A/N: I hear the sound of cheering, of loud clapping, of excited squeals and gasps. I see the eyes lighting up, the smiles beaming in anticipation. I know you are all sighing in relief. Because after two years, the sequel is now finally being posted! Alas, the time has come where I feel proud of what I've written enough to share it with all my fans. I know it's been a long-time coming! I won't say much else here because let's face it, you could care less. You just want to start reading. So please sit back, relax, and don't forget to immediately review once you have finished reading all 15,000 words. (And yes, I did just say 15,000 words!)
Disclaimer: The occasional character and plot line may be mine but I owe it all to the wonderfully written words of the talented Ms. J.K. Rowling
Goodbyes on the Balcony
Chapter 1: Of Weddings, Marriage, & Love
It was a sunny day in early November and surprisingly humid for that time of year. It had rained the night before, leaving behind a fresh smell of dew and soggy leaves. The trees were still full of bright colors, reds and oranges and yellows integrating seamlessly with the leftover greens of summer. The sun shone brightly through the leaves of the trees and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
It was a perfect day for a wedding.
A smile crept slowly on to my face as I watched the love of my life, James Potter, traipse up to the front of the room, all eyes following his every stride.
"Let's welcome the newlyweds!" he spoke, his voice amplified by a simple voice enhancement spell. He grinned giddily as the beautiful bride and groom, two people that I have grown to love and respect and who I now think of as family, entered the room from the side door. "What a Wonderful World" filled the Potter Manor ballroom (yes, Potter Manor has a ballroom) thanks to the band, and the bride stepped into the groom's arms. James headed back to our table but his eyes were focused on the happy couple the entire way.
He bent down to lay a light kiss against my cheek and I reached for his hand with a loving smile, my emerald green eyes sparkling with glee. "I can't believe they're getting married," I muttered with a dreamy sigh. "After everything they've been through, I was certain we would never see this day."
"I think the stranger thing about this wedding," Remus Lupin chimed in, walking over with a tray of drinks for the table. We all reached for the respective choice of alcohol. I nursed my white wine while gazing up at Remus intently, wondering what he thought of as strange. "Is the fact that they beat everyone to the punch."
He flashed everyone a smile to show that it was meant as a joke as he passed out the remainder of the drinks, while on the inside, I knew his heart ached as he was reminded of his own wedding day. A day that didn't end up with a wedding at all. A day that only held heartbreak. I didn't let the flicker of resentment on Remus' face go unnoticed.
"No," Kay Richards, my best friend for ten years and always the one to ease an awkward tension, argued from James' left, "I think the stranger thing is that they beat Lily and James to the punch."
My heart skipped a beat of irritation. I flashed her a frantic, impatient look but before she could respond, James chimed in, "We're only twenty-one years old, Kay," James said. I knew that he was hoping that the tone of his voice was steady and didn't show his panic, but I could see right through the façade. "We have plenty of time for marriage."
"Well, it took you two six and a half years, including three snog sessions and a full-blown fist fight before getting together," Remus reminded his best friend.
"Yeah," Lance Gilmore, his arm draped over Kay's shoulder tenderly, agreed, "What are you waiting for now? For Lily to break your leg?"
The table erupted in a light round of laughter and I couldn't help but roll my eyes at him. Lance and I have really only known each other for three years but seeing as he was planning a wedding with my best friend, he had become a fast friend pretty quickly.
"Why don't we focus on this wedding before planning ours?" James replied once the laughter died down, turning his concentration back on the happy couple on the dance floor. The song had ended and now others were joining the bride and groom on the dance floor as "Build Me Up Buttercup" started to fill the room.
"This isn't the only wedding you two have to worry about," Kay said hastily, giving me a stern look, one softened with appreciation. "You are my Maid of Honor, remember."
My heart fluttered once again. "How could I forget?" I drawled wryly. "You're constantly sticking your head in my fireplace at all hours of the night and screaming to remind me about my upcoming duties. Like I'd ever forget anything. You'd kill me with your bare hands if I did."
Kay grinned sheepishly. "And I love your exceptional knack for remembering every little detail that I relay to you."
"Hm," I said, smiling warily. "Maybe that's why I seem to be the number one choice for Maid of Honors these days. I would have appreciated a break between this wedding and your wedding. Why am I so well-liked by everyone?" I groaned, attaching a light chuckle on the end of my question.
"Maybe you need to find friends who have sisters to be their Maids of Honor," Lance suggested with a shrug.
"Kay has a sister," Peter Pettigrew pointed out.
Kay winced. "Only in the strictest sense of the word."
I couldn't help but laugh. I tried remembering the last time Kay and her sister spoke but came up blank. They used to be close, but once Kay's sister got married two years earlier, she seemed to have left the rest of her family behind to start a new one. I let my gaze linger on Lance, a sense of feigned irritation on my face. "You couldn't have waited ten months to propose, hence giving me a little break from Maid of Honor duty?"
Lance smiled sheepishly, sipping his beer slowly. He glanced up at me and I sensed hesitance, as if he were biting his tongue so as not to say what he wanted to say. I raised my right eyebrow curiously to give him the universal sign for him to go ahead. He shrugged curtly, sighed and murmured bluntly, "Sounds to me as if you're not bitter about getting a break, but more bitter about being on the Maid of Honor side of a wedding and not the bride side."
Damn him for always saying what's on his mind. I frowned, but James jumped in before I could retort.
"Hey, now," James warned immediately, giving one of his surrogate brothers a displeased glare. "That sounds like an attack on me, not Lily."
"It wasn't an attack," Lance clarified. "It was an observation."
"Well, go observe someone else," he whined.
I remained silent during their verbal quarrel, uncertain what to make of it. James was quite skillful in changing the subject every time the topic of proposals or marriage came up. And hell, I didn't even know if I was ready to get married. So much has happened over the past few years. But I did know that I wanted to get married one day. I wasn't so sure James felt the same. Once upon a time he believed in the sacredness of marriage. But once upon a time two of his brothers weren't dead with another one MIA. Now it seemed as if our priorities were to our work than to each other.
Somewhere over the past three years, we both dove headfirst into our work and achievements. Breaking dates and staying up until midnight to finish a deadline became more important. When we first broke into our careers that was expected. We had to work hard in order to become successful. But ever since I had been promoted a year earlier and ever since James had graduated from the Auror recruitment apprenticeship, I had thought that things would finally go back to normal. When I was with James, it was as if nothing had changed. It was like we were back to being those giggly, horny teenagers. But with James in the field nearly twice a week and helping Dumbledore with whatever Order mission he needed and going off on dangerous Auror missions, and then you had me on business trips to the North American Ministry, the times we were together were far and few between.
I knew that James took another big hit when Jaron died and I knew there was nothing I could do to ease that pain, but it was hard being there for him at all when he was barely around. I knew he led a fast-based, dangerous life and that frightened him. Hell, it frightened me. I just wanted to know that everything was going to be okay.
I simply reached over and squeezed James' hand. No matter what we were going through, I was always going to love him. And that's all that really mattered to me.
I fixed my glance on my girlfriend, hoping that she wasn't bothered by Lance's comment. I tried scrambling for a subject change, but thankfully, Lily swooped in and did it instead.
Lily's eyes fell on the bride and groom. "Merlin, she looks absolutely gorgeous, doesn't she?" she muttered.
Everyone at the table nodded simultaneously. "Well, who wouldn't in a satin beaded ball gown with a sweetheart neckline," Lance pointed out.
All eyes were on Lance, wide in surprise.
"What?" Lance said, shrugging. He squeezed his fiancée's shoulder. "This girl babbled on about it for months!"
"And you actually listened?" I snorted, shaking my head shamefully.
Lily smacked me on the shoulder with a laugh. "At least Lance didn't complain about the cost of a dress for three months straight."
"800 galleons is about 700 galleons too much to pay for a dress that she's going to wear once!" I said huffily.
Lily shook her head, a hint of a smile on her face. She captured my gaze before turning back towards Kay. "I say that Lance is definitely a keeper."
"Why would she want to keep a gay guy?" I joked, ducking as Lance's cloth napkin came soaring towards me. Glancing over at Lily, who was looking so gorgeous in a beautiful chiffon deep purple gown, I decided it was time to ask her to dance. I stood up abruptly and presented my hand to Lily's. "C'mon, let's dance."
