Inspired by the March 2019 ' Use these words' challenge: Flute, cold, frighten, rose, stir, fish, wide, addle.
As soon as the toast was over, she tipped back her flute of champagne and drained it in one unladylike gulp. To her disappointment, the bubbly was no longer sparkling cold but flat and saccharine, just like the Maid of Honor’s speech.
It should have been me, Willa thought bitterly. I would have given a much better speech than that bimbo. Mary had gone on for a grueling ten minutes, starting with a story about how the bride lent her a quill during Transfiguration their first year, and ending with a toast that was nearly drowned out by her own melodramatic sobs. By the end of it, Willa yearned for a stronger drink than the warming champagne on their table. Yet she forced herself to smile and clap along with everyone else as a teary-eyed Mary returned to her undeserved place of honor next to the bride.
Pathetic. I can’t believe Lily chose her over me.
At the bridal shower two weeks prior, Lily had pulled her aside to explain. “I hope you’re not offended, Wills. Between you and me, I think the whole Maid of Honor thing is silly—I only gave it to Mary because she offered to do all the wedding planning and she’s good at that kind of thing. With everything going on, I just want this to go as smoothly as possible. You’re not mad, right?”
She wanted to scream, but instead she smiled, took Lily’s hand, and assured her dear friend that she was perfectly fine just being one of her bridesmaids. “I just want you to be happy, Lily. It’s your wedding.”
The ceremony had taken place on an unseasonably warm September afternoon at an ocean-view property in Cornwall owned by the Potters. The guest list was small: only close friends and family. The only indication of the precarious times they lived in were the few aurors stationed around the grounds, scanning the area for signs of trouble.
The young couple exchanged vows in the courtyard just as the sun began to set. Lily was her name personified in an elegantly simple white dress, her auburn hair tucked into a loose knot at the nape of her neck, adorned with little white flowers. She didn’t wear any jewelry, but her green eyes glittered like emeralds when she said “I do” to her new husband.
Her husband. Willa shuddered to think these words now applied to James Potter. While the other bridesmaids were sniffling and dabbing their eyes, Willa was remembering a particular afternoon by the lake at Hogwarts, when Lily, incensed at Potter’s latest boorish attempt to ask her out, laughed defiantly in his face and told him, “if it was a choice between you and the Giant Squid, I’d choose the squid.”
Those memories of simpler times made her smile just as James kissed the bride.
Her sour mood persisted into the reception. Mary and Nora, the other bridesmaids, had long since left to go dancing, leaving Willa sitting alone at their table.
The only other guest who seemed to be having a less-than-jolly time was Peter Pettigrew. He was a squirmy sort of fellow who had spent his Hogwarts years following James around, and despite being one of the groomsmen, was spending the reception standing alone in a corner looking lost. He nervously scratched his arm while scanning the room for someone to latch onto. He caught her eye, and she quickly looked down—lonely as she was, she wasn’t desperate enough to pair off with Pettigrew. After a few moments, he left his spot and scurried out of the tent.
She nursed a glass of Ogden’s Old neat as she watched Lily and James merrily twirling about on dance floor. She felt guilty for not feeling happier for her friend, yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was letting her make the biggest mistake of her life.
It seemed like just yesterday they were joking about what an undatable buffoon James Potter was. Until the beginning of their seventh year—exactly one year ago—he had been the running gag of Lily’s Hogwarts career, always trying—and failing—to ask her out.
So when Lily announced during the second week of term that they were dating, Willa feared her best friend had lost her mind.
“But you hate that guy, Lils. Just a few months ago you were referring to him as an ‘arrogant, bullying toerag who’s brain’s been addled by too many bludgers to the head.’”
“I know we’ve had our disagreements.” Lily said, blushing, “But that’s all in the past. He’s really changed. You’ll see.”
She highly doubted that James just suddenly woke up one morning with his act together, but his change in attitude was hard to ignore. He began greeting her warmly in the corridors whenever they passed, lavishing praise on her in class, buying her drinks during group outings to the Three Broomsticks. He even set her up with his best mate, Sirius Black.
Sirius was easily the best-looking guy in their year and while Willa wasn’t unpretty, she suspected he probably wouldn’t have asked her out had James not urged him to. Against her better judgment, she agreed to go on a date with him one weekend during fall term. To her surprise, they ended up having a decent time together in Hogsmeade: they knocked back a few pints of mead at the pub and then wandered giddily around Zonkos, before stumbling behind the Shrieking Shack for a quick snog.
As they made their way back to the castle arm-in-arm and still slightly tipsy, she may have told him a few things she shouldn’t have.
“What do you really think about James dating Lily?” Sirius asked.
“Do you want my honest answer or the version James wants to hear?”
“Ok. I honestly think she’s out of his league.”
He chuckled. “I love that bastard like a brother, but I agree with you on that one.”
“It’s nothing personal. She’s just too good for the kinds of boys at this school…no offense.”
“None taken. But what makes you say that?
“Hm. Do you remember Greg Dawlish, that Ravenclaw in the year above us? Lily was head over heels with him for the longest time and finally, during our third year, she got the courage to send him a note telling him how she really felt. And he responded by asking her out on a date for Valentine’s Day. Well, the day came around and she was so excited, only to find out Greg stood her up for some prefect. She was devastated…it was her first real heartbreak, you know? So I helped her pick up the pieces and assured her that she’ll find someone better than that wanker. And sure enough, she received a dozen red roses from a ‘secret admirer’. Greg, on the other hand, received a dozen chocolate cauldrons laced with Most Potente Laxative Potion. Neither of them ever found out that they were sent by the same person: me.”
Sirius guffawed. “Wait, you were the one who gave pretty boy Dawlish those sweets that made him shit for days? Oh man. I mean, kudos to you for revenge well-played, but the poor bugger had to go to the Hospital Wing…”
“Serves him right. He shouldn’t have messed with Lily.”
“Do I have to worry about what you’ll do to James if he dumps her?” he asked with a sly grin.
She shrugged. “Just know that if he ever breaks her heart or hurts her in any way, I’ll kill him.”
He laughed again but more nervously this time, unsure of what to make of her casual tone. She remained straight-faced until his amusement died down.
Several minutes of awkward silence passed until Willa spoke again.
“So, er, you won’t tell Lily and James that it was me behind the whole roses and laxatives thing, right?”
She wasn’t surprised that Sirius didn’t ask her for a second date. He didn’t talk to her much at all afterwards, even though they got to second base behind the Shrieking Shack. The experience only confirmed what Willa already knew about Hogwarts boys: they sampled the goods and moved on.
In spite of herself, she had to grudgingly admit that Sirius was an ideal Best Man: he was every bit the dashing, fun-loving party boy who embodied all the things James was going to give up by marrying Lily. From her table she could see him on the dance floor looking handsome as ever, intertwined with Nora, the other bridesmaid.
She had just resolved to spend the rest of the evening sulking into her drink when Remus, the groomsman who had walked her down the aisle, came up to her and shyly asked if she wanted to dance.
Her first suspicion was that Sirius or James had put him up to it, but a glance in either of their directions suggested they were too wrapped up in their partners to care whether she was dancing or not. So she shrugged and let him pull her to her feet.
She never thought of Remus Lupin as much more than the quiet bloke in James’s pack. He was pleasant enough to look at, tall and thin with ash-brown hair and kind eyes, but he always seemed a bit off-color. Willa wondered if he had some sort of terminal illness and she felt bad. Perhaps it was because he was dressed for a wedding, but he looked healthier than normal today. At least well enough to ask a strange drunk girl to dance.
A slow, sinuous tune began to play as soon as they stepped onto the dance floor. Grinning nervously, Remus put an arm around her waist and began to lead. He was better at this than she thought he would be, and she relaxed a bit, letting her free hand rest on his shoulder.
From a few couples away, Lily caught her eye. Although she had her arms around her groom, the look she gave Willa reminded her of the intimate bond that only they shared. It was a bond that James Potter, as in love with her as he was, would never fully understand. She smiled back, even though her heart felt suddenly strange and heavy.
Several months after her date with Sirius, things had cooled between Willa and James, forcing Lily to split her time between them. More often than not, however, the scale tipped in James’s favor. After Lily had blown her off for the third time to go “study” with her boyfriend, Willa decided that enough was enough. One evening, as soon as the couple returned to the Gryffindor common room, she pounced on Lily with an ultimatum: “him or me.”
Lily stared at her in disbelief. “I can’t deal with this right now. You two need to work things out or I’m done with the both of you.” She angrily gathered her things and stormed up to the girls’ dorms. Neither Willa nor James dared to follow her.
Once they heard the door slam upstairs, James wheeled on her. “What’s your problem, Vance? If you want to be bitch to me, fine. But treating Lily like that is where I draw the line,” he flared.
“If wanting what’s best for my friend makes me a bitch, then I’ll be one—gladly,” she spat back. “Forgive me if I don’t want her to end up with some over-privileged prick who can’t seem to take ‘no’ for an answer. You may have everyone else fooled by your fancy title”—she jabbed a finger at the Head Boy badge on his robes—" but I don’t buy it for one second. You’re the same prat you’ve always been, Potter. As for Lily—I don’t know what deranged fantasy she’s fulfilling by dating you, but eventually she’ll see through your act, too.”
