Author's Note: I fired this off on a whim because it's a slow work day. It's my ode to Euphemia Potter, and to everyone who has ever sent me lovely feedback about the way I write her. I hope this little ditty is an enjoyable way to spend a few minutes!
Boredom, Euphemia believes, is the death of happiness.
She hates being bored, and will go to great lengths to avoid it. Some of her greatest accomplishments have come as a direct result of boredom. As a young girl in Santorini, when she was still a Dimakos and not yet a Potter, she first took up a cookbook because she was bored, and a glittering culinary career followed suit. She moved to England, all by herself and just shy of eighteen, because she was bored, and met her sweet, self-made husband on a whim-inspired walk through Hampstead Heath. Upon retirement, once she'd earned enough Michelin stars and felt she'd done all she wanted, she bought the coffee shop because she was bored, and quickly made a success of it.
Her only son, James, who by all accounts is a fine, handsome, charmingly ridiculous young man, was quite unexpectedly conceived - following years of expensive, fruitless attempts that got them nowhere and eventually became too upsetting to continue - because there was nothing good on telly. Miracles can happen when Euphemia is bored.
He's twenty-six now, her boy, and he took the restaurant off her hands and he knows what he's doing, but in another sense he's a total dolt, and Euphemia finds herself bored. Bored of the dates he brings to family dinners. Bored of his string of failed relationships. Bored of his inability to meet the right girl. Bored of strolling past bridal shops in the city, staring at the displays of ostentatious, wide-brimmed 'mother of' hats and wondering when her turn will come. Bored of not having grandchildren.
If ever a person could achieve immortality, Euphemia would be the one, but as that's not likely to happen, James needs to hurry his arse up.
Or else, she thinks, she'll hurry it for him.
It's a perfectly ordinary day when Lily walks in and marks herself out as Euphemia's future daughter-in-law.
The poor child doesn't know that she's doomed to that fate, of course. She's just there to get a drink, not a husband. Euphemia doesn't either, not at first, when the girl quietly joins the queue of early morning caffeine-seekers, yawning behind her hand, because she's busy concocting a flat white for a flat white businessman. Being the boss, Euphemia could easily sit in the back room with her feet up and allow Sirius and Mary to handle the morning rush, but Sirius is perpetually late and she likes being on the front lines. A chef must hustle and bustle behind the scenes, but a barista sees a variety of people, and Euphemia enjoys people.
Really, customer service is a great job for her at this age. She's too old to be upset by the opinions of idiots, yet not old enough to despise all humanity. It's a sweet spot in which to exist.
"What can I get you?" she asks the girl, once it's her turn, and her tired, preoccupied expression immediately becomes a smile.
"Can I have a tea – no, a hot chocolate to go?" she says. "And a croissant, please?"
The girl nods. "I've got a long day ahead of me."
"What do you do?"
"I'm a barrister," she explains, and stifles a yawn. "Just. First time in court today and I barely slept for nerves."
Euphemia has never seen eyes like hers, the prettiest shade of emerald one could imagine, and her long red hair is enviably lovely. She has always adored red hair, which bears the magical quality of distinction.
As has her son, she recalls, quite inconsequentially, as she begins to heat the milk for the girl's order.
"That's quite exciting," she says. "Is it an interesting case?"
"What, like a murder?" The girl laughs. "No, nothing that interesting, but I have to win or I'll feel perpetually blighted."
"You mustn't be so hard on yourself."
"So I've been told," she sighs. "I should have become a writer."
"Why didn't you?"
"This seemed like the more sensible option."
"People have been telling me to take the sensible option all my life," Euphemia tells her. "And if I'd ever listened, I wouldn't own this place. Do you want cream with this, sweetheart?"
"Oh, yes please!" says the girl eagerly. "So you're the owner?"
"I am indeed."
"It's beautiful in here," the girl enthuses, pushing her hair behind her ears. Euphemia can always spot a liar, but this girl is being sincere. "I only moved around the corner last week but I've been dying to come in. And I like the name, too. How did you choose it?"
"Oh, I lost a bet with my son," she replies, though she's grown rather fond of 'By Any Beans Necessary' as the months have gone on. "Speaking of names, I like to know my customers, so what's yours?"
