He was my best friend.
Really, he was.
For the winter-spring months of seventh year, when I had finally lost all possible reason to abhor him and was forced to ultimately give in, we'd become friends.
Honest-to-goodness, heart-to-heart, laugh-until-tea-spills-from-our-noses friends.
We weren't inseparable, exactly, but we did like spending time together. We didn't often say this verbally – especially me – but we certainly implied it. Words weren't really necessary; it was all in the way his eyes melted over in that marshmallow-dissolving-into-cocoa way, how his fingers would graze over the soft part of my wrist when I had to leave him, how I shifted slightly when his friends came to take him away from me. They were our little signs, part of our little game – like so much else, they sort of fell into place as we frolicked along our path.
He could read me like a picture book, and in turn, I could do the same for him – we were obviously fairly complex people, but we were working our way through, layer by layer, learning more about each other every day. It could get quite immersed sometimes, depending on the questions and answers we gave, but mostly, it was like lemonade on a breezy day – light, pleasant, and more satisfying than I, at least, thought it would be. Talking to him was easy, natural; he was admirably good at making me smile.
So we'd been close for those five months. I genuinely enjoyed being with him – he was witty, intelligent, and used his hands exquisitely when he talked. He always got so involved with what he was saying; his face lit up and his eyes became zealous when he hit the climax of one of his wacky stories, and watching him was almost as fun as listening to what he had to say.
He gave me daily piggy-back rides around our Head dormitory as if I was five years old and weightless again, even though I was clearly seventeen and fairly solid. Old as it makes me sound, he made me feel like a little girl again – like it was okay to snort when I laughed hard enough, or say something utterly nonsensical regardless of the conversation topic we were currently indulging in. For this reason, among others, I spent more time with him than I spent with anyone else – both because we were Heads, and because we simply enjoyed it.
There was also that memorable afternoon when we once attempted to convince his hair to lie down flat, using an entire bottle of hair gel only to get miserable results. That was one of the first days in a while when I'd laughed to the point of choking on my own spit; James had come over to me then, as though to do the Heimlich, but ended up putting his arms around my middle and spinning me around the room until we collapsed on the floor together, giggling madly and gasping for breath.
We were fast friends, and he'd been partial to me from the start; it didn't take very long for him to take advantage of any moment he had alone with me.
Slowly, through our rapidly-lengthening periods of time together, we delved quite far into the other person's soul. After the silly games we played or the childish things we did, we would settle in somewhere comfortable and just talk. Talk about anything and everything we couldn't discuss with anyone else – our heart's desires, our fears, our dreams. It was remarkable how effortless it was for me to open up to him, to begin letting go of my deeply-set anchors with subtle care – unraveling my more tender self in front of him was as much a learning experience for me than it was for him.
I confessed the things I'd been concealing for the longest time to him on those early evenings we spent together, sometimes inside and sometimes outside once the weather got nicer. I admitted things like sometimes being jealous of my sister's normalcy while my life could be so explosive, being deathly afraid of heights, occasionally fearing what people thought of me despite having a reputation for never caring what others believed. I told him about how I'd cheated on my very first Charms test – for one question I got wrong anyway in first year – and the sole time I'd tried smoking, back when I was thirteen years old.
These were things I never articulated out loud to anyone before, and they left me horribly exposed and vulnerable, but he was sympathetic. His hand would shyly grope around for mine, and when I would let him find it, he squeezed it tightly as he shared his private insecurities with me too.
He was terrified of boats, he once told me. He got regularly occurring nightmares about falling off of them and drowning to death. He was consequently terrified of water as well, and couldn't swim for this reason. He acknowledged that there were times when he, like me, let people's oft-spiteful words get under his skin and make him feel unwillingly guilty, upset, bruised.
He talked to me about lots of things he'd seen, done, or said that he never told anyone else about; they often shocked or saddened me, generally because of the way he spoke of them – harshly, with bitterness or despondency. He was always so strong that seeing him in that unrefined, vulnerable state was odd for me; but I was always inexplicably excited, empathetic, affectionate, and protective of him at the same time. I wanted to reach out to him – he was such an impatient, sparkly, animated gem of a boy that when I had him in an introspective type of mood, I wanted to absorb him like a sponge.
It was fascinating for me to observe him when he was so untethered; the human side of him was just inexplicably beautiful, in all its chaotic disarray.
We continued along together in this laid-back, intimate fashion, floating through weeks that quickly turned into months, and after a while, I ended up knowing him better than I knew myself. We were rarely caught around the school without being in close proximity to the other, including the times when we were with our other friends.
He'd also developed these little habits, like twirling a lock of my hair while he talked to me about something or slipping his arm around his waist in a way only he could do when we walked. He was very open with communicating his feelings physically, by touching me in some way, but I preferred communicating more passively – with my eyes, or with my expression. He knew and respected this about me, so he didn't push me to do anything I didn't do voluntarily. I appreciated this more than I could tell him.
Across the castle, we were rumored to be a couple by this point, but I didn't think so. We were friends – I didn't need to be any more than that. I was content the way we were, without any pressure or serious commitment; we were just a boy and a girl who liked to be together. Yes, he was a striking and sound human being who was ingenious and couldn't resist a good laugh, but our relationship was strictly platonic – I wanted to be his safe haven, the one he could kick back with, rather than a girlfriend he kissed good-night.
One summery evening in April, though, when we were sitting on the front steps of the castle watching the twilight gradually approach in silence together, he engaged me into a conversation that would change everything between us forevermore.
"Lily, can I ask you something?" he inquired, his tone light as ever. "Something…frank, kind of personal?"
"Of course," I said, grinning lazily at him. "You know you can ask me anything."
"Okay," he said, giving me the same grin back. "So, the question on my mind tonight is…do you believe in premonitions? In knowing, the moment you look at someone, that you're meant for them and for only them?"
"Yes," I said. "Yes, I do…to a certain extent."
"Do explain," he requested.
I cleared my throat. "Very well. I believe that yes, you can look at someone and know you are meant for them and only them, but you only realize this after knowing them a long time. I don't believe you can know this on the very first encounter."
He nodded slowly, taking this in. "Okay, valid answer." He rubbed his chin contemplatively. "The next question on my mind, then, is…have you ever had that premonition about anyone before?"
I fell into a thoughtful quiet as I considered this. "Not really," I admitted. "I mean, I have fancied boys quite a lot throughout my years, but it's never been something where I've thought, 'Yes, this is going to be The One.'"
His eyes were undecipherable, but his tone a sharp contrast by being curiously blithe as he said, "I see."
"Why are you so curious about that tonight?" I asked him, smiling slightly.
He shrugged, his expression passive as he ran his fingers through his hair. "I don't know. I've been wondering."
"Come on, I can tell you're not telling me something," I said, giving him a playful shove. "What are you hiding from me?"
"Nothing, Lils," he said a little too innocently, his smile dazzling as he attempted to sell me this response.
"Liar," I teased. "I can see it in your eyes – give me the truth."
"No," he declined, his half-smiling at me.
"No, you won't say it, or no, you're not keeping something quiet?" I demanded at once.
I pouted and kicked his leg. "You sod, Potter," I said resentfully, though making my eyes wide and looking demurely at him. "Stop being horrible."
He laughed, but gave in by saying, "Oh all right then, I'll tell you."
My smile was huge – I knew he couldn't resist me when I gave him that look. However, I continued to look at him curiously, as he tried to put the words together in his head. I waited three full minutes, still and curious, until he presently said, "So…you know how we've kind of gotten close lately, right?"
"Of course," I said.
"Yeah, and how you're pretty much the best friend I've ever had by now?"
I smiled, but said, "Yes."
He was about to say something, but then he stopped, an apologetic, almost embarrassed grin on his smooth, superbly-crafted face. He threw his head back restlessly, his hand in his hair once more, and he said more to himself, "Merlin, this is hard."
"It doesn't have to be," I said, scooting over to sit closer to him. "You know you can say anything in front of me."
He looked at me, appearing to let this soak in a bit, and he shifted again, so that he was sitting up straight once more. Then he said, "Okay…so, we're going to be leaving Hogwarts soon, and there's not much time left for us to, you know, make our final amends and good-byes. We've got to make each second count, right? Tie all the loose ends up, see everything through – that sort of thing."
