Six – Summer Started
It felt as if the mattress was lying on Lily, instead of the other way around. When she woke the next morning, it took her a few moments to recall the exact details of the situation that were responsible for her miserable mood. Obviously, the first was that her NEWTs were beginning today. The second was that she and James had fought.
But you couldn't really call it a fight. Fights had been more common over the past two years. James's attempts to ask her out had been sporadically interrupted by insults flung, curses launched, cold glances tossed over opposite ends of the table, mostly at time when it became especially obvious that he had no chance. Those were proper fights, the sort that balanced out James's inane efforts.
Last night had been more a … rejection. Last night she had been plenty angry. So angry she hadn't even been able to bring herself to shout and rage at him. Now the edge of her anger had left her, she felt the blunt, sinking sadness of disappointment.
Snatches of birdsong drifted in from the circular window. It was still early. She'd kicked off the duvet in the warm summer night and it lay tangled at the foot of her mattress. Even so, it felt as if something was blanketing her, smothering her face and pinning down her limbs. She had been right all along. James Potter had not changed a jot. Perhaps he had sanded down some of the rougher edges of his personality, but he was still the same plank of wood, outwardly polished but rotten underneath. Lily was confident of the fact that she had successfully sussed his character for the last seven years. She had been absolutely right.
Why was she so miserable again?
For the next hour, Lily stared at the ceiling board of her bed and tried not to think about anything.
When alarms started to go off around her, she got up and was ready for breakfast in twenty minutes. Amelia and the other were strangely silent, murmuring softly only the most necessary statements and tiptoeing around each other. Lily sighed as she tightened her Gryffindor tie.
Today was the first day of a very long week.
It was on the way down to the Dining Hall that Lily found something she did not expect. At first, it seemed as thought the Common Room was empty in the early morning as she quickly made her way to the Fat Lady's portrait- … and jumped.
James Potter was sitting in an armchair that directly faced the bottom of the Girls' Staircase, a History of Magic textbook open on his chest, and fast asleep.
After she had gotten over the initial shock, the assertion renewed itself in Lily's mind that he was an idiot. Sleeping in an armchair the night before exams? It would serve him right if he woke up with a paralysing crick in his neck.
Except that …
Except that he hadn't gone out last night to play a prank on Snape, had he? He had stayed here all night. Lily could just imagine his thought processes, simple and sickeningly transparent as they were.
You've really blown it now, haven't you? Absolutely. Now we're starting it all on a very bad foot. Maybe she'll come down again and let me apologise? Probably not. Better wait a while in case she does come down. She mustn't worry about all this in the exam. It's your duty to explain and apologise to her. Well, no use sitting here doing nothing. Might as well take another look at those Russian dates again. 1903 … 1916 … 1927 … zzzzz.
Lily rolled her eyes, taking a few steps closer to his armchair and folding her arms hopelessly. She may have come to the conclusion that he wasn't stupid, but that didn't mean he wasn't an idiot.
But he was an idiot who had listened to her, an idiot who had chosen not to go out and do something that represented everything she used to hate about him. He was an idiot who had waited for her to come down so he could apologise.
And fallen asleep with a textbook on his stomach.
The sound of his breathing was sandy and his glasses were askew. As always, his hair looked like a garden abandoned for twenty years and overtaken by brambles. Lily tipped her head to the side and slowly unfolded her arms.
Carefully, she lifted his glasses off his face and placed them on the arm of the chair. She was just about to push his hair out of his eyes when someone beside her said:
"What are you doing?"
Lily nearly jumped out of her Gryffindor tie, jerked her hand back and whirled around to face Amelia who was standing right next to her.
"Bloody hell," she gasped. "You scared the magic out of me."
"I bet I did." Amelia smiled. "Still angry?"
"Very much so," Lily nodded insistently. James shifted in his sleep and the textbook clattered to the floor. Lily hastily retreated before he could wake up.
"So you were angrily taking off the poor boy's glasses?" Amelia asked, following he best friend out of the Portrait Hole.
"Shut up. I think it's cruel of you to be confusing me two hours before an exam."
It was about ten minutes later that James woke up. Someone was kneeing him firmly in the chest.
"Piss off, I'm busy waiting for someone," he said, waving a hand vaguely at the figure blocking out the morning sunlight.
"Huh! Charming! Here I was thinking you were going to turn over a new, studious leaf and this is the second time you've slept somewhere other than your own bed this week."