"Euphemia," she replies, and points to her own chest. "Yours is a very pretty name."
"Better than the one my sister got."
Euphemia pours the hot chocolate into a paper cup and shakes the cream dispenser to top it off. "Chocolate sprinkles?"
"Oh, go on then."
"Why not? You only live once."
She douses Lily's drink in a generous helping of chocolate glitter and hands it over with a fresh-baked, warm, buttery croissant, and Lily pays with a swipe of her card, but Euphemia's not done with her yet.
"Listen, lady law," she says, before the girl can take her leave. "When you've won your case, come back here and tell me and I'll treat you to anything you fancy, on the house."
Lily blushes, but looks pleased all the same. "And if I don't win?"
"Same rule applies," she promises. "And you feel free to come here and write whenever you like."
"Alright," says Lily, with the brightest smile she's seen all morning. "Lovely. Brilliant. Thank you very much."
She'll do, Euphemia thinks, once Lily has headed out the door with a bounce in her step that wasn't there when she walked in.
She'll do quite nicely.
"I've found a nice girl for you," she tells James a day later.
He's finished a ten-hour shift at the restaurant and run in for a caramel latte while Euphemia and Sirius prep for closing, leaving Remus to handle the rest of the dinner rush, and Euphemia, thinking that he's a brilliant boy who does her legacy proud, decides that he deserves a treat.
Being James, he fails to appreciate this. He can be a contrary little shit at the best of times, always refusing to accept that mother knows best until inevitably, she does, and he's forced to admit it with his tail between his legs.
"I don't need a nice girl, especially not one that my mum picked out," he says quickly, and throws a panicked glance at Sirius, who is cleaning the espresso machine. "Why don't you set him up instead?"
"Because she wouldn't suit Sirius."
"How'd you know?"
"Because I picked her out for you."
A familiar, stubborn darkness falls across her son's face, and he ruffles his mad scientist hair, which will stick out in all directions despite anyone's best efforts, as wayward as he is. James's hair is as black as his mother's, though hers has always behaved. He gets that particular brand of scruff from his dad.
"I don't have trouble finding girls to date me, you know," James points out. "Girls like men who can cook."
"And, quite frankly, I think it's scandalous that you think I'm in need of assistance."
"I never said you had trouble finding girls, it's just that the ones you find are rubbish."
"They're not rubb—"
"Rubbish," Sirius agrees, slinging a tea towel over his shoulder, his signature move when he scouts for tips from smitten customers.
"You're just picky."
"I just live with you, which means I know more about the women you date than your mum," Sirius counters, with a steely glint in his grey eyes. He's a woefully lax employee at the best of times, but gets unlimited passes on account of being James's best friend and Euphemia's unofficial second son. "But I don't think you should set him up, either."
"How about I decide that you shouldn't have a job?" she calmly threatens.
"And," says Sirius, grinning. "Let's hear more about this wonderful girl."
James glares at Sirius from the other side of the counter. "Betrayal."
"Come on, mate, it's been ages since you got any."
"I've been busy!" James protests. "I'm not getting set up by my mother."
"Who said I'm setting you up?" says Euphemia, and crooks an eyebrow. "Who says she'll even agree to date the likes of you?"
This, predictably, causes deep offence. "Why wouldn't she? Are you saying that I'm not marvellous?"
"All I'm saying is that her standards are likely quite high. She's intelligent, sensible—"
"Code for unattractive," Sirius puts in.
"—and beautiful," she finishes, and points towards the back room. "Go sort out the safe."
"Or I'll dock your pay for a laugh."
Sirius throws down the tea towel and retreats to the back, grumbling about unethical treatment of staff, and Euphemia returns her attention to her son.
"Her name is Lily," she tells him. "She's about your age, a year older at most, if even that, and she's a barrister, and she—"
"Where did you meet her?"
"So, what, she was just some random customer?" Behind his glasses, his eyes are narrowed in suspicion. "Is that how you pick women for me? Wait for someone to walk in off the street and hope they're not completely nuts?"
"She's got red hair."
There's a definite flicker of interest, but James is too stubborn to give in so soon. "I'm too busy."
"More like pig-headed."
"You shouldn't insult your only child."
"What else would I do with my time?"
Lily comes in several more times over the next two weeks, and never buys more than a scant cup of tea. She and Euphemia chat when they can, though it's sometimes too busy, and Lily shares what details she can of her case in dribs and drabs. Sirius overhears one morning as he saunters in, twenty minutes late, and grins to himself, then word gets back to James that she is, in fact, 'quite fit,' but he's still being stubborn and refuses to adhere to Euphemia's instruction to stop by one morning for a chance introduction.
On a Saturday, early in the morning, the quiet hour before consumers descend upon the city and they find themselves inundated, Lily dashes inside at considerable speed.
"I won!" she tells Euphemia, laying her hands flat on the counter. "Yesterday. Pretty late, so I couldn't come and tell you. But I won!"
In her light blue dress with white polka dots and a backpack slung over one shoulder, she seems a lot younger than the professional woman who slopes in on weekdays in a smart jacket and polished heels, though perhaps it's the gleam of victory in her eyes.
"I knew you would!" Euphemia delightedly responds. "Didn't I tell you that I'm always right?"
"You might have mentioned it a few times," says Lily proudly.
"And I believe I promised you a reward?"
"I mean, that's not why I came in—"
"—but it helps?"
"I brought my laptop," says Lily, smiling, and fingers her backpack strap. "I thought I could sit and write, for a while?"
"Wouldn't you rather be celebrating with your friends, or your other half?"
"My friends are taking me for dinner tonight, and I don't have a boyfriend."
"That sounds idyllic."
"It's pretty fun," she says, casting her eye over an assortment of pastries. "Though, you know, if you happen to know anyone tall, dark and handsome, I wouldn't say no..."
"Any other criteria?"
Lily shrugs. "Good in bed would be nice."
"I don't have anything like that on the menu, but I may know some people."
"Euphemia Potter, the matchmaking barista," says Lily, with a laugh. "Could I get a tea and a fruit scone, please?"
"You can have whatever you like, dear."
Saturday morning writing sessions become a regular thing.
Lily will spend an indeterminate amount of time, sometimes an hour, sometimes several, tapping away at her laptop in a secluded corner of the room. She likes the background noise, she says, and the sense of novelty that comes with being a writer in a coffee shop, like airplane food, or free supermarket samples. She has tea and a pastry, mostly, or the occasional hot chocolate. Sometimes, she brings a friend, and they'll sit and chat merrily, but she usually comes alone, and she always talks to Euphemia on the days she's working, and they become excessively fond of one another. Euphemia starts preparing sweet little delicacies for Lily to sample. Lily buys her flowers to keep in the vase by the cake stand.
Along the way, they become good pals.
She gets along with the rest of the staff, specifically Mary, who she also bumps into at the gym, and they start spending time together outside the café. Sirius likes her, too, but is hesitant to admit that she should be set up with James until the day he cracks, under light pressure from his boss, and confesses that he understands her theory.
"I can see them together, I dunno why," he tells Euphemia in a low tone, while Lily frowns at something she's written and vehemently jabs the backspace button. "Like, in a house somewhere, all domesticated and revolting."
"With crisp linen sheets?"
"And different kinds of pasta in glass jars," Sirius seconds, then looks disgusted. "You've poisoned my mind."
"I haven't, it's just predestination."
"I don't believe in that shit."
"Well, it's always worked for me."
"James will be delighted to know that he's got no control over his future."
"James can take a flying leap."
"Such a loving mother, you are."
"My son can be a lot to take, you know."
"No, Sirius, one of my other innumerable children."
"So maybe you can have a chat with her," she suggests, and gently nudges his arm. "Prepare her for the worst?"
And so, while Sirius cleans around the tables, later in the morning, he fires questions at Lily, seemingly at random. Does she like cats? How about bacon sandwiches? What are her feelings on mixed-race relationships? Does she have a high tolerance for silly behaviour? No, seriously, he knows she says she likes cats but how much?
"Disregarding the fact that your interest in tiny details of my life is a little startling, what is this obsession with cats?" she asks, after he moves on to narrowing down her feline preferences – tuxedo, calico or ginger, which Euphemia feels, given Lily's hair colour, is a question that doesn't need to be asked.
