A/N: Okay, so for anybody who still reads this...it's time for excuses. Blah blah university, blah blah work, blah blah life. Good? Good. For real though, I'm sorry it took so long and I haven't forgotten about this story. It will be completed. Eventually. Anyways, without any further adieu, chapter 15!
Chapter Fifteen: Visitors
For the second time in two days, I wake up late. I can tell it's a bright day by the way the sun shines even through the curtains, and for a moment, I feel good about the world. I make my way downstairs quietly—I can feel a stillness in the house that tells me that I'm the only one awake—and fix myself a cup of tea.
"Does Miss Melina want help?" I nearly drop my tea upon hearing the unmistakable squeak of a House-Elf. It's been a while since I've seen one; I had almost forgotten they lived here.
"No, thank you," I reply, looking down at the elf by my elbow.
"Has Fanny startled Miss Melina?" the House-Elf apparently named Fanny asks, now looking alarmed.
"No, not—well, yes," I concede, "but it's alright."
"Fanny is very sorry," says Fanny, hanging her large head.
"It's alright," I repeat. "Really, it's nothing." I was suddenly glad that House-Elves generally did not show themselves; it was tiresome being fawned over like this.
"Can Fanny fix Miss Melina any breakfast?" Fanny offers, but I shake my head.
"No thanks, Fanny, I think I'm just going to go read a bit."
Leaving the House-Elf in the kitchen, I head to the library, my old haunt. It strikes me that I haven't been there in a while just to read for myself—in fact, I haven't read a thing for pleasure since before the Potter's gala. I find myself recalling the days at the beginning of the summer, where I would sit in the library all day and do nothing but read and copy down spells whilst hating James. And calling him, "Potter." I sighed; those days seem so far off now, as if from another lifetime.
Shaking my head to clear it of those introspective thoughts, I turn to the bookshelf, and out of the corner of my eye I see Dorcas shifting on the cot in the corner. Blearily, she rubs her eyes and sits up in her cot.
"Mrs. Potter?" she mumbles, not quite coherently.
Dorcas is not easy to look at. That's not to say she's ugly-I'm sure that when she hasn't
lost an inordinate amount of blood and after she has washed her curly mass of brown hair she is quite the looker-but the events of that night are replaying in my brain like a film on repeat.
"It's Lily," I correct her, because the pretense of calling myself "Melina" seems unnecessary.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you...I'll just go."
"No," she protests weakly, "stay. Please."
I don't want to stay, but I also don't want to tell Dorcas that my courteousness is less due to my consideration for her fragile state and more due to the image of her splayed on the kitchen table, covered in blood, seared into my brain.
"Oh. I...well...if you're sure..." I say awkwardly, and when Dorcas makes no attempt to kick me out, I sit myself down in one of the cushy chairs by the window and open the heavy book over my knees. I pretend to read while doing what I do best-feel uncomfortable. Seriously, I should go pro. If feeling awkward was a payable occupation, I would be richer than the Queen.
I can hear Dorcas shifting in her cot, but I can't decide if I should look at her or pretend to be too engrossed in Charming the Charmed to notice. How long do I have to stay here before I can get up and leave and not look like I'm trying to avoid her?
"What're you reading?"
Dorcas' voice is much closer than it was before, and when I look up, I see that she is standing behind me, wrapped in a blanket.
"Should you be standing up?" I ask her, and I all but push her into the second comfy chair by the window. She looks too weak to walk and I do not want to be the only one with her if she collapses.
"Stop fussing," Dorcas chortles quietly. "I'm perfectly fine."
"Ha!" I laugh before I can stop myself. "I have a sneaking feeling that you and I have very different definitions of, 'fine.'"
Dorcas laughs, wincing at the effort.
"Sorry," I apologize, but Dorcas waves it off.
"Didn't I tell you to stop fussing?"
She shoots me a look, but it's alright because I think she knows I'm kidding. We're mates now. We could probably braid each other's hair and giggle together and have a slumber party.
"So, uh, not to fuss, but are you okay?" I ask, figuring it's a hell of a lot easier to get rid of the elephant in the room than to spend an hour dancing around it. Dorcas shifts in her chair, as though trying to get comfortable, which I imagine is difficult with a giant scar down your torso. She shrugs, which looks rather painful.
"Eh," she says honestly.
"Eh." Dorcas elaborates: "It doesn't hurt as bad as it did before, and James' mum did a
rather excellent job patching me up. But, I mean, I pretty much got cursed in half. So I'm 'eh.'"
I nod. "That's fair."
"Well, it isn't, really."
"Well, no, but what I meant was—"
"I know what you meant. Stop fussing."
Dorcas and I may be mates now, but talking to her was proving rather difficult. She changes the subject.
"How do you like it here?" she asks.
"It's—" but I stop, because I don't really know what to say. Nice? Well, yes, it's a mansion. Anyone can see that it's nice. Just like home? But that's a lie. Hospitable? That makes it sound like I'm staying in a hotel. "It's…eh."
"Eh." Dorcas is smirking a little now at our little joke. "I mean, it's obviously really great and the Potters are wonderful and nice—at least, most of them are—" I get another chuckle out of her at that—"But, it's not, you know, home."
Dorcas sighs and sits back in her chair, wrapping the blanket around her tighter. "Home." She repeats the word as though it has all the significance in the world. "I haven't been home in…" She trails off, counting in her head. "I suppose it's four months now."
"Why not?" I ask her.
"It's too dangerous," Dorcas tells me gravely. "It's like that for everyone in the Order—we never know if we're being tracked or not, so it's not as though we can lead the Death Eaters to our family's doors, can we?"
"Are you being tracked right now?"
"I just said I didn't know, didn't I?" says Dorcas impatiently. When she sees how worried I must look, her expression softens. "This house is protected better than Hogwarts," she reassures me. "Well, maybe not better than Hogwarts. But it's probably the next best thing. Besides Gringotts or something. But the point is, it's impossible to track anyone if they're in this house. And besides, if we had been tracked, we'd have been attacked by now. So don't worry about that."
"Comforting," I say dryly. "Really comforting, considering James and I thought you lot were Death Eaters coming to kill us all."
Dorcas laughed loudly at that. "You thought we were Death Eaters?"
"Well, who else comes to call at three in the morning, dressed in hoods?"
"Did you think Mrs. Potter would just…let them in?"
"We weren't really thinking logically!" I protest. "It was bloody scary, okay?"
I don't appreciate my new mate poking fun at the scariest moment of my life, but thankfully, she sobers up pretty quickly.
"I know," she says seriously. "It's awful. I know."
The tone of her voice indicates a change in the conversation, and it makes me uneasy. I almost prefer having the mickey taken out of me over the serious discussion that seems to be coming my way.
"What was it like, being asked to join?" I ask her quietly, and there is no need to elaborate. Dorcas takes a deep breath and draws her blanket more tightly around her.
"It was…" She stares whistfully out the window, and I'm sure she is recalling the memory of her, Caradoc, Amelia, Surgis, and Fabian in Dumbledore's office a few years previously. "It was flattering," she says finally. "We were so young, and eager…so appalled at the injustice of the world, and Dumbledore saw it. He trusted us." She takes another deep breath and closes her eyes. When she opens them again, she is looking at me, not out the window. "I remember what it was like, to be sixteen and in the middle of this war. You feel so…so useless. And no matter how much you want to help, or how many good ideas you have, or what your strengths are, no one wants to listen to you because you're just too young. But Dumbledore, he took us seriously. And we all wanted to live up to his expectations."
"And have you?"
"I think so, yes," Dorcas replies. "We've given our lives to the Order; I don't know how he could expect more of us."
"But isn't it hard, not seeing your family and…you know…getting attacked?"
"Well, yes," Dorcas concedes. "I mean, it's not as if this—" –she gestures to her stomach—"—is my idea of a good time. But it's worth it."
"That's what Fabian said," I comment.
"Fabian? Prewett?" she says suddenly. "When did you see the Prewetts?"
"You haven't heard?" I ask, surprised. I had assumed that the Order had ways of communicating with one another, and knew what was going on with each member. Dorcas shook her head.
"We—me, Edgar, and Benjamin—have been underground for the last month," she explains. "No communication in or out. We've heard bits; for instance, that the Potter Gala was infiltrated, but nothing specific."
I nod. "Gideon and Fabian were with James and I when we were infiltrated. They had to come into hiding with us."
"They're alright, then?"
"Yes," I say. "Well, Gideon got cursed pretty bad, but he's okay."
"Cursed? By who?" Dorcas looked suddenly alarmed.
"I don't know," I reply darkly. "The Gala was infiltrated by three Death Eaters, and they attacked him while under Disillusionment charms. It was either Avery, Dolohov, or Nott."
"Bloody cowards," Dorcas swears under her breath, looking furious.
"I know," I agree, "but they are still terrifying."
Dorcas nods and gazes out the window for some time.
"I haven't spoken to those two in so long…" Dorcas shook her head. "You'd think if we were in the same organization, we would see each other all the time, but I've run into Death Eaters more times than I've run into either of them."
Dorcas nods gravely. I allow her a moment of silence to reflect on this depressing fact before I proceed with my next question.
"So, you're underground?" I prompt.
"I probably shouldn't have said that," she says. "Don't tell Mr. Potter I said that. But yes. We're tracking."
"Tracking?" I repeat. "Tracking what?"
"Not what," Dorcas corrects importantly. "Who."
We stay silent for a beat, to fully appreciate the dramatic statement.
"But you can't tell me who, can you?" I say, and she nods. I sigh, leaning back in my chair. "Of course."
"Don't worry," says Dorcas, "In a year or so, you'll be in on all the secrets."
I shift uncomfortably.
"What?" asks Dorcas.
But before I can spill my fears to Dorcas, Benjy has appeared in the doorway.
"Dorcas? Are you up?" he asks, tentatively entering the library.
"Obviously," replies Dorcas dryly. Despite her sarcastic response, Benjy looks intensely relieved.
"Mind if I join the party?" Benjy asks, and I shrug. Benjy walks like a schoolboy. It's quite amusing; he bounces on the balls of his feet and his head is turning in all directions at once, as though ensuring that he doesn't miss anything.
"Glad to see you up, Dore," says Benjy after settling himself in the last comfy chair, next to mine. "You had Ed and I pretty shaken up there."
"Benjamin," says Dorcas, her tone very businesslike. "Am I made of wood?"
"What?" asks Benjy, bemused.
"Do I have hinges?"
"Then why do you insist upon calling me, 'Door?'" she demands, sounding incredibly annoyed. Benjy rolls his eyes at me as if to say, "I have to deal with this all the time." "Dorcas. For the hundredth time, it's not 'Door' like the washroom door, it's 'Dore.' D-O-R-E. Short for 'Dorcas.'"
"I don't like nicknames," says Dorcas simply. I privately decide that it's a shame, because I would much prefer to be called, "Dore," than "Dorcas." Benjy seems to be thinking along the same lines.
"Well, that's a shame, seeing as your name is stupid…"
"Okay, Benjy, let's talk about stupid names for a bit, shall we?" Dorcas smirks.
"Remember when I told you she was delightful?" Benjy says to me, and I nod. "That was a lie."
"And it's you two who are protecting me from Lord Voldemort?" I cut into their banter. "I guess I'd better get cracking on my will."
Benjy laughs appreciatively at my display of wit, and even Dorcas cracks a smile.
"So you are feeling better, then?" Benjy asks Dorcas, who nods.
"Yeah. Being conscious does wonders for your morale."
"D'ya think you can walk?" Benjy asks slightly anxiously. "Mrs. Potter sent me in here to fetch you for breakfast, but if you can't make it to the table, I'm sure she can bring you a plate…"
"I can walk," says Dorcas, easing herself out of the chair, wincing a bit at the effort. I place Charming the Charmed at my feet and hop up, ready to aid her if she falls over. Benjy seems to have the same idea, but one-ups me by wrapping an arm around her waist.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, get off," Dorcas tells him impatiently, elbowing him lightly in the ribs. "Didn't I just tell you that I can walk? Are you deaf?"
Benjy makes no response, but complies with her wishes, and we walk slightly behind Dorcas, making our way into the kitchen as if in a miniature parade.
"You look well this morning," says Mrs. Potter approvingly from the kitchen counter once Dorcas falls into her line of sight. The latter nods, and Benjy helps her into her chair, despite her insistence that he "stop fussing."
"I made bacon and eggs," Mrs. Potter continues, swooping down on us at the table and heaping food onto our plates. "Where are James and Ed?"
"Ed was showering when I got up; he should be along soon," Benjy supplies, piling food onto Dorcas' plate first, then his own.
"And James is still asleep, no doubt?" It wasn't a question that required much answering. Mrs. Potter sighed and tossed the towel she was using to dry the dishes on the counter. "I'll go wake him. Honestly, he's such a child sometimes…"
Mrs. Potter leaves the room, muttering to herself, and is quickly replaced by Edgar Bones, who announces himself with a yawn.
"'Morning," he says, his voice cracking in a way that indicates that these are the first words he has spoken since he woke up. He clears his throat and seats himself at the kitchen counter. "You look well," he notes to Dorcas, who nods.
"I feel better," she agrees.
"Reckon you'll be up for Apparating to St. Mungo's?" Ed asks her. He flicks his wand and a glass appears on the counter; a second flick and it fills with orange juice. Dorcas shakes her head.
"I don't think so…I'm scared I might splinch myself," she admits, wincing slightly. "Do you think we could Floo instead?"
Ed takes a long sip of orange juice. "Not sure…we'd better ask Mr. Potter. It might be too dangerous."
"Dangerous?" I question.
"It's really easy to track Floo travel," Ed explains. "If someone is watching the network, we could lead them right to you."
"But the house has protective enchantments on it, doesn't it?" I ask apprehensively.
"Oh, of course," says Ed kindly, clearly seeing that I am nervous and wanting to reassure me. "But we don't know exactly what Mr. Potter and Mad Eye and Dumbledore have done to the place."
"Oh," I say. Before I can come up with any more follow-up questions, we hear James' voice booming from the entryway.
"—not even that late. It's only eleven." He lazily ambles into the room, clad in his flannel pajama pants and an old Tutshill Tornadoes t-shirt, with his hair looking like he went through a wind tunnel.
"Honestly, James, how do you expect to get any N.E.W.T.s if you sleep through half your classes?" asks his mother exasperatedly, shaking her head and busying herself with the tea kettle. James flops down in one of the seats at the counter.
"That's how I got nine O.W.L.s," he shrugs.
"I didn't hear that," says Mrs. Potter. She flicks her wand and plates slide across the counter and in front of each of us.
"'S there any toast?" James asks, unconcerned, but he doesn't receive an answer due to his father's arrival in the kitchen.
"Good morning," he booms, sporting a sincere smile and a bathrobe. I have never seen him look so relaxed.
"'Morning, dad," says James distractedly, still looking at his mother. "So…toast?"
"Why didn't anyone wake me up for the party?" Mr. Potter asks, ruffling his son's hair and clapping me on the shoulder, catching me by surprise. James looks mildly annoyed and rumples his hair again. I resist the urge to roll my eyes; it certainly doesn't look any better. That boy and his hair…
"I was going to let you sleep," Mrs. Potter explained, levitating a cup of tea in front of her husband. "It's you're first day off in fifteen years; you deserve a bit of a lie-in."
"Well, I wasn't at the office at five a.m., so I'll consider that a bit of a lie-in," Mr. Potter quips cheerfully. He turns to Dorcas, clapping his hands once. "So. Feeling up to a bit of a trip?"
Dorcas smiles weakly. "Depends."
Mr. Potter seems to understand, and he nods. "I'm guessing Apparition is out, then?"
"It's probably best," agrees Dorcas. "Could we Floo instead?"
"Too easy to track," Mr. Potter shakes his head.
"I thought out house was protected," says James. "How can they track it if our fireplace isn't being watched?"
"It is being watched," Mr. Potter tells James. "We decided to leave the fireplace open to monitoring, to ease suspicion. If the Ministry were to do a random scan, and find that we had cut ourselves off from the Floo network, they might think we have something to hide."
The answer seems to satiate James, but I still have questions.
"Why does it matter if Dorcas is tracked coming from this house to St. Mungo's?" I want to know. "I mean, when she gets to the hospital, it's going to be pretty clear that she was attacked by a Dark curse…isn't that in itself going to arouse suspicion?"
"Yes and no," says Mr. Potter. He sighs, and runs a hand through his hair. "Unfortunately, Dark curses are not exactly uncommon right now. There are enough Healers in the Order that we can cover up reasons why Dorcas was where she was, when she was there. It won't turn too many heads once she's actually there. But how would it look if cursed people kept popping into St. Mungo's from my fireplace?"
"Oh," I reply. "When Gideon was hurt, did anybody get in trouble?"
"No, thankfully," Mr. Potter says. "We were able to get Gideon the treatment he needed without much of a stir. The questions about the unauthorized portkey were hushed up relatively quickly. But back to the matter at hand: how are we going to get you to St. Mungo's?"
He turns back to Dorcas.
"We can always fly," shrugs Benjy.
"That's completely stupid," says Dorcas, shutting down Benjy with such complete finality that I have to resist the urge to laugh.
"Er…so that's out then," Ed says, glancing at Benjy, who looks like he is about to retort. "What about Side-Along Apparition?"
"I'd rather not Apparate at all," Dorcas says shiftily.
"Hate to break it to you, Dore, but you don't have much of a choice here," Benjy says, "what with how ecstatic you were about flying and all. It's either Side-Along or brooms. Pick your poison." For the first time, he sounds honestly annoyed with Dorcas' lack of cooperation; the teasing tone in his voice has gone and has been replaced with exasperation.
"Didn't I tell you not to call me that?" Dorcas glares, and Benjy throws his hands up in the air.
"Simmer down," Ed tells them, sounding bored. "Benjy, stop aggravating her on purpose. Dorcas, stop complaining and tell us what you want to do. Brooms or Side-Along."
Perhaps it's the fact that he is a few years older than both Benjy and Dorcas, or maybe it's simply the natural air of authority that he carries, but both parties immediately stop their bickering.
Dorcas takes a deep breath. "I really don't think I can Apparate at all. You have to be reasonably fit, even for Side-Along, and I'm just not up for it. We'll…" She gulps somewhat dramatically. "…fly."
Benjy, Ed, and Mr. Potter nod.
"We'll need a broom," says Benjy, eyeing Dorcas carefully.
"You can take mine," offers James, hopping up from his chair. "I'll go grab it from the shed."
"Excellent," says Mr. Potter. He turns back to the remaining boys in the room. "Now, which one of you is going to fly with her?" Ed turns to Benjy, who is still looking at Dorcas.
"Benjy's the better flier," says Ed. He turns to Dorcas. "I'll fly with you, if you'd rather, but I'm really less comfortable on a broom…"
"No, it's alright," says Dorcas with conviction, speaking directly to Benjy. "I trust you."
There is a slightly awkward pause, during which Benjy and Dorcas seem to have forgotten that there are other people in the room. I vaguely recognize the look on Benjy's face as he looks into Dorcas' eyes; I've seen it on James.
"So," says Mr. Potter, clapping his hands again and snapping Benjy and Dorcas out of their moment. Both turn slightly pink, and I smirk to myself. "It's settled. Once James gets back in here, you two can get cracking."
"Here's something for the road," Mrs. Potter says, pushing a wrapped package into Ed's hands. "You three could use a few square meals."
"Thanks, Mrs. Potter," he says. "For everything."
"Yeah," Dorcas adds. "Really."
"Well, hopefully this is only goodbye for now," says Mrs. Potter. "Once you're done with your mission, you come see us straight away, is that clear?"
"Crystal," Benjy nods.
Mrs. Potter pulls each of the members of the Order into a hug in turn, as James bounds into the room, broomstick in hand.
"Here." He holds the broom out to Benjy, who takes it and runs his hand down the smooth wood.
"Damn," he says, admiring the craftsmanship.
"Right?" says James.
"Oh for Merlin's sake, it's a broomstick," scoffs Dorcas. "Let's just get this over with."
"Here; I'll Disillusion the both of you," says Ed, and he whips out his wand, tapping each of their heads in turn. Within a few moments, Dorcas and Benjy have become chameleons.
"You lot stay safe," says Mr. Potter, leading everyone out onto the patio.
"We'll do our best," promises Ed.
"Ready, Dore?" Benjy asks, and I vaguely see him mount the broom.
"Call me that one more time and I'll push you off in midair," says Dorcas through gritted teeth.
"Just get on," says Benjy exasperatedly, and I see Dorcas' outline climb on behind him. She gingerly wraps her arms around his waist. "Hold on tight."
"I swear to Merlin, you better not crash," warns Dorcas.
"I thought you trusted me?" Benjy quips lightly.
"Bye, then," Ed says to us.
"Bye," Dorcas repeats. "It was lovely meeting you, Lil—Melina."
"Likewise," I say, nodding.
"We'll try to see you soon," Benjy promises.
"I'll hold you to that," James replies.
"This has got to be the longest goodbye in history," Dorcas remarks, and everyone laughs a little.
"Are you ready?" asks Benjy.
"As I'll ever be."
Benjy kicks off, and Dorcas lets out a small scream.
"Oh relax. This is going to be fun," we hear Benjy say from above us, and Ed shakes his head.
"You keep them in line, son," Mr. Potter tells Ed.
"That's what I'm here for," he replies. "Goodbye, now."
He turns on the spot, and disappears with a crack.
"Goodness, they're amusing children, aren't they?" says Mrs. Potter, laughing lightly.
"Yes," agrees Mr. Potter, but he is frowning, and rubbing his forehead with his left hand. "They really are children."
We've given our lives to the Order.
My bare feet on the grass sound like heartbeats.
Everyone dying everywhere…not being able to see your friends…putting your own family in danger…
The sun beats down on me, and I wipe my brow to rid it of a thin film of sweat.
We're all scared. Everyone is. Being scared's part of the deal.
It's a beautiful August day; a slight breeze rustles the leaves of the Potter's peach trees.
I've run into Death Eaters more times than I've run into either of them.
It's a perfect day for a walk. I need to clear my head a bit.
In a year or so, you'll be in on all the secrets.
It's proving harder than I would like.
"Lil! Hey, Lily!"
James is jogging across the garden. I turn and wait for him to catch up with me.
"What is it?" I ask him, and I sound a little more tired than I intended.
"What're you doing out here?" asks James as he falls into stride beside me. "And where are your shoes?"
"I just fancied a walk," I shrug.
"With no shoes on?"
"It's easier to think without shoes on," I tell him, although I'm aware that it sounds rather strange out loud. James raises his eyebrows.
"Alright then," he says slowly. "You're a complete loon, you know that?"
"What do you want, James?" I ask, sounding a little annoyed.
"I just wanted to talk." He puts his hands up as if in surrender. "Are you angry with me or something?"
"I don't know," I say distractedly.
James rolls his eyes. "She doesn't know," he says to himself. "Alright, then, Evans. Can you tell me why you are not not angry with me?"
"Well, you were rather an insensitive git to me yesterday," I inform him, crossing my arms.
"Yesterday? When we were talking about the Order?" asks James. "I wasn't being insensitive; you were being oversensitive!"
"Oversensitive?" I balk. "Right, yeah, because being scared of joining a rebel organization after being removed from my house, taken away from my parents, forced to live in hiding, being attacked by Death Eaters, and watching people nearly die on the kitchen table is clearly an overreaction!"
"Oh that's not fair, don't do that," James says. "You know you were being oversensitive."
"I was not!" I say indignantly, my stomach bubbling in anger again. "I'm scared, James, and you're my boyfriend! You're supposed to comfort me!"
"But you're Lily Evans!" James laughs—laughs! I dare you to find a more infuriating human being. "You don't need a boyfriend to comfort you! You were acting all whiny and scared over things that haven't even happened yet! That's not you, Lily."
I just sort of stare at him after that little speech. I think there was a compliment in there somewhere, but I still figure he missed the point a bit.
"I'm oversensitive and you're insensitive," I say, shaking my head. "What a pair we are."
"Was that a joke?" James asks, cracking a crooked smile. "Joking's good; does that mean I'm forgiven?"
"I'm not sure," I say slowly. "I'm not entirely sure what I'm forgiving you for."
James looks up at the sky as though having a private conversation with God about how annoying I am. He takes a deep breath before speaking. "Well, do you think you could make up your mind?"
"I'm working on it," I grumble.
"Are we in a fight or not?"
"I don't know; I can't really tell," I say uncertainly, and this much is true. This may sound stupid, but here's the thing: when James and I fight, there are…fireworks. We yell until our faces are red and our voices are hoarse. Things get broken. There are tornadoes and hurricanes and floods and fires. When James and I fight, all hell breaks loose. And right now, there are no fireworks.
So is this a fight?
"Let me simplify it for you," says James exasperatedly, rudely interrupting my thought process before I can come to a conclusion. "Do you want to be in a fight?"
I hate fighting with James.
"Then it's settled!" He kisses the top of my head and smiles broadly. "We're not in a fight."
"Oh…kay," I say, a little confused about what just happened. "Just like that?"
"Just like that," James beams. "Now, c'mon, Remus and Sirius'll be here any minute."
"Don't tell me you've forgotten!" says James excitedly, leading me back towards the house. "Remus and Sirius are visiting today."
"No, James, after I thought Death Eaters had come to kill us and then three members of the Order show up bloody and mangled on our doorstep, the only thing on my mind was the fact that your two best friends are coming over today," I say sarcastically.
"You're really witty, you know that?" says James dryly. "Very, very clever."
James' head snaps up and his eyes find his father, standing at the garden gate.
"Your mates are here!" calls Mr. Potter. Like an overexcited puppy, James' smile broadens without another word to me, he sprints away from me. I follow at a much slower pace, because as much as I enjoy Remus' company and…well, I suppose I'm relatively indifferent to Sirius…I can't help but cringe at my last encounter with each of them.
"Padfoot!" I hear James roar Sirius' ridiculous nickname from the entryway. As I enter the house, two boys come into view. James has Sirius in an enormous bear hug, and it appears that not all parties are consenting.
"C'mon—oi—be cool, mate," says Sirius, struggling to free himself from James' death grip while Remus stands in the corner, chuckling to himself. We make eye contact. I smile; he winks.
"Right then," says Sirius once he has managed to untangle himself from his best friend. "I'm starving." He looks expectantly at Mrs. Potter, flashing her a smile that turns most girls to jelly.
"Padfoot…" Remus admonishes, but Mrs. Potter only laughs.
"You know where the kitchen is, dearie," she says. "I think Pinky just finished whipping up some biscuits."
"Excellent." Sirius claps his hands and pushes past me towards the promised treats. Like a true gentleman, James bounds after him.
"Good to see you, Melina," says Remus, barely concealing his amusement as he follows his friends into the kitchen, which leaves me alone in the entryway with Mrs. Potter.
"Aren't you going to go get a snack?" she asks me, to which I shake my head.
"Nah. I've got stuff to read."
I don't really wait for her to say anything; I suddenly feel very, very alone. Isn't it ironic how when you feel lonely, all you want to do is be by yourself and cry? I manage to make it to my room before allowing the tears to fall, but it's a close call. I don't even care that I haven't gone to the library like I told Mrs. Potter, because all I can do is lay curled up on my bed, clutching my stomach as though trying to fill the void that has settled there. Seeing James with his friends hit me like a ton of bricks. I may never get to throw myself into Mary or Emmeline's arms again. I might never get to tell them who I really am. I might lose my friends forever.
I try to stifle my sobs with my pillow, but it doesn't really do any good and I am beyond caring. I thought I had made my peace with this situation, but apparently not. I thought I was stronger than this. Being someone else is better than being dead, I tell myself, but is it really? Because if I'm someone else, haven't I died just a little?
"Melina!" I hear James' voice booming from the hallway—and I also definitely hear more than one pair of footsteps. I've stopped crying, but my face is still puffy and my eyes are still red. Panicking, I look in the mirror and take deep breaths, but it doesn't really do too much good. Seconds later, James is pounding on my door. "Melina! Dinner!"
"Just a moment!" I call back, my voice cracking slightly.
"What's that?" asks James, but before I can reply, he just bursts through the door, Remus and Sirius in tow.
"What happened to knocking?" I demand, trying to look intimidating in hopes that if I seem angry, my red eyes and puffy face will go unnoticed.
"Isn't this your guest room?" Sirius asks James, examining my bed and dresser.
"Excuse me, but that's my stuff," I say, and Sirius puts down the picture frame he's holding.
"What are you on about? This is Mel's room," says James easily, without so much as a glance at me.
"I've been in here before, and the last I checked, it didn't belong to her." Sirius' eyebrows are furrowed. I look at James anxiously, and he gives me an almost-unnoticeable shake of the head.
"Come off it, mate," James laughs. "You were probably too drunk to remember what it properly looked like."
"What the hell is going on?" Sirius wants to know. "You keeping secrets from me?"
"Padfoot, we've both been in here," says Remus quietly. "This is Melina's room."
I want to kiss Remus for his helpfulness, but I resist the urge. Sirius is looking between the three of us shrewdly.
"There's something not right about this," he states.
"Whatever, Black," says James, rolling his eyes. "Weren't you just saying how hungry you were?"
"Yes, let's eat. I'm starved," I add, jumping on this new change of subject with enthusiasm. I lead the way out of the room, and Remus and James follow.
"Sirius?" James prompts. I turn around; Sirius is still standing in the middle of my room, surveying it like a detective.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," he grumbles, and he follows us out, somewhat reluctantly. I catch James' eye. He looks worried.
I'm not particularly hungry, but I don't want to arouse any suspicion by not attending dinner. Besides, I am nervous about what Sirius might say, and I want to be present to hear whatever it is. I manage to exchange a worried look with James as we sit down, but he says nothing and neither do I.
"This smells excellent, Mrs. Potter," Remus comments, sitting down between James and Mr. Potter. Mr. Potter snorts.
"That's sweet, Remus, but it was all the House-Elves' doing," says Mrs. Potter good-naturedly.
"They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach," says Mr. Potter, "but if that was true, I'd still be single."
James and I laugh, and even Sirius cracks a smile at Mr. Potter's wit.
"Keep this up and you will be," warns Mrs. Potter, brandishing a fork. We all chortle a bit at the Potter's bickering as the House-Elves serve us our meal. I eye Sirius carefully as we dig in, but thankfully, he seems more absorbed in the food than he is in his previous suspicions.
"So, did you boys have fun today?" asks Mrs. Potter.
"Mum, we're not twelve," James replies, mouth full of chicken.
"I'm sorry. Did you men have fun today?" she edits. I can't help but snort into my own mashed potatoes.
"Something funny?" says James.
"No, no, nothing at all," I reply teasingly.
There's a whooshing noise that comes from the main room, and everyone looks up from their meal.
"What's that?" asks Remus.
"Floo network," says Mr. Potter shortly, pushing his plate away and standing up. "Someone needs to talk to me. I'll be right back."
He suddenly looks serious.
"In the middle of dinner?" says Mrs. Potter, somewhat pleadingly.
"It might be urgent."
Mr. Potter leaves, and we all go back to our food, but I am careful to eat as quietly as I can. I wonder if everyone else is straining to hear the conversation going on in the next room. But it doesn't take long for Mr. Potter to stride back in, a heavy look on his face.
"I've got to go," he tells his wife.
"But it's your day off!" she protests, putting down her fork. Mr. Potter just shakes his head.
"I've got to." He takes his coat from the hall closet. "See you boys tomorrow. I won't be back until late."
With a curt nod and without a chance for any of us to try to change his mind, he Dissaparates.
We sit in silence for a long time. Not even Sirius has a joke to crack. After what seems like an eternity of staring at my plate, I hear the clink of silverware and I look up to see Mrs. Potter is clearing the table.
"Well, that's that, then," she says briskly, flicking her wand and levitating all the dishes into the sink. Sirius makes the smallest sound of protest at the removal of his food, but seems to think better of it when James gives him a look.
"We'll just go upstairs," says Remus, and we all follow him as he stands. Even though it's James' house, he leads us up the stairs and into James' room, which is significantly messier than it was when I was last here.
