J.K. Rowling owns the whole HP universe. I don't own anything, really.
The days that followed were the hardest of Lily's young life, but she knew that as bad as things were, they would have been infinitely worse without the Potters by her side. After Petunia left, she fell to pieces. Left to her own devices, she thought it unlikely that she would have eaten, slept, or moved from the floor until her father returned from the hospital.
Instead, James guided her up into a sitting position and patiently sat with her until her tears stopped. He sent a patronus message to his mother, a feat that in a better state of mind would have greatly impressed Lily. Within minutes, there was a gentle rapping on the door. James answered the door, letting Mrs. Potter in with a grateful smile.
"Sorry, Mum, I didn't know who else to call."
"Don't be silly," she said quickly. "I'm glad you called me. Your father is at work wrapping up a project, or I know he would have come as well."
She knelt down next to Lily, who was staring at the cold fireplace with a vacant look in her eyes.
"Lily? I'm Dorea Potter."
Lily's didn't answer, and Mrs. Potter looked up at her son with a worried frown. "Has she spoken at all since it happened?"
"No. Her sister just left her, Mum. Walked out. I had to chase her down to even find out where their parents are."
She sighed. "First things first. Go put the kettle on, and then see if you can find some comfortable clothes for Lily."
James stared blankly for a moment, and his mother looked up at him with raised eyebrows. "Well? Hop to it!"
He scurried off in the direction of the kitchen, wondering when the world had gone so completely mad.
Mrs. Potter lowered herself to the floor slowly, groaning a little as she hit the floor. "Lily, dear, I know this is difficult, but I need you to listen to me now."
Lily drew in a deep shuddering breath and blinked out a few stray tears.
"There's a good girl," Mrs. Potter murmured. She reached up and stroked back Lily's messy curls, brushing the hair away from her eyes. "James is going to bring you something hot to drink, and then we'll get you into something more comfortable than that party dress. Can you look at me for a moment, dear?"
With great effort, Lily tore her eyes away from the fireplace and got her first close look at Mrs. Dorea Potter. She was a petite witch with thick, iron gray curls piled carefully on top of her head. Her eyes were a dark chocolate brown, and the lines around her mouth and eyes belied many years of laughter and tears.
She brought her wand out and tapped it once against Lily's temple, watching carefully as a series of colored sparks emitted from the tip.
"Thank you," she said with a smile. "You're doing fine. Deep breaths, please, I just need to check a few things."
Lily watched with distant curiosity as Mrs. Potter conducted what looked like a series of tests, checked her pulse, and generally evaluated her.
James interrupted by bringing in a steaming mug of tea. The smell alone pulled Lily's spirits up enough to speak.
"What are you doing?" she asked Mrs. Potter.
"Just giving you a check-up," the older woman said briskly, accepting the mug from her son with a smile. "Thirty years as a Healer can be hard to let go of in a crisis. Drink this."
Lily inhaled the steam with a grateful hum. "You really don't have to do this," she said weakly. "I'm just fine on my own."
"Nonsense." A steely look came over Mrs. Potter, and she stood. "Never let it be said that the Potter family stands by while friends are in trouble. I'm afraid you don't have much of a say in the matter. James, I've thought better of my earlier request. I'll go get something for Lily to wear. You wait here with her, and when I get back we'll head over to the hospital to find out what's going on."
James watched with great admiration as his mother took the stairs two at a time, a woman on a mission.
"Which room is it?" she called down from the top of the stairs. James prodded Lily's shoulder.
"Second door on the left," she whispered hoarsely.
"Second on the left, mum!" He turned back to her. "Where are your denims and jumpers?"
"Look for the school trunk!"
"Yes, I've got it, Jamie! Hold your horses!"
At the nickname, Lily cracked a tiny smile. "Jamie?"
He leveled a severe look at her. "Don't you dare, Evans. Mum is the only woman on the planet who can get away with that horrible nickname, and that's only because she's been using it on me since birth."
A quiet giggle escaped her, but no sooner had the sound reached his ears, she was blinking back fresh tears. He knelt next to her immediately, and pulled her into his arms where she wept openly.
"I didn't even get to say goodbye. She can't be gone, James. She just can't be."
He clutched her tightly, rocking steadily and humming tunelessly as she cried. A lump formed in his throat, and he couldn't remember having felt so helpless in his life. Not even when Sirius had arrived on his doorstep in the middle of the night, bloodied from a fistfight with his brother and still limping off the hex their house elf had cast to try to keep him from escaping. At least then he was able to offer a warm bed and a fresh start. Nothing he could give would fix what Lily was going through.
A soft creak caught his attention, and he looked up to see his mother standing at the foot of the stairs, watching them closely. His cheeks grew hot, but he kept rocking, and his grip didn't slacken. She smiled at him and approached.
"All right, dearie, let's get you up and changed. Come with me."
Lily's face was slack and emotionless again as she pulled away from him, but James took comfort in the fact that she didn't let go of his shirt until she absolutely had to. Left alone in the front parlor, he wandered up to a display of family photographs. He examined the first one, charmed by the fact that no one was moving in it.
