"I heard what you said about me to James in the library yesterday," Lily said. She twisted a brown leather glove in her hands as she walked. Her eyes were trained on the floor, but a quick glance told her that Richard was frowning, staring ahead.
"Look, whatever Potter told you – "
"I heard it myself. I was standing nearby."
They were walking through the unused corridor on the third floor, a place that had always been their favourite part of the castle when they wanted to be alone. It was late on Sunday evening, and the only illumination came from the few candles Richard had lit along the wall, and the dim glow of the waning moon shining through the empty classrooms.
Richard touched her arm to stop her. "I was looking for you."
"I needed some space." Lily smoothed the glove over her hand and rubbed a small ink stain on the first finger. She'd been working herself up to this conversation all day.
Richard stuffed his hands into his pockets and bowed his head. His mouth worked like he was chewing the inside of his cheek. "I didn't mean anything by it," he told her at last. "I'm sorry. Guys just talk like that sometimes. We all know we aren't serious."
"You really hurt me." Lily walked a few steps towards a stone bench and sat with her hands folded in her lap, the glove scrunched up between her palms.
"Why did you stand me up like that?" he asked. "You could have just told me you needed a break."
The tightness in Lily's chest was crushing her, but she had to do it. "I'm telling you that right now. I need a break."
"Wait a minute." Richard pulled his hands from his pockets and hurried across the corridor to sit beside her. "Are you trying to say you want to split up?"
"This isn't working, Richard."
Leaning forward, he cupped both of her hands together in his. "Over one inane comment I made?" He bent his head to catch her reluctant eye. "Lily, I said I'm sorry."
"I've been feeling uncomfortable for a while."
"We can work it out." He wore that look on his face; that look, so soft and gentle, that always managed to melt her resolve. But she was prepared for that look, and she squeezed the glove a little tighter in her palms.
"Yesterday helped me make up my mind," she said.
"There's a Hogsmeade weekend next week. How about you and I go together?" His thumbs caressed her hand and he leaned his face close to hers. "We'll take it easy, talk a lot, and figure things out."
She cast about in her mind for something to tell him. Anything that would help her to hold her ground. "I have other plans."
"Don't you think this is more important?"
"I'm going with Sirius Black." Lily blurted it out before she really thought though what she was saying, and she cringed when Richard stood and stepped away from her. His brows knitted together and she saw him blink several times as he stared at her and then looked away. "Please don't be angry," Lily whispered.
"You two have been seeing each other behind my back all along, haven't you?"
She shook her head. "It's not like that."
"My friends are always coming to me with rumours they pick up." He massaged the back of his neck and tuned away from her. "People would say they'd seen you two alone together – in the corridor, by the lake – but I would just dismiss them. I trusted you. But I was wrong, wasn't I."
"No, Richard." Lily twisted the glove again and stood, tears welling in her eyes.
"And then a couple of weeks ago I heard that a kid caught him with a girl in his dormitory." He spun to face her. "Was that you?"
"It's not what you're thinking."
"Let's lay it on the table then, shall we?" Crossing his arms over his chest, Richard looked Lily square in her eyes. "Have you ever cheated on me, Lily?"
"Yes." She just couldn't bring herself to lie to him again.
His eyes widened a little, just enough that Lily could see the pain she had caused as his last hope was dashed underfoot. Richard turned away from her and leaned his forehead against the wall while Lily cried, twisting the glove in her hands. The silence between them felt unbearable, suffocating.
"You were right." He rubbed the back of his neck and straightened up. "This isn't working." Richard wouldn't look her in the face.
Hours later, Lily lay curled up with Georgina amid the tear-stained sheets of her bed. They'd talked, cried, and wallowed in that particular misery which is exclusive to seventeen year old girls everywhere who have just broken up with a boy whom they felt a great deal for. Georgina had fallen asleep a little while before, but Lily lay awake, staring into the black nothingness of her curtained bed. It was as she lay there, listening to the soft sounds of Georgina's steady breathing, that Lily came to a painful conclusion: she was ashamed of herself. She had gone to meet Richard full of contempt for his behaviour. She had left him full of contempt for herself. All he had done was act like a boy. Lily, on the other hand, not only had been unfaithful to Richard, but in the end she had been unkind to him in every way, not even affording him the simple courtesy of the truth. He deserved better than that.
The following evening, Monday, Lily sat in the Gryffindor common room, scrunched up at one end of a big red sofa. Georgina was serving a detention with Professor McGonagall, having talked out of turn one too many times during the previous week and, without her friend to shield her, Lily had been driven out of the dormitory by far too many painful inquiries from her dorm mates. Her Potions text lay open in her lap, but she wasn't reading it. Her head was too full with visions of Richard's hurting face, his avoidance of her gaze throughout the day, curious looks from classmates, and, of course, her own burning shame.
A familiar voice said her name and Lily looked up to see James and Sirius ambling towards her. Sirius vaulted the back of the sofa, landing beside Lily with a forceful thump, smiling with glee. James walked around and sat on the floor in front of the sofa, on the bearskin rug.
Sirius stretched his arm around Lily's back. "I've never been so pleased," he said, "about having a bloke tell me off for stealing his girl."
Lily groaned and covered her face. Her mortification was now complete. "I'm sorry," she whispered through her fingers. "I'm really, really sorry. I don't know what I was thinking."
"I don't either," he said, and squeezed her shoulder, "but I don't mind in the least. Want to find an empty classroom with me, for a good-night snog?" He winked, and Lily groaned again, pushing his arm off of her shoulders.
James sat in front of them with a calm, bemused look on his face, and Lily had the distinct impression that he was guarding his mind with care. She wondered what he thought about the circumstances, and was glad that she hadn't brought his name into the conversation with Richard – that would have been more embarrassing than she could bear.
"Just curious, hon," Sirius said, "but what exactly did you tell Bowman to set him off like that? I was a touch confused while he read me the riot act."
"I told him we were going to Hogsmeade next weekend," Lily said with a weak voice. "I wanted to get him off my back, and I didn't think you'd mind, but then it backfired and he got the wrong idea, and…ugh!" She covered her face again and dug her fingers into her eyes to stop a fresh wave of tears.
"I wish I could take you," he said. "That would be brilliant, but Sara's already agreed to go with me."
Lily looked up and forced a smile. "Good for you, Sirius. I knew she would come around eventually."
"Did you?" He lifted an eyebrow, curious, and Lily nodded.
"You're all she talks about in the dormitory. Sirius this, Sirius that. She's a bit obsessed, actually."
Sirius' grin broadened into a full smile. "Lily Evans, I love your big mouth." And with that, he grabbed her by the sides of her head and gave her a loud, wet kiss in the middle of her forehead. "And now you can tell Bowman I've kissed you, too."
Lily wiped her forehead with the back of her hand while her face flooded with heat. She couldn't help but cast a tentative glance at James, who was inspecting his shoelace.
"If you'll excuse me," Sirius said, "I see my sweetly obsessed Sara sitting on the other side of the room." He rose and strolled away, throwing Lily a wink over his shoulder as he went.
James looked up at last. "Sorry about him. He gets a little excited and doesn't think sometimes."
"I understand." Lily had the same problem. She flipped the unread page of her textbook and avoided James' eye, wishing that Sirius hadn't felt compelled to remind them of their untoward hospital room snog. She'd been trying to rid her mind of it ever since it had happened, but the memory of his touch kept floating to the forefront of her mind, insistent. She cast about for something to distract her, some change of subject that wouldn't be so embarrassing. It felt hopeless, though, and just when she was about to flee, James spoke up.
"Remus thinks that Georgina is mad at him." James said this in an off-hand way, as if just trying to redirect the conversation, but Lily suspected that he was really fishing for an explanation as well.
Lily pursed her mouth for a moment, debating what to tell him, knowing that it would be repeated to Remus right away. The fact was that Georgina was furious with Remus. He might as well know it for certain. "She is."
