Out of Print
James Potter had left his holiday shopping rather late.
To be more exact, it was the thirty-first of August and the Hogwarts term was due to begin the very next day. Despite this, the new Head Boy was still lacking in books, potions materials, quills and a Gryffindor tie that wasn't singed as a result of his leaning too far over his cauldron during his practical Potions exam last term.
He was currently in the hushed quiet of Flourish and Blotts (where everyone who entered felt the odd need to whisper for some reason), at the back of the third floor, where it seemed none of the shop staff had dusted for a good few years.
James ran his finger along the long row of book spines on one of the shelves in the Dark Arts: Defence Against section. He only needed one last book to add to the pile already under his arm and then he could go in search of a new tie.
There it was: A History of Dark Wizards by T. Servitude, lodged between two much thinner books, with a dark red sleeve that was chipping away at either end of the spine. It seemed to be the only one left.
As James took the book off the shelf, he got quite a shock to find a hand follow it out and grope around in the space where the book had formerly been. A muffled 'Hey!' sounded from the other side of the bookshelves and James bent down to peer through the space between the books to see a pair of puzzled green eyes looking back at him.
He'd recognise those eyes anywhere.
"Lily?" he asked cautiously, but the hand had been withdrawn and James could hear hurried footsteps lead around to his side of the shelf along with a voice.
"Excuse me, but I really need that book for school- . . . oh."
There she was, accompanied by shopping bags, with five or so books under her arm.
It might have been the dust and the poor light, but for an instant, James had the fleeting impression that she was pleased to see him.
He tried to think of something to say.
"So, you're doing Defence this year as well, I suppose?" Obviously not the most smooth and winning phrase in the boy-meets-girl-in-bookshop phrasebook, but never mind.
"Yeah," she said, shifting her weight onto one leg. James had forgotten how her simplest movements could puncture his brain so that all logical thought leaked out in a slow trickle. "Is that the last copy?"
James inspected the shelves. "Looks like it," he said apologetically.
Wasting no time, Lily glanced round for an assistant and found one in the next row of books. He was a blond young man who would have been quite good-looking, were it not for his unfortunate teeth. He looked fairly averse to assisting but failed to see Lily coming until it was too late.
"Um . . . er . . . out of print I'm afraid, out of print, yes," he said, nodding when Lily asked about A History of Dark Wizards. He looked as though he would have liked to carry on talking, but changed his mind pretty sharpish as James rounded the corner holding a thick, seven hundred-page hardback edition to stand beside Lily.
"No luck?" he asked as Lily sighed in a defeated way. "Obviously not then," James surmised.
"I knew I should have come at the beginning of the holidays," Lily muttered, and everything she said that didn't include 'I'll be going, then' or 'Goodbye' made James wonder what he had done to deserve such luck.
"What stopped you?" he asked. "You've never struck me as someone who leaves school shopping until the last day of the holidays."
"My sister got married."
"Oh, that must have been nice."
"It wasn't. Sorry."
"Well, fair enough."
It was odd, James thought, as though the past two years had never happened at all, actually. He and Lily were talking as if they were casual acquaintances who'd bumped into each other accidentally, not supposed enemies who were having an unpleasant run in. He wondered what had gotten into her.
"What about you?" she asked, leaning on the railing that overlooked the shop floors below. "Any of your relatives go through a rite of passage?"
"No, I'm just lazy," James admitted, and it came as a bit of shock when she breathed a laugh through her nose.
"I see," she said quickly as though she had forgotten herself, peering backwards over the railing. "It looks as though I'm going to have quite a hard time of it as Head Girl then." She picked up her shopping bags and begun to make her way down to the ground floor of the shop, as if trying to retreat from the situation.
"Well, you never know, you might be lucky," James shrugged, half-smiling as he followed her down the metal stairs, "I may just be hit by a sudden urge to pull my weight."
"Ha ha, fat chance," scoffed Lily. They had reached ground level, in that limbo between the exit and cash register where many critical decisions concerning potential purchases are regularly made. It seemed therefore fitting that James should stumble upon a fantastic idea . . . or a fantastic idea in his opinion anyway.
"We could always share the book, you know," he suggested, turning the thick hardback over in his hand almost shyly. "We will be in the same class. You pay half, I pay half . . . you annotate even numbered pages, I'll doodle on odd . . . ?"
James found that there was a strange tone to his voice, as if this seemingly straightforward offer encompassed more than the simple joint ownership of a school textbook.
"Lily looked at him for a moment, then she slowly reached into her back pocket, pulling out a few coins, all galleons.
"I don't have any change," she said quietly.
James stopped twirling the book around in his hands. Well? What had he been expecting? Contrary to what he had thought, the last two years had happened.
Suddenly the book disappeared from his hands. He looked up to see Lily had taken it and place it on the counter will all her other books.
"I'll buy the book," she told him, "if you buy me lunch."
Bookshops were not usually places where James found himself grinning his head off, but that changed then and there.
"Agreed!" he said, a little too enthusiastically; a short old lady near the cult fiction section shushed him.
"Good," Lily said, laughing under her breath at him. She handed over her coins and took the book off the counter, pulling a face at the weight. "But you are carrying it back and forth to lessons, all right?"
Diagon Alley was not usually a place where James frequently found himself having the best lunch of his life, but he could safely say that that is what he experienced that day before the start of term.
There was something different about the way they reacted to each other. It was as if a troublesome spanner had been extracted from the mechanics of their relationship and now all the cogs were cooperating beautifully. James didn't think he'd laughed so much in his life.
". . . So last week he brings this thing back to the house, calling it a motor-circle or something along those lines . . ."
