreally bright, unnaturally contrasted. She looked not at him, but at the empty glass on the counter, when she said: "Do you want to go for a walk?"
He didn't even have to think about it. "Yes."
Out on the road, the air felt chillier than James remembered from his brief journey through it to the Lantern; he wished he'd had the foresight to bring gloves as Lily had. They took a few steps in silence, but it seemed to him silly avoiding the subject that naturally occupied them both.
"Sam's the real reason I came here," he said, startling Lily for a second time that evening. "It was one of the only good places I could think of that I'd never gone to with him. I couldn't just go to the Leaky Cauldron... it would be full of people... talking about it, you know? And anyway it'd only have reminded me of Frank and Alice's wedding. That was the last... I mean, we went back to Hogwarts just a few days later..." Lily's expression turned unreadable. "I went to his house today. Sirius and I both went. To help sort through his belongings."
"How was it?"
James shrugged. He related a few insignificant details, but left out the Adele confrontation entirely. "It's one of those places, though," he went on, with difficulty, "that you can't go back to without feeling like you're ten years old again."
"You spent much time there growing up?"
"Yeah. When Sam left Hogwarts, but before I went, I spent almost all my time there. For a while, anyway. But then, y'know, when I started school, we didn't really hang around there. I don't know, I always felt so—cooped up there. You get used to being on your own when you're at school, y'know? It's hard to just, go back to having relatives tell you what to do."
"Well there are teachers who tell you what to do at Hogwarts," Lily pointed out, but of course James smirked and replied:
"Yeah, but I don't listen to them."
It seemed to James that Lily was waiting for something from him. She waited patiently, walked in silence, didn't press him for details, she just walked along until he knew what he wanted to say. "When I was little," he began, without really understanding why this of all things, should come to mind: "I was... small. Short and... scrawny, y'know? I mean you remember, probably..." (a half hearted smile that Lily mirrored), "...Not that I ever had any trouble holding my own, mind you, but—I mean, other kids... if they didn't know me, they sort of thought I was... sort of a... a..."
James snorted. "That's the one, yeah. I was, too, most likely—I was shrimpy, and most of my mates were elderly women... except Sam, I mean. When I was... eight or nine, he'd just left Hogwarts, and he missed it, you could tell, and I used to ask him about it—just different things. He told me about Hufflepuff and his mates there, and so I asked him what house he thought I'd be in." James smiled again; "He sends me this look, as if I couldn't be any thicker, and says—bit proudly, now—'Gryffindor, idiot.' That was the answer I'd been hoping for, of course... my dad was a Gryffindor, and he used to tell stories... but I didn't really believe it, because—like I said, I was about a foot tall and weighed next to nothing, and in my mind, Gryffindors were big, tall... lions... or, you know: my dad; so I asked him—Sam—why..." James left the story there for several seconds.
"What did he say?" Lily eventually prompted as they passed under a streetlamp.
"Well, Sam's very dramatic," said James. "He recited a bit of the song about it. The bit about Gryffindor..." He trailed off again, but Lily already knew the rest.
"Where dwell the brave at heart," she muttered, and James met her eye properly again: not the jumpy glances he'd cast in her direction throughout the story, but directly. Lily smiled and shrugged. "I think that might've been the first thing you ever said to me."
He didn't know what to do with that, and for the time being, neither of them had the emotional wherewithal to sort out what her statement might mean. But James continued to observe her closely for a few seconds; "He liked you," the wizard said at length. "He really did, you know."
Lily nodded. "I know. I don't properly know why, but..." She sighed. "I don't suppose you do?"
He shook his head.
"How's your mother?" Lily asked after a time.
"Holding up," James replied, almost casually, for he labored to keep his tone impassive. "We've barely spoken about the whole thing, to be honest. She's in and out of the house arranging things for this—ceremony tomorrow. But my aunt won't see her..." (off Lily's puzzled expression, he elaborated) "...It's Sam's mother. She blames Mum for Sam joining M.F.P. in the first place. Mum was always the big rebel in her family, you know..." He spoke more and more rapidly, "So as far as my aunt's concerned, it's my mum's fault that Sam was in that room at all. So Mum's anxious about that—can't sit still—and she's spent most of the day visiting relatives of other M.F.P. members... trying to set up protection if they need it, or if they'll take it... seeing if they need anything, I don't know. At any rate, it's kept her busy since this all happened, and I suppose that's a relief."
"What do you mean?"
"It keeps her occupied... distracts her. From feeling guilty for all of them. Like she can make it up or something..." He glanced at Lily only to find that her expression had changed considerably; she was looking at him, dismayed, and before he could say anything, she whispered, as if stumbling upon a frightening realization:
"You blame her..."
He meant to defend himself, but for whatever reason, words failed him at first, and when he did manage to speak, the reply came less forcefully than he intended. "I don't. She—she blames herself! I don't," he added more confidently. "Sam's... Sam was an adult. He was a member because he believed in it. They all were. That's it. Not because of Mum or anyone else."
Lily nodded slowly. She didn't believe him.
Eyes to the pavement, the witch tugged on James's sleeve, much to his confusion, until he gleaned that she was guiding him to the curb. They'd strolled down to a quieter end of the road, where there was little danger of a car pulling up and smashing anyone's feet, and so Lily, drawing her coat close around her, sat down beside the street. James followed.
From a pocket—not the one with the hat—she drew something out... something that turned out to be a box of cigarettes. Benson and Hedges, said the label. She offered one to James, and he arched an eyebrow.
"I thought you disapproved."
"Deeply." She did not elaborate, but removed her gloves again. She took a cigarette and after she'd lit her own with a match, handed the packet to him. James struggled a bit with the matches, being rather out of practice with the muggle devices, and Lily ended up lighting the thing for him. Then she looked out at the parked car across the street and watched it in silence.
The road was dark, as most of the shops at this end of it were closed. Only a few puddles of light from the streetlamps and the occasional beam of a car's headlights interrupted the blackness. Then, when James exhaled, the currents of white smoke, puffy in the cool air, shrouded the landscape.
Half of James's cigarette had shriveled into ash at his feet before either of them spoke. "I'm so, so sorry," Lily said hoarsely.
James tapped the end of his smoke. "It's not as if it's your fault," he said indifferently. When she remained quiet, he glanced at her: "Well, it's not."
Lily smoked her cigarette in miserable silence. She didn't dare look at him. She felt as she had in the Head offices, holding that crumpled letter of Sam's between her fingers. But when James spoke again, she had to face him, for his voice broke: "I still can't believe it. I can't believe this is real."
"How could this—how could it happen?" He seemed to want something of her, and once upon a time, Lily might have had something encouraging to say... that it had happened to them because they were brave and because they fought for something. The truth remained, though, that they had died, not in battle, but with no chance to defend themselves. They were victims, not soldiers.
"I don't know," she said. She could not tell him, after all, that she had been wrong, all those months ago, when she had believed so fervently that there was purpose to everything. Things like this—there was no purpose in this. Letting go of that ideal was—it was far, far easier than she had ever anticipated. She hadn't even noticed until now, and yet all that hope seemed a distant memory. But she wasn't afraid. "It's—it's unfair."
"It doesn't make sense."
"No." Then—"I'm sorry I didn't... at school, I'm sorry I wasn't really there."
James tapped his cigarette lightly. A car started somewhere down the road. Voices from the pub and other buildings floated through the chilly air and reminded of Nicholas and a world that was not.
"You're right," said James. His eyes glistened. "About my mum."
"I didn't mean it," Lily said quickly. "I shouldn't have said it. I don't know what got into me." She'd been thinking of her own mum.
"No, you're right. I do—I do blame her. That's fucked up, right? Aunt Adele blames her—her whole family blames her. I think the Ministry might even suspect she might've been... involved or something, I don't know..."
"I don't understand it any more than that. I can't—be in the same room as her, it's that bad. She tried to tell me about what hap—what she saw, and I couldn't stand to listen to it. It's not her fault. It's not. I know that, but it's—I can't convince myself, y'know? When I first heard, I couldn't even look at Sirius. Just because he's related to..." His hands shook. He dropped the cigarette and stomped it out. "I know it's not their fault... it's the death eaters. It's... Voldemort and the death eaters, but it doesn't help hating them. Y'know?" Again, he looked at her, as if for an answer.
Lily's jaw was set firmly; her eyes remained fixed on the darkened car across the way. He's dead, he's dead, they're all dead. The hand with the cigarette quivered almost imperceptibly.
On Platform Nine and Three Quarters, the day before, James had tried to speak with her—she knew it. He'd been coming toward her, and she'd turned away... she'd practically fled him, for Merlin's sake, just because she hadn't wanted to fail. She couldn't fix anything, she didn't have it in her to feel hopeful or sound hopeful, and she had no way to comfort him—to tell him how sorry she was, so she'd run away.
Now, still, she didn't have anything nice to say. So instead she tried, with everything in her, to give him the one thought that was keeping her sane: "This—this thing—war, or whatever you want to call it..." (Nothing in her icy voice indicated that she was crying, but James discovered that she was) "...It's about me." She found the rest of the sentence, there. She found that part that was missing when she'd been forming the words in her mind in the dark of Donna's room. "It's about muggleborns. Sam... Sarah, all of them, died for something that didn't have anything to do with them. For us—for the muggleborns and half-bloods and muggles and me. I don't—I can't say that the—the death eaters aren't going to kill anyone else for our sake, but I'm—I'm going to do something about it. I'm not going to watch people die without—without doingsomething... I have to fight. I don't know how, but I have to, and I'm going to."
She dropped the end of the cigarette to the pavement beneath her feet and trampled it with the toe of her boot. Then she glanced up at James. He watched the withered paper on the ground. At first, she had no idea if she had helped or not, but then he looked up at her and sort of smiled.
"Mind if I join you?"
Lily matched his expression. She reached over and took one of his hands, interlacing her fingers with his and holding on very tightly. It was funny, how being so inexpressibly sad and angry worked like intoxication... you could sort of do or say anything, and you didn't really think about how it might turn out the next day. For now, Lily wanted to hold James's hand, and it didn't seem strange at all. "I'm counting on it," she said roughly.
It was so cold, but for some time, they didn't move from their spot on the edge of the pavement. James's bare hand shook but felt strangely warm.
"Hey," he said eventually. Lily looked inquisitively at him, and James raised an eyebrow. "Trust me?"
"Well, all right." With his free hand, he pushed back the hair falling around the side of her face closest to him and tucked it behind her ear. He leaned forward, hesitated, and for a moment, Lily thought—but then he kissed her cheek. She scarcely registered it and had only just begun to recognize the bite of evening air when he moved away, and then he was getting up and helping her to her feet. "Come on, then."
He still held her hand. They were going to apparate—she guessed that a moment before it happened, and though she never consciously closed her eyes, when it was all over, she found herself opening them, blinking up in the glow of an orange street lamp. They stood in front of a house, and not even the fact that they had wildly, irresponsibly apparated into the open like that could fetter the emotion that swelled up within Lily as she comprehended where James had brought them. He'd taken her home.
All the windows in the Evans house were dark—of course Mrs. Evans would be in bed by now, sleeping alone up there—but the porch light burned on, illuminating the walkway up to the front door.
They couldn't go inside, of course. As far as her mother knew, Lily was supposed to be safely away in a castle in the country, not drinking in London pubs, or sleeping on a spare bed at a mate's house, or going to memorial services because there was a war. There wasn't supposed to be a war at all, for all Mrs. Evans knew. It wasn't remotely enough to stand there on the porch, and it hurt very, very badly to find herself so close, unable to move any closer. But it hurt a lot less.
Lily meant to ask James how he'd known that at this moment, more than anything, she'd wanted to be right here. If she had asked, James would have said that the guess required little imagination, and that a few days earlier, he'd felt exactly the same way about his own house. But Lily never got around to asking. Instead, she leaned her head against James's shoulder and looked on with him at the house.
Rather later, she would attempt to pinpoint an exact moment when it happened, and she never had much luck with that—maybe it was months earlier, when he appeared on her front porch in his stupid hat, or on the platform on that wretched September 1st, or maybe it was long ago, in some unrecognizable, ever-changing form, but whenever she thought about the matter in the months and years to come, she knew with absolute certainty that it happened no later than this moment. Possibly Lily did not fall in love with James Potter that night, but, she would later conclude, there was no time after it that she did not love him.
"'Wish you could go inside," James said regretfully.
Too overcome to respond properly, Lily only managed to say: "W-wildly irresponsible, apparating out in the open like that." James still stared at the house, but the corners of his lips twitched, and Lily supposed that he caught her meaning. She would have had to stand on her toes to kiss his cheek, so, reluctant as she was to move against the cold, she pressed her lips to his shoulder, and then turned back to the house.
Soon enough there would be time for fighting wars. For now, this might do.
Half an hour later, Lily curled up under the blankets of the bed in Donna's room and closed her eyes. The quiet and the dark of the bedroom made her conscious of every inch of her body—she thought she could feel her own heartbeat. He's dead, he's dead, he's dead, he's dead, they're all dead, they're all dead, and— (this the part that she knew instinctively, even if James denied it, as she'd known he would)—it's your fault.
There was a light in the kitchen when James returned to his own home that night. The soft glow from the crack under the door guided him across the darkened hall, and, since it seemed most probable that Sirius had come out for a snack, James decided to join his friend there. However, it was his mother, not Sirius, seated at the kitchen table when he entered.
Grace Potter slouched back in her chair, a crystal goblet of red wine set on the table in front of her. When she looked up, her face fell into full light. With her hair pushed back away from her face, the deep lines around her eyes and across her forehead appeared more pronounced. Her eyes seemed smaller somehow, puffy and red as they were, the only color in her sunken, tired face.
James sat down in the empty chair across from her.
"I have a headache," Mrs. Potter told him, closing her eyes as she spoke. When she opened them again, she assumed a businesslike tone and asked James if he had spoken to his father about their plans for the morning. "I have to go out in the morning to meet with Arabella again—Tilly's daughter, you know, make arrangements," she went on, when James said he hadn't. "I'm going to meet you and your father at the memorial. Is Sirius coming?"
"'Course. Why wouldn't he?"
"I imagine some of his family will be there," Mrs. Potter pressed on dispassionately. "It might be awkward."
This annoyed James. "Why would the Blacks be there?" he grumbled.
"Because it would look bad to be absent, of course. They're proud of their—their opinions, but they're not stupid. At least one of them will show up." She sipped her wine.
"Their opinions," James echoed bitterly. "That's rich." Mrs. Potter said nothing, and James wondered if he ought to leave her alone.
But that wasn't really it at all, was it? Lily had realized at once, so his mother must have noticed too, and he wished he could stop himself from feeling it, but as strongly as he rejected the thought, a small, despicable part of him believed...
