It's a crime that his mother hasn't yet become a meme.

Once the four naughty children in her care have been herded into the house, forced to dry off in separate rooms and bundled into dressing gowns like a bunch of in-patients who tried to escape a hospital and got caught wading through a muddy river, she brings them to the living room and commences her performance. She's more accomplished than the most tenacious Bond villain—and Euphemia knows a lot about Bond, considering the first and middle names she foisted upon her only son—having waited patiently in the darkness for any one of them to come skipping into the kitchen, thinking life was good and they were in the clear. This, he feels, is not about their behaviour, this is her triumph at having caught all four of them in wrongdoing.

"Well, well, well," she recites, pacing back and forth across the Persian rug, so suffused with fiendish glee at being party to some sort of drama in her home that she starts to steeple her fingers. "You thought you could outsmart me. You thought."

James has never thought such a thing in his life. His mother cannot be outsmarted. She is intellectual kevlar.

As for what he was thinking, he'd thought he might have been able to seclude himself in his bedroom with Lily for a few magical hours. He'd thought that finally, after years of pining, he was minutes away from getting everything he's ever wanted. He'd thought that his mum might have been pleased to see that he and Lily were finally making something happen—and she is, but as she told James before she sent him packing to the under-stairs toilet with a towel and a proud wink, she can't be a hypocrite and punish only one set of horny teenagers—but he hadn't reckoned on Sirius yelling about cannonballs on the deck like a catastrophic idiot.

James will have to murder him for that, which means his own death is inevitable, because he's almost entirely sure that he can't live without Sirius.

"Have I told you lately that your skin is glowing with the first flush of youth?" says Sirius to Euphemia, when she asks them, individually, to explain their behaviour.

Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps he can live without Sirius.

"I don't need you to tell me that, every mirror in this house will do the same with no ulterior motive," Euphemia responds, and strokes her own cheek. She removed her face mask while her young prisoners were drying off. "I'd much rather hear you explain why you're so determined to impregnate our young guest."

"If it helps any, I'm on the pill?" suggests Mary. In general, Lily's best friend is a bold kind of person, but in this instance it seems pertinent to assume that she has, perhaps, had a little too much of that spiced wine she was chugging outside.

"Oh." Euphemia sends her a flat look. "Then by all means, please, debase yourselves in our hot tub."

"Excellent," says Sirius, and makes to stand up. "We'll just head off and go ups—"

"Sit down, or you'll be given the happy task of feeding Algernon his worm medicine in the morning."

Sirius sits back down immediately. "I'm a legal adult, and I'm at perfect liberty to debase myself in whatever way I choose."

"The many crusty socks your room has yielded stand as testament to your honesty. You two can drain and clean out the hot tub in the morning," says Euphemia, then turns her attention, instead, to James's beloved, who is sinking into the sofa cushions with her knees pulled to her chest and her feet tucked in against her bottom, gazing—in a vacant, half-asleep sort of way—at the lights on the Christmas tree. "One couple down, one to go."

He knows why his mother is looking to Lily in search of the truth, but—much like the self-sacrificing, heroic version of himself who existed in the dramatic fantasies of his earlier teens—he won't let her take the heat when he can step up in her place. She had been innocently reading a book when he came outside and ambushed her, whatever decisions his appearance may have inspired later.

"Lily didn't do anything wrong," he begins, and refuses to be silenced by a look from his mother. "It wasn't her fault, it was mine, I was the one who went outs—"

"She can speak for herself," says his mother without looking at him. "Well, Lily?"

Lily looks up from the tree like she's coming out of a trance, and meets his mother's gaze as if she's only just noticed that she's in a room with other people. Her hair is beginning to dry, curling past her shoulders in soft, fluffy waves. "Yes?"

There are moments—like this one—where she's so pretty, so achingly pretty, that James can't bear to look at her, because it makes something twinge in his heart, and he must turn his undeserving eyes away.

"Well?" Euphemia repeats. "Is my son telling the truth? Are you the innocent party in all of this?"

"Bloody hell, Mum."

"I'm not innocent," says Lily slowly, like one considering the weight of the words that fall from her tongue. "But I'm not guilty, either, and neither is James. We just wanted to go to his room."

