DISCLAIMER: You know... not mine. All JKR's. Cover art by anxiouspineapples.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to Part 2 of ARE! (If you've stumbled across this fic, trust me, you'll want to read "All Right, Evans?" first and then come back and join us here.)
I am very excited about starting this, but first let me say that I got a few really great title suggestions for this fic and I thank everyone who submitted their ideas. I ultimately decided to go with "Dangerous Crowds," a phrase from Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young," because… Well, hopefully the reasons will become obvious to you throughout the course of the fic.
I won't be mentioning new followers by name anymore. Not because I don't want to, but since I'm breaking the fic up into three parts, it's hard to keep track of who's new and who I've already mentioned but is now following the new stuff as well. JUST KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU REGARDLESS OF MY CONFUSION.
So first chapter here… Slightly different in that it's just a collection of moments from summer '77. I hope the format's easy enough to follow; some bits were more difficult to navigate/organize than others. There's some fluff and some throwaway characterizations and some angst and developments, yadda yadda, I'll just let you read it now instead of trying to explain it.
FROGS, CHESS, BAD DINNERS, AND SCIENCE FICTION
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Lily sat in her room, beating her forehead steadily against the wooden surface of the desk in front of her. Thud. Thud. Thud.
She'd been home for a week. A lousy, sodding, bleeding week. It was all blah-blah-blah-wedding and blah-blah-blah-Vernon and blah-blah-blah-Vernon's-job and blah-blah-blah-Lily-you-incorrigible-freak and blah-blah-blah-LILY-WHY-ARE-THERE-FROGS-IN-THE-BATHTUB?. That last one had included a lot of screaming on Petunia's part, but Lily thought it was rather funny. It was, really, until her mother took her wand away and hid it from her for two whole days as punishment. Then there was a row because Lily thought that both Petunia and her mother had overreacted, and they couldn't just take her wand away like that.
"I'm of age!" she'd shouted at her mother, not really sure what that was supposed to accomplish.
"Not in this house," Violet had countered. "You've got about another year to go here."
"It was just a few frogs!"
"Well, maybe now you'll find a more judicious way to spend your time."
Lily had stormed upstairs and slammed her door as hard as she could.
She'd gotten her wand back that morning, but as she wasn't allowed to torture Petunia with it, Lily thought that their mother might as well have kept the useless thing in her custody. Lily didn't want to bug Petunia, not really; it was mean and wrong and she knew that, but she couldn't help it when Petunia was being such a – such a – well, not very nice herself.
"So he is your boyfriend, then?" Petunia had said when Lily climbed into the backseat of the car at Kings Cross. And it escalated from there – James was he or him or that boy, and it was so unbearably condescending that it made Lily's fists clench and her teeth bare. He was scruffy and was Lily sure that being with him was such a good idea and that boy didn't seem to be very cultured and a thousand other stupid, rubbish things. It was petty and it was annoying and it was all so completely untrue, but it bothered Lily, anyway.
"Just ignore her, Lil," Ian said bracingly as he left for work the day of the thud-thud-thuds. He shrugged into his suit jacket and clapped a hand on his youngest daughter's shoulder. He looked tired, Lily thought, much more tired than usual. "You're not going to solve anything by infesting the house with frogs. Don't do that again, okay?"
Lily scuffed her toes against the kitchen floor and mumbled something about okay, she wouldn't. That was good enough for Ian, so he planted a kiss on top of her head and left for work. And then Lily had gone upstairs to spend her day thud-thud-thudding.
Thud. Petunia is stupid.
Thud. Frogs are cool.
Thud. Mum is drunk with power.
Thud. What good's a wand if you're not allowed to have a bit of fun with it?
Thud. James'd think the frogs were funny.
Thud. I miss James.
Thud. I'm pathetic.
Lily sighed and quit hitting her head; it was beginning to hurt a little. She sat up and pulled a piece of parchment towards her to write a letter to James because if she was going to be pathetic, well, she might as well make sure he was being pathetic, too. As it had only been a week, they hadn't written to each other, unless you counted the two scraps of parchment James had sent her. One was a rather old-looking piece scribbled with a Snitch and her initials (which had been crossed out, by the way); the other was a small note letting her know that was the sort of thing he used to do when she wouldn't go out with him.
She'd had it for about three days and James's owl had been hanging around the house, waiting for Lily to send him off with a reply, but she'd been a little preoccupied crying about it.
Pathetic, Evans. Lily swiped a hand over one eye and scratched out a letter.
Are you deliberately trying to upset me? Do you want me to cry? Because you've succeeded brilliantly with your stupid sketches and your stupid feelings. If I weren't so upset with you about it, I would be touched; as it is, though, I don't know how to express that so I'm choosing to be annoyed with you instead.
Mum hid my wand from me for a couple of days, on account of all the frogs I Conjured in Petunia's bathroom. She deserved it, but no one here listens to reason so I got in trouble, anyway.
I think I've given myself a concussion.
Your owl is very polite. I'm thinking of trying to convince him to come live with me; I could use the company, considering you're hoarding most of it for yourself and it's not like I can run off to Alice. You know she's busy with Frank and the wedding.
I blame you for everything.
I should go lie down. Stupid git. I miss you, by the way, and your sweatshirt smells a lot more like me and a lot less like you, so it's not much help.
She thought about attaching her own piece of parchment, the one she'd scribbled on and carried around with her because she was a masochist and she just had to keep the I think I love James Potter bit as close to her as possible. In the end, though, she sent Arthur the owl away without it; after all, she hadn't hit her head that hard.
"What did you do?"
James looked up from the game of chess he and Sirius were playing in the drawing room. Marlene McKinnon was standing in the doorway, arms crossed, her foot tapping impatiently, and she'd fixed him with an unnecessarily accusatory glare.
"Er…" James wasn't sure what to say. "Well, I just lost one of my knights, but it had to be done, McKinnon. Sacrifices must be made in the game of chess, and –"
"I don't care about your stupid chess game," Marlene interrupted. She flourished a piece of parchment that James hadn't seen right away. "Your owl just brought this back; it's a letter from Lily, and apparently you made her cry."
James knocked his chair over in his haste to jump up from it and snatch the letter from Marlene. His eyes were scanning the parchment as Sirius looked up at Marlene and said, "You know, in the Muggle world, it's a federal offense to open other people's post."
Marlene rolled her eyes and turned to James. "I think she really did give herself a concussion," she said. "She sounds a bit mad, doesn't she?"
"I think she's just bored." James wasn't sure if he should laugh about the frogs or feel guilty for upsetting her. He hadn't meant to; he just wanted her to have the parchment he'd held onto since their Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. He thought it would be nice, and he supposed her response had suggested as much but still, he never meant to make her cry. He really was a stupid git.
He looked at Marlene. "D'you think I really made her cry? Is she upset?"
"I dunno," Marlene said. "What's she on about, anyway? I know about your stupid feelings, but what's this about a sketch?"
"Er…" James refused to meet Sirius's eye. "It's nothing. I can't believe you read my post, Marlene, you're such a prat."
"I know," Marlene said sweetly, allowing Sirius to take her hand and pull her into his lap. "Couldn't resist, though. I've got enough material to tease Lily with for all of seventh year now."
Sirius lifted an eyebrow. "That right?" he said thoughtfully before shifting his gaze to James. "Let me have a look at that, will you?"
"Not likely." James folded the letter and stuck it in his pocket for safekeeping. He noted Sirius and Marlene's rather intimate position in the armchair and said, "Guess we're not finishing up this game then, eh?"
Sirius shook his head and started kissing Marlene's neck. "Shut the door on the way out, will you?"