The shocked look on her face earned a laugh from the table. "You don't dance, James," she reminded me.
I snickered, contemplating the last time the two of us had danced. I smiled at the memory of us dancing to "That's What Friends are For" the last night we all spent at Sirius' uncle's house the summer after we all graduated from Hogwarts. We had spent the earlier part of that particular day packing up the house, all wishing that our lives as real-world civilians didn't have to start so soon. It was a muggy August day, a day that led to a huge rainstorm hitting the South of England and stripped us of power. We had spent the entire night playing old board games by candelight and drinking what was left of the alcohol in the house. Since we were boarding up the house the next day, it only made sense to drink the night away. One by one, everyone trickled upstairs to bed, leaving me and Lily alone downstairs. I surprised Lily by jumping to my feet and demanding that she dance with me. I know that it probably looked like some overly romantic gesture to her, but it was just an impulse. We were about to start the rest of their lives; we didn't know what our jobs would bring us. Lily was starting her job the following day and beginning a long journey as a successful professional and in a week, I was starting the Auror training program and heading down a long road of trainings and mission trips. On that last night at Sirius' summer night, I just wanted to remember the people that Lily and I used to be.
I simply shrugged and smiled down at Lily, remembering the way her hair had glimmered in the candlelight that night and the way her green eyes sparkled in awe. It was in these few moments that I wondered why I didn't just jump in headfirst and ask her to marry me.
"I do now," I said. "I can't let such a beautiful girl sit in the corner when everyone else is up and dancing the night away."
Lily was smiling and I had a feeling that it was these little romantic quirks that made her realize how much we still loved each other, even four years later.
"I change my mind," Kay joked. "He's a keeper."
Lance pouted. "Maybe I was waiting for the conga line."
Kay chuckled and leaned over to give her fiancé a sweet kiss, letting it linger a second longer than she anticipated. "How romantic of you," she teased.
"Come on," he said, grabbing her arm and pulling her off the chair. "Let's go show James how a real man dances."
"But where are we going to find a real man in such short notice?" I said with a wistful sigh, winking playfully at the couple as I led Lily towards the dance floor.
Lance flipped me off before skipping out towards the dance floor as well, Kay directly behind him. In just a few seconds, a whimsical Remus and Peter reluctantly joined us.
Lily laughed as Lance mocked my wild dancing style, and I suddenly felt grateful for the wedding as an excuse to bring us all together without one of us backing out. Every other Friday, our gang, a group of people that had seemed to expand over the past four years, tried to meet at a central location for Friday Night Dinner. Unfortunately, more often than not, some of us were forced to miss it because of a business meeting or a business trip or an Order of the Phoenix meeting or important wedding plans or a family dinner or a date that tore them from spending time with their friends. This Saturday evening was different, I concluded.
That Saturday evening, I noticed the worry lines on my friends' faces disappear. I noticed the wary frowns on their faces turn into giddy smiles. I stopped worrying about silencing Voldemort for good and not only put a smile on my face but actually felt happy for once. I watched as Lily stopped wondering where her relationship with me was going and just let me hold her hand as if we weren't slipping away from each other. Kay stopped thinking about floral arrangements and the color of the bridesmaids dresses and let herself think of someone else's wedding. Remus stopped reflecting on his days with Jillian and started considering the future that he had to live without her. I watched as Peter stopped wondering if he was simply destined to manage a bar for the rest of his life and started to just live in the present. And I looked at Sirius who was…well, Sirius was busy snogging in the corner of the room as usual. My worries all disappeared when I was around my friends and I stopped harping on the past. I knew I could count on my friends to remind me to smile. I depended on them more than they will ever know. They were my rock during a time I needed them most.
As I playfully twirled my beautiful girlfriend around in my arms, I was interrupted by Sirius bouncing over to us. "Hey guys!" he greeted. "Don't you just love weddings?"
"You have lipstick smeared on your cheek," Lily responded, rolling her eyes as I spun her around.
He shrugged, not bothering to attempt to wipe it off as he wiggled his eyebrows at her. "Jealous, are you?" he teased, pinching her cheek.
She groaned, shoving him away. "Hardly!"
He chuckled, his eyes turning away from the scrutiny in my girlfriend's eyes. "Wow. Dezzy and Drew sure make a happy couple, don't they?" he said with a strained smile, glancing over at the bride and groom.
"Yes," I agreed, genuinely happy for my baby sister. "Marriage will suit them."
Sirius naturally put his two cents in. "Why anyone would want to get married is beyond me."
"Yeah, because living a life of solitary bachelorhood is so much better," Lily drawled dryly, giving one of her oldest friends a warning look.
"I like solitude," Sirius shot back.
Lily knew to keep her mouth shut, encouraged by the warning glare I sent her. She flashed Sirius a strained smile and said flippantly, "You especially seem to enjoy solitude with that bridesmaid over there. I think she's expecting you back."
Sirius grinned sheepishly and glanced in her direction, where the girl was eyeing him seductively huddled in the entranceway to the ballroom. "Enjoy the rest of your night, mates," he said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. "Merlin knows I will be." He waved dismissively and we watched him lead the girl out of the ballroom presumably up to his bedroom.
After Hogwarts, my mother insisted that I take Potter Manor to claim as my own home and she moved into Brite's old flat. Oddly enough, she felt like that flat was a piece of him that she wanted to hold on to, not stray away from. Since I was going to be an Auror, she thought it was fitting that I lived on Auror Row, a strip of mansions on the outskirts of Godric's Hollow all owned by Aurors. After Sirius felt the need to sell his uncle's summer home, it didn't take much for me to convince Sirius to move in with me. I was used to living in the house with seven other people and sometimes, it felt lonely. Remus quickly moved in, too, seeing as he was unemployed that September. It took him a year to find a steady job and after another year went by, he had moved in with Jillian. He had thought, we all had thought, that he and Jillian would be together forever but after Jillian broke up with Remus, Remus knew there was no way he could stay in the flat that he and she had owned together. So once again, Potter Manor was inhabited by three of the Marauders. But I wouldn't have it any other way.
It was after three o'clock in the morning when the last guest departed from the ballroom. Remus had disappeared much earlier to escape to his bedroom. He didn't say why, but we all knew it had something to do with the fact that it was hard for Remus to be at a wedding knowing that his never occurred.
One glance around the ballroom and I suddenly wondered why I thought holding the reception here was a good idea. "This place is a dump," I groaned, shaking my head in disbelief. "Why do Dezzy and Drew know so many people?"
Lily chuckled, throwing her arms around my shoulders from behind, kissing the nape of my neck. "All in all, this wedding was pretty damned fun," she muttered, her words slurring slightly.
"I think that's the booze talking," I laughed, kissing her wrist as I squeezed her hands adoringly.
She smiled and whispered in my ear, "I think we can wait until morning to clean this place up."
I immediately hardened at her hot breath on my ear. I turned around and surprised Lily for the second time that evening by reaching down and hoisting her up in my arms. I dragged her to the living room and threw her down on to the couch, earning a giggle from her. I climbed on top of her, leaving a trail of hot kisses down her jawline, ferociously moving towards her mouth. I lusted for her as much now as I did as a horny teenager. "How attached are you to that dress?" I whispered hungrily in her ear.
"It's a poufy dress with a flowery ribbon. I'm never wearing this thing ever again," she chuckled. Seconds later, I was ripping it off her body, discarding it aimlessly to the floor.
She moaned and pulled my shirt over my head, throwing it to the floor as I massaged her breasts gently. I led my lips to hers once again, our tongues dancing against one another.
Neither of us had heard the footsteps coming up from behind. Lily yelped when she saw Sirius leaning over the couch. "Oops," he said, grinning sheepishly. "Nice bra, Lily-bean."
Lily blushed furiously. "Hasn't anyone ever told you not to sneak up on people?" she groaned, grabbing a couch pillow and throwing it over her half-naked body as I climbed off of her, desperately trying to hide the full-blown erection from my best friend with another pillow.
What I really wanted to do with the pillow was suffocate Sirius for interrupting.
"And what's the fun in that?" he teased. "I'm looking for the whipped cream."
"That is disturbing on so many levels," Lily said dryly, rolling her eyes.
Sirius slowly quirked an eyebrow. "At least I'm not going at it like overly stimulated rabbits in a room that anyone could just walk into."