"Which we've done a million times before, and you've never minded."

"Gone to his room, yes. Gone to his room holding hands? No, so you can imagine why I'm curious."

"We had stuff to talk about," James pipes up.

"What stuff?"

"Private stuff."

"Such as?"

"It's called 'private' for a reason, Mum."

"Don't sass me, James."

"Sass," Mary repeats, and snorts to herself.

"We weren't going to have unprotected sex in a hot tub, if that's what you're worried about," Lily interjects, pulling the sleeves of her snow white robe as far over her hands as length allows. "We were just going to talk, we had a lo—"

"Oh, just talking?" His mother's disbelief is evident. "Is that all you were going to do with your mouths?"

"Well, maybe not," says Lily, rather crossly. "But if you hadn't wanted me to fall for your son, you should have done a worse job of raising him."

James's heart soars like a dove, but Euphemia's eyebrows fly towards her hairline, and a short silence follows, during which—he can only assume—she mulls over just how angry she needs to get. Lily has never snapped at her before, never spoken against her, never once gave cheek. It was one of the things he used to hate about her when they were children. He was always letting his mouth get him in trouble, while she was the one who played nice in front of their parents.

What a moment she's chosen for a change of pace. And what a silly, senseless child he'd been.

Then Euphemia laughs, one sharp, unexpectedly loud note of mirth that sends Algernon to his feet with an irascible hiss.

"That was sass, young lady," she says to Lily, pointing towards her chest, an accusatory gesture that, nonetheless, has no anger behind it.

"I know," says Lily, with a self-deprecating sort of smile. "I'm sorry."

"If it was anyone else..." Euphemia begins. "But I've never been good at telling you off, and I've always thought that you'd be good for him."

"I know."

"He needs keeping on his toes."

"I know."

"And you understand, yes, that I do this only because I want you all to be safe?" She glances at Sirius. "And that I know some of you too well to assume that you're all making sensible decisions?"

Lily nods. "Understood."

"Right, well, you and my son have earned yourselves the honour of making breakfast for everyone in the morning," his mother tells them both, then looks at him, her lips curling upwards with undisguised delight. She inclines her head towards Lily. "Well done on landing such a catch."

"Gee, thanks," he mutters, face burning.

"Go on, get to bed, all of you. Your own beds, mind," says Euphemia warningly. "It's Christmas Day and it's well past midnight. You should all be tucked up asleep, not exploring one another's crevices."

She escorts them all upstairs, sees them to their individual bedrooms and promises to check on them at regular intervals during the night, which effectively drains the night of its last vestige of potential romance, even if James suspects that she's lying, and will be flat-out unconscious from the moment her head hits her pillow. Nothing kills a mood like being caught out by your mother, and Lily deserves nothing less than absolute perfection. He wants to kiss her so much that his heart might implode, but it ought to be as special as she is.

She likes him. Wants him. Mary first confirmed it, but now he's heard it from her own mouth and he'll never stop replaying it in his head. She's fallen for him, much as he feels he doesn't deserve her. Him.

It's an actual Christmas miracle.


Mary shakes her awake at 10am and yells at her to 'get up, get up, you turd,' which isn't how she wanted to start the day.

Like a little girl on Christmas—or herself, in short, as she was ten years ago—she'd been too giddy to settle all night and lay awake for hours, thinking only about James and what they'd done, or almost done, or might yet do, and how excited she was to get him on his own. It turned out to be her undoing, because her body—as bodies often do—surrendered to exhaustion when the house began to stir, and her mother and Euphemia were shuffling around downstairs, no doubt preparing a display of gifts. They still insist upon doing the Santa thing, even though their children are all but adults now.

There's nothing technically wrong with sleeping in, but it's Christmas Day, and the general consensus is a household rising early. More than that, her immediate worry is that James may not believe that she's impatient to see him, which she cannot allow to happen. She winds up racing downstairs in her pyjamas at Mary's urging, with her hair all a mess and no makeup on—the exact opposite of the cool, effortlessly beautiful picture she wants to present.

He's in the kitchen when she comes downstairs, showered and dressed—the plain red button down his mum insisted he wear for the occasion is a marvellous look on him—and cooking bacon on the stove.