James sighed but didn't argue, making sure that he heard the lock click as he settled the door into its frame. He'd lost five Galleons to Sirius a week ago when Charlus had called the pair of them into his study to have The Talk, and if Sirius and Marlene got caught then it would be a lot harder for James to get Lily alone when she visited in July. As far as James could tell, after the initial talk about responsibility and respect, his parents' view on the whole thing was "We don't want to know about it, so don't let us catch you." That was just fine with James, since it wasn't as if he wanted to get caught.
He shook his head as he made his way through the house. Nothing for you to worry about now, he told himself. Or anytime in the near future, really, since you're a hormonal disgrace and you'd better not do anything about it until you tell her you love her… That, James thought as he pulled Lily's letter from his pocket and re-read it, was the best route to take. If things were going to get serious physically, then he'd have to take the plunge emotionally, too. It made sense, he thought, since he planned on marrying her, anyway. But perhaps for now he'd keep that information to himself.
But he shook that off, too. For now he would simply find his parents and inform them of his change of plans. One week, he decided, was quite long enough.
Lily was lying face-down on her bed, half-asleep, the noises from downstairs only just permeating her little bubble of unconsciousness. There was the sound of the radio, her mother bustling around the kitchen as she prepared dinner, muffled conversation… Lily sighed deeply into her pillow and let the sounds lull her towards a real nap. It wasn't as if she had anything else to do.
That is, until her door slammed open and someone was jumping up and down on her bed.
"Oh, bloody hell –" Lily rolled over to identify the culprit, and promptly screamed.
"What are you shouting for?" James wanted to know as he continued to bounce above her. "If you're going to start yelling, you should really do it before you're under attack like this. Blimey, you've got a lousy reaction time…"
Lily knocked him around the knees so he lost his footing and collapsed on top of her. He grinned. "Well, hello to you, too, Evans."
"What are you doing here?" Lily demanded, staring disbelievingly up at his smile. "I haven't slept through the whole week, have I?"
"I should hope not," James replied seriously. "Not if you've got that concussion, anyway. Speaking of, what'd you do?" Her forehead was a little pink, he noted as he ran his index finger across it.
"Banged my head repeatedly against the desk."
James laughed. "Why?"
Lily shrugged. "I was bored."
"Oh?" James kissed the pink spot. "So the concussion's on, then? And did I really make you cry? Oh, and love, you have to tell me more about the frogs, you wonderful, fantastic girl, and I'm afraid Marlene snatched your letter before I could, so fair warning there. And –"
"Slow down, would you?" Lily said on a laugh. "No, I don't think the concussion's really on. And you did, a little, but – don't look at me like that!" Lily reprimanded as James pouted. She laid a hand on either side of his face comfortingly. "It was sweet, absurdly sweet, unbearably ridiculous, too. I can't bring myself to remember much about the frogs at the moment, you smell quite lovely, and Marlene can tease me all she likes, but for now you're killing me, would you please just kiss me already?"
James happily obliged, and leaned down a little to press his lips against hers. He'd meant it to last for just a second, but then he realized how foolish those intentions were; after all, he hadn't seen her in eight days. Lily sighed and thought about how nice it was to sigh against James's mouth rather than into her pillowcase. She wound her arms over his shoulders and her hands dove into his hair. She moved her lips painfully slowly across his, letting his taste and his touch overwhelm her, drowning her, inch by inch. James's breath hitched when her tongue met his and he increased the pace of the kiss, his fingers tangling in the ends of her hair, threading through the long silky strands and tugging gently. Her back arched and he caught her around the waist, knocking their chests and hips together, and his body rubbed over hers and their moans crashed together in one short, collective gasp, and James's mouth bruised hers and Lily's teeth bit his bottom lip, and –
"Lily? Mum needs you – oh, God, really?"
Jarred out of that quick bout of heat and bliss by the new voice, Lily and James jumped apart, sitting up and adjusting their shirts and blushing furiously as both sets of eyes met Petunia, who was standing in the doorway and regarding them with a look of utmost disgust.
"Hey, Tuney." Lily smiled weakly, but her sister didn't return the gesture.
Petunia rolled her eyes and made to leave. "When you're quite finished," she said scathingly, "Mum needs you in the kitchen."
"Right," Lily muttered as Petunia disappeared. She turned to look at James, who had both hands pressed against his mouth in a poor attempt to silence his laughter. "Oh, knock it off. It's not funny."
"It's a bit funny –"
"Ugh!" Lily threw a pillow at his face and swung her legs off the bed. "Bet Dad wouldn't think so."
James stopped laughing immediately. "Low blow, Evans."
She tossed him a wink over her shoulder. "Just trying to keep you in line, Potter."
Three days later, James was sitting in the kitchen with Violet Evans when he heard his girlfriend's scream. He jumped a little in his seat and swiveled around to look at Violet, who was completely unperturbed by the noises her youngest daughter was making.
"Is – er – should I go check on that?" James asked awkwardly.
"No." Violet shook her head and continued to clip coupons. "Ian must have finally told her that he bought the recorder."
James blinked a few times. "Recorder?"
"Right," Violet said. "It tapes things on television so you can watch them later. You know, the only downside Lily ever saw to Hogwarts was that it meant she'd miss Doctor Who while she was away. She was able to keep up with the reruns, but all the same…" Violet allowed herself a small smile. "When she left last term, Ian caved and bought the recorder so she wouldn't have to keep track of reruns."
"Oh." James hadn't been able to keep up with any of that. "So, erm, what's – what's television?"
Violet looked up from her scissors, surprised before remembering that James Potter had come from a strictly Wizarding family. "Oh," she echoed, unsure of how to explain it. "Well, it's – hmm…"
She was saved the trouble, though, when Lily came dashing into the kitchen, bouncing like mad on the balls of her socked feet, slipping a little on the tiled floor. She was beaming, her face positively glowing and a little sore from the intensity of her smile.
"Mum, coupons are boring," she said, grabbing James's hand and pulling him out of his chair.
"Just trying to save some money, sweetheart," Violet said, smiling at her daughter's jubilation. "There are some fantastic deals here, too –"
"We don't have time for fantastic deals!" Lily shouted gleefully, dragging James through the kitchen. "WE'VE GOT THE ENTIRETY OF SPACE AND TIME TO TRAVERSE."
"Have you lost it?" James wondered, unable to help his laugh as he was propelled across the hallway into the den. "What are you on about? And what's television?"
Lily dropped his hand and knocked her knuckles against the box in the den. "This is a television," she told him. "Blimey, James, really you're the one who should be taking Muggle Studies, not Sirius…"
James stuck his tongue out at her and flopped down onto the floor, watching as she pressed buttons and the box made noises and flashed images and he was sure he'd never seen anything stranger than this. When Lily had settled herself beside him and the screen whirled colors and emitted odd "Dooo weee dooo" sounds, James couldn't help himself; he crawled forward and rapped his knuckles smartly against the screen and he said, "How does it do that?"
"James, move it, you big idiot." Lily tugged at the back of his shirt so he fell backwards, landing between her legs, and he decided that he quite liked it there. He rested his head against her stomach and caught her hands, wrapping her arms around his front.
"I don't get it," he said. "How is this happening?"
Lily laughed and swung her legs over his. "You're the only one who asks that in regards to the television rather than what's happening on the television," she remarked. "You'd better pay attention, or you're going to get lost. The Doctor demands full brain activity."
James was quiet for a full minute before the police box came swirling onto the screen and he asked, "What's that?"
"The blue box?" Lily clarified. "That's the TARDIS."
James's brow furrowed. "The what?"
"The TARDIS," Lily repeated. "T-A-R-D-I-S. It's an acronym."
