To all you beautiful, beautiful readers - hello again!
A couple of weeks ago I was on the train, and I popped on here to have a look at what was happening with this story after so many years - almost seven since I began it! And I was overwhelmed to see that I'm still getting messages and reviews for this story on a weekly basis. So many of you have become so loyal to this little story with a very stupid title and many embarrassing typos, inaccuracies, problems, etc. and I was so incredibly touched. On the spot I decided I wanted to give something back to all of you who are still reading and rereading and reviewing. And so here, so many years later, is a little epilogue for QotC, set about a year after Lily and James leave Hogwarts. It is, in the spirit of the rest of the story, fluffy and fun, but I hope it is a fitting end.
Honestly, you guys are the best. Thank you so, so much for your reviews, your love, your laughter, your tears, and your proof that Potterheads are the best fanbase in the world. Here's to that genius among women, JK Rowling! And here's to all of you that made me blub on the train because of your beautiful words - thank you, thank you, thank you! I hope you enjoy this as much I enjoyed writing it.
A year or so later...
Fountains of Hair
'I think it's a bad idea.'
'Yes, well, you've told me that already. At great length.'
'Because you're not listening! You're being exceptionally dim about–'
'Merlin, you're gorgeous. Have I told you that before?'
'Don't change the subject–'
'Something about the light in your hair and the green all around…'
'You are unbelievable.'
'Lily, I love you, Lily I do; when we're apart my heart–'
'Oh, shut up, you…'
The witch and wizard were standing on a pebbled path in the bright garden, shielded from view of those in the big house by a convenient hedge. The sun was full in the sky and they were looking at each other from under the shade of their hands; James grinning, Lily trying not to.
Capitulating, she turned, groaning, and rested her forehead against the hedge. 'Stop trying to distract me.'
Moving closer, James rested his head next to hers on the hedge, swivelling to look at her profile. His fingers crept up, brushing her palm, and her hand enfolded them, but her eyes stayed firmly on the leaves. 'Why does it have to be now? Today, of all days!' she said, frustrated. 'Can't it at least wait until after the party?'
James's forehead creased at the last word. They had escaped the house at precisely the moment party preparations had spiralled into madness. While administering herself a revitalising tipple several minutes earlier, James's mother, Euphemia, had discovered that the Firewhiskey they had just taken delivery of from Mundungus Fletcher was actually something more like watered-down dragon bile.
James was still frowning. 'The bloody party. There are bigger things… Don't they understand?'
'Of course they don't.' Lily frowned into the hedge. 'It's your Dad's 70th —of course they don't understand —'
'I know, you're right,' James agreed hastily, placatingly. 'But I've got to tell them, Lil. You know I do. And Dumbledore even said so. We've got our first shift this week. I've put it off for too long.'
'I've been telling you that, too!' Though she generally tried to keep the "I told you so"s to a minimum, very rarely was she presented with so many relevant opportunities to say them. 'Bloody hell, James, I've been telling you that for weeks!'
'I know, I know! I just never… it just never felt like the right moment…'
'And tonight is the right moment? At your Dad's birthday party? What are you going to do? Tack it onto the end of your speech?' Lily whipped out her wand and held it to her mouth like a microphone, speaking flamboyantly into the hedge: '"Fleamont Potter has been an amazing husband and father, has had an illustrious career in the magical haircare business and also, sidenote, I, his only, precious son, have joined the Order of the Phoenix and might get blown up next week. Happy birthday, old man!"'
'Thanks for the inspiration,' James said, his lips quirking. 'Short, sharp, to the poi–'
The sound of a small explosion issued from inside the house, shattering the stillness of the afternoon. James and Lily had already sprinted halfway up the path, wands drawn, before the tumult resolved itself into audibility. From the kitchen windows issued the sounds of Tippy, the Potters' house elf, squeaking with rage, Euphemia yelling over the top of the elf and an unknown man's voice bellowing obscenities.
'How dare Mundungus Fletcher try to ruin Master Monty's birthday party! How dare he, how dare —'
'You get him, Tippy! Whack him in the —'
'Get it orf me, ya barmy witch! Get yer bleeding elf orf me —!'
'One whack for each bottle, Mistress–'
'Leave orf, leave orf!'
'Let me have a go, Tippy —give me the poker —'
Down in the garden, James laughed shakily. 'Just Dung.' He blew out a long breath. 'Should we rescue him? Sounds nasty in there.'
Lily hadn't realised she was holding her breath, too, and did the same. 'I'm sure he deserves whatever he's getting.' Still on high-alert, she winced at a particularly high-pitched yelp. After a few more moments of recovery, they both stowed their wands back in their jeans. 'I can't wait til this party is over,' she mumbled.
Nodding in agreement, James took a hold of her beltloops and drew her into him. 'I'm going to sleep for a week.'
The conversation that had been cut off by Mundungus' arrival —and attack —came back to Lily. She sighed into James' chest. 'Well, you can sleep until Wednesday. Then the Order calls.' She plucked at his lapels for a moment. 'Are you really going to make that speech? Do you really want to tell your Dad you've joined the Order at his birthday party?'
'Think about it, Lil!' Taking her face in both his hands, James gripped her chin imploringly. 'It's an amazing opportunity to recruit for the Order. What if we could inspire some of Mum and Dad's friends at the top of the Ministry to help, or even get some funding —more feet on the ground, more —'
'I know, I agree —I agree! But at what cost? Your parents' heartbreak? So many things have already been sacrificed for the Order, for the cause. Why can't you let this just be a party?'
