Author's Notes: This was written for the 2011 Seasons' Greetings Lily and James Fest on livejournal. It was a gift for the lovely Ashley, who comes up with amazing prompts and spawns things like this. =)
Snow swept into the restaurant with Lily's hurried steps, the glass door swinging shut with a merry holiday jingling at her back. Clutching that morning's Prophet in one hand and unraveling her scarf with the other, Lily quickly scanned the dimly lit room until her eyes found the back corner booth and the cozy table's lone occupant. Grinning brightly, she headed straight for him, unbuttoning her coat and catching his eye as her quick steps sounded against the wooden floor.
"Did you see it?" she asked breathlessly, the words bursting out before she'd even sat down. She thrust the paper across the table at him and quickly slid into the booth.
"Oh, hullo to you, too," came James's dry reply. "No really, apologies aren't necessary. Only been here half-hour. Day's been brilliant, thanks. Do I? Well, you look smashing, as well, love."
Lily took the chastisement with an apologetic grin, pressing a hasty kiss against the corner of his down-turned mouth. "I'm sorry. The Institute's been positively overrun all day. I only just escaped. Because"—she thrust the paper at him again—"of this. You've seen it?"
James rolled his eyes, but obligingly unfurled the paper's thick pages. He turned without direction to the inside cover.
"Of course I've seen it," he said. "The whole bloody world'sseen it. Not exactly subtle, your Gloria."
That was why Lily adored her. "I hadn't even known she was publishing anything until I arrived this morning. Merlin, James, you should have seen it! Our entire wing had to be blockaded! I've never seen so many owls in my life—and the howlers! Oh, it was glorious—"
"Pleased about the howlers, are you?"
"They can holler all they'd like if it means they've read Gloria's article."
James shook his head ruefully, but Lily refused to be deflated by his incredulous attitude. This, after all, was why she'd chosen the research position at the Institute in the first place. Even as the other seemingly more prominent offers came in, Lily had remained resolute. James had been among the baffled when she'd accepted the position, but Lily had never regretted her decision. She'd be following Gloria Selby's work for years, after all, and the opportunity to work under the heralded scholar was too tempting to pass up. Gloria was notoriously eccentric, known about the Wizarding World as one of the most scathing political minds of the last three decades, but she was also impossibly brilliant and one of the most passionate people Lily had ever met. Many found Gloria's unabashed directness abrasive, but Lily thought it invigorating. The pair got on famously.
Which is why Lily had been so surprised when Gloria hadn't mentioned she was writing the article. Granted, Lily had never seen the older woman so enraged as when they'd sat together a few days earlier listening to Niles Bartlett finish his speech to the Wizengamot on the Wireless, but Lily hadn't been feeling particularly rational at the time herself.
"Asinine imbecile!" Gloria had raved, her dark face contorted with deeply woven crevices of unbridled rage. Her thin wire spectacles slipped farther down her nose as she ranted. "Research—pah! I'd be keen on seeing this bloody 'research' of his!"
"He can't do that, can he?" Lily'd asked, temper flaring as the Wireless picked up the periphery applause in the Wizengamot chambers when Bartlett finished his speech. Her heart dropped in her chest. "There isn't any such thing as a charm that can measure magical ability! And yet he's somehow used one to determine that Muggleborns are sullying magical bloodlines? Surely they can't believe this rubbish?"
"Those decrepit fools would believe they were unicorns if someone gave them a horn and told them to trot on," Gloria grumbled, snapping the Wireless off with an angry flick. Her olive green robes billowed behind her as she strode to the other side of their small archive inside the Institute of Wizarding Scholarship's east wing. She headed straight for a bookcase beside her desk, eyes scanning the shelves of ancient tomes. "Mark my words—they'll pass this blasted amendment and our whole bloody world will be left in sodding shambles. They did it once in 1374, 1979 will be the second. The likes of us will be marched off to death's door unless something's done."
"I've been sorting through the magical principles of this for weeks," Lily started. "Your research—"
But Gloria was through discussing it. In typical Gloria fashion, she pulled a tome from one of the higher shelves and promptly began to read, subject closed.