"Oh?" This wasn't helping. "So what's it stand for, then?"
"TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSION IN SPACE."
James glanced up at her, a little jarred by the volume of her proclamation but mostly amused to see her so excited about something. "Why do you keep shouting?"
Lily smiled and buried her face in his hair. "I'm sorry. I keep getting excited."
That excitement, however, soon dissipated. After two hours in the den and a constant stream of James's questions regarding how the television and the Doctor worked, the pair were reminded by Violet that they were due to meet Vernon and Petunia for dinner.
"Have I mentioned how sore I still am about this?" Lily demanded of James as she dug through her closet for her shoes.
James grinned and leaned back on her mattress. "No, but I knew, anyway," he said. "I haven't seen your sister much since she barged in on us the other day, so this should be right splendid, don't you think?"
Lily threw a shoe at him, hitting him square in the chest, before realizing that had been the precise shoe she'd been looking for.
"Bugger," she muttered to herself before turning to James. "I need that shoe."
James quirked an eyebrow and lifted the shoe to eye-level. "This?" he said. "You need this shoe?"
Lily suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. "Yes, James, well-spotted."
"Huh." James ignored her sarcasm and twirled the shoe between his hands. "Well, I reckon you'd better come get it, then."
"Seriously, love, you'd better come take this shoe from me, or we'll be late to meet your sister –" James was saying, but the rest of his light threat was cut off as Lily took a running leap and landed on him, knocking the breath out of his lungs. But he was still too quick for her; he threw the shoe back across the room and rolled over so that she was pinned beneath him.
Lily looked up at him reproachfully, an effort that was sullied by her laughter, and she said, "You know, when you said I'd better come get it, I didn't think this is what you had in mind."
"No?" James's eyebrow shot up a little higher and he tried to mentally settle his stomach, which was buzzing with nerves at Lily's insinuation. This was always what he had in mind. "Shame. I thought that's why you attacked me."
"Perhaps some other time." Lily leaned up a bit to kiss him. "But it's like you said, I don't want to be late for dinner. Which was your idea, need I remind you."
"Right," James said. "Sorry, bit distracted, forgot you were cross about that. So that's what's keeping you from ravishing me, then?"
Lily smacked him upside the head. James, however, as usual would not be deterred; he caught both her wrists to keep her from inflicting further injury upon him, and silenced her protests with his mouth. He didn't care how late they were for dinner and with the assistance of his tongue, he made sure that Lily didn't care, either. They didn't care on Lily's bed, they didn't care when they were on the front steps or in the driveway, and they continued to not care down three blocks, ducking into alleyways and pausing in the doorways of deserted shops. They didn't care so much so many times that by the time they entered the restaurant, Petunia was tapping her foot under the table and Vernon was drumming his fingers on top of it.
"Sorry," Lily apologized with a sheepish smile as she and James joined them at the table. "Lost track of time –"
"You've got a twig in your hair," Petunia told her disapprovingly. Lost track of time indeed, she thought, frowning as she noted the flush of her sister's skin and the satisfied little grin on that Potter boy's face.
"Oh." The flush intensified with Lily's embarrassment. Stupid James, pushing her against stupid trees… She reached up to extract the twig but only succeeded in tangling it further in her mussed hair. "Oh – ouch, bloody hell –"
"Here, I've got it," James said, carefully disentangling the twig, using his fingers to comb out the knots in Lily's hair. He was careful to stifle his laughter; it was clear that neither Petunia nor Vernon were amused by the couple's antics and he didn't care to annoy them anymore for the time being.
The meal progressed, the atmosphere tense and a bit subdued. At least, it seemed that way to Lily and Petunia; meanwhile, Vernon was using the opportunity to appear impressive, and James was quite over his initial reluctance to hold back his laughter. He assured himself that he couldn't help it, no matter how many times Lily kicked him under the table or shot him a please-shut-your-big-fat-mouth look. But it was just too easy, James thought. Vernon drawled on about his car and shot James a superior sort of look as he asked what model the younger man drove; James hardly knew what a car was, but he was happy to describe his broomstick. This led Vernon to wonder aloud if James could afford a car, and then he supposed (once again aloud) that there couldn't possibly be any suitable jobs for his kind, and they must live off some sort of benefit package; James assured him that his family kept a rather large fortune, buried deep in the vaults of Gringotts, so really he wasn't too bothered by any financial burdens. Vernon said he was sure that his kind surely couldn't possess any special skills suited to a career, and Lily actually groaned when James pulled out his wand to demonstrate his special skills.
"Does the Statute of Secrecy mean nothing to you?" she hissed, her fingers gripping James's wrist and shoving his wand out of sight.
"I'm of age, remember?" James pointed out, even though that had little to do with the situation at hand. "Besides, if anyone sees me, I can just shoot a good Obliviate their way."
"What, you're going to Obliviate the whole restaurant?" Lily wanted to know, ignoring Petunia and Vernon's scandalized expressions. "That's the direction you're headed in, flailing your wand about like that –"
"I'm not flailing –"
"Well, for all your not-flailing, you've just set the tablecloth on fire –"
"Ah, damn!" The sparks that had been shooting out of the end of James's wand had ignited the edge of the tablecloth, and he was quick with the Aguamenti, diluting the damage before anyone else in the restaurant could take notice. He grinned across the table at Vernon. "See, mate, how's that for special skills?"
Vernon, however, was not impressed, and he continued to question the abilities and general mental capacities of his kind; James continued to be defensive; Petunia continued to stew in silence; Lily continued to panic, also in silence. But when the debate had culminated in a flick of James's concealed wand and Vernon's mustache crawling off his face, that was that. As soon as a laughing James restored Vernon's facial hair, the latter shoved back from the table and stormed out, muttering about ridiculous mad people. Petunia shot a scathing look at her sister and went after her fiancé, muttering about why she'd been stuck with a freak for a sister. Lily's contained panic overcame her and she burst into tears, which effectively cut off James's laughter.
"Oh, no," James said, taking Lily's hands as he scrambled to repair the damage he'd caused. Oh no, oh no, oh no, nononononono… "Lily, I'm sorry, please don't cry."
"You're such a prat." Lily yanked her hands from his grasp and buried her face in them. Her body was shaking with sobs as she thought of the way her sister had looked at her, the way Petunia had rushed out after her fiancé, how unforgiving she was sure to be about this.
"I know, you're absolutely right," James agreed, thoroughly ashamed of himself as Lily fell apart beside him. "And I'm so sorry, Lily, I didn't – I was only having a laugh."
"What have I told you about having a laugh?" Lily demanded, her voice muffled by her hands and the tears. "You don't have to make other people look stupid just because you think it's funny!"
"Well, you know, he was doing a rather good job of making himself look stupid –"
"So he clearly didn't need your help, did he?"
"Lily, I'm sorry." James rubbed her back, ignoring the accusatory stares some of the other diners were shooting him. Making Lily cry was bad enough without a bunch of strangers making him feel awful about it, too. "Please don't cry anymore. I promise, I'll – I'll make it up, okay? Next time I see Vernon, I'll apologize, I'll do whatever you want."
Lily lifted her head from her hands to look at James, and he looked just as sorry as he sounded; his eyes were wide and imploring, begging her to forgive him. If it weren't for Petunia's reaction, Lily knew she would have been laughing right there with him, so she wiped her damp eyes, hiccupped, and said, "I'm going to kill you."
James smiled weakly at her, a little hesitant because he thought she very well might go through with that threat. But she managed to calm down and, after helping James to figure out how Muggle money worked, they paid the bill and left the restaurant, much to the relief of the other patrons. When they met the warm evening air outside, James slid an arm around Lily's slender shoulders and he said, "I really am a prat."
