A/N: Ha, as I expected, reactions to our winner were mixed – some of you think like me and say it would be clichéd if Lily won, while others of you like cliché and wanted Lily to win. I chose the un-clichéd route because I am a firm believer in the philosopher Jagger, who once said, "You can't always get what you want." So, you can't always get what you want. That's just how it works. Sorry.
But, lucky for you, I'm as big an LJ-hog as you lot and I have a bit of closure for them here, which was the plan from the very beginning.
Song of the chapter: Hanging by a Moment, by Lifehouse.
So, I hope you guys enjoy this and for the last time, do review when you're through! My epic end-of-story good-bye is at the end there.
It's just another Saturday afternoon in February – nothing more.
Some of the abundant snows of January have begun to thaw, but bitter drafts still take dominance outside, in the corridors, and occasionally in the common rooms, thoroughly annoying the students, whose heads are filled with thoughts of freedom and summer sunshine.
In the depths of Gryffindor tower, in the sixth year girl's dormitory, Lily Evans is currently lazing about on her bed with a magazine, munching on a cookie she had brought with her from lunch. She watches her friend, Alice Prewitt, sift through a heap of clothes on the floor, searching for something in particular.
Grinning at the sight, Lily asks, "Found something yet, Alice?"
"No," Alice says glumly, holding up a blue shirt and observing it critically for a moment before tossing it aside. "I have absolutely nothing worth wearing today. Isn't that pathetic?"
"Do you want something of mine?" inquires Lily.
"Nah," says Alice. "I want to wear my own clothes. The only problem is that I don't have anything good in my wardrobe."
"You want my pink skirt that looks good with that white shirt you have?" offers Lily.
Alice considers. "Okay," she gives in. But she stops and considers this for a second. "Or do you think it's inappropriate to expose a lot of leg on the first date? Should I just go in jeans?"
"Whatever you want," says Lily, "but keep in mind – this guy has already seen you in a bathing suit."
"True," says Alice. "Give me the skirt."
"Sure." Lily hops off her bed and roots through her drawer to retrieve the aforementioned skirt. When she finds it, she tosses it at Alice and hops back onto her bed, settling down again with her magazine.
Alice turns around and slips into the skirt. She fishes the white shirt out of her pile and puts that on as well, checking her appearance in the mirror and fluffing her hair. She is quiet as she contemplates, but after a couple of seconds, she turns around to face Lily again.
"Lils, should I tie my hair back or not?" asks Alice frantically. "What shoes should I wear?"
"Wear your pink sandals and leave your hair down," says Lily very calmly, a twinkle in her eye. "You have pretty hair."
"Not really," complains Alice, rumpling it unhappily.
"Look, you need to stop stressing out so much over this date," Lily advises, putting the magazine aside because she knows she's not going to read it anyway. "Remus is a nice guy and he won't care if your hair is up or down. Relax."
Alice sighs, frustrated, and plops down on her bed. "This is why I don't date," she says. "I'm rubbish. I can't even figure out what I want to wear."
"You're not rubbish," says Lily. "You're nervous, which is understandable but a little silly. Remus is probably the nicest guy you could ever go out on a date with."
"You're right," says Alice, sighing again. "You're always right, Lils."
"Nah, not always," answers Lily with a grin. "But usually."
Alice rolls her eyes and sits on her hands, chewing on her lips and staring out into space, as though she's thinking deeply about something.
Then she asks in a soft, almost confidential voice, "I still can't believe I won this whole thing."
"It was pretty amazing," says Lily, "but I've told you over and over – you're absolutely brilliant. You deserve it."
"Did you know I honestly thought I was in love with Remus in first year because he taught me how to do the Levitating Charm once?" Alice reminisces. "I don't think I ever told you that, because it was embarrassing to me. Sarah Emerson was after him at the time."
"I can believe that," says Lily. "You thought he was cute. You told me that much."
