Disclaimer: Nothing is mine. Boo hoo.
A/N: Last chapter, thank bloody Merlin! All I can do is apologize for how absurdly long this fic dragged on for. And also how crap(per) my writing was in the early chapters. It's been over a year since the first so hopefully my writing is at a better standard now. Thanks to all for the huge amount of reviews and sticking by this story amongst the mammoth procrastination of mine. And much thanks to Anna for beta reading. Have a nice day!
James' fingers creep toward the handle of the broom, at this moment much like a cautious knight reaching for a dangerous sword, and I'm not entirely sure what I should be thinking. The person I was that claimed to hate James in fifth year is egging him on to take the broom, but did I ever hate him back then? I hated what he did, picking on the vulnerable, but then he stopped and concentrated on Quidditch. The person I am right now, the girl that gets flustered in his company and apparently sniffs his boxers for a living, is praying that he smacks Matthew's hand away so the broom is knocked aside, as though the sheer suggestion of playing makes him physically sick.
But his fingers are too close to the handle by now that the idea of him refusing to play is impossible. And as his eyes lock with mine and his hand edges forwards, I can feel any potential of me and James being together disappearing within the shouts of his name chanted from the Quidditch stands. It's a fight of who needs him more, and as much as I think I really need him (or want, or yearn), it's me against the school. There is more of them.
"I… can't do it."
The room falls into even tenser silence. I can't grasp what just happened until James reiterates, "I can't do it."
Somehow it's even more gruelling to take in his words when he's staring so hard at me (eyes are windows to the soul and my soul is plainly being ogled at). Though I was masking my face earlier to one of no emotion, so as not to influence his decision, I can't help my mouth parting a little in astonishment now. His hand -the one that was reaching for the broom- is now by his side, brushing slightly with his thigh. Matthew is still holding out the broom in case he changes his mind, but it seems clear he won't. I have to say something.
"Forget the bet, James." My voice comes out quiet yet surprisingly steadier than I imagined. Though the changing rooms are crowded with bodies, it seems like we're the only people in the room, illuminated by the spotlight, the only ones that matter right now. "I'll call the bet off," I continue. "I'll end it. Nobody wins or loses. Just play." I gesture to him to take the broom. I'm being fair to him - if it were any other bet with anyone else there would be no feasible way I'd end it, but it's him and he makes me do strange things. "The bet's off," I say, so it's more final and existent.
"No it's not," he says at once.
I blink. Why is he fighting this? "Take the broom, James," I order rather than propose.
"No," he says firmly. I'm suddenly reminded of all the times he asked me out and I turned him down. It's a peculiar sensation, being on the receiving end of a no.
"I'm sorry," he apologizes to everyone. Out of all the sentiments as possible he comes across as oddly embarrassed. "I've gotta get out of here," I hear him mutter.
Gaping slightly, I watch him leave the room. Remus calls out to him to wait but he's bluntly ignored - just another request that gets lost amongst the mantra of his surname from the pitch. Now that James isn't present to be gawked at, everyone stares at me instead, and the ground swallowing me up whole is very much desired right now - I can tell many in this room want the same.
"Gryffindor must forfeit," Madam Hooch says eventually.
It takes me a while to realize that this no has come from me.
"I beg your pardon?"
I can't believe I'm going to do this. But then an image of a particular unruly-haired boy with deficient eyesight comes to mind, and what I'm about to do seems like my duty.
"I'll play," I say. "I'll take James' position as Chaser."
There are mixed reactions in the room, but the general response is joyous relief. Sirius actually hugs me.
"You have no idea how bloody long I was waiting for you to say that," he says.
Professor McGonagall also looks proud of me to some extent, but there's one of the team that doesn't look happy by the idea of me assisting them.
"I don't think this is such a good idea," she voices unsavourily. I'm confused because she seems like a person who wants to win more than anything.