You blame her.
"How are you?" he asked.
"Alive," she countered dryly. James could not remember a time, in his whole life, when she had sounded like this... certainly never in a dialogue with him.
"It's not your fault," he said.
Mrs. Potter opened her mouth to reply, but then she took note of James's clothing. "Where have you been?" she demanded.
"I went for a walk."
"When? Just now?"
"Alone?" Her voice rose dangerously. "Where?"
"Where did you go?"
"London, Merlin's sake..."
"What would possess you to do a stupid thing like that?"
"It's dangerous, James! Don't you realize... haven't you realized by now that there is a war? You can't just—just go gallivanting around at night like that! Something could have happened..."
"Mum, it was..."
"It was not safe, James! It was very, very foolish!" Her cheeks flushed scarlet in her anger. "I simply can't believe you could do something so—so irresponsible! So stupid! Now, of all times! Merlin's sake, don't you have any idea what's going on out there? What happened in Peverell Hall isn't all of it! Every week, almost, there's something, and the Ministry can't put anyone away for it... And you... don't you know what the child of people like your father and I...?"
"I'm not a child anymore," James snapped. "I'm seventeen. I'm an adult..."
"And Sam was older than that!" Mrs. Potter shouted. "Victor Vance was thirty six, and he's dead. I saw him, James. I saw all of them." Her voice broke down, and she continued. "Sitting there, in their chairs—all lined up, like—like dolls. They didn't fight... they couldn't. That's what no one's saying. Do you think they were just overwhelmed? Some of the best witches and wizards I know were in that room! They would have fought if they could, and I knew it the instant I walked into the hall... they couldn't because they were stunned..."
He didn't want to ask, but he needed to know. It was what no one was saying, "How?"
"Dementors," she said. "That's what I think. The Ministry won't admit it. Even the aurors... no evidence. But—but they just sat there, and I knew it... I knew it at once..."
But this, at last, was what she had not said to him. This constituted the barrier between them: she had seen, been unable to express to him... she had wanted to protect him, maybe, from the unspeakable horror of what she witnessed and knew, but James was rather beyond protection, and so she pressed on, speaking over him: "...The room was so cold. Anyone who—who knows could have felt it. Moody knows it. Alex knows it. Their last moments... they were... they were petrified. Every one of them was there—every single person who was supposed to be there sat in that room... except me."
"It's not your fault, Mum..."
"Of course it is. Half of those people I recruited. They're dead because of my cause..."
"It was their cause too!"
"Naturally, after I got through with them," Mrs. Potter said bitterly. "They didn't stand a chance, not really. They trusted us so completely. And we knew... after July..."
"You can't blame yourself, Mum," James insisted. He could not comprehend his own certainty, or from where he drew the words that followed, but he spoke sincerely; "You can't do that. It's not fair to them... they believed in something that's... that's not just yours."
"They didn't have to die for it."
"But they did, all right? And in another year, I'd probably have been there, too, so it's as... just as much an accident that I'm here as you are."
"I'm not just going to give up and hide because of what happened to M.F.P., Mum. Sam would want us to fight, wouldn't he? They all would—not just for some greater good business, but because if they died, they would want us to make sure they were the last ones who had to die for this."
Maybe all the fight had drained from Mrs. Potter though. She'd been at it for so long. She emptied her goblet. "But they won't be, James."
"Well..." James shrugged. He was younger, after all, and stood a chance. "Not with that attitude."
"I need you to be safe," was the most his mother could muster. "I need you to be safe for me. No stupid risks, all right?"
James stood up. "All right." "Stupid" was such a vague term, after all. "You should go to bed, if you can. C'mon, we have to be up early tomorrow." He helped her to her feet and then walked with her out of the kitchen, up the stairs. He didn't take her to her door, for they stopped at the corridor that led to his.
With the continued air of weariness, just slightly lessened, Mrs. Potter kissed his cheek. "Goodnight, James."
"Goodnight. 'Love you, Mum."
"Love you, too."
It was a stupid thing to add, too, but a few days ago, he wouldn't have thought twice about saying it—he'd been frightened into bargaining with the universe for his mother's safety, and it only made sense to tell her now and hope she understood a little bit of what it had been like, before he'd heard her voice on the wireless: "I'm really glad you're alive."
The smile she offered was weak, but she ruffled his hair affectionately like she used to, when he was smaller, and then she went to bed.
As she had many, many times in her life, Marlene woke to the sound of static. She half expected it, sometimes, because she so often fell asleep to a record and then found herself stirring in the middle of the night, long after the music had ended. So, slowly and comfortably at first, she drifted into consciousness in a darkened room, reluctant to move from the comfort of the bed: the bed that was so decidedly not that of the dormitory at Hogwarts, nor of her mum's flat...
And then Marlene's eyes flew open and she shot up, realizing where she was.
Adam's room. This was definitely Adam's room.
Adam himself still slept, for the moment anyway, as Marlene multitasked, simultaneously looking for a clock and trying to remember how they had fallen asleep. They'd been talking—she'd checked the time at two, no, two-thirty-four, she remembered the two, three, four, and they'd kept talking and at some point—well, she must have nodded off, but she couldn't remember it... She couldn't remember Adam falling asleep either.
The clock was on the nightstand on the other side of the bed—Adam's side, and so, as carefully as she could, Marlene climbed off the bed and snuck around to see. Six minutes past five.
"Shit," she whispered again and began searching for her shoes and jacket. She'd just managed to tiptoe across the room to the desk, where she'd left them, when Adam stirred.
"Price?" he inquired groggily. He fumbled about, located his wand on the night stand, and waved it once, lighting the room. They both winced, and Marlene turned back toward him.
"We fell asleep," she whispered—although if their talking hadn't kept the rest of the house up, she didn't know that this would disturb them. She pulled her shoes on. "I have to go home."
Adam sat up slowly. "Will your mum be angry?" His voice sounded scratchy and sluggish, like he was still half asleep.
"Hopefully she hasn't noticed."
"Five." She slipped her arms into her jacket and gathered up her bag before moving toward the record player.
"Five? Agrippa." Gaining some consciousness and standing up, "You can stay, you know. It's the middle of the night, maybe you shouldn't..."
"No, no, I've got to go."
Her hands trembled, to her own confusion, and she struggled to fit the record back in its sleeve. Adam trudged over to assist her, but Marlene only quickened her pace, to avoid any contact between them.
"Price, it's all right, your mum will understand..."
"No, I know, it's fine, I just have to go."
"You can apparate from the road—sorry, the whole house is, you know, shielded." He stretched and yawned—it brought his t-shirt up above the waist of his trousers—and hadn't quite finished the latter before saying, "C'mon, I'll walk you out..."
"You don't have to..."
"I don't mind..."
"Really, it's not necessary." Marlene faced him, having collected her belongings and her nerves a little. "It's fine. I'll see you in a few hours."
"Right." He faded. It struck him again: the memorial, Sarah, why Marlene was there to begin with... She took that as her cue to leave, but she hadn't half turned before Adam pressed on: "Thank you for coming over, though."
"Really, though. I'm—I'm glad Audrey asked you."
Something about that relaxed Marlene. She nodded and smiled. "If there's anything I can do..."
"Yeah, sure." They stood a moment longer, not saying anything, because, well, it was five in the morning, and they would see each other in a few hours, and they had just about talked themselves out, hadn't they? But it was a nice moment, even if it had to end. Marlene slid her hands into her pockets, ready again to make her exit, when Adam—calmly, in a tone that absolutely begged for debate and deconstruction—said, "I love you, Price."
