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    It went on like that for a week. Changed sleeping patterns, barely sustaining meals, and exhaustion. I had not seen James since the day of the attack on Charing Cross road. Since then, there had not been any more skirmishes, but Moody’s system continued. I was paired up with various people, including Dorcas again, and Alice. I was always the Alerter.

    Sitting at my cubicle, I stared down at the new schedule for this week. Once again, I had not been put as the Defender once.

    I had another shift starting at noon. My partner was James.

    “C’mon, Lily! You’ve almost got it!”

    I glared up at Frank and his annoying peppiness. Alice stood to the side, smiling and shaking her head. She had already performed the Patronus successfully once, much to my chagrin. I, on the other hand, had been training with both of them for two hours unsuccessfully.

    “It’s because you’re so tired,” said Alice, unconsciously being patronizing. “You have to patrol in two hours. You should be at home, sleeping.”

    “I don’t have time to rest,” I sighed, whipping my wand out again. I stared at my reflection, studying my stance.

    Alice shook her head. She knew it was a lost cause.

    I met Frank’s gaze in the mirror. I could tell from his face that he agreed with his fiancée, but he wisely remained silent. He inclined his head the slightest bit forward, nodding.

    Expecto Patronum!

    For the fiftieth time, slight and gray wisps of smoke came out. I screamed in frustration and threw my wand at the mirror, hitting myself promptly in the forehead in the process as it ricocheted off the surface.

    I looked so pathetic as I crouched down on the floor that Frank and Alice didn’t even have the courage to laugh at me. Frank went to the water cooler to get me something soothing and Alice brought my wand back, sitting beside me.

    “Lily,” she said softly, “you can’t do everything at once. Go home and sleep. Seriously.”

    “I wouldn’t be able to sleep, anyway.” I sighed and rested the back of my head against the wall, closing my eyes. “I just need to be distracted.”

    “Why? What’s going on?”

    “James is my partner today.”

    Alice nodded understandingly. She did not know the full details of what had happened between us nor that I had attempted to rectify some of the damage I had inflicted, but I had shared with her some details one day we were scheduled to patrol together.

    Frank came back with the water. “I think we’re done for today,” he said gently, as I began to stand up.

    “I’m fine,” I said harshly, although it was clear from their expressions that they did not believe me. “Seriously. I have to get this right. I have to. Maybe if I know how to do it, Moody will—” I trailed off, shaking my head. “He hasn’t put me down for Defender yet,” I admitted quietly.

    “He will,” said Frank reassuringly. “But right now, get some rest. Eat something. You’re exhausted, Lily.”

    I knew there was nothing I could do if my own trainer was telling me to leave, so I stormed out, leaving the two of them. Instead of going home as they had suggested, however, I sat own in my cubicle and buried my face in my hands. For a moment, I tried to forget who and where I was, and what I strived to do.

    “You look like crap.”

    “Get out,” I told Sirius tiredly without lifting my face from my hands.

    Instead of doing as I said, he stepped forward and sat on the edge of my desk. “Don’t you have to patrol at noon? What are you doing here?”

    I glared up at him. “What do you want?”

    “Ouch. Tired Lily is not my favorite. Have you eaten yet? Want to get lunch?”

    “I can’t,” I said, beginning to rummage through my drawers. “I have some paperwork to do. Moody wants me to report what I saw at Charing Cross.”

    Sirius watched as I took out some parchment and began to write. “Well, I know when I’m not wanted. I’ll see you soon, then.”

    I looked up at him, efficiently distracted. “What? When will I see you?”

    “I’m supposed to be your partner.” He looked uneasy. “Didn’t James tell you?”

    “No,” I said flatly. There was a pause. “He told you to switch with him, didn’t he?”

    Sirius didn’t need to answer me, his expression was enough. I turned back to my report. “Fine. I’ll see you soon.”

    As soon as I was sure that I was out of earshot, I threw my inkbottle across my cubicle, its contents spraying everywhere.

