Author's Note: This is one of the ways I envision James and Lily eventually getting together, as there was so much hostility before they did so that I think it would have taken something quite big to push them together at last. There is some very mild swearing later on; just a quick warning. If very easily offended, click away now. Otherwise, enjoy!
~ True love burns the brightest, but the brightest flames leave the deepest scars ~
I know he's going to come over again.
I know it even before he does. I can see it in the way his limbs twitch slightly, as if even his body anticipates his coming over to me before he realises it. I scratch my quill harder against the parchment, as if the scraping sound of my nib will drown out the roar of inevitability. I know precisely how the conversation will go. I have had it many times before; it's almost formulaic. Sometimes I feel like I should surprise him and say yes, just once, just to watch his face change.
It's not that I'm not flattered, not by any means. Of course I am. Anyone would be; to have someone so determined that you're meant to be together that they don't give up for years is the kind of thing ridiculous trashy romance novels are written about. That's devotion. On the other hand, that's also technically obsession, and that's where the irritation comes in. He's been trying to convince me to give him a chance and go out with him since we were in our second year. We're sixth years now. If there's one thing to be said about James Potter, it's that he is persistent. He likes a challenge, and there's no one more challenging than me. I've not deviated from rejecting him.
Actually, if I'm being completely honest with myself, if there are two things to be said about James Potter, the second would be that he's attractive. I never believed I would say it, but it's not like I don't find him attractive. He is. Not in the conventional Hollywood sense of the word but then if he was I probably wouldn't find him attractive. There's more of a…quality about him, something different, his air perhaps, or the way he holds himself. I can't quite explain it. There's something almost wolfish about his grin, and behind his glasses he has the kindest eyes I've ever seen. The trouble is, he clearly doesn't believe he can get by on looks alone, and so he has cultivated his personality instead, except that the parts he has chosen, the parts everyone else seems to fall for, the parts that elicit whoops and cheers from the watching crowds, are the very parts that make me turn away. And therein lies the problem. I have no interest in the showman, the class clown. I know that being an only child fuels his desire, his inherent need, for attention, but here he is no more special than any other young wizard.
His voice, warm and gentle, makes me jump, splattering ink down my robes. I want to swear but as we are currently in the furthest corner of the Library, my Transfiguration essay trailing off the heavy mahogany table, this is not an option. At least he is alone. The company of his friends seems to exacerbate his need to show off, to impress. Yet somehow, every time, I still half-hope that he will be different.
"If I'd known I had that effect on you, I'd have come over sooner," he grins, his muscles pulling taut along the straight edge of his jaw. He seats himself carefully on the edge of the table, his lean body angled expertly so as to block me from leaving.
"What do you want, Potter?" I mutter, siphoning the ink away with my wand, and hoping that my hostility will persuade him to give up early. "I'm very busy." As usual, I have hoped for entirely the wrong thing.
"I can see," James murmurs, leaning over and plucking my unfinished essay from the desk. He ruffles his hair and squints at the title. "'Partial Cross-Species Transfiguration'…sounds fascinating."
"It is," I say dryly, snatching back my parchment. "Is there anything you wanted?"
"Well, actually…" he says, stretching languidly before resting an elbow lightly on his knee and cupping his chin in the corresponding palm, leaning slightly towards me. "Now that you mention it…"
He breaks off and looks at me meaningfully. I choose to not understand his meaning. "I don't follow."
"There's a trip to Hogsmeade next Saturday, Evans. Fancy it?" He grins winningly. I shake my head.
I frown at him. "No, there isn't."
"Yeah, there is."
"No, Potter, there's not."
James splays his hands in defeat. "Well, alright, so there's not an official trip to Hogsmeade. I admit that. But that doesn't mean we can't go, does it?"
"Yeah, actually, it does," I tell him. "You're talking about sneaking out of the school, getting there without being seen, finding some way of getting outside without taking the main gate, not to mention everything else."
"Oh, details, details," James says airily, waving a hand as if dismissing my logic. "You think too much, Evans."
"As opposed to you, who never thinks at all!" I whisper hotly, aware of Madame Pince's watchful glances.
"Maybe I don't," he replies, still grinning wolfishly and leaning over me slightly, so that his spiky-haired shadow falls translucently across my work. "But it makes life a bit more fun, don't you reckon?"
There is a long, languid pause in which all that can be heard above the determinedly resumed scratching of my quill is the careful flicking of centuries-old paper as other students pore over enormous tomes, lost in research of their own. When I next glance up, James is looking at me curiously. He is still leaning forward and his position hasn't changed, but he is frowning softly; the slightest crease has appeared in his brow and he appears more pensive than I have ever seen him, as if he is trying to fathom me and is unsure where best to begin.