Before he could say anything, James felt himself being dragged up by the arms. Remus and Sirius were hauling him towards the dormitories. It must be morning.
"Peter, pick up his specs, will you?"
"All right, I can walk!" he said gruffly, standing up and straightening his sleep-rumpled sweater.
"Can you shower and change into your school uniform?" asked Sirius. "That would be useful."
"Even broken shells of manhood should have good hygiene habits," Remus nodded.
"Broken shells of manhood?"
"You and Lily aren't speaking, are you?"
"Lily isn't speaking me," James corrected. "It's quite a different matter."
His friends looked at each other, full of sympathy. None of them was keen to point out that the matter was in fact quite similar, at least from where they were standing.
"We'll save you some breakfast," said Peter, and handed over James's glasses.
"Try to think about irrelevant things," Sirius suggested, "like exam technique."
"I would hardly call that irrelevant at this point, frankly," Remus muttered.
"Look, it honestly doesn't matter," James said, waving them away impatiently. Peter had to duck to avoid being skewered in the eye by James's glasses. "It's heart-warming that you're all making an effort on my behalf, but you really don't have to. I mean, we've got an exam today. You should be worrying about your own hides."
Quite unexpectedly, Sirius came over all matter-of-fact.
"Oi," he said, and pointed a finger. "You listen to me, Prongs, I will have no more of this ridiculous talk. If we want to worry about you, that's our own business."
"Just think how we would have ended up, James," Remus added quietly, "if we only worried about our own hides."
James smiled faintly. Then he attributed his moment of annoyance to exam stress, lack of comfortable sleep and romantic quarrels. "I knew there had to be some reason why you lot were my friends."
"Damn right," said Sirius, and strode off towards breakfast without another word.
James rubbed his eyes and look at the pair of spectacles in his hand. He would pass, he promised himself. He would pass, and he would show her she had not been wrong to say that he had changed for the better.
He suddenly realised that he did not remember taking off his glasses the night before.
"Turn over your papers, you may now begin."
James watch Professor McGonagall rotate a large hourglass over on its axis at the front of the room. After much rustling, every candidate either began to scribble or continued to stare in horror at the paper.
James turned over his paper.
Outline a) the function of and b) the historical context in which the alarm charm was discovered
James grinned in spite of the situation. This was one of the very first things that Lily had been required to explain to him. He looked up to seek out the Head Girl, before remembering that they were no longer speaking. She was sitting in the same row as him, three seats to the left, reading all the questions in the paper before she began. As usual, she looked impeccably smart. Hair brushed, uniform pressed, ankles crossed under her seat. If it weren't for the faint circles under her eyes, James would have found it hard to imagine that she was at all ruffled by the events of the night before.
He was just about to dip his anti-cheating quill into the ink when she looked at him. It wasn't a look that could be called substantial or meaningful. It was a mere flick of the eyelashes and a small quirk of the lips before she turned her attention back to the paper. However, it told James in a moment that she had read the first question and thought of him.
He began to write.
And so over the next week, this became something of a habit for both of them. Actually, it amounted to all the interaction they had with each other during that week. With each new paper he turned over, James would glance at Lily. Lily would glance back. To the casual observer, these glances meant nothing, but Lily took James's to mean:
I remember this. I know what I'm going to write. Thirty-mark essay question? Bring it on.
James interpreted Lily's glances to mean:
If you can't think of anything to write for this question, I'll never forgive you.
Of course, they didn't speak once they came out of the exam room, stretching and digging their thumbs into the aching joints of their writing hands. There, the rules of their ... disagreement stipulated that they had once more become irreconcilable enemies.
But in the exam room, in the muted silence of the hall, broken only by quill scratching, orders of the invigilator and coughs of the candidates, it seemed like they had entered another world where the rules of the normal one faded away. There, they were united in a common cause that negated their petty argument.
By the time they turned over their History of Magic papers, their glances had begun to contain volumes of conversation.
I know this. James gave Lily a barely perceptible nod.
I know you know this. Lily blinked back slowly.
I know you know I know this. James gave a slight smile.
Stop knowing, start writing. Lily rolled her eyes and turned back to the page.
So extensive was their correspondence during the first five seconds of every exam, James was surprised they didn't get disqualified for cheating. However, after those first five seconds, James found that he actually remembered very little about what the papers actually contained. The information had been drilled into him so thoroughly that words scurried out of his quill mechanically. He felt a little like a telephone operator during the Second World War, translating Morse code without any idea of its overall significance.
Accordingly, every post-exam conversation he had with Remus went something like this:
"Wasn't too bad, was it?"
"Hand hurt much?"
"Answer all the questions?"
"I see. Well, thank you so much for your stimulating analysis." But his friend was smiling.
All in all, it was a bit of an anticlimax when they were finally told to put their quills down after their very last exam. The seventh years were so exhausted no one even thought to cheer on exiting the Great Hall. Instead, there was a peaceful, almost Zen-like calm amongst them as they drifted outside in a gaggle, too shell-shocked to generate more than a murmur of conversation.
James looked idly around for Lily, but without much hope. As usual, she had disappeared. Even if she hadn't, it would have been a fruitless endeavour anyway. What would he have said to her? Now that exams were over, there was no more revision to be done, no dates to remember, no wand movements to practice …
It seemed that all ties between them were now severed.
The Marauders claimed a bench near the castle to collapse on, one of the ones with the best view. The courtyard opened out onto the grounds through a set of arches. Between them, they watched the seventh years stumble down towards the lake.
For a while no one said anything, until Sirius decided that the breeze and the birdsong alone were too oppressive.
"Cheerful buggers, aren't we?" he remarked. "Considering exams have just finished an' all."
"My hand will never be the same again," lamented Peter, "and I still didn't manage to get to the end of that last question."
"What do we do now?" Remus asked despondently. "I've got nothing to work towards. I feel like one of those prison inmates who serves seven years and can't deal with the outside world. You know … institutionalised. Where are we going?" he asked, and raised an arm expectantly as if a piece of paper would be handed to him bearing the answer. "What is life, if not an exam?"
"Remus, you're scaring me," Peter told him, eyes wide.
James then said: "What this place needs …"
All of his friends looked at him, surprised, not because anything he had said was particularly important or surprising, but because it was the first time he had strung more than two words together since exams had begun.
"… is a bit of entertainment," he finished. Remus and Sirius glanced at each other.
"Is that so?" Sirius finally chose to say.
"Yes," James nodded. It was a single, sure nod like that of someone falling asleep on the Knight Bus, and his mouth twitched into a smile, but a small one.
He then suggested a plan.
It was met with enthusiastic approval.
It was perhaps fortunate that the Marauders had chosen to occupy themselves after the exam. The Friday afternoon was the beginning of three weeks of agitated frivolity at Hogwarts between the end of exams and end of term, where lessons were only a background noise behind something truly important: preparing for the summer. After the stress of the past month, most students had not trouble slipping into a state of happy boredom.
And boredom did not suit the Marauders. It was best for all involved that the four of them were occupied for the Friday afternoon.
It began the following morning when an innocent second year made the unassuming remark that he might have missed the out the fifth question on his History of Magic paper. Instantly, he was struck by a cheap, disposable, pigeon-feather quill that appeared out of thin air. Before the poor boy could say 'extra-credit', the quill had scrawled 'WORRY-WART' in large red letter on his forehead.
It didn't take people long to realise that any discussion, muttering or whisper of anything even vaguely relevant to exams was going to make them a target for these quills. These popped out of thin air to scribble things like 'NERVOUS WRECK', 'MARK OBSESSED' and 'GET A LIFE, YOU LOSER' on any exposed anatomy of the victim.
Some were appalled at being labelled in such a way and made attempts to scrub off the ink, only to find that it would not budge. A questionable few considered the scribbling as a badge of honour and chattered incessantly about exams, tests and grades, comparing their new collections of tattoos while quills flocked around them. Most took it all in good humour and laughed not at each other, but at the determination of the culprits to censor all mention of exams.
"This has all turned out better than we could ever have imagined!" James grinned, watching a Slytherin sixth year try to outrun a quill that was determined to declare her a 'BROKEN RECORD'.
When Filch cornered them on their way down to the lake, Remus watch James argue with seven years of experience that now was the time when students should be free from the cares of the fascist, achievement-driven establishment and needed to be guided into other areas of interest outside exams. Unfortunately, despite this display of rhetorical fireworks, Filch put them all in detention the following morning. While Peter tried to console a dejected James, Remus turned to Sirius and made an offhand comment before starting out of the doors.
