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who's going to be on the plate?

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It does not occur until six-thirty on December 31st, 1977 when Lily smells the deep, mouth-watering smell of roast beef and yorkshire pudding that there are several things she’s failed to inform her parents about one James Potter. Foremost, is that her boyfriend hates yorkshire pudding (“there’s blood in it! Sirius, that’s disgusting, don’t put that in your mouth,” is one of the first things she’d ever heard him say) with all the passion of a child throwing their broccoli at the wall in protest. Second, and perhaps more egregious, is that James Potter absolutely cannot stand to eat meat. A feeling of dread settles deep into her stomach and doesn’t let go. Suddenly struck by the notion that tonight, more than any other night, is going to define her future for the rest of her days, she fears that disaster is imminent.

As she walks down the stairs from her bedroom, she looks to the source of this belief. There are heads mounted and stuffed on the walls in her living room, den, and upstairs hall. Each gruesome exhibit of taxidermy is testament to the proud Evans manly bonding traditions of shoot-and-skin summer activities handed down from her grandfather to her father. If that display wasn’t enough to convince any casual visitor that the family living in the modestly sized house in Cokeworth are proud meat-eaters, than the freezer filled to the brim with frozen animal carcasses—enough to last through the Great Depression—would drive the reality home with all the subtlety of a hammer to the forehead. The oh-so-brilliant idea she’d had about having James meet her family in her home, rather than in a restaurant, is cracking quicker than a botched paint job.

Lily swallows as she watches her mother bustling around the kitchen wielding a wooden spoon and humming an Elvis song, before she turns her gaze to look out towards the small flecks of white snow gathering outside. Absurdly, since she is certain that this smell means disaster for the night ahead, she finds herself wishing for a blizzard. Then, she complains inwardly about James’ lack of phone, because if he owned one than she could call and pretend he’d broken his leg and is on his way to St. Mungo’s right now. Lastly, she chides herself at turning down one of those talking mirrors the boys cart around everywhere when they offered, because the annoying devices that always interrupt their dates are suddenly as appealing as perfect scores on her N.E.W.T.S.

Steeling herself to the sound of Tardis battle cries echoing from the den, Lily hops over to her mother with a wide smile on her face. As she loops her arm through her mother’s, she inwardly pictures a train running into a wall and exploding with James behind the wheel, before she says, “Mum, dinner smells lovely. Are there potatoes and parsnips in the oven as well?” Her boyfriend might as well be grazing grass in the forest for all the substance that will give him, but really, this is his fault.

She ignores the tiny voice that tells her the forgetfulness that crops up every day or so causing big issues like dietary habits to remain unannounced is actually her own fault, and smiles as her mother confirms that the vegetables are roasting in the oven—thankfully not in the same pan—as well as carrots and green beans. Lily’s brow furrows a little at the amount of food, since she can see a large bowl of salad already dressed and arranged in the dining room. Next to her, Fiona Evans expertly kneads dough for a pudding on the counter. Lily cranes her neck around her mother’s large frame as the woman talks about how excited she is for tonight and feels herself grow faint as she counts the number of plates arranged on the table.

In a strangled voice, she asks, “Mum, why are there six plates on the table?” She looks back towards the table and recounts. Perhaps she counted wrong. She finds herself praying, in fact, that she’d counted wrong, but no. Six plates with designs of white lilies are sitting innocently on a pale pink tablecloth embroidered with petunias, a handmade Christmas present from their Grandmother O’Donnell. Next to the breadbasket, where scones filled with raisins rest, are six glasses and two bottles of red wine. Her jaw clenches as she turns back to her mother, smile now strained. “Are Uncle Sean and his roommate coming over?”

Please say yes , she thinks. She knows without any doubt that there are invisible beads of sweat coming from her hairline right now. If her life were a cartoon, then she also knows the way this night will play out will be as smooth as the coyote attempting to capture the roadrunner. I think Pet will literally rip my hair out from the roots if another dinner goes belly-up .

Last week hadn’t been entirely James’ fault, she knows with hindsight. She should have explained that Vernon was as unknowing as a babe just out of the womb when it came to magic. Or anything that didn’t have to do with drills and fry-ups, really.

“Don’t be silly, dear,” her mother responds. “He’s still in Denmark at the conference. Won’t be back until next week. You’ll be coming with us to Heathrow, of course, to pick him up. If I have to hear his complaining, we all have to hear his complaining.”

Any other time, Lily would protest this with her standard, “but he’s your brother,” but dread has suddenly taken hold of her veins with all the gentle comfort of an electric shock. The succulent smell of the roast wafts upwards as her mother bends down, reindeer apron brushing the floor, and causes Lily’s stomach to roll unpleasantly. She blurts out, “I don’t think there’s going to be enough. James and I will go for pizza or something. You can meet him another day.”

Even if she was brave enough to smash to bits all of her mother’s hard-work at cooking a good impression dinner (which she absolutely isn’t), the idea that James and Vernon would be in the same room together again within less than two weeks is almost as bad as the idea of going to a ball with Death-Eaters-In-Training.