"I know." Lily's fingers tangled with his and she kissed them. "But at least you're sorry for it. And the mustache thing would have been funny, you know, under different circumstances."
James allowed himself a genuine smile then and they continued walking. The street was deserted, blanketed in the darkness of a summer night; the streetlamps shone gold and the light sparkled over the glossy black pavement of the street. The air was warm, the breeze light and tickling, and there was the not-so-far-off hoot of an owl every so often. Lily and James were silent, reveling in the quiet evening sounds, comforted by the steady breathing of one another. When they reached the four-way intersection that marked the halfway point between the restaurant and the Evans household, James dropped his arm down to Lily's waist and he pulled her into another one of their silent dances.
After a few moments of rotating and hand-holding, Lily looked up at him and said, at once tender and matter-of-fact, "I miss you when I'm not with you."
"I know the feeling," James assured her. He spun her once and pulled her back into his embrace. "We're rather pathetic, aren't we?"
Lily kissed his shoulder. "Oh, yes," she agreed, laughing as James dipped her. "The absolute worst."
"I can't bring myself to mind much, though."
"No, neither can I."
MUGGLES, BLOOD TRAITORS, AND DEATH EATERS
"Have you seen this, Vi?" Ian asked as he shook out his evening newspaper. "Apparently there's a load of talk about rising gang activity in the London area."
"Really?" Violet looked up from her coupons, frowning slightly. "Well, isn't that a treat?"
"It's mental, is what it is." Ian coughed loudly and continued for some time, waving off his wife's concerned look. "I'm fine, sweetheart, just fine. Anyway…" He adjusted his newspaper. "Right, these gangs, they've got some crazed initiation rites – petty arson, mostly, but now the news is speculating that they might have something to do with some disappearances, too."
Violet's frown intensified. "Oh, that seems unlikely," she said. "Bunch of kids, getting in over their heads, sure. But I hardly think they're engaging in any major criminal activity."
"They're pretty serious about it, though, it seems," Ian said as his eyes scanned the story. He coughed again and this one was a little more painful than the last, but he was careful not to let his wife catch on. "Says here they've got themselves tattoos, some snake-and-skull business."
"Hmmm." Violet had noticed her husband's wince of discomfort and she ran her hand over the back of his. "Odd. I wonder if Lily's heard anything about this?"
Ian shook his head. "She doesn't have friends around here, does she?" he pointed out. "No one but that Snape kid, and he hasn't been around for a couple of summers now. I wonder what happened there."
Violet shrugged. "Lily never said. I'm beginning to wonder if it's got anything to do with James."
"Well…" Ian shifted in his seat, and this time his discomfort had nothing to do with the cough. "You know I wouldn't know anything about that, Vi. Girls, they don't talk to their dads about boy troubles."
Violet laughed and Ian relaxed at the sound, the easy happiness of it. It was something they hadn't had enough of the past couple of months, not since the pain in his chest had started. He missed the general happy-go-lucky nature of his home, his family. Things had been a little tense for the past few years as their daughters grew up and apart, but at the end of the day Ian was sure that his girls were happy, nurtured, loved. Now, though…
Ian still hadn't told Lily about his rapidly failing health, and he hid it well enough that she'd only commented a few times about how it looked as though he could use a good nap. He would chuckle and ruffle her hair up a bit, and the exchange would be forgotten, but Ian knew it wouldn't be so easy when he sat her down and talked to her. That's why he'd been putting it off for so long; he knew how his youngest daughter was, he knew that temperament, those emotions, and he couldn't bring himself to rattle the happiness Lily had acquired. She'd always been a happy girl, as far as Ian could tell, but there had been a shift in her this summer. There was a new, definite bounce in her step, a peculiar light in her eyes that hadn't been there before. It had nothing to do with her family and Ian knew that, but he couldn't bear to take the chance that might deflate that step or extinguish that light. It was obvious that James Potter, the boy with the untidy hair, would waste no time in lighting her world right back up, but it broke Ian's heart to think that it would dim, for any reason, even for a moment.
Violet had stopped laughing, and she was watching her husband with that old loving concern. She massaged his hand gently with hers and she said, "You've got to stop worrying about her so much."
"Hard thing to do," Ian said on a sigh.
"I know, darling," Violet said, and she did. She knew her husband, she loved her daughters just as much as he did, but there had always been this selfless side of Ian that sometimes prevented him from doing what needed to be done. "But the longer you wait, the harder it'll be. Petunia was all right, wasn't she?"
"Of course Petunia was all right," Ian said. "We've never had to worry about her. I might not think much of that bloke she's marrying, but she's always had an unflinching backbone, hasn't she? I know she cares and I know it hurts her, but she'll be okay. But you know Lil, always feeling to the extreme."
Violet nodded. "It's going to hurt for a long time," she told him. "No matter what."
Ian met his wife's eye and caught the single tear that was making slow progress over her cheekbone. "That's what I can't stand, Vi," he said, "is hurting my girls."
"Oh, love…" Violet sighed and shook her head, laughing a little bit. "You couldn't hurt a fly."
Ian lifted his wife's hand and kissed it. "Don't let James Potter know that, or else he'll think he can get away with anything."
Violet laughed for real this time, and once again Ian lost himself in the sound. Despite the hurt, the grief, everything, Ian thought that perhaps it could all drown in the sound of his wife's laughter. It could get absorbed by all the happy connotations, and maybe – just maybe – that would be enough to get them through.
Eileen didn't have time to deal with whatever was wrong with her son, and Tobias didn't much care. Still, though, it was discussed, and the conversation was always the same. Severus would let himself into the house, steal upstairs, and lock his bedroom door. Eileen would look at Tobias and ask if they should talk to him. Tobias would grunt and shrug and say the kid was her son so she could do whatever she liked. Eileen would frown and remind Tobias that Severus was his son, too, and Tobias would say he was more Eileen's son since he went off to some castle to learn magic tricks for nine months every year. Eileen would sigh and that would be the end of it. In the end, neither of them had the energy or the will to bother with it, and that suited their son just fine.
Alphard had been ill for some time, Walburga thought as her furious eyes skimmed the letter for a second time. She wasn't surprised that he'd finally succumbed to death. What she hadn't expected, though, was the undeservedly high-and-mighty note he'd left behind.
You know I have always demonstrated the utmost respect for you, for Orion, and for the way you've raised your sons. And now that I am dead (or will be, by the time you read this), I can finally abandon the charade and say that you and your husband are stark raving mad.
Did you know, I've heard word that Regulus has joined the Death Eaters? What is he now, fifteen? Top job, dear sister; I expect he'll be dead before he's even of age. But bully for you, guiding him on his way to premature death in the most painful way possible. You did a much better job raising Sirius – that is, you hardly raised him at all, so he turned out for the best. I've settled it so that he receives a nice bit of gold from me upon my imminent demise. Nothing you can do about it, of course, which is why I've chosen to tell you. By the way, would you be so kind as to please extend my congratulations to Druella, as I have it on good authority that Andromeda married a Muggle-born and is now harboring a little half-blood in her stomach!
Oh, my dear Wally, how the mighty Blacks have fallen. Cheers to that.
Your most dearly departed brother,
Walburga scowled and set the parchment on fire before dropping it and stomping it out furiously. She was in a right temper now – a rage, really, as her dead brother's taunts flashed so clearly in her mind, no matter how charred his handwriting became. That pompous, chortling, self-satisfied pig…
"REGULUS!" she screeched, so loudly that her son would be sure to hear her, no matter where he was hiding in Grimmauld Place.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs, pounding their way down, rushing, rushing, down the hallway, and then Regulus burst into the drawing room, panting slightly from the brisk jog he'd broken into to avoid furthering his mother's obvious wrath.
