7/7. "What do you mean you can't play the B chord?" asks James, cross-legged on the piano room floor with his guitar, and so affected is he by this information that he can't help but move in exasperation while announcing it. Lily, on a leather-padded seat behind him, her hands busy with his hair, tugs on the strands to remind him (for the umpteenth time) to keep still.
"I can't play it," she repeats. Their voices echo around the room, what with nothing but them and the dim lighting and the cloth-covered ancient pianos. "I can't press down hard enough or make my fingers reach the right fret in time. I fumble. Ruins my timing."
"But you—Okay, last week, at Slughorn's party, you played that song—"
"Oh, I transposed it up to a key with chords I can play, and then I used my capo to match my pitch," she explains. "But I always do that. How can you not have noticed that ever?"
"I don't look at people's hands when they play, Evans. I look at their faces. I listen. I'm a right decent audience."
"When Remus plays you literally interrupt him every thirty seconds to correct his fingers."
"You mean you are so besotted with me."
"I mean I am so besotted with someone who can't play B and who uses words like 'besotted' in casual conversation," he retorts, shaking his head yet again, to Lily's inconvenience.
"Heel, Prongs," she orders, pulling at a few tufts of his stubborn hair and using his pet name to accentuate her command. He cranes his neck to glare up at her, and she laughs. "Sorry." She massages his scalp as compensation. "Couldn't resist."
"You got it wrong anyway," says James, turning back away as he should. He tries to keep still this time at least. He starts idly strumming his guitar to distract himself. "Sirius is the dog."
"Why is he the dog?" asks Lily, resuming on her grueling task—getting the hundred or so elastic hair ties out of the hundred or so flip-under accents currently adorning James's hair. Apparently he fell asleep backstage during the play, Alice left a prop box full of rubber elastics near the audio mixer, and James's mates are, in his own exact words, 'bored fucking shitheads'.
It's evening, and the seniors just wrapped up their very last show. She and James have come all the way to the piano room because they reckoned no one would come bother them here, it being a good distance from Merlin Hall, where most of the people still are. It's a Saturday, so besides the seniors, some prominent guests invited to the show, and a few representatives from the underclassmen, the school is more or less empty. Lily is still in her Andromache clothes. James's head looks like some new evolution of sea urchin.
Same head's just gone unnaturally still, and he's not answering her question, she notices, so she follows up with, "What's the deal with 'Padfoot'?"
"Oh, you know," he answers. "He's... the dog star. The best friend. He's loyal. He can sniff food from miles away, barks at strangers, needs a leash every now and then. Things like that."
Lily rolls her eyes. "It's because of that something that happened two years ago that you lot still won't talk about, isn't it?"
She can't see his face, but when he speaks, she can hear the sheepish smile off the words. "Yes. And please don't ask me about it, because I still can't say, and the temptation will be torture."
She huffs. "I'll figure it out for myself soon enough," she says. "Why are you the shrimp, though? I can know that bit, right?"
His guitar goes quiet. "What?"
"Why are you the shrimp?"
"I am not," he faces her again, and this time Lily lets him. She won't miss his face for this. "The shrimp. What are you talking about?"
Of course she knows he's not the bloody shrimp. It's just so funny when he's like this. "Prawns?"
He explodes at that, basically. "Oh my god, how many times—I'm a stag, Evans. Prongs. Stag. Antlers. Not—" He catches her expression and narrows his eyes at her. "You like riling me up, don't you?"
"Well, if you wanna play this game, Ginger."
"Please. That's not even right. My hair isn't..." She stops at the pointed look on his face. "Alright. Point taken."
He settles back in position, appeased, and Lily resumes picking at the hair ties.
"So why are you the stag?" she asks.
"'Cause I'm majestic."
She snorts. And then, "You know, I heard from somewhere that stags get... excited, when they rub their antlers against grass or something."
It doesn't seem like the first time he's heard this, for he only sighs and says, "First of all, that's so dumb and untrue."
"You looked it up?"
Lily gives him a moment.
"Fine, yes, but only so I can disprove idiots and save misinformed people such as yourself."