"I'm not obsessed with cats," says Sirius, brandishing his dishrag. "I'm a dog person, if you must know."
"Are you considering a switch to cats?" says Lily. "Because it's not like changing banks—"
"No. I'm asking for James."
"James is my friend who has a cat," Sirius explains. "He often brings him here. Hence my asking."
"I thought only service animals were allowed in here?"
"James has a cat and he doesn't care about rules that pertain to having cats in places where cats aren't allowed," says Sirius. "This is an addendum to my earlier statement about James and his cat. Is that going to be a problem?"
Lily stares blankly up at him. "I have no idea what you're talking about, but I'll humour you and remind you, again, that I love cats. You were the one who outright refused to accept it."
"Because cats are shit."
"Cats are the shit. You were dropped on the head as a child, weren't you?"
"Several times, and deliberately," he says, grinning. "Will you go out with my mate?"
"James with the cat."
"Who are you asking me to go out with? Your mate or his cat?"
"Isn't that obvious?"
"To a normal person, probably, but based on the last five minutes, I'd be better off checking."
"Aunty," Sirius whines. "She won't go out with your son."
"You can't know that for sure," Euphemia replies. "She could be turning down Algernon."
"James's cat," she says, and strides over to her table. "I'm so sorry, Lily. Sirius here has got the idea in his head that you and my son—"
"You Judas!" Sirius cries.
"—that is to say, my very attractive, very intelligent son who serves as head chef at Hestia Vesta—"
"Oh," says Lily.
"—and who, actually, what age are you, dear?"
"Well, what are the odds? So is he!" says Euphemia airily. "Anyway, Sirius thinks you'd make a good couple but I told him he was getting ahead of himself."
"I don't get paid enough for this shit," Sirius retorts. "You said—"
"—come in to work on time, yet you never do," she finishes, smiling, and her young charge skulks away. Sirius needs to get up a lot earlier in the morning if he wants to go toe-to-toe with the big guns. "Get the young lady another tea, on the house, and I'm so sorry for his impertinence, Lily."
Lily has turned as pink as a peony, yet she smiles in a rather knowing fashion, and says, "Apology accepted, and please give my apologies to the cat, but I only date people."
"If Sirius ever bothers you again—"
"I've dealt with sillier people than him," she assures her. "Don't worry. He's pretty amusing."
If she can handle Sirius, she'll be well able to handle James. That's another box checked off the list.
The combined efforts of Sirius and Euphemia still aren't enough, because her idiot son won't budge. He goes on a date with some girl from a dating site and tells his mother it went well, though she speaks to Peter, the sommelier she hired shortly before she gave the restaurant to James, and gleans that actually, it was a mess, and he's just as single as ever.
Peter always cracks under questioning. It's the reason she hired him. Though she trusts her baby to steer her business baby further into success - and he has, by and large, proven her right - it's always good to have a mole on the inside. Just in case he ever needs help.
Peter looks more like a rat than a mole, but she's hardly going to be cruel to the poor boy.
Lily isn't scared off by Sirius and his rampant questioning into never returning, which can only be a good sign. In fact, her visits increase, and she occasionally pops in on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, Euphemia's nights to close up, just to chat. Sometimes she helps her clean behind the counter, if she can argue Euphemia down. She's quite good at arguing. Given her job, that's a rather fortunate thing.
Euphemia tells her all about her sun-drenched childhood in Greece, while Lily fills her in on her time as a student. She talks about her husband and son, and how easy it was to take Sirius into her family. Lily chats about her sister, and how long it has been since they've talked, and a newborn nephew she's never even met. Euphemia learns that Lily studied in Cambridge, that she loves her job but loves writing more, that her best friend's name is Beatrice, and that 'good in bed' isn't really what she looks for in a man, though they can both agree that it's quite a wonderful bonus.
She learns that Lily lost her mother, quite unexpectedly, two years ago, and her father three years before that, and the reason behind her impromptu visits becomes that little bit clearer.