Of course, he must have meant it platonically. He must have meant it like that, like mates, yes—he'd called her "Price," and he was grateful, and they were best mates, weren't they? He looked at her warmly, not like he had on the Quidditch Pitch, months ago, when he'd last said those words to her, but just comfortably and affectionately, like he appreciated her presence in his life.
But, truthfully, every time Marlene imagined that scene on the Quidditch Pitch over in her head, it went very differently. She knew why she had said what she'd said. She understood herself well enough for that—she didn't even necessarily regret it, exactly. But if only she'd known at the time... and if this Marlene were to play that scene, she would have told him that she loved him too. Here, now, of course, she knew that this Adam must have meant it platonically, like mates, for a host of reasons. Marlene just could not quite remember what they were. She wasn't thinking straight.
She stepped forward and pressed her lips against his.
He was soft, warm, and, for a moment, still. Then, he responded, and Marlene pulled him closer.
There wasn't enough time. The kiss moved too quickly, deepening, growing more heated and needy at once. Their lips moved inelegantly, rushed, because in a minute, just another minute, please, they would have to wake up, open their eyes, realize, pay, atone, whatever, but before that, there was so much to communicate and experience. They couldn't possibly wrap up every missed opportunity and unvoiced thought, couldn't satisfy every curiosity, couldn't feel everything—not in this minute they'd stolen from the natural, proper, ordered progression of things, they couldn't, so theirs was a vain effort, like if she clung to him tightly enough or if he pressed deeper, more fervently against her, they might be able to make each other understand.
When Adam's relaxed his grip on the back of her shirt underneath her jacket, Marlene felt it slipping away. Something was about to happen—she was about to remember what she'd forgotten for the moment, and she resisted as long as she could, even as she fell back to the flats of her feet, let her lips fall away from his, she didn't open her eyes. He kissed the side of her mouth one last time, rested his forehead against hers; she struggled to catch her breath, not to remember the reasons...
His hands dropped, but he didn't move away, and she cupped his face between her hands for a few more seconds.
Then, at last, she opened her eyes, and the word that had eluded her—no, that she had forced from her mind—appeared in her brain, so that she had to move away.
Adam stared at her—not just that, he reached out for her hand, but she pulled it back.
"I have to go."
"Don't—just, wait a second..."
Miles had snogged Carlotta Meloni at that party last year. Ten months ago, just about. She'd cried over that.
She was already out the door, though, and sprinting down the stairs a second later. Adam followed.
"Marlene, wait a second, okay, listen, we have to..." It was like he was trying to shout and whisper at the same time, all while he'd had the wind knocked out of him, and she didn't want to hear any of it. The corridor, the front door, passed in a blur, and then she was stumbling out on the cold front porch, out on the short walkway to the road under the grey early morning sky, and she turned to see Adam still following her, with a pleading expression, wearing his socks on the dirty welcome mat. He opened his mouth to say something, but she closed her lids over tearful eyes and apparated.
She arrived in the corridor outside her own front door.
She found the key in her bag and had the presence of mind to keep quiet as she let herself in. Both the lamp and the television were on, and Marlene realized why a moment later—her mother slept under a knit blanket on the sofa. Vivian stirred as Marlene came further into the room.
" Marlene?" She squinted when she managed to open her eyes and propped herself up. "What time is it, Sugar?" Marlene stood still and made no reply, as Vivian rose unsteadily, tottered over to the telly, and switched it off. This brought her closer to her daughter, and she caught a better look at the young witch's expression: "Marlene? What's wrong?"
She'd kissed Adam. She loved Adam. She really, really loved him, and now it was all—all ruined...
"I..." Marlene faltered; she was honestly crying now; "Mum, I've done something terrible."
Vivian was at her side in an instant. She wrapped her arms around Marlene's shoulders and steered her to the sofa. "Tell me, Marlene, tell me—are you hurt? Did someone hurt you?"
Marlene shook her head against her mother's shoulder. "No, no, I've just—I've made a mistake..." Vivian brushed the short, pale locks of hair from Marlene's tear-streaked face, tucking the loose strands behind her ear. Her thin, aging hands, with their lines and knots and dark red fingernails, were nonetheless soft as they moved across her cheek—soft like her voice, pleading gently that Marlene tell her what had happened.
Later, in about half an hour, Marlene would tell her what had happened. When Vivian once again disentangled herself to make some tea, the whole story would come tumbling out—almost all of it, from the Quidditch pitch in the spring, and when she'd read his letter about Prudence, and then, even earlier, Valentine's Day, maybe, when she'd almost been ready, almost, but not quite... and then she'd kissed him, because she loved him, she really did, but God, she'd ruined everything.
But in the meantime, before Marlene found the words to articulate any of that, all she could say was: "I lied to you, Mum. I said I was safe, but I'm not. I'm—I'm really, really not. This—this war, it's not almost over, I don't think. I think it's just getting started, and I'm right in the middle of it, because my parents aren't witch and wizard. That's what it's all about, all the fighting. Whether or not muggles and muggleborns are just as... good, I guess, as witches and wizards. And I'm not safe, not at all, and I'm..." She found it difficult to speak, choking on her tears, "I'm frightened—very frightened, that something's going to happen to me, or to my friends, or to you, because I really love you, Mum, and I don't know how I'm going to protect you from any of this."
Marlene's head moved up and down with Vivian's breathing as the girl cried, wetting her mother's shirt with tears; Vivian smoothed Marlene's hair back again and kissed her forehead.
"You don't have to protect me, Sugar," she whispered. "I have to protect you, yeah? That's my job. I'm not going to let anything happen to you. Not ever. Understand?"
Marlene nodded. She didn't know how strongly she believed any of it—or her mother's continuing promises that everything would be okay, but just then, it was nice to hear.
Kingsley already sat with the newspaper and a cup of coffee when Donna came down to the kitchen early Sunday morning.
"So I suppose you won't be going with usto the memorial," the witch said to her brother, in response to his cheerful good morning. "You'll have to help with security or some such rot?"
Her brother sighed. "There's the sunny disposition I've come to expect from you in the mornings."
Donna, apparently, used the preparation of toast as a shield against Kingsley's sarcasm. "Aunt Dahlia thinks Brice is too young to go. She wants to stay back with him—what do you think?"
"You disagree?" asked Kingsley, politic as ever.
"It's not exactly his first funeral."
"I don't think he remembers much of the last one, Donna."
"No," she agreed quietly. She stood with her back to him, so he strained to hear her. "He won't remember them at all, I suppose. Of course, that might be simpler for him, than it is for Isaiah and Bridget—half remembering..."
"But you think he should go?"
Donna hesitated. "Yes," she said eventually. "He won't remember Mum and Dad's, like you said, and he should see—"
When she failed to finish the thought: "See what?"
"I dunno—that people don't just... disappear. People remember them for things." She found a plate for her now completed toast and began to spread butter across it.
"I agree," said Kingsley. Donna glanced at him over her shoulder, surprised. "And, in the event that you're concerned about looking after all those children, I will be going with you this morning."
Donna scowled. "Isn't that just like the Ministry? Lax with security on a day like this..."
"This is embarrassing," Sirius admitted, examining a set of black dress robes which were only distinguished from the last by a silver fastening, as opposed to gold.