"He is cute," Alice says. "He's also very sweet. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to go out with him – I am the most comfortable with him, out of all the Marauders."
"But he's not Frank, is he?" asks Lily kindly.
"Frank and Remus are similar people, but they're also very different," says Alice. "Remus has a sly, adventurous streak in him, which is why he's a Marauder. Frank isn't sly at all – he's straightforward and funny and daring to the point of being suicidal. Remus makes me smile, but Frank excites me. I like both of them for different reasons."
Now it is Lily's turn to sigh. "Alice, going out with Remus isn't going to erase Frank, if that's what you're trying to do here," she says gently. "What you feel for Frank will never leave. Ever."
"I know that," responds Alice, just as gentle. "But you know, I'm done waiting for something to happen between us. Pretty much everyone in the school knows except for him and I don't want to date a clueless guy. I'm done dropping hints; if he wants me, he has to figure it out. Meanwhile, I want to live my life, play the field a little, see what else there is to life. If Frank and I belong together, we'll find each other in the end."
"He'd be an idiot to let such an amazing girl go," concedes Lily, giving her friend a playful kick on the ankle. "But I get your point."
Alice smiles. "Remus is great," she says. "I don't know if we'll go steady after this, but I know that if he's into it, I'll follow along. I've spent a long time away from the dating game."
"We both have," says Lily. "But you and Remus are cute together. He won't be able to resist you."
Alice laughs, the sound short and musical, her features lighting up like a Christmas tree at this remark. She then subsides, lapsing into a content but thoughtful silence, and the two girls relax, sharing this quietness between them.
It is after about a minute or two that Alice catches Lily's eye and resumes that gentle tone of hers, saying, "You know, Lils, it's not too late for you and James, either."
"Excuse me?" Lily asks politely. A deadened edge can be heard beneath the façade, but Alice ignores it, having known it so well for so long.
"I'm saying, it's not too late for you and James," she says. "You know, for something to happen between you two."
"The competition has been over for a week now," Lily points out.
"So what?" Alice refuses to let her gaze drop. "The way you both feel about each other hasn't changed. Not in the least."
"Alice, we don't—"
"Bullshit," Alice says evenly. "Whatever you were about to say, it was probably bullshit. I mean, Lils, honestly – look at yourself. You're clever, you're beautiful, you're charming, you're determined. You, of all people, are capable of marching up to someone and telling them exactly what you think of them."
"And I do, but—"
"Again, that was probably bullshit," Alice cuts her off. "For all your strength, you have turned into a pretty big coward when it comes to James Potter. You keep putting off that moment of truth when you have to reveal yourself to be vulnerable, to be willing to put down the weapons and compromise. You are confrontational about everything in the world except James; and I think that's because he's the one person who could be long-term, who could potentially matter to you. You need to tell him how you feel."
"I can't," Lily says simply, pathetically, looking her friend in the eye as she says these two words. "Alice, I can't. I just can't."
"You can," presses Alice. "Look at Hannah! She doesn't have a quarter of your fire, and yet she managed to work up the nerve to ask out Peter Pettigrew, who she is now happily dating. You can even look at me. I am nowhere near as headstrong as you are, nor will I ever be. But I did what I had to do, I sucked up my inhibitions, and I made life work for me. You can do that too, Lils, I know you can."
Lily purses her lips and looks away, her unspoken thought as obvious as if she had said it aloud: But he doesn't love me anymore.
Alice senses this. Somewhere in her, she knows that Lily's main dilemma is the fear that after all this time, he's finally given up on her and any feelings that might be surfacing will be too late. However, she says nothing about them, because she's done all the talking she needs to do.
At this point, the only way for anything to move forward is for Lily to take them forward herself. No more guidance.
Alice takes her purse from her dresser and slings it over her shoulder; but before she goes, she looks Lily in the eyes and says, "Lily, regardless of what you think, it isn't too late for you. You don't need a Top Model prize to get you what you want, because James Potter has only ever wanted you. Competition or no competition."
Lily doesn't have anything to say to this. Alice had figured as much, but she is still vaguely disappointed as she exits out of the dormitory, heading down the stairs so she can meet Remus in the Entrance Hall for their date. The redhead remains alone upstairs; sitting where she had been on her bed, wondering what was right or wrong or real or right in this situation that has defied all her odds.
She doesn't know where this is supposed to go or if she's missed her chance to make things right. She has never really been sure where the boundaries between them lay.
But then as the door closes behind Alice, it dawns on her, suddenly and inexplicably, that maybe this confusion is because there were never any boundaries to begin with.
Love doesn't work like that. Love doesn't have any rules. It does what it wants, goes where it may, and makes miracles out of withering dust.
There could be a miracle brewing in the war-torn emotions of James Potter. There really could be. She feels it in herself, in this realization – simple as it might be in essence – but the only way to know for sure is to stop wasting time and figure it out, as Alice had been saying all along. What the hell is she still doing here?
Without any warning, Lily's legs rise to an upright position and her feet take the necessary steps to cross the room. Although cold, the winter's day is bright with promise and most of Hogwarts' inhabitants have bundled out to brave the weather.
Lily grabs her sweater from her bedpost and shuts the door with a resolute, final sort of snap.
Lily arrives in Hogsmeade in record time, speed-walking down the various stairs and practically knocking people over in her haste to move quickly. She sprints out of the castle doors and through the grounds to the Hogsmeade path, which is currently full of students. She weaves messily between them, ignoring the curses muttered in her direction; and once she is inside the village, she begins the agonizing searching game.
She runs down the main street of the village, narrowly missing several couples bundled together on the sides of the road. She sees stores and a myriad of people, but she's only looking for a single face that is refusing to be found.
Doubts of all sorts bombard her head like snowballs – what if he's not here? What if he's gone somewhere? What if he's in the bathroom? What if he's on a date? What if he tells her he never wants to see her again?
She can't take this. It's too much. Blindly, she keeps running, because she doesn't know how else she's supposed to locate him.
As Lily checks store window after store window, her senses on high alert for the giveaway signs, she decides the most likely place he'd be is the Three Broomsticks. He loves the Three Broomsticks. Whenever he asked her out as a kid, he would want to go there, rather than Honeydukes or the ever-popular Madam Puddifoot's.
If he's not there…well…he will be there. He has to be.
Her breath an icy mist hovering about her lips in the winter air, Lily cuddles deeper into her sweater and runs towards the Three Broomsticks. It isn't far and she manages to slip inside as a man steps out. He holds the door open for her and she scoots in, scanning the crowded room for the one person she is on the look-out for.
To her great relief, she sees James standing in the back corner of the shop. He is putting his coat on, getting ready to leave, and his friends (minus Remus) are standing around him, the three of their mouths moving with laughter or talk. Something implodes within Lily's chest and she runs to the table, knocking over a few things in the process.
She can see him turning to leave and she can see the flicker of shock and recognition in his eyes as he beholds the sight of her. She skids to a halt as she gets close and with the way he's looking at her, she is almost embarrassed by the whole ordeal. How silly she must look, sprinting like that to get to James Potter. He must think she's an idiot – and if he doesn't, his friends probably do.
"Hi," she manages, attempting to catch her breath.
"Oh, hey, Lils," says Sirius cheerfully. "Didn't expect to see you here. Do you mind explaining why you were in such a rush?"
"It was cold out," she says lamely. "I…wanted to come inside."
The boys – including James – can tell that it's a lousy excuse, but they mercifully do not press her on the matter, choosing instead to nod awkwardly. Lily feels her cheeks becoming a hot red and bites her lip, unsure of what to say. Luckily, Sirius breaks the ice for all of them.
"Right…so…Sadie and Alicia said they'd meet me at Honeydukes in the next ten minutes about ten minutes ago. I should probably get going," he says, checking with his watch.