Or so it had seemed. When Lily had arrived at the Institute that morning to find the place overrun with reporters and security guards attempting to keep them at bay, she'd begun to wonder. It was almost unsurprising, then, to have entered the archive to find Gloria sitting at her desk, surrounded by owl post, reading a letter with all the smug satisfaction of the cat who'd just eaten the canary.
MAGICAL FALLICIES TAINT BARTLETT CLAIMS, the headline read. REASEARCH SULLIED, NOT BLOOD.
A waiter came by to fill Lily's water glass. She shot him an absent smile. James closed the newspaper.
"That's your research, too, yeah?" he asked. "She doesn't even mention you."
Lily shrugged. "I'm just an assistant. It's technically all hers."
"Or she's just an egomaniac."
Lily shot him a warning look. "James—"
"What? She is."
Lily rolled her eyes. "I haven't the faintest why you despise Gloria so. She's done nothing to you."
James stared. "Lily, she calls me 'the Potter heir'. Like I haven't got a name."
Lily stifled a smile. Gloria did tend to do that. "Well, you are."
"She tried setting you up with that Rollins berk at that charity dinner," he continued.
"I was standing right there!"
"Langston is one of the Institute's best and brightest," Lily drawled, grinning outright now. "Terribly fit, too."
"He's a bloody peacock with the personality of a flobberworm," James scowled. "You'd chew him up and spit him out in an hour."
Lily laughed, not inclined to disagree. Langston may have been a brilliant scholar, but he was also as docile as a lamb and completely withered under Gloria's terse gaze. "I reckon Gloria'd be the one doing the chewing and spitting, actually, which is precisely the point." At James's questioning stare, Lily explained, "She thinks you distract me. Apparently I need someone more complacent. You're hindering my potential."
James snorted. "Good. You need some hindering every now and again."
Lily knew he was teasing, but she wasn't entirely certain he was all wrong. Working with Gloria was all Lily had ever hoped it would be and more, but even she could admit that it became overwhelming at times. Gloria was a scholar, first and foremost. She wasn't married, came from an entirely Muggle family, and her friends were all somehow linked to her work. Some days Lily would arrive at the archive to find Gloria in the same clothes she'd been wearing the day before. The woman found nothing wrong with not leaving the Institute for days on end. If it weren't for James, Lily wasn't entirely certain that she wouldn't be inclined to join her mentor. The work—initially just extensive research on the magical theories and history surrounding the studies done concerning magical ability and genealogy—had grown progressively more political and relevant as Voldemort and his followers grew in number and influence. There was constantly work to be done and Lily found it utterly engrossing.
Fortunately, she found James even more so.
She wouldn't call it 'hindering' exactly, but Lily knew James kept her grounded, something Gloria considered an obstacle, but Lily thought necessary for her sanity. The day of Bartlett's speech, Lily had arrived at his flat after work with blood boiling. Sirius had wisely vacated the premises just as Lily started raving. She paced restlessly in front of the sofa as James sat silently and just let her go. Afterwards, he'd poured her a glass of wine, forced her to sit down and drink it, then plopped her feet onto his lap and gently began to massage from arch to rigid toes. Lily's body had melted, and her boiling rage along with it. After that, she could discuss the speech more rationally, could put it aside until tomorrow when she'd be back at work and could perhaps do something about it. James had hardly said a word throughout the entire ordeal.
Watching him now, Lily wondered not for the first time how exactly this thing between them worked. They'd been together more than a year now. Sometimes that baffled her. They were so different in so many ways—not just in terms of family histories, but personality-wise, as well. He was the only person in the world who could both soothe and infuriate her to her absolute limits. And yet, here they were.
Lily knew Gloria didn't really hate James. Rather, she had a political Muggleborn's cynical mistrust of all things Old Wizarding World. It didn't much matter that James's family was considered moderate even by Gloria's strict standards, and had been for generations. Gloria saw James and thought trouble. The 'Potter heir' business was less of a slight and more of reminder—for James and for Lily—as to what they were getting themselves into. No matter how many times Lily tried to explain that James was different, that he might have grown up in a world that preserved and perpetuated these bigoted ideals, but that he'd defied a good number of them, Gloria remained unconvinced.
"Privilege isn't something a person can just shed," she'd say. "He'll never truly understand."
Call her foolish or a naïve, but Lily thought he understood enough.