As Fiona straightens, she tosses her daughter a withering stare. “Are you mad, Lily?” She sets the roast down onto the counter with a loud clang. Distantly, Lily hears her father ask what’s going on, but the rest of his query drowns into silence by the sound of The Master’s monologue from their static-filled television set. As she continues to speak, her Irish brogue begins to get thicker. “You spent all your allowance on gifts. Unless you’ve got a job hidden up in that school of yours or you can magic yourself some quid, you’ve got no money. I will not give you any when there is perfectly good food sitting here!” With an angry flourish, her mother tosses the oven mitts onto the counter next to the bowl of batter.

Gritting her teeth, Lily stares at her mother challengingly. “Mum, last week was a disaster, alright? James and Vernon—they just can’t be here together. I’m sorry for your efforts, really, but it's not like it’s going to go to waste! We’ve got a huge slab of beef coming over just ready to consume its own kind.” Going to pizza would also get her away from the trial of having to watch Vernon eat. It’s always a chore, and one Lily didn’t like to do overmuch. Not for the first time, she wonders what screws loose her sister possesses that she can date that man without wanting to play Russian Roulette with the cutlery.

Fiona rolls her brown eyes and crosses her arms. The ends of her red braid, just beginning to grow gray, brush her blouse. Her mother is still a good-looking woman, even with crow’s feet around her eyes and lines deepening around her prominent mouth. Her freckles are eye-catchingly adorable, and her small nose with the snub at the tip is utterly charming. What’s not charming, however, is her stance. Lily watches her foot pop out on a point, the type of point that means the next words that come out of her mouth are to be listened to, comprehended, and obeyed without fuss. “No one with two working brain cells gets along with Vernon, Lily. For all your complaining about this boy for years, every summer mind you, I managed to gather one thing about James. He’s got more than two working brain cells. It would astonish me if he did get along with Vernon.”

Lily tries to use the trump card with this opening. “Mum, you know how many fights James gets into with people he doesn’t like. He and Severus are practically at each other’s throats! I don’t think Dad wants to meet my boyfriend while he’s hexing Pet’s boyfriend. And I don’t think you’ll want to watch her reaction to that !” She waves her arms for dramatic effect. This tactic worked as a child. As an adult, most of her freckles have faded and her chubby cheeks have thinned. The tactic fails and her mother remains unmoved.

As the clock chimes seven times, Lily muses that there is only a half-hour left until the apocalypse occurs. Ignorant of this, Fiona smiles with amusement. “I hardly think a boy trying to make a good impression on his girlfriend’s parents will start a fight in front of them, luv. That’s just poppycock.”

Privately, Lily thinks that James Potter is capable of many things when annoyed, up to and including turning Vernon Dursley into an ox, without any hint of remorse and no amount of regrets. As Head Boy, he’s slightly more responsible and mature than he’d been six months ago, but his quick-temper hasn’t suffered any snuffing out. It’s made their more memorable fights in the Gryffindor common room, the Great Hall, and in Honeydukes Sweet Shop rather exciting for their friends (and random ponces). She relates this fact to her mother with much more subdued words and ends with saying, “I’ll just tell him to go home when he gets here.”

And take me with him , she thinks. We can run away to his grandmother’s cottage in the Gascon countryside where we’ll eat stinky cheese, sleep naked on silk sheets, and watch pervy farmers fuck sheep through open shutters . Her Grandmother O’Donnell would refer to that as the good life.

“Really, Lily, James is coming all the way from Wales!” her mother cries. Her voice rises on the final word like a screeched musical note. It reminds Lily of Petunia’s failed attempts at playing the violin and their neighbors frequent complaints.

She waves her hand as she protests, “Apparating takes two seconds. It’s hardly been a whole day affair.” Her elbow knocks into a half-empty bowl of whisked eggs, causing it to slide across the counter and slam into the wall. Her mother sighs in aggravation and, with a closed fist, knocks against the counter.

“Honestly, I hope I wasn’t this bad when your dad met me mum the first time,” Fiona mutters. Some of the egg has splattered against the wall, the yellow gloop running down the wood in thick rivulets. She begins to roll the dough on the counter with a rolling pin she snags from the small drawer next to the oven. “I get that you’re nervous, but—”

Whatever her mother is going to say disappears forever with the arrival of Jonathan Evans into the kitchen. He’s taller than both Fiona, who is amazingly short at five-feet nothing, and Lily, with a receding hairline of dull brown and round spectacles with thin metal frames covering his green eyes. There’s a mound over his belt area that speaks of too many puddings during the dull hours at work, but his arms and legs are still strong with muscle.

“Is the spectacle here yet?” her father asks, and steals a quick swipe of apples and cinnamon left in a large bowl as he comes over. Her father has been referring to James as “the spectacle” ever since Lily wrote home two months ago confirming that one, she was not going insane, and two, that she had, in fact, decided dating James Potter, formerly known in the Evans’ household as ‘that loggerhead and prat,’ was a smashing idea. Grandmother O’Donnell wrote back and said she couldn’t wait to see the show, and ever since then, her father decided it was easier to deal with this new situation by referring to it as a grand farce.

“No, Daddy, he’s not,” Lily says with a sigh. Behind her eyes, a headache blooms and she regrets any and all smashing ideas she’s ever had. She regrets the way James’ messy hair curls in front of his eyes and his impish smile and the butterflies in her stomach. In fact, she regrets ever meeting him right now. With annoyance, she rounds on her father and demands, “I thought Petunia was going to dinner with Vernon and his sister. Why are they coming here?”

