Author's Notes: I could spend a million years apologizing—yet again—for my lateness, but I really think you have all come to expect it, so I'm not going to dwell and will simply say thank you for being patient. Here is chapter eighteen—breaking records in long-ness, which seriously makes me wonder how I was ever even considering extending it. Still, I hope you enjoy it. Much happens, much is explained, much is begun…basics. A million thanks go to my two wondrous betas, Andie and Ben, who wielded (or framed) their cutting battle axes and fearlessly muddled through all four-part-sagas of this chapter. And, as always, to every single person who still cares to read this story. I don't know why you do it, but I can't tell you how much it means. Enjoy. =)
"If you're a young Mafia gangster out on your first date, I bet it's real embarrassing if someone tries to kill you."
Later, BEFORE DATE, Still in the Room of Requirement
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 203
Ten Things To Remember As I Prepare To Embark Upon The Amos Date (Which I Am Very Excited About, Despite What It May Presently Seem Like...Remember?)
1) Amos is a darling fellow. Really, he is. The boy has never given me reason to think that he'll be anything other than perfectly lovely today...er, well, other than that extreme awkwardness with Julie Little, I mean. Oh, and that time with the Never Healing Ankle when he and James were playing tug-of-war with my mangled body. And his Quidditch moodiness and mad mates. But other than those tiny, miniscule things, not a single reason!
2) Only the worst sort of witch goes back on her word and rescinds her Hogsmeade agreement on the very day it's set to commence. Even a pathologically lying one. It just isn't done.
3) Who has been the absolute worst at understanding her own stupid feelings? Yeah, that would be me. So I shouldn't go jumping to any conclusions. I mean, they're probably wrong, anyway. Probably.
4) Leveling the playing field. Very important. Let's not forget that.
5) It's a beautiful day! In October! How often does that happen, hm? It's probably some sort of sign. Like a message from above or something. Therefore, it is my responsibility—nay, my obligation!—to take full advantage of that. Yes, indeed!
6) Hogsmeade dates—no matter whom with—are nevertheless an opportunity to make yourself more attractive than you naturally are. You get to dress up—I love to dress up. Even for people who I may not exactly be feeling 100% attracted to right now. That's so not the point. It's just not.
7) Stupidity is a raging epidemic. That's always worth remembering.
8) I need to get out of this room.
9) I need to stop thinking.
10) James Potter is a stupid, prattish, no-good, note-leaving, high-handed, bastard wizard.
T-Minus: Two hours until DATE.
A Few Minutes Later, Still BEFORE DATE, Still RoR
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 203
So...say you want to set something on fire, right?
(And I'm not talking a little fire here. I'm talking big—like, really ablaze, big. Total conflagration. Ash and cinders and devastation, etc. etc.)
Would the Room of Requirement—seeing as the said something(s) whose fiery fates are in need of being met happen to be of the flower and parchment variety, and are therefore highly flammable—prevent itself from catching on fire, as well? You know, because I require it to? Because I'd rather not burn down the entire castle along with these other crude, cruel, miserable things?
It's an important question, I think.
This place should really have some sort of manual.
T-Minus: One hour and fifty-four minutes until DATE.
Minutes+, Still BEFORE DATE, RoR
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 203
It's because there's no manual, of course.
Why I'm not starting up Fiery Hell Location Two, I mean. It's because there's no manual and I'm thinking Dumbledore likes his school just the way it is. Otherwise, I'd be having myself a burning party right now. A big, happy, rose-and-parchment-induced burning party.
T-Minus: One hour and fifty-one minutes until DATE.
More Minutes, Still BEFORE DATE, RoR
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 206
Observation #204) What is the point of lying to yourself when you know you're lying to yourself? Yeah, that would be none. Zero point. Negative point. Not-even-existent point.
Observation #205) The opposite of setting things on fire is apparently no longer simply not setting these things on fire. The process now also includes lying stupidly on some aforementioned stupid, prattish, no-good, note-leaving, high-handed bastard wizard's bed, tracing his bastardly handwriting with your now-traitorous fingertips and mooning incessantly over a clipping of his stupid, illegitimate shrubbery. Really, who knew?
Observation #206) I am sick. Sick.
T-Minus: One hour and forty-nine minutes until DATE.
Minutes, Still BEFORE DATE, Still RoR
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 206
I seriously have to get out of here.
This is not healthy.
Not healthy at all.
T-Minus: One hour and forty-seven minutes until DATE.
Minutes, Still BEFORE DATE, 7th Year Girls' Dormitory
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 207
"I'm not a slag, I just fell asleep!"
This was the announcement with which I accompanied my prodigal return back to the 7th-Year Girls' Dormitory, twenty minutes after my failed attempt at embracing pyromania and the following result of me pacing about the Room of Requirement for as long as was physically/emotionally/chronologically possible. I was practically panting with exertion as I stormed through the dormitory door, something that probably should have been identified as panic rushing through my veins (though I certainly wasn't in any mood to be classifying it as such), just trying not to completely hyperventilate.
I stood there, leaning against the open door, gasping like the moron that I am, reveling once more in the pathetic, idiotic situations that are my life.
Honestly. Why do I even bother going on? Does anyone know?
My insanity was met with varying reactions. From their huddled positions on top of Carrie's bed, Saunders and Carrie Lloyd stared at me with equal looks of disdain and hilarity, both expressions so utterly ridiculous that, had I not been in complete panic mode, I may have managed to laugh a bit. Gracie was standing by herself in front of our closet, three possible tops hanging from wire hangers around her neck. She was grinning stupidly at me. Emma was nowhere to be seen.
"I'm sure," Saunders scoffed.
"Lovely," Carrie giggled.
"Get over here, my pet," Grace said.
I felt myself grow a ridiculously obvious shade of red as I rushed over to Grace, ignoring Saunders and Carrie's silent glaring and less-than-silent cackling, focusing instead on simply making it to the other side of the room without further disaster. Grace had turned back to the closet mirror and appeared to be seriously contemplating a purple top, efficiently ignoring me and my hyperventilating.
"That was a lie," I whispered quickly, just as soon as I'd reached her. I made sure to keep my voice low enough that Glaring Git and Cackling Coot couldn't hear. "It was a big, fat lie, Gracie. I was a slag—the biggest slag in the entire world. All previous slags are now bowing down to me and my slaggishness!"
Grace didn't react. In fact, the girl didn't so much as flinch. For Merlin's sake, she didn't even bother looking at me.
Did she not hear me?
I was a slag!
"I know," was all she finally said, pulling the hanger with the purple top over her head and tossing it aside. A familiar green top took its place from underneath.
I stared at her.
"You know?" I sputtered dumbly, grappling for words. "What do you mean 'you know'? How could you know? I've only just told you!"
"How do you think I know?" she asked mysteriously, intently considering the green top now. She finally turned to me and I thought she might actually care to elaborate on that before I had to beat it out of her, but all she said was, "What do you think of this? My colour, yeah?"
She was asking me about clothes.
A green top had trumped my slaggish night.
Tell me, in what sort of world is that okay?
"I think it's mine," I snapped, snatching the shirt off the hanger, wondering just what in the hell I'd done to deserve such crap mates. Honestly. "Can we focus for just one second here, please? I tell you that I've been a slag, and you ask me how you look in my top. Am I the only one seeing the problem here?!"
"Goodness, Lil." Grace turned back to the mirror, shooting me a look over her shoulder. "You know, for someone who has so recently been involved in a slaggish affair, you sure are grumpy this morning."
I was going to kill her.
A few tugs on those stupid hangers, that's all it'd take.
No one would miss her.
"Grace." I hissed her name through clenched teeth, giving her my dirtiest, don't-mess-with-me-right-now-lady look. But Grace—as usual—only rolled her eyes, rather unfazed by my looks of dangerous fury.
"Cool your heels, Slaggy Sue." She gave me a stupid grin as I took a quick swipe at her, already planning just which hanger I'd use to take her down. Grace merely hopped out of the way, cackling like a mad loon. "Firstly," she said, taking a hasty step closer to me and snatching the green top back from my hand, then making a strategic retreat. "Share, share, that's fair. You don't even like this top. There's no need to be selfish. And secondly..." She paused, throwing me a pointed look. "How do you think I know? Or have you already forgotten that every Slaggy Sue needs a Slaggy Stu?"
What the...Slaggy Stu?
Who the hell—
No, he...he wouldn't. He wouldn't.
I felt my face fall as my heart did a little plummet inside of my chest, dropping down to my toes. I couldn't believe it. Last night...last night had been private. Why would James have told...why would he...
I suddenly felt like crying.
Grace must have seen my distress because she instantly jumped up, quick to explain.
"Oh, Merlin, no, Lil." She shook her head frantically at me, rushing closer. "It wasn't like that—James didn't tell me anything."
Something inside my chest hitched.
"Hell no," Grace scoffed, waving it off with her hand. She shot me a little smile. "Not that I didn't try to get it out of him, of course—I did. But he didn't give me rubbish."
My eyebrows furrowed, even as my heart continued to skip a few beats. "But if he didn't tell you anything," I started slowly, "why did you say...?"
Grace snorted. "Why?" she asked. "Why do you think, Lil? The poor sod didn't need to say anything. The bloke stumbled into the Common Room looking like he'd just been hit with a some sort of rather stunning Cheering Charm or something."
Grace mimicked this, walking a bit like a zombie, with the biggest, stupidest grin on her face. As she wobbled about, I let out a small laugh. She stopped then, shooting me a pointed look.
"I may not be the brightest star in the galaxy," she said flatly, "but even I could figure that one out."
I nodded slowly, even as I squirmed uncomfortably in place, hating how much the pressure in my chest eased at Grace's explanation, how relieved I was that James hadn't said anything. And...well, I suppose the image of him stumbling about all Cheer-Stunned wasn't exactly disheartening, either. You know, because it's good to know that I hadn't been the only one standing dazed against the wall after all our slaggish business and everything. Even though James was technically walking around. But whatever. Still.
"Lily?" Grace prodded, when I didn't say anything. "All right?"
I snapped out of my stupid thoughts, reminding myself that this—two hours before my Amos Date—was so not the time to be dwelling on Zombie-Grinning. But even as I felt myself nodding again and heard my head yelling at me to stop all this, my mouth was still somehow continuing on with it, blurting out, "You're assuming. That could've had nothing to do with me."
Which really shouldn't have been so shocking. My mouth, I mean. Considering its traitorous nature and all.
Grace merely cocked an eyebrow at me, not buying that for a second. "Come on, Lily," she said. "He was with you."
"That's assuming, as well."
"Actually, that one wasn't."
I tossed her a look. "I'm pretty certain that you weren't there to clarify, Gracie."
There was no debating with that—I'm about one-thousand percent certain that James and I were the only ones in that room last night—but regardless, Grace's face still suddenly broke out into a rather sneaky grin.
"Be that as it may," she started slowly, her grin only growing wider as the seconds wore on. I practically gulped. "You've forgotten one thing, mate-o-mine...how do you think James knew where you were in the first place?"
"Grace Reynolds," I breathed, my eyes narrowing dangerously. "You didn't."
Grace flounced smugly in place, a satisfied smirk settling on her mouth.
"Lily Evans," she said sweetly. "You've been intervened upon."
Oh my god.
Oh my god.
"Grace!" I shouted, not caring any longer if the Prat Twins or James himself or even my future mates in Guam heard me now—I was too incensed. "How could you...the day before Hogsmeade? How...why...for Merlin's sake, couldn't you have waited for a bit more of an opportune moment?!"
"Excuse me," Grace replied, practically reeking of smugness now. She held up a hand as if that would stop me if I chose to lunge for her jugular (which, um, yeah, it so wouldn't). "Judging by the 'I'm-the-biggest-slag-in-the-world' comments, I'd say my timing was rather perfect, thank you very much."
I huffed loudly in exasperation, but Grace merely cackled some more, amusing only herself with her stupid logic that wasn't even logic because it made no sense. I gave her my worst sort of glare, crossing my arms over my chest so that I wouldn't do her bodily harm and end up in Azkaban for life.
"You just made everything worse, you meddling minx!" I seethed, letting her see how furious I was. Grace only rolled her eyes. I threw my hands up in frustration. "What happened to our Factory Workers' solidarity, hm, Gracie? Is there no trust left in this world?"
Grace shrugged. "I told you you were next."
It's dirty. And cold. And not happy. You don't want to spend the rest of your life there, remember?
Oh, but it was tempting.
It was close. I could very well have killed her right then and there and not thought anything of it. But just as I was fighting off the rather prominent urge to keep my fingers from happily wrapping around Grace's stupid little neck, a momentary reprieve—for the murderer and for the victim, I suppose—came in the form of the sound of the dormitory door opening. Grace and I both turned to see Emma stepping into the room, a small scowl settled deeply upon her face. However, her scowl wasn't what sent my stomach plummeting down to the dungeons as soon as I saw her. What actually had me feeling quite like I would've liked to empty out the entire contents of my stomach right then and there were the two rather familiar objects that were residing in each of Emma's hands.
Oh, bloody hell.
Bloody fucking flistering hell.
"Lily," Emma announced, her voice very dry. "I have a delivery for you."
From behind me, Grace burst out laughing.
I swallowed. Very, very hard.
Bugger life sentences. Being warm, clean and sane was vastly overrated, anyway.
I was going to kill him.
"I was told to give these to you directly," is what Emma said, stepping carefully over to the closet where Grace and I were still standing. She handed me the first object—a familiar red rose, identical to the one that I presently had stashed away in my rucksack—with little flourish. The second object—an equally familiar red and gold scarf—Emma tossed about my neck. "I asked if there was a message I was supposed to be passing along with them," she went on, "but was told that there was none. Apparently you 'already have your orders for the day.'"
I blushed furiously.
"Orders?" Grace repeated, cocking a questioning eyebrow at me. "Are you going on a date, or executing strategic warfare?"
I shot her a withering look. "Who knows?" I bit out. "No thanks to you."