"Anyone like you and whatever girl you've convinced to sleep with you tonight?"
"To name a few," he smirked. "So where is the whipped cream?"
"Not in the fridge?"
He shook his head.
"Check the ballroom. I wouldn't put it past my sister to have used it on her wedding cake," I chuckled.
"Did Remus finish off all of the chocolate sauce last night on his ice cream?"
Lily threw up her hands. "Have you ever not been a horny pervert?" she said, flashing him a smile.
Sirius hesitated, dramatically thinking back. "Hm. Yes. But only for about a minute."
"Who's the lucky lady tonight?" Lily inquired curiously. "That floozy you were with earlier?"
He shook his head, though I saw him wince slightly at the word 'floozy.' "Nah, she took off earlier," he pouted. "Right now, Skyler's in my room."
Lily gawked at him. "Skyler? As in Skyler Swenson? Isn't she engaged?" she groaned.
"Not after tonight she won't be," he snorted, flashing her a cheeky grin.
I cringed, recognizing the disturbed, disappointed look on Lily's face. "That is so immoral," Lily argued, her lips forming a firm, thin line.
Sirius shrugged, blowing her frustration off. Which he often did. "Whoever said I was a moral guy?" he snorted.
"No one," Lily said a bit too quickly.
There was a slight waver in Sirius' suave smile, but he simply rolled his eyes. He turned around and skipped out of the room, crying over his shoulder, "Don't forget the contraception charm!"
"Look who's talking!" I responded back, but Sirius was already out of earshot.
Lily gazed over at me, an amused smile on her face. "Why does Sirius always have such untimely arrivals?"
"I think he has a sixth sense about our nakedness," I said, letting my lips linger across her bare shoulder.
Lily smiled, but it was forced. There was a flicker of frustration in her eye and I called her out on it. "Sirius is just being Sirius, y'know."
She frowned. "I'm getting a bit tired of hearing the whole 'boys will be boys' mantra," she murmured, a low grunt emitting from her lips. "Sirius is better than that."
I nodded, knowing she was right. But I knew Sirius well. And I had a feeling that sometimes it was easier for him to just be the bad guy. "He doesn't think he is," I murmured.
She turned away and I sensed hesitance. I knew that she hated the way Sirius treated women and as a result, treated himself, but there wasn't much anyone could do. "I think he does know he's better than the person he is," she argued. "He just doesn't want to try."
I sighed. "I know," I agreed. "But-"
"There is no but, James," she interrupted, turning her gaze on me. Her gaze was hard and determined. She swallowed hard and said softly, "It's been three and a half years. He can't use her as an excuse anymore."
My heart skipped a beat. I knew she was alluding to Riley Gilmore and my stomach tightened at the very thought of her. I steered the conversation away from her. "It's not an excuse. This is his life. Emphasis on the word 'his,'" I reminded her.
She pursed her lips and I knew she was realizing that it was futile. No matter what she thought, she wouldn't be able to change Sirius' habits. She eventually smiled. "You're right. It's his life," she said confidently. She gazed up at me, lust pouring out of her eyes and I hardened just by taking one look into her eyes. "There's no need to think about him when we've got other things on our mind," she whispered, planting a gentle kiss against my soft lips. "I love you, James," she murmured.
"I know," I whispered seductively, my eyes fixed defiantly on hers.
Her eyes smiled with mystery and she threw the pillow off of her, unclipping her bra and exposing her perky breasts.
"I love you, too, Lily."
We made love on the couch that night without another interruption.
Skyler was cute I guess. And she certainly was a good kisser. But I was glad when she left my room. That always seems to be my favorite part of the sex: when they walked out the door and I never had to deal with them again. Does that make me heartless? Does that make me a coward? Does that make me callous? Yes, probably. And I'm sure that Lily would love to tell me so, but what she didn't realize is the fact that I already knew it. I just stopped caring a long time ago.
I hated weddings. Always have. Always will. Why anyone would want to spend the rest of their life with one person is beyond me. Love is a complete sham. A joke. It doesn't really exist. It's just a fabrication. Sooner or later, people wake up and realize that love is nothing but a fleeting obsession.
Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against my friends if that's the path in life they want to choose. I think that Dezzy and Drew make the cutest couple—I watched as they grew up into the people they are today and a part of me is proud to see how far they've come. I believe that Kay and Lance will be one of the few couples that will last into their eighties. Frank and Alice were perfect for one another. And I think that if James can get over his fear of commitment and Lily could realize that she's worthy of love, they will be the ultimate power couple. They are the couple that everyone seems to strive to be. Except me.
Love has never been and never will be for me. I refused to fall for it again. I did it once and it failed me. Love was just a heart full of pain.
I grabbed the near-empty beer on my end table and headed outside to my balcony to do what I do best: wallow in self-pity.
Without waking James, as if anything or anyone could ever stir James' from his deep slumber, I slipped out of Potter Manor just after sunset the next morning. I left the mansion by way of the ballroom, using my wand in order to clean and straighten the room out so as not to leave it to the three boys (because Merlin knows that if I left James, Sirius, and Remus in charge of cleaning the ballroom, the mess would still be there a year later). James thanked me later, but I didn't do it to earn a thank-you. I used it to immerse myself in my thoughts in the light morning glow of pinks and reds shining through the window.
During those rare occurrences when I had free time, my mind often wandered back to when I was at Hogwarts. It gave me some of my happiest moments and somehow, I regret not appreciating it more while I was there. Hogwarts gave to me my most whimsical and carefree times, those times when I was just sitting in the commons room painting my nails and laughing with Kay as she read the latest gossip column in Witch Weekly. There were the stolen moments with James just before bed when we would lie peacefully in each other's arms chatting aimlessly as if we had nothing else to live for but each other. Even those infrequent occasions when I would be convinced to sneak into Hogsmeade and a night of frivolity followed quickly after were times I missed. I lived my life with a bit of spontaneity back then, but in the past three years, I swore my life by a regime. We had all been different back then and while I could use the excuse that we were all just growing up and becoming adults, I knew it was something more.
Something changed all of us after Hogwarts and that something was Riley.
Riley Gilmore's unexpected departure caused us all to grow up a little faster than we all would have liked. Her disappearance in the middle of the night taught us that being carefree, whimsical, spontaneous teenagers didn't recant the forced ability to deal with the unpredictability that came with adulthood.
James took his adulthood more seriously than any of the rest of us did. He threw his life into his work and rarely came up for air. I knew that it was because at work, he had control, while he was never prepared for the awful incidents that kept materializing in his own unfortunate, misshapen world. But as the months and years slowly passed by, I wondered if there was going to be room for me in his unfortunate, misshapen world. I would never wish anyone on such a cruel string of events, first starting with Wyatt's disappearance, then Brite's unexpected death, next James' father leaving his mother, afterward Riley abandoning him, and then two years later, JT's kidnapping and murder. I loved James more than anything and was always willing to be there to hold his hand during the tragedies he was forced to live through. I just couldn't help but wonder if he was still willing to let me do that.
"Hey," a voice greeted from behind.
I jumped, snapping myself out of my past and back into reality. "You startled me."
"Sorry," Sirius cringed. "What are you doing?"
I gave him a look. "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm cleaning."
"At five-thirty in the morning?"
I shrugged. "It has to be done some time."
I glanced over my shoulder, offering a humorous smirk to Sirius. "Since when have you ever been privy to clean-up duty?"
"Since now," Sirius argued, stifling a yawn. While he'd never admit it, I knew that he had become something of an insomniac over the years and found himself awake on most days before his two roommates, which was definitely not reminiscent of Hogwarts. He pulled out his wand and started clearing plates from the tables, sending them into the kitchen.
"Don't you have some bridesmaid waiting for you in your bed?" I snickered, quirking an eyebrow.
He flinched. "No. She left ages ago."
"They always do."
He pursed his lips. "Yeah, and thank God for that," he argued, tensing up.
"Gee, it's a wonder any girl goes for you with that attitude," I snickered.
He glared at me and I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. "Why don't we stop insulting me and start talking about what's running through your mind?"
I quirked a confused eyebrow. "Hm?"
He shrugged. "You seemed pretty deep in thought when I sauntered in. Care to tell me why?"
I opened my mouth to brush it off, but when I glanced up at him, I saw genuine concern. While Sirius and I didn't always agree on everything, he has been there for me every step of the way. And he more than anyone could probably understand what I've been so worried about lately. I said slowly, "I was just thinking about the past."