Thinking she's worried about my lack of experience, I reassure her, "I've been on a broom before and I flew startlingly well." Sirius nods along in agreement. "The rules and the game seem pretty simple-"
All of a sudden she's head-to-head with me, and I rapidly feel intimidated. "Don't say it's simple until you've actually got out there and played with a Quaffle aimed at your face," she cuts me off. Sirius thankfully steps between us, handing me one clean Quidditch uniform.
"She's playing whether you like it or not, Marlene," he tells the scowling girl brusquely. She accepts there's nothing she can do to stop me from playing, grumbling obscenities as she polishes the handle of her broom. I take the uniform from Sirius with a scared smile.
Fully dressed in Quidditch attire, I feel giddily confident - it's as though putting on a new skin and becoming a different person. But the reality of doubt and panic washes over me when a broom is shoved in my hand, and my hands are sweaty and I've gone pale and I can't breathe and I'm walking out onto a pitch to a chorus of the surname of a boy I could bloody well strangle about now for putting me in this situation…
I don't know where to go, but all I know is I can't be anywhere near the Quidditch pitch right now, so I walk alone across the sloping lawns of the Hogwarts grounds and back to the castle.
Had I just… turned down Quidditch? I mean, I don't turn anything down—well, not that I'm a male prostitute! I have my limits, of course. But I'm competitive - I don't decline sport! And Lily had even offered to end the bet, yet I still didn't accept to play!
Who is this nauseatingly boring person I've become?
I can barely be called a Marauder. I don't prank anymore, the idea of picking on Snape makes me vomit in my mouth a little -but I probably only feel that way because I just generally do not want to be near him at all- and now I'm turning down offers of fun.
I have to see Madam Pomfrey. I'm not right in the head. What is the true definition of being right in the head? Remus Lupin. And I'm far, far from Moony-like.
In the Hospital wing Frank is lying in a bed, nursing his injured arm while Madam Pomfrey drugs him up with potions that look a similar colour to sewer water or the insides of a dirty toilet. The two look up when I enter, and I immediately advance towards the Healer crying out, "I think I've got a disease!"
Madam Pomfrey sighs as though I'm one of many diseased, and this occurrence has happened many a time. "What area are you speaking of here?" She eyes me up and down despairingly. "You're not going to pull down your trousers, are you? I don't do examinations, Mr. Potter—"
"No!" I shudder, and then explain the symptoms of my illness. "I just turned down Quidditch… for a girl."
Frank's eyes look like they're about to pop out of their sockets. Madam Pomfrey, however, looks like a usual amused adult witch that knows absolutely bloody sodding everything in the presence of a baffled teenager. "My my," she comments. "How sweet."
"It's disgusting!" I plainly disagree.
"Yes. But that's love, Potter. Face up to it sooner rather than later." She smirks a little at me before handing Frank another sludge potion. He stares at it for a moment before the Healer sends him a firm look and he swallows it down with a painful wince. What angers me the most is that she's so right and she's so an adult and it's so bloody maddening!
As Madam Pomfrey slips into her office I take the bed next to Frank and rest my chin on the palm of my hand.
"How are you feeling?" he asks concernedly, noticing my weary disposition.
"Well, today is not turning out to be a very good day at all and—wait; shouldn't I be asking you that question?"
"Yes. But you're James Potter, and that automatically means your wellbeing is more important."
"Oh yes, of course," I say quickly in a haughty manner, and then realize, "Good lord, I'm a pompous arse."
"If you wear glasses it's forgivable though," he quips. I let off a chortle - I know he's lying to make me feel better but I'll go along with his conjecture. "What's happening with the game?"
I shrug glumly. "Don't know. And I honestly… don't care? Ugh, I cannot believe I just said that!" I feel woozy and the need to repent my sins, or something equally as bizarre. "What is wrong with me, Frank?"
"I think Madam Pomfrey diagnosed you already." Unexpectedly Frank turns serious, and I look at him questionably. "I'm sorry for letting you down." He lifts up his wounded arm. "Bloody thing."
"Oh stop being a berk. You didn't let me down." I pat his shoulder to show I'm grateful for how much he played, and he smiles in relief. "You played well out there. Alice was impressed."
His eyes light up. "Do you think?"
"Yeah," I answer genuinely. Why can't Lily be impressed with me? Seeing as we're on the subject of girls, Frank fails subtlety to bring up my bet with Lily.
"So… Not long until the bet ends, eh?"
I hadn't realized until now that it actually isn't - it's early afternoon and the bet ends at midnight.
"Cheer up," Frank goes on. "It's all over soon. You'll be dating Lily and everything will be great, right?"
It should be great, but things never plan out well involving yours truly. Soon this whole Quidditch-free experience will end. But the end seems… daunting. Daunting as hell.
It's a Marauder, no doubt. That's what I like about being in a small group of friends and having nicknames. If someone calls my name and it's Mr. Potter! or James or James Potterrrr (some of the Hogwarts ghosts are relatively creepy when they address me) then I can ignore it, but not if it's Prongs, or in Sirius' special, special case, Four eyes.
When I turn round I find Peter has entered the Hospital wing, wheezing. "I've been looking for you everywhere!" He tries to catch his breath back while I wait impatiently for whatever news that apparently can't wait. "It's Lily."
"Lily?" I instantly rise. "What about her?"
"She's taken your place!" I stare at him in puzzlement - he's being rather vague. "She's taken your place as Chaser!" he adds urgently.
Stupid, stupid girl.
Whose idea was this? WHOSE BLOODY IDEA WAS—wait, it was mine. Bollocks. Bollocks bollocks bollocks.
"Well, isn't this a surprise?" Danny the Quidditch commentator's voice reverberates through everyone's skulls as I step out of the changing rooms, joining the Gryffindor Quidditch team on the pitch. Everyone is lined up, ready to set off in the air again by Madam Hooch's whistle. The Slytherins look particularly disappointed that Gryffindor hasn't forfeited. "It seems like our resident Head Girl, Lily Evans, will be taking James Potter's place as Chaser! I don't think anyone saw this coming, except for the romantics. I suppose it's the girlfriend's duty to step in for her boyfriend."
What is he… WHAT IS HE SAYING?
"I don't think anyone has seen Lily Evans on a broom before," Danny goes on. "Let's hope she can live up to the standards of James Potter!"
Oh bloody bollocking great. I have an advanced standard I have to play up to now! AUGH.
…I'm so scared. So, so, so, so scared. I haven't been this scared since I took my O.W.L.s, since finding out kissing James Potter was rather pleasant, since accidentally swallowing a piece of gum and being told it would stay in my stomach for seven years (which I looked up and found out was a complete lie. Stupid tosser Sirius Black). When I look out at the stands it seems like the population of Hogwarts has multiplied by a few hundred thousand, because there are so many faces looking back at me, faces of excitement, faces of anticipation, and faces of expectance.
My shaking resembles the vibrating of a running blender. Dominic notices this and pats me on the back to comfort me, but I don't appreciate it because he does it too hard in such a boyish manner and ooooow, OOOOW.
"You'll be fine," he says. I make a sore wince in return - that pat really hurt! "Just stay out of people's way. Shoot whenever you can. And don't worry about any Bludgers." He swings his Beater's bat in the air to demonstrate his "skills" and I have to duck to avoid a collision with my head. "I'll sort them out."
"Hm," is all I can manage to form as a squeaky, petrified reply. I can't stop gulping - the second one ends another begins. I put the broom in between my legs, ready to mount, but suddenly Marlene says something low in my ear and I freeze.
"Don't get hurt, Evans."
I gulp yet again, and soon I will die from mouth dehydration. Does she care about my safety?
"Because if you do," she carries on, and oh she's not finished, "our captain will kill each and every one of us. Whether it's our fault or not is irrelevant."
"Right." I nod. Marlene has very scary eyes.
And then the whistle blows and oh my God, I think I've forgotten how to fly!
…wait, false alarm, it's coming back to me. Once I've soared high enough I actually have a lovely view of the pitch and the Hogwarts grounds. It's rather fresh up here. What shall I do now? I suppose I'll just circle the pitch a few times.
I can't even see my fellow team members, unless that blur just there was a person. And that other blur. Oh my goodness, everyone's flying so fast my eyes can't even focus on their figures! I'm in way over my head!
"Watch it, Evans!"
I dive left at Dominic's command and a menacing Bludger just misses me by inches. Why is this game so dangerous? It should be banned in all countries!
Breathing heavily after the near death experience, I seek out the direction of where the Bludger came from and spot Lucas of Slytherin waving merrily at me. Why that little—
"Don't dawdle, Evans." Marlene is at my side and her eyes are darting about the pitch wildly. "You can't afford to dawdle in this game."
"I'm sorry; I'm just a bit overwhelmed by all this—"
"Don't think about emotions like such a woman, just play!" She's off again with a start and I'm staring at empty space. How is it possible to move that fast?
"An impressive goal by Slytherin there!" Danny tells the crowds. "They now lead with one hundred and fifty against Gryffindor's mere seventy. So far Lily Evans has done… well, nothing."
It's only been two minutes, you arse!
"And I think we can all agree she is clearly out of her depth."
I blink with indignation. How dare he… How bloody dare he say that! Even if he's utterly spot on he is not allowed to say that! I'm Head Girl; I can take house points off the smarmy git! And everyone is clapping in agreement!
I'll show them! I'll show them all!
Right. So… which goal is Gryffindor's again?
I don't quite know why I'm running back to the Quidditch pitch. There's no need to run, I'm sure Lily is perfectly fine. I've seen her fly and she flew spectacularly!
…didn't she? Actually, I'm not totally sure now. When I saw her flying on my broom I was just thrilled by the whole happening of her being on my broom and how stunning she looked with her hair gusted back and—ow, I think I just tripped over a boulder. Concentrate! Potter, you are a complete idiot! Why didn't you pay more attention when she was airborne and not how undyingly pretty she looked! Ugh, you are such a bloke.
When I'm up in one of the stands again I spot Remus with Lily's friends, Carly and Lauren, and make way to the front through the mass of Quidditch enthusiasts, getting a scarf and banner poked in my eye at least four consecutive times.
"How's Lily doing?" I ask Remus, searching the pitch for her with frantic eyes.
"Er," is all he manages to answer, before that dark-haired girl Lauren has latched her hand around my throat as a successful means of strangling.
"If Lily gets hurt out there I am holding you personally responsible, James Potter," she growls menacingly. Carly behind her nods along with narrowed eyes.
"I don't want her getting hurt either!" I reply angrily. "I care a lot about her, alright! I had no idea she was going to step in for me!"
After a short while, it appears Lauren has gotten bored of me (or was rather touched by what I said, I really don't know) as she releases her hold of my neck, returning to watching the game. Carly appears to be releasing… tears of joy?
"Your wedding is going to be spectacular, James," the blonde sniffs.
"Alright," I reply confusedly. I turn back to Remus and question again, "How's Lily doing?" He looks just as uneasy as before.
"Er," he says once more. "Quite well, I suppose."
"Didn't she shoot in our own goal?" Peter says.
"Peter, I specifically told you not to mention that to him," Remus hisses.
She shot in our goal?
That's my Lily.
But I still can't find her on the pitch. I'm distracted by Danny's commentating: "Taylor passes to Foster – Foster back to Taylor – interception by Black – Black passes to Mannings and—oh! Oh! Evans just missed a Bludger to the head there!" Lily! "Looks like Slytherin picking on Gryffindor's weakest player now! The Head Girl better watch out!"
Slytherin is unsurprisingly playing dirty. I explore the pitch again with my eyes, desperately trying to find just a smudge of red hair – and then there it is, there she is. With some people the uniform wears the person, but she wears it. And she's predictably glaring, at whom I think is Danny – no one calls her weak and gets away with it. Without warning, she kicks her broom and fires off down one end of the pitch, following Lucas who's in possession of the Quaffle. She's right on his tail, and he's taking edgy, fleeting looks behind him, hoping an unsuspecting Bludger will knock her out of the sky, but she dives out of the way of every one that is aimed at her. She's getting the hang of this.
Out of nowhere, she bashes into Lucas' side with her broom, and at such a collision, he drops the Quaffle. And before I can yell out like a prat what she should do next, she already does it: the Quaffle is tightly lodged under one arm and she's gunned towards the right hoops: Slytherin's.
"Um. Wow," I hear Carly mutter impressively. Unable to speak, I nod in agreement.
"What an extraordinary play by Evans, there! She's definitely becoming a threat to Slytherin now!" Danny quickly changes his tune. "Evans has the Quaffle – dives past Taylor –dodges interception by Patterson – bashes past Foster again! She's at the goals but which hoop will she choose? She shoots! Will Slytherin's Keeper save it? The Quaffle goes through the middle hoop – GRYFFINDOR SCORES!"
"Yes!" I punch the air. The stands of Gryffindors cheer wildly and start to chant Lily's surname, "EVANS! EVANS! EVANS!"
"Wooo! Go Lily!" Carly yells supportively, clapping.
I don't really take in what's going on around me; I'm just watching Lily intently on the other side of the pitch. She looks so happy - I can tell she understands the feeling I've talked about when you're blissfully content on a broom. I smile as the members of my team attack with warm pats on the shoulder and mess up her hair jovially.
"She looks good out there, James," Remus says beside me. "You've got some competition."
I laugh. "Yeah, that's my girl."
And then a thought hits me, and my smile falls, and it might be my imagination, but the weather turns gloomy and the sky just seems so dark - everything seems so dark. Because Lily will be considered 'my girl' after this bet, only if I win. Not because she loves me or I love her or any sort of emotion, but because of a bet. A fucking stupid bet.
"James? James, where are you going?"
I don't know, Moony. But anywhere from here.
I did it! I scored! In the right goal! At least, I think I did. Everyone's clapping so I must have scored in Slytherin's goal… right? Oh God!
I spot Sirius flying towards me and ask him dreadfully, "Did I shoot in our own goal again?"
"No, thank bloody Merlin," he grins, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Then the whole team comes over and starts patting me in places I don't want to be patted (did Dominic just pat my bottom? I will kill that eccentric alcoholic afterwards!), and I feel so sporty and athletic it's really quite revolting. After this whole Quidditch escapade I plan to sit on a rather comfy chair for twenty four hours, doing absolutely nothing active. Not even think of active things.
"Was your boyfriend watching?" The Seeker, Sara, winks at me.
"No, do you see James? I mean, hey! I don't have a boyfriend!" Don't you just hate it when you correct yourself too late?
"I think he's over there by Remus Lupin," Sara points to one of the stands. I look over and instantly spy the werewolf's sandy brown hair, along with my friends Carly and Lauren waving exuberantly at me. A grin pulls at my lips as I wave back.
Eventually I spot James, and I'm about to wave at him too, but there's something wrong about his eyes. They look distant, even if they are staring directly at me, and confused more than ever, as though he's just realized something quite horrifying. The sky tersely changes shades to one that belongs only on funeral days, everyone rather mystified as they look up above with ominous grey clouds reflected in their eyes.
And then he turns on his heel and runs.
How did it come to this? How did it come to me having to agree to a bet, to make the girl I'm hopelessly infatuated with go out with me?
I don't think I've ever felt this low in my entire life.
There are different levels of low. I like to believe Sirius is near the bottom of the scale (in the most lovable way, of course), but I'm lower than that. I'm like… ants. Actually, I'm like earth. Lower than earth! What's below earth? I'll have to ask Remus.