"A motorcycle, perhaps?" asked Lily, smiling and reaching for the self-filling salt shaker.
"That's the one!" James exclaimed, nodding. "Anyway, this thing has taken over his life. All he does is tinker about with it in the back garden, coming inside to eat and sleep every so often, covered in oil. Yesterday I go outside with a glass of lemonade and he tells me it's finished." James paused as he took a bite out of his mozzarella sandwich.
"Well?" asked Lily, stealthily stealing a wayward slice of tomato from his plate.
"It looked absolutely no different than when he first brought it in, but he says 'Ah, yes, except for the fact that it now flies."'
"It flies?" Lily repeated, covering her mouth because it was full of lentils. "Some aspect of this concept is illegal, I'm telling you now."
"That's what I said!" James cried, hitting the table with a breadstick. "But our Sirius is a clever lad. He's done his research and has discovered that it's not technically illegal . . . if he doesn't actually fly it."
The Head Boy had noticed that Lily had this delightful habit of tilting her chin up when she laughed, as if she wanted to set an example for everyone to laugh with her.
"So you're telling me," she said, pointing her fork at him, "that Sirius Black is in possession of a flying motorcycle, and that he will make no attempt whatsoever to fly it?"
James grinned and raised his palms skyward in a shrug.
"That's what the man said. I don't know how long he'll hold out, though . . ."
She stared at him for about five seconds before she seemed to realise what she was doing and turned away, raising a hand to rub briefly behind her ear. She looked as if extracting that spanner from their relationship might have caused the cogs to be turning a bit too fast for her liking.
"Are you all right?" asked James, clenching his hands underneath the table.
Lily only made an ambiguous noise and picked up her goblet, averting her eyes. She drank every single drop of iced tea until there was no excuse to avoid saying something.
James stared at her very hard until she had no choice but to look at him. Finally, she took a deep breath and gave him a wry smile.
"I have a dilemma," she said frankly.
"A dilemma I could help to solve?" James asked.
"Well, I wonder," Lily considered, more to herself than to the boy sitting next to her. She turned to face him straight on. "Actually, it involves you."
"Am I surprised? I've always a source of infinite trouble to you, haven't I?" James teased.
"Yes," she replied in a low voice, as though there were more to his casual remark than he knew. "You see," she began, "considering the amount of times I told myself I'd always despise you, I think I may be starting to like you rather an awful lot."
James dropped his fork and fumbled for a moment.
"Pardon? Erm . . . er . . . what?" he asked, incoherently, but Lily said nothing and only watched him with her cheek resting on her fingers and trying not to smile. "I see," James said eventually. "That is a dilemma."
"You changed," Lily remarked, somewhat accusingly.
"Sorry," James replied, rubbing the back of his neck. "I hadn't really realised what I was doing."
"But I think seeing as you changed, I have every right to change my mind about you, don't you think?" Lily asked, skewering a cherry tomato with her fork. "That would make a solution to the dilemma, wouldn't it?" When she looked at him, she was smiling. James grinned back.
"Oh, absolutely," he insisted. "Absolutely."
Obviously, they sat together for every Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson, perhaps because they were obliged to share their textbook, perhaps because of something else. In fact, James sort of regarded it as only an excuse to sit next to Lily. As agreed, she made helpful annotations in the margins, while James doodled in them..
Soon after their run-in in Flourish and Blotts, they were making it an excuse to run into each other all over the place. Of course they had to meet in the Library; they only had one textbook between them! Of course James would accompany Lily to her next lesson; they had to share their textbook after all! There was no way that Lily could get out of coming to watch James at Quidditch practice, seeing as they only had one textbook. Of course Lily would go for drink with James in Hogsmeade! They only had one textbook!
Then one day . . .
"Lily, will you marry me?"
"I suppose I shall have to. We only have one textbook."
The restricted section of the Hogwarts library was not usually a place where Harry Potter found himself venturing (at least not with permission), but here he was, dutifully handing over his signed permission slip to Madam Pince and trying to look as innocent and studious as possible while the librarian scrutinised it through narrowed eyes.
Exams were weighing on all the seventh years, as well as . . . other things, and the students in Harry's year were forever in and out of the Library, trafficking books like gold dust concentrating on getting through NEWTs alive. Hermione spent so much time in the Library that Ron suggested she pitch up a tent.
When Professor Lupin had given Harry the parchment on which he had written his signature, the tired but still sharp-looking man had accompanied it with a small wink. Inspecting the note on the way to the Library, Harry had discovered nothing that would indicate the reason for this wink. He was only looking for a book to help him with his Grindelwald essay that he hadn't been able to find in Hogsmeade.
Strolling down the alphabetical row of authors, Harry came to 'S' and found the spine he was looking for. Pulling it out, he was surprised the sleeve didn't disintegrate in his hands. It was held together as a mixed effort by glue, gluing charms and Muggle sticky tape.
Shrugging, Harry thought that this book looked very likely to contain the information he needed and began to walk back towards the main part of the Library to check it out.
On his way, he flipped open the book to the first page and stopped in his tracks, blinking several times behind his glasses in surprise.
Inside the cover was the usual list of people who had taken out the book, going right back to someone called Auriane Janet in 1979. Opposite the list on the first page was a stamp belonging to the library. It said:
KINDLY DONATED TO
THE HOGWARTS LIBRARY
Friday 2nd July 1978
Underneath was the small slip of paper that Harry had on the first page of many of his own textbooks. A smile crept across his face as his fingers tightened around the book in delight.
THIS BOOK BELONGS TO: