Disclaimer: Harry Potter and everything related belongs first, and foremost, to JK Rowling, and then to her partnerships with Bloomsbury, Scholastics, Warner Bros., etc.
Summary: Muggle AU: Lily spots her ex in a store James works at and asks to hide behind his desk. Suffice it to say, I don't think asking is Lily's style.
She does it without thinking. Throwing herself forward, she tumbles behind the counter, half rolling on her side out of sight. Her elbow throbs but she is immediately distracted by a bemused voice.
"Sorry, I don't mean to be rude," the clerk behind the desk pauses, considers, then carries on: "No wait, I do believe rudeness in this case would be permissible. Not to state the obvious or anything, but it's generally frowned upon for patrons to go behind the count—"
"Shh!" she hisses, as the door to the shop clinks open.
The clerk, clearly startled by the girl's unceremonious shushing sound, still turns around at the sound of the door and watches as a stocky blond haired man and a petite brunette enter the shop.
"Morning," he greets automatically.
The brunette smiles kindly in turn but the boy continues on speaking and leads her down one of the closest aisles. If the lack of response bothers the clerk, he doesn't show it, though his renewed incredulous look at the girl currently hunched down near him draws her timid explanation.
"Ex-boyfriend," she begins, though she feels that should be clarification enough.
"Dodging an ex-boyfriend?" the clerk asks, now amused. As he turns his body toward her she can see a starch white name tag fastened to his shirt that spells JAMES in big bold lettering.
"He left me for that girl," she whispers waspishly.
"Ah. Well while he's down that furthest aisle he won't be able to see you leave. Now is your chance," he instructs, peering toward the back of the shop as a look-out.
"I can't leave. Not without this, anyway." She holds up a dark blue textbook, one of the few this small book shop has left-over from the beginning of University term, and jostles it in front of her. "I've been to about five shops looking for this and I'm not leaving without it. And I can't pay for it until he's gone."
"And you expect to just stay behind here until they leave, do you? My manager's just step out for lunch and…"
"Oy don't look down here so much!" she scolds, peering around the side of the counter before ducking back out of sight. "Someone's going to realize I'm down here. Pretend to tie your shoes or clean back here." Looking around she added, "Though the latter might not be a bad suggestion for you actually do."
"What's that bloke's name, anyway? Shall I call him over here for a nice chat?" he goads, his tone harder than before but the effect is diminished as he turns around to face the shelf.
"Amos, if you must know. And please, please don't."
"I won't. But then I won't need to."
"'Cause by the time they come 'round the edge of the store, he'll be able to see you anyway. Unless you crouch behind this side of the counter. I can block you."
"You would do that?" she asks, pleasantly surprised.
"'Course," he says easily, now bending to mock-tidy the lowest shelves. "He sounds like a real arsehole."
"He is," the girl confirms before crawling to the side of the counter he indicated to her.
"Then why'd you date him?" James asks, the corner of his mouth twisting as he teased.
She doesn't catch his tone, and sputters defensively. "I—I didn't know that when he asked me out. We only went out for a few months anyway and—"
But he cuts his own words off as the boy approaches.
"Muttering to yourself there? Gets a bit lonely surrounded by nothing but paper, doesn't it?"
Amos is alone, but he laughs at his own joke. James' eyebrow shoots up immediately as he stares. Amos grins, but after a moment his face turns serious.
"You do know a bit about the shop, I presume. Can you help me find something or is there someone—else—available?"
James is grinning—the girl can just make it out from her angle—and she doesn't have time to consider why before James speaks again.
"'Course I know about the shop." He pauses and points down an aisle before continuing. "If you're looking for something more your level of reading, there are picture books down this aisle all the way near the back of the shop. If those are a little too advanced for you, we have a nice assortment of coloring books just a little ways from there. I'm sorry, is that rude of me? I was very presumptuous assuming you can't read. Presuming you can, the self-help books are on aisle five, right hand side at the beginning. You might find particular interest in the etiquette books."
"You—you—" Amos sputters after a moment, before turning on his heel, face red, and calling down the nearest aisle. "Hestia, we're going. Now."
The girl props herself onto her knees to watch Amos, reluctant to look at James, pulling Hestia behind him as he marches out of the shop. Before she knows it, she has fallen back on her butt in a fit of laughter. James turns to look at her, his own laugh breaking through an extremely proud smile.
"That was brilliant," she praises, through gasping breaths. "You are my hero."
He bows, before reaching a hand down to her. "I'm happy to help. Besides, that really livened up a rather boring afternoon." After accepting his help up, the girl promptly walks around to the patron side of the counter. "I do have one question for you though. What's your name, anyway? It'll be much easier to tell my mates this story without calling you 'The Girl Hiding Behind the Counter'."
"No that definitely doesn't roll off the tongue."
"Leaves much to be desired," James nods.
"How about 'The Hider'? Sounds like I could be an action-movie star."
James shakes his head, his face twisting in revulsion. "That sounds bloody awful."
"The movie or the title?" she asks, laughing.
"Both. Truly both."
They are both laughing when the girl finally gives in.
"Lily. I'm James," he says, extending a hand to her.
She shakes it before gesturing to his nametag. "Yeah, I'd figured that one out already, actually."
"Right. Name-tag. Anyway, Lily, are you ready to get that book now that Arse-mos is gone?"
"Arse-mos? You really are terrible at names," she jokes, attempting to hide her disappointment. "Yeah, I suppose this will do for now. I can see I've over-stayed my welcome. But I truly am grateful for your hospitality, James."
James, torn between confusion at her over-stayed welcome comment and pleasure at the sound of her soft voice saying his name, is slow to recover.
"Like I said, I was happy to help," he says, before processing her transaction.
There is a heavy silence between the two after James passes her bagged purchase back to her.
"Well, I should be going. Maybe I'll see you 'round here again. It is a nice shop." Just leave, Lily. He's just a bloke at a bookshop. There isn't any reason you should ever want to see him again. He just wants to get his shift through with and go home. Plus he probably has a girlfriend anyway.
The unhappy thoughts drive her feet forward, until James speaks again.
"If you ever need to hide from an ex-boyfriend again, you know where to find me." What an idiotic thing to say. If you want to ask her out you should just go for it, you blighter.
She laughs, though it sounds half-hearted, nodding as she walks toward the door. Her hand is on the handle when he speaks up again.
"You know maybe I should give you my number just in case."
"Just in case?" she reiterates, pretending to shift her purse onto her shoulder so he can't see her growing smile.
"Yeah, in case you need to hide," he offers, while scribbling his number on a spare bit of paper near the register. Upon seeing a small smile on her face, James confidentially walks around the counter toward her. "Or you know… even if you don't need to hide."
"Okay," she agrees, as he hands her the paper. "I suppose I'll… talk to you later, then?"
"I hope so."
She pulls open the shop door, stepping out onto the pavement grinning, hoping she has the good fortune to run into another ex-boyfriend. And soon.