Her father shrugs and narrowly avoids his wife’s swatting as he dips his finger back for more apples when Fiona’s opens the oven. “Something about a sick dog. I don’t know. Petunia didn’t put enough change into the call for it to last through too many details.”  He fixes his crooked glasses on his face. Both he and Fiona are dressed to the nines; for the redheaded woman, a nice dress that falls around her mother’s slim frame charmingly, alongside a white-button down with a perfectly tied knot for her father.

Lily’s still in her thermal cotton pajamas and her hair’s a mess. The meat, the dreadful news, and her worry had distracted her from fixing herself up. She glances at the clock. Five minutes after seven. As these thoughts run through her head, evidently, the same occur to her father. “Are you going to welcome him like that ?” A tone of disbelief and a raised eyebrow meets her as she looks back to her father. “Well, this just goes to show how long this will la—”

“Dad,” she says in the exasperated tone of one who has had this argument too many times during the holiday break. “Can you promise that you’ll be welcoming? Just—forget everything I ever told you about him, all right? Pretend like he’s a new carburetor and you’ve got to learn all the parts and inner workings.”

She shoots a quick glance over to the roast. Or didn’t tell you, as the case may be , she sighs inwardly.

Fiona laughs. “She’s right, Johnny,” she says. She undoes the apron, fiddling with the ties, and then she throws it over the small, square kitchen table haphazardly. “All those complaints were just the pigtail pulling stage.”

“She never went through that stage with the Diggory boy. Or the Bones one. Or the—” her father begins to grumble. Lily cuts him off with a groan of aggravation and more regrets fill her as she recalls her three previous boyfriends, all of whom had the misfortune of being introduced to her father before James—though entirely on accident, since Platform 9 ¾ is, after all, only so large—thereby tainting her father’s impression of first-meetings with Lily’s boyfriends.

“It doesn’t matter what stage! There are no stages! Dad, I really lo—like him,” she says with exasperation. She pushes down any inklings she’s developing about what she’d almost said because, no, it’s too soon for that no matter how hard he makes her heart beat, and smiles at both her parents like she’s pleading to be kept from the noose. “Just be nice.”

Now would be a good time to mention the elephant in the room , a voice reminds her as she watches Fiona baste the roast with a proud smile on her face. Yet, just like she can hardly bring herself to admit errors in her transfiguration homework, she can’t quite bring herself to reveal her folly, and the moment passes as her father shakes his head, retreating to the living room with an, “alright dear.”

With a nagging headache, she wonders how long it will take her to blackout if she wraps the long, twisted cord of the avocado colored wall phone around her neck and squeezes.

 

 

 

A half hour later, Lily is washed and primped and presentable, though her headache is no less a bother. This is because, five minutes ago, Vernon Dursley had stomped into the Evans’ home with all the manners of a baboon. A whining Petunia accompanied him nattering on about traffic and lowlifes in shops. With her elbows on her knees and her chin in her palms, Lily glares at him from her spot on the couch, wishing she could whip out her wand and perform a muffling charm.

The Evans’ living room looks the same as every other living room on the block. The couch and arm chairs are all a deep, royal blue. Surrounding them are end tables and a coffee table, each a deep mahogany with doilies of lace and cream. There are flowers sitting in a vase, already beginning to wither, on the right end table, and a dog bed in the corner that her mother has yet to dispose of. It is all perfectly ordinary, just as Petunia Evans prefers it but, as  Lily catches her sister’s narrow eyed look towards the upstairs, there’s evidence that there were things in the household very much not ordinary. Lily smirks at her over her cup of tea a trifle vindictively, which only makes her sister’s sour expression deepen.

Vernon Dursley’s girth takes up most of the couch and so her father finds himself standing next to the fireplace, a polite, but fake, smile on his face and his hands tight on a glass of wine, while her mother has made herself scarce finishing the sponge. Petunia looks like a straw-stuffed scarecrow with brown sticks for hair in a salmon pink dress boxed in as she is between the arm of the couch and the boar-man’s arm, which amuses Lily, though the heavy wafts of artificial perfume and cologne coming from the both of them makes her want to gag.

Instead, in an effort to distract from her racing heart and thoughts and the insipid conversation about polo Vernon is trying to engage her bored father in, Lily reaches over to the coffee table and rips out a crumpled letter from Marlene that’s hidden under cookbooks and a worn copy of To Kill a Mockingbird . Reading over the familiar scrawl for a second time, she pictures Vernon’s face turning aubergine purple at the sight of a rampaging stag crashing about the Three Broomsticks Inn, then pursued by three sloshed teenage boys around the completely magical village. The incident happened at the end of November, but still her friend brought it up in almost every correspondence.

When she looks up again, her eyes drawn to the dark mahogany grandfather clock that sits in the corner of the living room, and she notes the time. A quarter to eight, she thinks, and a spark of worry goes through her as she looks to the window and sees only snowflakes gathering on the porch. Perhaps he’s attempting to fix his hair? She ponders other possibilities, but she cannot help the apprehension she feels at the thought of his tardiness when usually James is prompt and on time. As she chews at her bottom lip, teeth scraping against tender flesh, her sister’s voice grates into her ear like nails on a chalkboard when she says, “—menaces on motorbikes and hooligans smoking reefer and getting high on every corner. It’s a mess, daddy, a real mess. Vernon’s just glad his sister’s moving out of that neighborhood.”

