In the Way

By Dimantrien

"Love sees a reason which reason cannot see."

….. (Dimantrien – I forgot who quoted that…)

Chapter 9:  The Zenith of Everything

Most older students who knew Lily Evans and James Potter well couldn't ignore the fact that they were suddenly walking the school halls side by side, talking pleasantly, and smiling at one another. Even laughing, on some occasions. The different houses had mixed views on the matter, however: the Hufflepuffs, being the patient, friendly bunch that they are, said that it was about time that those two learned to get along and "set aside old differences." On the other hand, Ravenclaws were heard explaining that Lily and James were riding on a bet of some sort and were forced to act that way (convincingly, of course), as there was no logical explanation to why the mutual enmity between the two of them could convert to amity overnight. The Slytherins were quite content to conclude that they always knew that Potter was bound to lose his marbles someday (not that he hadn't already, they added), and that this was the last straw.

Both subjects being Gryffindors, however, the students in their own house had other opinions. This, Lily found out on Monday afternoon when she went to her dormitory room after stealing a snack from the kitchens (with James, who else?)…

"Hey, Lily, where've you been?" Nami piped up as soon as Lily entered the room.

Lily looked at her, startled. She hadn't noticed her two friends sitting on Chloe's bed, facing the door…waiting for her. She knew they were waiting for her by the way Chloe was picking at her nails (which she did whenever she was bored) and by the smirk on Nami's face, which implied…something. A certain something that Lily had avoided talking to them about ever since the day before, which was the fact that her friends knew of her sudden closeness to James Potter.

"Just…out," Lily answered carefully. She hadn't thought about how to explain to her friends why James and she were on good terms with each other—she couldn't just say "Well, there's been a life-or-death experience between the two of us, no big deal," could she?

"Out where?" Chloe asked, her eyes twinkling.

Lily shifted uncomfortably. "Er…" Simultaneously, Nami jumped up and circled around Lily, as if looking at her from all sides would reveal her previous location.

"She's been to the kitchens," Nami announced finally. "Bread crumbs on her robes, a bit of cream from a chocolate éclair at the corner of her mouth, and there's a smell of roast chicken about her." She smiled in satisfaction at her observation.

"You're smellingme?" Lily exclaimed incredulously, backing away from the Asian girl. Nami gave her a "had to do it" shrug and glanced at Chloe, who was smiling mischievously.

"So, Lily…you're breaking the rules now, are you? Sneaking off to the kitchens…why, somebody might think that a troublemaker was starting to grow on you…" Chloe remarked in a sly tone.

Lily felt her face growing hot. "I had to go to a last-minute prefects' meeting, remember? I missed lunch, and I was hungry so…"

Chloe nodded. "Yes, that's justifiable. It was just quite odd how the other prefects turned up in the common room an hour ago, and they all said they ate a late lunch in the Great Hall."

"And isn't it a coincidence how our other sixth year prefect didn't show up either? Remus Lupin—oh wait, he was prefect last year…and I'm quite sure somebody else relieved him of his post…" Nami added, feigning uncertainty. "Who was it again, Chloe?"

"Oh, it can't be Peter Pettigrew, and Sirius Black is too unqualified in the disciplinary sense…so it must be…James Potter."

"That's right, I seem to recall him and Lily entering the common room at the same time after last week's prefects' meeting, only they were glaring at each other then." Nami nodded at the blonde.

"Funny how they both disappeared at the same time, though…"

"Some people might start to conclude that they had actually been together, wherever they were…"

"All right! He accompanied me to the kitchens and we ate lunch there. Are you happy now?" Lily said exasperatedly as her friends grew identical triumphant smiles.

"Well, what did you talk about?" Nami queried, dropping the act at once.

"Did he ask you to the dance?" Chloe demanded excitedly.

"We just talked about…stuff, and—why would he ask me to the dance?" Lily stuttered, flushing pink.

