Her eyes look sharp and steady
Into the empty parts of me;
But still my heart is heavy
With the hate of some other man's beliefs…
Lily startles awake at the sound of her seven a.m. alarm with an absolute certainty that she’s supposed to be dead.
Not that she wants to be, or that she has some sort of petulant wish to die instead of going about her business for the day, but rather a hollow ache that spreads through her ribs, something ancient and searing and corrosive. Her first waking instinct—or maybe it’s not even that, maybe it’s some vestige of her sleeping mind, murky and overcast with dwindling dreams—is to bring her hand to her chest and press it to her pounding heart.
I’m dead, she thinks, even as she feels the steady thump-thump against her ribs, I’m dead. I’m dead. He found us. We’re dead.
She doesn’t even know whom she’s referring to. All she knows is panic, and fear, and grief, the magnitude of which she’s never felt before. It steals the air from her lungs; she has to fight to drag the smallest bit back.
It takes a few of these breaths, each halted and stuttering, to regulate her frantic heartbeat, and a few after that to remember where she is.
She’s in her bedroom, of course; outside the door, she can hear Eloise and Ava, her roommates, shuffling around the small kitchenette, presumably looking for coffee, and her long-suffering electric fan is whirring halfheartedly by her bedside table, beleaguered by the August heat and lack of air conditioning. Dewy morning light streams in through her window and scattered street noise filters in through the walls. The faint smell of cigarette smoke and perfume serves as an even more compelling sensory reminder: Camden is not for the faint of heart—or stomach.
“Lily!” Ava’s voice, slightly muffled by the door between them, is the final push into awareness, and reality poaches each of her senses from the fog, one by one. “Are you having a lie-in? We’ve not got time today, babes!”
“I’m up,” Lily croaks, and then winces. Her throat feels raw like she’s been screaming in her sleep; she’ll be screwed if it’s the beginning of a cold. “I’m up.”
“Kettle’s on—El picked up Costa, though, if you’re keen!”
That lifts her spirits. She is, in fact, very, very keen.
As many days are, today is set to be a long, grueling day of filing motions and doing other extraneous paperwork. She’ll need all of the cheap coffee she can get, along with possibly Redbull, and then pints upon pints of mint chip ice cream. She’s only two years into being a licensed barrister and is likely the sole reason for raising stock prices in Mr. Whippy.
“Yes, please!” She calls.
Her muscles twinge and spasm as she lifts her blankets and climbs out of bed, protesting use and probably—if they’re even remotely connected to her brain—the rest of the day to come. It’s to be the first meeting with the opposing counsel on the case she’s just been assigned, and those are always a nightmare: the complaint is still fresh in the judiciary, emotions are high between the plaintiff and defendant, and there’s usually some holier-than-thou Oxford wanker sitting smugly across the table, whispering inflammatory nonsense into the defendant’s ear.
To make matters infinitely worse, the entire case is a bit of a farce, if anyone were to ask Lily what she thinks about it.
(No one has.)
She’s representing the owner of a bakery, Mister J. Burrows, who’s filing a suit against his former employee for breach of contract, under the terms that when he began working at the plaintiff’s establishment he signed an agreement that he would neither share the proprietary recipes nor open up a similar business in the near vicinity within three years of termination of employment.
Fast forward to two and a half years later: the employee now owns a small bake shop in Victoria, right between a Caffe Concerto and a W.H. Smith.
Her client’s complaint is flimsy at best and downright unenforceable at worst—too many outs, too little specification, other logistical nightmares that would drive other lawyers to run for the hills—but the decision to take it on wasn’t hers, and now she’s stuck filing summons over lost croissant sales.
“Fucking Davies…” she mutters as she blearily throws her blankets back into place.
This type of litigation isn’t what drew Lily to her current firm. In fact, it’s not even what she planned on doing when she studied law, either. She much prefers to take on the David-Goliath cases, the kind where she can stop a small business from being swallowed by a big, corporate monster. The senior partners have started calling her a “bleeding heart” behind her back as well, but she doesn’t care. It’s better than the nicknames she amassed in junior school; all mostly to do with her attitude, or—even worse—her hair.
So, no, Lily wasn’t overly enthusiastic those few weeks ago, when a decidedly uninterested senior partner (that would be Davies) dropped this case onto her desk before she’d even cashed her cheque from her last trial.
But she’s still a junior associate, so the ethos and pathos of her existence has been summarily reduced to you’ll take what you’re given, and you won’t complain.
She raises her arms high above her head and pulls, stretching out the cricks in her back, letting sunlight wash over her face and pajama-clad body. Her eyes slip closed as her back bows.
But instead of the comforting darkness of the inside of her eyelids, what accosts her vision is a yellow-painted bedroom, books scattered and toys littered across the floor as though it’s just been through an earthquake. She hears footsteps plod outside the battered wooden door, but they’re wrong, somehow, she knows this—the footsteps are wrong, and they’re coming closer, and she knows that they shouldn’t be, and she has to get someone out, out, out, even if it means that this is it, it’s all over.
There’s a baby’s cry—get him out, get him out, get him out—behind her, but the door blasts open before she can turn, and she’s screaming and crying and the footsteps are too close and too wrong.
“Not Harry! Please, have mercy! Not Harry!”
Lily’s eyes fly open and she staggers backward, nearly losing her footing over nothing but hard wood floor. “What the—”
As she stumbles, the door to her room creaks open, and on some base, animal instinct, she nearly rushes forward to slam it shut—get him out, get him out, get him out—when Eloise’s head pops through the door. Lily’s steps melt into an awkward lurch.
Eloise peers at her curiously. “Er…you alright, babe?”
I don’t know. “Yeah,” Lily waves a dismissive hand. “Fine. Just a bad night’s sleep.”
“Ugh, bloody nightmare. I came to ask—eggs?”
Whatever it was that just flashed before her eyes, it’s not real. It was probably just the last part of her dream, stuck in her brain. Or something. Nothing to dwell on. Eloise is looking at her expectantly.
“Eggs would be great,” she replies.
From there, with a small shake of her head and a mental note to stop eating sugar before bed, Lily gets on with her morning.
The calamitous nature of sharing a tiny Camden flat with two other young female barristers means there’s too much noise and hassle to spend any time feeling unsettled by unpleasant dreams. By the time they all pile into a taxi, she’s all but forgotten the off-putting beginning to her day, too occupied with texting her clerks to make sure they’ve properly filed the cases she assigned for them at the beginning of the week.
That is, until the taxi comes to a red light, and on a passing glance out of her window, Lily sees a young mother putting her toddler into a stroller.
Her breath catches. The window of the taxi has suddenly, inexplicably transformed into a wall closing in around her, stifling and suffocating. She plants a lone, futile hand against it and presses hard on the glass.
“—And so I told him,” Ava’s parroting into her phone from the seat next to Lily—a story she’s already heard, minimum of four times. “I want that on record, do you hear me? I want that on record—and I don’t care how many copies you’re selling to them.”
Lily can’t look away from the mother and her child.
Unbothered and oblivious to her gaze, the baby wriggles happily, little arms and legs heaving to and fro as the mother coos and smiles. It’s a little boy—his eyes match his mother’s.
Get him out of here, Lily thinks desperately, which is absurd, because the child is both fine and already in his stroller, and the mother is beginning to push him across the street. The thought bears no relevance to the scene in front of her. And yet, like a pulsing up her spine, she thinks again: get him out of here.
“—This idiot has the audacity to ask me where I went to school! I know. I know—”
A jagged piece of Lily’s dream comes flying back to her. It’s a blunt force to her brain.
“Harry…” Lily murmurs the name to herself, and it rattles around her ribcage, something broken and yearning casting a stammer to her heartbeat. She doesn’t know anyone named Harry; no friends, no family, no passing acquaintances. Not even a particular fixation on the now-abdicated Duke of Sussex. There’s no reason the name should haunt her, neither in her dreams nor—as it’s happening now—in the clear light of morning.
Not Harry! the voice had been screaming—her voice. Have mercy! Please! Not Harry!
The stoplight switches from red to green, and without knowing why, Lily flinches.
The opposing counsel is a prick. A gorgeous, intolerable prick.
He sits languid and damn near lounging in a large conference room chair, smug like he owns the whole building they’re sitting in. To be completely honest, he just might—Lily has enough posh friends with questionable spending habits to recognize a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch when she sees one. That thing could pay her rent for the next three months.
She spots him as soon as she gets of the elevator, her client shuffling along in tow, and is immediately struck by multiple things: hopelessly messy black hair; strong, handsome features; and a smirk that, for some reason, looks uncannily familiar.
So, although her first thought is fucking hell, you’re sex on legs, all of that is categorically blasted to pieces the second he opens his mouth.
“Hello,” he says smoothly—can one word even be smooth?—as he stands and buttons his suit jacket back up, “James Potter. Representing the defendant. Pritchard and Glick.”
Lily has to fight a groan as she sets her briefcase down on the table. Pritchard and Glick. She’d been on Law Review at school with someone who clerked for, and later was hired by, Pritchard and Glick. She had referred to it as Prat-chard and Prick in her head ever since, and this assessment has yet to be disproven.
“Lily Evans,” she replies in her slightly clipped I’m-a-female-barrister-I’ve-seen-some-shit tone, “Allen Spencer and Rose.”
Potter’s eyebrows hike, and she thinks, good. Her firm is nothing to be scoffed at.
They sit without shaking hands. He really does look familiar, she thinks, something about his face and his mannerisms. Plus, the name Potter…there’s something about it.
He introduces his client, a Mister Elkins, and the proceedings begin.
The first thirty-five minutes are spent in a predictably useless back-and-forth as the two parties how best to avoid taking the case to trial. Potter argues that the demanded sum is too high for settlement; Mister Burrows makes it unequivocally clear that he won’t accept anything less than his proposed number.
This sets up another twenty minutes of base inquiries from both lawyers—Lily conducts hers first, a very mundane set of perfunctory questions that will inevitably be repeated in the first deposition. James follows the same routine; that is, until he takes a sharp left turn about fifteen minutes in.
“Mister Burrows,” he asks, “your bakery is currently one of the best-reviewed in your neighborhood, yes?”
Burrows nods. “Yes.”
“And you understand that Mister Elkins’s bakery, Elkins Confections, has amassed very little fanfare, and not nearly the same notoriety as your establishment?”