What annoys me the most is how harmless this bet seemed on the surface, but when you delve in deeper it's… pathetically wretched. There's no positive outcome in the end. Sure, Lily and I would be a couple, but I suppose it would be against her will. When you think about it, following this bet, her going out with me is considered as her 'losing'. If I lose I'm bald.
Thinking about the stake now I can't believe how childish it is, how bloody stupid I was to agree to it! Just the idea of being with Lily -even if it was through a bet- thrilled me. Why couldn't I have just said no?
…Because I can't say no to her. But she can say no to me. Fucking plenty of times in fact.
I can't quite believe it.
The weather made everyone irritable, and I discovered Quidditch was to be played in all conditions, no matter how terrible and bothersome. I'd struggled playing Quidditch in clear setting, never mind in rain! But I'd resisted - I wasn't going to drop out because of getting a bit wet. Gryffindor managed to catch up with Slytherin, one hundred and eighty points each, but then that glint of gold had appeared amongst the mist. Sara hadn't seen it quickly enough; Slytherin's Seeker had pounced onto it and caught it between his fingertips, while Sara stared on, crestfallen.
Gryffindor was crestfallen - I still am. To see Slytherin's Captain Lucas hold the Quidditch cup over his head with a slimy smirk really tore something up inside me.
"Come inside, Lily!"
The stands are empty now, students that filled them previously back inside the castle. Most of the Quidditch players have retreated back to the changing rooms, but there's still some of Gryffindor's team beckoning me to follow. I'm glued to the grass of the pitch, shivering as my uniform and skin is soaked with rain water as I look up at the heavens. I can feel the broom handle slip out of my hand because it's so wet.
"You played well, Evans!" Marlene shouts optimistically over the heavy rain. She's holding her broom over her head as a cover, but it's ineffective - she's just as drenched as I am.
"Not well enough though," I reply, but I can't speak loud, I can't even speak… normal. I just sound… distraught?
"Come inside!" Sirius is tugging on my elbow. "You know James doesn't like it when you get soggy!"
A small laugh escapes me, but it's turning into something different, perhaps a slight bawl, and I'm completely mortified.
Carly and Lauren appear at my side; I don't feel the shower anymore and realize Lauren is holding an umbrella over my head, one with red polka dots that always makes me cringe. Lauren notices a certain look I'm wearing. I drop the broom as she tugs me forwards into a hug.
"Go on," she prompts me.
I can't fathom why, but I start to cry, and I'm so glad it's raining and tears look like raindrops.
…James Potter, what the hell have you done to me?
For the rest of the day to pass the time I move around the castle from one new place to another, slipping into shadows and behind statues to avoid people, early afternoon creeping into afternoon, afternoon creeping into night. I don't think I can even see a Marauder right now, but I'm avoiding Lily more than anything, which is weird because I never thought I'd desire to do that.
I check my watch and blanch at the time: just two hours until midnight, until the bet ends…
I can't find James anywhere.
After my embarrassing moment of crying because of… losing a Quidditch match (oh Lord, I've gone through the episode countless times yet it still doesn't make sense to me), Carly convinced me to get rid of the waterlogged Quidditch uniform, get into some dry warm clothes and wipe my eyes (…did I really cry because of a Quidditch game? AUGH, JAMES POTTER).
Speaking of James, I still don't get why he looked like that at the stands, and why he left so rudely. And why he's sodding hiding from me, most of all!
Even though I'm significantly annoyed with him right now, I just want to… see him.
Wow, Lily, yet another statement you've made today that makes you want to not only heave but slam your face against a very hard and very vertical wall.
I sigh dejectedly as I glance at my watch, just two hours until midnight, until the bet ends…
I wonder who won the match.
Is it creepy that I'm not that desperate to find out?
It was probably Gryffindor anyway. We always win.
Just one hour…
I've checked the common room at least fifteen times, but I'm back again, just in case. "Sirius," I say, approaching the boy sitting in front of the fire. He should have gone to bed long ago; I don't know why he's still up. "Have you seen James?"