"I think the old Prongs is back, don't you?"
"No he isn't."
Remus stopped and turned back to the darker-haired boy.
Sirius had an expression on his face that Remus had rarely seen from him, a slight smile and an upward tilt of the chin. It faintly resembled contentment and half resembled interest.
"That's not the old Prongs at all," he said. Remus turned to watch James stroll down the sloping grounds with Peter in tow. His back was straight and his arms loose, like they had been before he had taken on the robotic impression brought about by exams. Remus wondered if he had missed something.
"The old Prongs would never have done something like this," Sirius continued. "Maybe he would have done something directed at the professors, who gave us all this grief about exams in the first place, or maybe something at the Ravenclaws. Merlin knows they like to give us an in-depth analysis of everything academic we ever do around here.
"The old Prongs was always laughing at someone, and if he wasn't doing that, he was getting everyone else to laugh at someone. Of course, he's still making people laugh, but if it's at anyone, it's at him."
He put his hands in his pockets.
"I think it's important … how much she's changed him."
And with that, Sirius began to follow James, leaving Remus blinking in his wake. After a moment, her scrambled to catch up.
"Padfoot, I'm appalled," he told his best friend sincerely. "If only you put as much thought into your homework, you wouldn't have to copy mine."
"You're telling me this in the last days of term? Ha! Too late now!"
It was the second detention he had served in two weeks. There would have been nothing out of the ordinary about this, except that it strengthened James's suspicions that he would never change. Even when only two weeks before, he had made a promise to be good and pass his exams, here he was, scraping unknown substances off the walls of Greenhouse Three, and on the year's last Hogsmeade Weekend. He might have told Lily that he had changed, but in a way, he could see why she had yet to be convinced.
In the summer heat, the air in the greenhouse seemed even more tropical and the caked substances he was cleaning off the glass had developed a distinctly unsavoury smell.
Yesterday, he had been thrilled at how their little stunt had gone. He only hoped someone had managed to get a picture of Professor McGonagall emblazoned with 'YOU SHOULD GET OUT MORE'. Now the novelty had worn off.
He was back to feeling at a loss. More than that, he was fast realising that the week he had spent wrestling knowledge with Lily had been one of the best of his entire life. Even whilst trying to cram seven years worth of four subjects into his brain in only a week … he had enjoyed himself quite a bit.
He supposed it was because he was in love with her, or something silly like that.
Sighing, he wiped his forehead with the wrist of his canvas glove. Something was stretching its creepers over his shoulder again. He swatted it and vine retreated. Sirius, Remus and Peter had all been assigned to clean different greenhouses to stop them, as Filch put it, from 'fraternising'. James couldn't possibly see what there was to fraternise about. He was cleaning tuber pus off the walls. This sort of things was hardly going to stimulate rip-roaring conversation.
Even so, the old caretaker was sat just ten feet away from the greenhouses, with a view into every one. He claimed it was only 'to keep an eye on you slippery lads', but James couldn't help feeling there was something purely sadistic about the deckchair, umbrella and iced pumpkin juice that Filch and his cat had brought out into the sun.
Something tapped his shoulder again. He brushed it away. Bloody plants. Another tapping on his arm this time.
"Oi," he said, turning around irritably. "Is this how you treat someone who's trying to clean your- …"
"Shh!" He nearly jumped out of his skin when he came face-to-face not with green leaves, but with green eyes instead. She needn't have said anything at all, really. James was too shocked to speak. It was typical. The universe was playing a massive cosmic joke on him. After all the spare moments he had spent looking for her, she had managed to sneak up on him like this. Now he was paralysed under all the things he wanted to say to her.
Of course, the fact that she was wearing a blue scarf around her head and a pair of white shorts did not help at all.
"Keep cleaning!" she ordered. "Quick! Filch is watching!"
Somehow, James managed to convince his knees to turn around to the glass again. She was standing right behind him so as to keep out of the caretaker's view. He could almost feel her cheek and shoulder and arm down the length of his spine. His cloth squeaked on the glass.
For a moment, she didn't say anything. James continued pretending to clean. If he tilted his head, he could see her reflected in the glass.
"I got the wrong greenhouse at first," Lily said suddenly. "Remus had to tell me which one you were in."
Although it was encouraging that Lily was once again speaking to him, James hoped that she had not sought him out only to tell him that.
