When she was awoken by an owl tapping on her window the next morning, it was still hardly dawn and the air was cold. She figured it must have been from James. Once she saw it wasn't, she realized she never should have thought it was because there was no way James would be awake before noon on a day like today.
Instead, she found the following message:
Diagon Alley today? Still need to get presents for my family. Ah!
Still in her pajamas, Lily slid out of her room and stood at the top of the staircase. She smiled when she heard the sound of the television floating up to her, which meant that her dad was awake.
She pounded down the stairs. "Dad," she said as she bounced into the living room, only to find that it wasn't her dad that was in the living room – it was Petunia and her obnoxious fiancé, who were both now staring at her because she was wearing red striped pajamas. "Oh, hi, Tuney. Vernon. Didn't know you were home. How've you been?" Lily always tried to be polite to Petunia, but Petunia's obnoxiousness in response always turned Lily sour by the end of the holidays.
"Good," Petunia responded, grabbing the sausage's hand. Lily was always struck by the difference in appearance between the two of them: Vernon with his fat rolling off of his body, Petunia with her thin structure and pointy features. It was just strange.
Lily resisted the urge to barf. "Have you seen Dad?"
"He went down to the shop," Petunia responded coolly.
"Oh, damn, I forgot he had to work." Lily pursed her lips. "What are your plans for the day?"
"We're going into London to see an opera."
"Really?" Lily bit her lip. "I can't believe that I'm actually about to say this, but is there any chance that I could hitch a ride? I have plans to meet a friend in London but I have no way to get there."
Petunia raised her thin, tweezed eyebrows. "Can't you just fly?"
Lily gave them a falsely sweet smile. "No, can't. Can you give me a ride? If it's not too much trouble, of course."
"How much will Dad hate me if I say no?"
Petunia rolled her eyes. "Fine, you can come, but we aren't going out of our way to bring you to whatever freaky part of London it is that your lot hang around."
"That's okay. I will be forever indebted to you. When are you leaving?"
"In about ten minutes," Vernon said. He was practically huffing with anger. Apparently he hadn't thought that Petunia would actually agree to Lily's request.
"I'll be ready by then," Lily said, dashing back upstairs. She sent a hasty reply to Marlene, changed her clothes, put a few dabs of makeup on, and grabbed some pounds to exchange for Sickles at Gringotts. Then she grabbed a coat and ran back downstairs.
Petunia and Vernon were standing impatiently by the door as though she had taken too long, when she had really only been upstairs for about seven minutes.
"Let me write Dad a quick note…" Lily said. She wrote out a note about how she was going over to meet Marlene in London and might or might not end up going to James' house for dinner. She would try and contact him if she was going. She put the note on the small table in the foyer and then she ran outside because the happy engaged couple was waiting, still very impatiently, for her in the car.
Lily climbed into the back of the car, only to find that it smelled like cigarettes and bad perfume, a beautiful mix of smells. She let out a long sigh as Vernon began to chat about his career to Petunia, and she listened intently, both of them ignoring Lily's presence behind them.
That was okay with Lily. She didn't really want to talk to them anyway.
When Petunia and Vernon dropped Lily off on a random street corner, she considered trying to find her way around London and make it to the Leaky Cauldron by herself. But it was cold, even though the sun was shining above her, and she had never been very good with directions. So after a few minutes of wandering and trying to come up with a way that she could safely travel to the Leaky Cauldron, it hit her.
The Knight Bus.
Okay, so maybe safe wasn't exactly the best way to describe it, but it was one of the safest ways, since she couldn't apparate. And it was bound to upset her stomach, but she had some extra anti-nausea potion in her bag that she could use.
She had ridden the Knight Bus only once before, when she was with Marlene. They'd still been underage then, so they had had no way of getting back to her house at all. It wasn't Lily's favorite method of transportation, but it was better than riding with Vernon and Petunia. So she stuck her arm out over the street and just as she was losing hope that it would show up (about 15 seconds later), the Knight Bus zoomed up to her.