Lily, her client, and the defendant all lean forward—presumably, all wondering the same thing: where is he going with this?
“Is there a point to this, Mister Potter?” She demands.
“Well,” he takes her interruption in stride and leans back into his chair, eyes still on her client. “I just mean to say, I suppose, that such a hefty sum for very little business lost doesn’t really seem very fair, now, does it?”
At this, Lily can only quirk an incredulous brow; he’s just violated one of the cardinal rules of practicing law. He’s mentioned fairness.
Fairness has no place in a court of law, and neither does it in this conference room. Settlements and verdicts aren’t decided based upon what’s fair, or even what’s right; they’re decided based upon who adheres to a contract more—or alternately, who decides first to accuse the other of not adhering to said contract. In criminal cases, this contract is the law; in civil cases, it’s the documents and agreements that assign the distribution of money.
Every competent lawyer knows this. Frankly, every incompetent lawyer knows it, too, but they choose to try and leverage it anyway, because they’re either too emotional or too lacking in logic not to. It’s one of the first things taught in any legal education.
So it stands that James Potter, too, knows this; if she’s correct in her cursory assessment of him, he’s the progeny of the high court judge Euphemia Potter, who’s about as ruthless as she is glib. Lily knows the judge has a son around her age who went into law (predictably, as nepotism is wont to do), and who did speech and debate at Cambridge, and who is probably a part of some Eton Alumni dining club, but she’d never gotten a name or a face to assign to these accusations.
But here in front of her, with Euphemia Potter’s regal cheekbones and snarky grin, sits James Potter, who’s just intentionally committed a procedural sin that would have any law professor hanging their head in shame. She doesn’t buy it for a second.
He’s playing at something.
Turning to her client, Lily snaps: “Don’t answer that.”
“Mister Burrows, if you want to answer—”
“Don’t.” Lily turns back to James with narrowed eyes. “Conjecture aside, I think we’ve gotten through enough for today. If you decide to change your mind and settle, you can contact me and we can arrange another meeting. Until then, we’ll discuss dates for the first depositions.” She pauses and looks him up and down, gaze as unimpressed as she can make it. “I’ll send dates tonight—if I don’t hear back by next week, I’ll be filing a motion to compel.”
He lets out a low whistle. Next to him, the defendant looks like he’s about ready to dissolve into the floor. “Next week? A bit hasty with our formal motions, aren’t we?”
“I’m not keen on wasting my client’s time. I’d hope you would feel the same way, but I suppose there’s no accounting for time-wasting when you approach meetings like you’re vacationing in Positano.”
Infuriatingly, the man just laughs, but he shrugs amicably and acquiesces, his entire body adopting a distinctive what can you do? posture. “I don’t doubt it,” he says, “you seem like the type.”
Lily doesn’t even care to know what that’s supposed to mean.
Without breaking his gaze, she sticks her hand into her briefcase and extracts a business card—being a young woman in this vocation, there is no room for such unprofessional fanfare as digging aimlessly through one’s purse—to give to him. He responds in kind, meeting her hand in the middle of the conference table with his own card pinched between two fingers, and, possibly due to some sort of unchecked petulance, she simply waits and watches as he moves to replace the thin card she’s holding with his own, reeking of bemusement.
Their fingers brush as his hand retracts, and before her eyes, the world flickers.
All of a sudden, the conference room has blinked out of existence, and in its place is a hallway of timeworn grey stone, walls littered with antique portraits and broad, detailed tapestries. As her vision focuses, Lily realizes that Potter’s—he’s here as well?—hand is still outstretched to her, and hers to him, but this time he’s not wearing a pristine Armani suit and instead some sort of private school uniform covered by a large, billowing cloak. His gaze is unmistakably fond as he looks at her; his eyes are crinkled like he’s either about to start or has just recently finished laughing. She takes him in briefly and notes that he’s much younger than he just was, build a bit thinner and features still clinging to post-adolescence.
“Well?” He prompts her, and she’s startled—for some reason—by his voice, by the way his effusive happiness seems to have tinged it unrecognizably from the man he was in the conference room. When she doesn’t respond, he continues: “Are you going to take my hand, or what?”
Lily hears her own voice as though someone else has commandeered it: “What?”
“Evans,” James chuckles warmly, “it’s my first official day as your boyfriend—I plan to spend as much time holding hands as is physically possible. I’m afraid you’re about to be subject to a great deal of public scrutiny.”
She watches, a spectator and an actor all at once, as her own hand closes the final centimeters of distance between them, and she feels the phantom heat of his palm caressing her own, but her eyes can’t stop wandering back to his expression, the way his smile cuts his face into impossibly beautiful sections—
The world flickers again.
There is no palm in her hand; only thick-printed paper.
An uncomfortable throat-clearing throws Lily back into the present, and she blinks dazedly, eyes refocusing—however unfortunately—upon Potter’s face in front of her. He’s looking at her with brows drawn together; probably due to however long she’s just been staring at him with her hand outstretched.
Speaking of: her hand. She yanks it back down to her side.
“Right,” she breathes, trying ineffectively to take stock of the axis tilt of the world and her place upon it, which involves darting her gaze around the room; preferably anywhere that isn’t hazel. “Well then. You’ll be hearing from me by email.”
“I suppose I will.”
Turning her entire body toward her client, she moves to usher him out of the conference room, not half a mind present to bid the defense any proper farewell. It’s not until the elevator doors ding shut that she lets her shoulders slump forward, taking in a shaky, uneven inhale. In her mind, the same question orbits, rapid-fire and urgent: what was that what was that what was that what was that?
She makes a solemn resolution: definitely no sugar before bed tonight.
The next four days pass so uneventfully that Lily nearly forgets the strange waking dreams. She looks over a contract for an old school friend, sends a slew of threatening emails on behalf of some tenants who have little recourse against their despot landlord, and she bakes brownies with Ava and Eloise three nights in a row. All in all, not a vastly abnormal way to pass her time.
Then, on the fifth day, she gets an email from jpotter@PritchardGlickLaw.net with the subject line: FYI.
Hello Miss Evans,
It was a pleasure meeting you and your client last week.
This email is to inform you that Pritchard and Glick will be filing a lawsuit against Burrows Bakes for libel, on the grounds that your client Mister J. Burrows has been using a pseudonym to leave fraudulently low reviews of my client’s business on multiple public forums, thereby negatively affecting his business and livelihood. We will be asking for punitive damages or a sum reached by settlement. Attached are evidence files A-F to be submitted, along with the formal complaint and summons.
James Potter, Esquire
Pritchard and Glick Law Office
It takes a good amount of physical restraint not to scream.
Instead, she channels this furious energy into ripping his business card angrily from her filofax and jabbing the numbers of his office phone written in tiny, elegant print into her blackberry. With her other hand, she clicks forcefully on the attachments, and has to stifle yet another scream when a series of documents pop up, some laden with screen captures of various accounts making horrifyingly poor reviews of Elkins’s bakery, others with terms like “traceable IP address” and “data tracking;” neither of which she can begin to decipher.
“Libel!?” Lily hisses at the beeping of the dial tone. “Is he fucking—”
She doesn’t bother with pleasantries.
“A fucking countersuit, Potter? Are you having me on? What is this—small claims?”
“Oh.” He manages to sound amused with just the one word; apparently that’s a talent of his. “Hi, Lily.”
“That’s Miss Evans, you posh—” she takes a calming breath. There is no way this man is going to get the best of her. “You cannot be serious with this defamation suit. Come on. Libel is barely even a tort.”
“ Afraid so. Your client really has a way with words, though—I’d recommend reading exhibit D. Very lyrical.”
A thought dawns on her between seething hisses of air. “Hang on a minute,” she breathes, “that’s why you brought up the reviews at the meeting, isn’t it?”
Oh, he is just begging to be slapped across the face. If she could reach through the phone and do it, she would.
“This is ridiculous. How on earth did you get your client to agree to this?”
“That, I’m sure you’ re aware , is privileged information.”
Lily snorts. “What, so now you want to play along with civil procedure?”
“I’ll have you know that Civil Procedure was my favorite class in school.”
Well. At least now she knows he’s a liar. Nobody’s favorite class is Civil Procedure.
James begins to speak again, and his tone is overflowing with smug superiority. “Now, the really ace part of this is that in the weeks after these reviews were left—all on the twenty-second of April, as you’ll see in Exhibit B—my client’s business took a significant loss of traffic. So I’m sure you can imagine the damages we’ll be asking for.”
In between contemplating avenues of physical retribution toward this man, something catches in Lily’s brain: the twenty-second of April.
She’s seen that date somewhere.
It finally clicks after a few shut-eyed moments of contemplation, and when it does, she’s very happy he can’t see the grin that takes over her face. To practice law is to keep your cards held close to the chest until the right moment comes along—and smiling like she is would give away the game too early.
The twenty-second of April. The twenty-second of April.
The thing is: even having deemed this case somewhat of a lost cause, Lily Evans is not one to neglect her usual level of due diligence as assigned counsel. She’s a good lawyer—top of her class at LSE, as a matter of fact—and good lawyers don’t slack on bad cases.
“Do you know what’s interesting, Mister Potter?” She asks into the phone, voice lofty and arcing in pitch. From the stutterof air she hears, she thinks he might have caught on that something’s shifted in her mind.
Lily leans forward onto her elbows, even though he can’t see it. “April the twenty-second also happens to be the date that your client’s establishment received its first health inspection, upon which it was awarded a quite underwhelming Yellow—you know what that means, don’t you? A Yellow?”
Potter makes some sort of acknowledging noise on the other end. She continues anyway.
“A Yellow is a conditional pass by the Middlesex-London Health Unit. Not a pass, but not necessarily a closure either.”
“And of course, by the end of May, he’d cleaned up his business to the point that he was awarded a Green—a pass, that is—but there’s got to be something said for the damage done by a poor inspection. Especially when he was required to post his somewhat dismal results in the window.”
It’s actually Lily’s client (lucky idiot that he is) who deserves the credit for this insight—he ranted and raved one morning about the health inspectors that troll the London streets, groaning how restaurant owners basically have to bribe their way into a Green if they want to get it the first time. It led to a small rabbit-hole of research into both Burrows Bakes and Elkins Confections ratings, in the hopes that she might find something relevant to the case. Which she didn’t.