"You – you called?" he said, his voice shaking and cracking slightly.
"Yes," Walburga said shortly. She settled back in her chair and brushed ashes off her robes. "Regulus, you know where your loyalties lie, don't you?"
"Er…" Regulus unconsciously fingered his left forearm. "Yes, I suppose – yes, I do."
Walburga's eyes narrowed at the boy's hesitance. "You do know, Regulus, what happens to Mudbloods and blood traitors? Scum, like your ungrateful brother and that wretched cousin of yours?"
Regulus swallowed. Familial alienation, blasted off the Black family tree, the shame of having besmirched such an old, pureblood name… Although, piped up that unbidden voice in the back of Regulus's mind, Sirius never seems very guilty. Quite the opposite, actually. And Andromeda had seemed positively bursting with happiness when you saw her at Kings Cross at the end of term…
"Regulus!" Walburga's voice snapped him back to the present.
"Right, sorry." Regulus was rubbing his arm now. "I know, Mother, I do. I won't – I won't dishonor the Black name, I swear."
Satisfied, Walburga nodded and dismissed her son. At least this one had his priorities in order, she thought. She pointed her wand at the family tree tapestry and blasted Alphard's name clean off, and with that, she wiped her mind clear of her dead brother and his supercilious words.
Regulus, however, couldn't forget anything. He leaned against the staircase banister, and his thumb tugged at the material of his sleeve that covered the pattern on his left forearm – the skull and the snake, the thing that burned whenever he was needed. He'd cursed twelve people this summer, tortured eight, killed three, and their faces haunted his waking hours as well as his nightmares. It was what he'd signed up for, he knew, it was what he'd wanted. But… Regulus tugged at his hair. There could be no buts. It was done. It didn't matter.
"Can Kreacher get Master Regulus anything?"
Regulus jumped a little, startled by the elf's sudden appearance. "No, Kreacher," he said, and his young voice was weary, weighed down with tiredness and uncertainty. "No, I'm – I'm fine."
Kreacher bowed, the tip of his long nose touching the carpet, and he disappeared down the next hallway. Regulus watched him go without really seeing anything. His eyes were blank, his head empty, his hands forever shaking as they remembered the damage they'd caused.
Twelve cursed, eight tortured, three murdered.
Regulus wondered what else he'd be asked to do.
"Our sons are sexual deviants!"
Dorea sighed and leaned her head back against the chair she was sitting in. "Charlus, I don't want to know –"
"They're incorrigible! Mad, too, now that I think of it," Charlus went on, the heat of his words overpowering his wife's protests. "I found Sirius and Marlene in the house-elf's closet the other day. I asked why on earth they'd choose to – to – occupy their time there, and Sirius tells me that 'There's just something about Magical Mess-Remover, Charlus, I can't explain it.'"
"Charlus, really, I don't –" Dorea tried again, but to no avail.
"And then I just found James and Lily in the library," her husband continued to rave, "and he tries to tell me that there's something about books, and then he started muttering something else before Lily socked him in the stomach – good girl, she is – but really."
Charlus dropped himself into the chair next to his wife and he heaved a deep sigh. He pulled his Muggle pipe from his breast pocket and stuck it between his teeth. Dorea refused to acknowledge his impassioned speech, so the two settled into the comfortable silence they'd formed over the course of their lengthy marriage. After a few minutes, though, Charlus sighed again and said, "You know, Dor, I wish our boys' sexual deviancy was the worst of our worries."
Dorea leaned over and linked her fingers with her husband's. "I know," she said. "Quite apart from calling it sexual deviancy, though, my darling Mr. Potter, perhaps we should call it love and comfort ourselves with the fact that it will get them through this."
"Quite right, my lovely Mrs. Potter." Charlus chewed a bit on the end of his pipe and squeezed his wife's hand. He thought about the war, about the tortured and battered and dead and everyone they left behind. He thought of the long hours he spent in the office and on the field, thought about Alastor's incessant declarations of CONSTANT VIGILANCE and how it didn't seem so annoying in the midst of battle.
He thought about his wife and his boys: Sirius and Marlene failed to be sneaky when they snuck off, and that was just like him and Dorea so many years ago. The way they laughed and looked and touched, Charlus felt as though he were watching memories played out in front of his very eyes. James and Lily were no better – or no worse, rather – and the way they looked… Well, Charlus thought it positively screamed of unspoken love – nervous, funny, first, last, only, love.
Charlus chewed on his pipe some more and thought that yes, it would be enough. Constant vigilance in war, and first-last-only in love. He smiled at Dorea and she smiled back at him, and they both thought that war didn't seem so relevant when it was bathed in such insurmountable light.
LETTERS, CONFESSIONS, AND CHAMPAGNE HELLOS
Have you heard this business in the Muggle newspapers? They're reporting Death Eater activity, but of course they don't know that's what it is; they're convinced it's got something to do with gang initiations, or some other rubbish like that. Apparently it's been going on all summer. I should really pay better attention to the Daily Mail, but I've found that it's much more dull when the pictures aren't moving. Perhaps I should have subscribed to the Prophet before the end of term.
Anyway, it's maddening trying to go into town, as the Muggles are suspicion of anyone our age, which makes me think that Voldemort is really putting his little Hogwarts recruits to work. May I ask – and be completely honest with me – do I look like someone who'd have a great skull-and-snake tattoo on my arm? Not that there's anything wrong with tattoos, but I'd certainly pick something a bit more tasteful.
Dad's told me all about what the Muggles are printing. Our Minister's been conferring with their Minister and Dad says that's how the whole thing got started. Can't jeopardize the Statute of Secrecy for much of anything besides that.
In that vein, would you mind terribly holing yourself up in your bedroom until I pop by again? I've had at least a dozen heart attacks worrying about you. And before you get annoyed with me, yes, love, I know you can take care of yourself, but you're the only witch over there, aren't you? At least when you take on Death Eaters at Hogwarts there's the chance that someone can come to your defense if you need it.
As far as your plans for a tasteful tattoo, dear Merlin, if you get it on your lower back I swear I'll be your slave for all eternity.
What's James going on about, you getting a tattoo? I was eavesdropping on him and Sirius last night (much more exciting than actively participating in the conversation, you know), and he was going on and on about how dead sexy you are or something.
He vastly misinterpreted me. He's such a twat; ignore everything he says except for the bit about how dead sexy I am. That, I'm afraid, is quite true.
To: Lily and Marlene
If one of you sends me another letter about how Lily's getting a tattoo or what great big gits Sirius and James are, I swear I'm taking you both out of my wedding. Incidentally, first Hogsmeade weekend I've scheduled a dress fitting for all three of us, so your great-big-git-boyfriends will have to do without you for one afternoon.
Frank and my brothers send their love, by the way. I haven't seen any of them too much this summer, but I've kept myself busy with Mum and Mrs. Longbottom, planning the wedding. I think the boys are actually quite happy to be risking their lives on a daily basis if it means they don't have to look at flower arrangements. Why is it that all the men in our lives are such gits? Or is that just men in general? Excepting Remus and Peter, of course, in which case someone needs to explain to me why neither of them have girlfriends. It's inexcusable, really.
To: Evans the Scarlet Woman
From: Sirius the Devilishly Handsome Best Mate of the Scarlet Woman's Choice Victim
What the hell are you on about, woman? You can't write to James to ask about Peter and Remus's love lives! He's been sulking all day – he thinks you're carrying on some illicit affair with his mates. Not that I helped, since I may or may not have insinuated that I had a hand in aforementioned illicit affair as well. If this behavior continues, I have to say, you will not be invited to share the flat I plan to buy post-Hogwarts (dead uncles are swell, aren't they?).
