An ugly house, 1978
The mop was mopping, and two scrub brushes were scrubbing: the floor was starting to look more like the cheap linoleum it was, and less like a stable. Lily sat on the counter, with her legs crossed beneath her, carefully monitoring their progress and filling out a crossword puzzle. She quickly penciled in a word, before it could move.
"Hey," James said brightly. He hovered at the edge of the kitchen, weighed down with groceries and a stack of tattered magazines.
"Don't come in here, unless it's on your broom."
"Still working on the floor?"
"Hmm. Three failed scourgifys later..."
"We could still have someone in to replace it. I'm sure she wouldn't mind returning to a new floor."
"James, our lease says we can't make substantial changes."
"Then you should definitely stop cleaning." He grinned. "Because this floor is starting to look substantially changed." He set down his packages, and levitated them into the pantry, in groups of two. "Mum gave me some of her old Modern Witch's."
"She did not."
"Yeah, she says there are some great charms in them."
Lily rolled her eyes. "She has two house elves."
"She cleans sometimes."
"I have personally seen her cast cleaning charms."
"On two separate occasions."
Lily laughed. "I love your mum, but I really doubt she can tell the difference between a 'great' cleaning charm and a bad one."
"And I am completely fine with that, so long as she keeps cooking."
Lily grimaced. "She's not expecting me to turn into some kind of gourmet chef, is she?"
"No, of course not. At least, not right away." He laughed at the look of horror that she knew was spreading across her face. "You know what we should do?"
"Finish cleaning the floor?"
"Have a housewarming party!"
"No parents. Just friends."
"We just moved in." They were halfway through cleaning and they barely had furniture. Their flatware consisted of six forks, five spoons and an assortment of knives, (unless she included her always-growing potions kit). They had three cups. Were their guests going to share?
"Come on Lily, it's tradition. You can't move into a new place without having a party."
"Oh no, what will people think," she said with as much sarcasm as she could manage (which was quite a lot, actually).
"I'm so glad you see it my way." She rolled her eyes. "Come on, a small party." He smiled at her. That smile, the one that was all big brown eyes and little-boy sweetness. Great.
She sighed. "Small." They could always get some cheap party supplies. And James and Sirius could transfigure whatever they couldn't find.
"Great! I need to consult with Sirius..." He ran off the living room, to shout into the fireplace.
Three days later
Lily slipped into the mercifully empty kitchen, deposited her empty bottle on the counter and was through the door to the garden, in seconds, without being seen. An escape worthy of an Auror. Or someone on the run. She closed the door behind her quietly. Not that the quiet was necessary. The house wasn't doing a good job of muffling the sounds of the party, even with the muffliato she'd cast half an hour in.
Five hours and still going strong, so Lily figured she could count the party as a success, even if the hostess was hiding in the garden. A crash that sounded like the (too expensive) crystal vase that James had given her as a house warming gift breaking, (because she didn't yet have anything else that was particularly breakable), caused a sudden hush.
"No, I can fix it!"
"Better do it before she sees this."
"Better do it before James sees it."
Whoever it was must have, because soon enough, the kitchen was again as loud as the rest of the house. The minor explosions that accompanied all truly great parties followed. A quick glance at the window revealed that the curtains weren't yet on fire.
Lily rubbed a hand across her eyes and laughed.
"Did you take up smoking and not tell me?" She startled, not having heard the door open. Sirius smirked, obviously happy to have snuck up on her.
Lily just rolled her eyes. "No, did you?"
"Yes, I'm up to two packs a day," he said, producing a lit cigarette. He leaned against the closed door and took a long drag, holding the fag just so; he immediately choked on it.
"Sirius!" she exclaimed through her helpless laughter.
Bent over now, with the force of his coughing, he looked up at her with bleary eyes. "Wha-?" He was cut off by a cough that was followed by another, and another, until it became a string of coughs with no end in sight.
"You're an idiot." She helpfully patted him on the back (harder than was necessary, strictly speaking).
The cigarette, dropped to the cold-burnt grass in the midst of a coughing fit, revealed itself to be a transfigured candy wrapper. Sirius Black: his own worst enemy. Lily giggled. She couldn't help herself, not really.
"Hey, it's not funny."
"It really is," she said, utterly unable (and unwilling) to keep the smile off her face.
Sirius held his frown a second more. It collapsed into a huge, winning grin. "The things I do to make a pretty girl smile."
Lily laughed again. "I was already smiling." The thing about Sirius, was that even when he was an idiot (which was often), he was also sweet.
"So. Great party." Sirius sat down on the low step and tugged on her wrist until she sat beside him. The step was so low she had to sit with her knees together and legs splayed, just to avoid having her them up to her chest. They needed a bench, maybe a couple of chairs.