James' sigh vibrated through Lily's chest. Resting his chin atop her head, he seemed to stare at the hedge for a good ten seconds before saying, 'If I get the chance, I'll tell them before the party starts. Happy?'
Before Lily could kiss him in gratitude, Euphemia's brisk voice carried through the kitchen window again. 'Real, you say? Well, let's fetch those bottles of real Firewhiskey, shall we, Tippy? See if Mr Fletcher still thinks they're real once he's drunk a couple of them.'
'Aw, cripes, woman! All right, all right —'
On the garden path, James and Lily were clutching each other with laughter.
'Merlin,' Lily wheezed, burying her head in James' chest, 'I understand you so much more since meeting your mum; you really come from dramatic stock. You'd bloody well better not make a scene tonight.'
'Make a scene!' James's grin would have made Dumbledore blush. 'Do I ever?'
Fleamont's guests started arriving at seven o'clock, apparating into the front garden or touching down and leaning broomsticks in the broom shelter. In the twilight, the Potters' house looked simultaneously grand and cosy; a big, old country manor, overgrown with climbing roses, wisteria and myriad other magical flowers Lily had never seen before, even in the Hogwarts' greenhouses. Their scents carried on the warm air, wafting into the house as the door opened intermittently with the arriving guests. The windows glowed in jewel tones, flickering with candle light and the movement of people beyond them.
Inside, Lily had taken up station by the gift table; the Potters' regal old dining table had been temporarily shrunken for the purpose. The room the table usually dominated was uncharacteristically open; the first of the revellers flowing into the parlour and the lounge room beyond. Each room was lit by a collection of floating glass globes filled with flowers, greenery and dancing lights. Golden confetti fell dreamily from the ceiling, melting into nothingness inches above guests' heads. Stringed instruments tuned themselves in the corners.
Euphemia hadn't wanted to give Lily a job —'Mingle, darling; enjoy yourself. There's interesting folk coming tonight! You might get some industry connection or other…' —but Lily had needed occupation of some sort and had insisted on manning the gift station. She smiled and greeted, occasionally scanning the swelling party for James. He had gone off to find a quiet spot in which to practise his speech a while back; she hadn't seen him for almost an hour now.
Next in line at the gift table was a little old witch who gave Fleamont what seemed to be a single home-grown strawberry, except that it was the size of ten-year-old child and required several simultaneous lifting charms to heft onto the table. She was followed by a severe-looking wizard with a mane of grizzled hair that gave him the look of a lion. He was surveying the party with strange, tawny eyes. 'Where are the drinks?' he asked gruffly.
'Floating around. Otherwise Euphemia's charmed the fountain in the backyard,' Lily said, taking his gift, wrapped sternly in brown paper. 'Produces whatever drink you want, so long as you compliment the birthday boy first.'
The wizard frowned. 'That's coercion.'
Lily grinned. 'That's birthday spirit.'
A plump little man was next, clutching a bright yellow bowler hat. Lily thought that she had seen him in the papers… a junior minister at the Ministry, maybe?
'Nice bowler,' she said. 'Very bright.'
'Yes, well… you need to have a statement piece in politics,' the man said, looking uncertainly at his hat. 'I've got a pink one and a lime green one as well —I'm trying them out on rotation. Trying to find my look, you know.'
'Good on you,' Lily said encouragingly. 'Our Ministry officials are so old world. How about something even more modern? Pinstripes are very much in with Muggles politicians.'
'Pinstripes, you say?' The little wizard rocked back and forth contemplatively, rotating his lurid bowler. 'Novel idea. I'll have to have a think about it.'
As Lily took his present, something caught her eye in the room beyond —a tall figure with a head of black hair. She was up on her tiptoes, about to call out to James when the next person in line coughed very pointedly.
A young man in salmon-coloured robes was leaning against the table, toying with the ribbon on his parcel. 'Hello there…' he said, drawing the short words out to an unreasonable length. He was startlingly good looking, with a head of wavy golden hair and a set of the whitest teeth Lily had ever seen.
'Gilderoy Lockhart,' he said, and the grin became impossibly wider as he took in the neckline of her gold dress. His tone was so lascivious that Lily was momentarily stumped.
He misunderstood the pause. 'Ah, foiled again,' said Lockhart, lowering his eyelashes coyly, 'I can see it in your face —you've recognised me.'
Lily stared at him blankly. 'What?' He did look vaguely familiar —from school? Yes, he had been a few years above her, now that she thought about it, and in another house. Hufflepuff? Ravenclaw? One of the two.
'I can't go anywhere these days,' he was saying, but he didn't sound upset about it. He ran his hair through his gold locks. 'I'm the face —or should I say, hair —of Sleekeazy's. You'll have seen me all over Witch Weekly.'
He paused to grin again and Lily rather thought he was giving her time to interject with, 'Oh my goodness, you're even better looking in real life!' or something similar. Instead she said, 'Sorry, I haven't had time to read a magazine in months. Congratulations, though. Must be exciting, being a hair model.'
Lockhart wasn't long dejected that she hadn't recognised him, for it was indeed very exciting being a hair model: he began to tell her all about it. 'Fleamont scouted me himself —imagine that! The creator of Sleekeazy's! I was coming out of Skincare Sorcery —you know that new place in Diagon Alley —and he spotted me. Thought my barnet was perfect for the job; said he'd never seen anyone with such a marketable face. It's been my big break. Marvellous. Just marvellous.' He shook his head in wonder; whether at his good luck or highly-marketable good looks, Lily didn't know. Regardless, he was appearing less attractive with every consecutive sentence.