Lily's red hair seemed to be an anomaly, but her green eyes came directly from her mother. So did her smile. She had inherited a dimple on the left cheek from her father. He recalled the friendly smile and knowing look Mrs. Evans had given him on the platform. She was a beautiful woman, but more than that, it looked like the family revolved around her. A more recent candid photograph, taken at a park somewhere, caught the four of them in a moment of laughter. Mr. Evans held her hand, and the two girls were laughing and looking at her with love in their eyes. Judging from the length of Lily's hair, he guessed the photo was about two years old. He wondered who had taken the photo.
"Ready?" His mother led Lily back into the front room with her arm around the girl's shoulder. Lily looked smaller somehow, like she had shrunk in the last thirty minutes. "Jamie, you said the hospital was where, exactly?"
"St. Luke's in downtown."
"Right. We're going to go ahead side along, I'm planning on aiming for about a block away. There's a magical herb shop not far from there, Hazel's Herbs and Remedies. Please follow as closely as possible. We don't have time to waste."
She looked down at Lily, pale and red-eyed and stoic. "Hang on, sweetheart. This won't take long."
They disappeared, and James, after taking a deep breath, followed after.
The Muggle hospital was nothing like St. Mungo's. James had a little experience with that place, especially given his mother's former career as a Healer. But St. Mungo's was open and light, and even in the closed wards there wasn't this feeling of illness, of overwhelming hopelessness.
St. Luke's was a labyrinth of sterile white hallways, of Muggle Healers in white lab coats, and the entire place smelled like sickness and death. James wouldn't have known where to begin with checking in or speaking to the hospital staff, but his mother handled it all with a grace and serenity.
As Mrs. Potter navigated the bureaucracy of the hospital with an ease that baffled him, James stood next to Lily and clutched her hand as tightly as he could, and she held on with all her might. When someone finally led them back to the room where Mr. Evans was staying, he tried to let go of her so she could have a private moment with her father. Her reaction to the loosening of his hand was immediate and fierce.
"Don't you dare let go of me," she ordered, fire leaping up in her eyes for the first time that day.
"I just thought you'd want to see him alone," he said quietly, covering their joined hands with his free one. "I'm not letting go. I never could."
Her eyes filled with tears again, and before he understood what was happening, she pulled him down and kissed him quickly on the lips. The taste of her salty tears lingered long after she pulled away. Through that long, exhausting day, he never tried to let go again. The only time when he wasn't touching her was when she was in the bathroom, or the one time when his mother forced him to go get a cup of tea from the hospital cafeteria to stretch his legs.
Petunia handled the funeral arrangements at the request of Mr. Evans, which was just fine with Lily. The two sisters didn't acknowledge each other when they sat together with their father, only speaking when absolutely necessary. At the end of the day, Petunia's fiancé picked her up and Lily realized that she would have to go home alone. Her fears were soothed a moment later, however, when Mrs. Potter gave her a hug and kissed her cheek.
"Bitsy went and go your school trunk from your house earlier today. I hope you don't mind, Lily, dear, but I'm afraid I have to insist you come home with us. There's a spare room all made up, and a hot dinner ready and waiting for us when we arrive. I spoke with your father a few moments ago and he agrees."
Lily peered into the room where her father lay. The telly was blaring, but he wasn't watching it. As if he sensed she was watching, he looked up and met her eyes. He smiled faintly, then looked to James and nodded. The look they exchanged was one he would remember again and again for the rest of his life. Volumes were said in that one look, man to man. But at that moment, the one thing that James took from it was thank you.
Mr. Evans was released from the hospital just in time for his wife's funeral, which was held at the church near their home. It was a quiet affair, which suited Lily just fine. She didn't feel like smiling and thanking people for coming, so the fact that the tiny chapel was barely half-full didn't bother her at all.
She barely made it through the eulogy before the tears started coming again. She had always thought of herself as someone who could get through anything, even something truly awful, with poise and grace, and most of all without tears. She was gratified when a few of her friends from Hogwarts appeared at the back of the church, dressed in somber Muggle clothing, even though it meant that they would also witness her falling apart.
It was difficult to say goodbye to her father so soon after burying her mother, but Lily didn't feel she had a choice. No matter how often James repeated that Dumbledore would surely understand if she wanted to come back a few days late, she couldn't fathom not being there for the start of her last term. And so on the fifth of January, she found herself boarding the train to school for the last time.
She had gotten so used to holding James' hand that when people stopped talking and stared openly on the train, she had no idea what they were staring at.
"What's your problem, Brown?" she demanded of a fourth year who had stopped in the middle of the train corridor to gape. "There's a line piling up behind you, in case you didn't notice."
The boy scurried away without a word, but soon faces were pressed against compartment doors, and whispers surrounded them as they made their way toward the compartment that Sirius and Marlene were saving for them.
"Do you think they heard about my mum?" Lily asked James as they entered their compartment. A worried frown creased her forehead. She didn't think she could stand being the center of morose gossip for the rest of the year.
"I don't know how they could have. It just happened, and it wasn't related to our world in any way."
He boosted her trunk up above the seat and then took care of his own. As soon as he was done, she reached out and grabbed his hand, nestling into his side on the bench.