Sirius sent me an inquisitive glance over his shoulder. "Could you be less vague?" he said with a sardonic smile.
I sighed, uncertain how to do so. I took my time folding tablecloths before asking, "Do you ever wish you could just go back to the time you spent at Hogwarts?"
Sirius' heart skipped a beat and his gaze slowly met mine. "Every day," he admitted in a hoarse whisper. "You?"
The lump in my throat prevented me from responding, so I simply nodded. I'm sure the look on my face told Sirius all he really needed to know.
"But we were young and naïve back then," Sirius explained hastily, shaking his head skeptically.
"Why is that a 'but?'" I asked curiously.
"We were different people," Sirius sighed, lowering his wand from the string of lights as he turned to face me, "We lived through our impulses by the hour, even minutes, without a care in the world. And now? Well, we have jobs to go to and rent to pay and food to buy and real lives to live. We have a responsibility to ourselves not to be carefree. We go through the expected routine on a daily basis, not necessarily because we enjoy it but because it's the only way to survive."
"What are you getting at?" I asked curiously, a hint of panic in my voice. It was as if he had been reading my mind.
He shrugged casually, shooting a peek my way. "The question that you want to ask is not whether or not we would want to return to our Hogwarts days, it's whether or not we would want to return to the people we used to be."
I nodded slowly, knowing he was right. Life was an easier time back then. I knew that we were all happier even if we'd never admit it. We had everything we had wanted back then: each other. And after three years had passed, getting together with everyone was a lot harder than it used to be. Especially since one of us had disappeared without so much as an explanation. "Well, seeing as it could never happen, there's really no reason to speculate," I murmured.
Sirius shrugged. "Yes, time travel is nearly impossible," he reiterated. "Doesn't make letting go of the people we used to be any easier."
I nodded slowly. "Yeah," I muttered, biting down on my bottom lip which I often did when feeling slightly vulnerable. I was going to leave it at that, but found myself admitting aloud, "Sometimes I miss the girl I was back then."
I felt Sirius' knowing gaze looking through me. "Or is it the James from back then that you miss?"
My heart constricted at the very thought. Turning to face Sirius, I sighed. "He's not the same person he used to be."
"None of us are, Lily-bean."
A lopsided, wary smile spread across my face. Maybe we were different people, but not everything had to chance. "Don't ever stop calling me Lily-bean."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
I kissed Sirius on the cheek before exiting the room and heading back to my own flat. I never asked Sirius if he missed the person he used to be because he would come up with some excuse as to why he didn't and I knew that it would be a lie.
Because the truth was, the day that Riley had left, so, too, did the person Sirius Black used to be.
I didn't get much sleep that night. Every time I was close to drifting off, some sort of reminder of my past relationship with Jillian crept into my mind.
I glanced over at the clock and saw that it was nearing eight o'clock in the morning. I crawled out of bed and headed into James' room. I noted that his bed was empty and wondered if he spent the night at Lily's. Which would seem rather counterproductive considering they had already been here. I was about to head out when a small barnyard owl swooped in through his window.
I found James sleeping on the downstairs couch, barely covered at all. I made a face and kicked him in the shin, earning a groan from underneath the mountain of pillows. I threw the letter on top of him. "James, your mother is on her way over and I think she'd appreciate you putting on some clothes first."
James popped his head up from the couch. "Why is my mother coming over?"
"To do what your mother does best," I snorted. "Clean."
"Ahh, right. The ballroom," James murmured. He stifled a yawn and slowly sat up. "It was Dezzy's and Drew's party. Shouldn't they be forced to clean it all up?"
"First of all, Drew and Dezzy are a little busy on their month-long backpacking honeymoon through South America. Second of all, a wedding should never be referred to as a party," I groaned, shaking my head at one of my oldest friends. "Keep that in mind if and when you ever propose to that saint of a girlfriend of yours."
"Why, pray tell, are you illustrating Lily as a saint?" James asked curiously. He searched for his shirt and when he found it hanging over the edge of the coffee table, threw it over his head.
"Don't you think it's time you got your sorry ass together and asked the girl to marry you? She isn't going to wait around forever," I sighed. I noticed the hesitant fear in Lily's eyes when she was often around James, wondering when he was going to suggest a step up in their relationship. And I saw the panicked look in James' eye every time the subject came up.
"Sure she is," James mumbled. "She's waited almost four years, hasn't she?"
A shadow loomed in the doorway. "Four years too long if you ask me."
"No one asked you, Padfoot," James snapped, reaching for his boxers that were half-crammed under the couch.
"That's not true," Sirius argued. "She asked me."
James gazed up at Sirius, confused and disoriented. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, not in so many words," Sirius contested with a shrug, but he went on to explain the conversation he held with her this morning. He noted that there was something distant and amiss in Lily's voice and how he had an inkling that it had more to do with the way she and James used to be more than the person she used to be.
"So she was feeling nostalgic this morning. Big deal," James said, unable to stifle a fat yawn.
"What is your problem, James?" I growled, glaring at him. Whenever the idea of marriage came up, James often became distant and slightly disconcerting and it was beginning to get to all of us.
"My problem is the fact that my mother is arriving any minute and my living room is strewn with my last night's clothes!" James argued, shaking his head irritably at the two of us.
"Yeah, and you smell like sex, too," Sirius drawled.
"Oh, so this is that smell you reek of every night," James chided, rolling his eyes. He collected the rest of his clothing and banished them upstairs. He summoned a pair of jeans from upstairs and threw them on before heading into the kitchen, clearly in desperate need of a cup of coffee.
"Don't change the subject," I argued firmly, hoisting himself up on to the kitchen counter, handing James the box of coffee filters. "Why are you so scared to marry Lily?"
"Don't go putting words in my mouth, Lupin," James grunted, his eyes narrowing in his usual cautionary way. "I ain't scared to do anything."
I rolled my eyes. "I think we both know that's a lie," I contested.
"Oh, shut up," James whined, throwing the coffee grounds into the pot. "It's too early in the morning for a psychology lesson."
Sirius reached for the coffee pot and filled it with water, giving James an inquisitive look, hastily turning away when James noticed him leering.
"What?" James asked, exasperated.
"I didn't say anything," Sirius murmured.
"No, but you have this look on your face that says you have a feeling you know something about myself that I probably already know but am too afraid to admit because as my best friend you always seems to know me sometimes better than I know myself, however you're hesitant to bring it up because I might punch you," James explained, grabbing the pot out of Sirius' hand.
Sirius blinked. "Come again?"
James shrugged coolly. "You have very expressive looks."
"I didn't realize I had such expressive looks," he snorted.
James rolled his eyes. "Sirius, what the hell do you want to say to me?"
Sirius exchanged a quick glance with me and I simply shrugged. Sirius turned back to James with a sigh. "Dezzy got married yesterday, did she not?"
"That's not some sort of trick question, is it?"
Sirius rolled his eyes. "I'm just saying if your sister can get over her fears, you can, too. You two have been through a lot and-"
"My sister has a mind of her own, thank you very much," said James defensively. "And so do I. If she thought marrying Drew was right for her, congratulations to her."
"But you don't think marrying Lily is right for you?" I filled in the blank.
James glared at me. "This is my sister's weekend. How about we don't turn it around on me?"
"I'll be in the study," he mumbled, pouring himself a cup of coffee. Without bothering to put sugar or milk in it, he swiftly left the room without so much as another glance towards the two of us.
"James," I pleaded.
James cut me off. "I've got work to do."
When he was out of earshot, Sirius turned to me. "Do you think James believes marriage is futile?"
"I don't know," I admitted with a shrug. "He's so good at changing the subject every time it's brought up."
I wondered if being an Auror had finally caught up to James. He dealt with death every day. He watched as families crumbled in the face of tragedy and I had a feeling that while it was easy to blame his hesitance on the failed relationships that had directly affected him and those around me, it was the utter disaster he dealt with on a daily basis that was really causing him to run scared.