"And then he said, 'but I think my favourite kind of potato is the Maris Piper,' and I just checked out after that," says Lily one Tuesday evening, leaning sideways over the counter with her chin propped up on one hand. Closing time was fifteen minutes ago, but it's a beautiful summer night, and the shy outside is a stunning azure blue. "Not the worst, but definitely bottom five."
"You need to stop going on Tinder dates."
"You know that's where all the serial killers hide out."
"Well, I've got one more on Saturday and that makes three and then I'm done, if he's a nutjob, which he will be, let's face it," she says flatly, and prods her phone with one finger. "Right, I need to go. Bea and I are having dinner at Caravan—"
"When are you going to go to my son's restaurant?"
"Next Wednesday, actually!" says Lily brightly, as she shoves her purse and phone into her bag. "Thank you for letting me drop your name, by the way, otherwise I would have been waiting weeks."
"Anytime, love. You take care of yourself."
"I will, ta," she says, and blows her a kiss. "See you on Thursday!"
She swings her bag off the counter, glides away and collides neatly with James, who for once, has arrived exactly when Euphemia wanted him to, and narrowly misses smacking her in the face with the door.
"Oh my god, sorry!" he yelps, his hands jumping up as if he's about to catch something. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, I just—"
"I didn't see—"
"There's a glare on the window—"
"Don't worry about it," says Lily, and waves over her shoulder at Euphemia. Her face has turned pink again. "Bye."
"Bye," she says again, this time to James, dodges around him and flits out the door, and he watches her go, frozen on the spot like a bronze statue until - Euphemia assumes - she has made her way out of the periphery of his vision.
"So you've met Lily, finally?"
James turns to her, completely stunned.
"That was Lily?" he says, and sounds as if someone scooped his insides out, like a human avocado.
"The very one."
"But you didn—" His jaw drops open, and he marches over to the counter. "You didn't tell me that she looked like that!"
"I told you she was beautiful—"
"I thought you were exaggerating!"
"When have I ever exaggerated about anything in my life, James?"
"You told me that Santa would die if I didn't eat steamed broccoli every day for a year!"
"And you grew up nice and tall, so what's your problem?"
"Oh my god, I'm a complete prat," he says, and scrubs a hand through his hair. "She was - she's lovely and I've been ignoring you and Sirius."
"I know, and it's an utter disappointment."
"Does she have a boyfriend yet?"
"How do you know?"
"Because I checked with her recently."
"Right before you walked in, not five minutes ago."
"Well that's no good!" he cries. "Anyone could have accosted her in the street since then!"
"Women don't date men who accost them in the street, you clown."
"Calling me a clown while I'm in a delicate mental state—"
"Is exactly what you deserve for ignoring your mother's wishes," Euphemia retorts. "Do you fall apart like this in the restaurant?"
"The restaurant is an extremely high-stakes, high-pressure work environment, of course I don't fall apart. That's a piece of cake."
"But a pretty girl breaks your brain?"
"She wasn't a girl," says James, completely seriously, pointing towards the door as if it has burned him. "She was Aphrodite."
"If you must insist upon going Greek on me, son," Euphemia warns, and folds her arms across her chest. "Don't be such a bloody cliché."
The rest of the week is busy for James, with an onslaught of critics at the restaurant. It goes brilliantly well, but he's so sleep-deprived by Sunday - his only full day off in an eleven day block - that Euphemia worries openly, rather than with sly jabs about his inability to take care of himself, which is her usual way. She takes him out to lunch early that afternoon, and then back to the coffee shop, where Sirius fixes them two delicious lattes that almost make up for his many other failings as an employee, and they drink them at the counter.
"Giving the diners a choice between shrimp and crayfish with the orzo was a brilliant idea," she's telling him, threading fingers through his soft, fluffy hair while he slumps forward, his tired, overworked body supported by the bar.
"I'm glad you fought me on that."
"I'm glad you let me win."
"I can admit that I'm wrong on the rare occasion that it happens, like when you get a good review from that pompous twat, Giles Coren—"
"I thought for sure he'd blast us after Gill's review, he dislikes Gill's favourite places just to spite him—"
"Well, there you go," she says. "You can say that your food ends feuds."
"We should put that on the wall," he suggests, and smiles up at her, and her heart swells with the purest kind of love.