She chuckles. "Of course. And second of all?"
"Second of all, if I did have antlers, in light of that fun fact, they'd be... Y'know what, forget it. There's no second of all."
"Oho, but you really don't want me finishing that sentence on my own," says Lily, tackling a particularly entangled elastic, both of them wincing—she from the effort and he from the pain. They've been at it for a while though, so no one really feels like remarking on it anymore. Lily carries on with, "If you had antlers, in light of that fun fact... I can only really think of unappealing things after that, none of them good for you."
"I don't think me finishing that sentence would be good for me either. Or you."
"Oh, go on. I can handle it. Plus you've gotten me all curious now."
"I won't be held responsible for this."
"Just finish the goddamn sentence, James."
"Right. Okay. So—If I did have antlers, in light of that super fun fact, you're kind of massaging the place where they ought to be, and it does kind of—"
Lily's hands freeze over his head and promptly drop down to his shoulders. "Okay, oh my god, you're right. Do not finish that sentence."
James chuckles, preposterously smug about this reaction. He reaches up with one hand—his other steadying his guitar—to lead hers back up to the top of his head. "Told you."
She resumes her war with the elastics. "Look, I'm already having trouble ignoring the fact that we're alone in the soddin' piano room, alright—"
"So just—shut up."
Somehow, she knew exactly what he was going to say next, but she still makes a face when it comes: "Or else what?" he drawls, his head deliberately thudding against her knee.
"You bloody well know," she tells him, tilting his head up by the jaw (that fucking jaw) so she can austerely look him straight in the eye. "Or else we break the pact. And we've been doing so well with it."
"If we do break the pact, no one would know we broke the pact."
"Potter, you made that goddamn pact. I've already started sticking with it, and I'm a woman of my word." He opens his mouth to respond, but Lily beats him to it, loudly, with, "You used your Marauder's honor thing on it."
He scrunches his nose and purses his lips in frustration at that, and he looks so stupidly cute that Lily's pact-resolve wavers supremely. "Damnit," he voices her thought out loud. And then, with a groan, "I know it made perfect sense then, but why did I have to be such an overthinking tosser?"
"An overthinking, brooding, overly introspective, perhaps even slightly pretentious—"
"Thank you, Lily."
"Hey, it's only till next week now," she reminds him. "That was the deal. On graduation, forgiven or not, I jump your bones."
"And I jump yours."
For two self-proclaimed relatively sensible people, that really wasn't the wisest diction, given their situation and everything. They're quiet, breaths stopped and gazes held. The distance—the lack of it—crackles.
Lily breaks first, more exhaling the words out than uttering them, "Let's not..."
"Yeah, better not," he agrees at once, just as breathlessly, looking away and shaking his head clear.
The next ten minutes is spent in silence (not awkward, never awkward, but not quite as comfortable either), more wincing, and, on Lily's part, extra concentration on getting James's hair to look more its usual stormhead than evolved sea urchin. The last is mostly just to get her mind off the present... ah, frustration. On the eleventh minute, someone blasts the door open. They don't, not really, but they might as well have by the deafening racket and the heart attack they just gave her.
"GUESS WHAT," Sirius yells from the doorway, short-winded and clearly on cloud nine.
Before either Lily or James can speak—to scold him, not to guess what—someone rams into Sirius and bursts into the room. Sirius stumbles, but the new arrival—Remus—ignores him and his offended 'Oi!', and proceeds to announce, "We got in."
"Thanks so much for stealing my moment," repines Sirius.
"What—Wait, what?" James is on his feet now, admonishments forgotten. He even left his guitar on the floor.
Peter arrives just then, with much less ruckus, pausing for a moment in the hall to catch his breath before entering the piano room. "McGonagall just gave us the letter," he informs James, still panting.
"Puddlemere United," says Sirius, slinging an arm around James and shoving the aforementioned letter in his hands.
"We're signing a contract with Puddlemere United," mutters Remus, looking off into space as he mechanically makes his way to Lily. Lily scoots to the side so they can share the cramped leather seat. She grins at him when he slumps down. Still rather dreamily, he too puts an arm around her and grins right back.