"Hi, hi, good morning, I couldn't sleep for ages and then I started dropping off and I thought I'd only sleep for half-an-hour and it's all a big thing," she tells him, zipping over to his side and stopping just short of accidentally slamming into him. "I'm so sorry, I should've—"

"Why are you apologising to James?" says her mother.

Everyone else in the house, save Mary, who woke her up and went to the loo, is sitting at the kitchen island in front of empty plates, watching her expectantly. In her haste to get to James, Lily simply blew right past them.

"I, erm," she says. "I was supposed to help him cook breakfast."

"It's alright," says James cheerfully. His parents started teaching him to cook when he was fourteen, and he's pretty bloody good at it. "I've got it all covered like a champ, one magical Christmas breakfast, coming right up."

She turns the full extent of her attention back to him. "At least let me help you."

"It's fine, honestly, it's mostly done—"

"There has to be something you need—"

"Seriously, don't worry about—"

"I'm going to feel guilty all morning if you don't let me help," she insists, with her hands on her hips, even though the thing she's sorry for has nothing to do with breakfast and everything to do with a missed opportunity to steal a moment alone together. He won't turn her down if he thinks it might upset her. "Please?"

"Alright, fine," he agrees, and nods to a saucepan. "You can do the baked beans—"

"That's it?"

"And chop those mushrooms," he instructs, and she lifts an eyebrow at him, and he laughs. "I've already got everything else done, I swear!"

"I'll accept that, even though I don't fully believe it," she says, and tosses a glance over her shoulder as she reaches for a can of baked beans that James must have left out in advance. Her mother is deep in conversation with his parents, while Sirius scrolls idly through his phone. "Listen, I'm so sorry about getting up so late, that wasn't what I planned—"

He passes her the can-opener. "You don't have to be sorry."

"No, I do, I don't want you to think that I don't—" She looks over her shoulder again, and lowers her voice. "You know."

"Like it isn't all I've been thinking about."

Her heart dings in her chest like one of those bells they ring to kick off wrestling matches, but she valiantly carries on. "Also, I'm sorry that I look like such a mess this morning, especially when you're so handsome, and—"

"Am I?"

"You know you are."

"I do," he agrees, and slides a shy smile at her. "But hearing it from you is so much better than telling myself in the mirror."

She laughs, and remembers that she should be opening tins, not staring at him with a doe-eyed, lovesick expression. "You tell your reflection how handsome he is?"

"Sometimes," James admits. "And I dunno what you mean about looking like a mess—"

"I haven't even had time to shower—"

"—because I think you look—"

"Happy Christmas, my sleepy wee girl," says her mother, who comes up behind her and rests a hand on her shoulder, so thoroughly unexpected that Lily and James both jump at the sound of her voice. "Are you okay? You never usually get up this late."

"Happy Christmas, Mum," she says, and turns around. "I'm so sorry, I just couldn't sleep until really late, that's all."

Her mother doesn't seem convinced by this, though it seems that Euphemia has kept quiet about her daughter's late night misadventures, or she would certainly have said something by now. "Are you hungry?"


"How much wine did you have last night?"

"One mug, if even."

"And you don't have your monthlies, do you?"


"It's fine, James doesn't care, I'm sure he knows that you have woman parts by now," says Grace, which is just about the strangest slice of irony that Lily has ever been fed, and she can feel him stifling a laugh as the same thought occurs to him. "There's no need to be embarrassed about it."

"I don't have my period," Lily tells her, scanning the forefront of her memory for a harmless ailment she can throw out to appease her. "I had a headache, that's all."

"I thought as much. You look very pale," says Grace, and smooths a stray hair away from her daughter's forehead. "Perhaps you've got what James had last night?"

"Mononucleosis?" says Sirius from the island.

Euphemia hits him on the head with a rolled-up linen napkin.

Breakfast is delicious—especially, she insists, the mushrooms and the beans—even with James's mother loudly reminiscing about all the baths Lily and James had shared together when they were very, very little. That's an embarrassing side-dish that neither of them asked for, but at least Euphemia is amusing herself.

"It's meta," she whispers to Lily, brushing past her at the table as she clears away her plate. "I know the meaning of that word."

