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Chapter 16: Shift.
I’d half expected to fall into some sort of blissful high after boxing day, but instead of anything that dramatic it just felt like a positive haze had fallen over my vision: I was beginning to enjoy being back at home again, being with my parents and spending time with Petunia and Vernon (albeit most of the time spent with Petunia and Vernon was spent trying not to laugh, because James seemed to have taught me how to find them amusing rather than irritating). Now I was caught between wanting to stay at home forever, where there was tedium but also safety and the remaining members of my family, and returning to Hogwarts to rediscover it wasn’t the home that it had always been before this year had begun.
At least I could rediscover that with James by my side, because now his presence was obligatory and accepted rather than an added bonus. Now I knew where we stood. We were together.
And I hadn’t started freaking out about that yet.
“I’ll be back home for Easter,” I told Mum as I ate the rest of my cereal in a rush, “it won’t be that long, not really.”
“And will James be visiting again at Easter?” Petunia asked primly, her lips taunt in a pout as she regarded me. I hated the way that she always seemed to have arranged her expression into distaste as she looked at me. It seemed like, at the present moment, my sister was the only thing stopping me from truly feeling happy.
Which is probably why I said it.
“Hopefully,” I returned, “maybe then you could tell Vernon about magic.”
Petunia let out and odd squeaky noise and my mother put down her cup of tea very quickly.
“Why would I tell him about that?” Petunia asked, turning her hawk like gaze on me. It was sort of horrible, how much she resented me – not that I ever did much to make her change her mind. “I don’t need you to ruin my life.”
“Well,” I said, “better now than later. There’s obviously something magical in our blood, what if you popped out a baby wizard? Then what would you say to him?”
“Can that happen?” Petunia sounded horrified, her voice coming out so quietly that I could barely hear.
“Oh yeah,” I said, taking another sip of my tea and smiling, “happens all the time. In fact, it’d probably be unusual for you not to have a magical kid.”
Petunia had turned an interesting shade of white and began staring at her breakfast. She looked sick. It was a mark of how truly and utterly she hated magic, because I genuinely thought that she was seconds away from fainting.
“Stop messing with your sister,” Mum reprimanded, “it doesn’t work like that at all, does it Lily? You told me and your father all about it after your second year. But, really Petunia, you should be honest with him. He is your fiancé.”
It took a few minutes for Petunia’s face to regain its usual colour.
“Take the rubbish out before you go.” Petunia spat, scraping her chair back horrible and leaving the kitchen without looking back. I couldn’t decide whether that was satisfying or not.
“Lily,” Mum said, taking my unfinished bowl of cereal and almost throwing it in the direction of the fridge, “do you have to be so beastly towards her? You know she’s sensitive about magic. Your father would hate to see you bickering like this. I don’t see why you can’t both just get along.”
I wanted to say that wasn’t fair. Our father knew that we didn’t get on, couldn’t get on, and instead continued to irritated and wind each other up. He knew that. Why would he have expected anything better in death? But the shame of being essentially told off was burning on my cheeks – I felt like a little kid, rather than an adult, and had to resist the urge to shove my hands in my pockets and stomp up to my room.
“Sorry.” I managed grudgingly, slipping out of the room to take out the rubbish like Petunia had asked. Recently, she'd taken to not allowing me to do anything around the house - as if, by not being around for half the year, I would be rendered incapable of doing so. If only Petunia wasn’t such a magical-prude then we could get along just fine, but the problem was she was so averse to everything that I was and... well, what was I supposed to do about that? Not perpetuate it, for one, I supposed.
The rubbish was kept in the utility until bin day, where one of us would drag the black bags out to the front of the house before they were collected. Petunia’s punishment wasn’t a particularly harsh one – I’d handled much worse thing that rubbish bags in potions (and I’d have told her that, if I hadn’t wanted to avoid upsetting Mum even more).
There were more bags of rubbish than usual which I mostly blamed on Uncle Charlie and Vernon’s combined efforts to produce as much crap as possible, combined with the Christmas waste. I roughly planned out that it might be doable in two trips to the front door and back – which given the size of house was never going to be too far away – and picked up one of the bags by the next. It was heavier than I’d expected and there was a slight ‘clink’ as the contents of the bag shifted. I let it fall back to the floor, blinking at the several ‘clinks’ that had a disturbing resemblance of glass.
I crouched down and put my hand into the bin, my fingers easily curling around the neck of a glass bottle. Just a bottle of wine.
There was nothing about a few bottles of wine to be worried about, given it was Christmas there was no doubt that more alcohol had been consumed in the house. It was nothing to get stressed about. And yet I thrust my hand further into the depths of the bag and retrieved another bottle, and a fifth and a sixth and a seventh. I swallowed, testing the weight of the next rubbish bag. I picked up each of them in turn, anticipating and being rewarded with that familiar clink – as though whoever had hidden these bottles had thought that, if they were spread out across all four rubbish bags, no one would notice.
Petunia stood in the doorway of the utility, her arms folded over her chest as she looked at me – squatting in the floor with my hand elbow-deep in a rubbish bag. Her expression didn’t change. She merely looked at me for a few more seconds and then turned her back.
So that was the real punishment for teasing her, being forced into finding this – and I hadn’t even decided what this was – all because of some stupid little comment. I hated her. I pulled out bottle that I’d been clutching before I registered her arrival, my heart sinking further in my chest as I read the name printed on the label of the bottle: Sherry.
My landing in Kings Cross wasn’t as smooth as anticipated, determination to get away non withstanding, and as a result I appeared on the platform late, lugging my trunk behind me as I headed for the train. Given the state of the wizarding world and the events that had occurred on the platform in September, I wasn’t surprise to see that it was virtually empty, but it was a surprise to see James stood hovering on the edge of the platform - waiting for me.
A good surprise though, not the sort of surprise when you’re going to take the bins out and your sister decided to throw it in your face that your mother may or may not have a drink problem. Not that sort of surprise at all.
“Lily,” James grinned, stepping off the train to meet me, “I was beginning to think you were just going to skip the rest of seventh year to avoid me.”
“Now, James,” I said with a smile, “I am a Gryffindor, don’t be insulting.”
“Hey,” James said, taking one of my hands and smiling at me. I wanted to focus on Petunia and my mother for a little while longer, but it seemed impossible to do so with the familiar giddy feeling building up in my stomach.
He went to kiss me, but I pulled back inadvertently before he had a chance. My reward was a raise of the eyebrows and a questioning expression. “It’s just... there are people looking.”
“Hardly,” James said, smirking slightly as he took in my slightly flustered appearance, “So here I am, waiting for you to turn up and then you won’t even say hello properly to your boyfriend.”
“No... I just...”
“Does it really bother you?”
“What, James?” I sighed, half wanting to start ranting about his new found obsession with talk about things but knowing that it would probably make the whole thing take even longer – anyway, if James had previously asked about my whole stance on this sort of thing then, well, it might have been helpful.
“People talk. Especially you. Train?”
“Lily.” James said with a grin and I cut him off with a hug (sod people). He smelt just as comforting as usual (I decided that he must spike his aftershave with some sort of calming potion) and it reminded me that I had really missed him and how much I hated Petunia for ruining my mood and how I hated how complicated and mixed up life was, when really it should just be as simple as hugging James just because I wanted to.
“Quick, before nobody sees!” James whispered, pulling me closer and kissing me.
I grinned into his lips and decided that James was right and I really couldn’t care less if anyone did see (although I was sure that this was merely a temporary side effect than an actual cure for the problem, as I was the centre of enough attention due to being Dumbledore’s mudblood poster girl without factoring the whole James side of the equation).
“Are you okay?” James asked.
“Yeah,” I nodded, biting my lip, “Yeah I am.”
I would tell James about what Petunia had done. I’d take a leaf out of his book and at least try to be better and communicating what was going on in my head, but this second seemed to nice to ruin it by bringing that up. We could talk properly on the train. We had all the time in the world.
“Oi!” A voice called at the precise moment something collided with the back of my head, and I was just about to pull out my wand and hex whatever slytherin it was that was ruining such a nice moment when I realised that it was Sirius’s voice. Of course.
James and I turned around in unison to find Sirius leaning out the window of the closest compartment. “Are you going to get on the train?” Sirius asked loudly loudly. “Because I’m not going to be the one to explain to Dumbledore why his Head’s are still snogging in London.”
“Better go.” I smiled, picking up my trunk and hastening towards the train. All of the doors bar the one closest to us had been shut and, although I’d never heard of the train driving off without passengers; it currently didn’t seem like a completely impossible thing to happen.
“Crap.” James said, grabbing my hand.
“I blame you for this.” I returned as we half ran towards the doors. James reached the train first, pulling me and my trunk on after him a little too enthusiastically, leading to me tripping forwards on the train and regaining my balance for a split second before the train jerked into motion.
James caught me, which was a bit cliché and crap but better than falling flat on my face.
Then I wrapped my arms around his neck and James kissed me properly. I tried to pinpoint exactly why I’d been so reluctant to the idea of James for such a long time, or what was the singular event that made me change my mind, or the moment when James had become the most important person in the world but, frankly, it was easier to focus on James’s serious expression that crept on his features just before he kissed me – as if doing so was very important.
I liked that.
“Sirius isn’t sat with the others,” James said as we began to walk to the compartment from which Sirius had thrown something at the back of my head (bloody idiot), “he said he wanted some space or something.”
“How is he?”
“Who knows,” James said, running a hand through his hair as he glanced at the floor, “Sirius... one minute he’s fine he next...”
“You know, sometimes I think you should worry more about Sirius than me.” I said.
“Hey, Sirius hasn’t yet deliberately walked into a torture situation.” James was smiling, so maybe that meant that he’d gotten over that now – if he could joke about then it was possible that instead of continually grating on him he might only bring it up when we were arguing. I guess there were some advantages to his bloody ‘let’s talk’ line.
“You say that,” I said, “but he did throw that piece of parchment at my head.”
“Good shot too,” James grinned, “good to know he’s been practicing, we can’t lose against Hufflepuff.”
“Quidditch,” I muttered derisively, “either way, he’s going to regret it.”
“He did stop us missing the train.”
“I wasn’t that absorbed, Potter. Don’t get all big headed on me now.”
“What, me?” James grinned, pausing to kiss me again before pulling open the door of Sirius’s compartment and entering.
“Hey Sirius.” I said, following James into the compartment and sitting down next to him. It was nice not to have to read too much into how close we were sitting and whatnot. This together business didn’t seem too bad, all things considered.
“How’ve you been?” Sirius asked, the very picture of someone who really wasn’t interested – arms folded, gaze flitting towards the window and a rather bored expression.
“I think I accidently convinced my sister against breeding for the rest of time.” I replied.
“The usual, then,” Sirius returned, with his usual blaze attitude, “how is darling Petunia?” This time he dragged his gaze away from the disappearing platform and raising his eyebrows at me. I almost found that more irritating.
“Angry,” I sighed, “my fault.”
“What did you do?” James asked with a grin.
“Told her that her children would be magical.”
“And in response?”
“She got me to take the bins out.”
“You should have levitated them,” Sirius said, “that’s the sort of thing I used to do – be as muggle as possible.”
“Well I’m not trying to get disowned, Sirius.” I snapped, folding my arms and taking my turn to look out of the window – it seemed like today was one of those days when Sirius and I were not going to get on.
“Control your woman, James.” Sirius returned with the first smirk I’d seen since before Christmas. Git. “How’s being a walking contradiction going for you? I could make badges, if you like – ‘Lily Evans: she doesn’t mean what she says’.”
“Shove off, Black,” I snapped. “You’re a piece of work.”
“Wait, but doesn’t that mean ‘I love you’ in Lily speak?” Sirius added, stretching out his arms.
The childish indignation from being told off by my mother this morning and Petunia’s revenge sparked up inside my stomach. Who was Sirius to try and ruin my good mood by irritating me to the high heavens? Plus, like normal, he was enjoying it.
I turned towards James and kissed him again (how many times was that, now?), pressing one of my palms against his cheeks and shifting closer towards him in my seat.
When I pulled away again Sirius’s jaw was clenched. I didn’t blame him; all I’d essentially done was say look at you, Sirius, look at how you’re alone.
Sirius narrowed his eyes at me, shoved his hands in his pocket and left.
Neither James nor I mentioned this. I leant back into his arms and closed my eyes.
“Earlier, when I was saying about Petunia getting me to take out the bins...” I began slowly, when James and I were beginning our patrol duty, pacing up and down the corridor of the train side by side, “the punishment was intended to be more than handling rubbish.”
James looked up at me, took in my gaze and then let his left hand brush against my right hand as we walked.
“There were... quite a lot of bottles.”
“James,” I said, pausing, “do you think my Mum has a drinking problem?”
“I don’t know,” James admitted, turning to face me with a more serious expression than I wanted to see, “before, with the Christmas cards, she was... she was drinking wine then. And I remember thinking that was strange, because it wasn’t even lunch time yet.”
“Yeah,” I said, biting my lip, “she’s always, always got a glass in her hand.”
“On Christmas Eve, I noticed again but...” James paused and ran a hand through his hair, “she didn’t seem drunk or out of control or anything like that.”
“No,” I agreed, memories of my mother in the summer running through my brain again – always drinking, never drunk. Then again, there were plenty of times when I’d crept downstairs in the middle of the night to get myself a drink and found her still sat in the sitting room – grief. She’d lost her husband, who could blame her? “But I knew about this,” I frowned, “I knew that she was drinking a lot – when we drove down on September first, I.... I remember thinking that the reason she was a bit off was because, well, because she hadn’t had a drink.”
James didn’t say anything, but my hatred for Petunia’s actions was slipping away again – not a punishment, perhaps, but a shove in the direction of noticing what was right in front of me. She was dealing with this on her own.
“James,” I said, my chest tightening, “how can I have just... forgotten?”
“Things are pretty hectic.”
“But if my own mother’s drinking and I can’t even –”
“Lily,” James interjected, “don’t beat yourself up about this.”
“How can I not?” I asked, feeling the sharp pain of not bursting into tears at the back of my throat. “Why is nothing ever simple? I’m so fed up of something horrible happening every time things start going good.”
“Well, you’re thinking about it wrong,” James said, shaking his head, “bad things don’t cancel out the good things, Lily, think of them as just... two separate stores of things. Good things happen and bad things happen.”
“You’re the only thing on the good side.” I frowned at him.
“But,” James said, “I am pretty good, right?”
“That’s a point,” I said, taking his hand and continuing walking, “why are we bothering to patrol, again? All anyone does on the train is sleep and gossip.”
“Not true,” James said, “there were a group of third years back there who’d just ‘invented’ the words Amawefansudible.”
“Sounds like a spell.”
“I wouldn’t want anyone to point their wand at me and say it.”
“Can I try it on Sirius?”
“Be nice,” James grinned, “I think he’s feeling delicate this morning.”
“Delicate, my arse,” I countered, half trying to convince myself that I hadn’t really done that much damage earlier, even though I suspected that I had. “He’s so, God, he’s so irritating sometimes – I can’t help it.”
“He didn’t really do anything, this time.” James commented lightly. I knew he was right, but that didn’t mean that I was happy about it.
“We’re at the halfway point,” I said, stopping again, “how about we split up – you take the half we’ve just done, I’ll take the other half and we’ll check that no one’s been doing anything more dangerous than coining new words. Then we can give up and find the others again.”
“Kay,” James agreed, “keep an eye out for Sirius.”
“Yeah,” I said, “okay, meet you here in a bit.”
Sirius turned out to be one of the last compartments I checked, so close to the point where James and I started patrolling that he’d probably have been able to hear our conversation. That didn’t make me feel much better about earlier, especially when I was reacquainted with a surly, sulky Sirius who sat in a compartment to himself, glaring out the window.
My heart did an odd sort of jump as I realised that this was probably all my fault and that rubbing the whole James thing in his face had probably resulted in an avalanche of pure unadulterated Mary.
I nearly left, resolving to find James and getting him to sort it out, but my shadow had caught Sirius’s attention and him watching me dither about round the doorway marked the point of no return.
“Hey,” I said, pulling open the door, “just... patrolling.”
“How are you, then?” Sirius asked, as I stood poised in the doorway and feeling the mixture of sympathy and guilt heavy in my stomach. “Happy?”
“Near enough,” I answered quietly, “it’s hard to be really happy in the middle of a war.”
“You’re naive, Evans,” Sirius returned, turning to look at me with his grey eyes hard, “the war hasn’t even started yet. Don’t worry about offending me, just be happy.”
“I think my Mum has a drinking problem,” I voiced, “and Petunia, she -”
“Lily,” Sirius said, and I thought he might start crying again, “for god’s sake, if you want to be happy about something just be happy about it.”
“I’m no good at it.”
“Being happy,” I said, stepping into the compartment and shutting the door behind me, “you seem to think that my life gravitates towards things being good, but I’m no good at being happy. I do stuff to mess it up, or I just, focus on the wrong things...”
“That’s just you being ungrateful,” Sirius snorted, looking up up and offering me a grin that was diluted by the deadened expression in his eyes, “I wish I hadn’t wasted time finding reasons to be unhappy when I didn’t mean to be. Even when I knew she was dying, at least she was there, you know? There was no need to be so unhappy then, what a waste.”
I sat down opposite him.
“I know it doesn’t mean much,” I began, balling my hands up in my pockets, “but... I really care about you Sirius.”