He seemed to have expected that answer. "How come?"
"Because he's started paying attention to her."
James lifted his chin as if he was going to nod, but paused and frowned. "Wait…what?"
Sometimes a girl had to wonder how it was that boys even survived. They acted like that had no intuition whatsoever. "He never paid any proper attention to her until she was with somebody else," Lily explained. "It's irritating."
"So he was a bit of an idiot," James said, returning his attention to his shoelace. "He's just hoping for another chance with her."
Shrugging, Lily turned another unread page in her book. "But it's too late."
James sat up a little straighter at that. "You're saying that since he blew it the first time he doesn't get another chance?"
"Why should he?"
"Maybe he's grown up a little bit."
"How is she supposed to know that?" Frowning a bit, Lily drew her book a bit closer on her lap.
"She could try paying a little more attention to him herself. Maybe she'll see he's not quite the idiot he used to be."
"She pays him a lot more attention than he probably realises."
"Does she really?" James said this with such earnestness and warmth, looking her in the eye and leaning forward some, that Lily felt the heat rise in to her face.
"Are we still talking about Remus?" she asked.
In an instant, James directed his attention back to his untied shoelace. "Who else?" Chipping a bit of mud from his shoe, James flicked it into the fire. "Is Georgina going to Hogsmeade with Parsons next weekend?" he asked.
"Look. I don't know if you're doing anything, but you're welcome to go over with me and Remus if you like." James was avoiding her eye. "Sirius and Peter will both be off with dates, so we could use somebody to liven things up."
"That sounds nice."
At last James looked at her. His lips tightened and his Adam's apple bobbed once as he stared. "Do you mean you'll come?" His voice was a bit higher than normal, and Lily wanted to smile at his obvious surprise.
She shrugged and picked at the corner of her book. "I don't know how lively I'll be, but sure, if you still want me."
James stared at her for along moment, before he lowered his eyes again. "I do," he said, his voice soft.
What followed was a bit of an uncomfortable pause, at least on Lily's part. James' earnest reaction told her quite a lot more than he probably intended. It told her that perhaps he hadn't moved past that kiss they'd shared any more than she had. And Merlin knew she'd tried. They hadn't talked about it, of course. They hadn't even come close. Lily had remembered it though – many times. And now, not twenty four hours after breaking up with Richard, here she was planning a quasi date with James.
"Hey." Lily jumped a little when James spoke, drawing her out of her reverie. His eyes were still trained on his shoe. "I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry about Bowman." He glanced up, but looked away again. "I mean, I can tell you're upset about it." James flicked another bit of mud from his shoe and into the fire. "He's an idiot to let you go."
"Thanks." Lily sucked hard on her teeth and smoothed a palm over page one hundred and thirty two of her text book. "It was time, really," she said. "I mean, it was good while it lasted, but it was time. Especially after that thing in the library. I knew after that."
Knowing something, however, understanding even, is not the same as feeling good about it. And Lily, knowing that breaking up with Richard was the best thing to do, couldn't help but feel rather miserable. He had been an important part of her life; she'd given so much of herself to him that, with him gone, she felt a suffocating void within herself, a void laced with failure and pain. But she had made the right choice. She had. She'd been telling herself so all day. It just didn't make her choice any less painful.
"But anyhow," Lily said, raising her voice in an attempt to sound cheerful, "I've got too much to do to worry about gits like Richard. Between NEWTS coming up and keeping the Prefects together, plus all the extra research I've been doing with Georgina…" Lily trailed off, realising that none of those things were going to balm her battered heart, nor would they soothe her conscience.
"How is that research coming?" James asked. "Did you ever find out anything useful about that liver that was stolen?"
Lily breathed a small sigh of relief. This was a much more comfortable topic of conversation, and she blessed James for his compassion. "Not enough," she told him. "Kappas' organs are well suited to Dark Magic, since Kappas drink human blood, but it isn't easy to find much information about that sort of thing without arousing suspicion." The dirty looks that Madam Pince had given her while she was nosing through the restricted section still gave Lily chills. "The purity seemed to be important, too, but we haven't found much on that."