The two girls in front of her gave each other knowing looks. Chloe coughed mock-discreetly and proclaimed, "We have come to the conclusion that you have fallen for James Potter."

Lily's eyes widened. Why did they know? How could they know? "I-I have not fallen for him! What c-could have given you that idea?!"

Nami rolled her eyes. "Smooth, Lily. Real smooth. Next time you intend to lie to us, you might want to control your stammering."

"And learn how to control the blood vessels in your face, at that," Chloe added, stifling a giggle as she stared directly at a tomato-red Lily.

"You…I mean, oh, fine." Lily sighed resignedly. She might as well admit it. Besides, she didn't need to give them another excuse this way; they would just assume that the "fine line between love and hate" applied to her situation and her falling in love with James was just playing into the hands of fate.

"Lily is in lo-ove," Chloe singsonged, dancing around Lily with a pillow in hand. "Don't worry Lily, we're not going to give you away. We're just going to nudge you in the right direction tomorrow so that everything will go smoothly…"

"Oh, shut up," Lily groaned, flopping onto her bed. Chloe's response was to climb up onto the bed after Lily and bounce on the mattress, saying "in love, in lo-ove, in looooove" repeatedly. "Is she always like this?" Lily addressed Nami, who was thoroughly amused with Chloe's antics and giggling.

"When it comes to love and matchmaking? Yes, she is," Nami replied.

"I never knew it was this annoyi—Chloe! Stop bouncing on my bed!" Lily exclaimed. Naturally, Chloe paid her no mind. Lily groaned again and covered her head with a pillow. "This is going to be a long day…"

Nami, having controlled her laughing fit, finally managed to look at Chloe with a straight face and told Lily solemnly, "I'm worried about how she'd act if she were the one in love."

"Prongs, what's up with you and Lily?" Sirius said immediately as soon as James shut the door behind him. James could see the huge, I-know-your-secret-and-you'd-better-not-hide-it-from-me grin on his best friend's face.

James scowled at him. "Gee, I dunno. What's up with you and Nami?" he retorted, and much to his irritation Sirius's smile didn't falter one bit. Sirius was smart enough to see through almost all of James's excuses—he had to think up a really good explanation on how there was nothing between him and Lily… All right, so he did have feelings for her, but he knew it was entirely one-sided and Sirius didn't have to know that.

"Me and her? We're just friends. If we weren't, I would've gone ballistic when I saw Wormtail asking her out yesterday. Have you heard about that yet? It was hilarious; Wormtail's stuttering was worse than usual and his face was as pale as a ghost. You'd think he was the king of the hill when he strolled over to her with his chin up and his chest out, but when he got within three feet of her he broke down and became a bucket of nerves. Nami, Lily and Chloe just stared at him until he opened his mouth a minute later and…"

James rolled his eyes. Maybe he didn't need that explanation after all; Sirius would probably monopolize the conversation again. As usual.

"And, predictably, she turned him down. I mean, could you imagine them dancing together? Asians are generally petite, but Nami's still at least five inches taller than Wormtail. And if she were wearing heels…"

Sighing, James turned the knob and put one foot out into the hallway.

"…the fact that he's got two left feet won't improve his chances either. Hey, where are you going?" Sirius stopped narrating long enough to look at James expectantly for an answer.

"Er…I'm going to—" James heard footsteps on the stairs and saw Remus.

The werewolf stood next to James. "Hey, guys. I just forgot my—"

"Moony, there you are! Padfoot's got something to tell you," James said jovially, pushing Remus into the room.

"Huh? But I've got homework…"

James stepped out of the room and waved. "I'll be going now. You two just go and have a nice, long chat."

Sirius' eyes lit up. "Oh yeah, Moony, you weren't with me that time! I've got a great story to tell you…"

The last thing James saw before closing the door was a protesting Remus, quills and parchment in hand, doomed to be stuck listening to Sirius until somebody else came round to replace him. Yes, with his best friend, it was bound to be a long chat indeed.