"Sorry for the delay, love," an elderly man said to her as the door opened. "We were over in Scotland." The man was evidently from Scotland based on his accent. "Underage, are you?"
"No," Lily said. "Pregnant, actually."
The man made a face as he helped her onto the bus. "That certainly is an emergency. What has this world come to…?" He started grumbling about the good old days when he went to Hogwarts.
Lily glanced around to see what her company was. A small group of underage wizards sat under a large chandelier hanging precariously from the ceiling. Behind them were a few occupied beds with elderly and sick passengers. There were also a couple of shady looking figures at the back. Lily made a mental note to avoid them. These days, shady looking figures were not the people you wanted to befriend.
"What's your name, love?" the man finally asked.
"Lily Evans," she responded calmly.
"And where are you looking to go, Lily Evans?"
"The Leaky Cauldron?"
The man nodded. "That's easy. Next stop will be the Leaky Cauldron. Let's go!" he shouted to the driver.
Lily took that as her cue to dash to a seat near the front and pull her potion out of her bag.
And she certainly needed that potion. This trip seemed to be twenty times worse than the last one she had been on. Maybe it was the pregnancy thing, but they were squeezing into holes that didn't exist, making 180 degree turns in the blink of an eye, skidding through lights, darting among people, cars, other buses, and bicycles.
Lily really thought she was going to be sick.
Luckily, they were already in London, so it was only a few moments of torture before the bus pulled to a stop in front of the Leaky Cauldron and Lily stood up and got out, along with the group of underage wizards. They looked really excited to be going to Diagon Alley all by themselves. The way they pushed each other around and laughed when their pushed friends stumbled reminded her a little bit of the Marauders, and it reminded her just how much they had grown up over the past few years.
That was when she noticed that one of the boys was wearing a Slytherin scarf.
Now she was wondering where they would be in a few years.
But she pushed that thought (and her own prejudices) aside and walked into the Leaky Cauldron. Luckily, Marlene was already sitting there, waiting for her. She sat at a table next to a couple of centaurs.
That was one of the things Lily loved about the Leaky Cauldron.
Lily slid into the chair opposite her friend, whose blue eyes were shining even more brightly than usual.
"How's Katherine doing?" Lily asked immediately.
"Katherine, she's fine. But me, I'm great. I just met a guy," Marlene sang.
Lily raised an eyebrow and laughed at Marlene.
"Alright, fine, that was a tad insensitive. She, um," Marlene dropped her voice to a whisper and leaned in, "She was injured in a battle, but the Healers have her back on her feet, and she's right back to being the Katherine we all know and love. Really, she told me this morning that I should retake my OWLs next month because apparently you can do that and apparently I didn't do well enough the first time or something?" Marlene rolled her eyes. "I don't know, she's ridiculous, really."
Lily smiled. "That's good. I was worried about her, and I know you were, too." She paused for a long second then laughed. "Alright, alright, tell me about the guy."
Marlene practically burst at those words. "Okay, so I was sitting here waiting for you, and you took forever by the way, and there was this guy sitting over there also waiting for someone. And he was really cute, and he looked kind of familiar. And after a bit, he walked over and sat down next to me." There was a huge smile plastered on Marlene's face. "And it turns out he's a Ravenclaw that graduated two years ago, that's where I knew him from. And we started talking and we exchanged names so we can write to each other, and he said if I'm around at the end of this week, we should meet up here again. And oh my MERLIN, Lily, he was so cute!" Marlene dropped her head into her hands and stared across the room as though he would appear there out of nowhere. Which was technically possible.
"Wow, Lene, that's great?" Lily said, laughing once more at her friend's face.
Marlene rolled her eyes. "Whatever, wanna go? I don't have a single present for anyone, so I need to get some serious shopping done."
"Not even my present?" Lily asked, holding a hand to her chest, feigning hurt.
"Funny," Marlene replied. They started to walk through the Leaky Cauldron to the entrance to Diagon Alley. "Ooh, how did dinner with your dad go last night?"
Lily sighed. "A lot better than I thought it was going to go. James thinks I baby Dad, but whatever. He was actually surprisingly cool about it."
"It's James now, eh?" Marlene teased as she tapped her wand against the brick wall.
Lily pursed her lips. "Sometimes. Speaking of, I may be heading over to his place later, but I'm not really sure. I should probably contact him some way…"
And there it was: Diagon Alley. In all its majesty, with all of the shops that Lily had learned to love over the past seven years. All offering their unique gems that made the cobble-stoned street come to life. It was only a bit after one in the afternoon, so Lily expected it to be more crowded, especially Christmas week, but it was surprisingly empty. There were only a few couples wandering around the entrance to the Alley. The emptiness didn't really subtract from the feeling of the place, though. In fact, it was kind of nice to be there when there weren't kids running around everywhere collecting supplies for Hogwarts.
"You'll probably be able to use a fireplace somewhere," Marlene said.
"Hmm?" Lily responded. She had completely spaced out staring at the scene before her.
Marlene laughed. "James. Potter. Remember him?"
"Oh, yeah, we'll do that later, but for now… Come on!" Lily practically skipped down the alley, dragging Marlene behind her.
They spent a wonderful day going in and out of almost every store on the alley, finding the most bizarre, the most amazing, and the most delicious things that Diagon Alley had to offer. They grabbed items off the shelves for this person and that person, people that they hadn't even intended to buy things for, but they couldn't just leave this object here. Shopping here was so much better than shopping in Hogsmeade. They had worn Hogsmeade out years before, but somehow Diagon Alley always had something to offer.
It had started to snow halfway through the afternoon, which only made the alley look more beautiful. Lily had always imagined that snow was magical when she was younger.
Finally, they decided to return to the Leaky Cauldron so that Lily could contact James. She had to pay two knuts to use it, but that wasn't too bad.
She knelt and stuck her head into the fireplace. She didn't think she would ever get over how strange and unnatural it felt to do that. Suddenly she was seeing into another room. It wasn't clear, but it was a large, extravagant room, one that she would have expected James Potter to live in.
"Potter?" she called out. "James? Sirius? Anyone?"
Finally, a house elf appeared in front of her. "Are you looking for someone, miss?" the house-elf said timidly.
"Yes, I'm looking for James Potter. Is he there?"
The house-elf bowed his head. "Yes, miss. I will go call him." The house-elf slipped out of sight.
Lily waited for a few minutes, and then Potter slid in front of the fireplace. He knelt down. "Lily? What's going on? Did you get my owl?" He ran a hand through his hair.
"No, I didn't. I'm in Diagon Alley. I wanted to see if you were expecting me tonight, actually." This wasn't awkward at all, Lily tried to convince herself.
"Yeah, if it works for you, tonight would be great. Do you want me to come pick you up through Floo maybe? We'll meet at the Leaky Cauldron in about an hour?" James offered.
"Yeah, that would be good. I'll see you in a bit."
Lily pulled her head back out of the fireplace and rubbed her eyes as they readjusted to the light.
"Well?" Marlene prompted as Lily walked back to their table.
"He's going to meet me here in an hour. And then I get to have dinner with his mother," Lily said, not sure why she was nervous at this prospect. "Why am I nervous about this?" she asked Marlene as she sat back down.
"Don't be nervous. Mrs. Potter is really wonderful. I've met her a couple times, you know, she's friends with my parents," Marlene assured her. "But, come on, Lils. You faced your dad last night. You can tell Mrs. Potter. She can't exactly ground you or anything." Marlene laughed, trying to soothe Lily, but it didn't really work. Lily was still nervous, and she wasn't even sure why.
Lily smiled anyway. "Yeah, you're right. Have you heard from any of the other girls? They all made it home safely, I assume."
"Beth sent me a letter last night because she forgot what the potions homework was. She said it's quite frigid up north. But other than that, I haven't heard anything." Marlene paused. "Was that a generic traveling question, or a war-prompted question?"
Lily shrugged. "Both, I suppose."
Marlene huffed. "We're in some seriously deep shite right now, aren't we?"
Lily nodded. "Yeah, I think that's a good way to describe it."