"You found me in the end," he said, unable to think of anything outside that moment right there where he could feel her standing right behind him. His reflection in the glass was going red across the nose.
His wit, charm and charisma all seemed to have formed a workers' union and gone on strike. He couldn't for the life of him think what he wanted to say. He decided to ask her.
"Do you want me to apologise? I will. I mean, I haven't have a chance to -"
"No." James saw her raise a hand in the glass, but it wasn't to stop him. She almost touched the back of her hand against his shoulder, but didn't. "You shouldn't apologise without having done anything."
"But you're angry with me, aren't you?"
"I wasn't angry, I was … sad."
"Sad is worse than angry."
In the moment of silence that followed, James realised that he had been scrubbing the same spot for nearly two minutes and Mrs Norris was beginning to sniff curiously in his direction. He moved along a bit and Lily shuffled along behind him.
"Would you let me apologise?" she asked.
"For accusing you of being insensitive and immature and pigheaded, I suppose."
Her hand rose again, and waited in the air as if she didn't quite know what to do with it. In the end she clutched a handful of the back of his shirt. James lost sight of her face in the glass as she leant her head closer into the space between his shoulder blades.
"I wasn't angry," she said, and her voice was suddenly inside his ribcage. "I've been angry plenty of times before, but it was the first time that I'd ever been sad about something you'd done. If I had been angry, it would have meant that I couldn't have cared less about what you did the night before exams, but I couldn't make myself be angry."
"It's pretty terrifying, you know, when it hits you that you really care about someone."
All of a sudden, James was laughing and turning around.
"Don't tell me you want to apologise for that!"
Detention be damned, he wanted to look at her. He wanted her to see the biggest smile on his face.
"You can't possibly apologise for that," he said again, shaking his head.
She smiled nervously, and in three decisive movements, James pulled off his gloves, put his arms around her shoulders and tugged her forward. She stumbled face first into his neck. Three anxious breaths later, her arms came up tensely around his middle and James squeezed her shoulders into his chest as hard as he could.
His gloves and cloth lay on the floor next to their feet, all in a row.
It then occurred to James that Lily's presence in the greenhouse probably wasn't a secret from their caretaker anymore. He had probably landed her in detention now as well.
What he did not foresee was the sudden sound of smashing glass accompanied by botanical splattering noise. He and Lily turned to peer over at Greenhouse Two, only to see Filch rushing towards the yellow-y viscous mess that had exploded out through the front of the building.
"What in the name of Merlin's beard was that?" the caretaker demanded, picking up his cat hurriedly.
Remus's voice was one of perfect innocence.
"I'm dreadfully sorry, sir. I have no idea what happened. I must have brushed against it accidentally and made it release its spores . . ."
Before he could blink, Lily had grabbed James's hand and yanked him out of the door. Next thing, they were sneaking around the back of the greenhouses and jogging up to the castle.
"Is this what I think it is?" asked James. "Are you getting me out of detention?"
"It wasn't all my idea," she replied, and James made a note to thank Remus later. "Besides," Lily continued, turning around to face him, "I'm only claiming what you owe me."
"Beg your pardon?"
"Well, I helped you pass your exams, didn't I?" She crossed her arms.
"We don't know whether I've pas- I mean, you have, yes, carry on."
"And in return for that, did you not promise me a date?"
James pushed his glasses up his nose and tried to look impartial.
"That I did, yes."
"Well, today's the last weekend we're allowed to go to the village," Lily began to walk slowly towards the castle, "and if I remember correctly, you promised me Zonko's and Warlocks' drinking matches, didn't you?"
"So you can see my reasoning."
"Of course." James fell into step beside her. "Do you really think I've passed all my NEWTs, then?"
"I thought you didn't want to talk about exams," she teased. "Wasn't that what all those quills were about?"
"Well, yes, but … do you?" They came to a stop for a moment.
"I can't say," she shrugged. "Only you can make any sort of guess about that. To be honest though, I've stopped caring about your stupid NEWTs."
"I saw you work so hard, James," Lily told him earnestly, and he blinked at the sound of his name through her voice. "Frankly, compared to everything you've done, your results are only four letters on a piece of paper." She took a step closer to him and fixed him with a stare. "Let's just say, even if you failed all four, you still wouldn't be able to get out of taking me out, all right?"
As far as James was concerned, the summer of his seventh year began in that moment, the moment when he looked at her, and took her hand, and laughed.