"Ah, my boys," says Lily fondly, looking round at them. "I'm so proud of you."
"I can't believe this," says James, his eyes on the letter.
"I do," says Sirius. He notices Peter standing to the side, and pulls him in for a one-armed hug as well. Peter doesn't say anything, but his grin picks up noticeably. "We're brilliant," Sirius continues.
"So are we going?" asks Peter.
James looks thoroughly incredulous. "What do you mean are we going? Of course we're going, Wormy—"
"No, no, he means the party," explains Remus. "Fenwick's throwing one at The Cove tonight. Last show and finals done and all. Everyone's going straight there after pack-up."
"Yes, we're going," says Sirius. "We're going to get drunk. We're going to get lucky. And then, lads, we're going to be fucking superstars."
"You already sound drunk," says Lily.
"You're coming, right?" James asks Lily, patting Sirius's hand before extricating himself from him to retrieve his guitar off the floor.
"Yeah, Benjy's already told me and Mary earlier about it. Let me just get changed. I'll meet you outside..." She and Remus get up, and they all make their way out. Remus remembers to switch the lights off.
Out in the hall, Lily asks James, "You're going with half your hair still like that though?"
Sirius answers for him. "Oh, who cares? We're signing a contract with Puddlemere United next week!"
To answer Lily, James just nods and points at Sirius in a 'what this idiot said' kind of way.
"He's going to be using that to justify everything until next week, I'm telling you," Peter says, about Sirius.
"Oh, totally," agrees Remus. "'Sirius, you haven't showered in two days.'—'Oh, who cares? We're gonna be superstars.'—'Sirius, that sandwich's been under the cushions since God knows when.'—'Fucking superstars, Moony! Puddlemere United!'"
"Ha ha," deadpans Sirius, they're all in stitches laughing, and James holds Lily's hand until they separate at the end of the hall.
Lily's just given up trying to properly pack her clothes and accessories into her backpack and has just resorted to shoving them inside in an embarrassing, disorderly lump, when someone knocks on the already open dressing room door. Thinking it's one of the boys come to hasten her, she doesn't look up. "I'm there, I'm there—"
"You're where?" asks Jeanne, for that's who it is, as it happens.
"Oh." Lily abandons her current headache and steels herself for this oncoming one... Right, she doesn't know if it's going to be a headache, but she prepares herself nonetheless, just in case. "Hi."
"Hi," Jeanne returns, coming in and settling on the nearest chair. Not going to be a quick chat then. Alright.
"Er, you need anything?" Lily asks, when Jeanne doesn't follow her greeting up.
"I'm not sure," says Jeanne, staring at Lily curiously. "I'm here to... thank you, I guess."
"For not... For waiting for me to be okay with you and James. That's really... Yeah."
Lily doesn't mind that ambiguous 'yeah'; she can't think of any adjective that would cap the sentence quite right either. The fact that Jeanne's here though, telling her this... The hope and excitement start to bubble up, and Lily tries her best to stomp on it at once. "You're welcome," she says simply. Denial would be unnecessary, immature. Outright asking if she's now okay with her and James, on the other hand, as is seemingly implied here... now that's necessary, although she can't bring herself to do it.
Jeanne doesn't speak for a moment. Lily doesn't want to ask, she doesn't know what to say, and she doesn't think Jeanne would appreciate silly small talk, so she waits.
When Jeanne finally says something, it's definitely not whatever the hell Lily was expecting: "I had sex with your ex-boyfriend numerous times this week."
Lily gapes at her. Jeanne didn't sound bashful, or hesitant—she sounded... like what she said was not what she just said. Lily opens her mouth twice, thrice, but nothing comes out till the fourth try. What's more, when she gets her faculties working, she chooses the most irrelevant thing to answer with: "Which one?"
Jeanne's eyebrows shoot up. "I didn't realize there's more than one."
"There is." Shut up. Shut. Up. Who cares if there's more than one? Do you? Do you even care whom she bloody slept with? No, you don't. So shut the hell up.
