Hoist the colors! - Elizabeth Swann
Pain. Pain was all that consumed James's mind. It was strange; he'd always thought that red was the color of pain, always heard that when people were in pain, all they could see was red. But in the weird state that he was in, half in the realm of dreams and half in realm of consciousness, he saw only white. It wasn't a bright blinding sort of white - they seemed more to him like dull flashes that filled his mind with every throb of pain.
He could hear voices too. Some familiar, some not. Some sounded as though they were coming from right next to him, but some were memories, he was sure of it. Surely the voices of his parents were, because they were gone. They were far far away in a place where he could not reach them. Or maybe... he had joined them at last? Maybe he had left the earth and the voices that sounded strangely like his friends were actually the memories from the life he had lived.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
He could tell one thing though. It happened very slowly, so slowly he did not realize at first, but the pain from his chest had subsided. There was still pain in his arm and a deep exhaustion and ache emanated from every pore of his body, but the chest pain was gone, and James felt a great relief. He felt so light, he thought he might just float away from wherever he lay. He was so happy, so so happy -
But there was still someone crying. There was still someone in pain. Someone that sounded very very familiar. Why was she in pain? If he could just... reach out... move...
James's eyes snapped open and he knew he had died. Surely, the blurry face staring down at him was an angel that had come to carry him on to the next life. But the angel had tears streaming down her face and was moving her mouth and actually hit him and he was pretty certain that angels were not violent.
"Potter!" She shrieked, and reality - as well as pain - came crashing down on James at once.
"Lily?" He croaked.
Lily was kneeling beside him, looking more relieved than she had ever looked on her life.
"You're okay," she was repeating fervently. "You're okay. You're okay! Oh my god. Oh my god. I did it. It worked. You're okay!"
James didn't feel like he was okay. The events of the past few days were coming rapidly to him and he didn't know how to process them. His head felt muddy and slow and he realized now that his glasses were off, which only served to disorient him further. He knew he had just been somewhat unconscious but he had never felt so tired in his life.
"Water," he croaked again.
In a second, Lily was up on her feet, and moments later, he felt the sweet, cool liquid being tipped down his throat. James gulped down the water, and sighed.
"James..." Lily started, wiping tears off her face. "How do you feel?"
Like shit, he thought. But now that the immediate threat of dehydration had subsided, the exhaustion was making its way through the crevices of his mind. Lily's face began to swim, and her voice began to fade and everything slowly turned black...
James woke abruptly and suddenly as though someone had yelled in his year.
The first thing he noticed was that everything was blinding white and, for the second time in two days, he thought he had died. It didn't help that his vision was blurred and he could only make out objects that were next to him. It took him several minutes to realize that he was not, in fact, dead - at least he didn't think so - and that he was simply in a room whose owner had decided on white walls and white furniture.
James reached out for his glasses instinctively, realized halfway that they would not be there, then was pleasantly surprised when his hands did in fact meet a pair. He shoved them on, sat up slowly and came to the second realization of the day: his left arm was in a cast and slung against his chest.
Why was his arm in a cast? He had broken it?
But before he could probe his mind of his memories, there came a small sigh from his right and when James turned to inspect it, he almost fell of the bed.
Lily Evans, as in THE Lily Evans, was sleeping beside him. In the same bed. Next to him. Quite peacefully, he might add. Her red hair was splayed prettily all over the bed and she slept with both hands tucked under her cheek like a little girl. James stared, bewildered.
What in the name of Merlin was going on?
Whose room was this? Why was his arm in a cast? Why did he feel sore all over? Why was Evans lying in the same bed as he was?
And then it hit him. The third realization: he had fucked up. Badly.
What had he been thinking? Why had he ventured willingly into the midst of the most dangerous group of wizards in the wizarding community? What the hell had possessed him to do that?
Stupid, a voice whispered in the back of his mind. You think you feel what we do not feel... A fool's errand.
The man. The auror who had been captured and driven insane by the death eaters. James closed his eyes, as he remembered the man's frail bones and mocking voice. How right he had been, how very right... He James, has been a fool... and had paid dearly for it. Not only had he put himself in danger, he had put his friends in danger, made them sick and worried even though he had tried his hardest not to, put Professor Darcy in danger too, the man who he had been convinced was working with Voldemort. Of course, he had been wrong about that too. But what had Darcy been doing there anyway? Merlin, how awfully confusing everything was... how messed up and confusing...