"My closet or your raiding it?" said James. He lay out on his bed, watching with obvious amusement as Sirius went through the articles in his wardrobe.
"Well, both... why do you have so many clothes? I'll be honest—I didn't predict that."
"Mum's always buying me robes."
"You know, that's the part of being a disinherited vagabond that no one mentions: not only do you have to feed yourself, you've got to get clothes. That's quite a task for a growing boy."
"Mmm, and you're getting fat without Quidditch practice."
"Silencio, Skin n' Bones, I need something to keep me warm this winter."
"Just wear your Hogwarts robes."
"They're not dress robes. I haven't got any black dress robes."
"Well, you might want to invest in some."
"Right." Sirius settled on a set with a thin leather chord that knotted at the throat. "'Reckon they'll be put to good use soon enough. What do you have in the tie department?"
Mary MacDonald never did anything halfway, and so when she opened the door to Marlene at about quarter to nine, pinning in emerald green earrings, she seemed to have stepped out of a fashion magazine, albeit a funeral-themed one: in a black wrap-around silk dress, the towering heels she had such a knack for walking in, with a cloak thrown over one shoulder, and a cream-colored headband luxuriating amongst satiny brown curls, she ought to have been the star of any memorial service.
"Go change," ordered Marlene, in much simpler dress.
"Why?" Mary gave her outfit a quick, self-conscious appraisal. "What's wrong with this?"
"You're making me look bad."
"Oh, darling, I always do that."
"Here, come in, I'm almost ready." Mary led her guest through to her bedroom, where, having finished with the earrings, she began throwing things, including lipstick and her wand, into a handbag. "How was Adam? I went 'round your place about nine to see if you wanted some of the cake that Mum made, but you weren't home yet..."
Marlene sat down on Mary's bed and fidgeted with the bright green coverlet. "We kissed," she said listlessly.
Mary froze. "Excuse me, what?"
"Snogged maybe, I don't know."
"Wait. Fuck. What?"
"Mother of God, Marlene."
Mary sighed. She threw a few more items into her purse and then gestured for Marlene to join her. As her friend trudged across the room, Mary entwined her arm with Marlene's and said: "Well, all right, tell me all about it on the way."
They had just reached the front door when Mrs. MacDonald emerged from the kitchen and took note of the girls. "Where are you two off to at this hour?" she asked curiously, but without opposition.
Mary sighed and ushered Marlene through the door ahead of her. "Church!"
Aside from Hogwarts, Remus felt out of place when he found himself in large gatherings of witches and wizards. Whenever he'd gone to Quidditch matches with James, and when they'd all gone to the Ministry over the summer... even in Diagon Alley on a crowded day, a strange uneasiness crept up on him, though he'd never quite understood why. There were logical explanations, of course: most obviously, his lycanthropy, and the inescapable knowledge that, if any of those around him knew what he was, they would be at best disquieted, more likely repulsed—and that didn't even compare to what they would say if they ever saw him on a bad night.
Yet this account for his discomfort did not satisfy Remus entirely. It just seemed to him unnatural somehow, seeing all of those witches and wizards out in the open. And that feeling made even less sense to him, because he had grown up in the wizarding world. James and Sirius never indicated that they felt anything similar.
Remus's black dress robes had turned out to be too small, and in the rush of the morning, he'd been compelled to borrow his father's old ones, which were frayed at the wrists and too big around the shoulders. A cloak mostly concealed them, and he could therefore be grateful for a cold, grey morning (it might begin to rain at any moment), even as he and his father trudged through the muddy thicket toward Alston Glade.
Through the gaps between trees, he caught glimpses of other witches and wizards heading in the same direction, many carrying umbrellas, all dressed in black. That only unsettled Remus more—all of those people just appearing like that (they'd been asked not to apparate, to use the designated floos, request a portkey, or use muggle transportation, but of course people alwaysapparated), as if they were bugs, crawling out of the ground and now creeping unnoticed through the darkened corners of the landscape. Remus could understand keeping magic a secret—maybe he could, anyway—but he couldn't fathom so many people keeping that secret from so many others. That was what he found truly disconcerting, he speculated—that when all those witches and wizards were together, they all knew. They all knew what the others were, and no one whispered when they said words like Hogwarts, muggle, magic, death eaters...
(Werewolf, his brain, rather sardonically, substituted. No—they still whispered that.)
And that was part of what troubled him about this whole M.F.P. business. The thought would not leave him alone.
They neared the edge of the thicket—there was a kind of pale light coming from the glade up ahead, where the memorial would be held. It wasn't the actuallocation of the attack, of course, because Peverell Hall was too close to a muggle neighborhood. Alston Glade sat several miles off, buried in a shallow wood, which gave it the protection of physical remoteness, in addition to the dozens of spells Remus supposed the Ministry had cast for protection from muggles.
Protection from muggles—funny thought, that. But yes, that's what he'd been saying to himself—that thing that bothered him about the attack on Peverell Hall. All those witches and wizards, gathered together—and they must have had wands, and they wouldn't have gone down without a fight, he was sure of it. He'd met enough of them to know that.
They stepped out into the open air of the field, and there must have been two hundred people already there.
In the center of the clearing, there stood a white marble monolith, about waist-high, with an engraving that Remus supposed he would have to read later. Most of the witches and wizards there mingled idly around this, in a wide center aisle created between the memorial column and a circular formation of chairs around it. There must have been a dozen rows—some chairs occupied, some not—and yet Mr. Lupin could not contain the practical observation of: "There won't be enough seating."
Remus thought he wouldn't mind standing in the back. Sometimes, in crowds like this, he felt a bit claustrophobic.
The light that Remus had spied from the trees impressed more than the monument, however. It came from about a hundred white candles, levitating overhead, as they did in the Great Hall at school, except that the flames were pale—almost white, themselves—and there must have been an enchantment to keep them steady and lit in this wind.
Remus and his dad took seats almost as far from the center of the circle—and most of the others—as it was possible to be, near the aisle that cut through the chairs, leading to the monument itself. At least his father had come along, Remus thought; it would've been terrible coming here alone. When you were sitting on the periphery with someone else, you could sort of pretend it was a choice.
After a minute or two of people-watching, though, Remus did spot someone he knew, namely James, who was surrounded by a group of adults that momentarily concealed his ever-present compatriot (namely Sirius). If James appeared less than thrilled to have loads of old people fussing over him, however, it was nothing to Sirius, who scowled deeply. A group of Potter family friends might not be the ideal crowd for a Black—even one like Sirius.
Then again, any situation requiring formal dress might not be ideal for Sirius.
Or Remus, for that matter, which accounted for his decision not to seek out his friends.
Said decision eventually became irrelevant, though, since Peter found him a few minutes later. His mother had chosen to stay home, and he clearly relished the immediately extended invitation to sit with the two Lupins.
"I heard some old lady say that there are eighty-seven of them," Peter told Remus and his father, looking up at the candles. "One for each, y'know?"
The Shacklebolts and Lily arrived five minutes late, by which time all of the chairs were occupied and still a large group had formed around the outer perimeter of the ring of chairs.
"'Can't see a thing, of course," Donna complained, hoisting up Brice and peering over the heads of the crowd to the best of her ability.
"It's your fault we're late," muttered Isaiah, who was in a sour mood over an argument about the fixing of his hair.
"Oh, right," said Bridget, "Mr. 45-Minutes-In-The-Bath..."
"Stop fighting," ordered Kingsley. "Come around here, there's a little more room to see..."
