Lily slipped into the mercifully empty kitchen, deposited her empty bottle on the counter, and was through the door to the garden, all in a matter of seconds and without being seen. It was an escape worthy of an Auror; of someone on the run.
She closed the door behind her quietly. Not that it was necessary. They'd cast muffling charms on all the doors within hours of moving into the cottage. Harry was at a fussy age and the least little thing (like, say, the slamming of a door) was liable to wake him from even the deepest sleep. Damned if Lily was going to spend hours getting her darling son to settle down again, so muffling charms it was.
The housewarming party had begun five hours before and was still going strong, so Lily figured she could count it as a success, even if the hostess was hiding in the garden. Not that it could truly be called a party; not like the one she and James had thrown when they had moved into their first house. This one was more like a gathering of friends, a family party, kept necessarily small. They hadn't yet cast the Fidelius, and the more people who knew where they were, the harder it would be to get the spell to settle in.
The murmur of conversation drifted out of the open windows. She thought she heard Remus's quiet chuckle aurally sandwiched in between Barty's bass rumble and Alice's tinkling laugh.
Lily rubbed a hand across her eyes and let out a long, slow breath.
"I thought you said you didn't smoke and yet I keep finding you sneaking into gardens."
She startled, not having heard the door open. Sirius smirked, obviously happy to have snuck up on her.
Lily just rolled her eyes. "I still don't. And don't you dare pull that stupid trick with the transfigured cig again."
"Hey, I've been practicing," Sirius protested.
"No you haven't. It made you as sick as it did me."
"Well then I'll have to find another way to make you smile. I know! Have you heard the one about the warlock, the hag and the troll - "
"Sirius!" Lily said, smiling despite herself.
Sirius held onto his scowl from being interrupted for a moment, before it collapsed into a huge, winning grin.
"There's the pretty girl's smile."
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 garden bench and beckoned to her until she sat beside him. It was nice having a bench in the garden, despite the fact that it seemed to be on the verge of falling apart. Maybe they could add a couple of chairs as well, to make it a nice spot to gather on warm evenings.
"I wouldn't really call it a party," she said. "Not like the first housewarming party we threw."
"Nothing will ever be like that one," Sirius said with what he obviously thought was a rakish grin. Really, it just made him look deranged.
"True. So who was it that broke the crystal vase during that party anyway?"
"Pete - I mean, what crystal vase?"
Lily laughed lightly and shook her head in fond exasperation.
"Why're you hiding out here?" Sirius asked after a few minutes of comfortable quiet. "Since I obviously still haven't caught you out with your secret smoking habit."
"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.
"So did I, actually."
"Again? Haven't we had this conversation before?"
"I do believe we have."
"You know, I still haven't told anyone that Sirius Black, life of the party, sometimes needs to escape to the garden," she said solemnly. "I keep my promises."
"I know you do, Lily."
The statement hung there, hovering on the edge of things that they didn't want to discuss, not tonight, not ever. Instead, the two friends lapsed into silence again.
Faint noises could be heard coming from the house, but nothing distinct. Being August it was still warm in the garden, although the oppressive humidity of the last few days had broken, much to everyone's relief. A light breeze stirred the air and tugged at the few stray hairs that fell around her face.
Lily looked out over the garden, which was a riot of colours. No stately rows of flowers here, more like a little piece of the wild caught and held in check by rambling fences that were only standing because they were all falling down on top of each other. It was fortunate, really. She didn't think that she'd have time to tend a proper, orderly garden come spring. If they were even still here in the spring.
The war was heating up and going into hiding seemed to be the only option left to them. The house (cottage, really) had been in the Potter family for generations, but had been rarely used. The outside and grounds were strictly Muggle, to blend in with the mixed neighbourhood, but the inside was entirely magical. Lily was beginning to appreciate some of the conveniences, like automatic cleaning charms on the sinks and tub, and especially the charms on the oven that kept her from burning dinner when she had to go chasing after Harry - or sometimes James.
The little things seemed to take on more importance now, because the big things were so, well, big. Like how there were still lists, but now, instead of home repair and career lists, there were lists of people to see, people to avoid, lists of places to run away to, lists of things to grab if you had to leave quickly.
"What are you thinking?" Sirius asked into the quiet. His tone was light, but none of them could ever really get away from the darkness that permeated their lives.