But these were thoughts for another day, stupid and pointless to dwell on when the only thing that would prove Gloria wrong was time. As the waiter returned to take their dinner order, Lily strove to change the subject.
"Enough about Gloria," she said. "Tell me about your day. How was training?"
James grimaced, trying to hide the frown with a sip of his ale. "S'fine," he said.
Lily gave his arm a comforting stroke. "It's only been a few months. Give it time."
"We learned Halifax Disarming spells today, Lil," James said. "I could do those when I was fourteen."
"You knew this wasn't going to be easy," Lily replied. "You've never been one for structure and bureaucracy. Entering a training program like the Auror Academy's after running wild in Hogwarts for seven years was never going to be—"
"Easy. Yeah, I know." His grimace deepened. This time, he covered it with a sigh. "I just…don't know if I can do this for four more years. I thought that leaving Hogwarts meant I'd actually be able to do something, make some kind of difference. You and sodding Gloria Selby are doing more to fight this stupid bastard than I am. I've shuffled myself right back in to another bloody classroom."
"These things take time," Lily said. "They can't just send you off to battle, James."
"Well, why the hell not? Voldemort sure as hell doesn't hold similar qualms."
"And that makes it all right?" Lily snapped. "They found Evan Rosier dead last weekend, James. Someone we graduated with. Someone who knew more Dark Magic than almost anyone I've ever met. He's dead now."
James shook his head. "That's not—"
"Not what? Not the same?" Lily couldn't even stand to hear that. "You're not invincible, James. Let them train you for the next few years, or find some other program that will, but don't blindly rush into this. Don't." She hadn't meant to sound so scolding, but the thought of James taking off on his own out of some righteous sense of restlessness…She knew she couldn't expect anything less of him, but it still had knots settling in her stomach. As he stared morosely down at the tabletop, Lily slipped a second hand around his arm, pressing herself against his side. "If you go off and get yourself killed," she threatened, "I'm shagging Langston Rollins the very next day. You just see if I don't."
James snorted, detangling his arm from her hold in order to throw that arm about her shoulders, pulling her more firmly against him and dropping a brief kiss against her hairline.
"Bloody Rollins," he scoffed. "Pansy would probably start discussing ancient runes midway through. Or otherwise collapse with a stroke at his good fortune."
xxx & xxx
Lily was late getting to work the next morning, due in no small part to the fact that James had conned her into staying the night at his flat and they hadn't actually got around to the sleeping bit until quite late. She knew she'd receive more than a few pointed words from Gloria about her tardiness, but Lily still couldn't quite regret the decision. As she Apparated outside the Institute, she saw that the building was still teeming with reporters—less than yesterday, thankfully, but she still had to flash her badge to two different security guards before she was allowed into the east wing. Hopefully Gloria hadn't bothered leaving the night before. The added security measures would have only put the witch in an even sourer mood.
But when Lily entered the archive a few minutes later, no barbed remark met her entrance. In fact, Gloria wasn't there to give any kind of remark at all.
That's strange. Lily hung her cloak on the stubby pegs beside the archive's main door, grabbing her olive green Institute robes as a replacement. A burst of uneasiness brewed in her stomach at the eerie quiet hanging uncharacteristically over the archive, but Lily pushed away such foolishness. No matter where Gloria was, when she finally did arrive, Lily didn't want to fathom the madness that would ensue if she were caught daydreaming rather than working. There was plenty to do. Gloria would show up eventually.
Three days later, Lily wasn't so sure.
She hadn't been the one to file the Missing Persons report with the Ministry, but she had been the one to tip off Gloria's friend Walter Hunting about the woman's absence. Hunting was a jovial fellow, always smiling and good for a laugh when things in the archives got too serious. He worked down the hall and had done so for almost as many years as Gloria. The two collaborated often, and Lily liked Hunting immensely. But when he came into the archives looking for Gloria late on that first day and Lily informed him that Gloria wasn't there, she saw Hunting's perpetual smile slip for the first time.
On that third day, it wasn't just a slip. The older man was visibly shaken.
"I had just seen her the night before," Hunting told the Ministry official, sitting at one of the many empty worktables as other officials searched the rest of the archive for any hints of where Gloria might have gone. Lily stood beside the old scholar, keeping a comforting hand on his arm.
"And you, Miss Evans?" The Ministry official looked at her. "When was the last time you saw Miss Selby?"
