A/N: Written for mrsmcclnt over at Mugglenet Fan-Fiction, for a gift exchange amongst us Slytherins.
He didn't know why she was so hard to look away from, really. Sure, she was very pretty, but there were other girls out there just as pretty as she. But there was something about her that always arrested his gaze, captured his attention, made it nearly impossible for him to look away from. The red, thick hair; the pale, flawless skin; the heart-shaped face; the graceful way she moved; the radiant green eyes.
Stop looking, stop looking, he always told himself repeatedly. There are plenty of other females for you to have. There's nothing special about her.
This was one of those times. He was walking the length of Diagon Alley with James at his side, as they shopped for their upcoming seventh year at Hogwarts, and Lily Evans was standing in front of a shop window, only several meters ahead.
"Oh, God," James groaned under his breath. "It's her."
Sirius tore his eyes away from the girl, focusing them instead on his friend. "'Her'. That's real specific, Prongsie. Because there are only about several dozen 'hers' in Diagon Alley right now."
James ignored this jab. "This is going to be my year, Sirius," he vowed. "I'm going to get Lily to notice me, and for the right reasons this time, not the wrong ones."
"You're head over heels, mate," Sirius commented listlessly. "And you've been pining over her for years. Isn't it about time you gave up?"
"I can't," said James in a strained voice. "I've tried, Sirius, I've tried . . . but this . . . she's just . . ." He took a deep breath. "After this year, if she still hates me, I'll stop going after her. I can't force her to be with me. But I've just – I've just got to try at least one more time."
They drew nearer to Lily, and then passed her; James' eyes were fixated on her with such a hopeless light of love that it was painful to watch him.
"And even if I never have her as my own," James whispered, his tone aching, "at least I can still look at her, right?"
"Right," said Sirius quietly.
Sirius shifted his eyes away from his fellow Marauder and towards Lily again, permitting himself one last brief look at her beauty – for really, a simple look wouldn't do much harm – before the two rounded the corner.
She had this shampoo that she had been using for as long as he could remember. He could never identify precisely what the scent was, and he'd never been able to make himself ask aloud. He had a feeling it was a Muggle shampoo, but beyond that, he was clueless.
It was a subtle smell, gentle on the nose, not like some of those heavily scented perfumes and soaps that the other girls used. No, this was not a scent that attacked your nostrils with a vicious snarl; it more floated, drifted along on a soft breeze, providing a lovely tickle against your nose.
Almonds. Vanilla. Shortcake. Whipped cream. Pie crust. He had never been able to tell. But the exact name was not important, so long as it was still near. So long as he could still smell it. So long as he could still breathe her in.
In some ways, he hated that James made him sit at the desk behind Lily during classes, and in some ways, he loved it. James, of course, was just trying to get as close to her as possible while not seeming overbearing – apparently he had decided that the seat directly behind her was the best option. So in the classes they shared together (i.e. all of them), James and Sirius would sit at the desk right behind Lily and whichever of her many friends was next to her that day.
She turned half-way around, leaning back in her chair. "Do either of you happen to have a spare quill?" she asked, grimacing at her own, of which the tip had just snapped off.
"Yeah, of course," said James immediately, but in his haste to hand over his quill to her, his hand slipped and the quill fell. He snatched for it quickly before it hit the floor, but his grip was so hard that he broke the thing in two.
"Shit," he mumbled.
Lily bit her lip, as though holding back a smile.
"Here," said Sirius, reaching into his bag and pulling out another quill. He handed it over to her.
"Thanks," she said, giving him a mildly surprised look as she took it. She turned back to her desk, her hair whipping around with the motion, spraying in his direction a soft burst of her scent.
There was something about the tone of her voice that was completely mesmerizing. Deep and melodic, it almost seemed as though she were singing a song, the words gushing out from her lips in a perfect symphony of coordinated notes.
It wasn't just the pitches and tones of her voice that were riveting, it was also the way she said them: puncturing the consonants with a harsh snap if she was angry; quietly brushing the vowels over her tongue when thoughtful; stringing the syllables together in a mellow, curving river when awed. He often would engage her in conversation – any sort of conversation, about any subject that happened to occur to him – just to hear her voice.
"I'm so relieved," she said, staring down at the paper in her hands, "I thought for sure that I had failed my Transfiguration N.E.W.T., I completely panicked right in the middle of that one – "
"Lily, 'completely panicking' by your definition of the word means pronouncing an 'a' instead of an 'e' during a spell incantation," Sirius drawled.
She shoved his shoulder. "I don't know why I put up with you sometimes," she said, mockingly chiding him.