Until now, that is.
“As I’m sure you’re aware,” Lily continues, “this essentially renders your damages claim moot—so I’d wish you the best of luck with getting any approval to move forward with your suit once I submit that information alongside your summons.”
“ That’s—I—how did you—when did—”
“I know,” she simpers, and absolutely relishes in the frustrated huff of breath that quakes through the line. “Doesn’t seem very fair, does it?”
The responding laugh on Potter’s end is harsh and clipped, as though forced out of him without his permission. A reluctant admission, but an admission all the same. She’s got him.
“I have a feeling you’re going to be a massive pain in my arse.”
“Says he who filed a countersuit on a tiny piece of commercial litigation that’s bound to have a minuscule payout.”
“…Fair play, Evans.”
Is he having some sort of trouble with the Miss Evans thing? Does he have short-term memory loss? For fuck’s sake.
He hangs up before she can ask.
Of all fucking things, she has a sex dream about him.
This alone wouldn’t be so abnormal—for goodness sake, he looks like that—but the nail in the proverbial coffin is that the dream, in and of itself, isn’t even particularly salacious.
Make no mistake: it’s definitely a sex dream. That part is clear from the first, very unclothed moment—but what takes her aback is the cresting wave of tenderness that she rides into the scene, a steady swell of affection and care that threatens to choke dream-Lily up with emotion, to spill out of her on little noises and soft-spoken words.
Dream-Lily’s hands are entangled in dream-James’s hair, brushing errant strands back from his face as he moves above her, watching as his expressions contort and relax as his pleasure ebbs and flows. It’s nearly overwhelming, to confront how beautiful he is; to see it up close instead of safely from a distance; to reconcile the concept of his beauty with the feel of it beneath her hands. Her fingers skirt over skin as though afraid to linger too long in one area.
“I love you so much,” dream-James gasps into her neck, and she feels this more than anything, the responsive crawl of I love you, too from her chest up to her lips and into his ear. It is the most prominent sensation of the dream, and therefore, the most off-putting.
At least—it will be, she thinks mutedly, when the dream ends.
Which it does. Painfully.
To be specific, it isn’t so much that she’s pulled into consciousness as this dream is wrenched out from under her, and in its wake, there is nowhere to fall but into the waking world.
The waking world, which, at the moment, sounds a lot like the musical stylings of Maroon 5.
“And she wiiiiiiiill be loooooved—”
“Fuck’s sake!” Lily whinges from between her overlarge pillows as a hand slaps blindly around her sheets on its quest to kill the mythical beast of her mobile. It takes a good few seconds of bleary-eyed searching to locate it; somehow, the thing has ended up near her feet on the bed, and she has to reluctantly heave-ho upright before she can press it up to her ear. Once successful, she flops back down onto her pillows with her eyes closed, not even awake enough to muster up the appropriate amount of anger necessary to confront whoever it is that’s decided to interrupt her lie-in.
Her throat is raw with sleep, tone still working itself into fury, as she answers. “Hello?”
“Lily?” A voice asks, rushed and gravelly and—dare she say it—desperate. Once she registers whose voice it is, her eyes fly open.
“Potter? What are you—why are—how did you get my—what?”
“I…” A pause, accompanied by a few stabilizing breaths. “I just wanted to check that your client hasn’t changed his mind about settling.”
“You—” she gapes, flabbergasted, and pulls her phone back to check the time in incredulity. “You’ve called me at quarter to seven in the morning on my one day off just to ask me the same bullshit question I answered over email!?”
The shuttered breathing on the other end of the line renders her nearly curious enough to bypass her anger; for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t sound like he knows why he’s called her, either.
But then again: nearly.
“You—you—you arse!” Lily hiss-whispers and ends the call, slamming her phone down onto her bed and throwing an agonized arm over her eyes. If she’s lucky, she’ll be able to fall back asleep for a good hour or two before her body commands her to get up.
She only remembers the dream a few hours later, and if her roommates notice the way her face blooms scarlet in the middle of an episode of Love Island, they say nothing about it.
The next time they meet is, if possible, even more of a disaster than the first.
This time, he’s brought another man with him, a barrister who he says will be sitting second-chair should the entire thing go to trial, at which point Lily has to stop and wonder how much expendable money Pritchard and Glick has lying around, if they’re going about sending two young lawyers to work the same low-profile case.
But that’s not her problem.
The man in question is blindingly attractive in a way that unsettles her stomach, because there is absolutely no way to be that handsome without leveraging it for some sort of leg-up in society. He introduces himself as Sirius Black, and at her responsive gawking, only chuckles.
“Not even the worst thing my parents did to me as a child, if you’d believe it,” he says, as though there’s any socially acceptable way to respond to that.
She just coughs and moves to sit down between her client and the stenographer.
“Perfect!” Potter claps his hands together once everyone is seated, and Lily fights not to think about anything but the matters at hand, lest she get caught up by the anger of his early-morning phone call, or worse, by the red-cheeked embarrassment of what immediately preceded it. “Let’s get started.”
This is precisely the moment that everything tips sideways and falls over itself on a steady course downhill.
Potter and Black start off asking the routine, banal questions of a commercial dispute, and then gradually make their way into things that bear absolutely no relevance to the matter at hand: what flour supplier do you use, Mister Burrows? Mm-hm. I see. And have you used this supplier since opening? No? Oh, well, who did you use prior?
It finally takes Lily’s own screeching objection—you two should be ashamed of yourselves, I know exactly what you’re doing, this venue provides a free lunch at half-noon so you’re asking nonsense question to keep this going, did you think I wouldn’t know—to get the meeting back on-track.
A few breaths of stunned silence follow her outburst. Both clients stare at her, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, and she has to suppress the urge to snap at them to stay focused. Her own focus remains on the two lawyers looking at her with something adjacent to glee in their eyes.
Black turns to Potter, and the two exchange grins. She thinks they’d both look quite good with IDIOT written across their foreheads. “I can see what you meant about her, mate.”
Lily fumes. The only thing that gets her through the rest of the deposition is the voice of her old professor ringing through her head, announcing: women are more likely to face harsher sentences on homicide charges when the victims are men, so ladies, do try and keep yourselves in check.
The deposition finishes up quickly after that—and before any free lunches can be secured. All parties are dismissed, and consequently, both clients flee to the hallway with an ill-concealed desperation that would imply some sort of military airstrike or natural disaster has recently invaded the conference room.
“Ta for now!” Mister Black calls to their rapidly retreating figures. “It’s been lovely getting to know you!”
Lily makes it out directly ahead of Potter, and she feels the shadow of his hand on her back as he ushers her forward in an infuriatingly gentlemanly gesture. There’s no time to object to it, however, because she takes one step too shallow, and as a result, stops short enough that his hand presses firmly between her shoulder blades.
And then she’s taken from the world.
The only thing that comes with her is the feeling of the hand on her back; there is no sensation to ground her to the room before her, because suddenly there is no room before her, only a blink of blackness and then a mottling of greys and browns and ivories, a bruise of swimming color that is so sudden and so domineering that she has to shut her eyes briefly, a waning shield against the onslaught.
Her hearing returns to her before her sight. She focuses on it, steeling herself to the cadence of the noises invading her head.
“—just a matter of tilting your wand a bit to the side, I reckon,” a voice is murmuring into her ear, standing so close to her that she feels the breath from his lips before the words register. It’s a wonder she’s got any focus at all. “You’ve got the movement and the incantation right, but I think it’s just a matter of where you’re starting. The charm won’t make it across the room if you start that low.”
Without question, she knows that the voice belongs to James. She could pick it out in a raucous crowd.
His words force a small reckoning with her surroundings once she opens her eyes and her vision refocuses: she’s in some sort of classroom, all the desks pushed off to the side in favor of long, thin mats, one of which she’s currently standing on. Large windows allow a bracing wall of sunlight into the room, and dimly, she sees whizzes of brightly-colored lights—nearly fireworks, but more concentrated, and without the explosion or the loud, thunderous pop—crossing the length of the space in zigzagging trails.
“Oh?” She hears herself say back to him. She can feel the smile on her lips pressing her cheekbones into high points on her face. “And what makes you the expert on charms, O Great One?”
James grins at her, something small and secret that she knows no one else will ever see, and it sets something aflame through her whole torso, in the space between her collarbones and trailing all the way down her belly.
“I’ll simply refer to my top marks in the class, thanks very much.” He replies, and then pauses contemplatively. “But I do sort of like the way it sounds when you call me O Great One.”
“Please, children, keep the flirtation to the dormitory,” groans someone to their left, and Lily turns to see Sirius Black standing next to her. He’s visibly younger, but armed with the same unreasonable good looks, chiseled features and an aura of aristocracy that swirls around him like a shimmering breeze. He’s looking on at James and Lily with undisguised revulsion.
“Leave them alone, Padfoot,” another voice cuts in, “not like you’re any better with Marlene.”
“Yes, Moony, but there are different standards at play here—I’m open about being a lecher! They’re supposed to be the quiet, domestic ones!”
“Piss off!” James abandons his space next to her in order to punch the other boy in the arm, and she wishes she could pull him back, already bereft of his warmth. “‘Quiet, domestic ones’ my arse—we’re only eighteen!”
“ In hippogriff years, maybe.”
Lily turns to face the boys, and if she had any control over her body, she’d freeze—but all she does is laugh at something she doesn’t understand and turn her arm toward them, pointing a stick—her wand, James had called it, and she feels the truth in this like the aftershocks of an earthquake, settling in her bones—at them in a mock-threatening gesture.
Standing in front of her, next to James and Sirius like the final member of a private-school triumvirate, is Remus Lupin.
“You’re all children,” she says, even as her mind whirls, even as the world starts to twirl and dissolve at the edges, like someone’s applied a hazy filter to the corners of her vision. “I can’t believe you made it past second year.”
The three of them grin merrily back at her; but their faces are starting to distort and blur, and the details of the room are muddying into each other like someone’s taken a paintbrush over a watercolor scene. She can feel herself fading, and part of her wants to cry out in alarm, to stay in this world with the bright lights and the big windows, but another part folds into itself, embracing the shift, desperate to return from this strange place she’s traveled to.
The last thing she hears before the gauzy darkness creeps through the rest of her vision is James’s voice, light and happy and melodic: “And good thing we did—I don’t think you’d of ever given me a chance in second year, love.”