Her father makes a little humming noise that Lily knows means he’s just pretending to listen, but is probably going through a number of things in his head he’d rather be doing, such as jumping out of a plane with no parachute or in a high-speed chase on the highway next to his boorish boss that always has mustard stains on his tie. As the clock ticks past another minute, her stomach clenches and she forces herself to keep her gaze away from the window, narrowing in on a spot that looks like a moth flying towards the ceiling light. Vernon makes a snorting sound that she figures is supposed to be human and begins to say, “She’s a proper sort of woman. She shouldn’t be around those so—”

The sound of a choir singing cuts off his tirade. Knock, knock, knock . Lily shoots to her feet, letter flopping onto the ground ink-side up, and moves to the door before her father can gathering his bearings or her mother can begin to make her way out of the kitchen.

“I’ve got it!” she calls out, rushing to the door. She swings it open, heart pounding, and the smell of chemicals mixing with a sweet, baked cake and roasted meat and veg sweep through the open door like a wave to hit the cold air. As her gaze falls on her boyfriend, she freezes, a small, fond smile spreading across her face.

His hair is a mess. The curls at the top of his head are falling over his black-framed, square glasses in little ringlets, the cowlick at the back of his head reaching up like a beacon, and there are wavy locks in every direction just under his ears and ending at the nape of his neck that are catching snowflakes; a shock of white immersed in a wilderness of black. His cheeks are red from the cold, but he’s dressed lovely, in a suit-jacket with properly ironed white silk button-down and black slacks, complete with an expertly knotted tie. He’s even shaved off his usual three-day stubble and is as fresh-faced as a cover model.

The image of a composed, handsome young man is completely and utterly ruined by the bouncing of his feet on the stone walkway and the way he keeps twisting back and forth, from what she assumes are nerves (as well as the typical deep-seated need to never stay still for more than twenty seconds inherent only to him). Without a second thought to wonder if her mum or dad are behind her, she reaches forward and wraps her arms around him, though it's awkward since his own are hiding behind his back, and stands up on her tiptoes as he bends down to kiss her deeply.

As they break apart, she brushes her cheek against his and then whispers, “Abort. The enemy is here. Repeat. The enemy is here.”

“What? Lily, are you high? Been experimenting with funny potions?” James asks, pulling back to stare at her with concern. He brings his right hand to check her temperature, which she flits away without taking her eyes from his face. She quickly pulls him forward again, stepping out further into the cold, uncaring of the fact that the frost is really quite horrible and her nipples are going to turn to popsicles if she stays out here long with all the protection her thin dress does not afford.

“It’s Vernon ,” she says with a face that she knows is white and eyes wider than a deer’s caught in a headlight. Her tone has taken on more than a little bit of panic. “My sister has released him from the farm. Again.”

James’ nose wrinkles. An appropriate reaction, though whether it's from her news or the smell of the roast, she cannot quite tell. Then his voice does the funny thing where he’s trying to keep himself from insulting someone in four different languages and hex them at the same time. “Oh,” he says, tone going down and then, up again, with false positivity and control. “Well, perhaps that’s a good thing. I’ll look right brilliant to your parents compared to him.”

Lily blinks, mouth open, the cold air biting at her gums and her tongue. It tastes like an ice slurpee. Then she blinks again. “Are you drunk?” His hazel eyes seem alert, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t take a shot or two. It’s the only logical explanation for this bizarre and horrible idea that he’s sprouting.

A snorting bark answers her instead and it is only then that she looks away from James long enough to notice the rather large, fluffy black dog that is standing next to him. She feels her heart drop through her feet and down into the earth’s molten core as she looks at him, complete with a snub nose and gray eyes. She swallows around a dry tongue as she watches the innocent looking canine wag his tail with excitement. Goddamnit James, I told you— , she thinks before the sound of her father’s footsteps and greeting makes her freeze and her brain implode.

“Lily,” Jonathan Evans calls from the front hall. “It’s freezing out there. Invite the boy in already. The roast is getting cold.”

James eyes grow wide for a second and his olive skin goes almost ghost white, his nose wrinkling even more, which turns into an expression rather like she imagines hitting him in delicate places might cause. “You didn’t tell

The dog makes snorting noises that seem like laughter at the same time that Lily says, “Fuck! Ugh , no, I forgot okay. And now we’ve got Vernon here, and my sister here, and a dinner you won’t eat and it’s all terribly botched and we just need to go!” Not to mention him , she thinks with a look of annoyance at the dog. “Run away, right now! We’ll don fake mustaches and fur coats and hide out in the hills with pizza and fags!”

James abruptly waves his right hand, which makes Lily step back as flowers are suddenly hitting her in the face and the mouth. She sneezes, then spits out a stray petal, which lands on the growing piles of snow. Distantly, she hears her father yell, “Lily! I mean it! Get inside!” but she ignores this, and tries to reach for the bushel of deep red roses that her boyfriend is holding.