Lily sat on the stone steps leading up to the enormous double door entrance of Hogwarts. She had finally gotten away from Nami and Chloe, saying that she just needed some fresh air. Now, as a result, Chloe's singsong voice was ringing in her head, chanting, "In love, in love, Lily's in love…"

Unable to get rid of her friend's voice in her head, she snapped into the silence, "Oh, shut up!"

"Er—you talking to me?" a voice spoke up behind her uncertainly. She whirled round and her eyes landed on James, who was clutching a broomstick in hand.

Lily raised an eyebrow at him, at the same time trying to quell the flip-flops in her stomach. "Are you spying on me?"

"What?" James said in reply, looking confused.

She shook her head. "Never mind. You just always seem to be around when I'm alone." Alone and thinking about you, she added mentally. She was starting to seriously consider that she possessed some kind of weird summoning power that would make James come to her without fail when her mind mentioned his name.

James just chuckled nervously, and Lily wondered what was up with him. He was acting a little stranger than usual. "Well, you shouldn't complain about it. That weird force that attracts me to you like a magnet saved your life one time!"

Lily felt her cheeks turning pink and mumbled, "Right." She couldn't think of anything to say after that, and neither could James. She grew a bit analytical on what James had said a moment ago, she couldn't help it. Weird force that attracts me to you like a magnet… Did that have an underlying meaning or something? But then Lily became a bit cross with herself and thought, Shut up, Lily, don't get your hopes up. He doesn't feel the same way about you… And, as if trying to convince herself to face facts and that this was the truth, she asked James, "So. Who're you going to the Halloween Ball with?"

It was James' turn to blush, although Lily couldn't exactly tell why, because he was usually (as he was reputed to be) comfortable around the topic of girls. "I'm…er…going with Charlotte. I mean, Charlotte McAllister," he muttered.

Lily nodded, even though her heart sank at his reply. What did you expect? That James Potter would be dateless and ask you out? the little voice in her head said mockingly. She figured that Charlotte must mean a lot to James—after all, he was usually confident about whom he was going out with, but this time he was just…different. Trying not to let her unhappiness show on her face, she gave him a weak smile—it was all that she could muster at the time.

"How about you? Who's the lucky guy who'll dance with you, Lady Lily?" James asked, smiling back at her but looking a bit put out. Lily wondered what was really wrong with him. Something just wasn't right, but she couldn't put her finger on it.

"Nobody yet," she answered, trying not to let the bitterness seep into her voice. She didn't even want to go to the stupid ball, but she was still suffering for it. The things she did for her friends. Why did she have to let them persuade her?

"Oh. Don't worry though, with the looks you've got, I'm sure the poor lads who want to ask you out are just trying to work up the courage to do so," he remarked. He seemed a lot more cheerful now. Or maybe he was just trying to make her feel better about her pathetic life. Yes, that was probably it. That didn't exactly stop her from blushing at his comment about her looks, though.

"Yeah, well. Thanks," she said, standing up and trying to compose herself, telling herself that she shouldn't let James' compliments affect her too much. He likes you, but only as a friend… Don't set yourself up for a bigger fall; you don't have a chance with him…she recited in her head. "I've gotta go. See you around." She hurriedly left, afraid that if she stuck around any longer, her upset face would betray her real emotions.

Finally, the day that everyone (most, anyway) was waiting for arrived. The whole school was bustling with activity: people still without dates were running around, asking away; students on the dance committee were hauling around enormous pumpkins that were to be carved inside the Great Hall (it never occurred to them to just use a simple Levitating Charm to do the job); some girls were comparing notes and rushing through one another's dorm rooms to borrow this eyeliner or that bottle of nail polish; the house-elves were working furiously to whip up an excellent feast. Some, though, were content just to laze around and ignore the hustle and bustle of the majority of the Hogwarts population…

"You two! What are you doing, just sitting there doing nothing?! You've got to get ready!" Chloe exclaimed when she saw Lily and Nami on their respective beds. Lily was idly changing her quill into different rainbow colors every few seconds in a bored fashion, and Nami was reading her International Spells and How to Work Them book for what seemed like the hundredth time.