I slowly sunk into the study chair feeling defeated and downtrodden and thought about the past three and a half years with the girl that I had fallen in love with. I wasn't ready to discuss marriage and I prayed that neither was Lily. Too much was going on in my life for me to focus on her and she deserved to be focused on. My life had become complete chaos for the past three years and while she was the main reason I've been able to keep my head above water, that didn't change the fact that my entire life was a whirlwind of turmoil. I knew that sometime in the near future, Lily would question my intentions for the future. And I also knew that I couldn't lie to her. I couldn't let her go on thinking that I wanted something I didn't. Someday soon, I would have to tell Lily that I wasn't so sure marriage was for me.
I prayed that that wouldn't be the moment when Lily left me for good.
I dove headfirst into a pile of paperwork that I had been putting off for a few weeks. Work did often become my reason to ignore everything else going on in my life, not that I'd admit that to anyone. The only time I really stopped worrying about myself and where my life was heading was when I was focusing on my career. It was hard worrying about my own future while trying to run background checks on Death Eaters who had terminated so many people's lives who would never have a future to worry about.
There was a soft knock on my door and I smiled as my mother peeked her head in. She quirked an eyebrow, gazing at me with a peculiar look on her face. "You look so much like your father sitting at his old desk."
I frowned. The last person I wanted to look like was my father.
"I don't mean that in a bad way, honey," she quickly reassured, shaking her head. She fell into one of the large chairs sitting in front of the desk.
When my father left my mother, I know that she had been shattered. She put on a brave face and a fake smile and pretended that she was fine, but a thirty-year marriage had been ripped at the seams the day he packed a suitcase and whisked out of Potter Manor. And he never looked back. They had had their problems but she had loved him deeply. It may have seemed that he was married to his work, but I know that he never loved anyone like he had loved Mom. Whenever Dad had left for a business trip, Mom would recall the stories of their past. A time when things were easier and people like Voldemort didn't exist. The wizarding world was a lot less scary and people could focus on each other instead of the overwhelming paranoia. When he left, she didn't just lose a husband. She lost a piece of herself. But she'd never admit that and I'd never try and make her admit that.
"Your father was good at his job. And so are you," she said pointedly.
I leaned over the desk and kissed her on the cheek. "Thanks, Mom."
"But that doesn't mean you're going to turn out like him."
There was something in her voice that made me pause. "Dammit, you talked to Sirius and Remus, didn't you," I groaned, shaking my head in disbelief.
"They're worried about you."
"Yeah, well maybe they should be worried about themselves after what I do to them," I muttered angrily. I suddenly felt like I was eight years old and Brite had tattled on me for eating the last Oreo. Except this time, I didn't feel like I needed to be ashamed of anything.
"They were just trying to help."
"I don't need their help," I argued firmly. "And I don't need your help either. So thank you for whatever advice I'm sure you have up your sleeve, but I don't need it."
"I don't have any advice, son," she said with a shrug, leaning back in the chair that she had picked out for Dad's study thirty years earlier. "I can't tell you what to do. I certainly don't need to tell you what to do. I'm just here to clean up the ballroom."
I rolled my eyes, knowing she was holding back. My mother always had advice up her sleeve. "Well, I know it's been a while since you've lived here, but the ballroom is on the other side of the house."
She chuckled, giving me a look as she slowly got up off the chair. "I expect some help, Mister."
I laughed and closed the file in my hands. "Ah, yes, clean-up duty. The best part of hosting an event, hm?"
She grinned and linked arms with me, leading us out of the study. "James," she said in a soft voice and I knew that that advice that I so desperately didn't want to hear was about to come out in one form or another. "I just want you to know that I don't regret a single day with your father. If I knew what I knew now, I still wouldn't change a thing. I would marry your father again and I would live thirty excellent years with an excellent man again. Because even though he felt he needed to leave, I know that he loved me. And to me, love is enough."
I pursed my lips, choosing to remain silent. It wasn't advice but it was as close enough to it as she could get without stepping over the line I had drawn.
"I think it's your turn to figure out if love is enough or not," she said, patting my arm comfortingly.
Oops, spoke too soon. "I said no advice," I pouted.
She smiled sheepishly, shrugging. "I'm your mother. I'm allowed to give unsolicited advice."
I sighed as she steered me into the ballroom which was surprisingly cleaner than I had remembered it being.
As I took my wand out of my pocket and started cleaning up the plates on the tables, I couldn't help contemplate my mother's words. I wanted so desperately to believe that love was enough. That love could conquer all. But it was hard remaining positive after so much love had been lost in the people around me. And what's worse, I've seen firsthand that love can't conquer all. It appears only Voldemort could do that.
I was scared. I'd never admit it to anyone, but I was frightened out of my damned mind. Not because I was afraid of marriage. But because I was afraid of letting someone else into my life wholeheartedly. I had already lost so many people I loved and every day on the job, I saw others losing the people that they loved. Keeping a safe distance from Lily seemed easier for me. Maybe I was being childish and maybe I was being passive aggressive, but I couldn't imagine the feeling I would get if one day she realized I wasn't worth her time. To me, marriage was supposed to be absolute. Instead, I was beginning to wonder if it was just a big letdown.
As I awoke the next morning in the arms of my amazing fiancé, I was struck by how much I thoroughly enjoyed weddings. To me, they're a reminder that there's still some good in the world. That there's still something worth celebrating. With all of the heartache and pain going on in the wizarding world, knowing that there was still long-lasting love lingering in our world was reassuring.
The moment Drew and Dezzy entered into their seventh year at Hogwarts, they began talking about marriage. I wasn't surprised. Those two had known each other for eighteen years. They didn't really want to have to spend another day apart if they didn't have to especially with all of the turmoil occurring in the wizarding world. Their wedding had originally been scheduled for August a year ago, only three months after their graduation, but when a Death Eater tortured Jaron to death only five days before the wedding, Dezzy and Drew postponed it for a year. Neither wanted to pretend they were happy nor did they want to force a smile on to their guests' faces when another tragedy had struck the Potter family and inside, they were all screaming.
I just hoped that Lance and I weren't the only ones following in Drew and Dezzy's footsteps. With all of the heartache we've had to endure, I knew it might be hard for some to believe in love. But instead of hiding from it, I embraced it.
Because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to get through my day without knowing that Lance was waiting for me at the end of it.
"Good morning, Janine," I greeted the Administrative Assistant in the Auror offices. I handed her a double mocha latte.
She smiled shyly. "What would I do without you?"
"Not get your daily caffeine fix, that's for sure," I teased, winking playfully. Janine was just out of Hogwarts, only eighteen-years-old, and I recognized that my charm and flirtatious ways often caused her to blush. But I also knew that a small gesture, a gesture as small as a latte every morning, could go a long way. "What's on the agenda for today?"
"Mr. Scrimgeour is holding a press conference at ten o'clock this morning to release statements based on the recent attacks in the States," she started, glancing over at the large-scale calendar. "He expects all of the Aurors to be there ready with quotes for the Daily Prophet. You have training duty with the recruits at noon. At two o'clock, the speech writers will be here for Moody who would like you and Frank to be present."
"Speech for what?"
"The Auror conference in China next week."
"Ahh, right," I muttered, making a face. Being an Auror for only a few months since the three-year training had come to an end, I got the privilege of being forced upon all of the lowly Auror conferences where Scrimgeour or Moody thought they weren't worth their time.
"At four, you and Caleb are meeting with the family from Grunley that got attacked last Friday over at St. Mungo's. At seven o'clock tonight, you are meeting with Redford Banting in fireplace 4," she continued. "He wants to discuss the removal of the prison guards from the entrance to their Ministry, believing them to be distracting and intimidating."
I shook my head incredulously. Some wizards were morons. "Banting is a prick," I snarled. Redford Banting was the Chief Officer of the North American Auror Department. "He just believes it looks bad upon the organization to have prison guards protecting the front of the building. As if there wasn't an attack on the west coast recently."
"Agreed. You also wanted me to remind you that you need to leave here by eight-thirty sharp for a meeting with Dumbledore."
The Order of the Phoenix sprang to my mind, grateful that Janine told me or otherwise I wouldn't have remembered. It's been a while since we've had an Order meeting, but I had a feeling this had to do with the recent attacks on the States. "Thanks, Janine," I said, flashing her a grin. "You're a doll."
I swept past her but didn't let the slight rose color on her cheeks go unnoticed. I fell into my cubicle desk chair with a sigh, noticing all of the files and paperwork that had to be completed and filed before the weekend. While training to be an Auror, they neglect to tell you how much paperwork is involved with trying to save the world from Voldemort's destruction.
A head popped up from the adjacent cubicle and Frank Longbottom, my fellow Auror and one of my closest friends in the office, grinned down at me. "My lunch date got cancelled. Please tell me that you don't have plans with that beautiful girlfriend of yours so you can treat me to a cheesesteak at Benny's."
I snorted. "So, Alice finally came around and decided you weren't worth her time?"
"That girl worships the ground I walk on," Frank teased. "Moody just informed her that she needs to be prepared for a trip to the States. Moody wants to check out the west coast damage himself and needs a few extra bodies."
"It's better than doing paperwork," I groaned, gesturing towards the stack of background checks and field reports I had been procrastinating from filling out. "When is she leaving?"
"Early tomorrow morning. Meaning that she needs to spend most of the day down in the training facilities." In a building attached to the basement of the Ministry stood a massive facility for the Aurors in order to keep ourselves in shape and ready for any type of battle.
"She going to the Order meeting tonight?" I asked curiously.
Frank cursed. "I forgot about that."
"So did I, until Janine reminded me," I admitted with a guilty shrug. "We haven't had a meeting since Hogwarts started back in September."
"There hasn't been an attack since Hogwarts started," Frank murmured. "Why do you think Voldemort went after the States? He usually sticks to Europe to destroy."
I shrugged. "I couldn't tell you. I haven't the foggiest idea what's running through Voldemort's mind, nor do I think that's a bad thing."
Frank cracked a smile. "So are you treating me to lunch or what?"
A guilty wince crossed my face. "My day is jam-packed. I have to be in the training facilities at noon to do defensive charms. On top of that, I have that meeting with Banting tonight that I'm not anywhere near prepared to deal with. I think I'll have to sit this one out."
"Ouch. Is anyone ever prepared to deal with Banting?"
Before I could respond, a person to our left voiced his opinion. "Nope. Which is why Scrimgeour delegates those unfortunate conversations to others," Moody admitted with a shrug. Rufus Scrimgeour was not very well-liked or well-respected by the Aurors, even if he was the Head of the Auror Department. Most Aurors chose to deal with Moody instead, him being Second-in-Command. He knows more about the inner workings of Voldemort and the Death Eaters better than anyone and every day is designed to bringing them down.
I have never respected anyone as much as I respect Alastor Moody.
James Potter, Frank Longbottom, and Alice Fisher are three of my best new Aurors. They had more drive and ambition than some of my most experienced Aurors and I found myself giving them more responsibilities as the days passed. I normally left missions to those who have been an actual Auror for at least a year, but there was no question in my mind that Alice would be able to help put forth her keen observation in laying out the crime scene in the States. She had a photographic memory that stunned me nearly 99% of the time and I knew we could use it.
"Here," I said, handing James and Frank a stack of files. "These were the people caught at the scene of the States attacks. Most of them are civilians. I need you two to go over the list and mark any known Death Eaters or family members from past Death Eaters. I'll need you to do a background check on anyone you find. If you don't recognize a name and they don't have a hometown somewhere on the west coast of the States, I'll also need you to run a background check. We can never be too sure."
With the British Ministry as the largest in the world, most of the responsibilities necessary to thrive as a successful wizarding world fell upon us, including tedious background checks.
"Yes, sir," James said immediately, reaching for a file.
"There's a press meeting in roughly three hours. Are you two prepared?" I asked curiously.
"Of course," Frank answered. "Like it matters. Whichever sleazeball reporter the Daily Prophet sends will just skew our words anyway."
I nodded slowly. "Does that paper have anyone moral writing for them?"
"Keegan Rouge," a familiar male voice responded almost immediately, coming up behind us. Fabian Prewett cast us all a humored smile, walking up to my cubicle with Alice Fisher right behind him. "But I'm probably a tad biased. Then again, it's not her writing that interests me."
Alice smacked Fabian playfully on the shoulder. "Well, your girlfriend's writing interests me," she argued, rolling her eyes. "And yeah, you're probably biased, but I do think she's a rather moral writer. Though, that's probably only because she's a woman." There were very few females working at the Daily Prophet, and if they were, most of them used a pseudonym to appear male. Keegan Rouge was one of the few that stuck up for femininity and while she often got the short end of the stick because of it, she always stood her ground.
A light chuckle escaped from my lips. "You saying all men have a tendency towards corruption?"
Alice snickered. "I'm saying that all men at the Daily Prophet are cutthroat and vicious."
"That's because they're stuck with the most spiteful of all as a boss," Frank shared his two cents. Jasper Malone, the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Prophet, was known to everyone in the wizarding world as a pretentious hard-ass who would risk anything and anyone for a drama-filled headline in his precious paper. But the Daily Prophet wouldn't be the newspaper it was without Malone.
We all nodded in agreement with Frank while I changed the subject, letting my gaze linger on Alice. "What the hell are you doing here anyway, Fisher? Shouldn't you be down in the weight room with the trainees?" As a way of always being prepared themselves, each Auror took turns teaching the most recent Auror apprentices the latest training techniques. Since Alice was going headfirst into a battle scene and one of the mottoes of the Auror office was to always be prepared for battle, she was expected to fulfill her duties that day. You never knew when Voldemort would return to the scene of a crime. I knew that Alice was already prepared but she also knew that with responsibility came some of the boring, knitty-gritty training tasks.
"Oh, hold your horses, old man," Alice chuckled, flashing him her usual charming smile. Only Alice would be able to get away with calling me an old man. "I still have ten minutes until they are planning on arriving."
I chuckled but didn't retort. I was too busy reminiscing on the four adults in front of me, trying my best not to show my immense pride for them. No one in the office could figure out why I always seemed to treat them differently than the others, seemed more lenient around them. But no one knew that the four of them were highly respected members of the Order of the Phoenix along with myself. Not only were they spending their every waking hour as an Auror in an attempt to keep harm out of the wizarding world but they went above and beyond the call of duty as an Order member in an attempt to defeat Voldemort once and for all. I respected the four of them because one day they could be saving my life in a duel.
"Get back to work. Wouldn't want Rufus to think you're lazy good-for-nothings, now would ya?" I teased, starting to head back to my office.
"Will we see you tonight?" Fabian asked me, lowering his voice.
I shook my head. Being Second-in-Command at the Auror office kept most of my time tied up, keeping me away from Order meetings. To be frank, I not only have to do my job but I have to do Scrimgeour's as well. However, my absences from the meetings were more about trying to keep Scrimgeour in the dark than my busy work schedule. "Heading out to the States bright and early tomorrow morning. I have to make sure that all of the loose ends are tied up here before I go." Which was code for making sure that Scrimgeour wouldn't screw something up in my absence.
I offered them all a curt nod before heading back to my office. "Let me know if you come up with anything on those background checks."
James shrugged. "Of course."
I hated paperwork. I've come to realize that being an Auror is fifty-percent physical activity and fifty-percent paperwork. But in the end, I find that it's worth it. It thrills me that I'm putting my neck on the line to protect the wizarding world.
And it helps that I get to spend every day with the love of my life.
I think that I was more nervous than Alice as she awaited an acceptance letter into the Auror recruitment program. I was nine months into my own recruitment program and knew that it was going to be difficult and challenging. But I also knew that if anyone could tough it out, it was her.
Moody retreated back to his office and James pulled open the file that he had been handed.
"What does Moody hope to find on the West Coast?" I asked curiously, easing back into my own desk chair with an intrigued sigh.
Alice shook her head, leaning up against my desk. "A clue as to why Voldemort directed his latest attack there, I presume."
"Well, I hope you find something," Fabian murmured.
I heard a loud gasp escape from James' lips and I quickly popped my head over our adjoining cubicle. "What's wrong?"
A worried crease fell upon James' forehead and he groaned inwardly, rubbing his temples. He stared back down at the sheet of paper in his hand and reread the name. My heart skipped a beat; I could tell something was wrong.
"James?" Alice asked, concerned.
"Regulus Black was caught near San Francisco by an Auror. He's apparently resting in Azkaban right now," James murmured.
My heart stopped. Not because I cared that Regulus Black was caught. But because I wondered how it would affect Sirius.
Alice's jaw dropped. "Regulus Black is a Death Eater?" she asked rhetorically. "But he's so young!"
"Nineteen isn't young to be a part of Voldemort's gang," James clarified. "He often recruits students who are barely fifteen-years-old."
Alice's eyes widened. I knew it wasn't out of shock but because she couldn't imagine signing up for such dangerous responsibilities at her young, naïve age of only fifteen. "How would you know?"
"Because I know that Regulus Black was recruited when he was fifteen-years-old. His mother couldn't help but brag about it to Sirius," James said, barely choking out the last word.
"She clearly was never taught the meaning of the word brag," Fabian chimed in with a sardonic smirk. "Your son selling his soul to the devil is not something anyone should ever be bragging about."
"You don't know the Blacks," James muttered. I watched him as he stood up abruptly and immediately sauntered towards the file room in the back of the office. He rummaged through one of the drawers until he found what he was looking for.
When he came back, he was reading an old background check on Regulus Black that he had created fresh out of Hogwarts in his first year as an Auror apprentice. I had a feeling that back when James created that background check, he knew that one day Regulus would get himself into trouble. Three years later, he was unfortunately putting that to good use.
I had a meeting at the Ministry today with Harnish MacFarlan, the head of the Departments of Magical Games and Sports. The Quidditch World Cup was being held in Britain during the upcoming summer so these meetings were all too frequent.
People always think that being a Quijudge is an easy job, which couldn't be farther from the truth. You have to be extremely brave and strong-minded to be a Quijudge. You have to be an exceptional flier, maybe even better than the actual Quiddith players, and you have to have the willpower and determination to watch the antics of fourteen players at once. I was required to go through four intense months of training that included demanding flying tests, multiple written examinations on all of the rules and regulations, and I had to endure a series of overwhelming trials proving that I would put the game before my personal feelings and I wouldn't jinx any of the players under pressure.
It took me a year to find a steady job. I never thought that I would be a Quijudge forever. But when James passed along the opportunity to get into a training program, I grabbed at it. I figured what could be better than getting paid for doing what I enjoy? And as it turned out, I was a damned good Quijudge. In fact, I was one of the best. If I stuck with it, I knew that I would eventually become promoted to be a part of the administration at the Ministry.
I hated meetings at the Ministry. Harnish MacFarlan loved to talk and usually droned on for an unnecessary amount of time. I knew that if everything didn't go smoothly at the Quidditch World Cup, the first thing to go was going to be Harnish which is the only reason he harped on every little thing.
The only reason I liked having my time taken up by Ministry visits was it gave me an excuse to pop in to see James.
James lifted his head up from the large amount of paperwork. "Padfoot? What are you doing here?"
"Just finished a meeting with MacFarlan," I said, plopping myself on to the desk chair that occupied the empty desk sharing James' cubicle. Royce Keyman used to sit there, but he was killed three months earlier during a battle against Death Eaters. "I thought I'd pop in and see what kind of trouble you were getting yourself into."
"It's hard to get into trouble with my head buried in paperwork," James groaned.
"You need to get out more," I teased. "I have four tickets to next Tuesday's Quidditch match. Bring Lily."
"Which means," Frank's voice boasted, glancing over the cubicle wall with an impish grin, "That there are two tickets left. Want to lend them to me and Alice?"
"Or me and Keegan!" another voice cried out from the other side of James' cubicle.
James rolled his eyes at Fabian. "Aren't you doing strength training with the recruits on Tuesday evening?"
"Like I'd invite Rouge anyway," Sirius snorted.
"Which leaves me and Alice," Frank said with a grin.
"Or me and Shannon," another familiar voice spoke, arriving behind us.
We all turned around to greet Caleb Gilmore, Lance's brother and another Auror. He had followed in his mother's footsteps.
"What am I fighting for?" Caleb said with a sheepish grin.
"Tickets to the Appleby Arrows vs. Wimbourne Wasps game on Tuesday," I explained.
"Oh. I already have tickets to that match."
"Gee, and why would that be? Because Shannon's brother just so happens to be the Captain of the Appleby Arrows?" I snorted, grinning.
"That may be a part of it," Caleb spoke, leaning up against James' desk with a smirk.
"Which, must I repeat, leaves myself and Alice!" Frank cheered.
"Oooh, a double date to a Quidditch match. How romantic," I joked, but I shrugged and nodded.
"It can be romantic if someone proposes on the jumbotron," James chimed in with a chortle.
"Are all men this dense?" Alice sighed, coming up behind us. "The jumbotron is an old-fashioned pretentious way for a man to propose. A girl likes to be courted."
"Which means…" Frank trailed off, narrowing his eyebrows in wonderment, "What does that mean?"
Alice laughed. "It means that a girl being asked to marry her significant other in front of thousands of other people in a sticky stadium where people go to get drunk and watch athletes smash into each other on brooms is not even remotely romantic."
"Well, I guess I'll check jumbotron off my list," Frank teased, winking playfully at his girlfriend.
"Pretty sure Shannon wouldn't have said yes if I had tried proposing via jumbotron," Caleb agreed with a snort.
I rolled my eyes. "I'm impressed the girl said yes to you even with a normal proposal."
"Just because you find the custom of marriage barbaric doesn't mean the rest of us do, too," Alice smirked.
"Amen to that," Caleb agreed.
I shuddered. "Far too many of my friends are getting married. It's disturbing."
"It's life," Alice spoke.
"It's mushy," I teased.
Frank was smart enough to change the subject, reaching out and grabbing Alice's waist to draw her close to him, kissing her cheek. "What are you doing here anyway? Shouldn't you be baby-sitting…oops, I mean coaching the apprentices?"
"I was. I gave them a ten-minute break. I need to find Dedalus. He's supposed to be helping me with blocking and I can't seem to find him."
"He was trudging towards the file room, last I saw him," said James, earning a grateful nod from Alice.
"Thanks. See you all tonight?" she said. Without bothering to get a response from us, she hurried off in search of Dedalus Diggle.
I was planning on chiding James for being buried in paperwork, when Frank's next words stopped me dead in my tracks. "I guess it's a good thing she doesn't want me to ask her to marry me via jumbotron seeing as I'm asking her to marry me tonight at dinner."
Caleb, James and I were all taken aback and Fabian perched back over the cubicle, gazes of awe on all four of our faces.
Frank laughed at the surprised reactions. "Our families are getting together tonight and I thought that would be a nice way to propose."
"So…" I contemplated, a cheeky grin hiding mischievously, "That when she rejects you, you have your mother's shoulder to cry on?"
Frank scoffed. "James, slap him for me."
James laughed but didn't oblige. "Why tonight?" he asked curiously. The agitation in his voice told me that he was getting irritated with everyone getting engaged. I had a feeling that he was afraid Lily was going to soon be expecting a ring. I also had a feeling that James wasn't ready for that.
Frank shrugged. "I've had the ring for quite some time but needed to find the right time to propose. This dinner came up and…voila. The right time."
"Do me a favor, will ya?" James muttered.
"Tell Alice not to ask Lily to be her Maid of Honor."
I burst into laughter, knowing that Lily was getting a little burnt out from being everyone's Maid of Honor lately.
Frank quirked a confused eyebrow. "Heh?"
I snorted, swinging around in the desk chair. "Nothing. Ignore him. He's being sassy."
"Sassy?" James chuckled, quirking an amused eyebrow. "Where the hell have you been hanging around lately? Tennessee? You going to start saying 'y'all' now?"
"Why do I bother visiting you anymore? I always end up getting insulted in some way or another," I pouted, suppressing a chuckle.
"I've been making fun of you since the day I met you, Black," James snorted, giving me a look. "Shouldn't you be used to it by now?"
"On that cue," I said, rolling my eyes playfully as I jumped up from the desk chair, "I'm going to head back home. Bye, y'all."
They all chuckled as I started to saunter out. "I'll walk you out," James called out over him, an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.
I gazed at him curiously but nodded. Something in James' eyes told me that he had something unfortunate to tell me. We chitchatted about Quidditch through the hallways and down the elevator, but once we reached the lobby, I turned towards James grimly. "Okay, just tell me."
"Tell you what?"
"Whatever it is you're so apprehensive to tell me about."
James scrunched his nose. "It's about your brother."
I stepped back in surprise. Out of all of the scenarios in my head about what could have gone wrong, Regulus didn't pop up once. I wasn't sure where he was going with this. "Wow. Haven't thought about that kid in a few years. What did he do this time?"
"He was caught at a crime scene out at one of the West Coast attacks."