After breakfast comes presents, which takes the better part of an hour—even Mary has a pile the size of a very large child—but once that's done, there comes a small window of time in which they can do as they please.

Trouble is, the massive breakfast she's recently eaten has made her feel a little less than desirable, and the aromatherapy oils Mary dumped into the hot tub have seeped into her hair, so she opts to have a shower and promises to be fast. James's father springs, though, as soon as she's washed and dried and fresh as a posy, and whatever time they'd hoped to spend together is snatched from right beneath their noses. A hike through the neighbouring woods is the one Christmas tradition upon which Fleamont insists, so the whole family is forced to spend an hour trekking about outside.

"This seemed like such a stylish choice when I bought it," she tells Mary, looking down at her dress, or what she can see of it beneath the additional layers—including her coat and one of James's hoodies—she had to pile on to protect against the cold.

Mary fingers a piece of Lily's ivory lace skirt. "It's still a stylish choice, bub."

"Doesn't really go with the wellies."

"Nothing but Country Casuals and six-year-olds go with wellies," Mary points out. "Just don't slip and fall in the mud; the last thing you want is a dirty arse on Christmas."

"A dirty what?" says Sirius, turning around on one foot to face the girls and essentially halt the four of them in their tracks. He and James are a little bit in front of them, serving as an excellent guard against the frosty wind, while up ahead, the adults lead the procession through the trees.

"You're so puerile," says Mary in disgust.

"That speaks more to your taste than to mine, Macdonald."

"Oh, shut up."

"You shut up."

"Wow," says Lily, with wide eyes, and shares a look with James, who had also turned around mid-walk to face them. "One morning spent cleaning a hot tub and suddenly you hate each other?"

"Hate's not the word I'd use," says Mary, and steps forward to shove Sirius by the shoulder. He stumbles backwards and laughs at her. "Maybe if he hadn't let me do all the work when we were cleaning—"

"You were so much better at it than I was—"

"That's the excuse you're going to land on?"

"I figured it'd come off better than the truth, which is that I couldn't be arsed."

"You're a child, Sirius," Mary tells him coldly, then shoves past him to move ahead of them all. "Come on, let's give Lily and your much fitter friend some well-deserved privacy."

She stomps off at speed to catch up with the adults, and with an eye-roll and the kind of sigh that Lily would expect from a long-suffering mother of eight, Sirius turns and follows her.

"That didn't last very long," says James.

"Eh," she replies. "They'll get past it once they've had enough to drink later."

He smiles at her, so tall and handsome in his dark cashmere coat his mother bought him, with the crisp breeze ruffling his hair and his hands tucked inside his pockets for warmth. On a normal day, he would set her heart to racing, but hers has been going at a hundred miles per minute since the moment she sprang from her bed, so it's all much of a muchness. Every smile and look and inch of space between them is buzzing with electricity, while frissons of anticipation zip through the winter air, and Lily feels suffused with a restless, shivering energy that will be spent, she knows, by just one thing.

"Hi," she says.

"Hi," he repeats. "You look so pretty in that dress."

"I do?"

"Mmm." He nods down at her. "That's what I was trying to tell you this morning, before your mum interrupted."

"I wasn't wearing the dress this morning."

"The dress was just an excuse; it's like I told you last night, you're always gorgeous."

She can hardly bring herself to meet his gaze—he elicits every warm and fuzzy feeling that she's read about in soppy books and pretended she didn't believe—just as she can hardly bring herself to break it, and she smiles, her cheeks as warm as the tip of her nose is cold.

Up ahead, her mother laughs raucously at something Euphemia is saying, while Fleamont captures yet another shot of the winter scenery on his brand-new DLSR.

"They'll notice if we sneak off somewhere," she tells him. His mother has done them a kindness, keeping their secret to herself. Lily doesn't want it openly acknowledged just yet. She doesn't want to be the main attraction at dinner. She only wants to be alone with him, but more importantly, she wants the time to enjoy it. "And I don't—I mean, I know everyone's going to be happy about it, but we haven't even kissed yet, so..."

"I know," he agrees. "Same."

She moves on, and he falls into step with her at once, his arm brushing against hers.

"Do you think they'll, you know," she says, and gestures to Mary and Sirius up ahead. "Last, or whatever?"