"For Ickle Jammie's sake," he returned promptly. "It would break his heart if his girlfriend wouldn't even allow his best friend anywhere near him."
"True," she said, clucking her tongue.
"And you just don't have a single mean bone in your body," Sirius went on, smiling roguely, goading her. "Even if it weren't for dear James, you still wouldn't be able to kick me out. You're too nice."
She shot him a look of daggers. "Want to wager on that one, Black?"
He pretended to shudder, whimpering. "Oooh, she's mad at me now . . . I should have never – I didn't mean to – have pity, good lady, have pity – I never meant to unleash the wrath of the red-head – "
He clutched at the ends of his hair, his eyeballs rolled up into their sockets, his chair legs teetered dangerously back and forth.
"Stop that, you're going to hurt yourself!" Lily exclaimed. "If you leave your eyes like that for too long, they could get stuck – and tipping your chair like that – it could fall right over – Black, you moron, you're going to – "
What precisely he was going to do was never revealed, for at that moment, Lily dissolved into laughter. First came the giggles, restrained and muffled because she was trying to hold them inside; then the pink lips opened wide as she laughed loudly.
Sirius, grinning, straightened himself up. He often would try to be humorous – using any sort of joke or gag about anything that happened to occur to him – just to hear her laugh. Because there was only one sound he loved more than her voice, and that was her laughter.
"Hey, congrats on the engagement," he said, sitting down on the sofa beside her.
"Thank you," she said softly, smiling down at her entwined hands, which sat nonchalantly in her lap.
"Have you picked a date for the wedding?"
"No, not yet. Within the next few months, I suppose. Oh yes, and James wants you as best man, do you think you'd be able to – ?"
"Wouldn't miss it," said Sirius at once.
She nodded her head, eyes still on her hands, strangely quiet considering that her boyfriend had just proposed to her that afternoon. For what was supposed to be one of the happiest days of her life, she didn't seem all that joyous at the moment.
"Is something wrong?" he inquired.
"No, I just . . . I . . . I'm fine."
"Please tell me, Lily. You know I'm your friend, you can trust me."
"I just . . ." She sighed. "When James proposed, it . . . he said some things that . . ."
"His usual sappy nonsense?" Sirius asked with a chuckle.
"Well, yes, but he also . . . he talked about how perfect I am, how I completely embody perfection . . . that I'm the most special and flawless woman he's ever met . . ."
"James doesn't say that sort of thing lightly, you know. You should be pleased."
Lily shook her head. "But I – it's not true, Sirius. I'm not perfect, I'm nowhere near perfect, I've got just as many faults as the next person . . . and it worries me that – that James doesn't recognize that. I don't think he sees who I really am."
"Sure he does," said Sirius soothingly, "the prat's just trying to express how he feels – he loves you a lot – "
"Who does he love, though?" Lily questioned in a low murmur. "The woman in front of him, or the woman he has created this ideal vision of?" She blinked her eyes several times rapidly, then turned her sparkling gaze onto him. "Oh, Sirius, don't get the wrong idea about me and him – I love James, I really do, and I want to marry him, but . . . I just don't think he knows who I am."
"Lily, James isn't trying to put unrealistic expectations on you by saying that you're perfect. He just meant that you're perfect for him, probably. He wanted to tell you how he felt."
She rubbed her eyes. "You're probably right . . . I only . . . I'm just not sure. I want someone who can – I need someone who will accept me for who I am, flaws and all . . . I mean, you recognize all my faults, Sirius. You know I'm not perfect. I can only hope James knows that too . . ."
"He does, Lily," Sirius said in his most kind yet firm voice. "Don't worry about it. He loves you exactly as you are."
She wrapped her arms around his torso, pressing her face against his chest. "Thank you for being such a good friend, Sirius," she whispered into his robes. "I'm very lucky to have you around."
He put his arms around her slowly, savoring every moment, burning each second into his mind. She was so frail inside his embrace, so scared. He had waited so long to have her in his arms like this, though he had always hoped against hope that it would be in a rather different scenario. Still, he was touching her, holding her, just as he had always wanted, and that was enough for now.
"Don't worry," he told the top of her head. "I'll always be here."
Sirius had accepted long ago that, for whatever reason, he was completely in love with Lily Evans. He didn't have the faintest idea why, but he supposed that love didn't always need a why. Sometimes it just was. It didn't matter that there were plenty of other females out there for him to choose from. It was only her that made his heart beat faster, it was only her that caused his breathing to go into that weird uneven pattern of inhales and exhales, it was only her that made him never want to go anywhere else.