    Sirius and I hardly spoke during our eight-hour shift. Partly because I was so exhausted and partly because I was angry at him for switching patrols with James. I don’t know why I was so furious. It probably was better this way—it wasn’t like I was exactly prepared for another confrontation so soon, either. But it hurt nevertheless. I hadn’t seen him all week, and the last time I had spoke to him, I had told him to leave my sight. I missed him, and wanted him to comfort and calm me the way he had before.

    Finally, as our patrols were coming to an end and the sky was darkening, he sighed and said, “Look. I didn’t want to do it.”

    I didn’t pretend to not know what he was talking about, but I didn’t answer. We continued walking, my fingers clutching my wand fiercely.

    “He’s just going through a lot right now, Lily,” Sirius continued. “He’s at war with himself.”

    None of us spoke. Finally, as we reached our meeting point and let the next pair succeed us, I stopped in front of Sirius, a frown on my face.

    “Tell him to get over himself,” I said angrily, lashing out at the one person I could at the moment. “Because there’s a real war going on here.”

    With that, I Disapparated.

    I arrived at our flat later that night. To my dismay, Grace was up and waiting for me. I slumped on the couch next to her where she was watching television, and did not say anything for a while. My mind was preoccupied with Sirius’ words, his unsuccessful attempt at placating me, and James’ face as I told him all that I had withheld from him.

    “I made dinner,” she said finally. “I can heat it up for you, if you like.”

    “Sure,” I said tonelessly. Realizing how unthankful I sounded, I added, “I appreciate it.”

    Grace soon came back with a plate of potatoes and ham. I devoured it, and she watched me with concern.

    “Have you eaten anything today?”

    Being that my mouth was too full, I shook my head.

    “Lily,” she said sternly. “You had a few hours at the Ministry before your shift. You could’ve eaten.”

    I shrugged as Jinx jumped onto the counter, his tail swaying to the sides like a serpent. He was looking up at the cage we kept on the top of the refrigerator, where Grace’s owl usually perched. It was empty now, since it was delivering a letter to Henn in Sweden, except for a large and colorful exotic bird, eyeing Jinx warily and snapping its beak.

    Grace noticed what I was staring at and said, “Oh! That’s right. Gaby wrote us—her letter arrived today. Here, I’ll get it for you.”

    She went into her room and came back with an opened envelope. Already efficiently emptying my plate, I sat it aside and took out the folded parchment.

    Hello, girls!

    I arrived in Venezuela, and the weather is fabulous. I cannot believe
    this is considered winter. I’ve already caught up with all of my family, who are happy to see me. There are various cousins who I’ve never met until now and most probably won’t remember their names, and get this—two of them are named Gabriela! Apparently it’s quite the ‘Emily’ of this little village where I’ll be living in at my grandmother’s home.

    The village is almost entirely filled with wizards and witches, and I already feel at home. I hope everything is well there…

    “What’s wrong?” asked Grace as I abruptly left the couch, dropping the letter with its lengthy unread contents onto the kitchen counter.

    “Nothing,” I said, heading over to my room. “I just need to sleep.”

    As I closed my bedroom door and sat on my bed, I realized what the real reason was that I did not want to read Gaby’s letter. Her tone in the letter so deeply contrasted with mine and I did not feel like contemplating the difference between our lives. I did not like to be reminded that I was exhausted and drained whilst she was happy and safe. It was selfish, I knew, but at the moment I did not want to fathom how I could respond. I wonder if she knew what had happened here, or that I had been a part of it. I was positive that she was also unaware of the fact that I had confronted James not too long ago. She knew nothing of what was happening in my life, and I did not want to be the one to tell her.

    I realized then how stupid I sounded. Who else was to tell her then?

    Grace knocked on the door. I would’ve feigned sleep, but knew that she knew I couldn’t possibly be already asleep. “Come in,” I said tiredly.

    “I know you’re tired,” she started in way of greeting, “but you don’t have to patrol tonight. I’m going out with the boys tonight, if you’d like to come.”

    I wondered if “the boys” meant James as well. I found that it didn’t make a difference, for I still did not wish to go either way. I shook my head and forced a smile. “It’s best not,” I said. “You have fun.”

    “Lily?” Grace stepped forward, her voice soft. “Are you okay?”

    “No,” I said, “I’m not.”

    Grace seemed to be surprised by my honest answer. I couldn’t blame her—I had been a compulsive liar and in denial for so long. She stepped into the room and sat on the bed next to me. We both stared looking forward, not speaking for a while.

    “Is there anything I can do?” she finally said.

    “No. There really isn’t.” I exhaled slowly, my eyes burning. Then I turned to her. “I’m so tired.” I did not mean just in the literal, physical sense, and from my tone she sensed that as well. She nodded, and then patted my knee.

    “Get some sleep. This is the first night you’ve had to rest in a while,” she said, and with that, left the room.

    I did not rest.

    I did sleep for a little while, but woke up a few hours later, tense and as if I had been awake all along. I nearly had a panic attack upon waking up to Jinx on top of me, sleeping fitfully on my chest and hissing violently as I pushed him away. I sat up in bed and clutched my forehead, my eyes squinted against a painful headache.

    My heart stopped as I heard a distinct pop! from the other room. Footsteps hurried down the hall. Quick, pounding footsteps that were not Grace’s.

    Perhaps it was the patrols I now had to do, or the fact that these days I was constantly on alert. All I knew was that my wand was in my hand in an instant, and I jumped to my feet in lightning speed, ready for my opponent. Blood rushed to my ears, my heart pounding, my mouth dry.

    James stormed into the room, his hand in his hair and his shoulders hunched over in an effort to control his fury. It took me a moment to process this as I tightened the grip on my wand, not lowering it. It was as if I still considered him to be an enemy. When he spun around to face me, I flinched, as if slapped simply with the look on his face. Before I could angrily lash out at him for being there and scaring the living shit out of me, he was lashing out at me, and not giving me time to defend.

    you—how could you just go there—as if—” He let out a hiss, his teeth gritting against one another. “You—I’m…how could you have come?” he burst out, shaking.

    From my view, James was even more menacing and he seemed to tower above me. I did not know what to say. To my horror, I found that I was struggling to remain dry-eyed. I did not deserve to empty out my sorrows in a tearful release. Lips trembling, I stared up at him, defiant as I could be.

    James narrowed his eyes at me. His voice was like ice. “You thought that you could just saunter your way over there, and everything…would just be fine?

    My first instinct was to be angry. I was a redhead, and prone to that. I couldn’t help it, after all. Still, I struggled to remain composed. “No,” I said as calmly as I could. “I did not think that for a moment.”

    He stared at me, as if surprised that I had said anything at all. “Come here,” he said tersely. I froze, unsure if I had heard right. When I didn’t move, he wrenched me to him, clutching my wrists. When I realized what he intended, I was horrified, and tried to squirm away. It was useless. He was stronger than me.

    His eyes were scorching me. “Where?” he said harshly. When I did not answer, he gripped me more firmly. “Lily. Where?

    When I did speak, my voice was squeaky and barely above a weak, terrified whisper. “Here.” Reluctantly, I glanced down at my arms, which he was holding, and then he understood.

    He turned over my wrists so that my palms were up, then examined them closely. I knew what he was looking for. Bruises, perhaps, or a scrape. Anything that could indicate that I had lied yet again and had in actuality, not recovered from anything at all. I did not breathe as he scrutinized my skin so closely. I felt naked, unprotected, and vulnerable. I did not wish James to see me this way—to see me weak, and wounded.

    Then, quite suddenly, he let go abruptly of me as if I had burnt him. He turned away from me, his shoulders tense and hard. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he said in a surprisingly soft voice.

