Chapter 3: The Slow Torture of a Sunday Afternoon
Lily used to like Sundays. For the first six years of her Hogwarts career, she had always tried to finish all her homework on Saturday so that she could spend Sundays reading books lazily by the common room fire. This year, however, for some reason her work ethic just wasn't what it was. Twice now she had found herself still frantically finishing essays at ten o'clock on a Sunday night - and the worst part was having no idea why.
It was not, she was quite certain, because she was love-sick as her friends kept insinuating. Lily was feeling quite uncertain about a lot of things at the moment, but she was certain that the idea that James Potter had any influence on her homework was as ridiculous as it had ever been. If it was anything on this particular Sunday afternoon, it was the letter currently residing on her bedside table up in the dormitory...but no, she reminded herself firmly, she was not going to think about that.
So she sat and stared at the blank piece of parchment that was supposed to be her Arithmancy essay without seeing it at all, as the chatter of her friends and the constantly noisy common room rose and fell around her. And yet, despite the letter, and her NEWTs and Head Girl duties and the letter and Quidditch and the letter and everything else she had to worry about...every time she closed her eyes she kept seeing James and Katy leaving the common room yesterday, his hand on the small of her back as he helped her out of the portrait hole.
'Don't close your eyes, then,' she scolded herself and made a renewed attempt to tackle the essay.
The words kept swimming in front of her eyes, however, and the rising noise levels in the common room made it impossible to concentrate. Glancing up with a frown, she saw that most of the commotion was coming from a table in the corner; and as the mass of bodies in front of her shifted slightly, she saw four familiar heads bent over something as the crowd cheered them on indiscriminately.
Swallowing the surge of anger that had risen in her throat, she ignored the sound of James' laughter issuing from the corner and stood up, slamming her books closed. Julie, who had been staring at the same page of her Transfiguration textbook for the last half an hour, looked up in surprise.
'Can't concentrate,' said Lily by way of explanation.
Julie grimaced. 'Don't blame you.' She closed her own book and got to her feet as well. 'Want to go to the library?'
'No...' said Lily slowly, an idea forming. 'It's just...I've got a bit of a headache. Think I'll go for a walk, get some fresh air.' It wasn't entirely a lie, either - the noise level in the common room was beginning to get unbearable and she could feel her forehead beginning to throb. 'Join you there in a bit?' she added, seeing Julie's frown. 'Once I've sorted this lot out.' She jerked her head towards the corner and Julie snorted.
'Good luck with that,' she said, gathering up her books and leaving. Lily waited until the portrait hole had swung shut before gathering her courage and heading over to the source of the noise.
'What do you think you're doing?' she hissed, having used both elbows to fight her way through the crowd to the centre of the commotion. 'There are people trying to work here!'
Four heads looked up at her in identical surprise. The laughter and cheering died away almost instantly and people standing at the edges of the crowd began edging away, looking innocent. To her satisfaction, most of those who were too slow or unable to move away looked guilty or nervous, but Sirius stared at her defiantly.
'If they want quiet they can go to the library, can't they? We were just letting off some steam!'
'Letting off some steam?' she repeated. She looked down at the table for the first time and was surprised to see what appeared to be a miniature bonfire in the middle, which was in fact producing plenty of smoke if not steam. 'What exactly are you doing?'
He folded his arms and glared at her. 'Fairly certain that's none of your business, actually.'
She copied his gesture and glared back. 'Fairly certain that it is, actually, if you're disturbing the rest of the common room and doing something dangerous.'
'It's not dangerous,' said another voice, and Lily forced herself to look at James for the first time. She was surprised to find that he had a slightly sheepish look about him, rather than joining in with Sirius' stubborn defiance, but he met her eyes anyway and shrugged. 'Sorry, Evans. We were just messing around and we didn't realise how noisy we were being. Right, guys?' he said encouragingly.
'Right, sorry,' said Peter quickly.
'Sorry, Lily,' said Remus. 'James is right, we just got a bit carried away.'
All three of them looked at Sirius, who glared back for a moment before relaxing and unfolding his arms. 'Fine,' he said shortly. 'We'll be quieter.'
'Right,' said Lily blankly, completely unprepared for this reaction. She pulled herself together and stood up a little straighter, remembering the audience that still surrounded them. 'Right, well, as long as that's understood. I thought better of you, Remus,' she added. 'You were a prefect. And you-' she rounded on James and gestured at the badge gleaming proudly on his chest '-what's the point of wearing that thing if you're still going to act like an ass anyway?'
She turned quickly, before he could retort, and fought her way back through the crowd, avoiding all eye contact. A muffled comment from someone that sounded like Sirius floated back to her, followed by a few sniggers - and then, to her surprise, she heard James' voice.