A slight movement again from his right urged James's eyes to snap open. Lily was stirring in her sleep, the covers twisting and turning with her frame. As he watched her, James felt the sudden sensation that he was intruding on her privacy and he ought to look away. But before he could, his eyes travelled to his face and met her eyes wide open.
They both flushed.
"James," she muttered, sitting up at once. "Fuck. I came in to check on you and I guess I must've been so tired, I just fell asleep here. Sorry if I've made you uncomfortable, or hurt you in anyway mom says I can be quite the rough sleeper. I wouldn't be surprised if I accidentally punched you in the arm or something..."
"It's okay," James cut her rambling as soon as he found his voice. "I didn't even notice till I woke up."
"Oh," she said quietly. James noticed she wasn't looking directly at him. "Well... good."
A strange silence came above them. James scrambled about for anything to say to her, but he found a weird lump in his throat. He felt as though if he spoke, he would make her uncomfortable and she would get out of the bed and leave the room. James found himself thinking he would much prefer she didn't.
"How do you feel?" Her quiet voice came again.
"Like an idiot," he responded, after a long pause. "Like a real fucking idiot."
She sighed. "I meant the pain."
"I know you did."
Silence once more. Then-
"You were," Lily said calmly. "A real fucking idiot, I mean."
All at once, James felt the warmth of the moment leave the room, as though someone had thrown open the window and let the chilly December air in. A scowl formed upon his face as he sat up slowly. Pain flared in every muscle of his body, but none more painful than his chest and his arm.
"Don't,'' he started, staring down at the bandages wrapped around his arm. "Just don't -"
"Don't what?" Lily said. "Berate you for being wildly irrational? Call you stupid for doing quite possibly the stupidest thing I ever heard?"
"You don't understand -"
"No, YOU don't understand -"
"I didn't think -"
"No, you definitely did not fucking think -"
"It was a mistake," James shook his head. "It was a giant mistake."
"It was selfish," Lily said coldly. She was off the bed and on her feet now, her arms folded tightly across her chest. As she glared at James, he was reminded strongly of the Lily Evans he had known only a few months ago: the Lily Evans that insulted him every time they spoke and judged every move that he made. The arrogant Lily Evans. For though she had accused him of being an "arrogant toerag," she had been the arrogant one. She was the one that had consistently looked down upon him and considered herself morally superior. And here she was doing it again.
"It was the furthest thing from selfish," he said with the same level of ice in his voice. "I didn't think of myself once entering that house."
"You thought only of yourself," Lily snapped. "Yourself and your stupid need for quenching your anger and thirst for vengeance. You didn't think of school, didn't think of your responsibilities as a Quidditch Captain, didn't think ONCE of your parents - how much of a shame it would've been if their only son had died after their sacrifice -"
"Don't you dare," James snarled, jumping to his feet too, "speak of them -"
"Didn't ONCE think," she continued, almost shouting, "of your friends, how distraught we would've been, how we would've waited for hours to hear if you were alright, how we would sit here for hours, thinking of how much of an irresponsible JERK you are -"
"Then why are you here?" James roared. "Really, go on! I'm such a jerk, then tell me why you're here! No one asked you to be! Last time I checked even, you didn't give a flying FUCK about me!"
Silence fell as Lily stood gaping at James. Her mouth opened and closed, making her look scarily like a goldfish. James breathed loudly, at once regretting his words. He wanted desperately to take them back, but as he stared at her reddening face, he knew it was too late.
"You know, Potter," Lily finally managed to say. "Sometimes, you make it really hard to."
She sent him a final glare and made her way to the door. But before her hand touched the doorknob, it turned, and the door opened to reveal Sirius's grinning face.
"I thought I heard voices," he said brightly, stepping in. "Prongs! You're awake!"
His smile dropped when he noticed them both scowling. Lily glared at him too, huffed past him and slammed the door shut behind her.
Sirius gaped at James. "How long have you been up? Two minutes? And you already pissed her off?"
James let out a strangled noise and fell back on his bed, ignoring the stabs of pain shooting up his body. Why had he yelled at Lily? She had been good to him, had slept by him waiting for him to wake up. Months ago, if he had found out that Lily cared enough to even check up on him while he was ill, he would have been elated. Grateful. Charming.
Months ago, she never would have, a little voice whispered in his head.