As Grace merely grinned in an overly satisfied way, Emma took another few steps closer, her face showing conflicting emotions as she stared at me.
"Lil," she said, very slowly. "Forgetting for a moment that I am still incredibly cross with you for spending the entirety of yesterday pelting me with parchment envelopes..." She paused, a reluctantly sympathetic expression crossing over her face. Her eyes narrowed as she stared at me. "What in the world happened last night?"
Emma's question registered, but mostly caused some more fiercely attractive blushing on my part. I almost wanted to laugh. What had happened? What had happened? What hadn't happened? Were there even any words for the madness that had occurred inside of that stupid room? I looked down at the rose in my hand—another rose, I reminded myself, thinking then of that ruddy note and what exactly my 'orders for the day' were. It was all so ridiculous, the whole messy situation. I fingered the scarf—the scarf that, I then realised, James must have grabbed with this very intention in mind when he'd come back in to tack up that stupid note, seeing as he certainly hadn't been in any condition to grab it the first time he'd left. I tried not to think too much about that condition, but it was becoming increasingly difficult not to.
I gulped audibly, looking past Emma's uncomfortably honest face and intending to stare blankly at a wall until I could properly control the rush of words that were dying to come out of my mouth. Instead, I found my gaze suddenly catching Elisabeth Saunders's. My eyes locked with hers. I watched silently as her hard eyes flickered quickly from my face to James's scarf (which was still hanging limply around my neck), then back again.
I did not need this. So did not need this.
Moving quickly, I snapped the offending object from around my shoulders, turning swiftly and bunching the scarf up into a small ball as I held it plastered against my chest, hidden away from view. Grace and Emma both shot me confused looks, but I mostly ignored them. I could still feel Saunders's eyes burning holes in my back. When I finally spoke, my voice was softer, conscious now of those who could be—would be—listening.
"Later," I whispered, suddenly extremely tired as my gaze skipped from Grace to Emma, then down to the floor. I sighed heavily, my head beginning to pound. "I don't want...it's not something I want overheard. Plus, if I start talking about it now I don't...Merlin, I don't know if I'll be able to force myself to go today."
The admission was—horribly, pathetically—true, and its recognition suddenly had me feeling a bit sickened. Grace, on the other hand, was looking quite pleased, while Emma merely looked shocked.
"Merlin," she breathed. "It's as serious as all that?"
If only you knew.
I really didn't see how I could possibly answer that without bursting into tears and letting the whole sordid tale slip out, so I settled for simply nodding my head miserably, letting that simple action explain the extent to which my pathetic life had fallen. Emma made a sympathetic sound.
"Well," she said, letting out a small breath. "Everything will...work out, I'm sure."
Oh, don't make me laugh.
Don't make me laugh.
T-Minus: One hour and twenty-one minutes until DATE
Later, Still BEFORE DATE, 7th Year Girls' Dormitory
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 207
Lily Evans's Guide On What To Wear On A Date That She Is Increasingly Getting Tired Of Pretending She Has Any Interest In Going On (Despite Reviewing Her 10 Important Reminders List Several Times)
1) The PROPER Top
Normally for an auspicious occasion such as a date with Amos Diggory, I would be in frantic search for the PERFECT TOP—one that would make me look all pleasantly slimmed and happily endowed and everything wonderful like that. It's expected. It's normal. But now...well, today isn't exactly normal, is it? So I'm thinking that all this 'perfect' business might not be the best of ideas, really. I mean, there's no need for any extra attempts at enticement, is there? This date isn't about that. It's about seeing if there are any true feelings involved without all that rubbish. Amos should fancy me without bulge-protection and extra breast-paddage. He should be looking inside. Obviously.
Therefore, as a result of this brilliant line of logic, instead of searching for the PERFECT top, I am alternatively on a search for the PROPER top. The usual three Perfect Tops—the green jumper, the slaggish camisole, the simple white—just won't do. So here in their places we have three new choices. Three perfectly proper tops.
1) My maroon jumper, the one that's super comfortable, but clashes rather formidably with my hair (though does—just to throw this out there—go rather well with a Gryffindor scarf. Any Gryffindor scarf. Mine or otherwise. If I were so inclined to wear one. Which I'm not. Probably).
2) My blue, flowy top that always manages to hide my too-much-rice condition, but unfortunately also manages to make my mammo-esque mates appear practically non-existent.
3) My green top that, yes, I perhaps don't even like, but which Grace has so rudely set her sights upon, and whose wearage would allow me to make Gracie miserable, which she rightly deserves after her meddling stunt.
So. Decisions, decisions.
Well...oh, all right, let's just knock off number three. I really do hate that top. I look like an ugly turtle in it. And Grace would probably start wailing in despair if I snatched it from her. Even though I think she deserves a bit of agony, I suppose I'm just not that spiteful. Not yet, anyway. And while I am still rather adamant about not playing up my feminine wiles, I don't want to look like a man, either, so I suppose I can toss aside top #2, as well. Which leaves us with...top #1.
2) The Proper Trousers
All right. This one's a bit more difficult.
I mean, I suppose I could rummage around in my closet, searching for a pair of trousers or a skirt or some sort of bottom-oriented piece of clothing that will be all proper and not perfect and whatnot...but that would take a lot of effort. More effort than I'm really willing to put in, actually. And while I know that wearing my super-special-bum-magnifying jeans is rather the definition of unnecessary enticement...well, I don't want to look like a complete hag, either, now do I? No, of course I don't. Plus, those jeans go so well with Proper Top #1. Therefore—in this case—it seems that perfect is proper.
Or perfect is more practical, anyway, which is practically the same thing.
3) The Proper Shoes: To Slag or Not to Slag?
So here's the dilemma:
Ever since Emma unearthed the Slaggy Boots from their dark lair at the back of the closet during Hurricane Letter, Gracie has been eyeing them like a savage beast on the prowl for some innocent prey. Seriously. She's been practically salivating. I know for a very certain fact that if I choose not to wear my previous slag boots today, they will inevitably end up on Grace's overly large feet. And if that happens, I have very little doubt that I will never see my Slaggy Boots in one piece again. I am not kidding. Millions of dirty, damaged pieces are all that will be left of my precious Slaggy Boots. She'd be all, "Oh, Lil, I don't know how I slipped in that giant mud puddle and how that alligator ended up in there, chomping away at my feet. Oops!", and I'd be all "My boots!" and she'd be all, "Let's get dinner, yeah?"
Seriously. That would be the conversation.
The Slaggy Boots have been hidden away for a reason—they are, as their name states, pretty much the epitome of Slag—and I know that I would much rather be wearing my practical, comfortable trainers, not only because they won't give me blisters, but because they are definitely a whole lot more un-enticing than the provocative Slaggy Boots, but...well, sometimes a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do. If this is the only way to save them from a gruesome end at the hands of Grace Reynolds, then I will sacrifice myself and my comfort and possibly my enticement scheme for their sake. I'm really left with no other choice.
Besides, if there was any day for me to be wearing my SLAG boots...
That would be today.
4) Accessories: A Girl's Best Friend...or Enemy?
Any witch worth a single Sickle knows that the proper accessories can make or break an ensemble. It's these simple, little additions—earrings, a bracelet, a necklace, a...different sort of scrap of material hanging about your neck—that really make a bloke go, "Hmm. Yum," or "Ugh. Hag." It's scientifically proven. It's practically a law of nature. There is no contesting the Law of the Accessories in any way, shape, or form. Seeing such, I think it would be utterly foolish of me not to take advantage of the many perks that accessories can bring to my life.
Except...well, I've never really been much of a jewelry person. I mean, all that tingling and clacking when you move—yeah, not really my thing. And seeing as my ensemble is pretty heavy already, it probably couldn't afford any add-ons, anyway.
But it is maroon.
My jumper, I mean. It's a lovely shade of maroon that really is quite Gryffindor-like. And seeing as I'm going out with a Hufflepuff, it's really the least I can do to represent my people. You know, because they might think I'm abandoning them or something. Which I'm not. I don't even want to go. But that's not the point. The point is that it is my Gryffindor duty to represent my house and the only way to do that is to adorn myself with proper Gryffindor paraphernalia. And I could, I suppose, wear something of my own...but Grace is still blocking the closet. All of my proper Gryffindor paraphernalia is in the closet. And who knows when she's going to get around to moving from the mirror now that I've finally relented and gave her permission to wear the ugly green top. That's just her way. She's a mirror hog.
So I suppose I'll just have to work with what I have.
If you know what I mean.
The Proper Top: Check.
The Proper Trousers: Check.
The Proper Shoes: Check.
The Proper Accessories: Check.
Total Ensemble Rating: Very proper...sort of.
T-Minus: One hour and three minutes until DATE
Later Later, Still BEFORE DATE, 7th Year Girls' Dormitory
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 207
Oh, god, an hour.
I still have an entire hour.
How the bloody stinking sodding hell am I supposed to last another hour?
T-Minus: One hour until DATE
Minutes Later, Still BEFORE DATE, 7th Year Girls' Dormitory
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 207
A paper bag.
That's what I need—a good, ol' brown paper bag. One of those really sturdy ones, that make breathing oh-so-much-easier.
T-Minus: Fifty-eight minutes until DATE
Seconds, Still BEFORE DATE, 7YGD
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 207
WHY DOES NO ONE HAVE A GOOD OL' BROWN PAPER BAG?!?
WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO DO TO ME?!?!
T-Minus: Fifty-seven minutes until DATE
A Few Minutes Later, Still all the same rubbish
I don't know what any of this 'Observant' bit means.
What are you on, Lily?
Dear Lily's Diary,
Lily is no longer available to verbally (writing-ally?) hyperventilate into you, on account of the fact that we've just drugged her with Calming Draught in order to shut her up. She's presently lying happily prone upon her bed without a brown paper bag, which she was rather adamant about having for some reason or another.
Instead, she's snuggling with James's scarf.
I just thought that was important to add.
Later, Still BEFORE DATE, 7th Year Girls' Dormitory
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 207
I'm leaving for my date.
...maybe I should take one last swig of that Draught. You know, just in case.
T-Minus: ZERO minutes until DATE
Later, AFTER DATE, 7th Year Girls' Dormitory
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 208
A Little Later, After Date, 7th Year Girls' Dormitory
Observant Lily: Day 33
Total Observations: 208
After chugging down the rest of Grace's Calming Draught ("Hey there, champ—you want to be calm, not comatose, remember?"), I can only vaguely recall the sort of dazed sauntering that somehow got me from Gryffindor Tower (with, all right, perhaps a bit of initial steerage from Grace and Emma) down to the Great Hall without any disastrous instances of hyperventilation or drug-induced injury. And while some might say that drugging myself into compliancy wasn't exactly the brightest idea...well, they just don't understand. This wasn't a normal girl-takes-drugs-to-ignore-the-fact-that-she's-possibly-going-on-a-date-with-someone-who-might-be-a-bit-of-a-ponce-despite-what-she-previously-believed-and-oh-yes-a-certain-not-such-a-ponce-wants-to-take-her-instead-but-whoops!-she-said-no-to-him-didn't-she? situation. This was totally different, completely necessary. A girl's got to do what a girl's got to do. Besides, all that really mattered in the end was that I got down there, right? In one piece? And breathing properly? Without a brown paper bag? Clearly some people have lost sight of what's important here. There are far worse things than a little med-induced moral support. I mean, it wasn't as if I was selling the stuff or anything.
Er, not that there was any left to sell, actually.
But whatever. All the rice I eat, I probably needed that extra dose.
Numbers. Psh. Minor technicality.
Anyway, by the time I finally did manage to stumble down the winding and slightly wobbling corridors to the Great Hall, the place was rather crowded—everywhere was rather crowded, actually, despite the fact that it was a Saturday (SleepDay) and a few minutes before nine. It never fails to astound me how Hogsmeade days somehow manage to transform even Hogwarts's most slovenly bums into happy, whistling, early-risers. The entire school is suddenly ready and eager to greet the sun, sickeningly merry and chipper as they go about their ways. And it's not only your normal Hogsmeade Hags that succumb to this. Social Butterflies, Quidditch Fanatics, and Library Hermits alike can all be found wandering about the castle on a Hogsmeade morning, even if they're only there to stand on the sidelines and watch the inevitable drama unfold (which, judging by the shrieky sound of Penny O'Jene's voice coming from the Ravenclaw table, and the sight of an unusually sullen Hyena Boy staring at her helplessly, I'd say was starting right on time).
Oh, Hogsmeade. What joy, what rapture.
I should have been enjoying this—I mean, a Penny/Hyena melodrama? I lived for their pain—but for one reason or another, it just wasn't happening for me. I stood there, leaning silently against the far wall, letting my drugged head settle, and couldn't even muster up enough feeling to care that Penny had just started sobbing and Hyena was shouting, "Deb Hess? I despise Deb Hess! She's a cow, Pen!" as loud as he possibly could. And maybe it was because people who have recently overdosed on Calming Draught can't feel proper emotions, or maybe it was because I had heard a similar row to this one just the other day (though I believe it was Finola Groose then), or maybe it was simply because Deb Hess had just wandered into the hall and it appeared as if this drama was suddenly about to gain some bloodshed and I wasn't really into the whole gore thing, but whatever the case, I just wasn't into it.
Why am I even bothering to lie?
The truth was, I was starting to panic.
Look, I know it was stupid (and rather miraculous, actually, considering how much Calming Draught I'd just downed), but it's the truth. In my own silent and (artificially) calm way, I was standing there like a sad little louse, feeling that ever-present knot of dismay rushing through my stomach and getting ready to jump full-force into panic mode at the slightest provocation. And the thing is, I knew that if I let that happen—if I let myself succumb to the maddening power of the panic—I would definitely not be making it out of the stupid Great Hall. As much as I claim I'm such a worthless sod and as much as I know that this day could end in disaster, I also know that I'm better than that. I'm better than the flighty little bint that I've been acting like. And the only way to prove that I am is to stop being so ridiculous and just go.
Everything was going to be fine.
That's what I kept telling myself as I stood there—everything was going to be fine.
I mean, I knew it wasn't going to be perfect, but I wasn't expecting that. The point of today wasn't perfection. The point was to find out once and for all if Amos and I were meant to be the true and loving soul mates that I had once envisioned us to be. And if we were...well, I'd deal with it. And if we weren't...well, I'd deal with that, as well. I could stand there, watching Penny scream and cry and Hyena Boy cower and apologise, picking every miniscule detail of my upcoming day to bits and pieces until the cows and Deb Hess's came home, but what would that do, hm? Would that change a single bloody thing?
No, I'm quite sure it would not.
So bugger it all. Bugger every stupid thing. I was going to stop being such a coward, I was going to go outside, find Amos, go on my date, and that would be it. Come what may.
Having this sort of resolve made it so much easier to finally detach myself from the wall I'd been letting support my drugged weight for the past few minutes—well, that and the fact that my head had finally stopped making the room slant, of course—and started to walk. Striding past a pack of giggling third-years who were watching the Penny-Hyena-Deb soap escalade (oh, to be young and vapid again!), I quickly made my way towards the front doors, figuring that I had better get myself outside before I lost all traces of courage or my Calming Draught wore off and I ended up dashing into the nearest closet and remaining there for the rest of my petty existence. I didn't think about what I was doing, where I was going...I just walked. That seemed best. Walk.
It was quite nice and pleasantly warm outside when I finally pushed my way through the front doors, though I wasn't entirely certain whether that was due to the unusual October sun or the massive swarms of bodies clustered all about the courtyard. I moved away from the doors with determination, stopping at the top of the steps and lifting my hand to block the glaring sun as my eyes scanned the crowds for Amos's familiar features. As I looked slowly from left to right, I saw a lot of other familiar faces, but not the one that I was searching for. Sighing with frustration—honestly, did he want me to have time to reconsider this?—I started down the steps, figuring that I had done my bit. The ball was in Amos's court now. He could come find me.
"Lily! Hey, Lily!"
I turned at the sound of my name, trying to ignore the breath of relief that slipped through my lips when I saw that it was Marley weaving her way towards me, her blonde head bobbing in between the crowds, instead of my date. She gave me a big smile and a frantic wave as she un-chivalrously shoved people out of her way in her attempts to reach the stairs. I smiled at her mad antics, my first truly natural grin of the morning.
"Hey, there," I greeted her when she finally managed to reach me, leaving a trail of rather disgruntled, teetering students behind her. I switched my gaze from our angry classmates to Marley herself, giving her a quick once-over and noting her Perfect-esque outfit, which had remained in rather miraculously perfect condition despite the slight altercations it had just passed through. "Date?" I asked.
"Potential," Marley answered, grinning jaunty. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and shrugged. "I never commit myself to someone beforehand. It's not safe that way. What if something better comes along, hm? A witch has to keep her options open, you know."
Don't even have a comment for that one.
"That's incredibly wise of you," I somehow got out, chuckling a more-pained-than-amused sort of chuckle as images of someone-who-I-shouldn't-have-been-thinking-about-for-my-sanity's-sake flashed through my head. "Very, very wise."
Merlin, kill me now.
"Yes, I know," Marley agreed, flouncing smugly in place. She gave me a quick once-over, as well, cocking her head questioningly. "What about you?" she asked. "Today's the famous Amos Diggory date, isn't it?"
"Yeah." I couldn't quite bring myself to elaborate more than that in my present state of mind. Marley didn't seem to notice my severe lack of enthusiasm, however.
"Excited?" she asked, obviously expecting an affirmative answer.
"Er." My tongue seemed to be sticking to the roof of my mouth. "Yes?"
Marley's eyebrows instantly shot up.
"Are you asking me or telling me?"
"I just drank my body weight in Calming Draught."
Yeah, she probably didn't need to know that.
But Marley—bless her kind soul—acted quite as if I'd just told her that the weather was particularly pleasant, or that my boots were making my feet ache, rather than the fact that I was an aspiring draught addict.
"Oh," she said simply, nodding. "Right then."
See, this is why I keep her around.
I let out a miserable sort of half-laugh, one that Marley took in with a rather sympathetic grin. I knew she couldn't possibly understand the extent of my problems, couldn't possibly know what had happened last night or what was about to happen today, but...well, looking at her then, it sort of seemed as if maybe she could. Or perhaps it was just my desperation grappling for some sort of lifesaver, anything to hang on to. And like a big, bright buoy in the rampant ocean storm of my life, Marley placed a comforting hand on my shoulder, her fingers coming to rest just beside where James's scarf lay around my neck, and kept me momentarily afloat.
"It's only one day," is what she said, giving me a very kind look. "Witches have been through far worse."
She moved her hand from my shoulder, but didn't drop it back down to her side like I'd expected her to. Instead, she brought it down to playfully give a tug on the end of James's scarf. That jolted me a bit.
"And if things get bad," she joked with a wink, "just look down at your scarf and remember you're a Gryffindor. You know—bravery, courage—all that rot."
As Marley laughed, my desperation took over and the traitorous mouth took advantage.
"It's not my scarf," I blurted out, completely ignoring her supportive spiel and comforting jokes and every other common sense thing I could have said and going straight for sheer masochism instead. Marley stopped laughing. She gave me a confused look.
"Not yours?" She looked suspicious now. "Well, whose is it, then?"
I suddenly seemed to find something utterly fascinating on the ground.
Really. Just fascinating.
"Er." I scratched idly at the back of my down turned head. "Erm..."
"Oh." Marley's exclamation was sudden, her voice piqued. Then it turned lower, amused. "Oh."
Is it sad how utterly apparent I am? To just about everyone?
"Yeah," I sighed softly, lifting my burning cheeks. "Oh."
There was a moment of silence then as Marley seemed to digest this. I didn't know for sure if she knew what in the hell—who in the hell, rather—we were talking about, but that didn't take too much time to clear up. Before long, Marley appeared to have quickly come to terms with the whole thing. In fact, she was looking at me with a decidedly amused expression for someone who very well should have been scratching her head in confusion over my cryptic mutterings.
"Well, then!" she suddenly grinned, her eyebrows wiggling suggestively. "Decided that perhaps some ketchup on your eggs isn't the worse thing in the world, have you, Lily?"
Ketchup on my...
"No!" I answered automatically, feeling the panic start to take over. "No, that's not—I'm not—We're not..."
My voice trailed away, the lie I had sitting on the edge of my tongue suddenly not all that happy to come out. Not for the first time that morning, James and all our slaggish madness from last night came flooding back into my head, replaying without any sort of restriction, causing me to turn what I can only imagine was a lovely shade of crimson. It had all been so easy before, pushing anything I felt for him aside, lying about it to anyone who asked. It shouldn't have been different now, but of course it was. This time yesterday, I could have easily told Marley that James and I were nothing more than mates, that there was nothing there but camaraderie and perhaps a bit of natural bloke-bird tension. But now...
Think of me.
Merlin, it was impossible.
Just so bloody impossible.
I instantly grew cross. I yelled at the James-Inside-My-Head who was grinning like a stupid Zombie Loon and tried to push it all away because—for Merlin's sake, how many times do I have to say it?—this was so not the time. I looked at Marley and tried to force the lies back out, but what I found myself saying instead was something that sounded remarkably like, "Let's just say that I may presently be open-minded to the possibility of the idea of some ketchup and eggs...sort of."
Which just made complete sense.
"All part of a balanced breakfast," Marley grinned.
I really could have strangled her.
"Thanks," I bit off darkly, scowling fiercely as Marley began cracking up at her own stellar wit. Balanced breakfast. Psh. "I don't need this, you know!" I cried, throwing my hands up in frustration. Then muttered, "Trust me, Mr. Balanced Breakfast has more than staked his claim. He doesn't need your help!"
"Staked his claim, eh?" Marley started laughing anew, finding this utterly hilarious. "Does Amos know about all this 'staking' and 'claiming', then?"
Dear, sweet, merciful Merlin.
I let out a large sigh, feeling my head start that ever-present pounding it was so fond of.
This was just not my day.
"Do you think you could get the rumour around to him?" I asked flatly, deciding then that all my attempts at logic were apparently lost on this girl and that I was just better off with that pesky little thing people call the truth. I raised a hand to my throbbing head, suddenly sick of it all. "Then maybe I wouldn't have to go."
"You don't want to?" Marley asked, though she didn't sound nearly as shocked as anyone else who had previously heard this information. Not remotely interested in attempting to lie again, I shook my head. But instead of growing all properly concerned and mate-like, telling me how horrid that was and being all appropriately sympathetic and such, Marley simply grinned even wider and gave me a telling nudge in the side. "Wha-oh!" she cackled. "Way to go, Mr. Balanced Breakfast!"
Really, where do I get these mates?
I nudged her back, rolling my eyes. "Shut up."
"No, really!" Marley cried, still laughing along like a mad fool. "You don't even want to go on your date, Lily—a date that, if I remember correctly, you were most giddy with anticipation over not so long ago." She suddenly started sounding like a proud mum, beaming with satisfaction. "That is brilliant work," she praised proudly, as if James were standing right there next to her and could hear her extolling his fine romantic prowess. "Quick, efficient, brilliant work."
Um, since when did snogging someone into submission turn into a brilliant tactical strategy?
Yeah, how about not?
"I'm so very glad you approve," I bit out sarcastically, really not wanting to get into the whole uh-yeah-brilliant-efficient-not-so-quick-snogging-was-more-like-it debate, considering it probably wouldn't help my case very much. Plus, I shouldn't have been thinking about it in the first place. Snogging is bad. Very, very bad. "I'll be sure to let James know, all right?"
"Right now?" Marley asked.
I threw her a look.
"Of course not right now. I'm going on a date right now, remember?"
"Oh." Marley looked mildly disappointed by this, her shoulders sagging a bit. "That would have been rather romantic, actually—you know, running off just before the date, jumping into his arms, confessing all your secret passion..." She smirked at me. "Are you sure you don't want to?"
I snorted, shaking my head. Though she did have a—
Damn it, no.
(Damn it, yes.)
"I don't know anything anymore," I confessed with a sigh, trying to get that picture out of my head now—all mad dashing Slaggy Boots and arms and hugs and mouths and...ugh. I fiddled idly with the end of James's scarf, looking down and watching as my fingers skimmed through the fringe. "It seems all I've been doing lately is changing my mind."
Marley hummed her acknowledgement.
There was a short silence after that, one in which I let myself wallow for a moment in the vat of self-pity I'd been stirring up but determinedly denying all morning. It felt good, even as I let the desperate feelings rush over me, making my head spin even more than usual. Inside the mix, I heard James and all his stupid babble about thinking of him and finding him and whatever other nonsense he'd spewed. That certainly bothered me, but there was something else bothering me, as well—something I hadn't really stopped and thought about too closely in fear that it would be the final straw that tipped over my delicate balance. Because the thing was...
Bloody hell, what if I actually had a good time today?
What if I actually enjoyed my date with Amos? What if it wasn't over between us? I'd be a big, stupid liar if I said that I was expecting—or perhaps even hoping—that would happen. I could tell myself as much as I wanted that I wouldn't mind it, that I would deal with it if it happened, but then I'd only be lying to myself and that's complete rubbish. The truth was that I was utterly terrified of such a thing. I didn't want to stay like this. I didn't want to be torn between Amos and James anymore. And since I think it's relatively obvious that my attachment to James is...well, let's call it annoyingly sustaining, for lack of a better word, I was pretty certain that nothing could be altered on that front.
Which only left Amos.
And the thing is...I mean, it's not as if I've felt the Amos feeling all that recently, right? I mean, besides that time the other day when I kissed him? But that was under rather odd circumstances—I was slightly delusional. Before that, there's been nothing, not for ages! And I know that that could just be a fluke, that I've been so buried under all my other problems and madnesses that I just haven't had the time to swoon and sigh or something, but...well, I've managed to make enough time to swoon and sigh over stupid Mr. Balanced Breakfast, haven't I? So what does that say?
I don't know. I don't know what that says. All I know is that if Amos got there and all of a sudden my heart started fluttering and my head got all dizzy and the Amos feeling was back, I was in trouble. I was in so much trouble. Trouble that, quite frankly, I'm not sure I could handle for much longer. I mean, I'm not exactly your most emotionally balanced person in the first place. If I have to deal with this romantic war for much longer, who knows what sort of mess I'll become. We're quite lucky I've made it this far! You can't push these things, you know!
I prayed to every higher power I knew that the fates were intelligent enough not to push it. I was damned bloody tired of pushing back.
"So what are you going to do?"
Marley's voice brought me back to the present, snapping me out of my thoughts and silent pity party as she glanced curiously at me, looking properly concerned for perhaps the first time since our conversation began. I stared at her for a second, letting the question register. In the real world, it was a simple enough inquiry. But in my world...
Yeah. Not so much.
"Go, I suppose," I answered quietly, though my voice sounded confused and uncertain, even to my own ears. "I mean, I don't have much of a choice, really. I need to—or at least I think I need to...I mean, it's not really as if I can just..." I moaned. "Oh, I don't know."
Marley looked like she was about to say something, a comforting word that I probably would have appreciated in my moment of utter defeat, but she suddenly stopped mid-first-syllable as something over my shoulder seemed to catch her eye. Her gaze stayed there for a moment before quickly flickering back to mine.
"Well, not to add any unnecessary pressure on it or anything," she said hastily, tossing me a slightly hassled look, "but I'm thinking that you might want to figure that one out soon. Like, now, soon."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because Amos is heading straight for us."
Amos is heading straight for us.
I froze, a jolt of alarm rushing through my body at her words. My throat went instantly dry.
Amos was heading this way.
There was no amount of Calming Draught that could have stopped the catch in my breath at that very second (which is something I probably should have thought about before attempting to drug the reaction out of myself). I wasn't ready—I so wasn't ready—and suddenly all those panicked questions about whether or not I was actually going to enjoy myself were back, running rampant inside my head and making me feel slightly nauseous. I looked at Marley with what I can only imagine was a most terrified expression. In return, I got a more-or-less sympathetic cringe.
My bright, bobbing buoy, it seemed, was suddenly sinking along with me.
Which just bloody figured.
But I had to turn around. As much as I hated it, as panicked as I had suddenly become, the fact remained that I had to do this. I could be as petrified of the outcome as I wanted to be, but that didn't change the fact that in order to...to...well, even forgetting about anything romantic, in order to merely keep the single wisp of sanity that I'm still somehow desperately clinging to, I needed to go on this date. If I didn't—if I ran as far and as fast as I possibly could away from there like I wanted to—this whole thing would never end. I'd be teetering on edge like this forever. I couldn't do that. It wasn't fair to Amos, it wasn't fair to James, and it wasn't fair to me.
This was it. I was doing it. No more excuses. And I know I've said all that before and haven't exactly stayed true to my word, but this time I meant it. And more than that, this time there was no turning back. Here it was. Now or never.
I took a deep breath...and turned.
And there he was.
He was looking to his left when I first saw him, giving a wave to one of his mates as he climbed down the steps towards us. I stared at him, my heart caught in my chest, watching as he continued to walk, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans and looking just as devilishly handsome as I'd always imagined he would on our first date. It was strange and mad and I was sure that if I didn't get air in my lungs soon I would probably collapse, but how could I even think of air when he was walking towards me and I didn't know what to do or what to say or what was to come and then he was suddenly turning his head and his eyes were on mine and then...and then...
And then he smiled.
I knew it as soon as he smiled.
And I know that sounds mad—I know. This was a rather large deal and it seems so ridiculously stupid writing it now and even living it then—we hadn't even left the bloody courtyard, for Merlin's sake!—but it's the truth. It was quick. It was so quick. It all happened in the span of about four seconds and that was it. I knew. I just knew. I knew it as well as I knew that I was going to end up with the ugliest sorts of blisters from the Slaggy Boots and it was a mistake to wear them. I knew it just like I knew that it was unnaturally warm for October and I would look like a right ponce for wearing James's scarf around Hogsmeade, but I wouldn't take it off anyway. I knew it just like I knew that I knew what I knew and nothing was going to change that fact.
I knew. It was as simple as that.
Because when Amos smiled at me—that same wonderful smile that I had first become so enamored with, had spent hours upon hours thinking of and memorizing and waiting to flash my way—I felt...I felt...
I felt nothing.
Absolutely, positively nothing.
I FELT NOTHING!!!
Well, actually, that's not entirely true. I mean, there was a moment of nothingness (!!!!!!!!), but after the tide of that singular apathetic sensation filtered through me, a rather overwhelming emotion did indeed take its place. One that came in a rather large dose, in fact.
I was so bloody relieved.
Because if I didn't feel anything for Amos now—now, when he was looking all devastatingly handsome and his hair was all nice and he was smiling at me with that perfect smile and I was about to go out on a bloody date with the man for crying out loud—well, then I'm pretty positive that I wouldn't ever feel anything for him.
And didn't that suddenly make life a whole lot easier?
It was as if a giant weight had suddenly been lifted off my shoulders—like this horrific boulder that had somehow been balancing upon my small frame had suddenly decided it was time to find a new home. I wanted to dance and sing and shout and do all sorts of mad, foolish things that would probably get me sent straight to the Hospital Wing for mental evaluation, but I wouldn't care because I was so happy and I probably belonged there anyway. I didn't do any of these things, of course—I mean, obviously. I couldn't possibly dance about in my Slaggy Boots. Can you say ouch?—but I thought about doing them. I thought about doing them a lot. But mostly, I thought about how relieved I was.
(Oh, yeah. I thought a lot about that, as well.)
This whole, huge emotional event really occurred in about the span of ten seconds, though I was probably the only one who knew such a monumental thing had taken place. One moment I was standing at the foot of the steps, trying to remind myself to breathe as I frantically attempted to convince myself that this wasn't the end of the world, that I would make it through the day, and then the next, I was suddenly fine—more than fine, even—breathing regularly and staring up at Amos with what I knew to be my biggest and best smile in the entire world. Because he had just made me one severely happy woman.
Er, well, you know, by making me one severely unhappy woman.
I could barely contain myself as Amos drew ever closer, suddenly wanting to wrap my arms around him and squeeze him until he burst—though for strictly platonic reasons, of course (PLATONIC! I WANTED IT TO BE PLATONIC!!). But even though all of this had happened and I was smiling like sunshine and feeling like I could float up to the clouds I was so free and fantastic, all of these things couldn't possibly have become clear to Marley, who was still standing behind me, and whose sudden whispered question had me floating back down to reality.
"Do you want me to pretend faint?" she whispered frantically, her voice coming quickly at my ear. As Amos came closer, she spoke faster. "Seriously, Lil, we can still get you out of this. I'm a brill pretend fainter. You'll just pull the "I have to take care of my mate" card and we'll have this whole thing done in a second. Just say the word and I'll start dropping—"
"No, no." I shook my head, letting a laugh escape from my lips as the picture of Marley falling dramatically to the ground in a fainted heap floated through my mind. "It's fine," I whispered over my shoulder, feeling calmer than I had all day. "I'll be fine. I'm going to go. I'm okay to go."
Which, I was suddenly rather surprised to find, was actually not a lie.
It seemed that once I took the whole oh-my-god-what-if-I-actually-still-fancy-him-I-have-to-look-unenticing-HELP-MERLIN-PLEASE aspect out of the whole day...well, things didn't seem nearly as grim. In fact, maybe this day could be fun. Nice, friendly, PLATONIC fun.
I really, really like that word.
"Are you sure?" Marley asked when Amos was all of two meters away, sounding as if she didn't quite believe me. I nodded.
"I'm sure," I assured her, then turned my head forward, greeting Amos with my oh-thank-god-nothing smile and a casual, "Hey."
"Hey," he smiled back (you know, the one I felt nothing for?), then glanced at Marley, who had come out from behind me to stand at my side. His smile dropped a bit. He gave her a curt nod. "McKinnon."
"Diggory." Marley wasn't much warmer in her returning nod. She shot me a quick look before glancing back at Amos. "So you're taking Lily out, are you?"
"Yes, I am," he replied, and then, as if to prove that it was true or something, grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me over to his side. Marley cocked an eyebrow at me as I stumbled over, which I returned with a yeah-I-know sort of look. But then Amos was glancing down at me, smiling his bright smile again, which I really felt quite bad about answering with nothing less than an equally bright smile of my own. So I did it, because that was the polite thing to do.
...the day will be over and you'll shake his hand because that's the polite thing to do...
James-Inside-My-Head, shut up.
"Take care of her," Marley was saying when I had finally stashed the James-Inside-My-Head to the back of the inside-of-my-head where he belonged. "She's not in her top form this morning."
I glanced at Marley with a confused look, wondering just what sort of trouble she was trying to cause, but to my surprise, Amos didn't seem to have that same problem. He appeared to understand exactly what Marley was implying. Or he thought he did, anyway.
"Oh, that's right!" he cried, turning to look at me again. He grabbed for my arm again, though this time it was my right instead of my left. And instead of using it to manhandle me like before, he lifted it up and pulled back the sleeve of my jumper to see the bandage lying beneath. He seemed more disappointed that he couldn't see the injury than concerned about my welfare. I pulled my hand back and held it protectively against my chest as Amos finally seemed to realise that he should care and kindly asked, "How are you? I heard about the accident. Nasty stuff."
"I'm fine," I muttered, though at the same time I was answering, Marley spoke up, saying, "Actually, that's not what I was talking about."
Amos and I both stared at her.
"No?" Amos asked, confused.
"It wasn't?" I asked, suspicious.
Marley shook her head, but she wasn't looking at me, which suddenly made me even more nervous. What in the hell was she up to now?
"The accident was terrible and all," she said quickly, sounding remarkably innocent for someone who I was quite certain was not, "but I was talking about something much simpler than that."
"Like what?" Amos asked.
Marley finally turned to look at me.
Her grin was positively wicked.
"Why, Lily hasn't had her balanced breakfast this morning!"
Oh. Dear. Merlin.
I was going to kill her.
"Oh." Amos glanced down at me, then back at Marley, switching back and forth between the pair of us as if waiting for the joke to suddenly spring out from one of our heads. But Marley was too busy grinning like a stupid fool and I was too busy glaring at her for all I was worth, so there was a rather slight chance of that happening. Amos was rather left at the wayside. "I'm sure we can get you some breakfast in town, Lily," he tried helplessly, still out of the loop. "There's plenty there."
"Not the kind she's looking for," Marley muttered.
While Marley started laughing at her own witty genius and Amos looked on as if the pair of us were not quite playing with a full deck, I grabbed Amos's hand and shot one last withering look at Marley, who was too busy hacking it up to realise that I was about to kill her. I pulled him along and away, muttering, "Good-bye, Marley," before either of us could do any permanent damage.
"Have fun!" she called after us, though I could practically hear the "Yeah. Right," in her tone.
She is lucky that there were so many witnesses about.
So very, very lucky.
I could still hear Marley's tingling laughter as I pulled Amos away, but realised rather quickly that I had no idea where exactly I was pulling him off to, so I stopped just as soon as Marley's laughter faded in with the rest of the courtyard chatter. I turned to face him then, taking pity on the poor boy and the completely bewildered look on his face. I gave him a guilty smile and shrug, letting his hand drop from mine.
"Sorry about that," I said, waving my hand in Marley's general direction. "She's mad."
"Yeah, I caught that." Amos was still looking at me a bit queerly. He paused for a second, then asked, "Do you really want breakfast?"
"No," I answered quickly, shaking my head and cursing the day that Marlene McKinnon was born. "No, I don't need breakfast. I'm perfectly fine. Really. Let's just go, all right?"
"Yeah, sure," Amos answered, though he sounded hesitant as he said it, scratching at the back of his head and appearing to be looking around the courtyard for something. He seemed uneasy, though I had no idea why. I didn't have too long to question it, however, because he suddenly perked up, smiling again as he turned to me, his eyes flashing quickly to his left. "Actually," he said, his words quick, "would you mind if we just popped over there for a moment? I see Vance Dunnings and I've really got to speak with him about something. You don't mind, do you? It won't take long."
I turned to look where Amos was pointing, seeing indeed Amos's mate Vance standing off to our left with a few other Hufflepuffs, appearing very deep in conversation. I turned back to Amos, who was glancing hopefully at me. I didn't really know Vance or any of the other kids standing with him, but it wouldn't hurt anyone just to stop and say hello if that's what Amos wanted. I mean, it wasn't as if I was aching to get to Hogsmeade, anyway. Plus, how long could this possibly take? Not too long, I was sure. So I nodded my agreement to Amos, who shot me another bright smile at my compliance.
"Brilliant," he said, already grabbing my hand. "We'll be quick, I promise."
Then he dragged me over.
We didn't leave the courtyard for nearly two hours.
Two, terrible, horrible, excruciatingly long hours.
I'm not even kidding when I say this. I mean, I know that I am somewhat prone to exaggeration—well, okay, maybe prone isn't really the proper word. I suppose I rather exaggerate like I lie...pathologically—but this time I'm so not. There is no exaggeration here, not even a little. We started off talking to Vance at (and this is being generous) probably about ten past, and by the time we were finally making our way towards the Hogsmeade carriages, it was just before eleven.
But the thing was, it wasn't technically like Amos lied or anything. He said speaking to Vance wouldn't take long, and it didn't. Amos had finished his conversation with Vance and his mates in probably ten minutes or so, just as I'd expected. But he also finished his conversation with Pete Taggart in ten minutes. And with Shirley Shorn? Yeah, ten minutes, too. And with Kiki Molter and Christa Forester and Penny O'Jene (actually, he and Penny took a good twenty minutes. She and Hyena Boy had apparently broken it off—again—after their shouting match and she needed some comforting). He took ten minutes with just about everyone he could take ten minutes with and even then I had to kindly remind him that rain could come at any time and we should really get to Hogsmeade soon, or else I'm quite sure he would've starting striking up conversations with the bleeding shrubbery.
Remember my fun, friendly, platonic date?
Yeah. Not so fun. Way too friendly.
And the thing is, it's not as if I'm a complete social outcast or anything, all right? I mean, I may be mad and emotionally unstable, but I can act normally and make small talk with people I don't particularly know (because I didn't really know most of these people. Didn't really know them at all) when I have to. That wasn't the problem here. And the problem wasn't even really that Amos wasted the first two hours of our date chatting with other people, either—I certainly was in no position (and really had no inclination anymore) to keep him all to myself, anyway. The problem was...well, it was just that...
He was weird.
He was acting so, so weird.
And I don't mean that he talks about strange things or that he was being particularly odd in his movements or anything like that. I mean that he was just acting strange in regards to me. It was like...Merlin, I don't even know how to describe it. It was like...it was like he was showing me off or something. Like I was some sort of trophy he was particularly interested in rubbing in other people's faces.
Except that I'm not a trophy. I'm a girl.
Amos didn't seem to get that.
Every time we (or really he) went to talk to someone new, he'd be all, "Hello, Insert-Person's-Name! How are you? Do you know Lily? Well, this is Lily. Lily Evans. We're going to Hogsmeade on a date. Having a great time."
Except of course that we weren't. Having a great time, I mean. And we weren't exactly on a date yet, either. Or at least it didn't feel much like one.
And I know that people could be all, "He was introducing you. What's wrong with that? What did you want him to do? Ignore you?", but it wasn't like that. They didn't hear him. He wasn't just introducing me. I don't know what the hell he was doing, but it certainly wasn't that.
It just felt so...well, so fake, really, and not just because of the whole showing-me-off-thing, either. What really had me feeling uncomfortable was the fact that Amos...he didn't need to be talking to all these people. Even if he were the most social being in the entire world, he didn't need to be talking to all of them. Everything they chatted about—even his initial conversation with Vance, which apparently had had to be done that morning or whatever—was completely pointless. It was idle small talk, stupid chatter. So why was he doing it? Why was he wasting our—his—time with it? There had to be some reason, but for the life of me I couldn't figure it out.
And do you know what the even stranger bit about the whole thing was? The fact that—all these people Amos was talking to? Yeah, it might be normal for me not to really know most of them, but I have a strange feeling that Amos didn't know them all that well, either. It was like the only reason that he was talking to them was to make sure that he knew that they knew that he was there with me—oh, and "having a great time," of course. It was like he was trying to sell something.
Trying to sell me.
That sounds completely self-absorbed. I know it does. And while I'm the first to admit that I can sometimes be consumed with all things me—thinking everyone is talking about me and starting societies about me and all that nonsense—that wasn't what this was. This wasn't normal the-world-revolves-around-me Lily perspective. This was real. I wasn't imagining it. And I don't know, maybe it could just be because I was bored and suddenly in a rotten mood, but I couldn't help feeling that way. And I got more than a few strange looks out of the whole thing, as well, which makes me even more sure that it wasn't all in my head. I mean, even Kiki Molter, after Amos had mentioned "Lily his date" for about the fifth time, had given him a disgusted look and been all, "Amos. I know you're here with Lily. Do you?"
And Kiki Molter doesn't even like me that much.
So needless to say, I wasn't exactly a bundle of joy by the time Amos and I were finally making our way towards the Hogsmeade carriages. After two hours of listening to idle small talk and "Lily" this and "Lily" that, I was really starting to hate my own name.
...you have no idea how bloody fantastic it is to hear you say my name...I swear, you could make a bloke start to hate his own name, Infallible. You really could...
And then there was that.
I'm not even going to touch on that yet.
"I can't believe we were talking in the courtyard for so long!" Amos marveled once we were both settled properly inside one of the carriages, sounding quite amazed by the fact, though I had a rather strong suspicion that he wasn't amazed at all. "Mad, right?"
"Mm." I hummed disinterestedly, leaning my head against the side of the carriage as Amos continued blathering on.
"You just get drawn into conversations, you know? Time flies by. But it was a lot of fun. A great way to start the morning, don't you think?"
"Just fab," I muttered, and wondered if it would be rude if I closed my eyes and took a nap. As Amos went on and on, I started to doubt he'd even notice.
"Hogsmeade's great to catch up with mates," he was saying, rather not realising that he was mostly talking to himself. "I mean, I haven't talked to some of those people in ages. It was good to catch up. Though, you know," he said, turning to look at me, "I noticed a few of my mates weren't around yet. Strange, eh? It being nearly eleven and all. That's pretty late." He paused for a second, then seemed to realise that I wasn't responding to that remark and asked, "Were any of your mates around?"
"A few," I answered, thinking that it probably wouldn't be polite to relay the tale of when—circa forty-five minutes into the Amos chat-a-thon—I had thought I spotted Grace in the crowds and started sending frantic 'S.O.S.' signals her way, only to discover a few seconds later that it wasn't Grace at all and that I'd been mouthing desperate "Help me!"'s to some dark-haired fifth or sixth year and her mates.
Yeah. I don't think he'd really appreciate that one.
"Very odd," Amos replied, giving me a nod. His eyes flickered away from me for a moment, then back again. "Hey," he said suddenly, sounding surprised, as if this thought had just occurred to him, but looking so shrewd that I seriously had my doubts. "Did you happen to spot Julie Little in the crowds? I think she said she'd be down, but I can't quite recall seeing her."
Was he seriously asking me about Julie Little right now?
That is so not happening.
"No," I heard myself say, long before my brain had processed a proper response. But my mouth was still moving and words were still flowing and it soon became rather obvious that this was all traitorous mouth. "No, I didn't see Julie, Amos. Did you happen to see James anywhere? I was looking for him and can't recall spotting him, either."
Yeah, that's right.
Playing the James card.
How do you like that, Mr. Julie Little?
"Potter?" Amos spat out James's name as if it were something dirty. "Why would you be looking for Potter?"
"He's my mate," I answered simply, turning my nose up a bit. "You were looking for your mates, I was looking for mine."
Amos didn't like that answer. Just as I—or rather, just like my mouth—had expected.
"I don't know how you can tolerate that ponce," Amos growled, tossing me a look. "He's nothing but a troublemaking bastard. Don't you remember what he did to you before the Quidditch match? Using our relationship to give me false information—it was a bloody dirty trick! That's what Potter's all about—dirty, underhanded tricks. You should still be cross with him over that!"
"Well, I'm not," I snapped, surprising even myself with how annoyed I was starting to sound. "And James...well, feeding me false information was no more underhanded than you asking for it! Don't be cruel. He's better than that."
Amos stared at me silently, seeming stunned by my words. I stared back, utterly defiant. It wasn't exactly the proper things to be saying to one's date while on said date, but for once, I wasn't at all cross that my mouth had gone and spouted off all sorts of inappropriate things. Did Amos seriously have the audacity to sitting there slighting James—my James, who, yes, has his supremely stupid and prattish moments, but is nonetheless a pretty goddamned brilliant bloke—when we had been on our "date" for nearly two hours and this is the first time he'd even bothered to speak to me? And about Julie Little, of all things?
I was cross, though certainly not with James.
In fact, James was the only one keeping me even mildly sane throughout this whole ordeal.
What would Mr. Julie Little think if I'd told him that, hm?
Because the truth was...remember those little snippets of all those things James said last night? The ones that kept popping up in my head at the most inopportune moments? Yeah, not exactly rare. Like, at all. In fact, they had been my rather constant companion for the past two hours, leaping up in my head at an alarmingly rapid rate. Everything Amos did, everything he said, everything he was, it all related back to James. Every single, bloody thing. Which was all his fault, of course. James's, I mean. If he hadn't gone on with his little 'think of me' spiel, the idea to do so probably wouldn't have even occurred to me. But because he did put it there (and also perhaps aided by the fact that Amos was such a rubbish date), James and his stupid words and his stupid face and every other stupid thing about him wouldn't bloody leave.
And at first this had made me all annoyed, of course. I wanted it to stop because it wasn't exactly healthy to be thinking of James smiling at me when Amos did so, to be thinking about James's voice as I heard Amos's, to be hearing "And I promise I'll even let you up for air occasionally," repeat inside my head as Amos blathered, "Lily," this and "Lily," that. But after awhile...
I mean, come on.
I'm only female. It couldn't be helped!
So by the time we'd crossed the one hour mark and I was still smarting over the Grace false alarm and Amos appeared to be paying more attention to the weepy Penny O'Jene than he was to his apparently revered "Lily"...well, my mind sort of rebelled. So instead of pushing the James-Inside-My-Head to the back of my head like I had been doing previously, I not only let him linger up front, I encouraged it! I entertained myself by replaying our time in the Room of Requirement over and over inside my head, and when that had me blushing too much, switched instead to imagining the sorts of things James would say if he were a participant in these asinine conversations Amos was dragging me in and out of. I heard him tell Penny, "There, there. I'm sure he didn't mean to have his hand down Deb's pants. Fingers slip sometimes, you know," as she sobbed over her Hyena trials. I heard him tell Vance Dunnings to "embrace the disarray," as the idiot Hufflepuff complained about the things the sun were doing to his hair. I even listened to him blather on about Quidditch, shooting me, "Yes, eat your breakfast, Lily," looks as Amos and Jervis Rennet got into an argument over some recent match.
I did all of this, and suddenly, being dragged from person to person listening to Amos sell me, it wasn't so bad.
Think of me, he'd said then, and I'd gotten angry.
Now I was practically begging him to stay inside my head.
(Which was probably something so incredibly telling that I couldn't possibly stop to think about it then or I'd surely never survive the day—or think about it now, either, because...well, just because.)
Anyway, so that's what I was really doing as Amos sat there staring silently at me after my rather snappish defense of James—thinking of the bloke in question and imagining what he would do if he were sitting there in the carriage with us. In my head, I saw him grinning smugly at Amos, telling him in that sardonic tone of his, "Listen to her, Diggory. Bird's got brains, you know," and watching Amos sputter.
Yeah. I know. Sick.
But regardless of how sick that was or wasn't, thinking about such things on the inside had me grinning rather foolishly on the outside, which I can only assume Amos took as some sort of tacit apology on my part because soon he was grinning right back at me as if I hadn't just insulted him immensely.
"Let's just agree to disagree," is what he said, pleased as a peach once more. He glanced out the carriage window briefly, then turned back to me. "Look, we're almost in town. Where would you like to go first?"
He was suddenly looking so eager and earnest that I started feeling a bit guilty, even though he had pretty much brought my embracing the James-Inside-My-Head Game upon himself by being such a rotten date. But he wasn't talking to stupid people anymore and he wasn't saying "Lily" all annoying-like, and it appeared as if he was actually ready to start being a decent bloke, so I really couldn't help but acknowledge that small roll of remorse that swept through my stomach as James-Inside-My-Head was all, "She'd like to leave, you bloody prat," and soon heard myself being very polite and cordial, going, "Oh, I have nowhere in particular in mind. Where do you want to go?"
James-Inside-My-Head shook his head in disappointment.
"We'll walk around," he decided, waving a careless hand at my indecision. "See where the day takes us, yeah? Then we can head to the Three Broomsticks for lunch. Sound good?"
I nodded, trying to get James-Inside-My-Head to stop rolling his eyes.
"Sounds lovely," I said through my fake smile, holding back a large sigh. "Just lovely."
Amos nodded back, utterly content.
The rest of the carriage ride went by rather quickly, though mostly because I had spent a large portion of it trying not to fall back into my James-Inside-My-Head ways. Amos kept babbling about one thing or another, but Julie Little was not one of them, so I was satisfied. I mean, even though I was relatively certain that Amos and I would leave this day without the least bit of romantic feelings between us, that certainly didn't mean that I wanted to hear him moaning and whining over Julie. He could wait a few bloody hours before officially moving on, couldn't he?
Well, apparently he could, because Amos didn't bring up Julie again. Instead, he found another topic that satisfied him just as much.
Best. Date. Ever.
"And it's not that I'm particularly bad at Charms," Amos was ranting, helping me down from the carriage when we finally arrived, probably doing it more out of habit than any real courteous concern. "I just don't understand the point of them, you know? So then Flitwick assigns us these bloody long essays on the topic and I have to find something to write. It's not my fault that Memory Charms are about as interesting as plywood!"
I dropped Amos's hand as soon as I reached the ground. James-Inside-My-Head (it was really quite impossible to get rid of him) let out a low whistle. "Not Charms, you prat," he muttered, shaking his head. "Don't insult Charms."
"I happen to find them fascinating," I interrupted tightly, speaking for the first time in quite awhile because, damn it, James-Inside-My-Head was right—was he seriously insulting Charms to me? "I'm already done with my essay, actually."
"Truly?" Amos laughed. "That's just mad."
"I like Charms."
"Yeah. You like Runes, as well, right?"
"That's mad, too."
What I wanted to say—what James-Inside-My-Head was rooting for, as well— was a very casual, "Perhaps. But I'll have my N.E.W.T. in both and get a proper job. What about you?", but I figured that we had just gotten out of the carriage, we undoubtedly had at least a few more hours together, it was probably not best to start off the day on that sort of foot. So even though it went against my very core as an independent, assertive witch, I smiled at Amos with my best fake smile and went, "Let's just agree to disagree, yeah?"
We seemed to be doing a lot of that.
Amos grinned back and nodded, then went on chatting mindlessly as we started walking towards town. I rather stopped listening once he got on the topic of some long-ago holiday he'd taken with his family. I started reconsidering my suspicions about Amos-and-the-two-hour-pointless-chattering then, discovering that maybe, to Amos, the things he'd been talking about with all those people were important—maybe all this bloke did was meaningless drivel. And I suppose I wouldn't much have noticed this before considering that all the time I've spent with him this year has rather been done in a situation where asinine conversation is appropriate (study sessions, hallway walking, mealtimes), but I sure as hell was noticing it now. And really, even a girl as shallow and as mad as me needed something a bit more substantial than that.
Though considering my best source of conversation recently has been an imaginary replica of James Potter who is living inside my head, I really don't suppose I'm really one to talk.
We made it safely into town without any moments of disaster or homicide, which I personally was quite proud of. The city was positively packed, but that was nothing surprising. What was surprising, however, was the fact that the moment we reached the hordes that made up civilization, Amos tossed his arm about my shoulders and instantly seemed to warp back into In-the-Public-Amos mode. He didn't (thank Merlin) start up endless conversations with every Tom, Tracy and Tree in the vicinity, but he did give each of them a wave, all the while continuing on with his endless stream of chatter to me. I was utterly fascinated by this change in him, in the sudden shift of public and private personalities. It was strange and I didn't trust it, but seeing as there was nothing much I could do, I just let Amos do what he wanted and may or may not have accidentally-on-purpose started playing the James-Inside-My-Head Game again. You know, maybe.
Sad and pathetic?
Yes, I know.
We went into Honeydukes first, mostly because it had been a stressful morning and I thought I deserved some chocolate, so I didn't give Amos much of a choice in the matter. Still, he seemed quite content with my decision, spotting some of his mates as soon as we walked in, thankfully giving me a brief reprieve from his droning so that he could go chat their ears off. As for me, I busied myself with selecting chocolates with the exact precision and lengthy deliberation one would utilize when in life or death situations. I took a good twenty minutes selecting a rather decently sized box for myself, a small batch of caramels for Emma, a package of sugar quills for Gracie, and an extra package of fudge...just in case.
Honeydukes would have been mostly uneventful if it hadn't been for the fact that—just as I was deliberating between sugar quills and sugar mice for Gracie—out of the corner of my eye, I spotted someone who appeared to be not-so-furtively hiding behind a display at the end of my aisle. I turned my head just in time to see Peter Pettigrew jump as if startled, then dash out of my sight down the next aisle of sweets. My eyes instantly narrowed. I grabbed the nearest package of sugar quills and then attempted to follow after him, but he wasn't down the aisle I'd seen him duck into, nor in any other consecutive aisle I checked. I was about to give it up as a lost cause when a quick flash of something drew my gaze towards the front doors. I turned just as Peter and Remus rushed out of the store, disappearing into the busy streets.
My breath caught, my heart jumping in my chest. Quite suddenly, something I hadn't even considered before dawned on me.
Could...could James be in Hogsmeade?
It was selfish of me to think that he wasn't, and it was stupid that the thought had never occurred to me before, but it really hadn't until that very moment. His mates were definitely here, though—definitely here and looking at me, even—so there really was no telling if James had walked out of Honeydukes ahead of Remus, or if he and Sirius were off waiting somewhere nearby. For some reason, that thought had my heart beating a bit more rapidly in my chest. I knew that at the end of the day, whether James was in Hogsmeade or not didn't matter—I was still here with Amos. It's not as if I could just abandon him or something—but it still seemed to make all the difference. Suddenly, I was consumed by the question. I started scanning the store as if expecting him to jump out from behind a display or wave at me through the store's windows. That's when I grabbed the package of fudge, just for the hell of it. It was also then that I decided it was probably far past time for me to go find Amos, before I did something really stupid.
It wasn't that difficult to find Amos—he was still standing right where I had left him, talking with Pompous Boy and some blonde bloke, seeming to be rather deep in his conversation.
"I don't think so, mate," Pompous Boy was saying as I walked up behind Amos. "You've got yourself right fucked. She isn't just going to go out—oh! Lily. Hullo!"
I raised my eyebrows, but tried to keep my face blank. Clearly I had walked in on something I wasn't supposed to.
"Hello," I said, giving him a cursory smile. I glanced at him, then at Amos, then at the blonde bloke, who was looking decidedly nervous. "Everything all right?" I asked.
"Smashing," Amos answered, tossing his arm about my shoulders again. "Simply smashing. How about you? Got everything you needed? Looks like you've got a bit of a sweet tooth, eh?"
"I have a lot of mates," I replied flatly, ducking out from under his arm. He seemed a bit surprised by that, but I really couldn't be bothered. I nodded my head towards the short line by the till. "I've just got to pay. Are you almost ready to leave?"
"Yeah, I'm ready," he said, though there was a sort of tone in his voice now that hadn't been there before. He turned to his mates with a pointed look. "I'll see you around. We'll finish talking about the...match, later. Just get the news around, yeah?"
"Yeah, all right," Pompous Boy responded, while the blonde bloke only nodded. "See you around. Later, Lily."
"Bye," I muttered, watching Amos closely as the pair of them walked away. He stared after them for a bit, then glanced back down at me. He didn't look the least bit guilty. "What was all that about?" I asked.
"Quidditch," was his quick response. "Quidditch match."
"Oh?" We started walking towards the till. "Which? Who's playing?"
"Puddlemere and Kenmare."
He was making it very difficult to trap him in his lie. I couldn't be sure whether he had discovered my complete Quidditch ineptitude and therefore knew that I wouldn't be able to contradict his answers, seeing as I didn't even know who Kenmare was let alone when and who they were playing, but I soon discovered that, honestly, I didn't really care. I mean, I had much bigger things to deal with—like the possibility that James Potter was even as we spoke gallivanting somewhere throughout Hogsmeade. That was a problem. This...yeah, not so much. I truly just couldn't be bothered with Amos and his stupid secrets.
I brought my sweets and soon Amos and I were out and about once more, though this time he didn't try to anchor me to his side with his arm, for which I was eternally grateful. We went into Dervish & Banges where Amos got some sort of knickknack for himself, and then into Scrivenshaft's where I picked up a few quills. Amos still kept up his waving-at-every-passing-living-object nonsense, but at least he'd moved on from regaling me with his childhood adventures to talking about his father's job at the Ministry, which was at least semi-interesting. Still, by the time we reached the Three Broomsticks after a few more small stops, I was very nearly dying of boredom. I couldn't even fathom how I had ever thought Amos even remotely entertaining. The boy was about as gifted in conversation as I was in Divination, or, Merlin help me, in telling the truth. He needed a muzzle, for Merlin's sake.
But even though I knew going to the Three Broomsticks would only put me in a situation where more of Amos's conversational ineptitudes would be showcased, I was too relieved to finally have the chance to sit down to care. The Slaggy Boots were quite positively killing me and I was quite sure that the blisters they were causing were about to explode, which was not a pretty sight under any circumstance. I figured such things took precedence over my fatal boredom.
"Do you see a table anywhere?" Amos asked as we walked into the crowded pub, his head moving slowly from side to side. I joined him in the search, but the place was rather packed and no empty table was in sight. I wanted to sob, my feet hurt so much, which is why I think when Amos went, "Oh! Perfect! Come on," and grabbed my hand and started pulling me towards what I soon discovered was an already overly-crowded booth filled with his fellow Hufflepuffs, I didn't immediately object. In fact, as long as I had a chair (which, after Amos stole two from a nearby table, I did), I wasn't going to say a damn thing.
It was mostly the same crowd that Amos had started off his chat-a-thon with this morning—Vance Dunnings, Pete Taggart, Shirley Shorn, Pompous Boy and the blonde bloke, and then two other girls whose names I never quite caught—and though they were perfectly friendly, it was also rather...well...awkward.
"How's your day been?" Shirley Shorn asked me once I was settled, though I didn't quite catch what she had said because my relief to be off my feet was so great that it was actually rather numbing and all-consuming. Her voice was drowned out by my inner sighs of contentment.
"I'm sorry?" I asked, once I realised she'd spoken to me.
"Your day," Shirley repeated again, her smile frozen in place. She was staring at me with a sort of crazy-eyed look. "Has it been well?"
"Er...lovely," I muttered, giving her a strained smile, wondering what she was all about. "It's been lovely."
Shirley nodded, then threw a pointed look at Vance, who turned to look at Amos, who was trying to finagle his way out of trouble after stealing the two chairs from the table behind us. I was once again left with the rather strong impression that I was being left out of something, but once again, I couldn't particularly find myself caring. Whatever it was, I was pretty sure it wouldn't concern me for much longer. I truly didn't expect to be hanging about this crowd for any extended period of time after this.
The conversation continued on and I participated when it was necessary, but mostly I just zoned out, sipping my butterbeer and smiling when it was appropriate. I entertained myself by watching as new people entered and left the pub, judging (and, you know, perhaps occasionally letting James-Inside-My-Head help, as well) whether they were having as horrific a day as I was. Most weren't—lucky bastards—but occasionally there waltzed in a few unfortunate souls who I could tell would have gladly taken an Unforgivable in order to leave their present situations.
Ah, kindred spirits.
I should have brought them all drinks.
It was just as I was considering that very sentiment after watching a rather desperate-looking third-year mouth "HELP" to a pack of her giggling mates behind her date's back that the bell above the front door jingled again, drawing my gaze away from Desperate Dora and back towards the pub's entrance. I turned my head just as Peter and Remus walked in from the street.
Just Remus and Peter.
My heart skipped a few beats in my chest.
I ripped my gaze away before they could see me staring, though not before I saw them settle in at the bar on the other end of the room. They only took two chairs. They weren't saving any. So did that mean...
It had to, right?
I tried to concentrate then, concentrate on anything other than the two boys across the room and the other two—one in particular—who were missing, but the fates must have been watching this very moment and decided I haven't suffered enough because the table conversation had turned to—of all things—Quidditch, which of course was about as helpful to me as an umbrella in a lightning storm. Plus, I was relatively certain both Remus and Peter were continuously shooting looks at me, glancing my way and burning holes in my back with their eyes. What was that all about?
I lasted all of fifteen minutes, and then broke.
It was fourteen minutes longer than I had expected.
"Amos," I said, placing a hand on his shoulder as he continued hacking it up with his mates. He turned, looking at me questioningly. I motioned my head to the left. "I'm going to dash to the loo. I'll be back."
"Yeah, all right," Amos said, then almost instantly went back to listening to Vance's retelling of some match or another (Puddlemere and Kenmare, perhaps? Psh. Yeah right). I lost any and all feelings of guilt I might have thought I should have at that very moment and instantly got up, struggling not to roll my eyes.
Merlin, what a ponce.
I had just decided that it would probably be less pathetic if I actually made a stop in the loos rather than just heading straight over to Remus and Peter as if that had been my only reason for getting up (even though it was), but changed my mind when I spared the two a quick glance on my way to the ladies', only to find them both staring rather shamelessly back at me. The second my glance caught theirs, they both instantly snapped their heads around, an act so utterly conspicuous that it couldn't possibly be ignored. I narrowed my eyes at their backs, then quickly changed directions. They had just crossed their own line of patheticness. I figured two could play that game.
I stopped when I stood just behind them, arms crossed over my chest, foot tapping.
They were in trouble.
"Hullo," I greeted loudly, putting on my best fake smile. "Fancy seeing you both here."
I almost laughed as I watched both boys' backs stiffen, their reaction to the sound of my voice yet another sure sign that there was something distinctly fishy going on here. They both turned around slowly, looking at me with deliberately blank expressions on their faces. I cocked an eyebrow, silently daring the pair of them to try to get themselves out of this one. I would enjoy seeing them try.
"Hello, Lily," Remus replied pleasantly after a moment. "How are you?"
"Enjoying your day?" Peter added in.
Did they seriously think I was going to fall for that? Please. What was I, stupid?
"Well, I was until the pair of you started getting on my nerves," I answered pointedly, not even bothering to hide my extreme suspicion anymore. I narrowed my eyes at them. "What exactly are you two up to?"
"Up to?" Remus had the audacity to act confused, idly playing around with his mug of butterbeer as he shot me an innocent look. "Really not sure what you're talking about, Lily."
"You know exactly what I'm talking about!" I shot back, but the pair of them must have been practicing for this very moment in their downtime or something, because neither of their faces betrayed any sort of guilt. In fact, they both looked at me as if I'd gone a bit mad. I let out an annoyed little huff and stuck them with a good glare. "Look," I said crossly. "I'm not stupid, all right? I saw Peter in Honeydukes and I've seen you watching me now and I may not always be the most observant person in the world, but even I could put this one together. So can you please quit playing innocent and tell me what exactly the point of all this is so that I can move on with my day?!"
I was practically panting after that mini-rant, glaring so hard at the two of them that my eyes might very well have gotten stuck that way. Unfortunately, Remus and Peter weren't nearly as affected. Mostly, they just looked shocked, blinking owlishly up in my direction. I was on the verge of whipping out my wand and beginning to throw out some more threats that way when—finally!—there was movement. Remus turned to Peter with a slightly disgusted look on his face.
"She saw you in Honeydukes?" he asked, his voice flat. "That's what 'Red Alert, Red Alert' meant?"
"What did you think it meant?" Peter asked, rolling his eyes. "I wasn't hiding from the licorice wands!"
"Well, I don't know—"
"Hiding? You were hiding from me?"
Both Remus and Peter turned to look at me as if suddenly remembering that I was standing right there in front of them, hearing every word that came out of their mouths. They both looked a bit uncomfortable for a moment, before, casual as anything, Peter finally gave me a shrug.
"No offense," he said.
That was his response.
I suppose I could have reacted in any number of ways to that. The assumed response would have probably been something along the lines of, "That's all you've got to say to me? No offense?" and then a series of hexes so bad that even I wouldn't know where I got them from. But—surprisingly—that's not what I did. And I didn't stalk off in annoyed huff or start sobbing like an over-emotional shrew over the injustice of it all, either. In fact, I did nothing remotely close to any of that.
I laughed, and I laughed, and I laughed.
Because—"no offense"? That was pretty damn funny.
Or perhaps it was just subjectively funny, considering what I'd had to put up with all day.
"N-no o-offense?" I burst out, losing it completely right there in front of the bar, hacking it up like the lunatic that I am. "N-no offense? Seriously? What"—Uncontrollable laughter—"what are you"—some more—"Merlin!"
Then I was off again, lost in my mirth.
I know. I should be locked away.
"Er..." Remus scratched at his head, sharing a look with Peter as they both watched me convulse, confusion evident. "Er, Lily? You all right there?"
"Oh, yes," I giggled helplessly, trying to control myself now. I grabbed hold of the back of Peter's stool, trying not to topple over in my insanity. I wiped at my eyes, brushing away the wetness that had suddenly sprung up there. "No offense. Ha! Do you know what, Peter? None taken! None at all! I think that's quite possibly the funniest thing I've heard all day."
"Clearly," Remus muttered.
"I believe you," Peter said at the same time.
My laughter finally dulled, leaving me with only a silly sort of feeling inside that felt so good that I nearly burst out laughing again, just for the hell of it. But I controlled myself, choosing instead to smile brightly at the pair of them, actually enjoying myself for the first time all day. After a few seconds, Remus and Peter stopped looking so worried that I might turn manic at any second and actually started smiling back. We were all blissful in our smiles when I finally let out a long breath, this one of utter contentment.
"Thank you," I said, still smiling at them both. "I really needed that."
"We know," Peter responded, nodding his head in a very understanding manner.
I cocked my head to the side questioningly.
"You know?" I repeated. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You keep rotten company, Evans," Peter replied, a hint of pointed meaning evident in his voice. "They're boring you stale."
"Really?" I asked dubiously, even though that was completely and utterly true. In fact, I didn't think 'stale' was even a strong enough word for it. What's a word for 'to the brink of utter suicide and back'? "And how exactly would you know that?"
I asked as a joke, something to keep our happy banter going, the amused mood in the air. But instead of laughing at my silly gibes, Remus and Peter both simply looked away from me, shifting uncomfortably in their stools. My smile dropped a bit, my curiosity piqued. What in the world...?
"What?" I asked, trying to catch their averted gazes. "Hey, what's going—"
Then it hit me.
I wasn't hiding from the licorice wands!
Hiding. They had been hiding from me. And they had been...
"Oh my god." I stood up straighter, my voice getting louder. "Oh my god! Did he...did he send you here to spy on me?!"
The second the accusations left my mouth, Remus instantly began shaking his head, voicing his own soft objections as Peter loudly sputtered out, "What? No! No, of course not! No one...that's just...just..."
I gave them both a sharp look.
Remus stopped shaking his head.
"Yeah, all right," he muttered bitterly, looking put out. "Maybe."
Oh my god.
Oh my double bloody fucking god.
That prat. That stupid, selfish, bloody sodding insecure prat! I can't believe him! The bloody nerve! He actually—he actually...
Oh, who the bloody hell am I kidding?
I loved it.
I absolutely loved it.
I shook my head in wonder, trying to look put out for Remus and Peter's sakes, but failing pretty miserably considering I couldn't quite stop smiling. Spy on me. He'd told them to spy on me. The domineering little ponce!
"I can't believe him," I murmured, trying to squish the little bursts of feeling fireworking in my stomach and, what's more, the image of James-Inside-My-Head smirking sheepishly. "I truly can't believe him. Spying on me! Actually spying!"
"Well, it's not really spying," Peter tried to insist, though I think we both knew that it was a bit too late for that. I shot him a pointed look.
"No?" I asked. "What exactly would you call it, then?"
"Deliberately accidental observation," Remus announced, and I instantly burst out laughing. Remus laughed, as well, giving his shoulders a sheepish shrug. "That's what James called it, anyway. We weren't to spy—we were simply to go about our day, have a lovely time in Hogsmeade, and if, by chance, we happened to spot you from a fair distance, we could—if we so desired—keep that fair distance while casually noting your every action, movement and facial expression."
"Only if we wanted to, of course," Peter added in with a smirk, looking quite amused. "He stressed that part quite a bit."
"Oh, of course," I agreed with faux seriousness, hiding my conspiring grin behind a few quick nods. "You wanted to. Got it."
"And if we just so happened to be within a less fair distance of you," Remus continued ruefully, giving me a look, "we were certainly allowed to listen in on anything you might be saying or discussing, noting any enthrallment or lack therefore of you might be displaying."
"And of course we were allowed to report any and all of these findings we may have deliberately accidentally observed back to James at the end of the day," Peter explained. "That is, if—"
"—you so desired," I finished off for him, laughing happily once again. I shook my head, taking all of this in with another hard-to-contain smile and the stomach fireworks bursting inside at a rather uncontrollable rate. "Merlin," I whispered, still barely believing it. I glanced at both of them, shaking my head again. "And he left you both to do this?" I asked, grinning jokingly. "Couldn't even bother to deliberately, accidentally observe himself? What's with that?"
"He was a little busy," Peter answered.
"With what?" I asked.
"Beating the shite out of Sirius."
My grins instantly died, my spine jolting up straight as Peter's casual words finally seemed to register. James was...what? Why? Oh, dear Merlin, was it because of me? Because of what I told James about Sirius and the acid? He wouldn't be that stupid, would he? He wouldn't actually...I mean, he couldn't...
"Do you..." I cleared my throat, suddenly finding my mouth unusually dry. The words wouldn't come out. Remus offered me his butterbeer, but I shook my head. "Do you know...why? I mean, why would he do that? Did he...say?"
"He yelled," Peter informed me helpfully, grinning quite pleasantly though I don't know how considering we were talking about one his best mates possibly doing bodily damage to another one of his best mates. "There was a bit about 'fucking acid', then some 'bloody bastard''s, then he really let Sirius have it—right in the face! It was classic."
"Classic?" I cried, not quite knowing what it was I choked on, but somehow managing to sputter quite fantastically on that word regardless. I stared at Peter, stunned, then switched my gaze to Remus, who wasn't looking the least bit fazed about any of this, either. "What...how are you so casual about this?! They're going to hurt each other!"
"Well, yeah," Peter said, looking at me as if I was suddenly quite dumb. "That's the point."
"And you're okay with this?"
"It's how they like to communicate," Remus told me, giving a little shrug, though he at least had the decency to look mildly embarrassed. "Some people use words, James and Sirius like to bash the hell out of each other. You shouldn't worry about it. They won't do any permanent damage." He paused for a second, probably noting my still distressed face, then softly asked, "I'm assuming this bout had something to do with you?"
"Do you know anyone else associated with acid recently?" I asked bitterly, shaking my head as Remus gave me a little grin. I couldn't find it in myself to give anything back. I nibbled fretfully at my lower lip, dropping my gaze to the ground as images of James and Sirius rolling in a mess of blood and limbs played endlessly in my head. Burst of guilt replaced the burst of fireworks inside my stomach as I slowly lifted my eyes back to Remus and Peter. Both of them were staring at me questioningly. I swallowed hard, then forced myself to ask, "Did he...did James tell you...about last night?"
I don't know why the question was so hard to get out. I don't know why the thought of James having told them about it was suddenly making me feel betrayed. That was stupid. It was hypocritical. I mean, I had every intention of telling Grace and Emma...well, I mean, not all the gritty details, of course (some things are just for a girl alone, you know?), but nonetheless a pretty thorough retelling of last night's events. Why shouldn't James tell his mates? Why was I expecting him to keep it private when I had no intention to? I didn't know why, but that didn't stop the feeling of relief that filtered through my body at Remus's next words.
"Only the 'fucking acid' and 'bloody bastard' bits," he said, obviously trying to be funny, but eyeing me too carefully to truly set me at ease. "There wasn't much time for anything else. Peter and I were going off to Hogsmeade, James and Sirius were...sorting things out. James barely got out his accidentally observing bit before the pair of them were storming out of the dormitory."
"They didn't want to trash the furniture," Peter informed me helpfully, grinning. "They moved locations."
Oh, bloody hell.
"Lovely," I muttered, my voice calm even though I was not. "That's lovely."
"Don't worry about it, Lily," Remus told me again. "James is a grown wizard. He knows what he's doing."
"Or he thinks he does," I muttered darkly, cursing myself for even mentioning that stupid acid spill to him. Why can't my mouth ever keep itself bloody shut?
I was growing more distressed by the second. I didn't want to think about any of this anymore. I would just worry myself into a panic and there would be nothing I could do to fix it. Remus was right. James was a grown wizard—a stupid grown wizard, maybe, but grown nonetheless. I couldn't control or change his actions. He knew what he was doing. And if he didn't, he'd have to face the consequences. That was it. I had to let it go.
Desperate for a distraction, I looked back up at Remus and Peter, noting their slightly concerned faces, but ignoring them for the time being. I sighed tiredly, running a quick hand through my hair and regarded the pair of them critically. "Do you want to know something?" I asked softly, crossing my arms over my chest. I actually managed a bit of a smile. "You two may be the worst spies ever."
Remus chuckled softly as Peter let out an insulted, "Hey!", but I just shrugged and let my smile grow even wider because, really, it was so true. I would definitely not trust my deliberately accidental observing in their hands. And that's certainly saying something, coming from a witch who finds it necessary to record her own observations just to make sure she's not being oblivious.
Sometimes I forget how pathetic I am.
"I can see how you might think that," said Remus, taking a casual sip of his butterbeer, looking decidedly amused about something. "But let's really think about this here. Are we the worst...or the best?"
I couldn't help it. I snorted right in his face.
"The best?" I repeated dubiously, cocking a mocking eyebrow. "How exactly do you figure that one?"
Remus shrugged, but was looking rather smug now so I knew he had something up his sleeve. I narrowed my eyes at him, wondering what it was.
"Lily," he said, shaking his head at me. "If you knew anything at all about accidentally deliberate observation—"
"Don't you mean deliberately accidental observation?"
"—yes, exactly. That's what I said. Deliberately accidental. Now, if you knew the first thing about it, you would know that methods are a rather tenuous aspect of the practice. What really counts are the results."
"Results?" I propped a hand on my hip. "So what exactly are your 'results' then?"
Remus opened his mouth to reply, but before he could manage to get anything out, Peter unceremoniously blurted, "You'd rather be swimming with a pack of poisonous lobalugs than sitting over there with Amos the arse."
Well, actually now that he mentioned it...
I must have turned what I can only imagine was a ridiculously attractive shade of red, blushing mightily at the thought that I had been so completely obvious in my unhappiness. I mean, I knew I wasn't exactly hiding how desperate I was not to be on this date, but I certainly didn't think that any innocent passerby could discern my thoughts, either! And while these Deliberately Accidental Observers weren't exactly innocent passersby...still. It was quite disconcerting to say the least.
Peter merely nodded sympathetically at my blatant embarrassment, while Remus glanced at me with a knowing sort of look that I would have rather ignored. I scratched idly at the back of my neck, letting off a soft sigh, admitting defeat with little protest.
"All right," I muttered, hoping my cheeks were fading back into a decent colour. "Perhaps you're not the worst spies ever, then."
"We know," Peter replied happily, sipping contently from his mug.
"Good of you to notice," Remus added, smiling.
I let out another sigh, wishing I weren't so bloody pathetic.
"Hey," I suddenly said, something quickly occurring to me. I bit my lip for a moment, considering it in my head, then slowly glanced at both boys, my gaze flickering between them. "Can you both do something for me?" I asked quietly.
"Sure," Remus replied.
"Depends," Peter said, suspicious.
I hesitated for a moment, then just forced it out.
"Don't...don't have the desire to report your findings, all right?" I blushed a whole new shade of red. "Don't tell James anything about today, okay?"
"What?" Remus asked, surprised.
"Don't tell him?" Peter sputtered, shocked.
I shook my head quickly, then hastily explained, "It should be me. Don't tell him because it should be me. I should be the one to tell him about today. It...it should be me."
I don't know why this thought occurred to me, why it had suddenly become so important. It made no sense, really, but the idea had sprung up inside my head and now it seemed the only option. It was what I wanted—what I really, really wanted. I had no bloody idea what the hell I was going to say to James about any of this, what I was going to do or when, but I knew that whatever it was, whenever and however, I wanted to be the one to do it. He deserved that much from me. I deserved that much from me. It just seemed imperative.
Both Remus and Peter were giving me the strangest sorts of looks at my request—Peter with a half-shocked, half-appalled sort of expression, Remus with an oddly pensive sort of frown. I knew that I couldn't force them to do it—if they wanted to tell James, they would—but I thought I could sway them to my side. It made sense, after all. If James hadn't had his stupid, domineering spying plan, I would have been the one to tell him. They should understand that.
"Please," I implored them, trying not to sound as desperate as I was suddenly feeling. "It's not so much to ask. And besides, it...well, it will drive James positively spare. You two could hold it over him for ages. Can't turn down an opportunity like that, right?"
I was hoping to appeal to their petty, mischievous Marauder side with that last bit, and it seemed to work because Peter stopped looking quite so stupefied and Remus's frown had faded into a half-smile. I took that as a good sign.
"Hmm," Peter muttered, narrowing his eyes at me a bit, appearing to be looking for the catch. He turned his head to Remus. "The girl does have a point. James would drive himself up the wall, not knowing."
"Indeed, he would," Remus agreed, though instead of looking at Peter, he kept his eyes trained on me. I tried not to squirm. "How long until you tell him?" he asked.
The question threw me for a loop.
How long? Merlin, how long? I was suddenly hit with the realisation that James and I would be having this conversation soon—like, really soon. I knew I didn't feel anything for Amos anymore—that obstacle was out of the way—so what was left? Was there anything? Nothing immediately came to mind, and the thought of such a thing positively terrified me, though I have no idea why.
Double bloody fucking shit.
"Er...soon as I can manage, I suppose," I somehow got out, though it felt like a lie, even though it wasn't intentionally one. Remus must have sensed this, saw my hesitation or something, because his half-smile turned to a frown again. Peter merely looked delighted.
"Perfect!" he proclaimed, rubbing his hands together in malevolent expectation. He grinned in predatory excitement at Remus. "This is going to be good."
"Yeah," Remus said, still looking at me. "Good."
I know that I rather deserved that look of his, that sort of guarded censure that was radiating towards me. I wondered if he could read my suddenly panicked thoughts as aptly as he and Peter had read my feelings earlier in the day. I wondered if he knew that the thought of that sort of conversation with James—regardless of the fact that we had basically had one rather similar to it last night—had me in fits of dismay. I couldn't be sure he knew any of it, but I really didn't want to stand there any longer to think about it. In fact, I didn't want to think about anything remotely resembling or connecting to that sort of conversation. Not now. Not yet.
Merlin, what a mess.
I don't know whether either boy understood just how agitated I had quickly become, but suddenly I realised that I had been standing over here talking to them for far longer than was necessary for about three loo trips. I cast a furtive glance back at my table, finding Amos still happily involved in his conversation with Vance and Pompous Boy, but found Shirley Shorn regarding me with a slightly-more-than-was-comforting bout of suspicion. I turned my head back around, somewhat grateful for the excuse to leave the two Marauders. I had got the information I wanted, and then some. I didn't think I could handle much more.
"I'd better get back," I said quietly, looking back at Remus and Peter with what I hoped was a calm expression. "Amos is probably wondering where I got off to."
"Who cares?" Peter asked, snorting loudly. "He's an arse."
I rolled my eyes at that, shaking my head as I slowly began to turn around, lifting my hand to give them a friendly parting wave. "See you later," I started to say, just as Remus cut me off with a sudden, "Hey, wait."
I stopped where I stood, still half turned away from the pair, my waving hand dropping slowly down to my side. I shot Remus a curious glance, wondering what he was all about, but he wasn't looking at me to see it. Instead, he was suddenly digging through one of his bags—a large one from Zonko's—paying me no mind.
"Oh, right!" Peter burst out, slapping himself in the forehead. "Bugger, almost forgot about that bit."
"Forgot about what—" I started to ask, but the words stopped dead in my throat as Remus finally straightened out, pulling something out of the bag with him.