The service hadn't begun yet, but the Shacklebolts had just shuffled into the space Kingsley found for them before a wizard from the front called for everyone to take their seats please, as things were about to begin.
"'Would if we could," said Donna.
Kingsley arched an eyebrow. "Perspective, Donny."
"Is there a reason you're not holding Brice?"
"Of course. You're stronger"
"Well that's true."
"Just levitate him," Isaiah suggested.
"This is why I don't go out in public with you lot," sighed Donna. But then things really wereabout to begin, and the Shacklebolts—along with the other mourners—fell silent. There must have been a few hundred, and they blurred together, a mob of black underneath that bizarre white candlelight and silver sky. Lily wondered if she'd ever seen so many witches and wizards together at once, outside of Hogwarts; only one incident came to mind, and that day had ended in the lock up. That explained her wariness, anyway.
When stillness finally settled upon the crowd, the same wizard who had called for silence began to speak. He was an unremarkable middle-aged man in a black, pinstriped suit. "We gather here in the wake of a great tragedy," he began, and his voice had that odd, stretched sound that comes with magical magnification.
Tragedy, thought Lily, is a funny word. It sounded so accidental. Like a lot of unfortunate mishaps had assembled to make one big mess, and now Romeo and Juliet were dead but at least, thank Merlin, it was over with.
"But we are not here to discuss the tragedies of these deaths..." There it was again, tragedies, plural, "But rather to celebrate the lives of those who have left us..."
"Who is that wizard, anyway?" Lily whispered to Donna, who shrugged.
"Some Ministry ponce who wants his name in the paper?"
If Donna was correct, the wizard likely accomplished his goal that morning, for a series of flashes from throughout the crowd indicated the presence of cameras. However, an older wizard standing nearby took no pleasure in Donna's cynicism and sent her a scathing look, so the two witches became quiet again.
"...In a short while, we will hear from some family and friends of the eighty-seven brave witches and wizards we have gathered to remember, but first, a few words from the esteemed wizard who requires no introduction—Order of Merlin First Class, Headmaster of Hogwarts School, Albus Dumbledore..."
The familiar figure of Albus Dumbledore, silver-bearded and bespectacled as ever, made his way from a chair to the other wizard's side, and Lily realized something...
"Agrippa's sake, he's still wearing purple..."
"I don't think he owns any other color," Donna muttered as Dumbledore began to speak... about M.F.P., presumably, but Lily didn't really take note, because, suddenly, she found herself overcome with the urge to laugh. She endeavored to smother the giggles in the palm of her hand, Donna stared incredulously, and the wizard who had glared at them before tried to will her demise by the power of his eyesight alone. It made no difference.
"If you don't stop laughing this instant, Lily Evans, I am going to burn every book in your dormitory," Donna continued to whisper furiously.
"I can't bloody help it! Do you know..." She gasped for breath, "Do you know that the last thing I wrote to Sam was all—all about M-M-Meloni versus Mumps!"
Donna raised an eyebrow. "That's not funny, Lily, what are you...?"
Dumbledore was going off on generosity of spirit and contributions to the good of the magical community...
"No, it's not, it's awful. It's so, so awful, oh my Merlin, but can you imagine? The absolute last thing I wrote him about—before... b-before he was murdered was—was this—this d-d-d-dramatic account of—of a—a popularity contest! Between Carlotta and Shelley!"
"You are beyond mental."
"I know," Lily giggled, "I know, but..." Before she had any idea what was happening, the emotion bubbling up inside of her that had found no other release besides the manic laughter she had tried and failed to suppress, changed direction entirely. She was already crying from this inexplicable mirth, until suddenly she wasn't, and she was just crying.
"Agrippa's sake," groaned Donna.
"Girls," murmured Isaiah. Both his sisters swatted him, and then Donna set Brice down and instructed Kingsley to look after him, while she navigated Lily away from the rest of the group.
"Blimey, get a hold of yourself, Evans!"
"I can't!" Lily sobbed, a little louder than she intended, and Donna patted her on the shoulder uncomfortably. "Oh, go back to the ceremony, I'll be along in a minute."
"You're bloody mad."
"I know, I know..."
Donna started to leave, but Lily waved her back, and as she came over again, Lily pulled her into a hug. Donna looked as though she preferred the laughing. "What are you...?"
"Thank you for taking me home with you this weekend," she whimpered. Donna rolled her eyes.
"I'm glad you enjoyed it, as I'm never speaking to you again after today. Oh, all right, there, there, calm down, you're welcome, Lily... are you drunk?"
Lily released her friend and shooed her back to the gathering, and as Donna rejoined her family, Lily dug around in the pocket of her cloak for something to wipe her eyes with. She ought to remember to bring tissue with her more often—her mother always did.
She wasn't drunk, just overwhelmed, and frankly, as humiliating as it was (people from the back of the crowd, who had stood near her, kept shooting bewildered looks in her direction), she felt positively relieved. It was the first time since this whole thing happened that she'd managed to feel anything that wasn't eighty percent anger.
In the end, she used her sleeve to dry her face, and when her breathing slowed to a more natural rate and she'd mostly curbed the hiccoughs, Lily returned to the Shacklebolts—just in time to see Dumbledore reclaiming his seat, and Mrs. Potter coming to stand in the center of the circle, beside the monument.
Some distance away, Marlene sat with Mary—having arrived in time to actually find seats—and at every instant failed not toscan the crowd for the McKinnons.
"Stop looking," Mary advised in an undertone, and she was right of course, because what if she found them? What if she made eye contact with him? What if Prudence was there?
She recognized James Potter's mum, standing in profile to them just now as she spoke about M.F.P. "The witches and wizards we are here to honor were my family," she said, and her voice quaked, so that Marlene believed it. Her literal family—James, anyway—sat in the second or third row of chairs, slightly visible across the circle from where Marlene sat. He stared off into space, and his expression was, to Marlene, unreadable.
The memorial service really did help, Marlene thought, as many a handkerchief appeared throughout the crowd. It made the violent deaths of eighty-seven people feel very—not normal, exactly, but maybe common. The Ministry of Magic was officially acknowledging it. Everyone was getting together to be sad. They were all going to talk about how awful it was, and then, later, they would all talk about how awful it had been, and it was all very official. Not so jarring. The process made sense. She didn't mind it.
Sirius did, though.
Impatient by nature, he found it tedious, listening to the seemingly endless queue of people that took the floor after Grace Potter returned to her seat. He wouldn't call it damaging or anything like that, probably, but it just didn't strike him as terribly necessary. He liked action, and this decided lack of it irritated him.
He recognized this as illogical, in that his sitting through a ceremony this morning did not impact his ability to act whatsoever. Indeed, the months of school extending before him hindered action more than sitting there—beside James, for James—did. Nonetheless, when there was nothing to do but sit and think and know that people you hated, who had done something so horrific, were walking around completely free (living safely, comfortably, in luxury, even), and when nothing came to distract you from that fact, both patience and logic faded somewhat.
Dorcas Meadowes took the floor for a few moments. Sister-in-law of Victor Vance. Caradoc Dearborn spoke, too, and a lot of people that Sirius didn't know. There was a wizard with a thick French accent, a witch who spoke only German and required a translator, and a ten-year-old girl whose mother had been killed. And then there were others still, and Sirius lost track. There was a Daily Prophet wizard (two seats down from Alex Potter) who kept snapping pictures. The morning dragged on.
Then, without much warning, the service seemed to be drawing to a close.