And then the door opens behind her, and he stands up as if he's felt an electric pulse in his bones, and Euphemia knows exactly who just walked in.
"Lily!" she trills, spinning around on the spot. "I didn't think I'd see you today!"
"How did you know it was me?" says Lily, approaching her with her usual big smile. She's wearing the blue and white-spotted dress she wore on the first Saturday, the one that makes her look so fresh and sweet, and her lovely hair is loose.
"Oh, of course."
"How was your date last night?"
"Actually, it was pretty—" She catches sight of James behind his mother, and her eyes widen just a little, and she shrugs. "Crap."
"Oh dear, really?"
"Really," she says, nodding. Her gaze slides back to James again. "Top scale disaster." And again. "You were right, Tinder is a hotbed for creeps. I've deleted it."
Thank the lord that her son is a looker.
"That's a terrible shame," Euphemia lies, edging out of the way so as to leave her son and her coffee shop daughter standing face to face. "And to think I had such high hopes for you and Neckbeard no. 3."
"Oh, it doesn't - are you her son?" she says to James, hitching her handbag strap further up her shoulder. "Hello."
"Euphemia's son, I mean, not some random her I've neglected to mention."
"Yeah, I'm him," he agrees, and holds out his hand. "Her son, I mean. I'm James Potter."
"Lily Evans." She takes his hand and bestows upon him the kind of smile that could melt the heart of a corpse. "I thought on Tuesday that you look just like her - I mean, not exactly, obviously she's a woman and you're a - you know, a man."
"I'm not making sense, am I?"
"Oh, yeah, no," he replies eagerly. "I mean, I never make sense so if neither of us do—"
For James to become an anxious mess is no surprise, but Lily... Euphemia never had her down as the type. She's always seemed so together, and so confident, but apparently, all it takes to make this brilliant, accomplished girl nervous is a handsome young man.
Her handsome young man.
Euphemia offers Lily a free tea and insists, when Lily protests that she can't keep giving drinks away without charge, that it's not free at all, but that James is going to pay for it.
"Which makes this a date, I believe," she tells them both, before nudging them to a table and giving them a wide berth - so wide, in fact, that she has to go home to accomplish it.
After that, it all goes a little quiet.
She learns, from Peter - Sirius has a week off, and is unavailable for a grilling - that James got her number, and a date for Saturday, but in the five days between then and now she hears not a peep. Lily doesn't come in for tea. James texts only with updates about the restaurant, and once to confirm that Peter's story was true. Aside from that, it's radio silence.
She doesn't mind, of course. Her involvement at this juncture would be quite awkward, as she's become a sort of surrogate mother to the girl her son may now be dating. Really, keeping some distance is a sensible idea. She attributes it to Lily. She's a smart girl. Practical. Exactly the kind of woman who should be dating her boy.
If she complains to her husband over dinner every night for four days, her words never leave the confines of the house. If she complains a lot, and calls her son ungrateful, and knocks a mug to the ground because she feels particularly spiteful, Fleamont doesn't utter a word.
By Friday, however, she can't keep pretending that she's not in quite a lather. Did Lily go to the restaurant with her friend as planned? Have they been texting? Has anything gone wrong, and have they called off tomorrow's date? Has James offended her? Is that why Lily hasn't come to the coffee shop? She's worked too hard and for too long to make this pairing happen, and she won't stand to have this blow up in her face.
Her son will marry Lily Evans or he'll send his mother to the grave, and that's what she intends to tell him.
So she buys another cat bed for Algernon, justifying her purchase by claiming that he might need a spare if the other two are lost in a fire, and takes it to James's flat, for which she has emergency keys. She gets a few strange looks in the elevator - perhaps the giant red bow was a tad too much - but strange looks have never bothered her. If her silly, infatuated baby boy is in need of romantic advice, his mother will provide it, whether or not he asks.
For the sake of avoiding another situation like the time she walked in on Sirius enjoying his own company, she knocks on the door of the apartment rather than let herself in, and when it opens, she finds herself face to face with the very last person she expected to see.
"Oh god," says Lily, turning paler than Euphemia thought possible, and yanks her son's t-shirt down to cover her thighs. "Hi."