He's looking intently at piece of parchment in his lap, and I'm rather annoyed it's managed to capture his attention more than I have.
"No," he answers, looking pointedly at one area of the parchment. It looks like some sort of map, but when I look closer he rolls it up and away from my prying eyes.
"You're lying," I accuse.
"No I'm not." Another lie. He rushes for the stairs to the dormitories. "See you in the morning."
I really do give up on James. I'm tired and restless and it's been a long day. I look at my watch again. There's barely a few minutes before midnight…
I look up; Sirius is lingering by the staircase. "Go back to the Head Tower. I have a… feeling James will be there."
Feeling, my arse. He knows James will be there. But I do what he says.
After entering the Head Tower I feel like straight away going to my dormitory, but it's James' room across mine that catches my eye. There's a small gap at the doorway and the room appears to be glowing. Curiosity getting the better of me, I push the door open and find James lying on his bed inside, but my attention is immediately diverted by the ceiling. It's plastered with shimmering stars, but not the plastic glow-in-the-dark ones you had taped to your bedroom ceiling as a kid, but ones that look astonishingly real. Like you're actually looking out of a skylight. You want to reach out and touch them.
"How did you…" I start as I try to walk about the room and look at the ceiling at the same time, something unwise. "How did you do that?" I ask, flabbergasted.
James smiles, "It's a similar charm to the one on the Great Hall ceiling."
I stare at the picture-perfect starlit sky a little longer, until James waves his wand and the ceiling changes to the appearance of falling snow, so convincing I expect snowflakes to fall on my shoulders. He waves his wand again and I'm looking at a sky filled with dazzling colourful fireworks, noiseless ones, which is so much better and calmer. He changes the ceiling back to a starry sky, my favourite one.
"You're too bloody impressive," I tell him off. He grins.
"Come sit with me," he pats the small space next to him. It's much too late sitting in beds with silly boys, but I suppose I'm quite tired and need to lie down (oh who am I kidding?). Once I'm lying next to him, I gaze up at the spectacular ceiling and can't help but feel sleepy.
"My own personal galaxy," he murmurs beside me. I nod, impressive sod with his fancy charms.
"We lost," I let him know; just in case he doesn't know, and I don't think he does because he'd look more devastated.
I can't believe he just asked me that.
"Gryffindor lost the game. You know, Quidditch?" I remind him.
"Oh?" I repeat heatedly. Something is very wrong here.
He does a little shrug, looking indifferent about, well, everything, until he glances at me and sees how wounded I come across. "Why are you upset?"
"I don't know!" I answer honestly, my voice rising. "Why aren't you?"
He looks at the ceiling as though he wants the stars to swallow him up. "Gryffindor will get over it."
I refuse to believe this is the same boy who earlier wanted to win the Quidditch cup so much his life depended on it.
I don't want to tell him, but I do: "I cried a bit. Because we lost."
He looks genuinely mystified by what I said. "Why? You don't even care about Quidditch!"
"But you care about it!" Oh, you're blushing wonderfully, Lily. "It means a lot to you, so… it means a lot to me." I think that makes sense.
"You," he's on the verge of smiling as he looks at me with the most sparkling eyes, "you are very, very strange, Lily Evans."
"Shut up," I mumble childishly. I glance at my watch and with wide eyes recognize it's far past midnight. "You won." I don't know why I'm speaking so quietly. "Are you happy now?"
He doesn't respond, and if he's trying to disguise the happiness on his face he's doing an exceptional job of it. "You won the bet, so… I'm your girlfriend." That sounds good coming from my lips, almost natural.
"Then tell me," he starts sullenly, and I don't like where this is going, "why do I feel like shit?"
The glow of the stars seems dimmer now, but James isn't controlling it - his wand is on the bedside table.