"I'm picturing chasing Harry through that tangle," Lily lied, not wanting to bring her friend down. There was a particularly thorny patch off to the left, and now that she had said it, she definitely had visions of her small son hiding there.
A frown flitted across Sirius's face, but then he turned it into a look of contemplation. "If you're chasing Harry, James will certainly be chasing you. But what will Harry be chasing?" he asked gravely, as if it were the most important question in the world.
"Butterflies," Lily replied with equal solemnity.
"Butterflies? Well, I can see that. Personally, I was thinking something more along the lines of Peter."
"Peter? Oh goodness, can you imagine?"
"Actually..." Sirius trailed off, staring at the overrun garden. No doubt imagining how he could coax the rat Animagus into the tangle or something equally horrifying.
"Yeah, I can imagine it." He smiled at her. This time it was sweet, without any pretence of being charming and more all the more charming because of it. "You're doing great at this whole adulthood thing, you know?"
"And what about you?"
"Me? I'm still a work in progress."
"Yes, yes you are."
She grinned and in response he heaved a sigh that would sound convincingly long-suffering to an outsider.
"Hey. We wouldn't have asked you to be Harry's godfather if we didn't think you could handle the responsibility."
"I'm glad someone believes I can."
Lily was getting better at reading the half-open book that was Sirius Black. It was no longer strange to spend time alone with him now, away from Hogwarts, away from the Ministry, away from the war. They'd grown up together, but not together, and they were finding connections as adults that they'd never dreamed of as children.
There were still some questions Lily wasn't willing to ask though. Not because she was afraid of the answers, but because of the questions that Sirius might ask back. Questions like "why do you have so little faith in yourself?" and "do you still love and hate your sister as much as I love and hate my brother?" No, there were some questions Lily wasn't willing to face, even as an adult.
She elbowed him carefully 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 garden?"
"It's not really a disaster. What was a disaster was that house you guys first lived in. I mean, really? Puce? Who in their right minds paints a house, both inside and outside, puce?"
Lily giggled. "Who said wizards were in their right mind?"
"Hey! I resemble that remark!"
Lily elbowed him again.
"I just meant that it's nice to have a night off from everything."
"I know. That's why I agreed to this. We all need it."
It was understood that, at least for tonight, no one was to talk about the growing dark; the kidnappings, cursings and strange occurrences that were regular fodder for the Daily Prophet.
"You're casting it tomorrow?" he asked.
"Yes. Are you sure - ?"
"Yes," Sirius said firmly. "I'm the first one they'll come after. It's safer for everyone this way."
"Safer for everyone but you, you mean."
"Yeah." He looked out into the garden again, not really focusing on anything.
"You're a good friend and a great brother. And if the worst should happen, you will do a great job raising Harry."
She braced herself for the inevitable denials, but after a few seconds, she realized that they weren't forthcoming.
"You really think so?" he asked, giving her a shy smile.
She wrapped her arms around his waist. "I know so."
"There you are!" James's voice floated through the garden to them, followed by the man himself. When he got close enough to see them he frowned. "What's going on here?"
"I'm making a play for your girl," Sirius said calmly, not moving an inch.
"Really," James said evenly, but the corners of his eyes crinkled. This was old, familiar territory for the three of them.
Lily 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 then wrapped an arm around her shoulders as they meandered back to the house. "I thought you guys might want to see this - Harry and Neville are playing catch with Mr. Bunbun."
Mr. Bunbun was Harry's current favorite stuffed animal, a present on his first birthday from his godfather.
"James Potter! What exactly are Harry and Neville doing awake? They were put to bed hours ago!"
"I know, but we heard giggling and when Alice went up to check on them this is what she found."
"How did they get out of their cribs?" Sirius asked.
"Then how - ?"
Lily stopped dead in her tracks.
"You mean they're tossing a stuffed rabbit back and forth with magic?"
James nodded proudly and tugged on his wife's hand.
The three friends dashed through the kitchen and clattered up the stairs to join the rest of their guests, who were crowded in the doorway of Harry's nursery.
After staring at the spectacle for a moment, Lily tore her eyes off the boys and surveyed her friends - no, her family. They were bound together too closely to be anything other than family now. For the first time since she had heard the Prophecy, she felt hope in her heart. Together they would not only survive, but win.
The darkness, the war, and the fear were all forgotten for the night in the face of two small boys and an extraordinary feat of not-so-accidental magic.