"Earlier that same day," Lily answered. "About 7. She was sitting at her desk, sorting through all the post. She didn't look as if she was planning on leaving any time soon."
The official nodded and continued to shoot more questions at them. Lily answered what she could, but she didn't know any of Gloria's personal habits or inclinations. Their relationship wasn't like that. When her head was just about spinning, the official finally said it was all right for her to leave. Lily gratefully left the Institute.
She didn't even bother stopping at her flat. She went straight to James's, Apparting just outside the shotty old building where he and Sirius had taken up rooms. Lily wasn't entirely certain why the two had decided to live in this particular complex, in a less-than-posh neighbourhood of London. Merlin knew it wasn't a matter of money. Still, Lily appreciated the steady monotony of slowly climbing up the three flights to reach the boys' flat. Finding the door, she knocked twice. A few moments later, Sirius swung open the door.
"Hi," she greeted weakly.
Sirius took one look at her and instantly called, "Prongs!" over his shoulder. As she slowly plodded inside, Sirius closed the door and then dropped a hand onto her shoulder.
"You look like shite, Evans." Typical Sirius bluntness. At her feeble smile, he cocked his head towards the kitchen. "Drink?"
Lily shook her head. "I'm all right, thanks."
"We've got Firewhiskey."
"I think your sod boyfriend even has some of that bubbly stuff you're so keen on."
Lily declined again. "My head already aches."
Sirius nodded. "Yeah, all right."
He opened his mouth to say something more, but at that moment, James appeared out of his room, looking as if he'd just been down for a kip. Blindly, Lily went to him. His arms closed around her as she buried her face against his chest. Her throat closed up and her eyes prickled as if she were going to have a cry, but the tears refused to fall. She breathed him in instead, holding on to him as if he were her only lifeline.
They stood there for a while—Lily wasn't certain for how long—but James eventually ushered her into his room, closing the door behind them. Typical James, the place was in shambles. Clothes littered the floor—his grey training robes most often—and there were a few plates and dirty silverware sitting abandoned on his bedside table. His bed was thankfully clear, though the blankets were lying in rumpled heaps at the foot of the bed. She'd probably been right about the napping. James helped her as if she were a child with her shoes and robes before leading her to the bed. After she was tucked in, he climbed in after her. She lay curled up on her side, grateful for his body tucked up behind hers and the warm arm curving around her abdomen.
"It'll be all right, love," he whispered. "It will."
"They think she's dead," Lily replied hoarsely, her head pounding. "They haven't said so, but they do. I know it."
James didn't reply, only propped himself up on his elbow and gently began to stroke her hair. Lily closed her eyes, soaking in the warmth of his body and the soothing feel of his fingers against her scalp. They stayed like that for some time, until Lily had almost lulled herself to sleep.
"Thank Merlin she didn't put your name in that article." James's voice drifted into her drowsy haze. "Thank Merlin."
Her eyelids lifted. "What?"
"Bloody careless," James muttered. "Thought it then, think it now. Articles like Gloria's…it's not done—"
"Not done?" In a flash, Lily had turned on him. "Please tell me you did not just say that."
James rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean." But when all Lily did was continue to stare at him, he sighed and grudgingly went on. "It's terrible, what's happening. I'm not saying otherwise. But that article, Lily? That kind of sensationalism? Gloria played right into Bartlett's hand. His family—"
"What's his family got to do with any of it?"
"Niles Bartlett's grandfather was Minister for Magic!" James cried. "Forget about their political leanings—the Bartletts aren't a family you publically embarrass! Gloria all but bit her thumb at the lot of them!"
Lily could hardly believe what she was hearing. In one, furious movement, she rolled away from James and onto her feet. As he was still sitting up, she whirled on him.
"So what?" she challenged, suddenly uncontrollably livid. "Bartlett comes from old blood and that somehow makes him exempt from censure? Who cares what vile rubbish he spews, no one's to say a thing? How could you even...unless of course you think he's right?"
"Right?" James scrambled off the bed, striding forward until he towered over her. Lily was so enraged, her body fairly quivered with it. She glowered up at him. "What the bloody fuck are you on about, Lily? You know I don't believe any of that shite!"