James snorted. “Oh, Merlin. I get it now: you’re jealous.”
Willa guffawed at the ridiculous suggestion. “In your bloody dreams. I wouldn’t touch you for a million galleons…”
“No, that’s not what I meant." He shook his head. "Sirius was totally right about you. I can't believe I didn't see it before. You can't stand to see me and Lily together because you’re in love with her. No, wait…you’re obsessed with her.”
She slapped him. He reeled back, touching his face in shock. She had never hit anyone before and she was surprised at how instinctive it felt—more natural than reaching for her wand.
She quickly regretted it and was about to apologize, until he opened his mouth.
“You’re fucking mental, you know that?”
She fought back a frightening desire to hit him again, punch him, kick him, just to make him feel an ounce of the pain that he caused her by taking away the only person she truly loved.
“Go to hell, James. You and those arseholes you call friends.” She turned away and left before either of them could do more damage.
In the reception tent outside of the Potters’ holiday cottage in Cornwall, Willa continued to gaze at Lily, who had since turned her attention back to the beaming groom. It ached how perfect they looked together, swaying gently to the music.
Willa wasn’t aware that she had started crying until her dance partner asked her uneasily, “hey, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said shortly.
“Maybe we should step out and get some fresh air.”
“Maybe you should shut the hell up.”
Remus stopped and looked at her incredulously.
“I…I’m so sorry.” Her face felt hot as she hastily wiped her tears on the back of her hand. “You’re being nice and I’m being a complete, sodding arse. I don’t know what’s gotten into me…”
“It’s alright,” he assured her. “I get it. Weddings stir up weird emotions, especially when it’s your best mates’.” He smiled. “I mean, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the idea of James being married.”
She laughed weakly. “I suppose.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to take a break and get some air?”
“No, I’m okay now. Thank you. Let’s just finish this song.”
As they resumed dancing, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, trying to let her mind drift away with the music. The salty ocean air filled her lungs and transported her to a happier time in her life, a time of summer outings along the coast with her mother and sister, of trips out to sea on her muggle father’s fishing boat.
She suddenly wished she could stay like this forever, slow dancing the night away as if everything around her wasn’t falling apart. She had a feeling that nights like this were numbered; the Death Eaters were increasing their ranks every day, killing more people every day. Pretty soon they were going to take over the Ministry, and then all of Great Britain, and eventually the whole world.
Thinking about the end of the world made her wonder if Lily got it right after all: perhaps getting hitched was better than wading out this war alone. Maybe she should find someone of her own before it was too late. Maybe the person she was looking for all along was the one right in front of her, this peaky but decent-looking fellow she hardly knew, with whom she now swayed in time with the melody as though they were an old couple.
When the song ended, he gently released her and thanked her for dancing with him, but she took his hand again before he could move away.
“Stay with me tonight, Remus,” she pleaded softly.
He blinked at her as if she had spoken a different language. “Pardon?”
“Come back to my place after this. I don’t want to be alone.”
He looked dumbstruck for a moment, his mouth wordlessly opening and closing like a fish out of water as he tried to find the right words.
“I…I’m flattered, Willa. But I can’t. It’s got nothing to do with you, it’s…”
She cut him off. “Please don’t finish that sentence.” Groaning, she hid her face in hands. “Oh God, what was I thinking. I’m such a bloody fool...”
“You’re not,” he consoled her. “You’ve probably just had too much to drink. Let me get you some water…”
“Are you calling me a drunk?” she slurred.
“No, but I don’t think you’re in a frame of mind to make the best decisions right now.”
Unbelievable. Even loony Lupin thinks I’m crazy.
“You know what, Lupin? You play the nice guy, but you’re just as bad as your mates.” Her voice rose angrily. “I can’t believe I was going to sleep with you!”
It was then she realized that the musicians had stopped playing. That and the fact that everyone on the dance floor had turned to look at her and Remus.
The poor bloke was now backing away from her slowly as if she were a live bomb. But she barely noticed him, for all she felt was Lily’s burning stare trained on her like a laser. The bride’s face was terrifyingly impassive; the only thing that betrayed her anger was color creeping up her face, blooming like pale roses across her cheeks.
Willa couldn’t stand it anymore. She brushed past Remus and marched towards the exit—backtracking slightly to grab a bottle of Ogden’s Old from the bar—and stormed off into the night.
Free floating paper lanterns romantically lit the path to the beach, which was bathed in silver moonlight. Willa loved the melancholy beauty of the shoreline at night, but she couldn’t appreciate it fully at that moment. She was too busy trying to descend the rocky dunes in the dark, stumbling over the hem of her dress while being pursued by the bride, who by the sounds of it was also tripping over her gown.
“Willa! Willa Vance! You get back…ouch!...here this instant!” Lily shouted behind her, as she ditched her heels and clumsily felt her way across the rocky sand in bare feet.
“Leave me alone. Go back to your fairy tale wedding and tell everyone that the wicked witch is off getting pissed by the ocean.”
“Not until you apologize! You had no right humiliating Remus like that...”
“You know what?” She stopped walking and whirled around to face Lily. “I am so sick of apologizing. Ever since you and James got together that’s all you’ve made me do—feel sorry for not being good enough for your perfect boyfriend and his mates.”
“Oh, please! You’re the one who keeps acting like you’re too good for them. You’re so quick to judge people and react to everything, you don’t care who gets hurt.”
“Fine. I’m sorry. Ok? I’m sorry all of your new friends think I’m a bitch. And for the millionth time, I’m sorry I slapped your precious Jimmy in the face. But maybe he deserved it, Lily. Have you ever thought about that? He’s done far worse to other people at that school.”
Lily’s voice reached a dangerous tone. “This isn’t about James or that stupid row you guys had last term. It has to do with the fact that you throw tantrums like a child whenever something doesn’t go your way. Grow up and realize that you’re not always the victim!”
Willa snorted. “Who do you think you are, telling me to ‘grow up’? Just because you’re now hitched to some bloke with rich parents and a beach cottage in Cornwall? Well guess what, sister…”—she struggled to come up with a better insult—“…fuck you.”
They glared at each other. Even in the darkness, she could see that Lily was no longer the elegant flower from the ceremony. Her hair had come loose from its sleek knot and the strap of her dress had slipped down her shoulder.
The corner of Lily’s mouth began to twitch, and Willa feared she was about to cry. Instead, she burst out laughing. Willa, bewildered at first, caught on, and soon both girls were both doubled over, giggling uncontrollably like they used to when they stayed up too late in the dorms at night.
“Alright, you win,” she wheezed finally, holding a stitch in her side from laughing so hard. “I’m an absolute trainwreck. Honestly, it’s a mystery you’re still friends with me.”
“To be fair, I don’t really know what I’m doing either,” Lily conceded, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes. “I’m eighteen and married to a bloke I’ve only dated for a year. If anyone’s a hot mess, it’s me.”
This was what Willa had been yearning for all evening: to be alone with Lily, laughing at the absurdity that was their lives.
Lily examined the new wedding band on her left hand. “This whole thing is really ridiculous, isn’t it? Had James’s parents not insisted on us having a wedding, we would have eloped like everyone else.”
Willa smirked. “You know…when you told me that you were engaged at graduation, the first thing I thought was that you must be pregnant.”
“You and everyone else. My mother nearly fainted when she saw the ring.”
“There’s still no bun in the oven, right?” Willa asked half-jokingly.
Lily snorted at the muggle euphemism. “Not a chance. At least not until things are normal again. Could you imagine bringing up a child in a world like this?” She held out her hand to Willa, who for a split second thought she wanted her to hold it before realizing she was asking for the bottle of firewhiskey.
Willa smiled grimly and passed her the Ogden’s Old. “These are indeed dark times, Evans.”
The bride conjured two glasses and poured them a dram each. They perched themselves on a large rock and sat for a few minutes without talking, letting the rushing sound of rolling waves fill the silence.
“That group your sister’s a part of,” Lily said out of blue. “What do they call themselves now?”
“The Phoenix Fighters or something like that. A bunch of vigilantes if you ask me.” She frowned. “Emmeline was always the sensible one in the family. I don’t know why she’s risking her life for those people.”
She was in her fourth year at Hogwarts when her older sister joined the underground resistance. It sounded sexy and thrilling back then, and Willa fancied enlisting after graduation. Then news of the murders started trickling back to her—Benjy Fenwick, Dorcas Meadowes, the Prewett brothers, the Bones family. Emmeline, she now feared, would be next.
An equally troubling thought crossed her mind. “You’re not still thinking of joining them, are you?” she asked Lily.
“I don’t know, but at least they’re trying to do something…”
“…and getting killed for it! Every day I turn on the news, waiting to hear if Emmy’s name is going to be on the list of the dead. Please don’t make me stay up listening for your name as well.”
Lily stared out into the dark abyss of the ocean. “You once said to me: ‘I’d rather die fighting than live under someone who goes around calling himself ‘Lord Voldemort’’. What happened to that girl?”