The bloke who had introduced Dumbledore rose from his chair in the front row and resumed the position of speaker beside the marble monument. Perhaps nervous for addressing so many people, he appeared effectively unmoved by the proceedings, and though he spoke of a great sense of loss, Sirius detected little. Of course, emotion might be hard to convey in a pre-made, magically magnified speech. More pictures for the Prophet reporter.
"We will conclude today's ceremony," said the wizard, "with the dedication of the monument, honoring the dead. The plaque reads..." He cleared his throat, "...In memory of the fallen, the witches and wizards who lost their lives on the second of November, nineteen hundred and seventy-six. They remain with us, beacons of peace, honor, bravery."
The wizard turned away from the monument and walked over to the chairs. He didn't return to his own seat, but rather held out his hand and helped a witch there, in the front row, to her feet. Emmeline Vance appeared almost bored as she rose, and the wizard continued to speak.
"As a gift from a generous donor, we are able to commemorate each of the victims of this... this terrible tragedy, with individual markers—plaques inscribed with the names of the fallen—Ms. Vance, if you will..."
The witch raised her wand and gave it a quick, undramatic wave. In the grass encircling the marble monument, there appeared a series of bronze markers—not very large, for there were eighty-seven of them—that must have been concealed there the entire time. Perhaps Emmeline lacked the appropriate gusto (she returned at once to her seat), or perhaps the spectacle of it all was ill-conceived, as only those in the first few rows could clearly see what had happened, but the wizard hastened to let everyone know that something very impressive had just occurred. "These memorials carry the names of each witch and wizard lost to us this week, as well as a personalized message, written by the families of the departed... it is truly moving..." And there were tears in the wizard's eyes as he said it; he never seemed insincere, at least.
"Who is this bloke anyway?" James asked of his mother, as the wizard wrapped up the proceedings. Mrs. Potter rolled her eyes.
"Some D.M.L.E. chap who practically begged to do it," she said. "His name's Fudge, if you can believe it."
The crowd only thickened as the ceremony ended, for everyone converged upon the monument at once. Sirius and the Potters were fortunate to be seated so close to the front, as they were able to make it to the plaques—to read Sam's name, and the little message ("A kind and loyal heart," Caradoc's doing, according to Mrs. Potter) before things became too messy.
The newspaper wizard who had been so close to them now approached Mrs. Potter, pushing his away around a few young witches cramming to see the memorial plaques, and gave her a solemn bow.
"My deepest regrets, Mrs. Potter."
"Thank-you." She tried to move away, but the wizard pressed on.
"Is there anything you might like to share with our readers?"
"Very well." He snapped another picture of the family and moved away.
Jack Lathe looked away from the great mass of people surrounding the memorial; he took in the rest of the glade, scanned the trees, kept his eyes moving constantly—a habit when one was supposed to be guarding an event like this. As such, he was perfectly aware that Alastor Moody approached him from the west, before the Head Auror announced his presence with a growling, "Lathe."
"Mr. Moody," Lathe replied. He glanced at his boss, and the older wizard had a long, thin indent on his face—a new scar Lathe hadn't seen yet. Moody had been late to the memorial: he'd been on assignment, and that scar must have been part of the gift bag. Lathe chose not to comment, however. Moody, unlike the younger, more light-hearted aurors in the department, didn't go on about his scars. They were casual incidents for him. "Peace, honor, bravery. Tell the truth, sir—did you come up with that?"
Moody ignored the impertinence—another auror-bred habit, no doubt—and said instead: "It makes 'em feel better about the thing."
"That's a little sentimental for you, sir."
"You would have Cornelius Fudge up there, telling them all exactly how it happened?" The older wizard sighed.
"I don't know," admitted Lathe. "It doesn't seem right to go on about peace and honor and bravery, knowing what they did..."
"It wasn't there fault." This he said very sternly; that tone was a warning, and one worth heeding.
"I know that," said Lathe quickly. "I'm not—but we can't really hide it forever, can we? Eventually they'll want to know."
Moody ignored this, too. "He told us," he said bleakly.
"What do you mean?"
"He told us," Moody repeated. "In July. He told us this was coming. 'Just like he promised."
Sarcastically: "Very polite, he is."
"But maybe it means he's predictable." Moody was good at that—finding the strategic advantages in horrific situations. It could come across as coldness, if you didn't know better—even if you did, maybe, because Lathe understood, or thought he did, and he still resented Moody's absolute calculation.
For a long while, they were both quiet, and then Lathe broke the silence: "I don't think I can do this anymore." The Head Auror looked at him, but he didn't seem surprised.
"You can't quit," he pointed out. "Not now."
"Then reassign me," said Lathe. "Put me on... security detail. I'll trail the Minister. I'll trail the muggle Minister, I don't care. But I don't want to walk into anymore Peverell Halls. I don't want to kill anymore if it doesn't make any difference."
"Who says it doesn't make a difference?"
"The bloody noble fallen, that's who. This isn't what I wanted to do. This isn't why I became an auror."
"You're good at it, though."
"I don't want to be good at it."
"'Not your choice."
Lathe looked at him, almost pleading now. "I won't do this anymore," he said. "Find something else for me to do."
On another day, Moody would have barked that Lathe didn't get to pick and choose, but today, he was only quiet as he turned his stare back at the mourners in black. "We'll talk," he muttered.
With everyone crowding the memorial and the plaques, Lily decided against making the trip herself. Maybe in a little while, if it cleared, but for now, she disconnected from the assembly and wandered away across the field. She walked for a minute or two, and then the ground began to slope downward, inclining gently until the tree line, a dozen yards on. Lily paused, braced against the light but cold wind, and looked out at the wood, vividly green beneath the still closed silver sky. Then, she sat down on the grass.
Out there, somewhere in the vastness, far away probably, but Merlin knew where, there was a wizard—the wizard who had killed Sam, widowed Emmeline Vance, brought them all together in Alston Glade, and now there was a hunk of marble and a lot of bronze plaques to commemorate him. Maybe he was proud of himself.
She'd said his name in the pub two days ago. Voldemort. Just like that, without a flicker of fear... without even recognizing that she should be afraid. Even now, trying to picture him (she didn't know what he looked like, she realized... there were a lot of rumors about pale skin and red eyes, but she'd never seen his face, had she?), Lily could not find it within herself to dread him or what he could do to her. He could kill her, like he'd killed Sam, and though she wanted very much to live, and the idea surely bothered her, it could not terrify her. This, she thought, was fearlessness.
The witch looked back over her shoulder at the others; she was further from the group than she'd expected. They were all a bulk of black robes, except for one, who made his way towards her.
"What are you doing out here, Evans?" James called, when close enough. "Hiding?"
"Not very well, I guess," said Lily. She watched him approach and then sit down beside her. "How are you?"
"Well—I think my picture's going to be in The Prophet, as they got about fifty of me with Mum and Dad. It's about time, too... my face in the papers, I mean."
"Give the people what they want."
Lily smiled. They weren't touching now—harsh light of day and all that, but she felt perfectly comfortable, and she thought he might too. "Are you going back to the Shacklebolts?" he asked presently.
Lily shook her head. "I don't think so. I think I want to go back to Hogwarts tomorrow."
"Classes don't begun until Thursday..."
"I know, but... I just think it's about time."
"Will they let you?"
"I don't see why not. Other students stayed at the castle, didn't they?"