“It’ll be fine,” James says, moving away from her to turn on his heels as he talks. Back and forth, in tiny circles. “I’ll just ” He stops, face white and nervous. The thought of eating the roast is no doubt making him want to upchuck the entire contents of his stomach from the past two weeks more than the thought of meeting her parents ever would. “ eat it? I guess. I can do that.” Lily, and the dog, too, looks at him with identical expressions of skepticism and concern. “It’ll be fine. I promise I won’t ruin this night, Lily. I want your parents to like me. As much as you do.”

It’s sweet. A lie, though, because she knows that something will ruin this night, knows it deep in her soul and parts of her being that probably don’t even exist, that tonight is going to be a disaster. Yet it's heartwarming nonetheless, and there is a wide smile stretching her lips almost to the point of painful in response to this earnest gesture.

So, she sighs and says, “Just feed the roast to him.” She waves at the dog. “Discreetly.” Then she tries to get to the flowers again, but James jumps back with a smirk on his face and she swears she hears the canine sigh .

As she reaches, again, for the flowers, he holds them above his head. Fucking beanpole , she thinks, standing on the tips of her toes. He shakes his head, causing his wild hair to fall around his face even more messily.

“Ah-ah, these aren’t for you,” he teases in a singsong tone, crooked smile firmly in place. “They’re for your mother.”

Lily frowns. “Are you trying to court her now?” she asks sarcastically. The smell of the meat is beginning to travel and, faintly, she thinks she can hear Vernon’s boorish voice drowning out the next rerun of Doctor Who.

He pulls his left hand he’s kept that one still for a full three minutes or so, Lily muses impressed out from behind his back and presents her with an even better gift offering of chocolate frogs. In a dark chocolate limited holiday edition with peppermint. “Here you go, my love.”

She will deny to the day she dies that the sound that comes out of her mouth is a squeal. No matter what he says. As she reaches over and throws her arms around his neck, his arms going around her waist and pulling her close, she forgets about the apocalypse brewing in the living room and loses herself in the feel of him for a few blissful seconds.

“Lily!” her father nearly screams this time, and then the door wrenches open and her sister stands there with her arms crossed over her chest and a pinched expression of distaste.

“You’re at our parents,” Petunia says accusingly. “Disgusting.” She looks at James with the same gaze she would a bug at the bottom of her well-turned heel. “Vernon would never be so disrespectful.” In the background, the oaf tosses them a disdainful look before he lumbers into the dining room.

“Nice to see you again, too,” James say in a tone of voice that’s perfectly cheerful. It’s his mocking tone, of course, and Petunia is sharp enough to figure this out on her own. “The color of that dress compliments you to a tee. And it matches the scent of your perfume.” Her sister huffs in response and produces a withering stare.

Before her sister can insult him back, the dog barks again. At the sound, an expression comes over Petunia like a mask in a horror movie as she looks down. “What is that ?” She turns sharply on her heel. “Mum! Dad! He’s brought a mutt!” she yells as she stalks into the dining room. “Can’t her people ever be civilized?”

James’ mouth goes tight. “Vous avez le corps d'un chien et le QI d'une durée de cinq ans,” he mutters with annoyance. The dog barks in agreement, digging his paws into the snow and matting his dark fur with frozen flakes.

Lily doesn’t need to know any French to know that James’ heartfelt promise is already beginning to produce large trails of smoke. With a gesture, that she hopes is support, the dog brushes his head against her hand as they enter the lion’s den.

 

 

 

Her mother nearly runs into the hall after the door closes and snaps shut. She greets the dog, and James, with warmth and excitement, nearly rips the brunette’s arm from its socket as she shakes it enthusiastically, and is two-seconds away from claiming the dog as her own. “Aren’t you a beautiful boy?” Lily’s mother says, and given the glances that she’s shooting both canine and man, Lily’s not entirely sure which of them she’s talking to.

Her father is more subdued. He comes into the hall as if he wasn’t practicing for a scream team just a minute before, adopting a calm and sedate air that’s meant to intimidate. She sees him stop dead for a second or two, freeze, and then school himself as he first spots the boy his wife’s fawning over, as the woman tells James to call her Fiona.

Now, at 5’6. Lily has always considered herself a respectable height. Sure, she’s never been as tall as Petunia, but what she lacks in height, she more than makes up for in intelligence, not to brag. Yet standing next to her boyfriend who, until fourth year, had been as small and skinny as a ten-year old child before he’d suddenly shot up like stretched pretzel dough, dwarfs her by eight or nine inches, she feels like a pixie. As her father comes over and needs to incline his head up and there is an audible though faint crack, she winces in sympathy as the two men shake hands, her father clearly making a valiant, but futile, attempt towards intimidation with a hard squeeze.

“It’s lovely to meet you, Mr. Evans,” James says. If he’s feeling any pain at all from his hand being put through the wringer, he’s not showing it. The dog settles into a sitting position and watches the confrontation with amused eyes, with Fiona behind him shaking her head at her husband. Lily sighs and gently pulls at James’ arm, maneuvering him away from her father.

“Daddy?” she says in an imploring tone as he continues to stay silent. He’s taking in every inch of the boy in front of him from head to toe, the way he stands, his dress, his hair , just like a potions maker would if using a looking glass to see how microscopic they’ve chopped up their ingredients. Fiona clears her throat audibly when James shifts on the balls of his feet.