Nami peered at her from the top of her enormous book. "Who's doing nothing? I'm reading, and Lily over there" she pointed at the redhead "is clearly doing some sort of psychedelic spell on her quill." As if this answer would satisfy her blonde friend, she shrugged and returned to reading.

"But the Halloween Ball is five hours away!" Chloe wailed, despairing at her friends' lack of interest in all the rituals that a normal girl goes through in preparation for a social event.

Nami shrugged again. "So? I can prepare in two," she said matter-of-factly.

Lily rolled her eyes. "I can prepare in point five," she topped.

Chloe stared at her disbelievingly. "Half an hour?! Are you crazy? You have to take a shower, fix your nails, dress up, do your hair, put on makeup, pick the right jewelry—"

"By magic. Did that ever occur to you?" Lily cut in smoothly. "I can't see why so many girls slave away in front of the mirror for hours getting themselves a makeover and achieving the result of being the epitome of artificial guise with all the chemicals they put on their faces and hair."

"Yes, Lily, that's all good and well, but you have to keep in mind that we don't all have your brain when it comes to Charms," Nami replied, putting down her book. "So we'd rather play it safe and do everything manually than accidentally set our heads on fire with a spell gone wrong." She glanced at Chloe. "I'm just content enough to say that I can do it faster than she does," she added, gesturing at the blonde.

Chloe threw her hands up in defeat. "Have it your way! But don't blame me when we get to the dance late!"

Lily sighed, turning her quill back into its original ebony black and putting it away. "We'll get there in time, Chloe."

"I agree. Will you please stop putting exclamation points at the end of all your sentences now?" Nami requested, smiling innocently at her friend.

Chloe scowled. "Ha, ha. I am not overreacting, Nami," she defended.

"I didn't say that. Did I say that, Lil?"

"No, you said, 'Will you stop putting exclamation points—'"

"That's enough," Chloe interrupted, a bit pink in the face. "Okay, what is this, Make-fun-of-Chloe day?"

"Sorry, Chloe," Lily and Nami chorused, trying to force the grins off their faces. "Why don't we just change the subject?" Nami suggested.

"Fine. Who are you guys going with to the dance?" Chloe asked.

Lily groaned. "I thought we decided to change the subject," she said exasperatedly.

"We are changing the subject. We've gone from preparing for the ball to who's-going-with-who to the ball."

"Will you run that by me again? 'Cause I think I just heard you say the word 'ball' twice, which means that they are related to the same topic, which means that we haven't moved on to another topic yet."

"We are on another topic; we were talking about makeup and dress robes and all that, now we're talking about boys—"

"Will you two just shut up and answer the question?" Nami said in annoyance. "It'd make your lives easier."

Chloe said happily without missing a beat, "I'm going with Keith Talbot."

Nami widened her eyes in mock unbelief. "Really? The Keith Talbot, the hot Ravenclaw Keeper? Dear, you are so lucky!!!" Chloe glared at her and she burst out laughing.

"Oh, shut it, you two," Lily said, rolling her eyes. "I'm not going with anyone."

The two immediately turned their attention to her. "What? Why?" Chloe demanded.

"Didn't James ask you to go with him?" Nami asked in a strange voice.

Lily looked at her, getting a little cross. She didn't need to be reminded of that.  "No, why do you keep asking me that?"

"Because—well, who's he going with then?" Nami asked, avoiding the question. Lily was too absorbed to notice it, though.

"Charlotte McAllister," she answered quietly, and Chloe hugged her.

"Aw, don't worry, Lil, it was probably just a pity date; you know how soft James gets when it comes to women," she assured, trying to cheer Lily up.