She paused momentarily, unable to stop the instinct that made her head turn around. Her eyes met his once again and he winked at her. Feeling her face begin to flush, she flung her hair back over her shoulder as haughtily as she dared and left.
'What's her problem?' asked Sirius, pointing his wand at the bonfire once again. The flames began to twist and curl, eventually forming the shape of a great dog which growled and bared its fangs.
Remus looked up and shrugged mildly, which James thought was pretty good of him considering that he had told them three times to keep it down before Lily had come over. Much to his own surprise, James had felt quite guilty as she had shouted at them, knowing she was probably right. He was just incredibly thankful that she - or any of the girls in the common room for that matter - hadn't seen the particular shapes the fire had been making before she arrived.
Not particularly inclined to answer Sirius' question himself, James flicked his own wand at the fire, causing antlers to form on the dog's head. Not quite the effect he had been going for, but aesthetically pleasing nonetheless, he decided with his head on one side.
'And what's wrong with you?' Sirius continued, glancing up at James. 'You've been in a weird mood for days. I wish you'd snap out of it, it's getting really boring.'
'Right, well,' said James, stung, 'I'm sorry if my personal problems aren't providing enough entertainment for you!'
'Oh, don't be like that, Prongs, they usually do.' He let his wand fall, causing the dog to vanish back into the flames, and gave James an odd look. 'What personal problems?'
James paused. He hadn't actually meant to say that. 'None. I mean, I don't have any. It was just a figure of speech.' He glanced at Remus, who raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
Sirius seemed to notice the look and a frown appeared on his forehead. 'Are you not telling me something?' he demanded.
'Yes,' said James, standing up. 'Lots of things.' He gestured at the table. 'Clear that up before Lily gets back, won't you? Don't want her to explode all over the common room, it could be messy.'
'We're practising for our NEWTs!' protested Sirius, spreading his hands. 'How can she object to that?'
'Knowing Lily? Very easily.'
'Fine.' He made no attempt to put out the fire, however, but watched James as he gathered up various books. 'I'll find out what's going on, you know.'
'There's nothing going on,' said James firmly. 'I'm just going to head down to the Quidditch pitch and do some practise.'
Sirius stared at him. 'Why?'
James remembered the Quidditch practice of Wednesday night and a deep gloom settled over him once again. 'Trust me. I need it.'
The trouble was, he discovered once he had collected his broom and made his way to the pitch, that there was already someone using it. A slightly built figure with a mass of dark red hair was zooming around in the dim light, zigzagging in and out of the goalposts before streaking up the other end of the pitch.
He stood and watched her for a few moments in shock. She could fly well, he realised with a sinking heart. He had hoped that his memory of tryouts had been coloured by the fact that, well, he was completely in love with her; but even on what appeared to be a school broom, the object of his affection was turning corners with grace and precision to match his own...
Well, nearly to match his own, he corrected himself. Let's not go overboard.
He made his way silently up to the stands to sit and watch her in peace. He didn't know how long he sat there, but the late afternoon light had definitely faded to early evening by the time she finally floated down to the ground and dismounted, shouldering her broom and disappearing into the gloom under the stands.
Not wanting to run into her and having lost the desire to do any flying himself, James sat there for some moments, the sight of the red-headed figure seemingly imprinted permanently on the back of his eyelids, and wondered what the hell to do.
'Potter?' said a voice sweetly from behind him, and he nearly jumped out of his own skin.
'Evans,' he said weakly as he turned around. 'Give me a heart attack, why don't you?'
She looked at him without smiling, one hand on her hip. 'Why were you watching me? Are you following me now?'
'No!' he protested. 'I came down to practise, and I didn't want to disturb you.'
'Right,' she said after a pause, as though she didn't believe him, and James felt a brief spurt of anger.
'Not everything I do revolves around you, Evans.'
'Really?' Lily said, sounding amused; but there was still no humour in her eyes and after another pause, she picked up her broomstick again and turned to go. 'See you around, Potter.'
'Wait, Lily,' he said on sudden impulse, standing up. She turned back and looked at him suspiciously. 'Um...'
James smiled at her sheepishly. 'You're very hard to talk to when you look at me like that, you realise?'
She didn't smile, but continued to stare at him stonily. 'If there's a point, Potter, please feel free to come to it.'
He sighed. 'The Quidditch team. The...make-up of the Quidditch team.'
Finally, she did smile - but it was a bitter, knowing smile and James' heart sank at the sight of it. 'Got there in the end, did you?'
'You think Frazz is only picking purebloods for the team,' he stated, and the words seemed stupid and wrong when said out loud.
'I wouldn't put it like that,' said Lily coldly. She seemed calm, but her fists were clenching and unclenching by her sides, and James took a step back unconsciously. 'I think Frazz Davies is deliberately not picking Muggle-borns, actually.'
He frowned at her, puzzled. 'What's the difference?'
'If you don't understand the difference,' she said, and her voice was rising in pitch now, 'then there's no point in us having this conversation.' She turned to go again and he reached out and took hold of her arm.
'I think you're being a little unfair, Evans,' he said quietly, letting go of her as she turned back, eyes blazing. 'You've got no proof...'
'Proof?' she cried, staring at him with something that looked remarkably like seething hatred in her eyes. 'I don't need proof, Potter, I have the daily experience of living at Hogwarts.'
'What do you mean by that?'
'You haven't got any idea what it's like, do you?' she spat at him, and James was taken aback by the anger in her voice. 'Bloody Perfect Pureblood Potter, you've got no idea what it's like not to fit in, do you?'
He felt his own temper begin to rise. 'What the hell does my blood have to do with anything?'
She laughed. 'Well, what the hell does my blood have to do with my ability to play Quidditch? These things seem to matter to some people.'
'So, what, you're blaming me for that? Even if it's true, you can't let idiots like Davies get to you!' he shouted at her in frustration.
'Why not?' she shouted back, red in the face. 'Why on earth shouldn't I? It's not just him, Potter! It may have escaped your attention while you were showing off with a Snitch, but we are practically on the verge of war because of 'idiots like Davies'!'
He gaped at her in astonishment. 'Are you seriously accusing Frazz Davies of being a Death Eat-'
'No, of course I'm not,' she said, cutting him off. 'I doubt he takes interest in anything that doesn't involve broomsticks. But it's the same thing, don't you see that? It's the same attitude! They don't want us here! And, hell, maybe they're right!' Her voice was rising even higher now, and there was a distinct edge of hysteria to it. 'Maybe we should all leave Hogwarts! I'm not so sure I want to stay if no one wants me here, and I miss my parents and I don't know if they're safe, and I miss my radio and the TV, and electric lights because reading by bloody candlelight makes my eyes hurt...' She took a deep shuddering breath and James realised with shock that tears were glistening in her eyes. 'So maybe I should leave, except, hey, can't do that, 'cause it turns out the Muggles don't want me either!'
She gave up whatever battle she had been having with herself to hold back the tears, sunk down onto the bench and began to sob. James stayed where he was, frozen in horror. He had never seen Lily lose control like this, and as he stared at her heaving shoulders, her face buried in her arms, he was torn between his natural impulse to flee in terror, and the growing impulse to hold her in his arms and comfort her.
Eventually he realised he would have to do something and he gingerly reached out and touched her on the shoulder.
She shrugged off his touch. 'Go away.'
'What part,' she said, raising a blotched face to glare at him, 'of 'go away' did you not understand?'
He sat down again beside her. 'The part where I abandon a nice girl to sit in the dark and cry on her own?'
She started to brush the tears off her cheeks and laughed shakily. 'Is this where you attempt to convince me that you're a sweet and caring person after all?'
'I am a sweet and caring person.' He thought about this. 'Well, I'm okay. And I'm certainly not the jerk you think I am. You could try telling me what's really wrong,' he said quietly.
'What do you mean?'
'I'm not an idiot, Lily.'
She snorted. 'Could have fooled me.'
'What did you mean about the Muggles not wanting you?' he persisted, choosing to ignore this.
'Forget I said anything,' she said; but something about the slight wobble in her voice told him to keep questioning.
'I said, forget it!'
'Look, Lily, just tell me. I want to help. Really.'
'You're nothing if not persistent, aren't you, Potter?' she said and the earlier venom had gone out of her voice.
He smiled. 'That's me. Persistent Potter. And I'm not going anywhere until you tell me.'
There was a pause while she stared fixedly at her knees. 'Two days ago...' She took a shuddering breath and started again. 'Two days ago, I got a letter from my Mum. It turns out that my big sister is getting married - and she doesn't want me to come to the wedding.' She turned a tear-stained face to James. 'Do you have any idea what it's like to have a sister who hates you because of who you are? No, wait,' she added with a harsh laugh, 'of course not. I forgot who I was talking to for a minute there. You're an only child, right?'
James hesitated. 'How did you know that?'
'Lucky guess,' she said bitterly. 'I can't believe I told you any of this.'
'Look, Lily, I understand how you feel...' He knew as soon as the words had left his mouth that it had been the wrong thing to say. Lily's head whipped around, eyes blazing.