“Dinner’s set up in the kitchen,” Jonathan says. “Getting cold.” The reminder that James was late is clear to all in the hallway. Fiona rolls her eyes.

“Really, now, Johnny, it’s not been out long,” she points out. “Let’s show him around the house first.” She indicates for James to go towards the living room, telling them that she can get tea. Before she leaves, however, she kneels down to pet the dog once more.

The dog cannot help but charm Jonathan Evans, too. Both her parents collect porcelain statues of dalmatians, used to own seven dogs in her lifetime, and frequently visited pet shops to play with small, shaggy puppies. As a child, Lily suggested they change their names to Roger and Anita, since it was obvious their neighbor Mrs. Fleabottom was Cruella DeVille with the amount of furs she owned.

As the canine laps up the affection, Lily grits her teeth and notices that James, too, is looking a bit put out by it, though the nervousness masks it. She reaches out and takes his hand, lacing their fingers together, and pulls him closer, resting the top of her head on his arm. His muscles are as tense as a bowstring and she swears she can hear his heartbeat even though she’s not near his chest.

“Is he yours?” her father asks, petting the top of his head. Lily smirks and crosses her arms, waiting for James’ answer. This ought to be good , she thinks, and despite herself, her annoyance from earlier flares up.

“Yes, honey,” she says all saccharine sweet and filled with curiosity. “When did you get a dog?”

With false modesty oozing out of every pore, and falseness all around, James says, “Oh? No. He just started to follow me and I couldn’t leave the poor fellow on his own.” Her mother downright coos at that answer as she comes back into the hall, a disgruntled Petunia and a frowning Vernon behind her, which just makes Lily roll her eyes.

Not done yet, Lily adds in more two cents before anyone else can attempt to speak. “Doesn’t D’artagnan hate dogs? I thought that cat is the boss in your home?” The dog growls in response to this implication, but she’s had to share a bed with that cat. She’s lucky to get any space at all on the mattress.

James shoots her a confused glance from underneath long black eyelashes. “I know my mum and dad won’t have a problem with him. So, D’artagnan will get use to him.” Lily laughs at that delusion, because the scratches that Sirius sports on his arms and neck regularly are solid proof that the cat doesn’t get used to anyone not named James Alexander Potter. He’s such a menace that poor Peter even pokes his head around doors and does a room scan before he enters anyplace the cat might be hiding! Her musing on James’ self-proclaimed demi-god feline takes her away for a few seconds, but when she shakes herself from the thoughts, she notices the red spots on Vernon’s face and his clenched fists as the two young men offer each other terse head nods.

As they go into the living room, James starts to tell her mother and father about his cat, but his voice catches suddenly into a stranglehold. Lily feels the ground shift underneath her feet as James stops dead in his tracks. Abruptly, she remembers the gigantic stag’s head on display fastened to gold-plated backboard above the fireplace.

Neither her mother nor her father notices, though Petunia shoots him a haughty shift as she elbows past him in the doorway, and Vernon looks mere seconds away from laughing. If James had been ghost-white outside earlier, he is dead white now, with wide eyes and full on arrested breath. She shakes his arm to get his attention, worried that in a few moments, he’ll start turning blue and she’ll have to perform bad CPR in front of her parents. He gives her a queasy look and then says, “Where’s your bathroom?” Then, quickly, remembering manners, he continues, “Please. I’m sorry. It was a long journey.”

 

 

It isn’t like James disappears, but after ten minutes, he’s been gone long enough that Lily’s father is muttering under his breath while her mother’s face grows tight with concern, and Vernon is two seconds away from spending his life as a cow if he comments again. She rubs at her temples and bites her chapped bottom lip to keep from groaning loudly, then shifts her thighs across the soft cushion, before she cannot hold herself back anymore. Her mother sends her a half-startled, half-pleading look as Lily lifts herself from the chair, hair swinging and hitting her back with a thump, but she ignores it and bounds up the stairs, the sounds of Vernon’s droll voice blissfully fading as she moves.

The staircase is narrow and cluttered with socks, shoes, and bits of cardboard from packages and Christmas presents that her mother’s not quite bothered cleaning yet. On the wall, there are scrapes, stains from Lily and Petunia’s childhood adventures and school photos of them in perfectly pressed uniforms, along with the gigantic picture of Jonathan, and Fiona’s wedding. Near the top of the staircase, she passes a pink towel curled up in a sodden mess, and as she rounds the corner, she can hear her boyfriend banging about in the bathroom.

A distinctly posh and distinctly not James voice speaks the second before she knocks on the door, prompting hesitation. “Do you remember your uncle’s lamb roast? You tried to eat it and threw up all over the baklava.”

“That was one time,” James protests in a weak and breathy voice that gives Lily the impression he’s three seconds away from upchucking all over her grandmother’s hand woven bathroom rug. It’s a vile shade of oompa loompa orange, so it wouldn’t be that much of a loss, but the impression it would send her father is something she does not need right now.

“If you think that you can handle it, by all means, be my guest,” Sirius replies in the driest voice Lily’s ever heard from him. She pictures him leaning against the wall, his black locks of impossibly straight hair falling in front of his eyes, without a care in the world as he watches his best friend pace back and forth pulling at curls by their roots. The image makes her curl her lips with frustration and she hopes that Sirius Black is doing this from the comfort of his own bedroom in Wales.