    I did not know how to answer. There were a million reasons why—ones that were reasonable, and ones that I had deluded myself into thinking were. I decided to choose the one I deemed the most accurate. “I…it wasn’t your burden.”

    This was apparently the worse thing I could’ve said. “Wasn’t my burden?” he repeated. He spun around to face me, briefly, then stormed off to pace in the room. “Christ, Lily.”

    “What do you mean ‘Christ, Lily’?” I spat, finding that I was just as furious as he and could hide it no longer. “It wasn’t any of your concern. I’m none of your concern. You make that quite clear, everyday at work!”

    “If you’re talking about that day—” he started dangerously, as if warning me that I had better not be talking about that at all.

    “I am!” I found that I was shouting. All the pent up emotions now burst out of me, unable to be retained any longer. Suddenly it became clear to me that I was angry about more than one thing. Not only his rejection of me and how it stung, but his apparent uncaring attitude towards me after I had been in a dangerous situation. After all this, I began to doubt if he cared at all. “You didn’t seem to be very concerned with me, now did you? Despite the fact that I had been in the same vicinity as Death Eaters moments before!”

    “You told me to leave!” he roared, now shouting as well back at me from the opposite end of the room. “Those were your exact words! ‘Leave’!”

    “Well, it’s not like you cared!” I no longer was thinking through what words to use. I was at that point that all I wanted to do was hurt and damage him for all he had inflicted upon me. “It’s not like I’ve ever been anything to you!”

    There was a silence. James stared at me, stunned, as if he himself couldn’t believe what I had just said. I was breathing rapidly, staring defiantly at him even though I knew that I had taken it too far.

    When he finally did answer, his voice was the nastiest it had ever been. “You’re a fool,” he snarled. “I shouldn’t have come here.”

    I followed him out into the hallway. The anger I was experiencing was consuming me, tearing me apart and vying for retaliation. It was like in the beginning of the year, when we had hated each other and all we had done was fought. That initial vicious instinct to take was back, and all I wanted was to tear him apart for all he was worth. That had been a year ago. Although we had both experienced and learned so much, we were back to the basics again, fighting and taking from each other as we used to.

    “No, you shouldn’t have come here! I don’t know why you did!”

    He whirled around abruptly so that I nearly toppled into him. I stared up at him defiantly.

    “You don’t know why I did? You don’t know why I did?” He was yelling so loud that I thought that the neighbors downstairs and nosy Mr. Livingston might have heard, but I no longer cared. “Practically all my life, I’ve done everything for you. Everything. I’ve tried…everything—to get you to love me. And when I finally think that I’ve succeeded, you freak out!”

    “I did not—”

    “Shut up, Lily,” he said in a surprisingly threatening voice. “Just shut up.”

    I wasn’t one to usually follow such an order. But I found myself being stunned into silence anyway, as he continued.

    “And when you finally figure yourself out, you come to my dead parents’ house, where I was packing and dealing with things that you did not even fathom to contemplate as you sauntered off with that prick—”

    “I was not sauntering with Ray!”

    “—and tell me things that for some reason you thought at that exact moment, would be the ideal time. Things that…that…” He faltered. “I never even knew!” he burst out, and I realized he was no longer angry. Or rather, he was not simply angry with me, but with himself. He was anguished. “I should’ve, but I didn’t. I should’ve known that you did that to yourself, I should’ve known.

    I did not know what else to say. I stared speechlessly at him.

    “We were engaged,” he said, his voice strangely bleak. “I…loved you.”

    This was the worst of all he had said. I felt winded, as if his words and punched me in the stomach. “Loved,” was in the past tense. He had staggered when he had said it, but still, it did not matter. He had said “loved,” not “love.” He no longer did. I felt the word cutting into me, leaving me winded with pain, and I no longer was angry.

    “And you didn’t even care,” he continued flatly. “All this time. It was as if every time I started to recover, you’d just throw me another one.”