"Probably not."

"You think?"

"Sirius isn't like me," James explains, loping beside her at a slower pace than his usual. His legs are far longer, but he's always happy to slow his step to match hers. "I mean, he is, in a lot of ways, but he's not into the whole girlfriend thing—thinks it's pointless."

"To be honest, I don't think Mary's that big of a fan, either."

"He told me once that having a girlfriend is a like making a conscious choice to stick your head in a toilet," he says. "Painful for you, ultimately hilarious for everyone else."

"Mary once told me that love was for selling chocolate and getting Hugh Grant's career through the nineties."

"How sweet that they found each other."

"And yet, how incredibly worrying."

"Imagine if he did knock her up."

"Their children would be so damaged."

"Can you imagine them going out for the night after they've had the kid?" he says, chuckling at whatever has just occurred to him. "The baby would be lying there in its crib, and they'd just, like, throw twenty quid at it for food."

"Instead of actually feeding it?"

"Yeah," he continues. "They'd just say something like, 'get yourself a pizza, baby,' and leave to get trashed at a wine bar."

She laughs, wrapping her arms around herself to stave off the chill. "Have they neglected to name their baby in this scenario?"

"It seems like something they'd forget."

"Or they'd give it a name that's guaranteed to haunt it for the rest of its life."

"Like Hodor."

"Or Dostoyevsky."

"Or Fleamont," says James, and snorts. "Don't tell my dad I said that."

"I don't need to. Your dad would be the first person to point out how terrible his name is," Lily reminds him. "I'm so glad that you weren't named after him, honestly."

"Imagine how embarrassed you'd be every time you had to introduce me to someone."

"God, that'd be awful," she laments, and steps around a large, mud-filled puddle in the forest floor, with her eyes trained on her feet. Even in wellington boots, she doesn't want to risk splashing mud upon her dress. "'So nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Obama, and have you met my boyfriend, Fleamont?'" She shakes her head. "Nope. It doesn't work."

"I dunno," he says, his tone thoughtful. "I think it works a little."

"You'd honestly be okay with meeting the Obamas if your name was Fleamont?"

"If my name was Fleamont, I'd be down to the registry office to change it as soon as I turned eighteen."

"So what—"

"You called me your boyfriend," he points out, and looks utterly thrilled to have said it. "Just like—just now, like it was no skin off your nose."

At some point, they must have ceased to walk, but Lily is only noticing now, standing across from him in a patch of damp, long-dead leaves while the sound of their parents' laughter echoes up ahead. He's grinning from ear-to-ear, looking very much as overjoyed as she feels.

"I did," she admits. "Is that okay?"

"Are you joking? Of course it's okay, I was hardly going to let you take it back."

"I don't want to take it back."

"Well, good," he says, with great emphasis. "I think you look dead cute in those wellies."

She laughs at how unexpected it is, and how silly, and how utterly like him it is to say it. "I think you look dead handsome in that coat."

"I like it when you wear my clothes."

"I like it when you grope me in your car."

"I love groping you in my car."

"We should make a habit of it, really," she ponders aloud. "Fancy a really long drive tomorrow?"

"Absolutely. Done. Whatever you want," he says, and then, as if he might actually burst, "I really want to kiss you."

"I really want to kiss you, too," she says, and points at the little crowd of people ahead. "But parents."


"I'll remind you that you wouldn't kiss me just because Mary and Sirius were there."

"Yeah, but that was last night," he contends, and slings his arm around her shoulders, steering her on towards their parents, who have stopped and waved, and beckoned them to come and catch up. "I'm at least fifty times more desperate today."


Dinner is a grand affair, for his mother has procured a turkey the size of a one-bedroom flat, which is a shame, because James has never been less interested in eating than he is for the entirety of this never-ending meal. Lily keeps looking at him, sequestered all the way on the other side of the table, reaching over occasionally to brush her foot against his leg, and it's all so bloody frustrating that he wants to upend his chair.

Eleven hours. He's been up and about for eleven hours, and he hasn't kissed her once.