"I suppose." After a brief pause, James shifted his body and now half faced her, a determined, intense spark in his eye that only added to the multiplicity of emotions playing on her just then. If she could only quiet them all and feel nothing: if only the sight of James in his element again, amongst all those grown-up, familiar witches and wizards did not bring her back to another day, and an introduction to Sam in his maroon fedora, and the naïve cheerfulness of card games in a lock-up. She averted her stare out to the trees again, because that was easier, until he began speaking again: "There is something I wanted to say to you."
"I think you were wrong, last night—what you said about the war."
"I know it's about you," he interrupted. "About muggleborns, I know that, but all those people in M.F.P. were a part of it too. That was the whole point of them, y'know—being a part of it, and so am I and so is Sirius and Remus and Pete and my parents and all of us. What they... what he wants and the Death Eaters want... that's wrong. It's not just wrong for you—it's wrong for everyone. So it's got everything to do with us."
"I didn't mean..."
"I know." James sounded calm; he even smiled a little. Determined, intense. "I know you didn't mean that it's not our concern or anything like that. You meant that—that people like Sam shouldn't have had to die. The Death Eaters don't have any problem with his blood status. But no one should have to die for this, and—and whatever else happens in this thing, it's not your fault."
That was what he had been trying to say this whole time, he thought. Since she'd handed him that letter in the Head offices and known, before he'd been willing to believe, that Sam was dead, he had felt as if she had killed him. As if her predicting it had made it true. As if her existence, being at the heart of Sam's cause, had meant that she was to blame. And there was something else—
"I said—I told you I didn't know why Sam liked you, but that wasn't true. He told me at Frank and Alice's wedding..." It stung to go back there in his mind, to the dim light of the pub and the feeling of faint intoxication and sheer contentment, but she'd held his hand the night before, and she'd understand, and he wanted to say it anyway. "He said you loved everything. He claimed he could tell right away, I don't know if that's true, but he said you looked at the world and saw all the things to like, and you had a 'good energy...' which is a really stupid, really Sam thing to say, but... well, there you have it."
Lily dropped her gaze. "That's—you know, I think that's the nicest thing anyone's ever said about me."
James exhaled heavily. "Well, are you counting the time I said you'd be half cute if your spots went away?"
Things were light again. "'Course not," said Lily, "That's in a league of its own."
"Ahh, good." How he managed to make the next statement was beyond Lily, as he did not take his eyes off her at all, but noted: "The others are coming."
The others in question turned out to be Sirius, Remus, Peter, and Marlene, who soon joined them on the lawn. Sirius dropped to the grass first, just beside Lily, and said: "You two should have children. Can you imagine the madness of the hair? Bright red and sticking up in all directions. Chaos."
Lily and James both chose to ignore this, the former instead greeting Marlene and inquiring of her: "Is Mary here?"
"Mhm, looking at the memorial." She sat down to Sirius's right, as Remus and Peter selected spots beside James. "I guess that was a nice ceremony."
The others only mumbled vaguely in response. The six of them then sat in silence until Remus spoke up: "It really is a war, isn't it?" he said darkly. "I never really thought of it like that before. Not honestly. A battle or a cause, maybe, but a war…" he trailed off. "I never really got it."
"Neither did I," said James.
"No," agreed Marlene.
Peter shook his head.
Sirius said nothing, and Lily thought he must understand why she too remained silent. It was different for them. Long ago, they had been forced to choose or accept their side in this war. From almost the moment she knew that such a thing as magic existed, she had known there was conflict. And Sev had said it didn't matter, being born a witch to muggles, and that had been comforting, but she'd known it wasn't quite true, because it mattered to Petunia. And soon, it mattered to some classmates at school; she couldn't remember a magical world that was not battling over her very existence.
And Sirius—Sirius's childhood had not been the others' childhoods. Perhaps they could remember a world that was undivided. Even Remus, robbed of his innocence, had not grown in a home of curses upon mudbloods and blood traitors. Perhaps he and the others had been better protected. Marlene had an enthusiastic mother, a best mate who came along with her to Hogwarts, and the safety of a Gryffindor dorm that didn't mind her at all. But Sirius, with his family at the heart of the war, and he, finding his way on the other side of the lines—almost alone—was made forcibly conscious of his choice to be there. It was a choice made perhaps flippantly, perhaps for the friendship of someone he hadn't even really known yet, perhaps out of blind rebellion, or perhaps because Sirius was made of better stuff, but made and reinforced in a bitter inner conflict that had surely left its scars.
James, Remus, Peter, and Marlene had never had their hearts divided as such, and they hadn't known the war till they saw the battlefield. Then again, maybe they now knew better than anyone.
Lily wound her arm through Sirius's, an odd display of solidary that she hoped he recognized. "Do you lot want to go back?" she said. "I spotted Frank and Alice earlier, and I'd like to say hello."
Sighing, Sirius rose and helped her to her feet. "All right," said Marlene, "but I'm leaving in a minute..." Off Lily's raised eyebrow, she sent her an I'll explain later sort of shake-of-the-head and brushed the grass off her cloak.
"Do you reckon there'll be a lot of these sorts of things?" asked Peter as they made their way back.
"Sure," said Sirius. "I'd worry about buying my own dress robes, but Prongs has about sixty of 'em..."
"Don't be dark, Sirius," Remus reprimanded.
"I'm not. He literally owns sixty dress robes..."
"It's not dark, it's realistic," said Marlene dourly. "'Can't do anything about that, can we?"
James glanced at Lily, and she was looking up at him too. She sent him a grim, acknowledging smile, and he nodded his head. They didn't say anything else, but seemed, for the moment, to understand one another.
(The Lantern, Camden, Eight Months Later)
"To the Order and mad old Dumbledore?" Lily echoed her boyfriend's mock toast from before, and James matched her smile, knocking his glass against hers, before adding: "And fighting."
The alcohol played only a small role in James's lightheadedness after he drained the glass, for the heat of the tavern in July and the general eventfulness of the day contributed, and he decided against another scotch and soda.
"Unless you've had enough of that by now," Lily teased, resting the back of her head against his chest. "Fighting, I mean."
"Ah, what's a near death experience here and there between old friends?"
"Mmm, personally, I don't see how people study for N.E.W.T.s without at least one hanging over their head."
"Wouldn't have it any other way."
"Keeps life interesting."
"Exactly, yes." But he did not feel half so flippant as he let on, and James pressed a kiss on the top of Lily's head. She replied by setting down her now empty glass and wrapping her arms around his middle. "'Least we've got the chance now, though—with the Order and everything," he added seriously. Lily tensed.
"'Told you we would. Of course, there were some close calls there, so no more stupid risks there, yeah?"
"Stupid is such a vague term though..."
"Mmm, well, let's work on a definition then, shall we, Snaps?"
"Mhm," she murmured indistinctly against his shirt.
"Don't fall asleep there," he said, as she relaxed against him. "We're meeting the others in half an hour."
"Bit early for supper, isn't it?"
"Marlene and Adam couldn't make it any later." James regretted having mentioned it, though, because Lily sighed and sat up again, effectively disentangling herself from him.
"Shall we start walking over, then?"
"Yeah, all right."
They scooted out of the booth. Lily waved politely to the bartender, and, as they made their way to the door, she took James's hand, and said: "Y'know something?"
"I sort of love you."
Lily rolled her eyes, as he dropped her hand, only to lay his arm around her shoulders. "I also hate you, though."
James grinned. "That's a pretty common reaction there, Love." Then he opened the door, and they stepped out onto the pavement.
Aaaand we're out.