Still leaning against the gift table, one hand on his hip, he stared movingly up at one of the floating globes of greenery and golden light. Then his voice got deeper as he said, ponderously, 'But I don't know how long I'll be able to do it. Hair modelling. Fame is a fickle friend. And there's so much beyond the hair, you know? I've got so much more to give. Who knows where I'll go next?'
'Who bloody knows, mate,' said a loud voice behind him. Sirius Black clapped Gilderoy Lockhart on the back, having cut to the head of the queue of irritated gift-bearing witches and wizards, now substantially longer than when Lockhart had begun his soliloquy.
Although Lockhart must have been at least five years older, he looked at Sirius with undisguised petulance. Prior to Sirius' arrival, Lockhart had been the uncontended best-looking wizard in the room. 'What… what marvellous hair you have,' he said, admiration and resentment in his voice as he eyed Sirius's wig, which somehow managed to look smooth and touselled at the same time. 'What do you use?'
Grinning at Lockhart, Sirius shrugged. 'Water, doxy piss, human blood; all the usual tricks.' Turning his grin on Lily, he cried, 'Lilyput; hello!' He took her head in his hands across the gift table and planted a loud, disgusting kiss on her forehead, which she immediately wiped off. 'Come with me; James wants you in the kitchen.'
'Oh, good! I've been looking for him. Lead on.'
Chortling at the disgruntled look on Lockhart's face as he moved away, Lily followed Sirius through the swelling crowd in the dining room and into the parlour. In the furthest corner of the room a trio of instruments rose into the air, hummed to life and began to play some sort of waltz. Similarly disembodied plates of nibbles and drinks were circulating, nudging guests' elbows to offer their contents. Edging around a group of elderly witches giggling already over glasses of sherry, Lily and Sirius ducked behind the tapestry concealing the door to the kitchen.
Inside was a furore of activity and noise; many of the Potters' friends had been roped in as kitchen hands. Wands waved all over the room, sending trays and garnishes and the random beef wellington flying over their heads. Next to the sink, Euphemia was supervising the self-construction of devilled eggs. Tippy the house elf was standing on a chair, icing the great birthday cake with her tongue poking out the side of her mouth. And next to Tippy was a sight that made Lily crow with delight.
'What on earth are you doing here?'
At the kitchen table, Marlene was gingerly manoeuvring a tomato aspic out of its mold while Emmeline, toying with a sprig of parsley, watched. They both turned, grinning, at the sound of Lily's voice.
'You invited us,' Marlene said, letting the aspic flop with a squelch onto its platter. Emmeline rushed at Lily for a hug.
'I did not,' Lily said, beaming over Emmeline's shoulder. 'You cheeky bastards!'
'Mary's here as well,' Marlene said, now trying to push the aspic back into shape. 'She saw that model —you know, the blond one in the ads —out the window and,' she made air quotes around the next words, '"went to try out the drinks fountain."'
'Dorky, Alice and Frank are on shift with the Order,' Emmeline said, stepping aside as Marlene moved around the table for her own hug. 'But they send their love and all that.'
'Too much mayonnaise!' By the sink, Euphemia was berating her devilled eggs. The cowed mayonnaise spoon dipped itself back into the jar. 'And you be careful,' she warned the egg yolks, now rising out of their white, gelatinous beds. 'Don't you crumble on the benchtop… all in there now. And off you go,' she said, nodding to a whisk bobbing by the bowl. As the whisk took up its task, she turned to Tippy and said worriedly, 'The place is almost full, Tippy. I thought we'd definitely have this all done by this point.'
'But Tippy and Mistress Euphy had to fix the scoundrel Fletcher's skulduggery,' Tippy squeaked, frowning, too, as she piped a rosette. 'Tippy does not mind being late now, for we certainly got him, Mistress!'
Euphemia smiled grimly. 'We certainly did, Tippy. He won't be walking straight for a while, will he?'
'Is it true, Mother Potter? Did you actually knacker Dung?'
The older witch flew around, eyes widening on Sirius, grinning across the kitchen at her. 'My boy!' Beaming, she held her arms out to him and Sirius permitted himself to be hugged. He rolled his eyes at Marlene, his cheeks pinkening with simultaneous embarrassment and pleasure. 'Where have you been?' Euphemia frowned up at him, her own weathered cheek pressed against his arm. 'Riding that stupid motorcycle? Doing dangerous Order things? I've told Dumbledore —I've told him what he's doing with the Order is good and noble, but he's to leave my boys and girls out of it. You lot get into quite enough trouble as it stands.'
James still hasn't told her. Anxiety rose, sharp and constricting in Lily's chest, but Sirius' face was quite serene. He had joined the Order just after his eighteenth birthday, so he had been enduring Euphemia's fussing for a few weeks now. 'Speaking of our lot,' he said, 'Moony sends his love. He would have come tonight, but he's tailing Rookwood. Not sure where Wormtail is…' He frowned. 'Probably hiding in a hole somewhere. He was petrified last week on shift. Apparated home just before we arrived at Dolohov's; said something about needing to wee.'
'Merlin!' Lily clapped a hand to her forehead. 'I completely forgot! How did the raid go? On Dolohov's place? Find anything?'
'Not a heap,' he said, frowning down at the top of Euphemia's head. 'Bit of a waste of time, really.'
'But he's definitely a Death Eater,' Marlene said. 'He's just covering his tracks very well. I'm sure he'll be flying the flag openly soon enough.'
'Stop it, the lot of you,' Euphemia said sharply, turning back to her devilled eggs, which had, by this time, assembled themselves on a crystal platter. 'Can we have just one day without talk of war and raids and Death Eaters? Heavens —it's a party! Talk about broomsticks and music and contraband potions like normal young —oh, Tippy, no!'
Clearly torn between exasperation and amusement, Euphemia was staring down at the top of the birthday cake. 'I said just to put "Happy 70th, Monty" on top!'
Into the small space on the top of the cake the house elf had crammed miniscule words: 'Happy 70th birthday to Master Fleamont Potter, sir, the goodest, noblest, wonderfullest master in the whole of the world'.
'Tippy writes what she feels, Mistress Euphy,' said the elf stubbornly.
'Very poetic,' Emmeline agreed. 'I always thought "goodest" should be a word.'
James' mother and Tippy began discussing a compromise and Marlene and Emmeline returned to arguing about the arrangement of the squashed aspic. Lily searched the crowded kitchen for James, very narrowly avoiding being skewered by a flock of devils on horseback as they zoomed past. On the other side of the kitchen they were herded onto their platter by Mrs Longbottom.
'You said James wanted me?' Lily called to Sirius, who was sneaking icing from Tippy's bowl as house elf and mistress debated. ('It's not an epitaph, Tippy! We don't have to get our last words in…')
'What?' Sirius frowned, hand still in the bowl of icing. 'Oh no, I only said that to get you away from that slimy lech. Lockhead, was it?'
'Lockhart,' Lily said, feeling annoyed and grateful with Sirius at the same time. 'And I don't think we can call him a lech, really. He seems far too astounded by his own good looks to acknowledge anyone else's.' She poked at Marlene's aspic arrangement and got her wrist slapped. 'Well, does anyone where James is? He went off to practise his speech before the party started and I haven't seen him since.'
Marlene was now unmolding a second aspic and Emmeline was too focused on waylaying a tray of mini quiches to hear.
'Padfoot? Do you know where he is?'
Still eating icing by the spoonful, Sirius looked around the kitchen half-heartedly. 'Dunno. I saw him down here before, though. He was complaining about being blocked or something —he might be having a quick p —'
'You filthy boy, get your hands out of that icing!' Swooping down upon him, Euphemia snatched the bowl from his hands.
'See you later,' Lily said to Marlene and Emmeline as Euphemia started preaching hygiene to Sirius. She left the kitchen through the back door, thinking of apparating into the room she was staying in and searching for James upstairs. Save her getting accosted by any more of his mother's "interesting folk" on her way back through the party. Although, she thought with a grin, if Sirius' guess was correct, she'd let James have the bathroom to himself for a while.
Having absorbed a full day of sunlight, the garden was warm and smelled heavenly. Another trio of instruments played down in the grotto, a lovely accompaniment to the chatter and laughter of the party. Couples walked down the pebbled paths and others stood about, talking and admiring the flowers. One such of these couples was so strangely matched that Lily paused in her search, watching with interest. By the champagne fountain, the lion maned wizard had been drawn into conversation with the hair model, Gilderoy Lockhart, who looked to be drinking something purple and sparkling.
'Scrimgeour, you said? Well, Scrimgeour, old fellow, I must insist you try one of these at some point tonight —a Chimaera Fizz. It packs a punch, so don't be fooled by the hue!'
'Or the sparkles,' Scrimgeour muttered, downing his own glass in one.
'Yes, yes, marvellous fountain,' continued Lockhart, as though he hadn't heard Scrimgeour. 'Of course, I know how they've done it. And, I must say, if I had been the one to charm the fountain this Chimaera Fizz would have a bit more life to it, if you know what I mean,' he said roguishly. 'But I wouldn't want you thinking I know better than Fleamont and Euphemia about magic or cocktails, now!' he chuckled, waggling a finger at stone-faced Scrimgeour.
'Your talents must be wasted on —what did you say —hair modelling?' Scrimgeour's mouth curled away from the words, and Lily, stifling laughter, doubted he'd ever said them in that succession in his life.
'Well, yes, I must say they are,' Lockhart said earnestly, swishing back his hair again. 'It's not enough for me anymore. I know I've got it within me to be top of the Ministry, but I've been receiving fan mail, you know, from Witch Weekly readers. I can't be selfish; I've got a following now and I don't know how I could deprive them. Gladys Gudgeon,' he said conspiratorially, like he was imparting some incredible secret, 'said my ads inspired her to divorce her husband. I don't brag about it, but I'm… well… I'm changing lives.' He bowed his head modestly.
Evidently this was too much for Scrimgeour, who pivoted and gave the garden fountain its required sacrifice of a compliment: 'Monty has a fine set of brains —more than can be said about some of his employees. Ogden's Old, please. Make it a big one.'
Muffling her laughter, Lily darted behind a large rosebush before Lockhart could start looking for a new conversation partner.
One of the rosebushes was talking in James' voice.
He was crouched in a gap in the shrubbery under a disillusionment charm. 'I was just looking for you! Why do you look like a rose bush?' It was hard to see under the charm, but she thought he might have been blushing. She grinned. 'Sirius said you were blocked. I thought you might be in the toilet.'
James wrinkled his nose. 'Delicate as ever, old Padfoot. No, I've got writers' block.' He beckoned her closer and dropped his voice. 'I've been trying to find a quiet corner to practise my speech in, but someone or other always finds me and tries to chat. I made a real meal of the last one —this big woman, curly hair, huge bosom —' he mimed something like a cliff protruding from his own chest, 'comes up to me and I could have sworn I'd seen her before at one of Dad's hair regrowth demonstrations, you know, where they take those balding ladies and —'
'Oh no, James —' Lily groaned, squatting down next to him. 'How the hell is that a good thing to mention in any circumstance? Who did she actually turn out to be?'