The pressure on her back releases.
Lily stumbles forward. The stiletto points of her heels make a soft clip-clip on the marble floor, and her briefcase sways from the unexpected motion.
It takes a moment to recognize that someone is speaking, and another to realize it’s directed at her. The room around her—the small room in which they’d conducted the deposition, clinically white and silver-toned—swims as she blinks and straightens herself.
“—you alright, Miss Evans?”
It’s Sirius—Mister Black, that is. He’s staring at her. His hair is short, his facial hair dark and well-trimmed.
“Yes,” Lily all but stammers, “yes, fine. Sorry—I, er. Sorry.”
She flees to the bathroom without turning back to look at Potter—unwilling, though she barely lets herself think it, to see the confusion and alarm that will mar his features, to see the mouth that has just called her love with such open affection now twisted in confusion at her sudden shift in demeanor—and locks herself in a stall, trying unsuccessfully to slow her breathing.
Wands, she thinks frantically to herself, wands. I saw wands, and sparkling lights, and I was casting a spell, and I’m going mad.
There’s no two ways about it. She’s losing the fucking plot. This is the second time she’s had some sort of—some sort of hallucination in the middle of her workday, and now there’s witchcraft involved. There were wands and spells and James and Sirius and Remus.
James. Sirius. Remus.
One question arrests her panicking, so odd and disarming that it actually forces her to calm down a bit to articulate to herself:
W hy was Remus Lupin there?
Remus Lupin is an A&E doctor with tired-looking eyes and an even more tired-looking smile. Lily met him the year previous, when she needed an expert witness on stab wounds—now, that was an interesting piece of litigation for a first-year associate.
The day after the heinous deposition (and the few minutes after which shall bear no further mentioning), Lily texts him to get coffee, and she tells herself it’s born of nothing more than the simple desire to catch up with a friend.
Not to suss out why he of all people showed up in her random hallucinatory episode the day prior.
He arrives at the cafe a few minutes after her, panting and covered in a small sheen of sweat. “Sorry I’m late!” He wheezes upon entering. “Bus was a nightmare—three detours! Three!”
A laugh bubbles up and leaves Lily as quietly as she can render it. He hasn’t changed one bit since the last time they saw each other not six months ago, when a small and avoidable cooking accident sent her begrudgingly to the A&E to get three stitches in her left hand.
He’d been the one to take her in for triage, and the shock of seeing him forced a fit of giggles from her throat, which he immediately took to be some sort of shock response and subsequently forced her into an examination room while Ava had a conniption in the waiting room.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“You’re alright, Remus,” she attempts to soothe his worry by holding her still-full mug of coffee. “I only just got here, myself.”
“Oh, brilliant. Okay. I’ll just go get myself something, then, shall I?”
Lily nods, smiling brightly, and he leaves to do so. About a minute and a half later, he returns with a cup of something topped with whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle. She fights a grin. He has a voracious sweet tooth for someone who professes healthy habits to patients all day.
“So,” he asks, “how have you been?”
They chat pleasantly for a bit, exchanging work anecdotes (“And then this woman comes in blabbing in French, and it turns out she’s stabbed her boyfriend with a fork, and I don’t speak any French but I’m pretty sure every other word was a swear…”) (“If I have to deal with one more middle-aged man in crisis, Remus, I’m going to start charging by the hour simply for talking in the lunchroom,”) and by the time a companionable silence falls between them, their cups are nearly empty, and Lily knows she has to get to the point.
“By any chance,” she begins with a sip of cooled coffee that tastes like tar as it hits her mouth, “would you…happen to know a James Potter?”
Remus blinks. “Oh—yeah, actually. He’s one of my best friends, as a matter of fact. We roomed together at uni with a few other blokes.”
When Lily was twenty, she went on a trip to Paris with her best friend, and they watched the movie Inception for the first time in the hotel room. The next day, she walked the same streets she’d seen explode and fold inward onto themselves, and she biked to the same bridge where Ariadne grabbed ahold of the world and turned it into mirrors for her to shatter.
Hearing Remus confirm his friendship with James Potter gives her the same feeling; that she’s bearing witness to the intersection of fiction and reality, something grounded in the living world that holds a single, enduring tether to the imaginary.
“Oh,” she says simply.
“Why?” He prompts, leaning forward, and she fights off a base instinct to wave her hands around, to dissuade him from thinking that this is a thing worth changing his posture for. “Have you met him?”
“He’s…he’s opposing counsel on my current case, actually.”
“Oh, my god!” Remus laughs and leans back, arms folding over themselves atop his chest. “So you’re the Lily he’s been talking about!”
Well, that certainly bears explanation.
Before she can even ask for it, Remus elaborates (this is one of the things she likes so much about Remus), detailing a phone call he received on an otherwise very uninteresting August day, wherein James launched into a diatribe about the fiery and frustrating opposing counsel on some minute case he’d taken over from a partner on a whim. The terms ginger and hellion make swift appearances, presumably before Remus can think to omit them.
Lily gapes. “That…I can’t believe him!”
Remus, now very much in I’ve-said-too-much-God-help-me territory, continues hurriedly: “If it helps, he called a few days later to talk about how terrifically smart you are, woe be it for him. And pretty. That, too.”
That absolutely helps. “That does not help.”
Now determined to think ill of him, odd flashes of waking dreams completely notwithstanding, Lily scoffs and deposits her presently unappealing cup of coffee remnants on the small table. “He certainly seems well-suited to commercial litigation—though I can’t imagine he does a lot of cases like this. What’s his usual workload, mergers and acquisitions?”
“Oh, no,” replies Remus with an odd expression. It’s somewhere between a smile and a scowl, like his face can’t decide what it wants to display. “He didn’t even want to do commercial work when he started school.”
“What?” Lily’s eyebrows draw together. “He didn’t? What did he want to do, then?”
The bell of the cafe’s door dings a few feet to their left, signaling the entrance of another customer. Remus opens his mouth and closes it; he looks conflicted in the way that any good person does when weighing the possibility of disclosing information about their friend without their knowledge. After a moment, he resolves, swiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“He was going into Civil Rights law, actually. Dead set on it. Wanted to do criminal justice reform stuff, refugee legislation. Things like that.”
And the men at the office call Lily a bleeding heart.
“So?” She nudges Remus along. “What changed?”
It becomes immediately clear that they’ve reached the point of conflict that caused the small battle across Remus’s face. His shoulders roll a bit, like his bones want to jump out of his skin and make a run for it, before he speaks. “Did you meet a Sirius Black, too, perchance?”
“Perfect. So you have, then.”
Lily nods, still disconcerted by the other man’s flawless image—both the real one and the...not real one—and waits for Remus to continue. “Well, Sirius’s family is…really difficult. When he was in uni, he inherited a bunch of money from the estate of this dead uncle of his, which went a long way, because his parents kicked him out when he was a teenager. They’re really conservative, and he was turning out too…well, too progressive, I guess. He originally wanted to join a band instead of university. Settled on studying music instead.”
“But…” Lily fumbles for words. “Isn’t he a barrister, as well?”
“Right—yeah—well, that comes a bit after. So, he’s almost done school, and then he gets all this money, and then all of a sudden his parents start coming after him for it, saying he has no claim to it, that he should relinquish it to them because he’s no longer a part of the family. And he’s already on a thin line with his scholarship as it is, so he can’t afford to fight them legally.” Remus takes a breath, staring at the semi-dissolved residue of his whipped cream. “Well, James hears about all this, and he immediately switches his concentration to this kind of thing—inheritance, civil disputes, business negotiations. He learns as much about it as he possibly can, and he starts, well, representing Sirius, I guess. As much as he could without his diploma.
“Sirius didn’t even know he was doing it until about six months in, right before James was set to graduate and is looking for a firm to do his apprenticeship. They had a massive row—Sirius didn’t want James to sacrifice his dream career for him; James didn’t want Sirius to lose his well-being to his family. It ended up that James got hired by Pritchard and Glick, and he begged one of the partners to take over the case for him, and the second they got the verdict, Sirius used the money he’d won to put himself back in school to study law.”
Remus chuckles and shakes his head, apparently incredulous at the memory. “He wouldn’t be dissuaded from it, the git. Said he wants to make enough money to pay James back for his work, and try and do some good while he’s at it. He only graduated last year; he’s an apprentice at Pritchard and Glick for another year before he’s officially licensed.”
Evidently finished, Remus lets out a long breath, like the story has winded him. Lily can’t blame him; she feels just about the same. None of this—the civil rights attorney dreams, the undying selflessness, the unflinching loyalty—matches the image of James Potter she’s been keeping in her head. She feels like she’s been dunked in a vat of cool water and brought right back up, left to feel the scalding chill of the open air.
“So, there you have it,” Remus says, and smiles, a tired little thing. “I guess that’s that.”
The image of him standing next to James and Sirius, all adorned in private school uniforms and holding magic wands, flashes behind her eyes.
“Actually,” she replies, “there’s one other thing I wanted to talk to you about.”
With Remus’s assistance, Lily books an appointment with a neurologist for two weekends later, making up something about chronic migraines and a few spots in her vision. She lies still through an MRI and tries very hard not to think about that Grey’s Anatomy subplot where that one female character develops a brain tumor which is only discovered because of her very vivid audiovisual hallucinations.
Apparently, she’s not trying hard enough.
The tech says that her results should be coming back the next day, so she trudges back home and reheats some takeaway, and she grabs a stack of papers from her desk and plops herself down in bed to read.
And read she certainly does. In fact, she reads so thoroughly that it takes her fifteen minutes to realize she’s gone over the same sentence about twenty times.
“For fuck’s sake,” she groans, and sets the papers aside. It’s really no use.
Her mind won’t stop wandering.
Obviously, she doesn’t want to have any sort of neurological issue, and god forbid she ends up with as tragic an arc as that one Grey’s Anatomy character, but she’s more than a little desperate to have some clue of what’s going on inside her head. She feels just on the wrong side of unhinged—and not the same kind of unhinged she used to feel in university, when stress and anxiety would paralyze her into a fugue state of Netflix and Ben&Jerry’s.
No, this is something different altogether.
Dreams are one thing. But hallucinations? Delusions of magic? Some sort of subconscious fixation upon one infuriating, handsome, apparently-kinder-than-she’d-originally-thought man?
There’s got to be something chemically wrong with her.
The results come the next morning, all signs pointing to normal. She’s left with more questions than answers.
When Lily arrives back at her office the following Monday, a vase full of lavender, peonies, and light purple roses greets her, vibrant and stunning and out-of-place in the dull grey tones of her cubicle. She stares at it for a good moment before approaching as though it might grow a mouth and explain its existence; there’s no man in her life who would order such a thing for her—her last relationship was about seven months ago, so short-lived and so boring she can’t even remember the poor sod’s full name—and it’s certainly not her birthday.
After a few slow blinks of incomprehension, she trots over to the desk and searches for a card, letting out a slightly louder-than-acceptable “YES!” when she finds one. And then she reads said card and immediately wishes she hadn’t.
I heard about the doctor’s appointment. Sending well-wishes and good health. Here’s hoping for a clean scan xx
Between this and what Remus told her, it’s like she’s being forced to find this man endearing against her will, because no matter how she looks at it, this is an objectively kind, decent thing to do.
What a prick.
She whips out her mobile and taps out a text to his phone number, which she has yet to save but still hasn’t deleted from her phone after that early morning call—a middle ground of sorts, a comfortable non-acceptance of his existence in her life that also leaves him accessible should she need to contact him.
Not that she’d ever planned on doing so.
Thank you for the flowers, she writes, I’m hoping they aren’t some sort of Machiavellian ploy to get me to lower the settlement #.
I’m fine, btw. Nothing wrong with my brain . Other than whatever drove me to work in commercial litigation, of course.
His response pings her phone only a few seconds later.
Ha-ha. No, nothing scheming. Just worried when Remus mentioned it.
Would be far too laborious for me to go over all of the details of the case with a new lawyer.
A snort of laughter, less incredulous than she means for it to be, pushes out of her mouth.
Well, maybe I’ll just die out of spite, then, she responds.
I wouldn’t put it past you, Miss Evans.
It doesn’t occur until later that this is the first time he’s actually referred to her the way she originally wanted him to. The victory isn’t as sweet as expected.
James comes to her in her sleep again only a few hours later, holding her close as they sway in a small kitchen. From a crackling radio, she hears Paul McCartney’s voice, soft and dulcet and longing. It bounces from wall to ceiling to window and swirls through the air in between.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free…”
Lily feels the press of James’s lips onto the crown of her hair, and she feels a love sitting in her chest that could stop her heart, and distantly she knows that this—all of this, this feeling and this moment and the press of his palm on the small of her back—will be gone when she wakes up. She leans a little closer to his chest. They sway a little slower. Outside, greying branches grasp at tumbling orange leaves.
A few weeks pass. There’s no reason to see James in person, so Lily thinks her brain might actually have a chance at settling down, except for the fact that he starts emailing her incessantly.
It starts out as strictly professional matters; someone he’s calling as a witness, some piece of evidence he wants to submit to the judge.
Then, one day, he sends her a link to an upcoming exhibit at the V&A called Masters of European Impressionism. She’d been staring at the same link a few days prior, but had clicked off, abashed by ticket prices.
The link comes with a short message: my family are members, so we got some extra tickets we’re not going to use. I don’t know why, but you seem like the type to be a fan of impressionism. Let me know if you want the tix.
It’s the second time he’s classified her as the type of person to do something. She has no idea how he would know this, or why such an assumption would lead him so far as to offer her tickets, but even this internal grumbling doesn’t drown out the low buzz that sings through her veins. He’s right—she’s loved Monet and Cézanne and Van Gogh since she was a child.
She clicks off the link and goes to write a response—some sort of begrudging thank you, some tongue-in-cheek rebuttal, some false denial of her affection for impressionism—but clicks just a few centimeters too far to the left, and ends up in another tab; one she’d opened last night and forgotten to close.
History of Witchcraft in England: What’s the Meaning Behind Wands, Spells, and Potions?
Something sinks in her stomach; some mixture of panic and dread.
With a swift few taps of a red corner x, Lily erases the page from her sight, and proceeds to frantically pen a very cordial no-thank-you email back to James, which she types so quickly that she can very nearly convince herself that her fingers aren’t trembling. A beleaguered breath pushes out of her when it’s done, and she shakes out her shoulders, which have drawn inward at some point.
Maybe, with this dismissal, her brain will cease its focus on him, will heed her brushing-off and abandon whatever course it’s set itself upon. Because—no matter how much she doesn’t want to acknowledge it—she’s smart enough to recognize a pattern when she sees one.
And the one consistent variable throughout all of her mental idiosyncrasies as of late: James Potter.
So she sends the very stiff, cordial email, and then she tucks herself into bed that night and dreams of a very embarrassing episode in year nine when her school skirt had gotten caught in her pantyhose. While horrifying, it also offers some level of comfort—maybe it’s worked. Maybe the dreams, and the odd hallucinations, will stop.
But then more emails come. And, for some reason, she can’t help but respond to them.
The dreams come roaring back with a level of fierceness yet unknown to her. In fact, in the following weeks, they increase in frequency, to the point that she begins to see James every night after her head hits the pillow, no matter what she eats and drinks, no matter what book or film or podcast she consumes immediately prior.
Dream-James is often younger, maybe sixteen or seventeen, and she’d feel weird about this projection of her subconscious mind if she didn’t somehow also know that she, too, is this age—there is no way to explain it, but she can feel it in her bones that the eyes that look upon James in these dreams are the eyes of an equally teenaged Lily.
Sometimes he’s older, though, but never older than very early twenties. He’s still startlingly handsome, a shock of messy black hair and mischief that catches her breath on its way from her throat.
Sometimes they’re together in what looks to be some sort of commons, warm-toned and lovingly furnished, a fireplace lit on a far wall. Other times, they’re sitting by a lake, and his hands are warm on her face or neck or arms, and his smile is a balm on her anxious mind. Sometimes they’re in a small cottage, and there are bags under his eyes, and his smile is tired, and she feels a fatigue deep in her muscles, scrubbed in by months of unease.
But he smiles at her all the same, and each time he does, she has a harder time remembering if it’s dream-Lily or real Lily that smiles back.
Waking up each morning comes with a deep-seeded unease, like her soul has shifted during the night, and now, in the burgeoning dawn, it’s nudging and elbowing its way back into its allotted space in her body, leaving more and more empty room as each morning passes.
Fatigue trails her with a growing fierceness, an indubitable result of her less-than-restful sleeping. Eloise and Ava look at her nervously, like she’s only a few seconds away from collapsing on the floor and not getting up, and she hates these gazes, hates them passionately, but not as much as she hates that they feel right. A regular stock of Redbull appears in the flat refrigerator.
The emails continue—if anything, they, too, increase in volume. Lily learns James’s preferred Premier League team (Chelsea, like a prat) and he learns that she wanted to be a ballerina when she was younger, had pursued the art until she was eighteen, when making money became more important than clutching at futile dreams. A part of her thinks they’re toeing the same invisible line, careful not to verge into the uncharted territory of casual texting, but both unwilling to cease contact with the other. There is some sort of invisible tether between them, something she doesn’t want to think about too deeply, but at the same time, she’s not sure it’s left her mind since the first day they met.
One day, he sends her a picture of himself and Sirius and Remus at Cambridge, with the caption: unfortunately, Remus is a part of a packaged deal; you’re going to have to learn to appreciate myself and Sirius as well. It’s a lot to ask, but I’m sure you’re up to the challenge.
She responds with a picture of herself at LSE—quid pro quo, and all that—with her nose in a book, her hair long and loose over the side of a loveseat. It’s not one of her favorite pictures; she’s grimacing at the pages, and her track pants sit awkwardly on her hips.
I’d rather reread Immanuel Kant, she captions it. This is, of course, a complete lie.
I’m wounded, he replies. But it’s made up for by the fact that I now have a picture of you from uni.
A follow-up a few minutes later: that sounded much creepier than I intended it. I’m deleting the picture now on principle. You win this round, Evans.
She giggles her way through her next conference call. Somehow, it doesn’t really feel like she’s winning anything.
They run into each other in a Starbucks in Victoria the first weekend of September. He makes puns. She rolls her eyes but laughs, forcing reluctance for whatever semblance of disdain she can try and play at in his presence. He pays for her coffee. When she objects, stating that there’s no reason to single her out, she can pay for her own coffee, so he might as well just pay for everyone else’s coffee, while he’s at it, for god’s sake, he just blinks at her and shrugs.
And then he pays for everyone else’s coffee.
One night in late September, Lily dreams of war.
She knows to identify it as such even despite all evidence to the contrary; there are no guns, no bombs, nothing like she’s seen in those propaganda-adjacent documentaries about British military invention in the Middle East everyone was forced to watch in secondary school. Plus, as far as she can tell, she’s in Derbyshire. There hasn’t been a war in Derbyshire since, like, Oliver Cromwell. Or something.
(History was never her strong suit in school.)
But war is on the home-front now, and she’s in the thick of it, running from a pile of rubble into a small townhouse, dodging angry streaks of red and green light. She bursts through the door and turns, ushering in a small group that’s come in behind her: Remus, Sirius, a blonde woman with striking features, two identical red-haired men who grin at her in a manner unsuited for their situation.
After them comes James, finally, and he barely makes it in the door before she’s seizing his face, slanting her lips over his and pressing him up against the closest wall. His hands scramble at her waist, her back, clutching at her hair. He pulls back for a dragged breath.
“I’m here, baby,” he murmurs, and a shudder runs through her, possibly because of his tone, even more possibly because of his words and the weight they carry. “I’m here. I’m alive.”
“I was so worried, James, I couldn’t see you, I thought—”
She doesn’t get to finish her thought. From what sounds like only a few meters away, an explosion erupts, shaking the very base of the house and throwing them both to the ground, James tumbling over Lily tumbling over James. Just as she can grasp for his hand—“Lily! Lily, are you alright? Answer me!”—the door to the house blasts open.
Lily wakes with a stilted cry that catches in her throat. It’s still dark—the sky is tinged with pre-dawn grey, and around her is nothing but stillness. She picks up her phone and squints to read the time: 4:27am.
As she stares at it, before the 7 can switch to 8, her phone buzzes with an incoming call, and there’s a real possibility that her heart comes to a complete halt when she reads his name in big, white iPhone letters.
Unthinking and still reeling from the adrenaline of her dream, she goes to press accept, but the second she does, the call disappears.
No matter how hard she tries, she can’t get back to sleep.
Bad ideas come from lack of rest, and this stands to reason when Lily peruses online until she finds a psychic—a seer, advertised on her website—in Hackney. She’s never believed in things like this before. She doesn’t even remember her own astrological sign.
But she goes, and she pays the astronomical fee, and she sits in a too-small room with deep purple draperies across every wall and multicolored crystals sitting in vases. An intricately adorned teapot sits on the small table in front of her, with accompanying teacups stacked neatly on one side.
The seer enters the room only a few minutes after her appointment’s been slotted to begin, and she’s a beautiful woman with deep, dark hair, eyes a cloudy blue like morning fog. She greets Lily with a kind smile and sits in the other chair at the small table.
“Hello, my dear one,” she says breezily, “my name is Madame Arnaud. You’ve come today for your visions, yes?”
Lily blinks. “How do you…how do you know that?”
Madame Arnaud takes her hands from across the table, gently, placatingly. “I knew it from the first moment you walked in, my dear. Your soul speaks it to me. You are a part of a splintered star.”
“A splintered star, my dear,” she repeats, as though this clarifies anything. “Stars travel across the universe, across our galaxies and into others, but sometimes they crack and splinter along the way.” She lets go of Lily’s hands and gestures airily to her ceiling, which is painted a navy blue save for dots of shimmering gold. A clear, starry night. Lily hadn’t noticed it when she walked in. “Your soul fell from the rest of its star; and now, my dear, it’s been awakened within you.”
Lily lets out a snort of derision—or, at least, that’s what she thinks it is, until she hears it out loud and realizes that it’s actually a sob, because she’s started crying. Which is embarrassing.
“I-I’m sorry,” she hiccups, a bit panicked at what her recent sleep deprivation has apparently reduced her to. “I don’t know—I don’t know what’s happening.”
Madame Arnaud procures a box of tissues from an indiscriminate location on her side of the table, which gives the distinct impression that this sort of thing happens quite often in her presence. Lily isn’t sure if this is comforting or alarming, and she decides promptly on choosing neither.
“It’s alright, my child,” the woman smiles, “there are certain truths only your body remembers.”
“But…a-a splintered star? What does that even mean?”
“I’ll put it this way, dear one.” Madame Arnaud’s hands settle under her chin thoughtfully. “There is much debate about what happens when a person dies, but it’s all centered wrong; what determines your afterlife is not your religion, or your creed, or anything of that sort. What determines it is the manner in which you lived your life.”
Lily sniffles, hopelessly confused and somehow still overwhelmed with emotion. “Is this…are you trying to tell me I’m dying?”
“No, my dear.” Madame Arnaud’s smile is a little sad, a little mournful. “I’m telling you that you already have—and you’re only just remembering your life before.”
A beat of pause follows.
Then Lily begins to laugh, the sound wet and crazed. “What?”
If Madame Arnaud is displeased with her laughter, she doesn’t show it. Instead, she just continues: “Sometimes, when a person’s life is cut off too quickly, their soul travels on a star from one galaxy to another, seeking more time to live out what they’ve lost. Even more rare, though, is when this person’s soul is connected to another’s—in these cases, the star splinters, and with this, the souls are left adrift in their new surroundings; the splintered stars must look for their lost fragments.” She gives Lily a pointed look. “That, my dear, is what you are. You are a splintered star, and it seems that you’ve found a fragment.”
Lily wants very badly to laugh herself right out of the tiny two-story building, to tell this woman exactly where to shove her stars and her splinters and whatever else she’s spewing. She wants to walk down the block and reflect upon this crazy woman and her tall tales, her stories of reincarnation and intertwined souls.
But she knows, in an instant, that she can do no such thing.
Ever since the first dream, the first hallucination, it feels like some part of her has peeked out from a tiny door, and now that this door is open, she has no choice but to look inside. She knows at once that Madame Arnaud is correct: the dreams aren’t just dreams and the visions aren’t just visions.
The velvety room seems to spin around her, messy and violent and nauseating.
She’s lived a life before this. She’s died before this. She’s died in such a way that her soul has unfinished business.
Somehow, she finds her voice. “So…you’re saying I have—that I have a soulmate, of sorts, who came with me from…before?”
“From your past life,” Madame Arnaud amends.
“From my past life,” Lily repeats. The words are cottony and difficult to muster.
Something occurs to her, a blunt force of fear: “What if…what if they don’t remember?”
Madame Arnaud pauses, and in this pause, a whirlwind of emotions pass through her features. Lily can’t keep track of each one, but she registers a few she doesn’t like.
“That can happen,” she says slowly, “if one person does not reach into themselves, does not wish to seek the memories. You are here, my child, and trying to learn what you can. The same might not be said for the other parts of your star.”
This unleashes a new fear, crippling and cold, of being alone—of being stranded in a world that doesn’t remember her.
”Thank you for your honesty,” Lily replies weakly.
She walks home from the appointment in a daze, as anyone would do, she thinks, when the course of their life has just been changed irrevocably in the matter of an hour. When she gets home, she sits on the couch through an old rerun of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and she stares at her hands, trying to imagine one of them curled around a wand. The image comes to her easier than she would have liked.
She does not try to imagine one of them holding James’s hand or touching his face. There’s only so much a woman can take in one night, after all.
A prominent young solicitor gets married in early October. Lawyers from nearly every big law firm in London pepper the guest list, so after a while, the reception becomes less of a romantic affair and more of a chance to get fantastically pissed with people Lily either has worked for or is hoping to work for in the future.
It should be no surprise, then, that James sidles up to her at the bar not two hours in. Lily’s in the middle of psyching herself up for a tequila shot when his elbow bumps hers in greeting. This is altogether very appropriate, considering she’s going to need some level of false courage to explain that they’re actually magical soulmates from another universe, and she wants to be around him pretty much all the time, so it’d be great if he could remember his past wizard self and take her to bed for the first but also the not-first time.
“Hello,” he says, “you look lovely.”
She throws the shot back and fights not to make a face. “Euch—thanks.”
“Any particular reason for the lonely shot-taking?”
Yes, and his name starts with a J, and he looks suspiciously good in a tuxedo.
“Just…life,” she sighs, and turns fully toward him. He’s looking at her with a small grin, and she so desperately wants to tell him how he looked at her the same way after she kissed him the first time in that big, warm-toned room, but she doesn’t know if he knows, if he remembers, so she can’t.
The idea of taking another shot becomes irreconcilably more appealing.
“Anything for you?” The bartender asks James, and he turns his head—jawline jawline jawline oh my sweet God—before ordering a scotch on the rocks.
After a short pause, he elaborates with a jerk of his chin in her direction. “And a gin and tonic for the lady, with a slice of lemon.”
Like someone was possessing him and has only now just left his body, James freezes after ordering, halfway turned back toward her and halfway facing the space the bartender was just occupying.
Lily realizes why after a moment: it’s her drink of choice, right down to the lemon wedge, and he has absolutely no reason to know that.
Her heart skips a little bit. The bartender places the drinks in front of them.
This is it. This is the moment, she knows this, intrinsically. She can wait no longer; if Madame Arnaud was right, and her dreams are right, then she’s found him—found her fragment—and it’s long past time they reunite. She steels herself with a small intake of breath.
“James,” Lily says without preamble, and if it’s the first time she’s ever called him by his first name, neither say anything about it. “What do you…what do you think happens when we die?”
He peers at her for a moment, possibly assessing her expression for the aha-gotcha! moment, but apparently sees nothing, as he just lets out an amused hum before speaking. “I see we’re bypassing the whole celebration of love thing and going straight for doom and gloom, are we?”
“James. I’m being serious.”
“Hogwash. Sirius would never say such a thing. In fact, I’m quite sure he’d be rip-roaring drunk by now.”
“You’re being glib in order to avoid the question.”
“You asked a question you didn’t know the answer to—I believe that’s cardinal sin number one of cross-examination.”
She rolls her eyes and sips her drink. “Relax, counselor. You’re not on the stand. I’m just asking.”
“Ah, yes,” he muses, “I, too, just ask questions about mortality and the afterlife whilst standing at wedding bars.”
“James.” It’s the third time she’s said his name in about two minutes. She doesn’t want to stop saying it. She should definitely stop saying it. “Answer the question, please?”
He shrugs, looking nonplussed, and she thinks a part of her might be dying. He doesn’t remember. “I’ve never thought about it,” he says flimsily, throwing the thought out into the world, like it’s plush and safe and not a grenade set to blow her to smithereens.
“You’ve…never thought about it?”
“Nope,” James shrugs again, and she has to resist the urge to reach up and plant her hands on his shoulders, to push down and prevent him from ever doing it again. “Never really thought that far ahead.”
“What about soulmates?” Lily asks, a little wildly, a little too desperately.
He shoots her a strange look, which is objectively appropriate, but subjectively the worst thing he could ever do. “Are you alright, Evans?” He asks, and something inside her shatters.
She wants to think that maybe she’s misread, or that he’s hiding something, but another look at him confirms that he isn’t, that the lesson stands as she’d learned it in her other life: the world is cruel, and unfair, and it will continue to be so from one existence to another. Something brought her back here, gave her life in a world without magic, but they’ve left her here alone, and she’ll carry these memories from this life to the next, feel their weight bearing down on her shoulders until she collapses beneath them.
“Fine,” she says, and her voice is all wrong, but so is everything else, really, so who cares? “I’m fine. I just…I have to go, now.”
Her feet are carrying her to the door before she can register his shouts of objection behind her. They carry over the loud dance music, over the cheers and cries of happy partygoers.
“Lily! Lily, wait, hang on—”
Lily does nothing of the sort. She keeps walking.
She makes it to her flat in twenty-five minutes, and the tears are already flowing by the time she reaches the door.
The setting of her dream this night looks like a platform in Kings Cross station, but it’s willowy and grey all over, and it’s completely bereft of people. She takes a tentative step forward, and for once, dream-Lily and real Lily are of one mind, because they can’t figure out where she is or what’s going on.
She can’t find James, either. The panic of this mingles with the confusion inside her head. No matter what, across all of her dreams, she’d been able to sense his presence.
“James?” She asks. “Where…where are you?” Where am I?