Marlene has just informed me not to address you as 'woman.' Please accept my sincerest apologies and know that I don't actually give a sodding doxy about which endearments I choose to shower you with.
To: Moony and Wormtail, Betrayers
From: Prongs, Betrayed
I would just like to thank you both for stealing my girlfriend and consequently ruining my life. I hope you're happy.
To: Prongs, Drama Queen
From: Moony, Voice of Reason
I've talked to Peter and we've concluded that we haven't the faintest idea what you're on about. So I sent a letter along to Lily and she's told me that she and the girls were just curious as to why perfectly respectable gentlemen such as Peter and myself retain bachelorhood when bleeders like you and Padfoot have girlfriends. Her words, not mine, but for some reason she continues to fancy you, so quit being so overdramatic.
I have no idea what's gotten into any of you and unless someone wants to explain, quit sending me cryptic messages about how I've 'stolen [your] woman' (Prongs, I swear I haven't got any 'designs on Lily's dead sexy tattoo'), I'm a liar and a traitor (Padfoot), that Prongs and Padfoot are bonkers (Moony, although I have to agree). And while I appreciate your insistence that I deserve a good snog (Lily, Marlene, Alice), I still haven't the slightest clue as to what's going on.
I send you all my warmest regards. Mum's driving me mad, as per usual, and I look forward to seeing you all at Kings Cross in a few weeks, provided that you've regained your respective sanities.
To: Moony and Wormtail
Prongs is Head Boy.
I've chosen to listen to my heart, reason, and Marlene's persistent badgering – I know you're not having an illicit affair. But do you see what all these weeks apart do to me? I'm completely unhinged.
Not as unhinged as Dumbledore, of course. Did you get your Hogwarts letter? More importantly, did you get your Head Girl badge? Because my Hogwarts letter says that you're Head Girl. You're probably wondering why my letter would tell me that, but then I suppose it's protocol for the Head Boy to know who he'll be working with.
Did you catch that, Evans? I bet you did, clever thing, you. I'M HEAD BOY. WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME? Sirius will not quit taking the mickey on this one; he's writing to the boys now, and I bet they'll all have a great big laugh about it.
Of course I'm not having an affair, you dolt. I was going to tell you not to worry, that you'll make a brilliant Head Boy, but really, I don't know how you managed it since you're thick enough to convince yourself that I was shagging your mates. Idiot.
Really, though, James, you'll do wonderfully. Dumbledore knows what he's doing, and he wouldn't have given you the position if he didn't think you were suited to it. When you're not so hot-headed, you're really quite fair and you're a fantastic leader. I don't think you've levitated anyone since fifth year, either, so that right there shows at least some modicum of responsibility. I'll be there to help you so even if you do botch it up, well, that's what I'm there for. You're going to be fine. Don't listen to Sirius; he called me a scarlet woman, so it's not as though he's in his right mind, anyway.
As comforting as your words are, I think I'd feel better if you just snogged some sense into me when I see you next week. Yes or yes?
Oh, thank Merlin, now I've got an excuse to snog you. I'm so relieved. How on earth would I have managed snogging my boyfriend without a good solid purpose? You really give my life meaning, you know that, James Potter?
Cheek, Evans. I'll see you in a week.
The Next Week
James stuck his head into Lily's bedroom and found it empty. He took a few steps in and heard a lot of rummaging behind the closet door. "Lily?"
"Right here." Lily stumbled out of her closet, open bottle of champagne in hand, and James was immediately struck by how very naked she was. Oh, sure, the important bits were covered up, but still it was more than a bloke could be expected to take. After staring for a moment with his mouth open, he spun on his heel to stare at the wall, blushing furiously and trying not to think dirty, dirty thoughts.
"Oh, hello, love," Lily said, slurring her words a bit and James wondered how much champagne was left in that bottle. "Sorry, I'm in a right state, aren't I? I thought you were my mum, otherwise I would've stayed in my closet 'til I was dressed."
"You thought I was your mum?" James repeated, a bit incredulously. "Are you telling me I sound like your mother?"
"No, not at all." Lily came up behind him, one of her hands sliding slowly down his arm, and planted a lingering kiss on his cheek. "Your voice is deep and masculine and sends tingles down my spine. How are you?"
"Hmm." James pretended to think about it, still looking determinedly at the wall even though he could feel Lily's breath tickling the back of his ear and her arm slide around his waist to rest against his stomach, which was tied in a million little knots. "Well, I just walked into the bedroom of my half-drunk, half-naked girlfriend, who I've been mad about for years and who I haven't seen in a month, and she's kissing my neck and telling me I make her spine tingly. And did I mention that she decided that it was best to greet me in a state of near-undress? I'm sure I did. So. How do you think I am?"
"Excited, I expect." Lily smirked and nipped at his ear.
"Hit the nail right on the head there, Evans," James said, shuddering pleasantly at her touch.
"I'm quite clever," Lily said, her fingers dancing across his abdomen. "Now why don't you turn around and give me a proper hello?"
James's stomach muscles clenched at the prospect, but he had to refuse. "Why don't you go put some clothes on?" he suggested.
Lily pouted a bit but went back to her closet. "Since when did you become such a gentleman?"
"Since your dad knows I'm in your bedroom," James informed her, "so 'round about five minutes."
"Dad likes you," Lily reminded him as she struggled into her dress.
"Quickest way to get a dad to not like you is for you to do terrible, dirty things to his daughter under his roof," James said, and a flash of Lily in her underthings from just a moment ago burst its way into his brain. "Really terrible things that could only resort in a really terrible death."
Lily smirked and took another swig of champagne. "Scared of my dad, then, are you?"
"We established this last Christmas, Evans," James said, as if exasperated that she could forget. "Your dad's a big bloke, and I quite like having all my limbs attached to my body."
"Ha!" Lily stepped out of her closet, holding the front of her dress up with one hand. "All right, turn around and zip me up, would you?"
James turned and was relieved to find her more or less covered. He sighed deeply as he zipped up her dress, his fingertips grazing the smooth skin of her back. "I'm such a nancy," he decided aloud. "As breathtaking as you look in that dress – even with the distinct absence of any lower back tattoos – my love, I really should be coaxing you out of it, shouldn't I?"
"Well, yes, but as you said, you're quite the nancy," Lily pointed out. She drained the bottle of champagne. "It's all right, though. I've had a momentous amount to drink in preparation for this wedding, so you'll be able to take proper advantage later."
James's stomach muscles squirmed gleefully at the prospect, and he had to restrain himself from acting on impulse right then and there. "You're an inexcusably naughty Head Girl, you know," he told her. "Speaking of said wedding, though, I'm a bit shocked at the dress choice," he went on, flicking Lily's bright yellow skirt. "Your sister isn't particularly sunshine-y, is she?"
"Not at all," Lily agreed, "and Tuney positively despises yellow, as it goes horridly with her hair. That's why I picked this one out, actually."
"Doesn't the bride normally choose the bridesmaids' dresses?" James asked curiously. He was sure that was the way things were done, Wizarding or Muggle wedding notwithstanding.
"I'm not a bridesmaid," Lily said, and she wished she hadn't downed the rest of that champagne, as she could really do with having something to do with her hands right then. "Tuney – well, she's been rather more put-off with me than usual since that dinner in June, so…" She trailed off and hoped James didn't recognize the sadness in her voice.