He had to say it a few times before she caught the whisper. 'Celestina Warbeck.'
'Celestina Warbeck?' Lily nearly split her dress laughing. 'The singing sorceress herself! Oh, James, bravo! That's just brilli —'
'Shhh!' James hissed, pulling her into his lap and covering her mouth. He looked around furtively. 'Someone will hear. I don't know who I'm hiding from more; ol' natural-hair-Warbeck or my mother. Imagine her screeching: "Celestina Warbeck herself in our house and you ask her whether she's balding!"'
'It's your own fault,' Lily said, pushing his hand away and wiping tears of mirth out of her eyes. 'You told me you were pretty much finished with that speech. That's why I let you snog me in the broom shed while you were supposed to be practising.'
'It's my own business if I prefer to snog you in the broom shed,' he said sniffily.
Hiccupping now, Lily took hold of his lapels and smoothed his hair out of his eyes. 'I've been looking for you for hours. And I'm really mad at you!' She gripped his ears punishingly. 'You told me you'd try to tell your parents about joining the Order, but your Mum still has no idea. And you know I trust you with your speech, but, well, you also thought it appropriate to ask Celestina Warbeck if —'
'Point taken.' James' fingers crept up under her hair, cupping the back of her neck. 'And I tried to tell them, Lil —really, I did —but Mum was so riled up about Dung that I couldn't find a moment. But I promise I know what I'm doing. I've been planning this for a while now.'
Lily sighed. 'You know that only makes me more worried, right?'
They spent a few more cosy moments in the rosebush before James apprehensively consented to return to the party. 'I warn you, though, Celestina appears and you're on your own —'
The second explosion of the day shook the entire house. Down in the garden, only twenty metres from where they stood, the champagne fountain had blown apart with a colossal sound, chunks of marble flying into the darkening sky. Tearing her hand from James', Lily spun, looking for whoever had done it, but it was hard to see or hear; screams had erupted across the garden and the air was filled with the sound of wind —or rushing water —or —
'Lily!' It was hard to hear over the tumult of guests whipping past, yelling at each other as they tried to get back into the house, or else apparating on the spot. 'Lil —' A hand tugged at hers and she collided with James' side. He was shaking, pointing at the sky. 'Lil —look!'
Déjà vu hit Lily like a train: she was standing in a garden, looking at a column of —of something rising into the dusky sky. But it wasn't smoke this time… Was it water? It looked a geyser, shooting from the wreckage of the champagne fountain. The geyser reached its zenith and then, like a wave breaking in slow motion, the top curled over and began to rain down on the fleeing guests, whose screaming was renewed with vigour.
It was only then that Lily realised James was laughing. She followed his eyeline downward, towards the rapidly growing pool ringing the wrecked fountain. It was… purple. And sparkling.
'Chimaera Fizz,' James choked, clutching his sides. 'It's Chimaera Fizz.'
Letting go of his arm, Lily stepped forward, still squinting into the darkened garden. Someone was moving down by the geyser, which was still shooting the glittering purple cocktail into the sky.
'Wand out,' she muttered. With a fiddly little wave, a translucent umbrella of silver light shot out of her wand. Behind her, James tapped his head and whispered, 'Impervius.' They started down into the garden, the purple rain falling everywhere but on them. They were going against the flow of sodden revellers, all of whom now looked as if they had raided Albus Dumbledore's wardrobe.
Keeping low to the ground, covered by the sound of panicked party-goers and the thundering geyser, James and Lily slowly approached the bomb site. 'Finite,' James muttered. The alcoholic spring shrank to its normal size. A purple mist still hung in the air, giving the empty garden the look of a mystical, foggy moor, but the absence of the pillar of cocktail made the scene a lot easier to take in.
'Merlin's —' Lily straightened suddenly. 'Mary?'
Now visible through the mist, Mary MacDonald was standing over the body of Gilderoy Lockhart, nudging him with a toe. Pushing wet, purplish hair out of her eyes, she said, 'Lil —James!' in a very cheerful voice for someone standing over a body. 'So good to see you! Was going to come find you just before, but —'
'Bloody hell, Mary–' James exclaimed, hysteria in his voice. 'Is he… is he alive?'
'Oh yes, I think so,' Mary said, putting out a hand to help them scramble over the fountain rubble toward her. Lily crouched by Lockhart's side, dropping her ear to his mouth. Breath tickled it; she exhaled with relief.
'Do you really think I wouldn't check that?' Mary said irritably as Lily stood up, brushing marble dust on her dress.
'You were prodding him with your foot when we saw you,' James said. He swept his wand through the air and with a low, rushing noise, the fragments of fountain rose up and reconnected. 'What the hell happened here?'
As the last piece of fountain sealed itself seamlessly into place, Lily became aware of the rising tide of sound reaching them from the backyard. Having ascertained that there was no real danger, guests were starting to creep back outside to see what had happened. As she watched, others were pushing past the watchers; she could see Sirius, Marlene, Emmeline, Scrimgeour and Euphemia among them.
Emmeline reached them first, wand outstretched and chest heaving. 'What's —how —who —'
Sirius and Marlene skidded to a stop on either side of Emmeline, tension in every line of their bodies. They spoke over the top of each other; 'We heard a bang —'
'Couldn't get out —'
'Everyone was trying to get in —'
Marlene's gaze fell on Lockhart's feet in their dragonhide Oxfords, poking around the side of the fountain, and her eyes widened. 'Is there a body back there? Is someone dead?'
'Someone's dead?' Euphemia's voice carried down the rise as she made her way, much slower than the others, toward them. Her face was pale grey. 'Who's dead?'
'No one's dead.' Scrimgeour had rounded the fountain and was staring down at the prone form of the hair model. 'Probably safer dead than alive, though, this bloke. Absolute idiot. Enervate,' they heard him mutter. Lockhart's shoes twitched and he gave a great spluttering cough and a groan. There was an audible sigh of relief from those in the immediate vicinity. Sirius and Emmeline visibly relaxed and Marlene lowered her wand with a deep exhale.
'What on earth happened, then?' Euphemia was looking from Lockhart's shoes to Mary and back again, her hand fluttering at her throat.
'Well, he, er,' Mary began, glancing shiftily around at them all. It rather looked like she was trying to supress a grin. 'We were talking… and he told me he'd get me a cocktail —said he could make me the best cocktail I'd ever had —but that it needed a tweak. So he…' Her eyes sparkled and she gave a sudden snort of laughter, then clapped a hand over her mouth. 'Well, it rather sounded like he made up a spell —something between a strengthening charm and an engorgement charm…' She shook her head, biting her lip to stop from laughing. 'I'm so sorry,' she said to Euphemia, still fighting back a grin behind her hand. 'I know I shouldn't laugh —it's Mr Potter's birthday, your fountain —but this bloke, honestly... I've never met someone so stupid in my life.'
'I second that,' Sirius muttered, raking a hand through his hair. 'Was it a Chimaera Fizz? What a prat.'
The crowd had spilled down onto the lawn by this point. Scrimgeour's proclamation that all was well had carried in ripples up to the house, and now the party-goers were laughing in relief, exchanging looks of mingled anxiety and amusement. Others were shaking their head in disgust, trying to siphon the purple liquid off their finery.
Lockhart's voice floated around the side of the newly-repaired fountain. 'Where's that girl I was talking to?' He sounded a bit like a petulant child. 'She was going to try my cocktail, I'm sure she wouldn't have gone far —'
'You blew up the fountain, you idiot,' Scrimgeour growled. 'Scared half the party away.'
'So she didn't get to try the Fizz? Oh dear, she will be disappointed.' Lockhart sighed deeply, and then exclaimed, 'Good Lord, look —my best robes!' Lily tilted a few inches to her right, just enough to see him examining his formerly salmon robes, so drenched with his disastrous cocktail that they were now stained a uniform purple. After a moment's horrified contemplation, his face broke into a sudden wide smile. 'You know what,' he said slowly. 'I rather like it. What colour would you call this? Mauve? Lilac? I bet it looks just magical with my hair…'
An hour later the terror of the fountain incident was forgotten, and the whole thing had become a highly amusing anecdote that guests were tirelessly retelling, each time with some new embellishment. All that remained of the embarrassing event was a rather unvarying colour theme of dress robes: the Chimaera Fizz seemed rather reluctant to part company with clothing.
The great birthday cake —the writing upon which was truncated to read 'Happy 70th to the wonderfullest Monty in the world' —was cut, toasts were made and glasses of sherry were now floating amongst the revellers. Most of the party had gathered in the house to chat, or otherwise listen to a parlour performance of some of Celestina Warbeck's most popular tunes.
Tucked into a corner of the room, behind a great, breathless gaggle of Celestina's diehard fans, Lily was sharing an armchair with Mary. She was dividing her attention between Celestina's performance, her conversation with Mary, and James, who was at the other end of the room, inclining an ear to a young red-haired wizard. Lily thought she recognised him from school —Weasley, or something. Next to him, James looked very serious and grown up, despite the lurid splashes of purple cocktail on his dress shirt.
'He hasn't told his parents about joining the Order yet?' Mary was saying, aghast. 'Bloody hell, Lil. My parents are Muggles and even they freaked out when I told them.'
'I know,' Lily muttered. Over near the front door, James was now talking animatedly to Weasley and Scrimgeour, who had joined the conversation. 'He's giving a speech later on. I'm worried he's going to announce it then. He didn't promise me that he wouldn't.'
'I dunno…' Mary said slowly, tapping her foot so that Lily, wedged in next to her, bounced slightly with the movement. 'Certainly could be a good opportunity to get new recruits for the Order.'
'That's what James said,' Lily sighed, watching as he debated something with Scrimgeour, his hands gesticulating wildly. 'I wonder what that bloke Scrimgeour does. James was talking about funding for —'
'Oh Merlin,' Mary muttered suddenly, poking Lily in the side. 'Are you watching Celestina?' Mary was grinning. 'Watch her, go on.'
Tearing her eyes away from James with some difficulty, Lily focused her attention on the singing sorceress. Lily had never seen the woman perform before, but wondered if she usually entertained with such a dirty expression on her face, or drank so much Firewhisky between verses.
Mary had noticed, too, and was grinning gleefully. 'She's on her way to getting properly drunk. And is it just me, or is she giving your sweetheart the evil eye?'
'I think you're right,' Lily whispered, biting back a laugh. 'You won't believe what James said to her before. I'll tell you in a moment…'
It was presently the instrumental bridge of a particularly upbeat, jazzy song, and Celestina's incongruously narrowed eyes were following James' progress across the room over the top of her third glass of spirits. The interlude ended and she very pointedly fluffed her voluminous curls, resuming the chorus with a scowl:
'Call me a minx, or worse; a jinx, a curse. Your dream and your nightmare all at once…'
A few songs – and drinks – later, when Celestina had started replacing the lyrics of 'A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love' with very pointed insults at James, Euphemia stepped onto the podium and gently but firmly manouevered her into the kitchen for a sobering cup of tea.