Some unseen force wills her to turn around, and when she does, she sees a train parked in the tracks nearest her. As she approaches, she sees a figure sitting inside, his profile outlined in the foggy window.
Lily hurries inside and enters his compartment, and when she does, she’s hit with a mixture of relief and a terrible, unexpected sorrow. He smiles sadly up at her and gestures to the seat next to him. Beckoned, she sits, as close as she can get to him, desperate to savor in his warmth but somehow unable to feel it. They sit quietly for a few moments, and some sort of understanding passes between them, such that is foreign to real Lily, who can do nothing but look at James’s face in tormented wonder, watching as the contours of his cheekbones fade and shimmer.
“What happens now?” She whispers.
“Now, we wait.” James takes her hand in both of his and strokes her palm softly with his thumb. “Either for him, or for the train to leave.”
Dream-Lily seems to know who he is, because she doesn’t ask, only lays her head on dream-James’s shoulder and listens to his breathing. When the whistle blows and the train departs, he clutches her hand and they both begin to weep, and Lily jolts awake to a tear-stained pillow.
Her inbox still lights up with short, inconsequential emails from him, ones with little jokes and smiley faces, and it hurts as much to read them as it hurts not to, because now Lily knows that even if he’s thinking of her, it’s just this her, this iteration who dresses in suits and pencil skirts instead of long, draping robes. Many of the emails sit unread in her inbox.
Even if he’s falling for her the way she already has for him, it will be loving her incompletely, and that—she thinks—might be worse.
Halloween drifts closer, and when it arrives to Lily’s doorstep, it’s a tepid affair indeed. Eloise and Ava try to drag her out to a party—some grungy converted warehouse in Chiswick, which they’re attending in various states of underdress. She assures them they look amazing (because they do) but declines, citing a headache or a backache or some combination thereof. She’s been losing track of her recent mythic aches.
So, instead of any nighttime revelry, Lily pops in an old DVD of the Romantic Comedy variety and plants herself on the couch, watching passively as the attractive actor stumbles his way through wooing the equally-if-not-more attractive actress. A young, bespectacled Hugh Grant makes a fleeting appearance, and my god she did not realize until now how attractive she finds him.
It isn’t entirely shocking when she begins to doze about three-quarters of the way through the film.
And of course, as she dozes, she dreams—more accurately, she remembers.
In this one, Lily holds a tiny, squirming boy, costumed like a little deer. He sits on her hip and babbles and spits, and she knows like a shot to her soul that she will never love anything more than him.
“Aren’t you a happy boy, Harry?” She asks him, and in the back of her mind, something tugs, some chain around her waist tying her to another world, yanking at the sound of his name. Harry. She’s heard it before, somewhere in the space between dream and reality, and without a moment of warning she can feel her heart breaking, little pieces splintering and sliding through her bloodstream, all on a steady path down her arms to the hands that clutch him tightly to her side.
She realizes after a moment what the feeling is—she misses him. Even looking at him, even holding him, she misses him so much and so deeply that she feels like she might split in two.
“Of course he’s happy,” a voice sounds jovially from the doorway of the small sitting room. “He’s in the arms of the most beautiful witch on the planet.”
Lily would know who it was even without looking up, but she does so anyway. It is a small pleasure in itself to see James smiling. She feels herself rolling her eyes at him, hears herself replying: “Whatever kind of witch I am, I’m certainly quite the mother, keeping him up an hour past bedtime.”
“Please. Little bloke sleeps half the day away; he’ll be fine.”
“Little bloke doesn’t get to experience chocolate for the first time every day, though, does he?” Lily turns toward Harry and coos, rubbing her nose on his little cheek. He squeals in delight. “Isn’t that right, my precious boy? A year and three months, and you finally got to try chocolate! Yes you did! Yes you did!”
James approaches them, sending a hand up to ruffle his hair on the way—the gesture prompts a swell of unmitigated affection to seize Lily’s stomach and tie it up in knots. Once he reaches them, he plants a kiss on Harry’s forehead before leaning his head up to rest his forehead against hers, releasing a soft sigh.
“Happy Halloween,” she whispers to him, and the words send a shock through her, though it’s unclear which her receives it, real Lily or dream-Lily, or if it lies somewhere in the nebulous space between. “I’ll go put him up, and then I’ll help you clean, yeah?”
James shakes his head fondly, eyes crinkling. “You’re alright. I’ll take care of it—though it’ll be the muggle way, I suppose. I think my wand’s somewhere in the laundry basket, between bibs and swaddling blankets.”
With a nod and a pleased hum as James kisses her forehead (and babbles baby-talk with Harry for a moment, presumably saying goodnight in their little secret language), Lily sets off up the stairs, gently rocking Harry on her hip to try and lull him before they get to his crib.
And then the lights flicker, and everything in her—this her, that her, every her there possibly could be—goes cold.
No. No, no, no. It’ can’t be. It’s impossible—
James’s voice, stricken with fear, confirms every horrible thought tearing through her mind. No, no, no—
“ Lily! Take Harry and go— it’s him! I’ll hold him off!”
No, she wants to scream, you can’t, James, you can’t—he’s not allowed to leave her this early. He’s not allowed to go before her, to leave her here without him.
The world tilts and shifts. She clutches Harry to her chest and sprints up the stairs, a sob clawing its way up her throat that she has to fight to push back down. Where is her wand? Why can’t she find her wand?
“Da-da!” Harry wails, squirming in her arms, and she has barely the breath to shush him; Godric’s Hollow feels cavernous, and somehow her steps barely make progress, because the hallway seems to extend out for miles and miles and miles.
There’s an echoing voice that sounds like death, and the sound of a body hitting the floor. The scream Lily suppresses is a dagger’s cut to the inside of her throat.
I’ll find you, Lily thinks as her vision tunnels to Harry’s bedroom door.
In any world, James, I’ll find my way back to you.
She gasps awake. Her first drag of air is garbled through a clogged throat, and when she heaves herself up to a sitting position, she realizes her face is wet with tears. She’s felt this hollow pain before, months ago, but now the beast is fully grown, and it demands her attention. There is nowhere she can hide from it.
Well—there is one place she might hide. Rather, one person who might hide her from it.
“James,” she croaks, “James…”
A shaky hand reaches out to unlock her phone, but—of course, given her luck—she’d forgotten to plug it in earlier, and her finger taps uselessly at the home button. In the black screen, she catches a glimpse of her reflection, expression halfway to crazed, tear tracks marring tiny rivers down her cheeks. She sees Lily Evans, junior barrister, twenty-five years old, born in Manchester. She sees Lily Evans, witch, twenty-one years old, wife and mother and soldier.
A sharp pain tears across her skull, and she drops her phone with a gasp, clutching both hands to her temples.
“No,” she moans, “no, no, no…”
The broken fragments of her past life are fusing together messily inside her head. Every blink of her eyes is a fleeting, flashing memory.
Mum and dad in Cokeworth. Petunia. Hogwarts. Magic. The war. The Order .
Lily lurches off of the couch, nauseous, and tumbles down to her knees, hiccuping and gagging as sounds and smells and sights run a blitzkrieg on her brain, and she’s London in the First World War, time-weathered buildings crumbling within her, houses and schools and cathedrals burning into ash, giving way to rubble. It’s too much, to see all of it at once; to be two people, to share all the pain and the fear and the joy in vibrant technicolor.
She has to find him. She has to find him. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t remember her—it doesn’t matter if he’ll have no idea what she’s so upset about, or why she’s hugging him so tightly, or why her eyes flicker toward the door like it’s going to explode in on them at any moment. None of it matters. She just has to find him, to see him alive and breathing, to feel his pulse thunder under her palm.
A strangled, heaving breath leaves her as she pushes off the ground and plants one shaky foot in front of the other. She doesn’t even know his address, she doesn’t know where to find him or where to go, and it’s started raining while she was asleep, but she throws on her wellies and grabs her keys anyway and makes for the front hallway.
I just need to see him, she thinks desperately. I just need to make sure he’s alright, and then it’ll be over. I swear.
Her fingers close around the front doorknob. A clap of thunder makes her jump, but she presses on anyway. Weather be damned. This entire world be damned.
I just need to see him…
Logically, Lily knows that there are no witches or wizards or wands in this world, understands that whatever earth she lived in for her past life was built on different fundamental elements than this one, but when she throws the door open, she decides that there must be some sort of dormant, kinetic magic swimming below levels of dirt and magma, running subterranean pathways that sizzle and spark.
Because there he is. Like she’s conjured him.
James is standing outside of her flat, soaked through from the rain, white dress shirt sticking to his chest and hair flattened to his forehead. He’s breathing heavily out of his mouth; his shoulders heave with it. His glasses are clutched tightly in one fist—presumably useless now, with the downpour—and his other hand is pressed to his side, fingers flexing like he’s suppressing their movement with the last vestiges of his will.
A gasp shocks out of her. He looks up.
Their eyes meet, and it’s a star in supernova, the Big Bang, the creation of the universe. Suddenly there are entire galaxies within her, constellations of loss and longing and joy that crystallize under his eyes, shooting to the surface of her skin and attempting to take flight from her body.
A splintered star, Madame Arnaud had called her. A splintered star, looking for its lost fragments.
But to look at a star is to see it burned out, to stare at its ghost as the lightyears of distance trick the eye, and this, too, is true as she look at James; she doesn’t just see him, but the ghost of who he was, the mirror image of him forged from a life of war and magic, one they shared together, a stellar collision in a different cosmos.
Her head swims under the intensity of his gaze, because he’s never—not in this lifetime, at least—looked at her like this, like the entire world could swallow itself around them, and he’d not spare it a single glance, so long as she stayed within view.
It’s intoxicating. It’s foreign. It’s long overdue.
Her first words come out on a sob, “James, I…” before he’s moving, shoving his glasses into the pocket of his slacks and wordlessly striding through her doorway to grab her face in his hands. His palms swallow the edges of her jaw; his fingers entwine in the loose strands of hair behind her ears. The two of them stumble back into the front hallway as Lily lets her hand drop from the door in order to grasp desperately at his forearms.
“James,” She repeats, and he leans his head down as an anguished hiss leaves his lips.