"Yeah, sounds good," agrees Peter. "Hannah wanted me to come to Puddifoot's with her for tea. I figure I'll go a little early and wait for her."
"Have fun, guys," says James. "I'll see you at dinner later."
"Cheers, mate." Sirius pats his friend's shoulder, giving Lily the slightest glance on his way past her. Peter follows suit, the two boys slipping away. It is no secret why they have suddenly remembered previous entanglements – not to Lily or to James – and this mutual knowledge somehow makes things even more awkward.
Lily waits a moment or two before clearing her throat, her heart thumping madly in her chest, and says, "Erm…hello."
"Hey," says James.
Another awkward second or two.
"The weather is really rotten," she offers for the sake of offering.
"That it is," agrees James.
Lily drags her toe across the floor, her eyes refusing to linger anywhere higher than his chest. "So…erm…how are you?"
"I'm all right," he says. "How are you?"
James nods. "So…you wanted to talk to me or something?"
"Oh yeah," says Lily, feeling extraordinarily stupid. "I did."
"I just…I wanted to say…hi," stutters Lily.
"Hi," says James.
"Hey," repeats Lily.
Inwardly, though, she curses herself. Why is she so damn incoherent right now? Why is she acting like an inarticulate twelve-year-old again? If Alice and Hannah can take charge, she can too. So why isn't she?
"Erm…I kind of have to be somewhere, so if you have something to tell me, you ought to tell me," says James.
"Are you going with Sirius to see Alicia and Sadie in Honeydukes?" asks Lily, deflating ever so slightly.
"I'm invited if I want to go," he says.
"Do you want to? Go, I mean?" Only now does Lily catch James's eyes and she is almost immediately sorry she has.
"Yeah," he says. "I do."
"You can go now, if you want to," says Lily. "I'm sure Alicia would want to see you."
"I hope so." His tone is so calm, serene. It's like her presence doesn't do a thing to him anymore. She feels like a terrible person for wishing he could freak out or something, just because she was standing there in her flimsy sweater, talking to him.
She looks into his face, his open face, and she wonders why the words she wants won't come. She has the opportunity, right here and now, to say whatever is on her mind. There are people milling about creating a helpful wash of background sound, letting him focus on her and only her, in a toasty bar that she knows he loves.
It's perfect. And yet…
"Look, Lily, I'd love to stay here and chat, but I have to go," James says at last. "So if you have something to say, say it. I don't have all afternoon."
Lily opens her mouth to speak, but she is again stricken with that strange closing of her throat, the emptying of her head until there is absolutely nothing left. She closes her mouth in defeat.
"All right then," says James. "See you later, Lily."
And with this, he too brushes right past her, leaving her behind to watch him go. He doesn't look back. Lily feels the hopelessness sinking deep into her chest, pushing into her like nothing she's ever experienced before; and without bothering her brain for instructions, her legs break into a sprint for the door once more. She can't let him get away.
"James!" she calls over the din of foreign voices, praying he can hear her. "James!"
He turns his head toward her as he opens the door and she stumbles out of the door with him, breathing heavily. The look on his face is both surprised and a little annoyed.
"What?" he asks, not unfriendly but certainly not welcoming either.
"I do need to talk to you," she pants, her misty breath fanning out under his face. "I've had to talk to you for a while."
"What about?" Something a lot like unwilling hope glimmers in his eyes for half a second before extinguishing itself.
"About us," says Lily. "I just…I just…"
She flails for another second or two before bursting out at long last, "James, I'm sorry."
"What?" His gaze softens and he's almost worried about her. But she doesn't need his worry or his sympathy or anything. She needs him to listen to her.
