I was slammed into hard ground that just about did me in. My head swam so painfully that tears started to seep from under my eyelids and sweep the length of my cheek and neck. My body was screaming in pain, there was not one inch of skin that had reprieve. And then it came to me, I felt it. The edge. It had finally materialised.
In the Order, the edge had been eluded to many times. It was like a promise of a shadow on all of us at dusk. No one ever openly discussed it but we were all very aware of what it was and what it looked like. In Primary school, I remember studying the First World War and hearing Mrs Atkinson, my history teacher, talk about the 'thousand yard stare.' It was where war veterans became so traumatised that they would have this disconnected, glazed look in their eyes. Seeing the things that we saw and the situations that we were in being full time fighters for the Order it was bound to have some sort of effect. When you saw that look in someone's eyes, you knew that they had hit it.
I smelt wet grass, rain and a strong perfume of smoke that had permeated my clothes and skin. I daren't open my eyes. I knew I wasn't dead but that didn't mean much these days. Your heart could be beating fine, your anatomy could be perfect in every way but if your mind was broken, what was the point? I knew not whether the person that had Apparated us to safety was friend or foe and I was too exhausted to find out. I heard muted, muffled sounds as if someone was talking to me, but I was so on the brink of consciousness that I was mildly surprised that I was still semi attentive. I felt desperate hands trying to rouse me but to no avail.
As I lay on the freezing wet ground, the earth span as my eyes remained tightly shut, trapping me in the most uncertain world I had ever been in before in my life. The pain was horrific in its campaign of agony that it had declared on my body. However in all the confusion I struggled to understand something. My ribs were no longer crushing me to within an inch of my life. They ached as if I had been trampled by an angry Hippogriff but there was no constriction, no ingrowing ribs. Before I could even attempt to make sense of this, something began to repeatedly tap me all over my body. My skull: my forehead, my shoulders, my limbs, everywhere. The throbs and anguish started to blissfully float away like a caught snowflake on the tongue, it all melted away until everything merely hummed.
My head eased. I opened my eyes.
'I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!' James yelled in equal measure of fury and despair as he held me by my recently healed shoulders painfully tight. I gazed up into his bespectacled blood shot eyes as they hovered over me only inches from my face.
He was alive.
I was so relieved I couldn't even encapsulate into words or make sense of it to myself how it made me feel even if I tried.
When I made no attempt to reply, he gave a frustrated cry and buried his face to my chest rasping words that I could not distinguish. His whole body was trembling from head to foot either from sobs or from the dregs of adrenalin that still remained from the fight, I couldn't tell. James raised his head after several long moments and began wetly kissing my face, my neck, anywhere where there was exposed skin.
'Come on,' he said hoarsely. 'Let's get you inside.' I wouldn't have even been able to remember how to move even if I wanted to, so James lifted me as gently as possible and starting walking. It appeared that we had Apparated on the edge of the forest to the field on the right of the house and it took us several minutes to arrive at the back door under cover of darkness.
For several moments, James awkwardly aimed at the doorknob with his grasped wand whilst still holding me, but after a second it clicked open.
I hoped the neighbours didn't see us, I thought vaguely, not remembering that they would be in bed. We struggled up the tight, narrow staircase making it up into the bathroom finally where I was placed with tenderness on the floor.
James pulled with some difficulty my robes over my held whilst still trying to in some semblance holster me sitting upright. He balanced his knees on either side of my legs to keep himself steady as he removed me of my clothing and waited for the bath to fill itself. James rested back slightly on his haunches and brought me with him so I could feel his collarbone against my forehead.
I was beyond exhausted in every way that a person can feel devoid of energy; emotional, physically, mentally. But even in my drained state, a warmth of feeling glowed to life as I felt James' fingers run down my bare spine and twirl strands of my hair round his fingers in a subconscious action that he sometimes took to when we were together. I concentrated on breathing in, deep and slow, letting his scent accumulate itself into every cell of my body. My brain finally assented to the crush of sleep to drown me and hold me under heavily.