Frowning, James ruffled his hair. "Purity is usually linked to really powerful sorts of potions, isn't it?"
"Not so much. The potions we found that called for a pure liver, were really innocuous stuff. Fat-trimming and fire-repelling and that sort of thing."
"Fire repelling? Seems like that could be used for something sinister."
"That one takes too long to make. You've got to ripen the fire for over a thousand years first, and it's protective rather than dangerous." She sighed and massaged her temples. "I feel like I've been going around in circles with this."
"Maybe it's less complicated than you think," James said.
Lily continued the tiny circles over her temples, wondering how in the world it could be less complicated. This was Voldemort, they were talking about. "What do you mean?"
"Sometimes I think that You-Know-Who just enjoys killing people. There doesn't have to be anything complicated about that. Maybe you're looking too hard and the answer is right under your nose."
"Maybe. Have you had any luck keeping an eye on Snape?"
"Nah. Whatever he was up to, his part is done. You haven't had anymore run-ins with him since the holidays, have you?"
She shook her head. "How about you?"
"Just the usual random hexing and that sort of thing," he told her. "Appearances have to be kept up." James forced a little smile. "He keeps making insinuations about what happened in Knockturn Alley, though. As if I need reminding."
"I'm sorry, James."
"It wouldn't be so bad, but on top of everything I lost my Invisibility Cloak somewhere along the way."
"Oh, but I still have it."
"You have it?" All of the sudden James was quite alert, and he sprang from the floor to sit beside her on the sofa.
Lily's eyes widened at his energy. "Well, yes. You left it with me."
James blew out a long breath, puffing out his cheeks and closing his eyes as he leaned against the armrest behind him. He slid his hands into his hair to massage his scalp for a moment, and when at last he opened his eyes, a relieved smile spread across his face. "You have no idea how glad I am to hear that. I thought for sure it was a goner."
"I'm sorry." Lily felt horrible. "I should have mentioned it before. It's just I wanted to fix it before I brought it back to you."
The smile faded from his face. "What's wrong with it?"
"It got ripped where Snape cursed me." She rubbed her arm, where she'd been injured. "I've been trying, but it doesn't want to mend easily." Wasn't that just the way things always went for her, though? She wanted to do something to help James, even if it was as small as mending his cloak, but no matter how hard she tried to help, she never seemed to do any good.
"It takes a long time is all," James told her. "You just have to keep at it and then, when you think it's never going to piece together, it just seems to fix itself."
Whenever Lily held the Invisibility cloak in her hands, it always seemed to move and flow as though alive. She had a killer mending spell, but it felt useless against the magical fabric. It occurred to Lily that the heart was much the same way. There was no magic cure for heartache either but, with constant attention, it seemed to mend on its own.
"I can fix it," James said. "You can bring it back whenever."
"I want to do it, if you don't mind." Meeting his eye, Lily grinned a tight lipped smile. James smiled a bit in return and nodded. He stood and stretched his arms over his head, scratching at the back of his head.
"I think I'm going to head upstairs for the night." Climbing to his feet, James picked up his bag from where he'd dropped it on the rug. "Oh, I almost forgot. I think this is yours." James pulled a Transfiguration book out of his bag and held it out to Lily. "You left it in the classroom."
"Thank you! I've been looking all over for that."
James smiled as she took it from him, and ruffled his hair one more time. "Night, Lily," he said, and made his way towards the door to the boys' dormitory, waving once before he disappeared into the staircase.
Lily turned her attention to the book, hoping that her notes from the morning's lesson were still tucked inside. When she opened the cover, however, a large belching sound issued from it, reverberating throughout the room. Lily face filled with heat as everyone in the common room snickered, turning to look at her. It was then that the boys' dormitory door opened again. James' smiling face leaned out to catch Lily's eye, and he winked once, before vanishing again into the staircase.
Author's Note: Sorry it took so long, but I hope you like it!