Sirius had also accepted long ago that Lily Evans would never be his. She and James belonged together. He wasn't about to take her away from his best friend, his brother. She would be happier with James, anyway – she loved James. She didn't love him. And that was fine. Because first and foremost, Sirius Black wanted Lily to be happy. Even if they were never together, at least he could be satisfied with the knowledge that she was content.
"What are you doing here?" Sirius asked, dropping into a chair next to her. "It's the night before the big day. Shouldn't you be getting some rest, and not be out drinking at The Leaky Cauldron?"
"I don't think I could sleep even if I tried," Lily replied, placing her mug onto the table. "Too jittery."
"Really now, Lily, it's past eleven at night. The wedding starts at noon, and there's so much preparation to do before that. . . . Let me take you home."
She nodded slowly. "You're probably right. I should get going, at least try to get some sleep . . ."
"That's the spirit," said Sirius, and took the cloak that was draped over the back of her chair, placing it over her shoulders. She nodded her thanks, and the two walked slowly out of the pub.
"Oh, it's cold," Lily mentioned as they made their exit through the door. She drew her cloak tighter around her form. "It's supposed to be summer, for Merlin's sake . . ."
"Well, the seasons don't always like to abide by the rules," Sirius commented.
"You and the seasons must be brilliant friends, then," said Lily, smiling up at the sky, strolling down the cobbled road.
"The very best," Sirius replied solemnly.
They clasped hands, and in a whirl of robes and hair, they vanished, reappearing on Lily's front doorstep. The yellow-tinted light bulb bathed them in thin light, casting strange shades and shadows across her beautiful face.
"Good night, Sirius," she said.
"G'night, Lily," said Sirius. "Try to get some sleep, okay? We don't want dark, sleepy shadows under your eyes off-setting my extremely handsome looks in tomorrow's photos, after all."
She laughed, throwing back her head, a little of her tension ebbing away.
"That's the ticket," Sirius mumbled huskily. "Just relax. I'm sure you're nervous about tomorrow, I'd be surprised if you weren't – but everything's going to be fine."
"How do you know?" Lily asked, the laughter fading away as her muscles stiffened again, her brow creasing as she looked up at him beseechingly.
"Because – because you and James love each other. You can see it so plainly – when your eyes meet with his across the room, or when your hands brush briefly in passing, or any other simple gesture like that . . . there's just so much love between you two. He'd go to the end of the world and back around for you, and you'd do the same – " He swallowed, trying to moisturize his sandpapered throat. "God, Lily, love like that only comes around once in a lifetime, and sometimes not even that."
"You sound so old and experienced when you say those words," said Lily in an undertone. "So wise."
"Eh, I've been around the block a few times," he answered, trying to sound cavalier.
"Have you ever – have you ever felt love like that?" she questioned in subdued tones. "Like what you just described?"
He cleared his throat. "I – I have," he muttered gruffly, unable to lie to her, unable to utter falsities with her bright eyes so wide on his, so gorgeous, so kind, so caring, so close . . . so close . . .
Their lips found each other then, and kissing her was everything that he had always imagined it to be, and at the same time it was nothing at all like what he had always imagined it to be. She tasted of fresh strawberries, of cheap Muggle chap-stick, of elf-made wine, of the fading hopes and dreams of childhood and the hard ground of adulthood. Her lips were soft and gentle, yet also needy, pressing against his mouth as though searching for something. He kissed her back with just as much need, cupping her cheeks with his hands, wanting to be the something she was searching so badly that it physically hurt.
Just as quick as the kiss had started, it was over, and they were standing apart, breathing heavily as they stared at each other. Slowly, as though waking from a deep sleep, Lily reached up a hand and placed her fingers lightly against his lips. She was looking at him as though she didn't know at all who he was . . . or maybe she didn't know at all who she was. She then removed her fingers from his mouth and set them against her own lips.
"We won't tell James," she whispered.
"No," said Sirius, blindly shaking his head, "no."
She reached a hand back, grappling for the doorknob. She twisted it and began to step back, then stopped. "Sirius, is – the person whom you felt so strong a love towards – did – was it – am I – ?"
This time it was he who placed the tips of his fingers to her lips. "Shh," he sussurated. "It won't make any difference."
Her lips began to move even despite the fact that his fingers still rested upon them. "But I – "
"Get a good night's sleep, Lily. You want to look as beautiful and well-rested as possible tomorrow for your husband." His hand slid down from her mouth, gliding tenderly down her jaw and chin, before falling down to his side, and then he walked away, pressing his lips together to savor her taste as long as possible before forced to let her go – to really let her go – at last.