But that was just it - months ago. And this was now. He didn't know exactly when it happened, but somehow over the course of the past weeks, he and Lily had become friends. Real friends. She hadn't called him arrogant, hadn't yelled at him for being a bully, hadn't turned her nose up at him every time he walked past. They had proper conversations now. He made her laugh a lot (something he was secretly proud of but would never admit to anyone, for anything that suggested he still had feelings for Lily Evans would send the Marauders on a three month long bout of endless teasing and inappropriate jokes) and they even did homework together sometimes.
Of course, she cares, you idiot, said the small voice. You're friends.
"You know," Sirius's voice interrupted his inner monologue. "I suppose I could pull an Evans and scream at you for being a selfish, arrogant git, but you know what, Prongs? I won't. I'm going to let this one go."
James glanced at Sirius from his position on the bed to see him smirking. To anyone else, it might've appeared as though his best friend were teasing, but James did not miss the steely glint in his grey eyes.
"Yeah?" James asked warily.
"Yeah," Sirius nodded. "I'm going to let it go because I know nothing like this is ever going to happen again. You're never going to pull the whole "keeping secrets from my best friends for the sake of feeding my righteous, heroic ass ego" stunt again."
James sighed as the pain from his chest returned, and he suddenly realized that he was quite dizzy. But he was sick and tired of being in bed. Pulling his energy together, he rose from the bed with a burst of determination and began to walk towards the door.
"Keeping secrets from you guys didn't exactly work out so well for me the last time," he murmured as he passed Sirius. "I'll definitely remember that."
Sirius merely clicked his tongue.
"So you genuinely believed I was a Death Eater," came Darcy's musing voice from behind the tree. James peered over an ornament of a baby Merlin to attempt to see Darcy's facial expression. The movement made James's chest burn, and he returned to his original position with a minuscule groan.
"Well, what would you think?" James replied in a strained voice. He plucked Baby Merlin from it's position on the tree and threw it in the box Darcy had placed at his James's feet. James had not imagined that he would be put to work assisting his professor in de-decorating his apartment first thing after James had woken, yet here he was. "Your letter was fittingly vague, and you emphasized not wanting Dumbledore to know. All very Death Eater material."
Darcy let out a derisive snort. "All that tells me is I need to put better locks on my door."
James heard Marlene let out a little giggle, and he shot her glare. She was standing on a chair on the other corner of the end, attempting to take down the garland that hung from the roof, and failing due to her height. She winked in response to his look.
"I can not believe you would assume that and then decide to act on it," Marlene said, disbelief and amusement in her voice. "You fucked up so badly, it's ridiculous."
At the repetition of Lily's earlier words, James could not help but scan the room to glance at the redhead. Lily had been granted the task of disenchanting the Christmas tinsels and artifacts from squeaking out Christmas songs - a task James felt was considerably more fun than the rest of theirs. He knew Lily was listening to the conversation; he knew she had been listening to everything that had been said as soon as he walked out of the room an hour ago minutes ago: the greetings, the cries of joy from Remus and Marlene, the wishes of "Happy Holidays" and the shortened account of how James had arrived at the Malfoy Manor. Even though James knew she was listening, she hadn't said a word, something James attributed to the probable facts that she was still angry at him, and that she did not agree with the light-hearted, relieved conversations that were taking place . Knowing Lily, she would probably preferred some conversations that went along the more somber lines of "James, you goddamn idiot, how could you?!"
Maybe she's going to get her way, James thought wryly at Marlene's statement.
"I know," he replied, and he felt the atmosphere in the room tense. "I know that I shouldn't have…"
"I mean, do you even know how many kids at Hogwarts have heard about this already?" She continued. "There was an article on the front page of the bloody Prophet for goodness sake."
James paused. "Really?" He asked weakly.
Remus arrived at that time from the kitchen, sporting a tray filled with mugs of piping tea. "Really," he nodded. "Wanna see it? Came out today."
It was James turn to snort derisively. As if he would ever want to read anything from that twisted, corrupted excuse for a newspaper. "No, I'm alright," he said. "It's going to be whatever Bagnold wants it to be, and I'm not really interested in what-"
"Bagnold's going to be sacked," Sirius interrupted, sending James into shock. He turned to stare at his best friend, who merely shrugged.
"That's what the reporters were saying yesterday. Apparently, Barty Crouch is enforcing an inquiry. People are angry about being lied to. Can't say I blame them."
"Doesn't that mean, though," Marlene mused, "that we're going to have to go through another election? Is that what we need right now?"
"That or someone's going to quietly shove Crouch into the Minister's seat," Sirius responded gravely.
"Yes, but is that any better?"
"Who's to say?"
The room began to be filled with political talk and James took the moment to mentally extract himself from the conversation. He was glad the subject had changed. Not that he was particularly interested in politics, but because he was relieved that no one had made him talk about the reason he had gone into the manor. They had approached it as though he had simply gone on a pointless, irresponsible adventure, and he had escaped with vague "you fucked up" and "you're an idiot" comments. In fact, he hadn't even told them about what he'd endured at the Manor (though he guessed they had a rough idea).
He liked it this way. He didn't want to think about the past few days. He felt as though there was something bubbling deep within him, something dark and hot and painful, and if he dug too deeply, he would release it and it would consume him entirely. He had become all too familiar with the feeling recently. Somewhere deep in the back of his mind, he knew that he would have to confront his inner feelings at some point. But not now. For now, he was fine with being surrounded with his friends, drinking hot tea and talking about politics.
James jolted back into the present to hear Darcy speaking.
"What?" he asked.
"Are you alright?" Darcy repeated. He was peering from behind the tree. "Not in pain or anything, are you?"
"No, no," James replied quickly. "I'm fine. A little sore, but fine."
Darcy nodded, but there was disbelief in his voice when he spoke. "Amazing work Evans did there. Just amazing."
At the mention of Lily's name, James snuck another glance at her. She still had not said a word. Her head was bowed slightly as she fiddled with the ornament in her hand, and a curtain of hair hid her face.
"What do you mean?" James asked.
Darcy peered at James. "Fixing you up, of course. Who do you think helped you get better? They filled you with some awful things at the Manor. Lily whipped you up a cure so fast and elegantly, you almost wouldn't believe that ranks twenty-seventh on Darlton's list of Most Complicated Potions. Took her fifteen hours, I believe."
James's jaw dropped. Fifteen hours? Lily had spent fifteen hours on a potion for him?
He glanced at her again to find that she had also decided to look up at that moment. James felt his heart lurch as they locked eyes. She was unreadable in that moment, though James desperately wanted to know what she was thinking.
That you weren't worth it, he told himself. That she's the most perfect human on the planet and you could never do enough good deeds in your life to deserve her. Not in a million years.
As if confirming that, Lily dropped her gaze and refocused her attention on the ornament. James swallowed and plucked another Baby Merlin from the tree.
"Remember, keep your heads low. Don't breathe a word to anyone about what you've heard or learned over the last few days. And most importantly, any sign of suspicious behavior - what do you do?"
"Report it immediately," Remus, James, Sirius, Lily and Marlene chanted.
"Good," Professor Darcy said gruffly.
James felt this was a very weird situation. Here he was with most of his closest friends, being dropped off in front of King's Cross station by his Defense against the Dark Arts professor as though he were their father and they were the band of unruly siblings. He wondered if anyone from Hogwarts would see them, and if they did, what rumors they would begin to spread.
"Well, off you go," Darcy said impatiently, after a moment of silence. "I don't have to guide you through the wall, do I?"
After many thanks, the group of students began to make their way towards the wall dividing platforms nine and ten.
"Potter?" Professor Darcy called. "A word?"
James hid a groan, as the others moved on. He couldn't say he was surprised. He had sensed that Darcy had been meaning to get him alone since the week before when he had awoken. Of course, now was the perfect time. Resigned to his fate, James turned to face his professor once more.
"Don't think you're off the hook yet, Potter," he said sternly, as soon as his friends were out of the earshot. "First thing tomorrow morning, don't forget. Professor Dumbledore's office. He has a lot to go over with you, including the rules of Hogwarts, something that's evidently escaped you completely."
"Yes Professor," James sighed.
"You will probably be punished for your actions," he warned.
"Of course, Professor."
"And you know all of Hogwarts will be talking about you?"
Darcy was peering at James as though to find at least a hint of fear or remorse, but James knew he would find none. He wasn't scared, he wasn't regretful, he was numb. He didn't feel anything. He couldn't. Shutting off his feelings was the only way he found could cope for now. Maybe some time, in the future, in the far far future, things would be different and he would be different. But for now, numbness would have to do.
"One last thing, Potter."
James sighed inwardly.
"Miss Evans. She cares about you. More than I think you know."
James felt his face flush red. His professor was talking to him about a girl? About Lily? And yet, even though his every instinct told him to stop his professor from continuing on with the embarrassing subject, he couldn't help but want to hear more.
"What do you mean?" he managed.
Professor Darcy rolled his eyes. "What do you think I mean? The girl was practically drowning in her own tears at the thought of you dying. She stayed up with you ALL night and day, Potter. She slaved over a potion for fifteen hours just to make sure you would be okay. Figure it out!"
And Professor Darcy walked away, muttering about how stupid his students could be sometimes, leaving James speechless for the second time in his life.
It didn't last long though. James turned around to see Remus making his way through the wall, leaving Lily the last to go in. Feeling something stir within him, rising and pushing through his numbness like a snake from the sand, James ran.
"Lily!" he called. "Lily, wait."
The redhead in question turned around. As soon as she saw who it was, she sighed and dropped her gaze to the ground, as James slid to a stop in front of her.
"What do you want, James?" she asked quietly.
"I wanted to thank you," James said immediately. "And apologize for what I said. I didn't mean any of it. Not even a little bit of it."
Lily looked up to stare at him, and for probably the millionth time in his life, James thought about how it was possible for someone to be so beautiful.
"You're a git" she said.
James swallowed. "I know."
"You really scared me."
"I thought you were going to die."
James watched as tears filled her eyes and he stepped forward.
"I know," he said quietly. "You were right. I was a git, I was selfish, and stupid. And I am so sorry."
Lily nodded in agreement as she wiped her eyes.
"But Lily," James continued. "You have to know something. You have to know because I don't think I'm ever going to pluck up the courage to tell you again. You said I didn't once think of you? Wrong. I did, okay? I did. While I was in there, they did some terrible things to me, and all I could think about was you. About how we were finally friends. About how sometimes you laugh in that really cute way when I say something and about how happy that makes me. About how I would never get to see you again because I'd done this stupid stupid thing." James took a deep breath, and lowered his gaze. Despite it all, he was still afraid of how she would react. But he had to tell her, damn it. "And I came really close to giving up. But I didn't. Because I couldn't bear the thought of never seeing you again, okay? "
The silence that followed ate away at James until he had to glance up. To his dismay, her face was still as unreadable as it had been when he started. His stomach dropped and he felt something rush out of him as though he were a balloon and he'd just been popped.
"I just wanted you to know," he mumbled, and stepped away.
Before he got very far, a felt her hand reach up to his and tug him back slightly.
"James," she said.
He turned back and saw that she was very close to him, and before he knew what was happening,
she reached up and kissed him on the lips. An explosion of tingles burst from his lips and spread through every single nerve in his body. He couldn't think - could not produce a single thought in his fried brain, except blaring panic signs that screamed to him, "YOU'RE KISSING LILY. LILY IS KISSING YOU. YOU'RE KISSING LILY. LILY IS KISSING YOU."
He was so preoccupied with his thoughts, he didn't realize he had not moved from his spot, until Lily made an impatient noise and pulled away from him.
"What the hell, Potter?" she demanded, and James's eyes flew open. He dazedly wondered when he had closed them.
"Is that really the best you can do?" she asked, folding his arms and smiling slightly.
Now able to form coherent thoughts, James realized that she was teasing him. She had kissed him and he had not responded adequately - he almost slapped himself. There was no way the girl that he had been obsessed with since for five years would kiss him and he would screw it up. No way.
Determined now, he looked into her eyes and straightened his shoulders. Without a word, he grabbed her waist gently and pulled her close to him. He craned his forehead forward and kissed her slowly, molding his lips to her. He felt her grab the back of his hair and couldn't help but smile against her lips. For the first time in a very, very long time, he felt nothing but peace. Suddenly, the gaping hole in his chest didn't seem so deep and painful, and that far, far future of different things didn't seem as far away as he thought. And as he felt Lily smile against his lips in response, he thought that maybe, just maybe, things weren't so hopeless after all.
Hi all. It's been a long time coming. I started this story almost five years ago, and it makes me emotional to see how far I've come from since when I was 14, sitting at my desk in my room listening to some angsty, no-one-understands-me music as I wrote and dreamed about Hogwarts. I won't get all sappy here, but I really love this story, despite the countless errors I made and the slightly abrupt end to it. But that had to be done, as it was hurting me to see it unfinished. There's a lot more to be said in this story, and maybe sometime in the far future, I'll feel motivated to put up a sequel. But for now, thank you all for coming along this journey of self-discovery with not only me, but James. Hahaha that was so corny. But really, thank you for your reviews. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. And thank you for your patience.