"Oh, okay," says Jeanne.
Lily asks, "Terrence?"
But Jeanne was already saying, "I meant Hunter," so they spoke at the same time.
Lily nods slowly. She takes a second to process this, see if it bothers her in the slightest.
It doesn't. Like, at all.
"I like him," elaborates Jeanne. "He likes me too, he said. We're sort of going out now. 'Course, he might just be getting back at James, but he promised he wasn't, and I'm willing to take the risk. He's really good in bed." Lily makes a face. Does she have to say that last bit? Jeanne seems unperturbed though, she said all that with no pause whatsoever, evidently not meaning any harm. Lily quickly tries to smooth her expression out. However: "I was surprised. He does things I've never really—"
"Jeanne," Lily interrupts, mildly horrified at how specific and forthright she's being. "I really don't—"
"Oh. Of course. Sorry, yes, of course you already know this..."
A dozen or so question marks light up in Lily's brain. She debates telling her that that's not quite the point, but figures this would just get them further from the more important things. "I... Are you... Why are you telling me this?"
"I wasn't sure if I ought to apologize."
"No!" says Lily immediately, bewildered. "No, of course you don't have to. I have no problem with it. We're long broken up. I'm cool."
Jeanne's not smiling, but she seems relieved anyhow. "Me, too. I'm cool," she says, but it sounds... too tentative, like she's still testing the words out, like Lily shouldn't be around for it yet.
Lily's breath is slowing the fuck down. "With?" she asks, knowing full well she's being kind of dumb about it. She just—She wants to be absolutely, one hundred per cent clear about this, okay?
"With you and James," says Jeanne, finally, and Lily can't help it—she does a little victory dance in her head. "You're pretty much essentially together anyway, but..."
"Oh, no, we haven't—We're just really close, but I hang out with his mates a lot, too. We don't—"
"I know that, Lily," Jeanne cuts her off, although not impatiently. Lily thinks she might have so wrongly prejudged this girl. "You always have effortlessly fit with him and his friends. Besides, I would know if you two've done things." Jeanne tilts her head to the side and scrutinizes Lily's face out of the blue, and then, decidedly satisfied, she smiles. "It's not on your face yet."
Sure, she does and says weird things like that sometimes, but Lily is liking Jeanne more and more by the minute. "I'm happy," says Lily. "Really happy. About you and Terrence."
"And about you and James," Jeanne supplies as-a-matter-of-factly.
"Yes," says Lily. "I'm really very happy about that, too. I'm so happy I could hug you."
Of all the things she could have been uncomfortable with, Jeanne chooses that one. "Oh, I don't think that's—"
Lily walks over to her anyway, hugging the rest of her sentence away. "You're way cooler than I thought," she admits.
"And you're less cooler than I thought," Jeanne jokes, awkwardly patting Lily's back. At least Lily thinks she was joking, because she laughed while she said it.
Eh, she doesn't care. She's decided she likes Jeanne Marchbanks, and that she's definitely not a headache.
Also—she does that mental victory dance again—she can jump a certain someone's bones now. How can she bring herself to care about other things, really?
The Cove is... well, a cove, in its most literal sense, privately owned by the Fenwicks, who have turned it into a lavish beach resort. It's usually swarmed with tourists and the pompous, wealthier side of the town, but Benjy had it closed for the weekend, so except for a few foreigners who prebooked (but even they have the sense to draw back after seeing the seniors' party in full swing), the huts lining the shore are all filled with the ecstatic members of this year's Hogwarts graduating class. There are a hundred mason jar candles dotting the sand, the waves laze in and out of the coast, and the finest Ogden's bottles are endlessly passed around. They can be as smashed and loud and amply, deservingly triumphant here, and they all know and show it.
Benjy has thoughtfully reserved an entire building for the batch, too, so that no one is to leave the premises until everyone's fully sober the next day, having anticipated the possibility that most of them would be driving their respective vehicles to the venue.
God bless Benjy Fenwick, honestly. This is why he's their default host. He's just the best.