Sirius leans coolly against James' closet door as James flops down on his (unmade) bed. Remus is sitting at James' desk and I am left standing somewhat awkwardly in the middle of the room.
"Where do you reckon he's off to?" Sirius wants to know. There's no need to clarify who "he" is.
"Like I know," James says. "Those Ministry idiots can't seem to do anything without him."
"I wish we could follow him," says Sirius. No one dignifies this ridiculous idea with a response. When it becomes clear that his comment will elicit no feedback, Sirius says, "C'mon, Prongs, don't you wish you knew where he was always going off to?"
"Shut up, Sirius," James snaps. "Don't be a prat."
"Who're you calling a prat?" says Sirius heatedly.
"Cut it out, both of you," Remus says loudly. Silence falls again and James runs a hand through his hair. The tension is so palpable that I doubted even a Reductor curse could blast it apart.
"I'm just going to…uh…yeah," I finish lamely, gesturing towards the door. No one pays me much attention as I slip out, closing the door behind me.
I go back to my room, with the intention of spending the remainder of the evening sprawled on my bed, staring at the ceiling and feeling sorry for myself. However, when James knocks on my door and slips in without so much as a word from me, I know my plans are dashed.
"What are you doing in here?" I ask, sitting up on my bed. He sits next to me without bothering to close my door.
"Sirius's being a tosser," James replies simply, with a shrug. He snakes an arm around my waist and I rest my head on his shoulder. I have to say, for all our fighting and arguing, for all our pretending to be people we aren't and sneaking around, I love how naturally we still seem to fit together. Maybe we can do this.
"About your dad?"
James grunts in reply.
"Why does it bother you so much that he's gone?" I want to know. James tenses up beside me, and I backtrack a bit. "No, I just mean…he's gone all the time, you know? And it didn't bother you before…"
"Well, you just said it," James says gruffly. "He's gone all the time. That's when he's on duty and all. But he can't even have one fucking day off without someone calling him in…I mean, maybe he'll never…" James stops, and I don't press. I understand. It's not that James' dad left, it's the fear that James will never have his father to himself. I press myself closer to him, trying to convey as much as I can through movement rather than words. He squeezes me a little tighter.
"You should go back," I say quietly. "They'll wonder where you've gone off to."
"I told them I was in the loo." And he kisses me.
"Cut it out," I say once I manage to pull away, even though it's really the last thing I want. James seems to sense that, and he laughs at me, swooping down on me again.
"I mean it."
Again, my boyfriend fails at following simple instructions.
"You don't want them to come looking for you, do you?"
He kisses me again, deeply, hungrily, and I feel a shock run through my system. For those few sunlit moments, I've forgotten about Sirius and Remus and James' father and everything else in the world, because there's only James and his soft, silky hair and his lips on mine and…
"You really should go." I put a hand on his chest to push him away. I don't know how I found those words, because I'm certainly not thinking them, and when James laughs, I feel the vibrations under my fingers.
"We still have some time."
"You're pushing your luck." However, I allow him to kiss me again. I get one for the road, don't I? "They're not thick."
"They're pretty thick," James says.
"Who's pretty thick?"
We both jump, suddenly springing apart as though electrocuted. If I had to venture I guess, I would say that only the sight of Sirius Black standing in the still-open doorway could have stopped James from kissing me. Remus is helplessly behind him, and I look to James for guidance, but he seems to be, for once, at a loss for words.
Sirius crosses the room, surveying both James and I carefully. I recoil slightly, and force myself to stand.
"You," he points to me. "And you." He points to his best friend. "Explain."
A/N: Pretty predictable ending, yeah? But it had to happen sometime...thank you to absolutely everyone who reviewed: theJPconspiracy, Queen Lover, accio-food, Lily-Evans-James-Potter, PoohBearGoesGangster, , pineappleshaker, may-bell-rose, HPRWHGLuvu, Eleos, Moonfrost127, I-Siriusly-Love-Black, pigckle8, movinggirl, xSoulFighterx, Real Men Play Quidditch, ColorLikeWhoa, TeenTypist, Penguin Boxers, UnicornTamer, buddygirl1004, valenari, AMessofPickles, NegligibleNaina, okok123, Alexs tricest review, isigirl, sugarquills-and-lillies, IckleblueeyedWitch, and Carmelized! You are all wonderful and fabulous and I love you.
Also, we are nearing the end of the summer, and therefore, the end of the story. It looks like there'll be around three chapters left, maybe four? One of those. So that's the status on that. Oh, and I also now have a tumblr account, where I like to waste my time and be generally unproductive. It's demitria-elena (dot) tumblr (dot) com, if you're interested haha.
The next chapter will come MUCH quicker than this one, I promise. Hopefully by the end of March you guys will have chapter 16. I think I'll stop rambling here...see you guys soon!