"Oh." James wasn't sure what else to say, not now that the shame was overcoming him, so fresh and new as if he'd never felt it so poignantly before. This was so not worth the laugh he'd had months ago; he was such an incredible arse. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close. "Oh, Lily, I'm so sorry…"
"Don't be," Lily said, trying to shrug it off as she hugged him back. "Now I've got an excuse to be ridiculously sloshed through the whole thing."
James half-laughed, half-sighed, and buried his face in the lush fragrance of Lily's hair. "You wonderful, absurd girl of mine."
"I rather like the sound of that," Lily said, and smiled against his heartbeat. She liked it so much, in fact, that she was going to have to watch herself if she wanted to prevent a drunken declaration of her undying love for him. This certainly wasn't the time.
"I'm fond of it as well," James said, and grinned against the scent of her hair. He was so fond of it, in fact, that he was going to have to be careful if he wanted to prevent a mad romantic feat that she wouldn't remember in the morning. Champagne kisses were one thing, he thought; proclamations of endless love certainly weren't suited for a champagne-inebriated girl. It just wasn't the time.
The band had barely struck the first note before Lily screamed a little bit, planted a kiss on James's mouth, jumped up from her seat, and ran over to the makeshift dance floor in the Evans's backyard. Bemused and a bit pleased with the tingle on his lips, James turned to Violet and said, "What's she shouting about this time?"
Violet smiled and pointed to where Lily and Ian had started an exuberant dance on the words Come out, Virginia. "Lily heard this song when she came home this summer," Violet explained. "Absolutely fell in love with it, and Ian's always been a Joel fan, so the whole thing sort of spiraled."
"Oh, sweet Merlin…" James couldn't help but laugh and Violet had to join him as they watched the pair on the edge of the dance floor. Between their love for Billy Joel, the amount of champagne they'd had to drink, and their shared ineptitude for dancing, Ian and Lily Evans were quite the picture. As the lyrics progressed and the tempo increased, Ian's loosened tie flung over his shoulder and Lily's skirt swirled around her legs. They were spinning, spinning, laughing, sashaying, dipping and twirling and wagging their fingers and tapping their feet.
You might have heard I run with a dangerous crowd. We ain't too pretty, we ain't too proud. We might be laughing a bit too loud, but that never hurt no one…
They were singing along with the words, cutting a path through the crowd, still spinning and twirling and laughing. Violet's heart swelled as she saw that old twinkle light up her husband's dark eyes. No matter what, she remembered, and she knew that light would never really go out.
You got a brand new soul, and a cross of gold. But Virginia, they didn't give you quite enough information. You didn't count on me when you were counting on your rosary…
If there was room for James to feel anything that wasn't love, adoration, awe, he thought he might have recognized the pain in his face that came from smiling so much. He saw the yellow skirt of Lily's dress spin around her thighs, watched the way her crimson hair flung in one smooth, single sheet around her shoulders, flying momentarily into her laughing green eyes.
They say there's a heaven for those who will wait. Some say it's better, but I say it ain't. I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. Sinners are much more fun… You know that only the good die young.
Everything about her glowed – her eyes, her smile, the energy behind her very being, and James thought he fell in love with her all over again. It was just like the first time, the second time, every time; he thought he'd never stop falling in love with her, and nothing had ever felt more right than that. But of course he couldn't tell her that just yet. They always had later, he told himself again, but this time he couldn't bring himself to believe it the way he used to.
When the song was over and Ian had collapsed, breathless, into the seat next to his wife and Lily into the seat next to James, he wasn't prepared to give her a minute of rest. He looked at her, smiled, held out a hand for her to take, and he said quietly, "We've finally got a bit of music." His eyes were bright, sparkling with that old mischief Lily knew so well. "Dance with me."
Despite her flushed skin and tired limbs, Lily smiled back and slipped her hand into his proffered one, allowing him to pull her up and into his arms. He led her to a corner of the floor and she curled one arm around his neck and nestled her head in his shoulder, sighing deeply as she indulged in his scent and warmth. He was so reassuring, she thought, and relief swept over her as she considered what her day could have been like without him – what all of her days could be like without him. It wasn't something she was eager to experience, and she crossed her fingers that she wouldn't have to. He made her feel so safe, important, like everything was funny and beautiful and right, and she couldn't bear to lose it but she couldn't say it, either, not yet, so she had to settle for something a little less heavy.
"I'm so happy you're here," she murmured, her lips tugging a little on the material of his shirt as she spoke.
James kissed the top of her head and his fingers clutched at her waist. "So am I, love."
A few yards away, Ian and Violet Evans watched their daughter in her yellow dress and the boy with the untidy hair. They watched her green eyes close and the smile that played at the corners of her lips, and they saw his hazel ones sparkle with adoration as he held onto her. It was precisely what they had expected, exactly what they'd guessed, and yet Ian found his heart breaking just a little bit because he knew it meant that Lily would be okay, as long as she was wrapped up in James's arms. That was good, it had been all Ian wanted for her, but it was hard to watch his daughter fall in love. James would be the one she'd run to now, and he'd be the one to make everything okay, the way that Ian used to. It was odd, strange, surreal, to suddenly become second-place, no matter how inevitable or right it was.
Ian sighed and Violet took his hand. The important thing, they both knew, was that it would all be okay, and that was really the only thing they could ask for.
James lay in bed next to Lily, who had fallen asleep at least an hour ago. He hadn't meant to linger so long, but he couldn't help it. He'd helped her out of her shoes and dress, done the gentlemanly thing and insisted that she get in her pajamas (although, true, it had taken a few minutes of heated snogging before he'd pulled himself together), and he'd helped her into bed. He'd kissed her forehead and prepared to depart to Potter Manor, but Lily had caught his hand and she was so warm, and she'd whispered, "Stay," so in the end, how could he go?
He stroked her face, his fingertips dancing over her temple and down her cheek, tracing her jaw, and he wanted to be like this all the time, every night, with her. He kissed her forehead and rolled off the bed; he scribbled a quick note for her to find in the morning and left it on her desk, and then he went downstairs to look for Lily's father.
He found Ian Evans at the end of the hallway in his study. He was at his desk, coughing and shaking some pills out of a bottle, and that was confirmation enough for James. He didn't know the man very well, but James had noticed his exhaustion, the weight loss, so many things that people who did know him would look past, would subconsciously refuse to acknowledge because the people who knew and loved him so well were too afraid to accept that something could be wrong.
James knocked on the doorframe to announce his presence and Ian waved him inside. James took the chair on the other side of the desk and they talked about nothing because they both knew that it was all preamble, that it wasn't why James had come down to Ian's study, and after a quarter of an hour James couldn't pretend anymore.
"Sir?" James said as those fifteen minutes came to a close. "You're – you're sick, aren't you?"
Ian looked across his desk, a little surprised even though he knew this is where they'd been headed. He thought about lying, about shrugging it off and saying he was fine. But as his tired eyes met the bespectacled ones across from him, Ian found that he didn't have the heart to lie, or to even stretch the truth or hide a bit of it.
So he sighed and nodded and he said, "Yes. Quite sick, actually. Lily doesn't know."
James nodded too, silently promising not to divulge Ian's secret until the man was ready to do so himself.
"I thought so," James said. "It's just – I noticed, and Lily said she thought you were tired, overworked, so I thought…" He shook his head. "Sorry. I don't mean to harp on about it, that's not why I came down here."
"That's all right," Ian said. He was actually a little glad that he could drop the charade for a few minutes. "What'd you want to talk about?"
