Author's Notes: Written in honor of Lily's birthday. This one's a bit different in tone and content than my usual, but never fear-still a healthy dose of Lily/James at the end. Enjoy!
For Better or Worse
When Lily was seven, she was married to her sister Petunia beneath a half-dying oak tree in their small back garden wearing their father's old dinner jacket and a dusty, black top hat.
It was a beautiful day for a wedding, all sunlight and big, puffy clouds. The guests arrived promptly at noon, and were soon lined up in neat little rows, split on either side of the narrow aisle of summer-greened grass and dandelion weeds Petunia had meticulously constructed. The groom's side (and Lily was, of course, the groom) consisted of an unkempt group of stuffed animals and the occasional doll whose hair could never quite lie flat. In contrast, a collection of pretty, pristine Barbie dolls filled the bride's many pews, one shining, plastic face smiling as brightly as the next as the bride walked primly down the aisle to the sound of Lily's diligent humming.
The ceremony was brief, and perhaps not particularly thorough. With their uncooperative cat, Whiskers, playing vicar, the wedded couple had to take what they could get. Wrapped in an old, lace tablecloth that dragged on the ground when she walked and billowed like a tent when she twirled, Petunia was the perfect blushing bride and recited her vows with much feeling and emphasis. Lily dutifully repeated the hissed words her sister fed to her afterwards and grinned as Whiskers (sort of) declared them man and wife. The girls smacked lips with childish giggles and danced about the garden as their guests whooped and cheered, but the wedding abruptly ended when Mrs. Evans called them in for lunch.
It wasn't the only time Lily would get married, but it was special, the very first.
When Petunia became engaged, Lily was seventeen, home for Christmas, and asked her sister for an annulment.
"What?" Petunia snapped, her narrowed eyes darting across the Evans family dinner table. On her left ring finger, her new engagement ring twinkled in the dim light.
"An annulment," Lily repeated, pushing peas around her plate with her fork. "You can't possibly marry Vernon while already married. That's bigamy."
"What are you talking about?"
"Scandal. Sacrilege," Lily whispered, and scooped up a decidedly aged Whiskers from where he lay snoozing contently on the floor by her feet. She cuddled the cat against her shoulder. "I'm telling the vicar."
"No pets at the dinner table," said Mrs. Evans.
"Talk about sacrilege," Petunia scoffed. "You're a witch. You can't set foot in a church. They'll burn you."
"They can try," Lily said.
"Girls." Mr. Evans glanced up from his newspaper. Barely. "Eat."
Petunia turned to their mother. "See? This is why I wanted to have the wedding in the spring before she gets home. She's going to turn the entire thing into some sick farce with her blasphemous cult and her stupid tricks! The Dursleys are good people, Mum! They're not—"
"The Dursleys," Lily cut in, "are dull."
"Petunia! Lily! Girls!" Mrs. Evans slapped a hand against the wooden table and her daughters quit arguing. "That's enough! Lily, put Whiskers back on the floor and quit baiting your sister. Petunia, the wedding will be in summer, your sister will attend, and the Dursleys will be happy to have her there. Honestly. I don't know what's gone wrong with the two of you. You're sisters."
"For better or worse," Lily murmured, giving Whisker's nose one last cuddle, blinking back something that she knew couldn't be tears because she wouldn't let them be tears. She knew better than that by now.
"She's not a bridesmaid," Petunia ordered stubbornly, unrelenting. "She can come, but she's not a bridesmaid."
"Petunia," Mrs. Evans warned, but it was too late, and they all knew it.
Lily left for school the next day.
When Petunia got married—for real this time, without a vicar-cat or a groom-sister—Lily was eighteen, not a bridesmaid, and possibly in love.
"Apparently I am a magician," James announced when he found her, tucked away in a neat little corner of the neat little catering hall filled with neat little families that no longer felt like her own. He was carrying two drinks and extended one out to her. "An amateur magician, even."
Lily glanced up, taking the flute of something—Merlin, she hoped it was alcoholic—and scooting over slightly so he could join her on the trim, little ledge she'd made her perch. He squatted best he could, but Lily's boyfriend-possibly-love was all legs and arms and lank and they never quite cooperated in perching, much as his hair never quite cooperated in tidying, and much as his big heart, stupid grin, and seemingly infinite faith never quite cooperated in her letting him go.
She took a long sip from the flute.
Thank Merlin. Champagne.
"Amateur, you say?" She drained the remaining liquid in one, quick swig, placed the empty glass on the floor. "However will you support us?"