"I'm sorry for everything," she says all in a rush. "I'm sorry I messed up the start of the competition, I'm sorry I could never play your games the way you wanted, I'm sorry we were such prats to each other for the time we've been at school, I'm sorry I never gave you a chance, I'm sorry I can never figure out what to say when you're around. I'm sorry that I don't like your friends except Remus and I'm sorry that Alicia broke your heart. I'm really just quite sorry and I think…I think we need to talk about things. At least, Alice thinks we needs to talk about things; but Alice has a really annoying habit of being right and Sadie was telling me the same thing, as well as every other bloody friend I've ever had, so maybe they're onto something, you know? Unless I'm right and I've totally screwed things up beyond all control and—"
Here, James finally cuts Lily off with a light touch of his index finger on her lips. At once, she stops babbling and somewhat settles down, her breaths slowing and the cloud of mist around her mouth thins out to a single timid stream. James's eyes are softer than talc as they take in Lily's face and he withdraws his finger, letting it fall limp on his side.
"You're right," he says. "We do need to talk about some things."
"I'm tired of not saying what I mean," says Lily. "I mean, I spent the whole competition avoiding you and blowing up at you when you forced me not to avoid you. It was hard. I don't want us to be that way anymore."
"Neither do I," he concurs.
"So…you don't hate me?" she asks, shyer than she has been in a while.
The hope she had seen before returns to his eyes and warms the entirety of his face, stronger than she's ever seen it, and she can tell he isn't shy in the least. He says, "No. I don't."
"That's good," Lily says, smiling weakly.
He laughs a very charming little laugh and she can't help but nervously respond back with her own. The whole scene is so surreal, the two tongue-tied teenagers standing outside the Three Broomsticks together in the winter air, James in a coat and Lily in a sweater, snow all around them.
Then James suggests, "So…erm…do you fancy talking about some of those things you mentioned over a butterbeer or something inside?"
"Wait, but don't you have to hang out with Sirius, Sadie, and Alicia?" asks Lily.
His smile is quite mischievous. "Not really."
"I lied," he confesses flippantly. "But c'mon. Butterbeer's on me."
Lily smiles, warmer than a butterbeer could ever be. "I think I'd like that."
He opens the door in an eager but clumsy attempt at chivalry and Lily shuffles inside amidst the large, dense crowd of people. She squeezes through to the back of the bar at the boys' previous table and James follows behind her, his eyes trained ahead on her vivid hair.
On a sudden impulse, he reaches out and grabs her hand, squeezing it with the gentlest of pressures, and she glances back at him for just a second, before going ahead and pulling him through with her so that maybe, just maybe, they can privately discuss the murky events of the past three years.
A/N: So! That was it, guys. That was the end of the whole story! Isn't that so exciting? I wanted to keep it somewhat canon here, so this conversation I led up to is only talking. No dating or snogging yet. Sorry…
But, here is that epic end-of-story speech I mentioned at the start:
Well, guys, you know as well as I do that it's been a pretty bumpy ride to get here. For those of you who don't know, I started thinking about this story a couple of years ago because my friends thought it would be amusing if I wrote it. I said all right and in typical Zay fashion, I wrote the first chapter and promptly forgot about everything. A year ago, I found it and posted it out of guilt for not having written much at the time, and was blown away by all the people who said, "Continue!"
So I did. I continued it…a whole year later, after much procrastination. But when I finally started, it came so naturally to me that I was astonished. I won't lie, it's been a bit tough getting in the heads of ten girls and fairly portraying four boys, but it's been a blast and you guys have been so supportive of every mad thing I tried to do.
I never, ever, ever thought I'd finish this – ever – but you guys spurred me on and yes, the plot has changed from my initial outline because of certain things you said. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being so good to me and helping me along, giving me your opinions. It means the world to me that this silly little project has been able to grow to be what it is now. It became more emotional than I ever anticipated. But I am proud of it. I love that you enjoyed it.
Thanks again for making my day so often with your lovely comments; and I do have other stories, both multi-chaptered and not, that you can check out on my profile. Be sure to take a look if you had fun with this one.
Cheers, guys. It's been awesome. Have a great day. And review!