James took a deep breath and rumpled his hair self-consciously. "Right," he said, and he was unmanageably nervous as he delved into his stream-of-conscious speech. "So I know that Lily and I, we haven't been together terribly long – not long enough, really, not the sort of long enough that it takes people to usually think about this sort of thing, but – I figure, well, I can keep putting this off. We always have later, right? But then I thought, we're not always going to have later because things are a mess in our world. Has she told you that?"
"A bit," Ian said. It was true that Lily had mentioned her worries over the years, but in the end neither he nor Violet knew what to do about it. It wasn't their world, no matter how much it may have affected the Muggle one. "We know enough, I think."
"Right." James took another breath and another swipe through his hair. "So that's the thing, then, is that we don't really have forever. I've got to quit kidding myself, because I don't have all the time in the world to put this off. I haven't told her this – in fact, sir, you'll be the first to know for sure – but I love her."
His breath caught a little in his throat as he said it. It felt good, he thought, so good, to finally say it out loud.
"I love her," he said again, marveling at how amazing it felt to hear those words out loud. "I have, I think, for a long time, but I never – I never thought about it too much, because she didn't, I knew she didn't, and that was bad enough without me thinking about it, too. But now I think she might, or she could. And I know we're just kids –" James shook his head, thinking about all the things just kids were expected to handle nowadays – "but I love her so much and I'd do anything for her, and it's really important to me that you know that, sir."
James met the older man's eye, and his gaze was steady and serious and meaningful. "I want you to know that I'm going to keep her safe," he said. "I'll do everything for her, whether I can or not, I swear that I'll find a way to do it. I – I messed up with her, a lot, and I won't let that happen again; I won't make her regret giving me a chance. I want to marry her, someday, soon, and I – I wanted that to be okay with you."
Ian blinked a few times. Once again, it was everything he'd expected, but it was the way that James Potter spilled his guts, the way that his hands were shaking but his voice was steady and sure. He was confident and afraid that it wouldn't be enough. And maybe, by itself, it wouldn't be, but Ian knew that this was precisely the sort of man he'd want to leave this particular daughter with, so he nodded.
"I told you when I met you," Ian said, "that I liked you. I think you're mental and under normal circumstances, that wouldn't fly with me. But everything considered… you know, I think mental's exactly what Lily wants."
James smiled and he felt the weight of the world leave his shoulders, just a little bit, for a little while, but it was all he needed. "I hope so, sir."
"Just promise me one more thing, aside from everything you've already promised." Ian shifted in his seat a bit, steeling himself for words he never wanted to say out loud, but now his hand was forced. "I won't be here when you marry her. So I need you to make sure that whoever walks her down that aisle can give her away, knowing everything that you've just told me. I need them to know that they're leaving her in the right hands. Your hands."
James promised; they shook on it and, five minutes later, he left. Five minutes after that, Ian flipped the light switch in his study and made his way into his bedroom. He lay down next to his wife, who shifted and opened her eyes and said, "Glad to see you getting some sleep tonight."
"Oh, I don't know about that…" Ian's head was still reeling from the conversation he'd just had. "Not after what I just heard, anyway. James Potter wants to marry our daughter."
"What?" Violet's eyes widened. "You're kidding."
Ian shook his head. "I'm not," he said. "He was just in my study and he told me he loved her. Thought he should clear it with me before he told her," Ian continued with a soft chuckle. "Kid's scared out of his mind. Terrified."
"I'm not surprised," Violet said, despite her initial shock at hearing that someone wanted to marry her seventeen-year-old daughter. It was just young, Violet thought, that was all. But then again… "The way he looks at her, it's as if he's in awe. Have you noticed that?"
Ian nodded and they were both quiet for a minute, just looking at each other and wondering, and then Violet said, "It's not just him, is it? I've never seen Lily like this before. I know it's not as if she's ever brought a boy home before now, but all the same…" Violet sighed, trying to put her finger on what she wanted to say. "She just lights up around him, doesn't she? It's like neither of them can believe their luck."
"Sure seems that way," Ian agreed. He'd seen that light in their daughter's eyes, too, and he knew what it meant. "And you know something, Vi, I think it's good," he went on, wrapping an arm around his wife's waist and pulling her close. He kissed the top of her head and thought about it all again, and he came to the same conclusion as he always did.
"You watch them together," he said, and yawned, "and it's like nothing can go wrong."
Lily cried when her father told her. She hadn't wanted to; she'd wanted to be strong, to show him that she'd be okay, but her lip trembled and her vision blurred and being strong just wasn't an option. Ian hugged her and she held on tight, just in case he had any ideas about getting away from her right then and there. She nodded when he said it was going to be okay, that everything would be all right. She wasn't so sure, but she nodded, anyway, because it was what he wanted her to do and she couldn't begrudge him of this, not now when there was no chance, no hope, no redeemable cure. He was sick, irreparably so, and that was the end of it.
She spent her evening alone after that. She went to the park and sat on the swings, nudging herself back and forth, never taking her toes off the ground. She cried a little more, silently, staring at her knees and her shoes, and her teary eyes were so preoccupied that she didn't notice that anyone else was in the park with her.
Severus Snape hovered around under the slide, hidden in shadow. He wondered why Lily Evans was crying but knew he couldn't ask. As much as he hoped that she was crying over a nasty break-up with James Potter, he couldn't fool himself into actually believing it. He'd seen that inflated head, that arrogant swagger, wandering around town with Lily more than once that summer. They were always touching, Snape recalled, and he dreaded what he'd have to endure once they were all back under the same roof in just a few weeks' time. He hadn't dreaded anything for awhile now, and it was a strange feeling. He'd cursed eighteen people that summer, tortured sixteen, killed ten, and none of it made him feel quite the way he felt whenever he saw James Potter take Lily Evans's hand.
He watched that same girl wipe her eyes and leave the swing, her arms wrapping protectively around herself as she made her way home. Snape's eyes never left the spot where she'd sat, and the swing kept swaying, propelled by the breeze, back and forth, back and forth.
They were still at Kings Cross. The war was still raging, lines were still being crossed and double-crossed. People were still fighting and grieving and dying. Sirius was still an outcast, Marlene was still an orphan, Alice was still planning her wedding. Andromeda was still pregnant, Bellatrix was still doing what she had to do, and Narcissa was still anticipating her new role as ringleader. Regulus was still unsure, and Snape was still bitter. Remus and Peter were still those inexcusable bachelors. James was still nervously fingering his Head Boy badge, and Lily was still slapping his hand away before he could accidentally prick himself on the pin. Lily was still prematurely mourning, still worried about what would happen when she got back to Hogwarts. Voldemort was still recruiting, discourse was still spreading. People were still fighting and living and loving. But they were still at Kings Cross, and the train was still boarding, and they were still going back.
A/N: HELLO AGAIN. HERE ARE SOME THINGS:
In regards to the Doctor Who thing… It was 1970s Britain and Lily grew up in a Muggle household. She was totally a Whovian. HEADCANON ACCEPTED.
I checked the Black Family Tree on Harry Potter Lexicon to get the information necessary for the July segment, so PLEASE DO NOT YELL AT ME IF THAT INFORMATION IS INCORRECT because I didn't know. Some of the events described during the Petunia/Vernon, James/Lily dinner was gathered from Pottermore (although I'm still off-canon about the date of the meeting, details of the interaction have been cited by JKR on the website; I did, however, make up the caterpillar-mustache thing all by myself because I am an adult and these are the sort of judicious decisions I make on a daily basis).
I suppose this chapter was rather cluttered, wasn't it? I just had a lot of thoughts and I didn't want the summer to span more than one chapter, so… Le sigh, ah well, such is life. Hope you enjoyed it regardless. See you back at Hogwarts for Chapter 2! –K.