"I'll make due somehow." He passed his flute to her, as well. She didn't drink it, but liked the feel of it in her hands. "All right?" he asked.
Lily considered the question thoughtfully, mulled over possible answers in her head. Across the room, she saw Petunia—resplendent in a fitted, ivory wedding gown that trailed across the floor as she moved—dancing with her new husband, all polite smiles and perfunctory movements. Lily's parents looked on with pride, and the Dursleys crowded the buffet.
She'd barely spoken a single word to any of them.
Glancing back over at James, Lily threw him a strained smile and said, "They're not really married, you know. She married me first."
James's eyebrows lifted with silent questions that he didn't ask. He didn't have to. Lily took slower slips of champagne as she told him the story of the day she married Petunia, young and foolish and blissfully happy before a sea of beloved toys and a grouchy cat that Lily had cried for three days over when he finally passed away in the spring. James listened without interrupting, let her go on and on about nicking the tablecloth from Mum's best set and finding the top hat in a trunk in the attic and even the silly, girlish kiss exchanged between sisters, a memento of the day and of their link and of the sorts of secrets and summers sisters shared before that one summer and that one letter that seemed to change everything. It was so far away from this day and this reality and this wedding that Lily was so obviously far removed from.
She was crying by the end of it, big, gulpy, ugly tears that were torn from her chest and couldn't be controlled, a raging sea of pent up emotions she'd kept inside for far longer than she ought have done. At some point, James took her into his arms and she sobbed the rest of the story into his chest—though by then it wasn't really a story, just garbled words and wretched thoughts about how this was really the end, about how her sister was really gone, if she hadn't been already. Mostly she cried because even as she cursed Vernon Dursley for being the groom who'd replaced her, Lily remembered the look in Petunia's eyes as she gazed at her new husband before the vicar at church, remembered the way she beamed and blushed and looked happier and more triumphant than Lily had ever seen her. Petunia had found her place and Lily was finding hers and those places were so incredibly far from one another.
Lily was so resentful of it and yet so grateful for it at the exact same time.
"I don't have siblings," James said after she was finally through, rubbing a soothing pattern against her back and cradling her head in the crook of his neck. "I mean, I have Sirius, but I don't reckon siblings of choice are quite the same. I don't know why your sister is the way she is. I don't know why things had to turn to such rubbish between you. I can't make it better, but I can tell you in absolute honesty that I would choose you as my groom in every case scenario over Vernon Dullard Dursley, every single time."
Lily snorted, letting the wet sound catch against the thick cloth of the Muggle suit she'd forced him to wear, fingered the tie that he still had so neatly knotted about his neck. He looked so prim and proper, a product of yet another Petunia Evans—Dursley —wedding reception. But he was on Lily's side of the aisles, another doll whose hair just couldn't lie flat, so she pulled at the bit of silk until the noose loosened and James looked a bit more like himself.
"I don't know if I'd choose you," she said, tucking her head back against his shoulder. "You'd probably look really rubbish in a wedding gown."
"You've seen me in bed sheets," James replied. "Didn't have any complaints then, did you?"
He dug a few protesting fingers into her stomach and Lily squirmed, giggling.
"All right! Fine! I'd probably choose you...half the time."
James grumbled low in her ear, something about liars and minxes and his incredibly fine shoulders, but he didn't press her further and he didn't untangle his body from hers and Lily thought that maybe, just maybe, one day, in a different place surrounded by different people, she wouldn't mind donning her dinner jacket and top hat once more if it meant James Potter would be the one marching down the aisle towards her, wedding gown, lace tablecloth or bed sheet floating gracefully along behind him.
She laughed again, suddenly soothed.
"Come on," she said, tucking her hand in his and taking a long breath. "Let's go make a spectacle of ourselves on the dance floor."
James hesitated. "Sure?"
Lily glanced back over at the mostly empty space in front of the poorly-tuned band where Tunie had taken up dancing with their father and Vernon was promenading his mother about the floor. She wouldn't be welcome in their number, she knew; would probably be shot nasty looks and prodding stares if she attempted it. But once upon a time, Lily had been the one twirling her sister about, celebrating a day so similar and yet so different from this one. So much more than distance separated them from that, but the distance was one thing she could do something about, while the rest would just be left up to fate.
She might have taken to hanging about amateur magicians, but there was no magic solution to fixing this.
She gripped James's hand tighter, gave him a nod and said, "I want to go dance with my sister."
He nodded. "All right."
And so they went. For better or worse.