Willa swallowed. “She realized that there’s no point in fighting a lost cause.”
She waited for Lily to argue with her, try to convince her otherwise, but instead her friend just shrugged tiredly.
“I’m sorry, Wills. But I can’t just sit by and wait for this to blow over. Neither can James.” Lily drained the rest of her whiskey. “It’s one of the reasons why I married him.”
Willa marveled at this new woman sitting next to her, who suddenly seemed far wiser than her eighteen years, but also more reckless.
“And they call me the crazy one,” she muttered.
They heard James bellowing from the top of the dunes: “Lily? Are you alright? Where the bloody hell are you?”
“I’m ok!” She yelled back. “Stay there, I’m coming.”
She got up and dusted the sand off her wedding dress. She offered her hand to Willa, this time expecting her to take hold of it. “Let’s go back. It’s not safe for you to be out here alone.”
She longed to take her hand, but she feared that if she did, she might not be able to let it go. She shook her head. “Nah, you go ahead. I’m going to stay out for a bit longer. The fresh air’s doing me good.” It was actually starting to get too cold, but she couldn't bear the thought of being back at the party.
A worried look briefly crossed Lily’s face. “Be careful, Willa,” she said as they bid each other goodnight. She trotted back up the dunes to where the tall, lean figure of James Potter waited for her, silhouetted against the glowing revelries still carrying on behind him.
Alone again, Willa sat facing the sea and pondered the events that brought her here. She found herself wondering about the roses she gave Lily during their third year. Did she ever find out it was her who sent them? Surely if Sirius told James, James would have told Lily by now. But her friend never brought it up, and Willa never asked.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a soft whimpering coming from behind the rocks, telling her she wasn’t actually alone.
She slid off the rock she was sitting on and crept towards the source of the noise. Crouched between two boulders was a small, squirrelly young man with wispy flaxen hair. He was rocking back and forth on his heels, sniffling and muttering to himself while furiously scratching at his forearm.
“Peter? What the bloody hell are you doing?”
Peter Pettigrew jumped up and let out a squeak of surprise, hastily rolling down his shirtsleeve. Even in the moonlight, she could see that his eyes were puffy and raw.
He squirmed. “W…Willa. Sorry…I was just…I needed some air so I…”
“It’s ok. No need to explain,” she said kindly, feeling an unexpected surge of pity for him. “I needed a break from the party, too.”
He tried to smile, but winced and clutched his arm again.
“What’s wrong with your arm?” she asked. “Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m fine, just leave it.”
“Clearly you’re not. C’mon, let’s have a look at it. I’m good at healing.”
Before he could pull away, she quickly took hold of his wrist and lifted his sleeve. At first, she was puzzled to see what looked like a bizarre tattoo—the swelling and rawness of his skin suggested it was recently applied and very painful. Then it dawned on her: the ink depicted a screaming skull with a black serpent writhing out like a grotesque tongue. It was the Dark Mark.
Her eyes widened in shock. “You?”
He ripped his arm out of her grip and stumbled back. Before she could react, he whipped out his wand and pointed it at her.
“Your sister’s part of the Order. Who else is in it?” he demanded shakily.
“I…I have no idea what you’re talking about…”
“You lying b…bitch!” he stuttered, the tremor in his voice worsening. “I just overheard you and Lily talking about them. Tell me who they are or I’ll…I’ll…”
Willa backed away with her palms facing him. “It’s ok, Pete, there’s no need to get worked up. You want to answers? Let’s talk.”
She tried to remain outwardly calm while she racked her brain for what to do next. Then her foot found the bottle of Ogden’s Old sitting in the sand. Slowly, she picked it up, uncorked the bottle, and filled the two glasses Lily had left behind. Peter watched her skeptically.
“Here, take this. You look like you could use it.” Ignoring the fact that he still had her at wandpoint, she pressed the cup of firewhiskey into his open hand.
“I’ll tell you everything I know,” she assured him. “But first—in the spirit of the occasion that brought us here tonight— I’d like to propose a toast.”
She was standing so close that she could count the beads of sweat that kept forming on his forehead despite the cold Atlantic air. Her proximity seemed to have an odd effect on him; he tensed his jaw and swallowed nervously, but there was something of a repressed desire in the way his eyes flitted across her face. She knew then that this was how it was all going to end, yet she felt oddly serene holding her final drink of the evening while her other hand slowly slid into the hidden pocket of her dress, searching for the smooth, thin shape of her wand.
“What are we toasting to?” he asked hoarsely, not yet aware of her planned betrayal.
She raised her glass. “To us losers.”
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