"Why're you hiding out here? Since you obviously haven't secretly taken up smoking."
"Why are you?"
"I asked you first."
She rolled her eyes. Apparently Sirius was in fact still eleven years old. "I just needed some air," she said, shrugging. And refuge from the 'small' party inside.
"So did I, actually."
"The great Sirius Black, life of every party that ever was, in need of air?"
"Don't tell anyone," he said, his voice low. "My reputation would be forever tarnished."
"I'll take it to my grave," she swore, placing a hand over her heart.
He flashed her a conspiratorial grin. "That's my girl." Sirius wrapped his arms around himself, and leaned back against the door. Lily shimmied back until she could lean against it too, and warmed up a bubble of air around them.
Being September, it was cool in the garden, but warm enough that they didn't need coats or scarves. The tall grass that the house's owner had planted was dry and burnt from the cold spells they were now getting, but tufts of bright green were still growing here and there. It wasn't a garden exactly. More a small patio, with a shabby table and some dirt off to one side. She didn't know if they were going to bother with it, come spring. There were so many other things to take care of. And was she really the gardening type?
They'd been out of school for a handful of months, and moving out had seemed like the proper next step. The house, leased from a travel-writer, was as shabby as the yard and formerly Muggle; converted haphazardly by the owner, so that indoor plumbing and the flue operated side by side. It was hideous, really, painted a faded puce inside and out, but she liked it all the same. The strange assortment of Muggle and Wizard furniture and gadgets the owner had collected on her travels didn't feel so strange to Lily, who'd spent her life shuttling between two worlds.
There was a list, terrifying in length, of repairs it needed. And along with that list, there were others. House lists, finding-a-better-job lists and lists of things she wasn't supposed to be thinking about tonight, and never in public.
"What are you thinking?" Sirius had a funny look on his face, as though he couldn't decide between smiling or frowning.
"I'm picturing myself in an apron and earmuffs, tending to my mandrakes."
He hummed; rubbed his chin like he was considering her words carefully. "What colour muffs?"
"Orange," she said gravely. "Definitely orange."
"To blend into your hair?"
"Exactly. I always suspected you were more than a moderately pretty face." She nodded; pointed to where she'd plant her fictional crop of roots. "Prefect, isn't it?"
"I like it. It's a good plan. I'll transfigure you some chairs, so I can sit back with a lager and watch you play homemaker."
"Oh god, can you imagine?" The boys, save for Peter, lounging around the poor excuse for a garden, drinking warm lager and playing exploding snap, which they still took far too seriously. Peter, tending the screaming mandrakes with her, wearing mousy brown muffs instead of orange. She'd have something cooking in the kitchen.
Never mind that she could barely manage tea and sandwiches. Hogwarts wasn't the best place to learn to keep house, unless you managed it in Charms or Potions. Lily had never been especially interested in domestic magic; there always seemed to be more important things to learn. Until you found yourself in your first grownup home, faced with the daunting prospect of producing three meals a day. They'd been eating a lot of take away.
"Actually..." Sirius trailed off, staring at the barren garden. No doubt planning a tree house, or something equally horrifying.
"What?" What are you planning?
"Yeah, I can imagine it." He smiled at her. This time it was sweet, without any pretense of being charming; and more charming because of it. "You're going to be great at this adulthood stuff." He waved, drawing a vague figure in the air: adulthood, whatever that was.
"And what about you?"
"Me? I'm a work in progress."
"Yes. Yes you are."
"Hey!" She grinned, and in response he heaved a sigh that would sound convincingly long-suffering to an outsider. "At least I'm moderately pretty."
"See, you've got that to fall back on."
He laughed at that, but there was something awkward in it, and he looked away quickly. She let it pass; she was still, all this time later, figuring him out. She knew James best of all of them, obviously. James was just James, bright and brilliant, and an open book that sometimes showed too much. Sirius, he only wanted to be an open book.
He looked down at her, grin back in place. "I could use a fresh drink, how about you?"
A quick accio lager brought them two fresh, cool drinks, even cooler in the night air. They drank in silence. They'd been spending more time together since leaving Hogwarts. Still, it was strange to be alone with him.
When they were kids, Sirius had just been James' other half, and then later, one of the boys. She'd spent years being irritated by him, by them, and sometimes even hating them a little, before she ever started to know them. Lily wondered, once in a while, who she'd been to them then. It wasn't something she'd ever ask, because asking would lead to other questions, some of which she still didn't have the answers to. She wasn't sure she'd want to share them. Not even with James.
She elbowed him softly in the ribs.
"At some point we should go back in, right?"
"Yeah, at some point." He sighed. "It's nice."
"What? This disaster of a shack?"
"No. No, the shack is most definitely not nice. Although I'm sure you and James will manage to make it bearable."
"Puce, Sirius. It's puce all over."