'You understand? How? How could you ever possibly understand how I feel? She's my sister, Potter! We played together when we were kids, she bought me sweets the day I hurt my knee in primary school, she always looked after me, and now? I haven't spoken to her in over a year! I've tried phoning and she just puts the phone down on me, I've sent her letters and she sends them back unopened...'
The tears were falling thick and fast now. 'And you'd think that magic would make up for it, that being a witch would make it okay that my sister hates me and my parents are unhappy, but no, turns out I'm not even allowed to have fun with magic, because I don't count as a witch either! So if I'm not allowed to be a witch and I can't be a Muggle, who the hell am I? Please, tell me!'
James was at a complete loss for words. It wasn't something that happened to him very often and he hated the sensation as her eyes bore into his, desperate to comfort her but not knowing how.
'Lily...' he said eventually; paused and then gave up. 'I don't really know what to say.'
'Well, there's a surprise,' she said shakily before getting to her feet. She seemed to have got a grip on herself again. 'I must be mad, don't know why I expected anything different.'
'Lily...' he began, but he still had no idea what to say and it was too late, she had gone.
He sat there for some time after she had left, staring blankly into space until night had fallen properly and his stomach reminded him that he had missed dinner. Collecting his broom, and most of his wits, he made his way back up to the castle.
The Gryffindor table in the Great Hall was half-empty by the time he got there, the meal nearly over and Sirius, Remus and Peter nowhere to be seen. He ate alone in silence, eyes darting up and down the table looking for Lily; whether in hope or fear that she would be there he didn't really know. He still didn't know what to say to her - and as she wasn't there, he supposed it didn't really matter - but that futile desire to help still gnawed away at the pit of his stomach.
Then, out of nowhere, realisation dawned and he bolted down his last potato, nearly choking in the process, and practically ran to Gryffindor tower.
'Spitting ice-cubes,' he gasped at the Fat Lady, still spluttering from the lump of potato caught in his throat, and she raised her eyebrows at him as she swung forward.
He half-fell into the Gryffindor common room; but before he could look for the familiar mane of red hair, he was aware of someone calling his name.
'James?' Katy had appeared out of nowhere and was smiling at him. 'Want to play chess?'
'Prongs.' Sirius had suddenly appeared on the other side, looking excited. 'Where have you been? Look, I've had an idea of what we can do with -' he caught sight of Katy and dropped his voice '-the you-know-what.'
'Right, yes, great,' said James wildly. 'Two minutes, okay?' he added, whether to Sirius or Katy he wasn't sure, for he had just spotted Lily on the other side of the common room, determinedly not looking at him.
Or, she could have genuinely not spotted him, but he wasn't really in the mood for assumptions like that. He weaved his way through the armchairs and merrily gossiping Gryffindors and knelt down next to her chair.
'Evans.' He kept his voice low, but wasn't quite sure why since all of Lily's friends had already seen him and were staring at him avidly.
'Go away,' she said without looking at him.
'Look,' he said, determined to say it whether half of Gryffindor was listening or not, 'you're being stupid.'
That got her attention. 'I'm what, sorry?'
'So am I,' he added hurriedly. 'We're both being really stupid. Look, you know...' He paused, aware of his audience. 'You know that thing we were talking about before? Well, if it's true - if there's even a possibility of it being true - you need to go to McGonagall.'
'Potter,' she said, still staring at her book, barely moving her lips, 'just because you're stupid, please don't assume that the same is true of everyone else. You thought I hadn't already thought of that?'
James was taken aback. 'You've spoken to McGonagall?'
She sighed. 'I didn't say that.'
'I don't understand,' he said, brow furrowed.
'Never a truer word was spoken.'
'Um, excuse me?' Lily's friend Julie had leaned forward and was smiling sweetly. 'Care to let the rest of us in on this conversation?'
'No,' said James and Lily together, and they glanced at each other in surprise. He saw as she faced him for the first time that the tracks of tears still marked her face, and guilt twisted inside him.
'Maybe this isn't the best time,' he said slowly, realising that this was possibly not the most tactful approach.
'But I'll be back,' he said, waggling a finger at her. 'You don't get rid of me that easily. Persistent Potter, remember?'
She rolled her eyes. 'Just go away, please,' she said; but for the first time, a ghost of a genuine smile flashed across her face, so fast that James couldn't be sure he hadn't imagined it.
'And you'll go out with me one day,' he added, more out of habit than anything else, and this time he was sure he saw the corners of her mouth twitch.
'When hell freezes over, Potter.'
'I'll mark it in my diary.'