I wasn't sure how to react. "Well, I can't say I'm surprised," I murmured. "Mother did tell me three and a half years ago that he was approached by Voldemort."
"Doesn't mean he actually went through with it."
I snorted. "Well, clearly he did. And apparently he's not such a good Death Eater considering he got himself caught."
"I just thought you'd like to know," James explained with an awkward shrug.
"He'll get acquitted," I said hastily. "He'll give up a few names in order to save himself. Even in prison, that boy will always be the selfish little prick he always was."
"I'll see you tonight?" I said, squashing the subject of my brother altogether.
James simply nodded.
"Bring home some Thai with you, will ya? Our refrigerator is beginning to look like we live in a trailer park," I snorted. Our refrigerator always seemed empty of food, although beer was always in supply.
"Why do I always have to be the one to pick up dinner?" James whined.
"Because you're always last home," I reminded him with a grin. "I want Pad Thai, you could probably just get Remus some spring rolls and the kid will be happy."
"I feel like a housewife," James muttered.
"Oooh, and pick up some of that yummy Thai iced tea."
"Good-bye, Sirius!" James said with a chuckle as he headed back towards the elevator
I left, wondering what was going to be in store next for the Black family.
I didn't know what to expect when we graduated Hogwarts and entered the real world involuntarily. But it is now three years, four months, and two weeks later and my friends and I all seemed to be doing as well as expected. Not only has love permeated our lives but success has become a natural occurrence.
I had quickly followed my dream of going into a job of medicine and was considered one of the best mediwitches working at St. Mungo's. But most of all, I had followed my dream of being with Lance. I know that we were an unlikely pair and yet somehow we worked. What's even better was that Lance's scary Nazi grandmother seemed to love me and so did the rest of his family. While I was half-Muggle and that bothered her slightly in the beginning, she slowly grew to appreciate me for me. Seeing as my own family wasn't around much nor cared about being around much, I had slowly been adopted into the Gilmore's world and was glad that I finally had a family I could call my own and who more importantly wanted me to call it my own. There were those few fleeting moments where I felt slightly awkward, afraid that I was slowly morphing into the Gilmore daughter that they had all lost when she ran off to Australia. I didn't want to feel as if I was trying to replace Riley, but Lance was constantly reminding me that his family was welcoming and hospitable to me not because they lost Riley but because I was the love of Lance's life. He did always know what to say.
On the other hand, Lance hadn't always known what he wanted to do. He had flounced from job to job trying to find his calling. Two years ago, he finally took a risk and opened his own bookstore in Godric's Hollow seeing that there was a huge wizarding community living there. It was immediately successful and after Drew graduated from Hogwarts a year earlier, he became a co-manager of the bookstore and they put in a café. It has become over time one of the popular hotspots in the area for wizards and witches of all ages to go and enjoy a bit of fun and relaxation. You could certainly find me there when I wasn't at work or sleeping. But that probably had something to do with the fact that my future husband owned the place.
I never thought that Remus would be one to get sidetracked by work. To be honest, none of us was sure he'd find a job that would last longer than a few weeks. For about a year, he had been unemployed. We all knew how difficult it was to find work as a werewolf. But when a position as a Magizoologist in a lab in Canterbury opened up, it ended up being the perfect job for him. He specializes in the study of werewolves and was recently appointed to consultant for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, working out of their own lab twice a month. He had confided in me that every single day he walked into the lab, he was afraid that he was going to get pulled into the boss' office so he could be let go because someone on his team had found out about his lycanthropy and petitioned to get him fired. But for now, I'm hoping it all works out. He deserved some good in his life. He was still getting over a terrible break-up with Jillian. It had happened three months ago, but was still very fresh in all of our minds. We didn't talk about it, but the pain was still there.
Lily is one of the most ambitious people I know. It took only eighteen months before she was promoted within the Department of International Magical Cooperation to the Senior Adviser over South America in the International Magical Office of Law. I wouldn't be surprised if one day she became the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. When she wasn't spending her time engrossed in her work, she was busy trying to amend her schedule to spend time with James. I often felt like she put more effort into their relationship than he did, but I also thought it was because he's constantly afraid of growing too close to her.
James has had a tough life. I am not surprised that he had seemed to put his work as an Auror as his top priority. First, Wyatt left eight years earlier without so much as an explanation. And that was only the beginning. When Brite died and his father abandoned his family to take a position within the Italian Auror offices, slowly James started falling apart. The last straw for James was his youngest brother, JT, getting killed a year earlier. It was that moment that James went from his upbeat, optimistic self to his determined, preoccupied self. It was heartbreaking for me, for all of us, to watch, but there was very little we could do. James deserved better and it just seemed as if Voldemort would stop at nothing to completely shatter James.
And if watching James wasn't heartbreaking enough, it took all of the strength within me to try and help Sirius through a tough time. The summer after Riley left (it's been a long time since I've mentioned that name), Sirius tried acting as if didn't matter. As if her disappearance didn't affect him. But he did become somewhat of a recluse, drinking himself into a stupor, barely eating, and taking long walks around the lake where he would disappear for hours. After the summer, he sold that house within a few short weeks and moved into Potter Manor. I would always be grateful to James for being there for Sirius when he needed someone most. James had put his job and his relationship on hold and took Sirius out to Blarney's, our local hangout, when Sirius needed to blow off steam, and James would sit and watch old Quidditch matches on WiziSports with Sirius when Sirius didn't want to talk but clearly needed company. It took a lot of useless jobs until Sirius found a job he loved and slowly, Sirius was getting back to the person he used to be. The person he was before Riley screwed him up. After a year of flitting from job to job, James finally talked Sirius into applying to an open Quijudge position with the Department of Magical Games and Sports. We were all convinced Sirius was somehow going to screw it up like he always did. But something came over Sirius. A sense of determination that had been absent previously somehow gave Sirius the drive to work towards actually doing something worthy with his life. And now he works harder than ever.
Peter went off and did exactly what he had no desire to do: he let his father take him under his wing and Peter learned everything one could possibly need to know about owning a pub. Pettigrew Tavern was a seedy local French wizarding hangout where more nights than others, Ronald Pettigrew was attempting to break up a fist fight between two guys fighting over the cute waitress or he was trying to figure out a way to attract more customers in. It wasn't very popular and it was often more testosterone-filled, but Peter always pointed out that at least he was making money.
So where does Riley come into play? I don't know. None of us do. After she left in the middle of the night to go to Australia, she made herself untraceable by any of us. She didn't write to us and we couldn't write to her. I'm not sure any of us would have wanted to anyway but I know that Lily tried once. At the end of that fateful summer after graduation, Lily had attempted to write to her and the letter came back a week later. I know that Lily had also tried keeping track of Riley by taking up a subscription with the Daily Australian Prophet, the paper that had given Riley an annual fellowship, but after a while, it became too difficult to pretend that one day things might go back to the way they used to be. By New Year's Eve, Lily washed her hands of Riley Gilmore and it was on that day that we all made some sort of unspoken resolution: to not talk or think about Riley ever again in an attempt to truly move on with our lives.
Even with all of the challenges we have had to go through, we have become better people because of it. Our tragedies have just made us stronger. I was able to get through my own problems in the past and I know that whatever disaster strikes next, I'll be able to get through that also.
I have my friends to thank for that.
A/N: Ta-da! Chapter 1 officially posted. And I already know what you're going to say: but I thought James and Lily got married a year out of Hogwarts? Alright, so maybe they did. But when I had outlined the Balcony series, it was way back before even the 5th book came out. I've made a few necessary changes to the story because of it, but this is one that I chose not to part with. Most of the remainder of this story is going to follow J.K. Rowling but I guess you'll just have to think of this as slightly AU. If you don't want to read on, I can't stop you. But I really think you should! It only gets better from here.
And after the time jump question, I bet the next question is: why have you chosen to write it in first person? Good question. I can't be sure why I decided to write it in first person. Except that I felt that there are a whole bunch of characters in this sequel (more so than TotB and KotB), I thought this would be a great way to get some in depth perspective to each and every one of the characters. If you don't like it, then don't read on. But once again, I think you'll be missing out!
Probably another question: James an Auror? Yes, I realize that J.K. Rowling has James as technically unemployed while working solely with the Order. Once again, I've nixed that concept and turned him into an Auror.
I thrive on reviews so please do let me know what you think!