As the tapestry fell over the kitchen door, Celestina could be heard to slur, 'I'm not bald, hic, I mean, drunk, you know!'
The trio of instruments that had been accompanying her hovered indecisively for a moment, as if trying to figure out what to now that their frontwoman had left, and then launched into another piece of their own accord.
As Celestina's disappointed audience dispersed about the cosy, candle lit room, seeking the warmth of the fire, a squashy armchair or another bit of birthday cake, Lily told Mary how James had mistaken Celestina for an attendee at a hair-regrowth demonstration. Their laughter soon gathered a little group around them. By speech time, Sirius had just joined in and the story was in its fifth retelling.
'…so James looks her up and down, and then he says —'
'Hello all —can I please have your attention —quiet, please —'
Lily broke off mid-sentence, her laughter dying in her throat. James was at the front of the room, standing on the podium Celestina had just evacuated, batting down applause. Her heart seemed to be crawling up her throat.
Someone at the back of the room wolf whistled and James winked roguishly at them. 'Is that you back there, Benjy Fenwick, you gorgeous thing? Can't see you all… wait a moment.' With one long stride James leaped onto the dining room table so that he could survey the whole room. 'Much better.'
The room gradually quietened and Lily's eyes flicked to James' parents, standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the fire. They were shaking their heads at James' theatrics, but looked peaceful and happy just the same. Unknowing that their son was about to announce something that could change their lives forever. Trust him, Lily told herself, breathing shallowly as she wiped her sweating palms on the skirt of her dress. You have to trust him.
'Cheers to you all,' James said, grinning, raising his drink. 'Thanks for coming. I'll be representing the family with a few words to honour of this occasion, but I promise I'll be brief. Er, I'd like to quickly thank the, er, beautiful and talented Celestina Warbeck —'
'Don'choo, hic, try to charm me, Jamsh Pooter,' came the loud, drunken voice of the singer. 'You great big wan —'
'Yes, thanks, Celestina.' Grinning shiftily, James spoke over the titters of the crowd. 'And, er, thanks also to all those who have helped prepare for today —the cooking, the decorations, the, er, adjustments to the cocktail fountain…'
'Ha ha, yes, that was me,' Lockhart boomed jovially over the whoops of laughter and applause. 'Call me Gilderoy Lockhart, hair model and prankster! Think I'll put that on my business cards. Want one? Here —I've got a stack, signed them just for the occasion…'
Up on the dining room table, James looked torn between amusement and disgust as Lockhart handed out his business cards. 'Alright, alright, shut up, all of you…'
When the hubbub had quietened and all faces were once again turned toward the front of the room, James nodded. 'Right, thanks. Onto the sappy bit.' He slid his empty hand into his pocket and rested his glass against his chest, looking over at his father, who was now holding Euphemia by the mantelpiece. 'My Dad, Monty Potter, is a superlative specimen of wizardkind. He's built a haircare empire with a revolutionary product —I'm sorry that I don't use the stuff, Dad, but I've told you a million times, it's my look. Lil would lose it if I tamed these glorious locks.' Lily shook her head reprovingly as he rumpled his hair with relish.
The titter of the crowd died away and James' smile gentled somewhat. 'But much more than that, Dad has been a superlative husband and father. I know you wanted to have around twenty children, Mum, Dad, but I've been honoured to receive all the love and attention usually lavished on twenty kids. Granted I've had to share the love with Sirius the last few years, great prat that he is, but it seems that the more our family grows the more love there is, instead of it being used up.'
'Hear, hear,' called Sirius, from somewhere to Lily's left.
James grinned. 'I can't deny that your unwavering love and faith has given me a big head —that's all your fault —I should have used that excuse during all those detentions back at school…' More laughter, more applause, and then his face became sombre once again. 'But I think that if there is any goodness in me —if I'm at all kind or loving myself —it's because of the love you gave me. Unrelenting, sacrificial… unyielding.'
He gripped his drink more tightly, gazing in the direction of his parents. 'If I have a son, I want to be the father to him that you were to me, Dad. I want him to be proud of me, like I am of you. You have sacrificed so much for us. I want to lay down my life in love for my family, like you have done so many times.'
People around Lily shifted, covertly raising handkerchiefs to eyes and noses. A dumpy little wizard to Lily's right sobbed audibly. Her own throat was burning, too. She wanted to simultaneously cry and laugh, because James was just the sweetest, most lovely thing she had ever seen, standing solemnly on the dining room table covered in purple cocktail stains.
'Contemplating my parents over the last few weeks has inspired an unprecedented kind of decisiveness in me, actually.' He spoke conversationally, but Lily's throat tightened. Shifting slightly, she chanced another glance over at Euphemia and Fleamont, arm in arm as they watched their son. Fighting the urge to jump onto the table next to him and change the subject, she clasped her hands and steeled herself. Would Euphemia cry? Would Fleamont storm out angrily?
'The big things in life happen randomly. Sometimes,' James nodded towards his parents again, 'much later than you would like. Sometimes,' his gaze shifted to Lily, 'sooner than you'd expect.'
She tried to smile at him supportively, but her lips quirked into a grimace. Would he also dob her in as having joined the Order? This struck Lily as an important thing to have discussed prior to this speech. Bloody hell.
Grinning back as though he knew what she was thinking, James gestured down to her, calling out to the room, 'my girlfriend, everyone; you may have met her, the dazzling redhead down here. Apparently the model who blew up the fountain was chatting her up before and I don't blame him, but she's thoroughly off the market.'