Lily said nothing, so Chloe just continued, "How 'bout you, Nami?"

"Lance Malcolm from Hufflepuff," Nami replied while patting Lily on the back sympathetically.

Chloe looked surprised and didn't bother to hide it. "Why are you going with him?" she asked, as if Nami's answer were completely illogical.

Nami narrowed her eyes slightly. "Why shouldn't I?"

"I thought you were going with Sirius Black."

"Sirius is a friend. How many times must I tell you that?" Nami responded in annoyance.

Chloe just gave her the same strange look that the raven-haired girl had given Lily. "If you say so."

When the time of the dance came, many students milled around the entrance hall, looking for friends or dates. Because the Halloween Feast was integrated into the ball itself, first to third years were given permission to attend, much to their delight. Everyone who entered the Great Hall could see that it was magically enlarged into a chamber far bigger than it already was—this had to be done to accommodate a spacious dance floor in the middle of the room, along with a hundred-odd individual tables for the students and teachers.

The marauders, along with their dates, had a table for eight to themselves (yes, even Peter found a date…believe it ). Lily, Nami and Lance sat at a table for four, while Chloe and Keith had their own private table, as they obviously wanted some "alone" time with each other. Among all mentioned, Lily was the only one who was unhappy with the seating arrangements, or, for that matter, the whole ball itself.

"Sorry for being a third wheel. I'll leave, if you guys want," Lily mumbled over dinner, looking at Nami and her date apologetically, trying not to look too miserable to be there.

Nami waved a hand carelessly. "It doesn't bother us at all. Lance's parents are family friends of mine, and we've been together since we were kids."

"Yeah, Lily," Lance said with a nod. "We're just very good friends, unlike those two over there," he added, pointing two tables away at Chloe and Keith, who appeared lost in each others' eyes.

Nami stifled a giggle. "Merlin, they make me sick," she said, making a face. "Anyway, Lil, the point is that you're not intruding on anything at all, so just chill and enjoy the dance." Lily became content with this answer, settling down and chatting pleasantly with her two companions…until the time came when the food disappeared from their plates and music started playing from out of nowhere. Dumbledore announced that the dance floor was now open for all, and couples started standing up and moving toward it.

"I love this song! Didn't we use to hear this all the time when we were ten?" Nami said, addressing Lance, who laughed.

"Do I ever! We only just choreographed three different dances for it back then!" Lance answered, his eyes sparkling. He stood up and helped her up.

Nami turned to Lily. "You don't mind, do you Lil?" she asked.

Lily smiled at them. "Of course not. Don't let me spoil your fun." She watched the two disappear into the sea of vivid-colored robes. She sighed when her state of loneliness sank in. Now what do I do? Nothing was left on the tables, not even a fork or spoon that she could fiddle with—just the mini jack-o-lantern that was used as a centerpiece for all the tables. She stood up, dodging people who were on their way to the dance floor. Her feet led her outside the enormous double doors leading outside of the castle, down to a well-manicured garden that was organized especially for the Halloween occasion. Several jack-o-lanterns were scattered among the shrubbery, each emitting a different color of light. At the center of the garden was a fountain, and in the center of it were the traditional Halloween monsters that Muggles and wizards alike knew of. The water in the fountain was dyed red, and in the dim light it looked a bit like blood. Lily sat down on the circular ledge of the fountain.

She had a feeling that she would be there for a while.

James sighed, starting to get bored. He had already danced five dances with Charlotte, but to be honest with himself, he didn't enjoy it. The first thing that popped into his mind after this realization was: I wish I were dancing with Lily.

He had already asked her friends of her whereabouts. Nami informed him that she was at their table, and when he told her that Lily wasn't there, she suggested that maybe she got bored and left, perhaps to the dorms. Chloe said that she might have found a dance partner and was somewhere in the crowd of dancing students. Somehow James thought that neither were correct in their assumptions.