"Right. You just think no one should be telling Bartlett as much." Lily shook her head, bending down to grab her cloak from the floor where James had shucked it earlier. "You know what? Fuck you, James. Fuck you."
"Hey!" James grabbed her as she bent again to grab her shoes. She tried to wretch away from his grip, but his fingers held fast. Lifting her head to glare daggers at him, she found his own eyes blazing fire at her right back. "Stop it," he ordered roughly, shaking her. "You're angry, and you're sad, and you're scared, but don't come in here twisting every bloody word I say! I'm on your side, for fuck's sake!"
"Are you really?"
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
Adrenaline pumping through her veins, Lily finally managed to tear her arm out of his grasp. She grabbed her shoes from the floor and swiftly spun around, heading straight for the door. She threw her reply caustically over her shoulder. "You know exactly what it bloody well means! Maybe Gloria was right all along. Privilege isn't something you can just shed. You don't get it."
"That's the biggest load of bullshit I've ever heard," James snapped, dogging her every step. When she reached the door, he slammed a palm against the wood, preventing her from opening it. She tugged vainly at the handle anyway.
"Let me out!"
"No! Talk to me, Lily, instead of flying off the sodding handle!"
"There's nothing to say!"
"Then you'll bloody well listen!" Lily felt his body press closer against hers, but the same heat that had only minutes earlier made her feel so safe suddenly felt claustrophobic. James's voice sounded harsh in her ear. "This is stupid. Whatever it is you think I've just said, you have it all wrong. You think you're the only one all this has affected? For Merlin's sake, Lily, it could've been you. It could've been—" His voice cut off on a harsh breath, and Lily's stone cold veneer found its first subtle crack. But she refused to break. James continued in a whisper. "I've never asked you to apologize for your family," he said. "Never would. So don't bloody well ask me to apolgise for mine."
It's not the same, a voice sounding hauntingly like Gloria's said. It's not the same and he'll never understand that.
Lily wondered what good the advice of a dead woman was.
"Let me go," she ordered, her voice like steel. James's hand didn't move.
"Let. Me. Go."
The next few seconds seemed the slowest of Lily's life. When James's hand finally dropped back down to his side, she didn't hesitate. She turned the handle, opened the door, and slammed it shut on her way out.
xxx & xxx
Lily went through the next few days in a daze, hardly able to function without some kind of feeling overwhelming her. James hadn't tried to call, and she was still too furious to try calling him. A small, selfish part of her wanted him to apologise only so she wouldn't have to go home to her empty flat at night. Lily had never minded living alone before—had relished it, in fact, after spending seven years in a dormitory filled with girls. But she suddenly didn't feel safe by herself, alone in a room too exposed for her liking, and regardless of how many Protective Charms she placed on the door, nothing seemed to ease her mind.
It was her own fault, really. No one had told her to go back to work the morning after her row with James, four days since she'd last seen Gloria. But Lily couldn't bear staying in her flat all day and her mates had jobs of their own. She'd Flooed Hestia that morning regardless, just because she needed to tell someone about her fight with James. But when it came time to discuss it, Lily had balked.
"But what was it about?" Hestia had pressed, her brows lowering in confusion as her head bobbled inside the green flames of the Floo.
Lily had hesitated. "I...don't know," she said, unable to get anything more specific out. "A lot of different things, I s'ppse."
"Well, you'll sort it out," Hestia said after a moment, obviously realising that she wasn't going to get anything more than that. "You always do. You love each other. That's all that matters."
Lily wasn't so certain it was. Unfortunately, she couldn't very well tell Hestia that—or anything about the fight, either. Some niggling doubt in Lily's mind wouldn't quite let her forget that there was the possibility Hestia might take James's side on this. And if she did, Lily didn't want to hear it.
Part of her had hoped that the Ministry would still be at work inside Gloria's archives when she arrived that morning, and that Lily wouldn't be able to get in, but the pack of officials had vacated the premises, taking only several stacks of the post Gloria had received that first day with them. They hadn't taken all of it, however—Gloria had put a stack inside one of her desk drawers and the officials had obviously missed it. That was how Lily found herself spending her morning sitting at Gloria's desk, reading through the endless piles of vile notes and letters.
DIE, MUDBLOOD BITCH, one read, curt and to the point.
You should be ashamed of yourself, defaming a brilliant scholar like Niles Bartlett, another started.
A thicker envelope contained a ten-page, scathingly written retort that Lily reckoned Gloria would have admired if the thing hadn't been so filled with obvious vitriol and bigotry.
It was the multiple notes like the first that had Lily's hair standing on end and her nerves rattled more than she would like to admit, though. She closed all the notes back up and called in one of the security guards to contact the Ministry officials about bringing the forgotten post in as evidence, but even once the letters had come and gone, the feel of them hung heavy in the air. Lily tried in vain to concentrate on her work, to pick up where she and Gloria had left off in the hopes that the woman herself would return later today and not yell too much about all the time Lily had wasted wallowing while she could have been researching, but it was all for naught. None of it seemed real.
Lily left the Institute early, thinking to walk around London for a bit until her head cleared, but that only made things worse. Even as she diligently remained in Muggle London, Lily couldn't escape the feeling that someone was following her, watching her, three steps ahead of her every move. She was jumpy, completely on edge. Distracted, she was nearly run down by a taxi cab as she crossed the road, and nearly whipped out her wand and hexed an old man who had accidently jostled her as she rounded a corner.
Her heart pounding in her chest, the old man staring at her queerly, Lily made immediately for the nearest remote spot and Apparated to her parents' house.
Lily hadn't been back to Cokeworth since October, but her mother welcomed her home with open arms. Lily relished the feel of her mum's arms about her, wishing she could bury herself in the embrace like she had as a child, when things seemed so much simpler. The house had always seemed empty to Lily ever since her father had passed away the summer before 6th year, but it was suddenly a haven again, a place to escape to when nowhere else in the world seemed quite safe.
The two days Lily spent in her childhood home gave her ample time to think—too much time, maybe, and Lily wasn't always certain it was her healthiest decision to stay. Mrs. Evans had asked about James only once, right after Lily had arrived, but Lily's short answer about their row had tipped Mrs. Evans off about Lily's desire not to discuss the fight at length, and Lily was grateful for the reprieve. Any time she thought of James, something inside her ached. She didn't like being cross with him. She didn't even know if it was crossness anymore as much as it was stubborn pride, or maybe exactly what James had excused it of being—anger, sadness, fear. She was bitter, that was certain. She couldn't fathom how he had squirmed his way into being the single person who mattered most to her, and hated feeling that way. Sometimes she thought it wasn't even James she was angry with, but Gloria. After all, Lily had never thought to question James before the woman had put such thoughts in her head. Lily oscillated between feeling grateful and feeling manipulated. She never could decide which exactly it was.
Walking about Cokeworth, Lily harboured for a fleeting moment the idea that this could be her permanent escape, that she could leave the Wizarding World behind and never look back. And why shouldn't she? She was the lowest of the low among them, a target not of her own making, and there was nothing she could do to change that. People who tried were either ignored or made to disappear like Gloria. Was that really the life she wanted for herself?
She could go back to school if she wanted, do it the Muggle way. Her father had gone to Cambridge. Perhaps she'd follow his lead, take a spot at some smaller college with a good literature program. She'd always liked literature. Perhaps she'd become a writer, conjure up some crazy tale about a mystical, magical world where things like blood prejudices didn't exist and girls like her didn't have to run away.
The idea had merit.
Lily cursed the bloody Gryffindor inside of her that made it all impossible.
Two days later, Gloria Selby was found dead in a patch of woodlands inside a park just a few blocks away from the Institute. Lily heard the news on the Wireless in her flat only a few minutes before she'd been intending to leave for work. She sat numbly down on a chair instead, just listening to the news report, then the Celestina Warbeck song that played afterwards. By the time the Singing Sorceress was through wailing about the heart that had been charmed right out of her, there was a knock on the flat door.
When Lily opened it, James was standing on the other side.
He looked a bloody mess.
She didn't let even him finish.
She was sobbing before she'd even got her arms all the way around him.
She didn't quite remember how exactly they'd gotten inside the flat, or when, or why, or when precisely she'd stopped crying so hard and instead was left with a miserable hacking and an incredible, empty pressure inside of her chest. She did know that she hadn't let go of James all the while, and that as she sat there upon her couch, perched rather undignified atop his lap, she felt his lips brush against her forehead and his calloused fingers stroking a careful rhythm on the skin at the small of her back, and never in her life had she felt like as much of a fool as she did just then.
"I'm sorry," she finally whispered, the apology coming out dry and raspy as her throat remained clogged from all her tears. "I'm so, so sorry."
"I'm sorry, too," James said, holding her tighter. "I should have realised...I never should have—"
"No. You didn't do anything wrong. I was looking for someone to lash out against—"
"I was being a ponce—"
"I love you," Lily interrupted, lifting her head from his chest and reaching up to stroke his face. "I love you and I'm sorry and I've been such a mad wench and—"
James cut her off with a kiss, and Lily suddenly found another, better place she could escape to.
Later, she told him about her last few days, about the warped mentality that had her constantly looking over her shoulder and the trip back to Cokeworth. She confessed thinking of staying, of leaving the Wizarding World behind and starting a new life as an oblivious Muggle.
"You want to go live as a Muggle? Fine. We'll go live as Muggles." Lily stared at him incredulously, but James kept a rather solemn face. "You can go to—what's it? Camden? You can go there and I'll...well, I don't know what I'll do, but I'm bound to be useful for something."
"We're not living as Muggles," Lily declared, weaving her fingers through the dark tufts of his hair. "For one thing, Sirius would never forgive you. For another, I'm not entirely confident you would find something you're useful for. Truth be told, I'm only with you for your money and looks."
"Fine. We won't live as Muggles." James hesitated before continuing. "But if not that...I have another idea."
"Move in with me."
Lily's fingers stilled. "Pardon?"
"Move in with me," he said again. The words hadn't changed. "Or I could move in here, if you really want. I'd rather find a place of our own, but whatever you want."
Lily felt her heart thump against her chest. "James..."
"I want to be with you, Lily. All the bloody time, I want you there. I know you said at graduation that we needed our own space, but I don't want my own space. I want your space. Our space."
"Wait. Before you answer, there's something else you should know, as well." Lily waited, and James took a small breath. His gaze was sharp, serious. "I've dropped out of Auror training."
Lily sighed. "Oh, James—"
"I wasn't happy," he interrupted, quick to explain. "I couldn't take however many more years of that. But I didn't do it blindly. I have a plan. I went to Hogwarts to see Dumbledore a few days ago."
"Dumbledore?" Lily's eyebrows furrowed. "Why would you—"
"He's got a group, Lily. A group of fighters who he's working with—training—to go out there and fight. I talked to him about Auror training. He understood. I won't be locked up in a classroom for the next three years. Dumbledore's asked if I wanted to join."
Lily's head was spinning. "Join this group?"
James nodded. "He calls it the Order. The Order of the Phoenix."
Well, didn't that have a ring to it? Lily was impressed, but she still couldn't quite wrap her head around the whole thing. James was joining a group of Dumbledore's, a group that was going to fight. If anyone could understand James, train him the way he needed, it was Dumbledore. The two had been thick as thieves their last year of Hogwarts, and Lily trusted Dumbledore. If this was war, Lily was glad James was on Dumbledore's side. In fact...
"This Order," Lily started, "how exclusive is it?"
James cocked a questioning eyebrow. "Exclusive?"
"I seem to find myself at a crossroads, profession-wise. Perhaps I should go talk to Dumbledore, as well."
James looked surprised. "You'd want to join?"
Lily shrugged. "I don't want to be standing in the sidelines, either. Someone has to pick up where Gloria left off."
That last comment seemed to give James pause, and Lily knew he was having a mental battle about how keen he was on her filling Gloria's proverbial shoes. But Lily didn't regret her words, nor had she chosen them carelessly. She wanted James to realise that this was dangerous—that all of this was dangerous, for him as well as her—and if he couldn't handle her in the midst of it, then this week's fight and subsequent reconciliation would happen time and time again. Now that she'd decided she was here in the Wizarding World to stay, Lily wasn't about to play the victim. If she had a chance to make her life better—to make countless lives better. Safer. Fairer—she was going to take it. And James was either with her, or without her.
She knew she didn't have to tell him as much. He could read it all in her pointed stare.
Finally, he sighed.
"All right," he said. "I'll make you a deal—you move in with me, and I'll put in a good word for you with Dumbledore."
Lily grinned, then clasped his hand in hers.