I awoke momentarily when I was plunged gently upwards out of the warm water and again when James rested me in bed, dry, clean and monstrously bruised. I heard against the backdrop of rain and wind that seemed to have finally blown up from Portsmouth that James was shrugging himself free of clothes before climbing in next to me. With the secure feeling of James' body pressed flush up against mine I fell off the edge of consciousness.
It took me awhile to realise that I was actually waking up and not still in a state of unconsciousness. From the way my body felt stiff and aching, I thought I must have been asleep for a long time but I was unsure. It felt almost akin to having an enormous hangover rather than surviving a raid the night previous. Moving my hand to my right I felt the emptiness in the bed where James had vacated it; it was cold and I wondered how long ago he had gotten up. Lying on my back I stared up at the white ceiling in grey light and inevitably memories from the evening came to mind.
After joining the Order of the Phoenix after graduating from Hogwarts I had been in plenty of tight situations. In fact not a week went by when there wasn't any. However without a shadow of a doubt this raid had been different. There were so many chances that I could have died that night in so many different ways. I wondered whilst I continued to gaze up at the ceiling why it didn't fill me with terror, with relief, depression, anger, anything… Maybe I was cracking up after all.
I had fought Voldemort himself for goodness sakes …
However something did puzzle me the more I mulled over my memories. I remember fighting with Voldemort and then an explosion, a chimney of a house was raining down on me, but then …
There was that Death Eater to my right that shot that spell at me. My head began to hurt as I struggled to come up with answers that I knew were frustratingly on the periphery of my brain. As the minutes stretched on I finally puffed out a lung full of air in annoyance. It was no good, it just made no sense.
Upon waking, I never usually took long to feel energised but I struggled to find it in me to get moving. Every single muscle in my body ached and felt in a desperate state of weakness when I planted my feet to the floor and sat on the edge of the bed. Trying my best to ignore the pounding in my head I padded quietly across the wooden floor boards with wand in hand and thought I might feel better after a cup of tea and some breakfast. I walked down the stairs with noisy, heavy footsteps with my head lulling on my shoulders, made it into the hall and stopped when I saw someone sitting in the living room.
'Looking good Lily,' Sirius commented with a grin that did not quite reach his grey eyes as I stood in his line of vision. I rolled my eyes at him, playing along as he seemed in no mood to be morose at the current moment. Trying to remain normal in the face of war and the personal bereavements that stabbed and clawed at you every few weeks, I found as time passed it was more an art to keep cheerful that you aspired to rather than really inhibiting.
'Speak for yourself.' I replied wryly as I made a show of looking him up and down, shaking my head to rid myself of anything but the immediate present. His face, especially the left side, was marred with a continuous sickly bruise that extended from below his jaw up to his hairline. Sirius repositioned himself a little in the armchair that he had claimed with barely a wince to give heed to his other injuries.
'I happen to think it makes me look more handsome,' He continued. 'Not that, of course, I need to.' The grin now gracing his face did reach his eyes when my eyebrows subconsciously rose into a blankly sardonic expression. Some things at least never changed I thought, internally smiling to myself. I walked into the living room raising my wand as I went; Sirius playfully held his hands up in surrender but I merely flicked it so that a tray of tea set for two landed smartly on the coffee table with a raised eyebrow. I reached forward to pour myself a cup of tea but Sirius in an uncharacteristic show of thoughtfulness took the pot from my hand and busied himself with tea strainers and milk.
'I'll be mother.'
I rolled my eyes again.
'Where's James?' I asked as I took my cup from Sirius and leaned back in an armchair taking a sip. The tea gratefully lessened the pounding in my head.
'Gone to the shops.' He murmured quietly. I nodded without him seeing and closed my eyes in the quietness of the room, listening to the rush of the wind outside. Having always grown up in a noisy street then moving into the chaotic walls of Hogwarts then London, moving to Godrics Hollow was a bit of a shock to the system. When I first moved the silence and inertia made me restless and on edge but now I don't know how I managed to never have a peaceful moment to myself.
The silence was broken abruptly however by Sirius who took a long drawn out slurp from his own dainty tea cup and saucer. I gave him a sharp look from under my eyelashes which he did not see for he was now deliberately paying rapt attention to brushing the single droplet of tea from its rim onto his saucer. His expression was arranged into a blissful and very annoying look of contentment with slightly pouted lips, which in short meant that he was going to be a complete pain in the arse from arrival to departure. These particular moods were both to entertain him and to rile me up as much as James would allow. However since he was out shopping for the time being, he could continue to his heart's content.
I shifted my position against the chair trying to steady my breathing against the pain humming in the flesh of my torso. I watched Sirius over the brim of my steaming cup as I put my feet on the coffee table and tried to flex the cold out of them. I had always thought that he was an old fashioned sort of handsome, Sirius, with his strong jaw and subtle cheekbones, the sort you would find back in the beginning of the twentieth century. I remembered the girls back at Hogwarts of all ages always fawning over him which he of course loved but rarely obliged to a girls invitation much to my surprise. He was much more interested with hanging around with the Marauders and getting up to things that I probably only had knowledge to a quarter to.
As much as he had irked me in the past, I had always quietly admired his principles. Just not how he displayed them, much like James himself really. It was inspiring how he held none of his aristocratic families' beliefs of Purebloods being almighty and had completely separated himself from the traditional name of Black. I had asked James about Sirius and his family once, but was only vaguely filled in on things that I had already been informed of by school hearsay. The confidences between Sirius and James were something that I could only barely penetrate, not out of mistrust of myself but of fierce loyalty to each other.
Feeling my gaze perhaps, he took to look me straight in the eye with a raised brow; the bravado slipping slightly at the look on my face. I chided myself at the idea that I was somehow relaying my thoughts through thin air and hastened to mimic his quizzical eye. I heard him almost silently take a quick little breath before hoisting up that expression that only Sirius could pull off before taking another sip of tea, this time with steady scrutiny across the china lip. I stared unblinkingly back as if we were playing some sort of game, until I noticed that when he lifted the cup to his mouth that his little finger was sticking out. Immediately my face broke into a grin that for all the world I would never have been able to repress. Sirius was the most macho guy I had ever met in my life and for him to drink tea like a six year old girl was beyond funny. The more I thought upon the gesture the more impossible it was for me not laugh.
'What, pray tell, is so funny?'
'Oh, nothing.' I said waggling my own finger at him as I took a stuttering mouthful of warm liquid. Sirius froze for a fraction of a second in realisation and what skin of his face that was not bruised flushed pink as he set down his cup in his lap with narrowed eyes. Once however I had started to laugh, I was unable to stop. Great, guttural peals fell from my lips as my eyes swam with tears of pain and mirth. My ribs screamed in protest at such effort to gasp in breaths of air but it was although the moment of joy was releasing every stress and strain which I had shouldered for too long. I took my feet off the coffee table and settled my tea with quaking fingers upon its top to stop it from tipping all over the carpet in my moment of madness. I looked up at Sirius from where I was clutching my sides and saw that his face was desperately trying to work his face out of a smile at my humour back into composure.
'Well what can I say, you northern lasses have no finesse. You just tend to…grab hold of things.' My laughter was instantly stemmed into silently surprised shock at his evident meaning. Sirius' face grew into a satisfied smirk just as I heard the rattle of the door being unlocked and opened from just outside the living room. I heard James in the hall struggling with plastic bags of shopping, attempting to kick off his trainers and take off the invisibility cloak all at once.
'Lily?' I heard James call for me obviously wondering whether I was awake yet. I heard him curse to himself when he dropped a bag to the floor accidentally; something metal clanked against the hard tiles of the floor, a tin of cat food no doubt.
'Prongs! We we're just talking about you, weren't we Lily?' James poked his head round the corner at Sirius' voice and he sighed with relief to see that I was at least feeling up to getting out of bed.
'Really?' He asked as he bent down to pick up the fallen bag. Even though he wore a thick coat and scarf I could see the chill of the downturn in the weather on his pink hands and cheeks. My own face glowed red against my will and it was difficult to comprehend how Sirius' grin could be any bigger on his face as he gave me a saucy wink.
I struggled for several moments to think of a retort but resorted to simply sticking my tongue out at him and getting up to help James with the shopping.
'Lily, its fine I can manage, go sit back down and rest!' James implored when I tried to take a shopping bag from him from behind. He simply sidestepped me, gave me a quick kiss and went to fetch the others. I scowled at him as he came in again.
'James I'm not an invalid, it's only the shopping. I'm not wrestling a bloody dragon!'
'Honestly it won't take me two seconds - I know where everything goes anyway-'
'No you don't! I found the washing powder in with the bake beans the other day-'
'What's wrong with that?'
'It was in the fridge!'
'God, would you listen to yourselves? You bicker like an old married couple!' Sirius exclaimed while entering the kitchen with the remaining bags in hand and like James, he lithely evaded me when I tried to seize them.
'Sirius we are married. That was the whole point of our wedding.' He simply rolled his eyes at me, dumped the bags and hopped up onto the kitchen countertop and picked up an avocado with interest from the fruit bowl, giving it an experimental sniff.
'It's an avocado.' I said raising my eyebrows whilst bending down with trouble to fork out some cat food for Gerald when James wasn't looking: despite my demands of things to do, I was still sore all over from bruises. I whistled for Gerald but there was no sign of a fluffy white tail anywhere; probably out hunting, I mused. I looked up to see Sirius attempt to eat the avocado as it was with a grimace.
'You have to cut it open Sirius and then eat it.'
'Oh, I thought it wasn't very nice.' I reframed from rolling my eyes with difficulty.
I leant against the doorframe and watched James unpack the shopping whilst Sirius recovered a knife from the draw and sliced it down its green middle. As I stood following my husband with my eyes my mind drifted to another husband, the one whom I had saved from his burning house. All of a sudden it became very difficult to swallow and it took me a few attempts to finally manage it. What happened if I didn't save them after all? When the Death Eaters disbanded after who knows when (when more reinforcements arrived, when there was no one left to kill?) did they come across their bodies? Did they kill them like what would have happened if I had not intervened and yet they would have been together, driven into unconsciousness before any pain befouled them? Or did they torture them and maimed them like so many other unfortunate souls. Hot acid burned my stomach as the poor little girl's face came into view, nestled against her mother and father...
'Lily?' My head snapped up as James' voice roused me. He was staring me straight in the eye in such a way that I knew I could not and must not lie my way out of his concern. But I didn't want to talk about it. The guilt and the terror wanted to remain undisrupted in my head, festering in quiet moments and in the dark hours of the night. I avoided his gaze and Sirius's whom I could see in my peripheral vision and glanced at the worktop. The Daily Prophet lay yellowed and followed on its surface which gave me the perfect opportunity to change the subject.
'What did they say it was this time?' I tried to ask nonchalantly of James whilst he continued to gaze at me with almost hardness behind his glasses.
'A second world war bomb that had deactivated in someone's back garden which had been buried.'
'Not bad,' I say trying to be as blasé as possible whilst I turn around and head back into the living room.
'What? They can't keep saying it's a gas leak all the time can they?'
I reclaimed by vacated armchair again and jabbed my wand at my lone cup of tea which began to smoke hot again. I could hear low murmuring in the kitchen. Annoyance nettled me as I sat there sipping trying to ignore the vibrations of the men's voices. As I rose my cup to my lips to drain it a sudden, most obvious thought occurred to me which filled me with poisonous dread.
'James?' I called in a slightly quivering voice. A second later he was a few feet in front of me. James watched me for a few moments with his tired hazel eyes, taking in my anguished face before speaking in a low, constricted voice.
'Fabian and Gideon didn't make it. Before we left apparently they were fighting off five Death Eaters between them and – and …' He trailed off, whether unable to finish his sentence or at the fact that my lips were trembling I did not know. James moved towards me just as I stood on tip toes to wrap my arms around his neck. Resting my chin on his shoulder I saw Sirius limp into view. I hadn't noticed the redness in his eyes.