To say that she is shocked would be a small understatement, though she's also quite proud. Actually, she's mostly proud.
Unless, of course, James is terrible in bed. That would be an abominable shame.
"Hello dear," she says, quite placidly. "Where on earth are your clothes?"
"They're, um..." Lily's face is turning from white to red at an alarming rate. "I'm so sorry, we thought you were the pizza—"
"My son ordered pizza instead of cooking you something?"
"It was my idea, he's already—"
"And he sent you to answer the door?"
"No, it's fine! I offered, because..." Lily trails off, winces, and wraps her arms around herself. Her bottom half is clad in what are clearly a pair of men's boxers. Euphemia is relieved to see that they are high quality Calvin Kleins, and that James is not dressing like a peasant. "Oh, god. This is horrific."
"Because he's currently naked?"
She nods once, and runs a hand through her - very untidy - red hair. "I'm so sorry, Euphemia, we didn't plan—"
"Why are you sorry?" she says, and sets the cat bed down on the ground. "You've done nothing wrong. I hope he's good, at least."
Lily blinks at her. "Good?"
"I would hope, Lily, that any son of mine would know the importance of pleasuring a—"
"Oi, mate!" Sirius bellows from the end of the hall, and smacks his fist against James's bedroom door. "Your mum's in the hall!"
There's a bang from James's room, and Euphemia raises her eyebrows. "Hello, Sirius."
Sirius grins wickedly. "Hello, Aunty. Has Lily told you how long she's been here?"
Lily whips around. "Sirius—"
"Since Wednesday," Sirius tells her, just as James comes skidding into the hall with a sheet wrapped around his waist.
"Er," he says. "Hi, Mummy."
"You couldn't find pants?" says Lily. "Seriously?"
"Sweetheart," says James, through gritted teeth. "You're wearing my pants."
"I know for a fact that you've got more than one pair—"
"Perhaps someone could tell me more about Wednesday?" says Euphemia loudly. "I mean, if I had to guess—"
"You'd guess that they haven't left his bedroom in two days," Sirius interrupts. "And you'd be absolutely right."
Lily groans and buries her head in her hands, so James comes up behind her and rests a protective hand on her shoulder, holding up the sheet with the other.
"Lily came to the restaurant on Wednesday, with her friend," he explains. "And, er, she really liked the food."
"Enough to send several compliments to the chef," Sirius puts in. He looks as if he's won the lottery. Awkward situations are his Disneyland. She'll have to think of a subtle workplace punishment to enact on him next week. This should be a magical time for Lily and James, and he must not ruin it with his penchant for mockery.
"Anyway," James carries on. "We just sort of... wound up here."
"For two days?" says Euphemia. "What about work?"
"Well, I had some time owed to me, and Lily—"
"It's not really a problem because I'm technically between cases until Monday, and I've got some holiday I can take, and, um—"
"She might be faking food poisoning," says James.
"Food poisoning? From— No!" Euphemia gasps, and places a hand on her heart. "Not from—"
"Of course not!" cries Lily, with wide eyes. "I lied and said I went to that French place across the road."
"Oh, well that's alright, then."
"I normally wouldn't - I mean, I've never pretended to be sick to get off work, but I really didn't need to be there and I just—" James squeezes her shoulder, and her hand jumps to settle atop his. "Yeah."
"Yeah," James agrees.
"Gross," says Sirius, and disappears into the living room.
"Well, well, well." Euphemia nods at James in approval. "It seems my son is good in bed, after all."
"A solid ten out of ten, I'd say," says Lily to the floor.
"Wow," says James loudly. "I love and hate this conversation."
And after that, it all gets rather lovely.
They have their date - a little after the fact - but it's a date, nonetheless, and Lily puts in extra time to cover the days she skived off and nobody is any the wiser. They go on another date, and several more, until 'date' is not the right word for what they do, because they're together whenever they possibly can be, having family dinners at the house, strolling hand-in-hand into the coffee shop - which Euphemia loves, because she's seeing James more than ever - spending weekends in nice country hotels, falling for each other, growing more smitten with every passing day. Euphemia and Lily take shopping trips and long, luxurious lunches at the restaurant, where James is more than happy to provide for the two most important women in his life. Lily stays for a week at Christmas. James goes with her to face a day with her sister.
