Fifteen years previously...
The Hogwarts Express was leaving and they were late. Lily clung grimly onto her mother’s hand as she was dragged across the platform, one of James’s suitcases clattering around behind her. James was carrying nothing, as usual. Lily could just make out his arrogant, confident stride through the smoke and camera flashes.
She turned away from the paparazzi, a frown slashing her forehead in disapproval. They were pestilent beasts, shoving cameras in her face every time she left the house, just because she had famous parents.
But James loved it. Lily felt the familiar tang of disdain and admiration as she watched her brother bow to the cameras, proudly showing off the Hogwarts crest emblazoned on his jumper. He didn’t even need to be in robes yet, but he had insisted on wearing them, even whilst walking through the crowded streets of muggle London.
Lily felt the suitcase she was carrying being lifted from her hand, and relinquished it to her father. He gave her a small smile before striding off to usher his son away from the cameras and onto the train before it left without him. Lily briefly considered the possibility of the paparazzi throwing themselves in front of the train if it started to leave without the Potter golden boy on it. She dismissed it, but only eventually. James, after all, had them all in the palm of his hand.
Her brother, as though to confirm her thoughts, took his father into a tight bear hug as soon as he was close enough. His face turned away to flash a broad grin into the camera lenses. Lily laughed in spite of herself, attracting James’s attention to her.
“Lils!” He shouted, running over to her and taking her into his wide arms.
Lily hugged him back appreciatively, and then kissed him obviously on the cheek. He hated that, and pulled back with a grimace, rubbing his cheek hard.
“Ew, Lily…” But he remembered to smile, genuinely smile, before turning back to the cameras.
Lily felt her mother’s hand slide into her own. She took a step towards Ginny, nestling her head into the crook of her elbow, watching James finally board the train.
But, it seemed, he wasn’t finished yet.
He took a step onto the train, and then rocked backwards until he was back on the platform. The train let out a final, elongated whistle, and slowly began to move. The cameramen held their breath, flashing incessantly, wondering along with everyone else what he was doing.
James grinned at Lily, a private gesture that Lily captured and stored away within herself. Then he turned and jumped back onto the train, wobbling backwards towards the platform. There was a collective gasp, but Lily did not share in it. He was playing up the wobble, and soon corrected himself, before turning and sweeping a majestic bow. There was a final cheer, and then the train sped out of the station.
“If he does anything like that again…” Lily heard her mother mutter under her breath, but she was smiling as she spoke. Everyone was smiling, packing up their cameras and generally basking in the atmosphere of satisfaction. James Potter never failed to deliver a show.
Lily, though, did not share in the happiness. She was already feeling the tug of longing. James was irritating, narcissistic, the product of a generation of people willing to do anything to show their gratitude to the Potter family. But he was also her brother, her best friend. And it would be three more long years before she could share in the excitement of Hogwarts with him. Until then…
She sighed and turned away from the platform to bury her head in her mother’s long coat. Harry was doing an interview somewhere amidst the throng of reporters. Ginny put her arm around her daughter’s shoulders and gently led her away from the station and back through the wall.
Albus was on the other side, having refused outright to accompany the family into the melee on the platform. He had never been one for excessive attention, preferring instead to bury himself in studies. He had already mastered basic magic, although under a strict code of secrecy known only to Lily, and was well on his way to accomplishing his first year at Hogwarts, which was to be next year, with flying colours.
“Did he go out with a bang?” Albus asked, in the tone of voice of one who couldn’t care less but knew he had to enquire.
Lily nodded, but before she could speak her mother replied, “Yes, and he’s lucky he’s on his way to Hogwarts, because I would have killed him if he’d stayed here.”
“Typical James,” Albus muttered, glancing at Lily. She grinned.
There was movement behind them, and Lily watched her father melt through the wall to join them. He looked tired and grumpy, and gratefully accepted Ginny’s reassuring hand in his.
“Right, we’d better get going before we get mobbed again,” he said resignedly.
Lily followed a few steps behind the rest of her family, lingering for a moment at the barrier to the platform. It was definitely going to take a while for everyone to get used to James not being around. The time between now and Christmas stretched out before her in a seemingly everlasting line, and she wondered how she was going to cope. It felt like James was going to be gone forever.
He was not gone forever.
In fact, he was back before any of them expected. Exactly three weeks after he had jumped on and off the train to the amusement of the paparazzi, James Potter was back home with his family. But the circumstances of his sudden return far out shadowed any joy Lily could have felt.
He was ill, too ill to continue his studies. He was back at home for one day before he was rushed to St Mungo’s, in a specially commandeered Ministry vehicle. Despite his condition, though, he still managed to delight the reporters stationed outside the Potter family home by pulling faces at them as he was wheeled into the back of the car on a stretcher.
Lily followed far more apprehensively, clinging to her mother’s arm. Somehow, she felt responsible for his return. She had wished every day for those three weeks that he would unexpectedly turn up. The night before he went to St Mungo’s, Lily had cried herself to sleep, the noises alerting her mother, who had sat on her bed for the rest of the night, stroking her hair.
Once they got to the hospital, James was almost instantaneously diagnosed with Dragon Pox. This brought on further changes. Lily and Albus were unceremoniously bundled out of his ward and told in no uncertain terms that they could only visit their brother whilst dressed in protective gear and magically warded. Dragon Pox was highly contagious, and certain strands had even developed resistance to standard wards. Harry and Ginny were adults, with superior immune systems, but Lily and Albus were at significant risk. They could not be too careful.
The second change was that James was moved to his own room, which was also thoroughly warded. The final change was that Ginny packed up a bag of things and moved in with James, sleeping in a little camp bed by the side of his bed.
The night James was admitted, the whole family gathered in his room. Lily felt uncomfortable in the bright white protective clothing, and James noticed her annoyance. He flashed her a smile, which briefly lit up his otherwise white face, and said quietly, “You look like an alien.”
“Hey!” Lily exclaimed in retaliation. Looking down at the rubber gloves she had been given to wear, she then nodded. “Well, maybe a bit. But I always thought white was my colour.”
“Mmm, mine too,” James replied sarcastically. He shifted his position, wincing as his skin rubbed against the mattress and said through gritted teeth. “Bit tender.”
Ginny smiled encouragingly. “It’s just a stage of the illness, you’ll get through it. And you’ll be back at school in no time.”
“Yeah, covered in pox scars.”
“Scars aren’t all bad,” Harry replied. James’s eyes flicked up to the scar on his father’s forehead. He nodded.
“Never made you unpopular, I suppose.”
“Not at all. I was worshipped,” Harry said, avoiding his son’s eyes, as Ginny sniggered behind her hand.
James caught the sarcasm and wrinkled his nose. “Well, you obviously didn’t know how to use it, dad. No offence, but I’m spectacular at that sort of stuff.”
“Arrogant much?” Lily muttered.
“Its not arrogance if it’s true,” James said, shooting her a filthy look, which tore her between laughter and wanting to scream at him. He could be completely insufferable at times. Then he turned his head over to the side, eyes flickering closed.
“I’m bored of you now. You can go.” The underlying tone of his voice betrayed tiredness rather than true disinterest.
She would forgive him this time, Lily decided, as her mother ushered her out of the room and closed the door. After all, he wasn’t well.
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