For a fleeting, heady moment, she thinks he’s going to kiss her, but instead, he just presses his forehead to hers and breathes, inhales through his nose like he’s just surfaced from the murky depths of her absence, and the rivulets of water that fall from his hair onto her mouth and shoulders are not raindrops but in fact little moments before this, seconds and minutes and hours spent wading through this life, all melting off of him and splattering onto the creaking wood of her entryway floor.
“Lily,” he says through his teeth, mouth pressed together so tight she thinks his jaw might spasm. “Lily, Lily, Lily…”
Her name is a litany on his lips; a sermon and a condemnation woven together between the first and second syllables. You’re here, it says, where have you been? How have I lived without you?
“Do you remember?” She gasps, her face too close to his to search his gaze, but trying even still. “Do you remember it? Do you remember me?”
“Everything,” he breathes, and he pulls back, but only enough to lean back down and kiss the moisture from her cheekbones. It shocks her to realize the tears are still flowing freely. “I remember everything, my love.”
As though triggered by his confirmation, a tide of fury rises in her, dark-red and bloody and slick. She rears back with eyes still wet; he is a mass of colors in front of her solid-blue door. The confusion on his face is only just pronounced enough to make it through the haze of her vision.
“You—you left me,” she chokes as this misplaced grief swallows her, bites her in half and leaves her in sawtooth parts. “You didn’t—you didn’t have your wand, James—” (somehow, she knows he’d left it in their bedroom, even without remembering where her own wand had been that night) “—and you—I had to—why did you leave me—”
James reaches for her arms, and she nearly jerks back from his touch, but she hates the distance between them—because, really, isn’t that what this is all about?—so she lets him pull her forward until his face meets her neck, mouthing apologies into her skin.
“I know, darling,” he whispers, “I know, I’m so sorry, but I had to—I needed to give you and Harry a chance—”
“Harry!” She gasps and pulls back, horrified and grief-ridden and futile and anguished as she remembers. “Oh, god, James, Harry—I couldn’t stop him, James, he—he got Harry—”
“No, love,” he smiles, and his face is wet, and it’s probably rain and it’s also probably tears. “Harry made it out. Harry made it. Don’t you remember?”
She wants to say she doesn’t, tries to draw the breath to do so, but all of a sudden, she does.
Lily shuts her eyes and watches, helpless, from some sort of bird’s eye view, as Voldemort tries to kill her child.
But then Voldemort is gone, and Harry stands crying in his crib, a scar etched into his forehead, and she knows that by now, she and James have boarded their train, and she wishes desperately she could have missed it, because the knowledge of what’s to come for her son chokes her from the inside out.
Lily opens her eyes and lets a hoarse cry leave her, some vestige of mourning that needs to escape, now useless, obsolete.
“He lived,” she gasps, clutching at James’s shoulders. “Oh, James, he lived…”
Instead of answering, he reaches down and picks her up from under her legs, letting her wrap them around his torso as she grasps at his back, uncaring of how his wet clothes begin to soak through the fabric of her tee shirt. He’s warm through the clinging material, radiating heat that washes over her skin.
Wordlessly, James begins to walk forward—further into her flat, away from the front door. Lily passes a fleeting look at the lock, just to double-check.
They arrive to the living room in this manner, with one of his arms braced under her thigh and the other bracketing her back. She watches the familiar shapes of her hallway recede in an unfamiliar manner; the steady progress backward as he walks, the off-kilter slope of her view as she presses her cheek into the notch where his neck meets his shoulder.
He stops at the foot of her couch—or so she thinks—and she can feel his head turning as he looks around.
“You’re alone?” His voice sounds strangled, some part of this realization evidently painful for him. “You were—you were alone tonight?”
Lily pulls back, a little shyly, to search his gaze. “I didn’t want to go out to a party,” she mumbles when confronted with the heated concern in his expression, “I haven’t felt well since—well, for a while…”
A dark noise escapes James’s throat, and the arm around her back pulls her closer, like he’s trying to hide her away from the nonexistent ghosts lurking in her apartment.
“You shouldn’t have been alone,” he says lowly, and she gets a slight impression she’s being chastised, which she almost raises to defend herself from, but decides against at the last minute. After all, he’s not wrong.
“You’re right,” she breathes, eyes flickering to his lips and back in an instant. “I shouldn’t. I should be with you.”
Something in his eyes shutters, light and then dark and light again, and without further prompting, he leans his head forward and takes her lips with his own.
It shouldn’t be shocking to kiss him, after all she remembers. It shouldn’t be, but it is, and she gasps into his mouth, because it’s new and familiar all at the same time, the long walk home and the first steps out into a great adventure.
James presses her so close to his front that she thinks the buttons on his shirt might permanently indent into her stomach, but she doesn’t care, not when his hands are everywhere at once, when she can tighten her legs around his waist and whisper first door on the left against his lips, when she can drop her head and hear his groan as she presses a kiss on his thrumming pulse.
“I’ve wanted this for so long,” he says brokenly, truthfully, as he turns her bedroom doorknob, and she wants to tell him the same, to make him understand, to show him that she’s waited a whole lifetime for him to come back to her.
“Show me,” she whispers instead.
Hours later, wrapped in her duvet and with one of James’s hands tracing circles on her hip, Lily explains.
It all spills out of her at once: every detail Madame Arnaud told her, every moment she can recall. They share a smile when she brings up Quidditch; they grimace when she speaks of the War. He contributes intermittently to fill in in blanks she can't quite fill herself. He reminds her of their childhood, of their long-suffering love story and their longer-suffering friends.
She asks him about the wedding, why he answered the way he did, and he grins a watery grin and clutches her hip a little tighter. He looks at her like she’s eight p.m. on a summer day, the sun soft and red and dipping toward the horizon, a little too blinding not to squint.
“I didn’t understand then,” James admits. “I couldn’t tell—I mean, I knew that something was going on, every time I touched you, and then almost every night when I went to sleep; but I didn’t know what it was. I thought I was going mad.” He brushes a strand of hair behind her ear, and tiny sensations dance across the skin of her cheekbone in his wake. “Honestly, it took your question to even get me thinking about it. I’d never…I mean, reincarnation? It never…”
Lily silences him with a soft kiss to his lips. None of that is important now. He’s where he’s supposed to be, and so is she, and everything else is a minor constellation, eons away and tucked behind the rainclouds.
He drapes an arm around her, and now, cocooned in his warmth, she drifts off into a warm, dreamless sleep.
A year and two months later, Lily pees on a stick.
Two lines stare up at her. She stares back until they start to blur in her vision, the lines curving and fizzling into the off-white background.
In many ways, her pregnancy is a surprise; in others, it is not. She tells James with tears in her eyes and laughter on her lips, because her body remembers this, remembers the shift and the give of making life, and she feels like a puzzle that’s finally been finished. He sits down when he hears the news, dizzy in his joy.
They share it in small doses; they spend a few quiet weeks keeping the knowledge to themselves, wrapped up in the world-bending happiness, the jubilation which has crossed the Milky Way to reach them. When they tell Sirius and Remus, something passes through the two men’s faces—something cloudy and distant, like they’re peeking behind a curtain that only they can see, and in it is some collection of wonders, some world appearing only to them.
Lily knows the feeling well.
Sirius comes back first, and he clears his throat to ask: “Any names picked out?”
“Harry for a boy,” James replies, draping his arm over Lily’s shoulder.
“And for a girl?” Remus asks.
James and Lily exchange a look before shrugging, turning back to the two men with smiles that hold a little bit too much to be completely innocent.
“Haven’t really thought about it,” says Lily.
The first doctor’s appointments are quiet affairs, full of hand-holding and breath-holding, and they laugh on the way home from a healthy checkup, because they’ve done this all before, been the stumbling first-time parents with wide eyes, but even the memories aren’t enough to soothe the spiking nerves that come with new parenthood.
Lily starts a garden in their small, brick-lined backyard. It’s a nice bit of nesting that keeps her active and outdoors. Sometimes, she thinks she’s learning from it, watching buds blossom with a hand cradling her stomach, reading small books on watering and clipping leaves and potting and re-potting. She gets down on her knees and moulds the earth, shapes and carves it with her hands to watch life begin, and inside of her, life shapes and carves its own space in her body, moulding itself from cells to soft tissue.
Months pass. Lily’s flowers bloom and dance, and then, slowly, sink back into soil-soft ground. Life begins and ends, makes way for new life. Her stomach grows.
The doctor asks them if they’d like to know the gender, and they both have to stifle their laughter, because they know, without question, but they can’t possibly explain it to him.
July settles onto their skin like breezy summer clothes. By the first week, they’ve a nursery adorned in soft, familiar yellows with books that line the shelves, telling tales of adventure and excitement and magic. Lily’s not much help in the construction aspect, what with being nearly nine months pregnant, but she’s taken to decorating with an alacrity that surprises even her. She waddles to and fro with stuffed toys and silly pictures in hand. James watches on in his ever-present mixture of bemusement and anxiety.
They settle into bed on a cloudless night, Lily’s head resting on James’s chest, listening to the steady beating of his heart.
“He’ll be here soon,” James murmurs, more to himself than her. “Not long now.”
Lily looks at him, watches as he traces a fingertip over the soft swell of her belly. Something warm and gentle settles in her chest. It stretches out and loosens its limbs, pressing golden handprints into the space between her lungs and painting murals of sunlight along her ribs.
“Do you hear that, Harry?” She whispers. “Your mum and dad have been waiting for you.”
A flurry of movement underneath her skin forces her to suck in a breath. As though in answer to her question, Harry’s pressing up against her stomach, and she can see him in her mind’s eye, the shimmering green of her own irises; the dark mess of James’s hair. His chubby legs. His double chin. The lines of fat that would collect around his stomach as he sits, babbling and drooling and blinking at the world as it appears to him, a happy blend of new colors and shapes. She remembers the way James would pick him up and toss him into the air, too strong and too agile to ever make her worry he’d fall.
The universe has given her a second chance with them both, brought back the time robbed so brutally from Godric’s Hollow, and she will live it all without a moment of regret, and if it isn’t enough, she’ll board the train and wait for them there, and in whichever destination it reaches, she’ll tear through the earth itself to find them again.
James leans up and presses a kiss to her abdomen. “We’ll do it right this time,” he says softly, to her or to Harry or both—she can’t be sure. “We’ll get more time.”
Yes, Lily thinks, they will. She looks up through the bedroom window. The London lights are dimmer than usual tonight, and above them, the sky is twinkling with stars.