"I had noticed. No, I meant, it's nice to have a night off."
"Oh, from your busy schedule of taking out pretty girls and loitering in the pub?"
"No, from... things," he said, looking down. Lily knew what he meant. She'd known even before he said it, if she was honest with herself, because he was carefully not talking about the same things that had driven her out here. The same things that had James insisting that not only was it their duty as new home leasers to host a party, but that they kind of needed one right now.
It was understood that at least for tonight, no one was to talk about the growing dark; the kidnappings, cursings and strange occurrences that had so far managed to stay out of the papers. No doubt because the Daily Prophet didn't want to be involved in alarming the public. Not them.
"Are you meeting with him tomorrow?"
"Yes," she said. "For tea."
He grinned. "And lemon drops."
"And lemon drops. Will you be there? "
"Yeah." He looked out into the garden again, not really at anything.
It was a clear night, almost cloudless. If they'd been outside of the city, they might be able to see more stars. She knew the perfect charm to cut through the haze of Muggle pollution, but not tonight, she thought. Tonight she was satisfied with only seeing the brightest stars.
She braced herself for the inevitable mockery. "You're a good friend."
He looked at her, surprised, and vaguely pleased. After a few seconds, she realized that mockery was not forthcoming. "So are you." He gave her another of those great, genuine smiles (he'd have a real girlfriend by now, if he used it more often instead of the ones he thought were charming), and put his arm around her.
Lily leaned into him.
She'd grown up with a sister. One who, no matter how much she tried to be friends with, to be close to, wasn't interested in knowing her. She'd never had a brother. (At one time, she had thought that Severus- but no). Was this what it was like?
Suddenly, the door they'd been leaning against was no longer available for leaning, having been opened violently, and they tumbled backwards into the kitchen, in a tangle of limbs.
"There you are!" James smiled down on them. Then frowned. "What's going on here."
"I'm making a play for your girl," Sirius said, from underneath Lily's hair. She hastily tugged it out of his way. She didn't want him to choke on it; hell, she didn't want his mouth on it. His open mouth. Ew.
"Really," James said evenly, watching them disentangle.
Lily pushed her hair back from her face and looked up, giving him the straightest face she could manage. "Yes James, it's over between us. I've found a new love."
Sirius nodded. "True love."
Lily fluttered her eyelashes at him. "It was meant to be."
"Well, if that's all." James grinned again. He offered her a hand up, and another to brush the dust off of her skirt. "Peter is so drunk."
"Yeah? How drunk?" Sirius' expression was a perfect mirror to James'. Oh boys, she thought. She collected the empty bottles that she and Sirius had left on the step and put them on the counter, adding them to the crowd of bottles, cups, and goblets (goblets...?) that jockeyed for space. Whatever bits of counter weren't taken up by that mess, were taken up by plates, and bowls, and empty containers of Fortescue's. Should she start cleaning this up now, or wait for it to spill over onto the floor? Dilemma.
"Remus gave him the Ogden's. He's forgotten his own name."
"This I gotta see." The boys headed into the living room, Sirius in the lead. James paused at the entrance, leaning into the frame.
"Yeah. I'm just going to get a drink." She rubbed a hand across her forehead, considering.
"Hey, you know what?" James moved to stand beside her, and put a hand on her shoulder. He was taller than her, so she had to look up, but not by much.
"This is the ugliest house I've ever seen."
She laughed. "I won't argue with you about that."
"But this party is great."
"The small party with only our closest friends, you mean?"
"Yeah. We just happen to be blessed with a lot of friends."
She smiled. "I guess so."
"Come in when you're ready," he said, and kissed her on the forehead.
For a moment, Lily stared at the dishes that were all but crawling out of the sink, and the mess in the place where the counter should have been, transfixed. They could wait, she decided, and headed into the living room, to see just how drunk Peter was.
Epilogue, or the Morning After
"Don't tell your mother I said this."
"I promise," James said. Or "I probiss," really, what with his stuffed nose. In the aftermath of what he was now calling The Greatest Party Ever, a hitherto unknown allergy to dust and grime had reared its ugly, stuffy head. He was taking it it stride, sneezes and all.
Lily swished her wand in the direction of the sink. "These cleaning charms are great!"
"Modern Witch comes through again." James peered at his magazine through his dusty lenses. "Am I supposed to swish, or flick?"
"Flick, I think."
"Ah. You're right." The floor cleared itself of the party detritus that had drifted in from the living room. "Lily?"
"When our lease is up, can we get a real house?"
"One that's not puce?"
"And with more than five rooms."
She laughed. "Yes, definitely."
"Ok, it says we can leave this one to work by itself." He checked his watch. "We need to get going."
They left the kitchen to clean itself up, and went on to the afternoon's business: tea with Dumbledore.