“Save it for James,” Sirius said with another smirk, “go patrol or something.”
I nodded, wrapping an arm around myself as I exited the compartment again. It felt like it might be relief to be outside the claustrophobic way that Sirius’s grief still lingered everywhere.
“And Evans?” Sirius called, kicking his feet up onto the empty seats of the compartment. “It means more than you think.”
The next compartment contained a grand total of twelve first years, squashed up like sardines on the benches and seeming distinctly uncomfortable about the ordeal they were enduring.
“What are you all squashed in here for?” I asked them, hearing James’s footsteps rejoining mine as we met at the intended half way point again. I turned and smiled at him. He joined me in peering into the packed compartment looking distinctly amused.
“Sirius Black told us to move,” One of the Hufflepuff girls’ squeaked from where she was sat on one of her friend’s laps, pressed against the compartment window. “He said he wanted our compartment.”
“You should have told him to shove off.” James said, grinning.
“What should we do?” I asked, unable to not find the thought of Sirius walking into a compartment full of First years and demanding their removal both quite funny and also slightly reassuring; some things, at least, never changed.
“Tell Sirius he’s hilarious,” James said, “there’s a free compartment three doors down on the left.” James told the first years, laughing at the expressions of relief and their attempts to disentangle themselves from the mess of small eleven year old bodies.
“Now,” James said, “we go tell Sirius he needs to vacate the compartment for the first years to return and then we can have a compartment to ourselves.”
Sirius wasn’t the only git around.
“Go on then,” Sirius said as we walked up to the castle, “how did it go?”
“Surely James has already ditched the dirt.” I said as we pushed through the swarms of people together. The sight of Hogwarts produced a reaction which was half reluctance and half safety, but compared to the sanctity of standing in front of James Potter’s mansion and kissing against a gate, Hogwarts could no longer compete for the title of my safe haven.
“There was dirt? I must have got the clean version.”
“Rightly so,” I said, “get your nose out, Sirius.”
“You’re not going to gang up on me as a couple, are you?” Sirius asked, making a mock face of disgust as he thrust his hands in his pockets. He seemed a lot better now. Maybe the rest of the train journey was all the time he needed.
“Probably,” I returned, “but I like to think we did that anyway. Your prediction was way off.”
“Well, how was I to know that you’d ask James out?” Sirius grinned. “Remus will love that, just you wait. Rachel will have a field day...”
“You’re going to tell everyone?” I sighed, biting my lip as we entered the great hall. “You are, aren’t you?”
“Can’t wait to tell Snape,” Sirius added viciously, “although I won’t be sticking around too long afterwards. Have you shoved it in his face yet?”
“Snapes?” I asked, a grin forming at my lips.
“Now, this isn’t something you’re going to hear me say a lot when it comes to you and James – but when you do, can I watch?”
“What, you think I’m just going to... make out with James right in front of him?”
“Yes, I do,” Sirius beamed, “and it’s going to be the best thing that’s happened for a very long time.”
“Sorry about earlier,” I said as we sat down. James was reappearing from the crowd of fifth years where he’d been trying to corner one of the members of the Quidditch team to talk about extra practices now that the Hufflepuff match was a visible distance away, and both Sirius and I watched as he came closer, “I didn’t think.”
“Oh, don’t worry Evans, I’m going to get plenty of revenge. Hey, Moony, Wormtail, have you met James’s new girlfriend?” Sirius declared loudly, throwing an arm around my shoulders and nudging me repeatedly. My face flushed slightly as several pairs of eyes began boring into my skin.
Remus grinned and shook his head in Sirius’ direction.
“Hands off.” James said, slipping into the seat beside me.
“Finally?” Remus questioned, smiling at me.
“Apparently.” I answered.
“Hey, Alice!” Sirius called, beckoning them over. “Did Lily tell you about how she asked James out?”
“Control your best friend, James.” I said, exchanging a smile with Sirius and James in turn.
Already, everything about returning felt that little bit better. Not a massive change, not really, just a minor shift.
So, less than a week after the last chapter went up there's another in the queue? Not bad, right? I have this all planned and my muse is working overtime, so there may or may not be a forth chapter this month (it is TAOS month, after all) depending on other things that need updating. Also, I finished another story just yesterday! Azkaban now has all 10 chapters up on the archives and I'd love it if anyone fancied checking it out. Other than that, reviews are lovely and I've been on top-responding form :)
What more could you want?
Don't answer that.
Next time: James and Lily have to visit a hospital.