Lily rolled up the letter and tucked it into her pocket. The parchment contained only a few words, but those words said a great deal: "Departure tonight. Remember me. Ben." He was actually leaving. She hadn't really believed it was going to happen.
When only a week had remained of their seventh year at Hogwarts, Benjamin had surprised Lily by asking her for a private word. Through the previous two years, theirs had been a strained friendship. Officially, they had made up from their fight over Lily's secret engagement, and were as good of friends as ever. Inside, though, they both knew that things could never be the same. Laura maintained that Benji still had feelings for Lily; that he intentionally kept his distance from her to ease his own pain. Lily wasn't so sure about that.
Whatever his feelings, with the end of school rapidly approaching, he felt moved to share some things with her. Benjamin, it turned out, had been accepted into a top secret, underground, international spy network. What exactly they did, he couldn't tell her. He was expecting to be based out of Central America, and he would be working deeply undercover for years at a time, unable to have any contact whatsoever with anyone from his old life. He made it sound very dangerous and exciting. He just wanted her to know about it. He wondered if she would think of him from time to time. Of course she would. How could she not?
Departure tonight. Remember me. Ben. Only two weeks after they had finished school, and he was already gone. They weren't messing around.
"Good luck, Ben," she whispered aloud.
Lily leaned back, her gaze drifting over the water that lapped at the beach, and let her finger trace a spot on the bench where "LE JP" was scratched into the blue paint. Smiling, she remembered the time when James had marked the bench. He'd discovered that it was a bit of a neighbourhood tradition for young couples to carve their names together into the paint, and he'd been tickled to participate in such a charming Muggle custom. Lily had rolled her eyes the whole time until, when finished, James gave her the most toe-tingling kiss she'd ever received. Nearly two years later, it was still their favourite spot to meet.
A familiar pop sounded in the bushes nearby, and Lily smiled. That would be James; he'd promised to meet her there. Sirius was planning a large surprise party for James' twenty-fourth birthday that night, and James had known about it for weeks. It was going to be at his own house, after all. Lily and James were planning to enjoy a quiet dinner out before arriving at the party just late enough to annoy Sirius.
One warm hand covered her eyes from behind, while its owner began nibbling on her ear affectionately.
"Hi, Sirius," Lily said.
"What!" James jumped and uncovered Lily's eyes to stare at her.
"Oh, James! It's you!" She turned in her seat and smiled at him.
"You didn't really think I was Sirius, did you?"
Lily took him by the ears and kissed him lightly. "Of course not." But the look on his face was priceless.
Eyes twinkling, James moved around the bench to sit beside her. "I think I need a birthday present to reassure me," he said.
"You can't have your birthday present until we get to the party. I've already told you that four times." Maybe it was five.
He sidled up against her and stretched an arm around her back. "I was hoping for an extra present."
"Getting a bit greedy in your old age, aren't you?"
"What sort of extra present do you have in mind?" Lily asked.
"One that involves a little bit of this…" Before she knew it, James had captured her lips with his own, sending butterflies rampaging across her skin. After a moment, he leaned back to wink at her.
"Oh," Lily said, "you mean you'd like this…" She brought his face back to hers and returned the kiss, delicately caressing his mouth until she heard him groan. "Happy birthday," she whispered.
"Do I get a lifetime guarantee with that kiss?"
"I think I can arrange for that." What a goof-ball.
James sat back comfortably and held her tight. "That reminds me, Lily. My mum is getting sort of anxious."
"About what?" Mrs. Potter was always nervous about something.
"She wants a date for the wedding by the end of the week," he said.
"Who's getting married?"
"You're marrying your mother?" she asked. Juvenile, yes, but still amusing.
He rolled his eyes. "I meant you and I. We," he pointed to Lily and to himself, "we're getting married."
"A little presumptuous, aren't you? I never said I was going to marry you."
"But I thought…Lily…what?" James was sitting up straight, his eyes growing panicked.
"You heard me," she said. He was so cute when he was flustered.
"But Lily, you told me you loved me."
"I do love you." She gave him a cheerful peck on the nose.
"Then what's the matter? Why aren't you going to marry me?"
"Well, I don't recall ever being proposed to," Lily said. "Doesn't that normally come first?"
Relief flooded James' face as a small smile crept across his lips. He was getting the picture. "I think that can be arranged," he murmured, pressing his lips against her cheek.
Grabbing James by the hand, Lily stood up and pulled on his arm. "You know, James, if we don't go soon, we'll miss our reservations."
"We can't go yet," he said, standing with her.
"There's a problem that we need to take care of first."
"What's wrong, James."
He settled his hands on her hips and drew her close. "Well, you see," he explained, "there's this freckle on your neck, right here by your collarbone."
"I have freckles all over, James." He didn't have to rub it in.
"Yes, I know, and I love them all. But there's a problem with this particular freckle."
"What's wrong with it?" Was it extra ugly or something?
"I'm concerned," he said, "because it's especially sexy, and I don't think I've kissed it all week."
He wrapped his arms firmly around Lily's back, pinning her arms between their bodies. "And we can't have your sexy freckles going unkissed for such a long time."
"It just wouldn't be right."
Leaning in, he attacked her neck with rapid, tickling kisses, while running his fingertips over her ribs, sending Lily into hysterical giggles. She wiggled and shrieked and tried to kick him in the shins, but to no avail. Just when she thought she couldn't take it any more, his fingers became much more soothing, and his kisses slowed to a tantalising rate, rocking her senses. Lily's nerves unknotted and began to heat up in the most beautiful fashion. She could stay right there forever.
"You want me to stop?" he breathed into her skin.
"No. Don't stop."
"If you say so, Lily." If you say so.