“I just want them to like me,” James sighs. More like whines, really, but she’s trying to be nice within the confines of her mind.

“Because if they don’t? What’s going to happen? Evans’ll dump you?” She just knows there’s an eye roll in there somewhere.

The dejection in James’ voice as he replies with affirmation causes Lily’s stomach to twist unpleasantly. She’d thought she made it clear when she kissed him at the Halloween party in front of their entire house and other drunk seventh years that she was one-hundred percent on board with this, but maybe not. A while back, the idea of James “Arrogance Is My Middle Name” Potter as insecure over anything would have shocked her, but now she rather wanted to hug him and stroke his hair, than smack him upside those messy locks for being a dumbass.

She doesn’t hear Sirius’ reply, since she overshadows it with a loud knock, and then says, “James? Dinner’s getting really cold.”

The sound of a crash, then a thud, indicates scrambling and he sounds breathless when he tells her it will be just a second. His eyes are wide as the door swings open, the dog curled up innocently by his feet, and he’s smiling shakily. She raises an eyebrow and asks, “You sure you’re alright?”

A fast nod, a hand through the hair, and a wider grin is his response. She sighs in unison with the dog before she says, “Then come on. The sooner we eat, the sooner Vernon leaves and that can’t happen soon enough.”

She grabs his hand as they go downstairs, the dog running ahead with his tongue wagging, and squeezes it. His answering squeeze is sharp and strong, an unexpected warmth fills her, and she thinks, if not for her sister and the bucket of lard, that just maybe the night will turn out all right. As James goes to apologize to her father for the wait, Lily discreetly pulls her mother to the side.

“James is a vegetarian,” she whispers, biting the bullet. Her Mum’s gasp is sharp, her eyes wide and concerned, before a disappointed frown fills her features.

 “You couldn’t have told me this before I roasted something? Dia ár sábháil, ” she mutters, rolling her eyes towards the heavens, before she moves into the kitchen with her hands placed primly on her hips. Lily mutters a few of her own choice words, the feeling of dread returning, before she follows her family and the uninvited boar into the dining room for what’s shaping up to be Britain’s Number One Worst Meal of the 20th Century.

 

 

 

James, Lily is happy to note as she raises her second glass of Merlot (which the Evan’s only take out on extremely special occasions and she’s currently consuming like a fish), is not an acquired taste for her mother. Fifteen minutes into the dinner and Fiona Evans is looking at the messy-haired wizard as if he’s Prince Charming and she’s prepared to frog march her daughter down the aisle to get hitched tomorrow.

“So, tell us about yourself,” Fiona Evans asks James with a wide smile as soon as they’d sat down to eat, small plates filled with one scone each. As Vernon devours his with the grace of a toddler breaking in milk teeth, and Petunia picks through bits like a bird, the brunette begins to tell her very muggle mother an edited story about growing up in three manor houses with lively servants named Beanie, Boppy, and Maurice.

“— in Gascony, you say?” her father breaks in, and he looks to James with narrow eyes. Vernon, too, looks at her boyfriend, with much more disdain, but as he opens his mouth, Lily watches his expression turn into one of distinct pain. Her confusion lasts for two seconds, until she sees the dog’s head pop back up from underneath the table and return to James’ side. “I thought you were from Wales?”

Fiona Evans rises with an emphasized sigh, and begins to serve them the dinner. She hefts extra helpings of potatoes and parsnips on James’ plate, gives him the smallest helping of roast imaginable with a sympathetic smile and a pat, and puts down a paper plate for the dog. As she serves Lily, James tells them, “My mother’s from Greece, and my grandmother’s from France. I spent a lot of time abroad when I was young.”

“That explains the accent,” Petunia says with a derisive sniff. Lily shoots her a glare, but never one to be embarrassed, James takes it with far more grace than she thinks he should.

“As long as one can understand me, what’s it matter?” he counters, which makes her mother nod as she sits back down, familiar as she is with a foreign accent, being from Ireland.

“Well, I mean,” Petunia says, with too much innocence in her tone to not be picking a fight, “what if one can’t? It would matter then, wouldn’t it?”

Lily tenses, and her mother, too, while her father shoots his eldest a warning glare. Petunia, bitchy as she is and no doubt still stinging from the other night, remains unmoved. She’s like a sentient prickle bush. James smiles with a tight expression, and the dog’s gone stiff, so Lily places her hand on her boyfriend’s thigh, feeling the coiled muscles as she digs in the pads of her fingers, and he says bitingly, “Communication would just take a while, as long as both people were open to it.”

He’s very proud of his childhood, and loves his family with the fierceness of a wolf pack. She knows his opinion of her sister’s been irreparably shattered, so she raises her free hand to rub her pounding temple. Then, she pictures herself in a car, with James in the passenger seat, as they drive away from this madness Bonnie and Clyde style.

Fiona pointedly clears her throat and loudly says, “The roast is simply lovely, if one can toot their own horn. Right cracking, isn’t it, John?”

Her father nods. “Your best yet, my dear.”