"Erm, guys?" Marlene suppressed a smile and looked at Sirius, who wasn't bothering trying to hide his grin. He had witnessed the two of them become practically inseparable over the last few days of hols, and even though the circumstances weren't ideal, it was easy to see that what was happening was real. He still had a few reservations about the redhead, but after watching James chase her for so many years, it was somewhat satisfying to see them together.
"What?" Lily leaned into James and propped her foot up on the opposite bench.
"Anything you wanted to...you know...tell us?"
"What are you on about?" Lily snapped, but James laughed and lifted their joined hands. The change in her face was instant. Her scowl melted away and a soft smile replaced it, and her cheeks pinked up prettily. She was about to answer when Alice and Frank entered noisily, followed closely by Remus and Peter.
"I'm only saying that she could have been more polite," Alice said loudly, talking over Frank's attempts to interrupt. "I was her guest, Frank, and she spent the entire tea picking apart everything from my mother's decision to work outside the home to my choice in shoes!"
Her eyes fell on Lily and James then, and she laughed loudly. "So this is what all the gossip is about! I guessed at the funeral but..."
Lily's eyes darted to the floor and Alice slapped a hand over her mouth. "Oh, Lil, I'm so sorry."
She sat down next to Lily, forcing Frank to squeeze in between her body and the window. "Are you doing okay? I can't believe you're on the train, I thought for sure you'd want to stay at home for a few days."
"I told you," James muttered. "No one would blame you."
She let go of his hand to deliver a sharp shove to his shoulder. "I'd blame me. I'm doing fine, Alice, I promise. Honestly, I don't know that it's sunk in yet. But the Potters were so kind, and I'm just ready to try to go back to business as usual for a little while."
James smiled at her affectionately and draped an arm over her shoulders, pulling her back into his side.
There was a quiet moment in the compartment, and then Peter cleared his throat.
"Okay, I guess I'm just going to be the guy to say it. Are you two together now, or did Prongs just finally brew the perfect love potion?"
Everyone laughed, and Lily tried to pull away, mortified, but James held on with all his might.
"No, no, it took me years to get you to voluntarily touch me, and I'm not letting you get away that easy. Also, for the record, I'm pretty sure that's why Bernard Brown couldn't stop staring at us in the corridor earlier. And why half the train station was whispering when we walked by."
"Cheer up, Head Girl." Sirius grinned evilly. "You can always dish out hexes or dock points for anyone who gets too interested in your love life. I know James has."
"Traitor," laughed James. "You weren't supposed to tell her that until..."
"Until when?" Remus interrupted. "Looks like you've got matters pretty well in hand."
"Literally," Peter put in.
"You were hexing people this year?" Lily asked incredulously.
"I mean, really, what's the difference between a hex and a jinx? It's all semantics."
"I can't believe you!"
"Evans," he started.
"Oh, now it's Evans again?"
"Yes," he said gravely. "You are Evans when you're being particularly aggravating."
"So you must just be Potter all the time then."
"Oh, Merlin, I've missed you two." Dorcas stood in the open compartment door, smiling fondly, with Mary right behind her.
"You just saw them yesterday," Marlene said, before realizing what she said. A hush fell over the compartment again. "Shite, Lily, I'm sorry."
"It's fine," she said quietly. "You don't have to walk on eggshells around me. I just need things to get back to normal, okay? Honestly."
"Normal, eh?" Sirius' eyes glittered with excitement. "Well, normal would entail you helping me settle a bet with Wormy and Moony here."
James groaned. "Come on, Padfoot, let me just enjoy this for a few days before you ruin it."
"Was it you who snogged our dear Prongs first," Sirius persisted, laughter in his voice, "or did he finally lose all semblance of control and tackle you in that back bedroom at Mar's place?"
Dorcas, Alice, Mary and Marlene gasped, but the boys, clearly having been informed of events earlier, merely looked at Lily expectantly.
"That depends," she said coyly, surprising them all, "on what you mean by first. Technically, James was the instigator..."
"Instigator my arse!" he exclaimed. "You clearly couldn't hold yourself back any more! This one practically tackled me to the ground, gents, don't believe a word she says."
"Judges rule...Evans started it!" Sirius announced. "Having arrived on the scene while the act was in progress, I think I can say that Prongs was getting the better end of that deal."
"Wait just a minute!" Lily sputtered.
"So that means Moony, you owe me one galleon, and Wormy, I'm afraid you owe me a round three galleons, five sickles."
Remus' eyebrows shot up and he looked over a Lily in shock. "Are you saying he lost all those bets, Pads? Because that would mean..."
"That's quite enough," Lily said, unsure whether she wanted to laugh or hex the lot of them. "I hope this means you're done betting over us."
"Of course, Evans." Sirius grinned brilliantly, then leaned over to Peter and added in a loud whisper, clearly audible to everyone, "I'll give you five to one odds they're engaged by mid-summer."
A/N: Thanks for your patience while I slowwwwwly write this out. And to everyone who reviewed after my last post: THANK YOU. I'm sorry I didn't get back to you guys this time. I will try to be better!