A single, bright red rose.
"Here," he said, holding the rose out to me, his hand unwavering. "This was another part of the deliberately accidental observing. If we get closer than the customary decent distance—say, close enough for interaction—we should—"
"—give me this," I finished for him weakly, slowly reaching out and taking the familiar flower out of his outstretched hand. My heart was going mad inside my chest. Trying to ignore it, I looked up at Remus with as calm an expression as I could muster. "There wasn't any message, was there?"
"Was told you knew your orders," Peter answered, shrugging. He regarded me curiously. "Don't you?" he asked.
All I could manage was a pathetic sort of nod.
I reveled in the feeling of the rose stem inside my hand—an unsurprisingly familiar one as of late—letting it rush over me for a moment as I glanced down at this tiny, perfect flower. My panic, which had up until just seconds ago been escalading to rather catastrophic proportions, suddenly seemed to dim rapidly, leaving me with only a small sense of uncertainty in its wake. I marveled at the fact that—even when not around—James could suddenly have this sort of effect on me, almost knowing exactly when I needed a reminder of things most. I shook my head, letting out a tired little laugh that I'm sure sounded more strained than I would have liked it to, but at lot less panicked than it would have just seconds before. I suppose there was that to be grateful for.
"Thanks," I somehow got out, glancing back up at Remus and Peter. If they thought my reaction to the rose odd, they didn't say anything. "Thanks a lot."
"Just following orders," Remus replied, nodding his head. "All part of being decent spies," he joked.
"You're the best," I muttered with a little grin, starting to turn away from the pair again, my hand clenching even tighter around the rose stem as my feet started to move. I lifted my free hand in a wave once more, letting my smile grow more natural. "See you around, all right? And remember—not a word about today, got it?"
"Got it," Peter said, giving me a salute.
"See you around," Remus added, a small nod of his head giving me agreement, as well. I waved once more, then began to make my way back towards my table.
When I reached my previously vacated chair, no one immediately commented on my overlong absence. Eventually Amos turned to me with a smile, which I returned as best I could considering the circumstances.
"Hey," he said, his tone slightly curious. "All right, there? You were gone awhile."
"I stopped to chat with some mates," I replied, nodding towards Remus and Peter's general direction, though I silently hoped he didn't ask me to elaborate more than that. He didn't, for which I was grateful, but I wasn't as lucky with the ever-suspicious Shirley.
"What's with the rose?" she asked, her tone little more than incredulous. "Get it in the loo?"
"No," I replied, trying to keep my face as blank as possible, wondering just why it was that someone hadn't done the world a favour and pushed Shirley Shorn off the nearest parapet early in her life. "It's a...a joke. Sort of. My mates gave it to me. Nothing, really."
"What kind of joke?" Pompous Boy asked, forcing me to add him to my Parapet List (though, honestly, he probably would have made it there eventually, anyway).
"A stupid one," I answered, trying to shrug it off, really quite cross that the lot of them chose now to actually be interested in my existence. "You really wouldn't get it," I added. "It's a Gryffindor thing."
Pompous Boy nodded, obviously too dim-witted to notice when I was blatantly lying through my teeth, turning away from me and starting up the conversation I'm assuming had been going on before I got back—one about leprechauns, I soon discovered—thankfully drawing most of the attention off of me. Amos kept his gaze fixated on me for a moment longer than his mates, but soon turned away, as well, obviously shrugging my flower eccentricities off. Shirley was the only one who bothered to continue staring at me suspiciously, but I ignored her and simply began hiding myself as often as possible by taking continuous sips of butterbeer.
I don't know for how much longer we sat there—maybe it was two hours, maybe it was two minutes—because I went from paying little attention to the conversation to no attention at all. Thankfully no one apparently attempted to engage me in conversation, because if they did, I was relatively sure I wouldn't have even noticed, so lost was I in my thoughts.
Because, honestly, the stupid prat would give me another rose.
Who does things like that? Seriously, who? Who in their right bleeding mind would, one, have their mates stalk a girl while she's on a date with another bloke, and then, two, force these said mates to hand over an ever-so-significant piece of botany to her while still on that date? Who does things like that? What sort of sick madman? Well, clearly my sort of sick madman, because even as I was ruing the day that the Potter family decided it would be a swell idea to extend their family line and procreate, I was still rather...well, to be perfectly honest, it was basically the best part of my whole day—I mean, not counting the bits of the day which occurred circa midnight or so, of course. And I suppose that says something equally as utterly tragic about me as it does the moron who spawned the whole flower thing, but I really couldn't bring myself to contemplate it much. I wasn't feeling that masochistic.
Anyway, whether it was two hours or two minutes or whatever interval of time a person could come up with (actually, I've just realised that—present time dictating—it must have been about an hour or so. Merlin, had I seriously lasted that long?), sooner or later I was broken out of my inner thoughts and rants by the subconscious realisation that everyone was getting ready to leave. I don't know what exactly snapped me at of it, but somehow, when Amos was getting up and was all, "You ready?", I was all, "Yeah, of course."
I know. Sometimes I amaze even myself.
We walked out of the Three Broomsticks and down the main road for a while, still amassed in the mob of Hufflepuffs. I followed along, still gripping my rose in my right hand, listening half-heartedly to the conversation looming around me. I realised suddenly that the mob was getting ready to split up, which two hours ago I might have been grateful for, but now was just rather put out over seeing as I would actually have to be a functioning human again. As Amos exchanged good-byes and pats-on-the-back with his mates, I smiled politely and gave little waves, speaking only when it was necessary. As the crowds wandered off, Amos and I were left alone for the first time in quite awhile. It was...
Well, pleasant in its own way, I suppose.
"That was nice," Amos said, giving his mates one last wave as they disappeared amid the crowded street, turning to face me only when their forms had completely vanished. "My mates are rather brill, right?"
"Right," I agreed, though considering I was genuinely planning to push two of them off the nearest tall tower at my earliest convenience, I may have been lying just a bit. "They're lovely."
"Did you have a good time?" Amos asked, as we both started walking, though—oh, dear Merlin, thank you—in the direction of the carriages, instead of back towards town. "You seemed rather quiet."
"Just a little tired," I replied, though suddenly I was feeling remarkably rejuvenated. We were heading back towards the castle! We were heading back towards the castle! "Hogsmeade is rather draining, you know?"
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Amos agreed—a first for us, agreeing on something. "It is a bit exhausting. But worth it, yeah?"
I nodded, deciding that it wasn't really lying because Hogsmeade exhaustion could be worth it...it just wasn't really this time. But no one said anything about this time. Even if maybe it was indirectly implied. Implications are rubbish, anyway.
There were no uncomfortable conversations about whether or not the date was over, no questions about whether either of us was ready to head back up to the castle. It was simply taken for granted, both of us casually making our way towards the carriages, actually managing to carry on a decent conversation for the first time all day, which was pretty damn ironic considering the date was now ending. I wondered if Amos was as relieved as I was that the date was over and that's why he was acting so pleasant. I wondered if I even cared, and found I really didn't. As we rode back up to the castle, chatting amicably about nothing in particular, I was happy to find that I didn't even really hold the day against Amos. Honestly, I no longer held enough feeling for the bloke to bother with that sort of thing. I simply chalked it up as an unfit match, as something I had—at one point, anyway—hoped might work out, but found didn't. No hard feelings. No guilt or doubt. All that would require far too much energy on my part for something that now seemed so insignificant. And I suppose that makes me the most fickle sort of witch in the entire world, having someone who had not so long ago been the entire center of my world now reduced to a mere wasted day spent out of my year, but...oh, well. I never claimed to be particularly decisive.
We got back up to the castle quickly, though whether that was due to the fact that it was still a bit early and there wasn't really that much traffic delaying the trek, or the simple fact that pleasant conversation made the trip go faster, I don't know. Either way, we were stepping out of the carriage in no time at all, happily making our way back up to the courtyard where we had started the day. Chatting idly about how glad we were that the weather had remained decent, we reached the steps to the front doors in no time at all, pausing briefly at the foot of the stairs before quickly jogging up.
"Hopefully next Hogsmeade trip will be as nice a day," Amos was saying, coming to a halt just inside the front doors, the Great Hall just in front of us. He turned to face me with a friendly smile. There was no hint of invitation in his voice, no implication that he expected more out of this than this one day, and for that, I was eternally grateful.
"Yeah, hopefully," I replied, giving him an amicable smile of my own, nodding my head. I waited a moment for him to say something more, but when he didn't, I took it upon myself to start the ending formalities. "I had a really nice time today," I lied through my teeth, figuring that 'I had a really nice time these past fifteen minutes' wasn't exactly polite. "You're a really brill bloke, Amos."
"You're not so bad yourself," Amos said with a grin, his eyes twinkling at me. "I'm glad we got to spend this time together."
I nodded, figuring I was testing my luck with lying again—how many times could I manage it before my traitor-of-a-mouth started spouting off something else?—but Amos didn't seem to mind my silence. In fact, he just smiled even wider, which had me smiling, too.
"We should probably split up here," he said, shrugging lightly. "We head in two different directions and all. But I did have a good time today, Lily. You did as well, yeah?"
"Sure," I replied, figuring 'today' and 'fifteen minutes' were practically the same thing. "It was great."
"So I'll see you around?" Amos sounded hopeful about that, which I suppose was a bit odd considering we were clearly not suitable and I know we both knew this ended here, but I chalked it up as politeness and nodded.
"Definitely," I said, because of course I would see him around—we still had Ancient Runes together.
Amos smiled, and suddenly began to lean in for what I quickly realised was going to be a kiss.
...and when you finally can't take it anymore, when the truth has at long last hit, the day will be over and you'll shake his hand because that's the polite thing to do...
I very nearly started cracking up right then and there, realising that—bloody hell, how pathetic was this?—I actually would have preferred shaking Amos's hand rather than returning the kiss he was so rapidly getting closer to giving me, but my stubborn side would absolutely not let me pull away or even turn my head aside, letting Amos drop a decently innocent kiss on my lips, instead. It wasn't long or particularly poignant. It wasn't really unpleasant, either, but I certainly wasn't drowning in any sort of lust. Still, it was a nice reminder that this relationship—the one I'd had in my head for months and months and months, and the real one that had actually existed these past few weeks—really was over. As Amos pulled away, I gave him a truly natural smile for the first time all day. He smiled back, equally as content.
"Bye," I said, stepping away with a little sigh, letting all my girlhood dreams of this boy filter out of my system.
"Bye," Amos replied, stepping away, as well. We exchange small waves, a last parting farewell, then went our separate ways.
The date was over.
Finally, officially over.
I let out a loud breath of relief.
My jaunt back to Gryffindor Tower was pleasant, a time for me to fully unwind from the day, put it into perspective. Perhaps it was only when it was over that I could look back and say it wasn't utterly terrible, just a rather rotten three-out-of-ten on the date scale. I mean, it wasn't Amos's fault that we just didn't click. He was perfectly nice—even if he was a bit weird with the whole incredibly social thing—but it just wasn't meant to be between us. And I was okay with that. In fact, I was more than okay with that. I felt happy and free for the first time in quite some time.
I was practically humming by the time I reached the corridor that led to the Tower, seeing the portrait hole in the far distance, but not really paying it much attention. It wasn't until I had practically reached the Fat Lady—all of four meters away—that I noticed the anomaly.
Bloody hell, not again.
For tacked up right there on the Fat Lady's frame, looking quite innocent and pleasant for anyone who wasn't me, was yet another bright, red rose and—surprisingly—a small bit of parchment attached to it.
I very nearly groaned.
Why does he do this to me?
I approached the portrait hole carefully, ignoring the Fat Lady's curious gaze as my own eyes remained locked on the flower and note. When I finally was close enough to reach, I grabbed hold of both and slowly brought them down. My eyes were fixated on the three small words that were scrawled haphazardly on the bit of parchment.
Come find me.
That's all it said. 'Come find me.'
He hadn't even bothered to address or sign it this time.
I stared at the three words as if they were something dangerous, something that would jump out and attack me at any moment. Suddenly, that panicked feeling was back, the one that had all but consumed me back when Remus had asked me about when James and I would be having our conversation. I didn't know why, but I was quickly overcome with a great feeling of dread. It made no sense—dread? Why dread? Why should I be dreading this?—but that's just the way it was.
Gulping lightly, I snapped myself out of my endless thoughts to find the Fat Lady looking at me in the most questioning sort of way. "For you?" she asked, and I nodded.
"When did he put it here?" I asked, not defining who 'he' was, assuming she'd know. She did indeed, but her answer rather shocked me.
"Not three minutes ago," she answered, and was suddenly rather huffy. "Didn't even ask my permission to adorn me in such a way. Just did it, no respect at all."
"That sounds like him," I muttered, then was rather overcome by the thought that... "He isn't...I mean, he isn't inside, is he?"
"No," the Fat Lady answered, and I practically sagged in relief. "Waltzed off down the corridor. Disappeared over by that dreadful Sir Cadogan. You know, I can't stand that knight—"
"Honeysuckle," I interrupted, giving the password and forcing the Fat Lady to open with an offended noise. I ignored her and stepped straight through, barely registering the few students who littered the Common Room as I headed right for the staircase and straight for my room.
The dormitory was thankfully empty as I finally walked in, something I was extremely grateful for, but didn't think much about. I didn't care where everyone was—all I cared about was snuggling in my bed. I dropped my shopping bags near the door, letting my roses and succinct little note fall gently onto my bed, sparing only a few moments to tare the Slaggy Boots from my feet—Merlin, were those going back to the dark end of the closet—before happily sprawling out upon my bed. I grabbed my pillow and my blanket, burrowing myself between them and closing my eyes.
Come find me.
Merlin, why does the idea positively terrify me?
I didn't know. I didn't care. Frankly, I still don't know and I still don't care. Or perhaps I just don't want to know. Either way, I've had about all I can take for one day. I think I need a nap. Or just some proper contemplation time. I don't know. I just don't know.