"Right," I said slowly.
"So, being your friend has probably been the best thing that's ever happened to me – hell, you're one of the best things that's ever happened to me – but I haven't been entirely honest with you lately," he said, his cheeks faintly pink as he looked at my knees rather than my face. "And I think I should to be."
I didn't say anything – I simply waited, surveying him as he kept fiddling with his hair, incessantly, as though he was physically incapable of being still. He took a moment or two to prepare himself before he looked me full-on in the face, the sentiment in his eyes startlingly potent.
"Lily Evans, I love you," he finally said. "I love you like crazy; I've loved you for ages, really, but now that I've spent more time with you, I love you even more. Too much. You need to understand that."
I was dumbstruck, frozen by the sincerity in these words, but he went on, "Lils, I've been happy as your friend, fooling around with you and sharing all these moments, but I don't want to just be friends anymore; I want to be more than that. We can – you know we can."
"James…" I didn't know how to answer this; he'd sprung this on me so abruptly that I wasn't sure what was appropriate to say.
But, he clearly had a better idea how to carry this extraordinary idea than I did, because he continued, "No, Lil, listen to me. You are…everything. You are magnificent, fervent, original, crazy, gentle, honest. You can make me laugh, cry, and scream at the same time; you bring out the best and the worst in me, and I adore that about you. I love you more than I've ever loved anyone, and I want you to know that."
His hand looked for my hand, like it did when he knew he'd rendered me defenseless, and he clutched it harder than usual. "Wherever I go, whatever I do, I want you to be there next to me," he whispered.
I stared at him then, and all I could see was an amorous earnestness that could bring a dead girl back to life; he really meant it. He loved me as much as he had just claimed to, and I could see it all the way through him – it scared the hell out of me. Never had anyone said anything of this magnitude to me; never had anyone looked at me with the reverence he did. Could I trust him to love me? Could I trust myself to let him?
I took a shaky breath, steadying myself under his gaze, and I opened my mouth to speak; although, no words came. I could feel emotion – hot and insatiable – rise up in my throat, but no intelligible sounds. I knew I loved him too, but not the way he loved me. Not as a life partner, or as the dreaded word 'boyfriend.' So what was I to say?
He gave me about a minute before he leaned in towards me. He tilted my chin up with his index finger, forcing my vision to borrow into his, until he looked at my mouth. He had never, in the entire time we had eased into our relationship together, looked there. Yet, he was now, and this struck a chord deep within me somehow.
Cautiously, little by little, he moved closer to me, until the tips of our noses grazed against each other and the tiniest of gaps separated his face from mine. I could feel him breathing on me, feel his hand on my shoulder, but something was holding us back – me. He was waiting for me to respond, because he didn't want to push; he wanted us to meet somewhere in the middle.
And here, in this moment, when he was so near to me, I felt like the distance was, at last, just within my reach.
So, with the same caution and commitment he had shown me, I closed the space between us, and at long, long last, I let us come together in a way we hadn't been together before.
His lips were as soft, but firm, as they seemed to be, but tasted much better – sweeter than honey, and inexplicably right. Our kiss, so tentative and clunky for the first moments, was quick to leap over that barrier – to become involved, passionate. Something within me – a tough exterior that I'd dutifully held for as long as I'd been alive – gently melted away into my bloodstream with each passing second.
He kissed away the doubt, the fear, the uncertainty. My arms wrapped around his neck, his wrapped around my waist, and we could have kissed the night away along with the rest of it. All of our previous days together – the laughing, the crying, the poking, the dancing, the coming clean – crashed around me, a pleasant segway into where I was now.
We did start out as best friends – honest-to-goodness, heart-to-heart, laugh-until-tea-spills-from-our-noses friends – but like he said to me, we couldn't stay in that rut. We had to move forward, to build our lives up the way we wanted them to be, and we knew there was no point in anything unless we did it together.
I understood then, in that moment, everything I would ever need to understand; but for once, I didn't run away from it – instead, I smiled into his lips, and mumbled into them for the first time since I'd known him, "I love you."
And, in that same moment, he knew with a hundred-percent conviction that I did.