Having had their share of the raucous party in the first few hours, James and Lily eventually retreat to the northern, dimmer, more rocky part of the cove, taking their jackets, a picnic blanket, a few bottles of Ogden's, and a mason jar candle with them.
Hiding behind an outcrop twice their height then, toasting to graduation and the final project being a success and Lily being cast in a local TV show and Mary getting accepted to her dream grad school and the boys signing with Puddlemere United—Lily thinks, this is it. This is the perfect time to tell him about Jeanne, and for all the good things that that entails.
She couldn't really tell him earlier—everyone was still pretty excited about Puddlemere United when she met them outside the school. Then, although Sirius, Remus, and Peter stayed on the back of the pickup on the way to The Cove, the drive was too short to start such an important discussion. And then it was just too crowded, too loud, and people kept stealing them from each other to chat or say congratulations or trade future plans or wish good luck...
God but she doesn't even know where to start.
Maybe she could just kiss him.
She turns her head to look at him now, lying beside her on their blanket, the sand soft and cold beneath. There are still a few elastics left in his hair, but they're hardly noticeable in this light now. He's looking for Sirius in the sky—the constellation, that is, if that needs saying—but by the crease between his eyebrows and his lower lip jutted out, he still hasn't found it. He has his arms behind his head, much like that night in the gardens, on Foundation Day.
Yeah. She could just kiss him. She wants to so much.
She looks back up at the skies. She doesn't know where Sirius is either.
"Guess what," she begins, and she wants to yell it like Sirius did a while ago—she reckons his earlier level of excitement parallels hers now—but she also reminds herself that, no, she's not that crazy.
"Jeanne slept with Terrence."
If he'd been drinking, he'd have sputtered. Three full seconds, and then, "Who did what with whom?"
"Jeanne had sex with Terrence," she spells out for him.
She wants to laugh at his expression, but this is it, and the anticipation of the next crucial minutes is unbearable. "She told me."
"When did they do it or when did she tell me?"
"Earlier. In the dressing room, while I was packing."
He sits up. "Seriously?"
"Yeah," says Lily. James is watching her intensely now, but she keeps her eyes on the sky. "She also said he was heaps better than you."
He raises an eyebrow, his floored daze disrupted. "Seriously."
She gives in and laughs. "Well, no, but she seemed downright impressed." She pauses. This is it. "She also said—"
"Wait, I'm not ready," he blurts out, fidgeting and sitting straighter. "Will you—will you sit up for a sec? I think I can guess what she said, and it's—it's kind of getting really hard to think with you lying there looking up at me—"
"I'm looking at the stars, you presumptuous peanut."
"Just—come up—" He pulls her up by the arm, so she does. "Right. What did she say?"
"She said she was cool with us," says Lily, beaming at him.
"Those were her exact words."
"Well, those were my exact words—"
His eyes widen beneath his specs. "Evans, it doesn't work that way—"
"No! I said I was cool with her and Terrence, and then she was like, 'I'm cool with you and James, too'." When the doubt on his face still won't leg it, she says, "Exactly that. I swear."
Without dragging his gaze off her, he takes her hand excitedly and laces their fingers together. He bites his lip in an attempt to tone the wide grinning down, but she's fine with that, really, not being able to restrain her giddiness herself.
"Well, hell, woman. Control yourself, will you?"
Lily laughs. This much bliss is intoxicating. "What's the point? I already know what you're going to ask."
"How could you know?"
"I'm a mind reader. Dear god, it's like you don't know me at all."
"No, I know that," he says, "which is why I'm concerned. See, I was gonna say, do you wanna maybe tie your hair up? It's whipping in my face and it hurts."
She slaps him on the arm.
"Are you sick?" he continues, touching her forehead with the back of his hand, and then moving down to her neck. "Evans, your powers aren't working!"
She rolls her eyes. "How am I attracted to you again?"
"You started it," he quips. He puts an arm around her and draws her close. "And fine, don't let the bloke have his moment. It's not like he practiced it or anything."
He pouts and doesn't answer.