"I don't know," I answer him flatly. If he feels this bad because I'm his girlfriend now it does not do wonders for my self-esteem…
"You know what the sad thing is?" He's moved from the bed now and he's pacing around the room instead; I sit up and watch him uneasily. "The only way I can get you to be my girlfriend is through you losing a bet. I can buy you presents, I can make such a bloody arse of myself for you, I can tell you how pretty you are and how much I can't get you out of this sordid head of mine. But it's all pointless! Because the only way you'll even consider dating me is if we make a wager with a possibility that I'll look even more of a twat than I already am."
"It's not like that-"
"It is. It fucking is, Lily." I don't know what to say, but he's on a roll with his viciousness. "I should feel like a king now, right? James-stuck up-Potter wins a bet and he isn't just a bit snooty over it? Well, you know what? I wish I hadn't won the bet! Now you have to be my girlfriend because you're forced to, because it's to the bet rules. And all I've ever wanted is for you to like me without me having to do anything! Nothing! Just one day in fifth year you look at me and think, 'hey, he's a nice guy! I'll give him a chance! I won't watch him for years and years make an absolute prat of himself! I'll say yes to him now and see how it goes!' But nothing is ever that straightforward, is it? Ever that uncomplicated.
"Being my girlfriend is your unpleasant consequence. Look at your punishment!" He throws out his arms wide as he stands in front of me, demanding me to look at him, but I can't. "I bet you don't like what you see," he says sadly. "Forget the bet. I'm not a bad guy, Lily; I'm not going to force you to be with me. To have you be in a relationship with me out of oblige would break my heart more than it already is-"
"I'm sorry." I'm suddenly hugging him and I wait for his hands to snake round my waist, but they don't come. "I'm so, so sorry."
"Lily, you don't even know what you're apologizing for," he says quite callously, but he's hugging me back.
"I'm apologizing for everything! This inane bet I started, taking your one escapism from you, treating you horribly these past few years… sniffing your boxers!"
He laughs and it's comforting. "I don't blame you on that last one, they are enticing."
"James," I start seriously, "don't you realize I must have liked you even –even just a small fraction- from the beginning? I mean, what normal girl goes up to a bloke and says, 'let's have a bet, drop Quidditch and I'll date you, if you lose you'll be hairless'? My proposal of the bet must have come from somewhere, my subconscious giving me a giant hint I was too dull to figure out at the time." I sweep at his messy hair affectionately, pulling some loose strands out of his eyes. "I really more than like you, and it's terrifying." If I say the l-o-v-e word right now I may just have a panic attack. "Now say it back so I can sleep better at night."
He looks hesitant; I think I've bruised his pride too many times.
I squeeze his hands reassuringly. "Even if you'd have lost this bet, James, I'd still be here, in this room with your fancy posh ceiling, telling you this."
He rests his forehead against mine. "I am terrifyingly in more than like with you."
I used to believe the best feeling in the world you could only obtain from flying - just you, a broom, and the never ending skies.
Then one day I had Lily Evans in my arms and I kissed her.
Flying - the best feeling in the world? I was wrong.
When you're so high up in that broom you get the sensation of ceasing to exist, like a disturbingly pleasant limbo. You forget reality; forget about all your problems, all you care about is getting higher, higher, fool…
But that's stupid. Because when you get back on earth you've still got to face those problems, and those problems have probably worsened since you've wasted time with your head literally in the clouds. The sky is your limit until you're so far above the ground you forget the people that really matter.
Who knew the best feeling in the world wouldn't be achieved from a euphoric potion, or being surrounded by so much money you're bathing in Galleons, but just holding the one you truly love so close in your arms you can feel their heartbeat (one thump, two thumps, three), and sealing it with a kiss.
But don't worry if you haven't experienced that feeling yet, because it'll come. Maybe not soon, but the wait is more exhilarating. And when you do finally sense it, you'll think back to this and smile, you'll probably want to shake my hand, and you'll probably want to punch me for not warning you, because it'll hit you so hard.
The girl or the game?
The girl every time.
(…And maybe a bit of the game afterwards if Lily is in a good enough mood to let me.)