Days turn into weeks, and weeks into months, and summer into winter and sunshine into frost, and her son is truly happy - incandescently happy - happier than his mother has ever seen him, and that feels like some kind of accomplishment.
"I'm cold I'm cold I'm cold," says Lily, speaking very quickly as if to expel the ice from her lungs. The door bangs shut behind her and she races towards the counter, her nose glowing pink, beads of water glistening in her damp hair. "Help me."
"C'mere, you," says James, and holds out his arms. Lily launches herself into them and buries her face in his chest with the happiest of sighs. "That better?"
"Loads," she says, though her voice is muffled.
"When on earth are you going to get yourself a decent coat?" says Euphemia. She's been running around London in that tiny, stylish leather jacket all winter, and it's a miracle that she hasn't caught her death.
"This is a decent coat, Mum."
"I wasn't asking you, James. You'd defend her if she took up lion taming."
"My beloved would be a brilliant lion tamer," says James loyally. "Case in point: Algernon worships her. So yeah, I probably would."
"Which is why my fear that you'll eventually be consumed by a lion is a very real thing."
"The jacket's fine, honestly," Lily assures her, pulling away only slightly. James has her well wrapped up now. "It's just my face that's cold."
James was raised to know how to spot an opportunity, and he sees one now, for he begins to drop kisses on her cheeks, her nose, her lips, so Euphemia buries herself with making her future daughter-in-law a hot chocolate, on the house. They're always on the house, now. Lily protests, and slips money into the tip jar, and has Sirius utterly browbeaten into charging her when Euphemia's off duty, but otherwise she has no choice. She's been taken into the family now, and family doesn't pay.
"I'm buying you a coat for your birthday," she tells Lily, once the chocolate is ready and James has managed to tear his mouth away from hers - it's always a danger that he'll find himself stuck - and slides her drink across the counter. "And you'll have to wear it or risk offending me."
"My birthday was last week," Lily reminds her. "And you already got me a spa weekend."
"Because I thought you'd get yourself a coat."
"I've got myself a James."
"Yeah, I keep her warm enough."
"Warm enough to stave off death?"
"Death," says James, and begins to count on his fingers. "Dragons, aliens, creepy men on the tube—"
"Mostly creepy men on the tube," Lily puts in.
"—also frogs, and spiders—"
"You're afraid of spiders!" Lily cries. "Not me!"
"Excuse me? I am the bravest of all brave—"
"You literally made us sleep on your sofa for two nights because of a spider that turned out to be sock fluff," she reminds him, and shares a knowing glance with Euphemia. "I had to sleep on top of him, like he was an air mattress."
"Firstly, I had a hidden agenda, and second, it was highly toxic sock fluff," James argues, grinning down at his girlfriend. "It had nothing to do with spiders."
"Care to verify, Euphemia?"
"You've wet yourself with fear because of a spider on three separate occasions in your childhood," says Euphemia. "I have photographic evidence of two of them, and I documented the other quite stridently."
"See?" says Lily, with a satisfied smile. "I love you, you big wimp."
"Love you too," he seconds, and dips his head to kiss her again. "Little wimp."
"That makes me sound like one of the lesser-known wimps."
"Like you're not even wimpy enough to succeed at being scared."
"I'd like to know what governing body is deciding the level of wimpery we should be aspiring to."
"And write them a strongly worded letter protesting your score?"
Lily laughs, and cups his cheek in one slender hand. "We need to stop before we bore your poor mother to death."
"Oh, don't you worry about me," says Euphemia, waving her words away. "I'm far from it."
Euphemia is a lot of things - feels a lot of things - especially since Lily came into their lives, because she loves this girl with all her heart, and because her only son's life is bursting with affection, and because she found a second wind in her coffee shop, and because Sirius has finally started coming to work on time, which sometimes feels like she's passed the most insurmountable mountain. She's thrilled to have been right about the red-headed girl in the blue spotted dress, smug because she gets to brag about it, relieved that everything turned out the way it should have, and grateful, because she has so much. She's hopeful, she's optimistic, she's excited for her family's future.
Boredom is the last thing on her mind.