A/N: Hey y'all! Just trying to get back into the groove, trying new things. This is corny and cliche as all get out, but I enjoyed writing it. I hope everybody is doing well!
There are days that they meet in secret, deep in the night after the castle is asleep and their only witnesses are the midnight-darkened trees and the infinite stars, silent and watchful. They meet under the protective cloak of nightfall and sit together underneath the eyes of the moon. The quiet is reverential, respectful, and when they meet here, everything is softer and more peaceful. Here, they do not judge. Here, where the stars meet others to draw constellations in the storytelling sky, where the moon watches over its beloved expanse of heaven, where the breeze whispers songs through the boughs of ancient trees – it is here that they sit side by side.
It is here that they begin to listen.
Lily arrives just as the sun dips below the distant hills. The grass is cool underneath her bare feet and damp as she takes a seat against the beech tree. The last remaining vestiges of spring light linger in the clouds, painting pink and orange and purple mosaics on the rippling surface of the lake. Lily smiles. It looked just like this a few weeks ago, the first time she snuck out to sit here. The same sunset, the same breeze, the same feeling of bark against her back and night against her waiting fingertips.
Of course, a few months ago, she'd had a visitor join her.
She remembers it well, that first night. She'd been watching the fireflies dance across the hills when footsteps had interrupted the lulling cricketsong. When she turned, wand at the ready, her first reaction had been surprise, then resignation.
Because who else would it have been? Who else but him?
Not a word had escaped her. Tense as a coiled spring, she had stared ahead, her back straight, her lips pressed in a line. Torn – she'd been torn. Torn between instinct – defense – and the absolute calm on his face. It was clear by the way he sat beside her, the way he relaxed against the tree, his hands laying loose in his lap and his eyes closed behind his glasses, that he was not here to fight her.
Perhaps, like her, he was just looking for a place to breathe.
So she hadn't said anything. She hadn't asked any questions, hadn't shot any curious glances. She sat beside him as the sun fell and the light retreated across the mirror of the lake, her eyes skipping across everything but him, and she waited.
She waited that whole night.
After a while her eyes started to droop. Just as she was about to enter the dreamland, a hand brushed across her arm, rousing her to life. She blinked as his eyes, under the glow of his wand, met hers.
"Come on, I'll walk you back," he said.
And she let him.
She thought about it a lot the next day. When she'd pass by him in the hallway, their eyes would meet – just a brief exchange, an acknowledgement that something had changed – and then there'd be that instant disconnect and she'd know that it was only the night that lent them solitude with one another. During the day, they were silent in a different way – the both of them antagonistic, unwilling to pretend for a minute that they liked one another.
But at night…
She doesn't look up as she hears him come near. She scoots over, though, aware that she's encroaching in his area, and she feels rather than sees his smile. She smiles too because it's okay now, because they can do that with one another, smiling. It's not so hard. It's kind of nice.
True to habit, they're quiet. She doesn't mind it as much as she used to, when she first began to wonder, if only for a few moments at a time, what he was thinking when he seemed angry, when she thought he looked sad, when the frown on his forehead could've meant anything in the world. Instead of asking, she'd piece together the events of the day – began paying more attention to him – to decipher his emotions when they'd meet to sit underneath the tree. When he didn't show up, she'd worry – had she said something too vile earlier in the day? Crossed a line somehow?
She wonders, sometimes, if he still cares that way for her. It's hard to read him. There are days he'll send her a cute little smile, all charming and sweet, and yet there are others, when she sits with Severus, when she storms off after rowing with him, when she feels as if he could glare holes into her back if he so wanted to. Now that she thinks of him more and more often and looks forward to their meetings at night, it feels like he's getting further and further away.
She doesn't know what to say about it, if she should say anything at all. So she waits.
She waits that whole night.
This time it's his eyes that droop under the pressure of sleep; it's her hand that hangs hesitantly above his arm, her gaze that studies the steady rise and fall of his chest. She lifts her hand and places it on his back, instead. It rests there, warm, and she can feel his heartbeat underneath the thin cotton of his shirt. She wants to hear it.
"James," she says, gently shaking him awake. "Come on, I'll walk you back."
He pauses as she gets to her feet. She watches him hesitate, her pulse thudding in her throat, and she wonders. He's torn, she can tell, but she doesn't know what he's thinking – it flashes behind his eyes too fast, and not for the first time she wishes she knew him better, knew him the way he knows her.
"Yeah," he says eventually. He stands, running a hand through his hair, and smiles. Lily thinks it's a bit uneven and wonders if that means he's uncertain. He turns away before she can figure it out, though, and calls over his shoulder, "Come on."
She follows. The sun rises before she can fall asleep.
The morning is bright and obnoxious in its greeting, flinging pristine white clouds against a cheery blue backdrop. Lily loathes the thought of getting out of bed, but her stomach's call is louder and she dresses with a growing dread in her nerves – if only for a moment, there had been something on his lips last night, something that he wanted to say, something that might've brought their shadows into the light. She'd seen it. It'd been so close. So close.
He's there when she steps into the Great Hall. She spots him first – of course she does, who else but him? – but he and Sirius are staring at one another, their faces drawn. Yet again, panic wells up in her chest – had something happened? Remus? Peter? Their parents? Slowly she walks towards them, uncertain of what it is she's about to say, if she should say anything at all, when they glance up and look at her. Their faces color.
"Hey, Evans," Sirius says, lifting a fork with an impressive attempt at being casual. He stabs at his plate before shoving food into his mouth. "Sit. Join us. Be merry."
"Hey, guys," she says, taking a seat next to James. The sun from one of the upper windows glares into her eyes and she slides a fraction to her right. Her leg bumps into his. Neither of them move.
"You both look awfully tired this morning," Sirius says.
James clears his throat just as Lily says, "Trouble sleeping last night, is all."
Sirius spears a sausage and grins.
Blushing, Lily ducks her head before reaching across the table and grabbing a piece of toast. They're quiet as they eat, but Lily's thinking so hard she's surprised they can't hear it coming out of her ears. What does she have to be embarrassed of? The fact that she and James aren't killing each other now? So what? There's no way that Sirius knows anything about their secret meetings at night – and even if he did, it's not like they do anything out there. They sit and watch the night crawl across the sky. They take comfort in one another's presence. They're at peace.
He's acting like they go out there and snog or something, for Merlin's sake. She wants to reach across the table and smack that salacious smirk right off his face. Stupid wanker.
Just as she thinks she's mustered enough force to actually do it, James' palm slips into hers underneath the table. She tenses, torn, and passes him a questioning glance.
Finally, it's plain in his eyes, bright as daylight, shining like the pink-orange-purple clouds on the dusky lake. Finally.
She smiles, and when he squeezes her hand in response, she wonders, if only for a moment, what it would be like to hear his heartbeat against her ear, joining the chorus of crickets and frogs and the whispering breeze through the trees, the two of them sitting under their beech tree at night, quiet and content. She bets it'd be brilliant.