The talk switches quickly to school, and classes, with Lily adding in more to the conversation, certain that James won’t be able to keep track of a million lies in front of Vernon, but the tension is still thick enough one needs a butcher’s knife to cleave through it.

Vernon, unsurprisingly, brings the conversation to drill territory, and the state of his mother’s Black Forest Gateau on Boxing Day. “I’ll say, not even a professional could have achieved such perfection.” Petunia looks at them with a proud smile on her thin lips, as if she is the object of praise, while both the older Evans nods with stiff expressions. James does not bother to hide his yawns, or his disinterest, as Vernon drones on, and spends those tediously long minutes feeding scraps of meat to the dog, doodling patterns in the tablecloth, and awkwardly stopping himself mid-motion from placing his head on Lily’s shoulder.

Jonathan Evans watches this with a concentrated expression. Unlike her mother, her boyfriend’s casual arrogance and easy charm fails to sway her father. He eyes James’ every move with all the ferocity he gives to sixteen-year old minor offenders at the station, and frowns at the quite obvious skirting of meat portion that Lily’s boyfriend is doing. The dog whines, suddenly, and puts a paw up on James’ thigh, grey eyes gazing towards his plate pitifully.

Play it up harder , she thinks, and maybe you’ll turn into a real dog one day . While she chides herself for the use of overblown Disney metaphors, she squints and looks to her left where James is sitting. As discreetly as one can manage when he’s being stared at unblinkingly, by more than one party, James tosses the canine a few scraps of beef hidden under a red cloth napkin.

So far, all of James’ tales have been embellished to make him seem less reckless and irresponsible, which is a leap, since he still admits to, “graffiting a Muggle police station in the Lower East Side a few days ago while I was visiting my Kowalski cousins. They're related to my grandfather's brother. My cousin married into a baking empire, because they own a bakery with the most amazing bagels in Manhattan.”

The dog produces a weird amalgamation between a snort and a snigger. Lily knows he was there, probably cheering James’ artwork, and charming it to produce lewd speech bubbles. Vernon’s fork full of mash and meat stops halfway to his mouth, and the inside of his mouth looks like a perilous cavern. Petunia, too, looks scandalized, as her face twists into an expression she only gets when Lily’s parents order Indian take-out.

“You've got family in the Colonies?” Vernon says, his face an odd color. Like puce , Lily thinks, puce and vomit

James rolls his eyes, and waves his hand dismissively. “America, mate, they’ve not been colonies for a while. Anyway, I just said that, didn’t I? Would you like help with your hearing?” He puts on a mock expression of concern. “I know a great ‘tonic’ for that kind of problem.”

Lily digs the tip of her right shoe into his foot. The prat doesn’t even bother to wince.

Her father doesn’t seem to care about that, though. Fiona Evans is sitting and shoveling food into her mouth at a pace fast enough to make a worker bee proud, while her husband leans with his elbows on the table, improper, and looks to her boyfriend with a serious expression. “Graffiti?”

James bites his lip, nervous now, and his hand goes to ruffle his hair. Lily, too, is nervous. She pictures a wall, and a coyote, with her father dressed in a costume that resembles a roadrunner. James bounces off it, limp and weak, while her father takes a club and starts to beat him over the head with it, reciting bits of the law as he batters her boyfriend’s pretty face.

“Well, a little bit, but the mu—” He shoots a quick glance to Vernon, and Petunia, whose expression grows wary. “It was gone before most could see it.”

Her father harrumphs , while Fiona says loudly and pointedly, “Lily, did I ever tell you about the time that your father and I got caught skinny dipping in Mrs. O’Malley’s pool at me mam’s home in Dublin?”

James laughs, Lily’s feels her mouth drop open unbidden, and Petunia lets out a screech. “Mum! How—What—How?”

Jonathan, too, looks horrified. “Fiona, my love, why would you tell our daughters this? We were young and foolish!”

Lily’s mother nods, and places a bit of potato on her fork, stabbing it decisively. “We were, weren’t we? Youth, so wasted on the young.” Then, she gives Jonathan Evans the type of stern look she only gives when she wants him to shut up about her brother’s love life.

Lily looks to the clock on the wall. It’s an antique, brought over from Ireland, and it’s been in her mother’s family for over one-hundred years. Wooden carved, with roses and trees worked around the circular base of numbers and pointed hands. It tells her it’s not even nine-thirty. She glares at it with a distinct feeling of bitter betrayal. “Yes,” she hears her father say in agreement with Fiona. “Indeed.”

The six awkward dinner companions sit in silence for a minute, looking to each other like bugs caught under a microscope, each, no doubt, racking their brains for something—anything—to say.

Petunia opens her mouth, and Lily tenses, digging her fingers into James’ thigh. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees him wince.

Before her sister says anything, though, Vernon puffs up his chest and pushes his plate away with two meat hook hands. “That was lovely, Mrs. Evans,” he says. He’s always polite about food. It’s his one true love, after all. Lily watches as his thin lips quiver like worms underneath his bushy mustache. “You don’t think so, Potter?”

“What?” James asks, eyes growing as big as coins behind his glasses.

And, once again, the spotlight is back on him, his left hand outstretched, the last strip of roast dangling towards the dog’s open mouth, unhidden by the cotton protection of a napkin.