All things must come to a close, however, even a Christmas dinner of such enormous magnitude as theirs, and once his father succumbs to a postprandial dip and falls asleep on the sofa, his mum, along with Grace and Mary, gets plastered on mulled wine and punch, so they start an impromptu concert of cheesy Christmas songs in the kitchen. The singing is strange, and mostly painful, but the dance moves—consisting of all three women staggering across the room in the world's shortest conga line and wiggling their arms like ribbons, oddly in sync despite having consumed the contents of an entire vineyard between them—are even stranger.

"I've only just begun to knowwwwww you," his mother warbles. She's hugging a bowl of dream topping to her chest. "All I can say—"

"Is won't you stay," Grace joins in. "Just one more day?"

Sirius has inexplicably become their DJ, sitting cross-legged on the floor with a portable speaker in his lap, playing drunken air piano, and while Mary screeches, "Stay now!" at the ceiling with wild abandon, James sidles up to the only person he wants to be with in that moment. In any moment. In every moment.

He's just a stupid, sentimental kid, but he knows what love is, and he knows that every scrap of love that lives within his heart is made and meant for her alone. She's been the only one for him since the moment she poured his mother's punch over his head, and it's about time that she knew it.

"I never thought I'd be the least dramatic person in the room," he tells her. "But here we are."

Lily, who has been virtually silent since dinner, is perched on a stool behind the breakfast bar, watching their mothers dance with a thoughtful, mellow softness in her eyes.

"Least dramatic? You?" She wrinkles her nose. "I think you forgot about me."


"Clearly, you did."

"Not possible," he contests. "I'm always thinking about you."

A slow smile touches her lips, and she turns to him as if to reply, but their potentially beautiful moment is stolen from his grasp by Mary, who lurches up to Lily and clasps her face firmly between her hands.

"I touch your face while you are sleeeeeeeping," she croons. "And hold your hand, don't understand what's going on."

"Jesus," says Lily. "You're wasted."

"I'm wasted and I fucking love you," says Mary. She has black smudges around her eyes.

"That's really good to know, Mare," Lily patiently replies.

"I love both of you," Mary continues. She pokes James between the ribs, hard. "You're adorable, Potter. You two and your little... your little romance going on—"

"I should go and feed Algernon," he says quickly.

Grinning, Mary begins to sway from side to side, and resumes her tone-deaf singing.

"Baby if you've got to go away, don't think I can take the pain, won't you—hey!" She points to the slither of space between them in fine, dramatic fashion. "Have you two shagged yet?"

"Go feed Algernon now," says Lily urgently, and claps a hand on Mary's arm with a panicked glance at their dancing mothers. "Please."

Mary squeals and tries to escape, and James, who would rather die than answer probing questions should Lily's mother overhear anything—it's bad enough that his own mother has been sending smug smiles their way like an all-knowing deity since breakfast—does as Lily asks, grabbing a few slices of leftover turkey because digging out cat food requires passing the gauntlet of drunk parents, which he doesn't have the heart to try. Euphemia, while an affectionate drunk, has no awareness of her own strength, nor how sharp her fingernails can get when she digs them into his arm to pull him into a hug.

Algernon's bowls are kept in the hall, which is cool and dim, and with the door closed behind him the sound of the music is muffled. It's marked relief from the hot, noisy kitchen, a respite he craves, because a couple of mugs of spiced wine mixed with Lily's presence makes for a heady, confusing cocktail. His cat is nowhere to be found and his water bowl is untouched, but there's not a scrap of food left, so James drops to his knees to fill it.

Behind him, the kitchen door opens—the final refrains of East 17's ballad ring shrilly through the air for a moment—and closes again.

"Hey," says Lily, quietly.

He looks at her over his shoulder.

She's really very close to him, and so gorgeous in her pretty new dress, and he doesn't understand why he hasn't kissed her already. He should have done it this morning. He should have done it last night, as soon as she asked. He should always be kissing her, at every opportunity that presents itself. They've already wasted more than enough time.

"Hey," he says.

"Have you fed him?"

"Just finished, his water bowl's still full, so—"

"Good," she says, firmly. "Get up, James."

As soon as he's on his feet, Lily shoves him, lightly, not hard enough to hurt him, but enough to force him backwards, enough for his head to bump against the wall behind him. She moves with him, sliding both hands up his chest, and his skin burns under his clothes from her touch, then her fingers tangle in his hair and he can't hear anything—the music has gone, and the singing has faded to nothing—but the blood that pounds in his ears, and then she's on her toes and she's kissing him and there's no reticence, no moment of hesitation, just the feeling of her mouth on his, warm and hungry and beautiful.

He doesn't have to think about responding, simply does, as natural and easy as breathing or falling asleep. His hands travel along her spine to hold her in place, and he moans into her mouth when she grinds her hips against his, and she's flush against him but she's not close enough; he'd have to be part of her to be close enough. He'd have to be inside her, and that's the only thing he wants. That's what he wants with her. Only her. Nobody else exists but her, and he's just a kid—a stupid, sentimental kid—but he loves her more than there are words to describe the feeling, and surely, he thinks, this is all he'll ever need to feel completely and utterly happy.

Minutes tick by. He's not sure how many. A loud clatter from the kitchen jolts them back to reality, and they break apart, breathless.

"Wait," she whispers.

He doesn't know what she needs him to wait for, but he'd do anything she wanted, so he rests his forehead against hers and closes his eyes, letting the sound of her quick, ragged breaths fill him up until they soften and steady, and until his heartbeat slows its pace.

"Our parents," she says, after a while, as if she's just realised where they are and what it might cost them. "They're just inside—"

"I know."

"We should—"

"I know."

"I'm so sorry."

"Don't be."

Reluctantly, she pulls away, and James is left cold and bereft and wanting her back.

"Can I come to your room later tonight?" she asks him.

He nods. "Wasn't planning on sleeping."

"I want—" she begins, but the words catch in her mouth, her eyes darting down towards her toes. He's forced to resist the urge to pull her back into his arms. "I've never, um, with anyone else, you know?"

RHis eyes widen. "Oh."

"If that's going to be a problem—"

"Me neither," he tells her eagerly. "I've never done—and I never wanted to do it with anyone but you, so..."

He's caught her gaze again. "Really?"

"I've been crazy about you since we were kids—"

"Because I want to," she says quickly. Even in the dark, he can tell that she's blushing. He's not used to seeing her nervous. Lily is the one with all the self-assurance, while he has all the appearances of it, but is a mess beneath the surface. She keeps her cool in fraught situations. He's the one who always falls apart. "With you, I mean. I trust you and I really—I want to, so much, so if you—"

"I do," he says. "Of course I do."

"Great." She pushes her hair behind her ear. "Because I—yeah, okay. Are you coming back in?"

"In a minute. I've got to, er..."

Her eyes flick downwards very quickly, then back up to his face. "Ah. Okay."

"So I'll just calm down, I think, and then I'll be along in a minute."



"I'll see you in there," she says. "And, um, upstairs. Later."

Then she darts off, yanks the kitchen door open with more force than necessary—the hall is filled with a ringing snapshot of raucous laughter—and disappears inside, plunging him into silence once again.


She goes to his room when everyone is sleeping, and she's never been so nervous in all her life.

It's scarier still when he opens the door.

"Hey," she says, with a whisper of a wave. He's changed for the night—boxers and a clean, white t-shirt that's better on him than a three-piece suit could ever hope to be—with a hint of sleepless darkness beneath his eyes, and the barest hint of a shadow on his brown, clean-shaven face.

"Hey," he echoes.

He has a man's body now, tall and lean and etched in hard lines, but softer lips than she possibly could have imagined.

Kissing him was a beautiful thing, but the girl she'd been earlier was more emboldened than she, spurred to action by a little too much wine and the swift departure of the last of her patience. The girl she is now has been seized by self-doubt, and too many questions to process; like maybe it's not her who matters. Maybe it doesn't matter at all, who kissed him, or touched him, or came to his bedroom tonight. Maybe he's just a teenage boy who wants what he wants and maybe anyone will do, and she's gone and ruined everything by knocking on his door.

"I didn't know if—" She looks down at what she's wearing, a pair of baggy flannel pyjamas that she dons exclusively for comfort. His eyes make her feel as if there's nothing else he knows worth looking at, and her heart is fluttering like butterfly wings. "Mary and I brought this other stuff, but I didn't, and, I know I should have worn something... sexy, but I dunno, it felt—"

"You're lovely," he tells her, and pushes his door open. "Do you want to come in? I need to tell you something."

There's nothing else to do but walk inside, and change everything that ever was between them.

His bedroom has changed so much since the first time she set foot in it. The superhero bedspread that he bounced up and down on as a child, decrying her for reading instead of paying him attention, is gone, replaced by a plain, bold red, and most of his posters have been taken down. On the floor sits the pile of presents he unwrapped earlier, except for hers, which he has placed on his desk. There are more books on his shelves; books that are read and cared for, no longer coated in a fine layer of dust and left to feel unloved. His artwork is everywhere, pinned hastily to his walls, scattered across his desk, even a canvas propped up against the end of his bed. It's beautiful. He's always been so talented.

He is a man now. Almost.

He's still by the door, and she hears it click shut, closing them into this space together, but she doesn't turn around.

"Do you want to sleep here?" he says, quietly.

"In your bed?"

"We've shared a bed before."

"Not like this."

"No," he agrees. "Not like this."

Slowly, as if time is running at half-speed, James's arms encircle her waist from behind and pull her towards him, so that her back meets his front and his chin settles neatly on her shoulder; her eyelids drop, and as he takes a deep breath—his chest expanding and contracting against her spine—she feels drowsy, and hot, as if she might be drunk still, and he presses a soft, sweet kiss against her hair.

"I love you," he murmurs.

Lily expels the breath she'd trapped behind her ribs and something bursts—her heart, or the stars, or a million different things. "James—"

"I love you," he repeats. "Turn around."

She does as he asks, and he doesn't let her go, securing her neatly in his arms.

"You kissed me first," he says. She could be forgiven for thinking him calm, if she didn't know his eyes so well. They're the only part of him that she can liken, still, to childhood, and reflecting back at her is the same fear that she carried to his door. "You did everything first, because that's what you always do. You're so brave, and strong, the way you dealt with having to move, and with your parents, and I had to—I had to tell you that, because—because you should know, before we do anything else, that this isn't just some silly, physical thing, like what our friends are doing—I love you, and I want us to be together, properly, and—"


"No, listen, I do love you, I do." He swallows a breath, or a lump in his throat, nervous still, but his voice is growing stronger. "You know how in Anne of Green Gables, when Anne hit Gilbert over the head with her slate because he made fun of her hair—"

The laugh that leaves her lips is soft and breathless, almost indiscernible. "You read those books?"

"—and how later, Gilbert told her that he'd loved her from the moment she did it?" he carries on, nodding. "It's like that for me, with you, only you didn't crack me on the head with a slate, you used a jug of punch—"

"I love you too."

He has other things to say, perhaps, but they vanish, and the most palpable relief she's ever seen seems to shudder through him, and his entire body relaxes against her own. "Oh god, you do? Really?"

"Of course I do."

"I didn't think you would."

"You're the love of my bloody life, you silly idiot," she says, and takes his face into her hands, because it stuns her, utterly, to think that he could know her and not see that. "And my best friend, and the only person I ever want to be with, ever, and if you don't realise that—if you don't realise that I love you so much I could burst, and that you were the worst thing about leaving, and the best part of coming back, then..."


"Then I'll just have to keep on telling you," she concludes. Her eyes are suspiciously misty, and she doesn't know if she should laugh or cry, but she's sure she's never been so happy in her life. "Every single day, that I love you, I love you, I love you, until you bloody well start to—"

"I believe you," he says, and drops his head to catch her lips with his, kissing her, he's kissing her at last, gentle at first but ever more insistent, and whatever words she meant to use to prove her love dissolve into a happy sigh that only he will ever hear.

She loves him and he knows, and they were stupid fools to miss it for so long, but none of that will matter anymore.

And after that, when there's nothing left between them, not the sea, nor a lie, nor a scorching flush of misjudged childish hatred, nor even clothes to hide beneath, they find themselves traversing pastures new together. It's a strange thing, really. She doesn't know what she's doing, but neither does he, and it's made all the better for figuring it out between them. It's not as smooth as silk, nor is it a perfect collision of hot, unbridled passion. It's awkward, and shy, and even a little painful.

But sweet.

It's all so wonderfully sweet.