Lily had already told him that she didn't fancy going to the ball, but if somebody she liked ask her to the dance, she'd be glad to go.

"Who's this somebody you want to go with?" James asked Lily teasingly.

Lily blushed and looked away, mumbling, "You don't need to know. Besides, he probably won't ask me anyway."

"Why do you think so? Who wouldn't want to go with you? Everybody likes you."

She shrugged. "You used to hate me," she shot back, cracking a slight smile.

James wagged his index finger in front of her. "The key words being 'used to.' If I didn't have a date, I'd be thrilled to go with you."

Lily just looked at him sadly, her deep green eyes losing a little of their glimmer. "I'm sure you would have been," she said quietly.

He had excused himself, just wanting to get away from the noise of the Great Hall. Charlotte was nice and all, but he just didn't feel up to her company. He noticed that ever since he started picking on Lily Evans, he had neglected a few of the things that made his life at Hogwarts go round—dating girls, plotting pranks to pull on the Slytherins, obsessing about Quidditch. Lily had occupied most of his thoughts this year. Maybe that was what made him start to like her. He had analyzed her behavior and her life so much that his dislike gradually turned into interest. He no longer looked at her as someone to despise, but someone to be a friend to. Someone to care about.

Someone to love.

He found himself standing at the top of the steps leading to the front door of Hogwarts castle. He looked around in a daze. Now how did he get here? He must have been more preoccupied than he thought. As he turned around to go back to the castle, a flash of red somewhere nearby caught his eye.

He squinted into the dark and finally found the person he was looking for. Lily was sitting at the fountain ledge, her knees pulled up to her chin with her arms wrapped around her legs. He hurried down the steps toward her, and she looked up as soon as she heard him coming.

She smiled faintly at him. "Hi."

"Hey. What are you doing out here all alone?" James asked, shoving his hands into his pockets and standing in front of her.

"No date, remember? Speaking of dates, why aren't you with yours?" There was a tone of gloom and bitterness in her voice that James failed to notice.

James sat beside her. "I just needed a little break from all that dancing," he lied, smiling at her. She really did look beautiful. Lily was wearing white dress robes that gave a faint glow in the darkness, and she had left her straight dark red hair as is, tumbling down her back. Someone (James suspected Chloe) had done her makeup expertly, putting glittery powder blue eye shadow on her eyelids and a touch of light pink lip gloss on her lips. Her naturally rosy cheeks were left untouched. She wore simple silver hoop earrings, only there were three tiny silver rings dangling from the hoops. She looked…perfect.

"At least you have someone to dance with," Lily replied, a bit downcast. "You shouldn't be staying out here, you know. Lots more fun inside."

He smiled amusedly. "Really? Then why aren't you inside?"

Lily just shook her head, not cheering up in the slightest. "I'm just not in the mood for fun right now." They were silent after that, contenting themselves to staring at the flickering lights of the candles inside the jack-o-lanterns.

After what seemed like five minutes, James looked up at the star-filled sky and asked quietly, "Lily, have you ever had the feeling that you loved someone, but you knew that they didn't love you back?"

Startled at the question (and what it was about), Lily didn't answer immediately. "Well," she said finally, instantly remembering her feelings for him, "I suppose…yes, yes I have," she finished conclusively. Yes, I do, right now, she added mentally, miserably. "Why do you ask?" she managed to ask, suddenly aware of a lump in her throat and the tears at the corner of her eyes.

James shook his head. "Nothing. I was just…never mind. It was a stupid question."

"It really wasn't," Lily said. "You look like you'd say yes to your own question too, though."

Breathing deeply, James looked at her. "There's this girl," he started, inwardly bewildered at himself for telling all this to Lily. "I… Well, I recently worked out that I like her as, you know, more than a friend..." He glanced at her, expecting some sort of response, although he didn't know exactly what.

Lily's heart stopped. Here it was. Undeniable proof that James was in love with another girl… "Charlotte?"

James shook his head vehemently, his untidy hair flying everywhere. "No, not her. The problem is, I know that this girl doesn't feel the same way—"

"How do you know that she doesn't?" Lily interrupted. It pained her to know that he loved someone else, but she was starting to accept the fact that she could never have him. The least she could do was make him happy. Even if she suffered for it. He deserved it. And she knew that she didn't deserve him.

"I don't know…I just feel that she doesn't. Anyway, because of her, I realized that I stopped going out with other girls. I'm not proud of it, but I know that I used to go out with a new girl every other week" Lily cracked a small smile at his self-admittance "and she made me change. She made me change a lot of things about me, and she doesn't even know it. But now I really don't know what to do. What do you do if the person you love doesn't feel the same way about you? I don't know whether I should give up and just feel miserable, or go back to living up to my reputation and completely forgetting about her."

"Why are you telling me all this?" Lily asked softly, blinking back tears surreptitiously as she pretended to look somewhere else.

James himself couldn't answer that truthfully. Why was he telling Lily all about the girl he loved, when she herself was that girl? "I just felt like I had to, I guess," he mumbled, not knowing what to say.

Lily took a deep breath. "James, if you really love this girl, then you shouldn't give up on her that easily. Why would you want to go back to being a player? You already know that she was the one who made you change into someone better. Do you really want to lose all that? Fight for her. You'll regret it all your life if you don't."

What Lily didn't know was that every word of encouragement that she said was like a blow to James' heart. In his mind, Lily thought that he loved some other girl, and she wanted him to continue pursuing her. She didn't love him, and she wanted him to be happy with someone else. "I guess you're right," he said slowly, trying not to sound too affected by what she said.

Lily didn't know what came over her after that, but when she saw him looking so uncertain and confused, she cupped his chin in her hand and pulled him closer until their noses were barely an inch apart. James was completely shocked but didn't try to move back—he didn't move at all, for that matter. And then Lily found herself saying boldly, "Look at me, James. Pretend that I was Charlotte—or any other girl you've gone out with for fun before—and we're out on a date. If you say that you really love someone else, would you still kiss me or would you tell me the truth and set me straight, and never give up on the one you love?"

James didn't answer, paralyzed in his position. Lily's eyes were staring straight into his, mesmerizing him. She was so close, he could feel her breath on his face and count every freckle on hers. He didn't know what to think…his mind was spinning…and after what seemed like an eternity, he moved.

Lily expected James to push her away, and was equally shocked when he put one arm around her waist and closed the gap between them, kissing her softly on the lips. For a moment her mind was clouded with different emotions: confusion, relief, happiness, contentment, release. Her thoughts were in a jumble—scattering, regrouping, then scattering again. Whatever was happening to her then and there, she knew that it was the most wonderful feeling she ever had.

But when they broke the kiss, logical thinking and the cruel reality brought her back to earth like a douse of ice-cold water. James had kissed her, meaning that he would still go out with other girls even if he felt nothing for them. She realized that when he kissed her, it was just like the kisses he shared with his countless ex-girlfriends: empty, hollow and without love. And if he could do that to her, make her feel like somebody he could just use, then he really didn't love her at all.

She pulled away, tears stinging her eyes, but she didn't let a single one fall. She had already shown her weakness to him once, and she would never let it happen again. Not after this.

"You kissed me back," James said quietly, staring at her with intense hazel eyes.

Lily's face flushed. Stop it, she said furiously to herself. It didn't mean anything to him, remember? "You kissed me. Which means that you don't love her as much as you told me you did," she answered calmly, although her cheeks were still burning.

But James was smiling now, and his observation was filling his mind with hope. Lily could have pushed him away the moment his lips touched hers. But she didn't. She kissed him back, which meant…

…she felt the same way about him as he did for her.

"I can't believe you did that. You actually decided to keep on playing other girls like toys, just so they could fill the gaping hole that you have in your heart because of unrequited love! I can't believe you'd stoop so low for your own selfish reasons!" Lil couldn't help it now—angry tears spilled down her cheeks and she wiped them away hastily.

"You're wrong, Lily," James replied, not in the least fazed by her accusation, his eyes twinkling with love and happiness. "You told me not to give up on the girl I love. And I didn't."

"W-what?" Lily stammered, thrown by surprise and completely confused.

James just smiled at her, and went on. "Because the girl that I told you about…the girl that I love…" He pulled her close to him and stared directly into her eyes. "…is you."

Lily felt as if her heart would explode from beating so fast. The rush of emotions that she felt during their kiss came back, overwhelming her. For the first time in her whole life, she felt truly happy. "James, I just want you to know—"

James pressed a finger over her lips and grinned. "Shhh. I already know." Before Lily could think, he put his hand down and gave her another kiss, longer and more passionate than the last.

It was only now that Lily realized that the true meaning of perfection. All her life she had strived for it and the cost was that she almost lost everything she worked for. Now she knew that perfection was like happiness: if you pursue it, it will elude you. But if you focus on the people who care for you and all the things that make your life worth living, then it would find you. Perfection was different from perfectionism. She didn't know it then, but now for her the difference was all too clear.

This was perfection. And now that it found her, she had no intention of letting it go.

Nami held up a camera and snapped a picture. She grinned and gestured at the couple locked in a kiss before turning back to the dark-haired boy beside her. "Well, there it is," she said, pulling the developed photograph off the camera and examining it. "Living proof that I am right and that you, yet again, are wrong."

Sirius scowled at her. "You were taking a wild stab in the dark back then. It was a completely coincidental guess. You even contradicted me when I said they were eventually going to end up together! And now you're standing there with that smug look on your face, as if you were the one who saw all this coming and—"

"Quit your yapping and pay up," Nami interrupted.

Sirius grumbled, grudgingly taking out his pouch and giving her twenty Galleons. "Consider yourself lucky."

"Uh-huh," Nami said, turning around to get back inside. "C'mon, let's go back," she called over her shoulder.

"Why'd you take a picture anyway? You do realize that they'll kill you once they saw it or found out about what you did. Personally, though, I wouldn't mind." Sirius grinned cheekily at her and got a slap on the arm in return.

"I would just love to show this piece of evidence to everyone you know and tell them about how Sirius Black has, for the first time in his perfect, omnipotent-gambler existence, lost a bet. That would probably scar your reputation a bit. Personally, though, I wouldn't mind," she repeated his words, smirking.

Sirius, who valued his reputation above all else (well, except for food, and Quidditch, and girls…oh, and his friends too), snatched the photograph away from her. "You're doing nothing of the sort," he announced, holding the picture out of her reach and looking at it. He slowly brought it down to see it better against the light. Nami peered over his shoulder at the captured moment (she had used a Muggle camera with a little twist of magic to make it have focusable binocular lens): Lily and James staring into each other's eyes, looking like the happiest people on earth.

"They make the perfect couple," Nami said, for once devoid of any sarcastic comments about people in love.

"Yeah, they do," Sirius agreed, pocketing the photo. 

"They've gone through a lot to get where they are, haven't they?" Nami remarked thoughtfully. "And now it's happily ever after, I suppose. Almost like it had all been written down in a story…"

Smiling at each other, a nostalgic air about them, they walked the path to the Great Hall.

The End…

"Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness."

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A/N – Finally, it's finished. Eleven whopping pages. Those who've read my other works already know how I always end my stories with an extremely long chapter…not that my other chapters are short, as one of my friends kindly pointed out to me the other day…

Thanks to everyone who read this story (and a bigger thanks to those who reviewed! ). I'd write your names down here but as I write this I have no access to the Internet, and once I do I'm going to post this straight away. Anyway, if you're reading this, then that's good enough for me…of course, reviewing would be a nice gesture too… XP