'He's talking about me again,' Lockhart said in a carrying whisper. 'Hair of Sleekeazy's, I'm sure you've seen the ads…'
Sirius' equally carrying whisper returned, 'Shut it, you great lilac twat.'
But it was as though James had not heard the interjections or the laughter that followed them. He was staring down at Lily, his face inscrutable with some sudden, fierce emotion. 'Lily Evans…' he murmured. 'You are the most remarkable thing…' He was speaking in a low, intimate voice. It was the way he spoke when they were alone; they way he spoke that raised the sensitive hairs on the back of her neck before he even touched her. It was so deep and warm and fierce that Lily momentarily forgot the rest of the party. Her lips were parted, her wide eyes on his, the most wonderful eyes in the world.
Again, it was as if he had read her thoughts. 'Look at those eyes…' he murmured. 'Our kids had better have those eyes...' He trailed off into silence, his gaze hot on her face.
Beginning to feel distinctly warm, Lily was now fighting off a daydream where she climbed up next to him, took two handfuls of that stupidly wonderful hair and pulled his mouth down to hers for the kind of kiss that would cause the older guests to faint. Dizzily she shook it off, reddening with embarrassment. Where the hell are you going with this, you loon? Toast your father and get off the table.
It seemed the crowd shared Lily's sentiments. Around her, the audience was shifting in discomfort. An old wizard with an ear trumpet at the back of the room shouted to his wife, 'what's happening now, Petra?'
'Monty's boy is making cow eyes at his ladyfriend,' Petra shouted back. 'Hush up, Flemington; I want to hear what happens next.'
Titters ran through the room again and the pulsing cord of energy that connected Lily and James was abruptly broken as he looked away from her. Lily drew in a shaky breath, blushing and averting her eyes. Unembarrassed, James was grinning across at Petra and old Flemington.
'Yes, yes, fair enough. I've really only got one thing left to say anyway.' The look on his face drew everyone's eyes. He was serious now, more serious even than he had been when talking about his father. 'Watching my Dad and my Mum love each other for the last twenty years has shown me what I fundamentally want from life. They've shown me who I want to be and who I want to be with.' His gaze moved to Lily and, with the speed of a light switch, that cord of communion was pulsing again between them. 'And it's you. It's always been you.'
There was an intensity in James' gaze now that made Lily's hand shake when it moved to brush a tendril of hair from her cheek. His eyes followed the movement and his own fingers tightened around his glass. He swallowed and then words spilled from his mouth in a sudden rush of energy. 'I know we're so young, Lil, but… but these are crazy times. Scary times. I don't want to miss out on a moment with you. I want to —I want to be with you forever, tied to you as tightly as is humanly or magically possible, for as long as we —as long as I —' His voice broke and he fumbled, losing momentum.
Breathing shallow in her chest, heart thumping in her ears, Lily barely heard Sirius' voice sound somewhere behind her. 'What are you trying to say, mate? Get it out.'
There suddenly seemed to be an excess of energy in James' limbs. With quick, deft movements, he set his glass on the table and jumped to the ground. The few people still standing in front of Lily backed away as he strode to her, reaching for her before he was close enough to touch. She was frozen, staring at him, waiting, waiting, as though what he did next could be the end of her, or the beginning. And then he pulled her out of the chair she was sharing with Mary, and he had her by the waist, his fingers digging into the gold dress, staring down at her. She could feel the heat of him through the inches of air and clothing that separated them.
'Lily,' he said softly, and there was a tremor in his voice. 'I want to bind myself to you. I want to bind you to me.' He kissed her forehead and her eyes slid closed. 'Marry me, Evans. Will you —will you marry me?'
A violent trembling had begun in Lily, and her arms had looped around James' neck, and they were indecently close for a 70th birthday party, but it didn't matter. She couldn't think, could barely breathe, but elation was filling her stomach, making her feel giddy and dizzy and nauseated and weightless all at once. And then she said faintly, 'Yes, please.'
And the rest of the party, which seemed to have been collectively holding its breath, burst into violent applause. Whoops and cheers and joyous laughter filled the air, and even the golden confetti raining from the ceiling seemed to be dancing in the candlelight.
'And you only had to ask once, mate!' Sirius' voice roared over the noise. 'Bloody brilliant!'
James and Lily swayed on the spot, and it was if the sound of their audience was ringing in another world entirely.
'Really?' James' lips trembled on the word, his eyes wide as though he couldn't quite understand what she had said. 'You'll —you'll marry me?'
'I've been stupid enough to say no to you too many times before,' Lily said, grinning up into his face. 'I love you,' she muttered fiercely, squeezing his neck. 'I love you so much. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.'
His mouth swooped down on hers then, and they really gave the crowd something to cheer about.
Much later, when overnight guests had been shown to their rooms and everyone else had disapparated or flown off home, James and Lily were entwined in an armchair by the fire. The house was still and quiet and warm, and the firelight was playing off the party debris scattered about the room. Lily was watching James as he played with her fingers, lying in his lap —it was one of the few moments when he wasn't watching her with that disbelieving, electrified look in his eyes —and a sense of complete contentment had settled over her. How could one person contain so much joy? It felt like no matter what happened from now on, she could be happy. No matter what happened. Suddenly, she remembered something.
'You still haven't told your parents about joining the Order, have you?'
James looked up guiltily. 'I, er, I meant to, but my mind was clearly elsewhere...'
Lily sighed, grinning. 'Merlin, James. Will you ever learn?'
He grinned back at her, eyes flashing in the firelight. 'Probably not.'