    I shook my head, unable to look at him. “I told you…I had things to resolve…”

    “We all have things to resolve,” said James. “My—parents—” His voice broke, unable to continue.

    I swallowed the large lump in my throat. “What do you want me to say?” I saw James’ shoulders slump. It was then that I saw his eyes. His eyes, which said what his words couldn’t.

    Most wouldn’t have noticed the difference. It was subtle, barely there. But I saw it. One moment, he had been angry, hurt, furious even—but now, there was something else. Something naked, lay bare.

    I felt as if I had been hit in the chest with the realization. I did not know what that emotion was—or perhaps I did, but it was simply too complex to describe and put into comprehensible words—all I knew was that it was there, and that I felt it too. It was time to move forward, step in.

    “You never know anything I want you to say—to do.

    It was then that I moved. This time I stepped towards him in the middle of the hallway where we were sheltered in both the shadows of the enclosed space, and the light from the kitchen. We were somewhere in between. It was time to choose; to be encompassed by eternal darkness, or by light.

    “I know,” I said softly. “I know what you want me to say.” I touched his chest, my fingers barely brushing, and yet his hand immediately enveloped mine, as if preventing me from pulling away with a desperation that both frightened and thrilled me. I stepped forward, and touched my cheek to his, our hands still intertwined. I felt his warmth against mine. I breathed in his scent, and heard his hoarse breathing, his wildly thumping heart that matched my own. “I know what you want me to do.”

    I am not going to lie and say that I wasn’t afraid. A person cannot eliminate their fears in simply a day. The process is gradual. Already, I felt it deteriorating, yet it was still present in my quaking heart. I stepped back, only slightly, and looked up at him. His mouth was open, breathing harshly, his eyes telling me everything I needed to know.

    I felt my throat close up, my tears welling up. “James,” I whispered, “I want you to know that I—”

    James made a sudden movement, then his arms were around me, his elbows locked under my arms so that he held me close, nearly smothering me. I felt every part of me tingle, alive. Breathing harshly, I stopped my rant abruptly.

    “Shh,” he said softly, his breath mingling with my own and rustling my hair a bit. “You don’t need to tell me. I already know.”

    I don’t know how to describe what happened next. It was as if I had been drowning, and after such an excruciatingly painful time I had forgotten how to breathe. Yet, my lungs still knew how to do it, and longed to take a breath of fresh air. This longing is so intense that when coming out of the water, it’s the sweetest thing of your life, to feel that again. To fell that fullness, completion. That was how I felt when his lips touched mine. We hadn’t kissed in so long, and yet our bodies simply melted and molded to one another as we had done thousands of times before. Already, we were lovers again. It was as if we had never parted. It was as if we were merely continuing where we left off, when everything was innocent and untarnished, ready to blossom.

    He had said, You don’t need to tell me. I already know.

    I was going to say, I still love you.


    At some point, we were up against the wall.

    I don’t know when we had reached my room with the kissing becoming more frenzied, or when James’ hand had reached inside my shirt. All I knew was that at some point, we had crossed a threshold, a boundary. A trespass that had been long overdue. I dug my fingers into James’ hair, my actions just as wild as his. We had been without one another for so long, that it was like were suddenly stampeding towards a thing that we had denied ourselves for what seemed like eternity.

    I didn’t shrink away. I gave in to it.

    We broke away for just a moment. “Lily,” he breathed rather raggedly, digging his face into my neck. “Oh, God, Lily.”

    “I know,” I said, equally as hoarsely. “I know.” We had kissed thousands of times before, but this time it was different. This kiss simply made the others seem—chaste …without color. I thought I had felt passion before, but now I was heady with a desire that I did not even know I was capable of feeling. I stared at him under hooded eyelids, my strength seeping away with the power of everything I was feeling, that I was sensing.

    He didn’t ask for permission as he lifted my shirt over my head. Neither did I as I stripped him of his.

    We tumbled down to the floor.

    It was time.

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