"Alright. Ask me. I won't interrupt it."
He lights up. He tilts down his head to meet her gaze. "Do you want to be mine?"
She bites her bottom lip to keep the immediate bubble of laughter in, but she doesn't succeed, and the giggles come forth anyway. "Okay, for real now."
He frowns. "That was for real."
Lily leans away just enough to regard him. "That's how you practiced it?"
"Yes! What's wrong with it?"
"It's... I can't answer that."
"Because it's so... The boys weren't around when you rehearsed this, were they?"
"Are you kidding me? They'd have laughed themselves to death."
"Can't imagine why."
"Oi," he scolds her, squeezing her shoulder. "I'm being my sincere, vulnerable self here."
She nods and tries to straighten her expression. She still finds it funny, though. "Sorry. Okay. Go on."
"That was all. It's your turn."
"No. Ask me again."
He smiles to himself, pleased. "Okay—do you wanna be mine?"
She laughs again. Goddamnit.
"Sincere and vulnerable, Evans. Sincere and vulnerable and now also offended."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it's just—I thought you were supposed to be the cool, unfuckwithable jock type, you know? Not... I don't know. Mr. Darcy."
"You like Mr. Darcy," he points out.
"I do," she agrees. "Okay. I'll behave. Just. One more. Last. I'm behaving."
He takes a deep breath. "Lily Evans, do you—"
Lily rubs her lips together to keep in the laugh—she just can't help it, alright, it's so ridiculously hokey, it's too cute, she's too happy, she can't take it—but then he kisses her, just grabs her face and goes straight into it, lips-crushing-tongue-swirling-and-large-hands-delicately-cupping-her-jaws straight into it. His fingertips graze her ears and it tickles a little, but she can feel that tingle everywhere else—everywhere else—and he's moving, all of him, like his whole body wants to kiss her the way his mouth is doing, and oh my god that doesn't even make sense, she's not making sense, and it's still going, fuck, he's going to ravish her that's what's going to happen—
He stops, hands still on her face. She's breathless, she's flushed, and he—he has one eyebrow raised at her and his lips are pursed and he doesn't say it anymore but she can hear it, she can hear the question in the ringing silence, loud and clear and no longer funny. Just. Really tingly.
God, this boy is exploding stars and yellow roses and smiling sunrises and everything Lily loves with all her heart.
"Yours," she confirms, nodding vigorously, "Definitely yours. Forever and ever. To infinity and beyond."
He smirks. "Who's schmaltzy now?"
"Kiss me like that again and we'll be king and queen of schmaltz."
But he doesn't need telling, because he's already leaned in. When he speaks his lips brush over hers, and she sighs and her eyes close on their own because it just feels. So. Goddamn. Good. "Consider this your coronation then."
And boy does he really make it feel like it is.
AN: Yayyy now there's one full fic done in a month! I'm quite proud of this, and of myself, considering how long it usually takes me to finish things. I'm going to be embarrassing and just say please leave reviews, because they make me really happy and not many things do these days, and also if I get enough feedback on this I might make an extra chapter, an epilogue/spin-off of sorts, because I have one in mind set in this universe but in James's point of view. Just vague snippets at this point though. My next uploaded project will either be a) the next chapter of If We Only Die Once (it's not abandoned, promise), b) A Sky Full of Stars, this other long AU I'm working on, an excerpt of which you can find on my tumblr, iolanthepotter, or c) a new Fading Capillary Lights drabble, because those just come out of nowhere—whichever's done first. The first two are going to be... um, stressful. Which is why I had to take a break from them and make this short, mainly unstressful project, really.
Thank you so much to every single one who favorited/followed this story. Especially especially to those who reviewed; you guys practically wrote this story with me.
I know this last one's a bit heavy on the dialogue, but they just won't shut up in my head, and I wanted to share all of these silly exchanges with you. That sounds crazy, sorry. Helped paint a better picture, though. Well, I mean, I hope it did.
I hope I didn't disappoint, terribly sorry if I did, and see you again in these annoying AN's soon! xx