"Why won't you ever give me a chance, Evans?" he asks me eventually, his voice serious for once. "It's been nearly five years now, and you never show the slightest bit of interest."
"Perhaps you should take the hint," I reply tersely, knowing where this conversation will lead. Ordinarily the dance goes something like this; he pesters me for a bit, then asks me out, is rejected, pesters me a little more, and then slinks away, defeated for one more day. But every now and again, James gets a little more serious. Every now and again, he asks me exactly why I turn him down over and over again. The trouble is, the lines of my haughty pride are blurring lately, so that feeding him an answer is becoming more and more difficult when I barely know it myself.
"What hint? You're only resisting me because you're scared you might actually enjoy yourself if you say yes."
"Of course," I tell him dryly.
"Well, if it's not then tell me what it is."
"I've told you before." I close my eyes, knowing exactly what he is going to do, feeling the prickle of irritation creeping into my temples. This is why, I tell myself. This is precisely why.
"Didn't listen, more like!"
"Tell me again."
"You won't listen again."
"No, you won't."
"Tell me. I promise I'll listen."
"If you don't tell me you have to go out with me."
"James, just drop it!"
"Come on, Evans, that's a very fair deal."
"For God's sake!"
With every sentence I hiss I can feel my irritation rising, as usual; with every snappy comeback he has and with every counter-argument his grin only widens, proving something I have long suspected; he is enjoying my irritation.
"I love making you angry, Evans," he tells me softly, the words made lighter by the shape of his smile. "You look so much more beautiful when you're just about to hex me into oblivion."
My response to this comes in the form of a screech of pure frustration and a thick roll of parchment aimed squarely at his head; it sails in a clean graceful arc towards his wiry grinning face, missing at the last moment, and unfortunately for me this outburst happens to coincide with Madam Pince bustling over to ask us to keep our noise down. Apparently she is not impressed by thrown rolls of parchment either.
"Miss Evans! What do you think you're doing?! This is unacceptable behaviour!"
I turn to her, my explanations dying on my lips as I face the fury in her face. I splutter helplessly. "I'm sorry, it was – I – well, I mean – I – I didn't – he was - "
"I am not interested in whatever pathetic explanation you concoct, Miss Evans! All you students are the same; dripping food and ink over the books, chattering constantly, and now you, throwing things in my Library! Unacceptable!"
"I can explain, Madame Pince," James offers, sliding artfully from the desk with all the grace and poise of the athlete he is. He continues in what he clearly feels is a tone of martyrdom, sacrificing himself for my sake. He drapes an arm comfortingly across the curve of my neck; I shrug it off irritably. "It's my fault; I was provoking her. Punish me, not her."
"Do not try to cover for her!" Madame Pince shrieks. When she turns back to me I see James shrug apologetically at me, but it is not enough to reverse the hardening of my heart against him. "I saw what the little animal did! Twenty points from Gryffindor and a week's detention to be completed here with me, starting tonight! Perhaps that will teach you not to throw things in my Library!"
When she finally bustles away, muttering about the lack of manners and respect in students these days, I glance at James for just long enough that he can read the anger in my eyes; I look for just long enough that I can ignore the apology in his. And then I gather my belongings and stalk from the Library, secure in the knowledge that what must be done must be done. As I walk I can feel my heart buzzing feverishly in my chest, and I tell myself that this is the last time, that enough is enough. I ignore James' cry of my name as he follows me from the Library the same way I ignore the heavy feeling of my book bag crashing into the backs of my legs as I march away from him, swinging my hair as I go.
Alone in my dormitory, I sprawl myself across the floor, pulling a clean sheet of parchment and my ink towards me. I dip my quill and hover the pen uncertainly over the parchment, allowing a single droplet of ink to mar the purity of the sheet. I hesitate, unsure how to give voice to the fury in my heart, but when I begin the words take over, spilling easily from me, surprising me with their venom.
I'm writing this because saying it doesn't seem to get me anywhere – I've been saying it to you for the last four or five years and it's never got through to you. Maybe this will sink in more.
LEAVE ME ALONE.
I don't ever want to have to spell that out for you again. You've been harassing me non-stop since we were first-years; it's got to stop now, enough's enough. You will NEVER change my mind about you; you will never mean anything more to me than a source of CONSTANT irritation, so please stop. You don't seem able to talk to me normally without trying to convince me to go out with you, so until you can, please just leave me ALONE. It makes me ill having to deal with the stress of you constantly pestering me. Thanks to you I've been given a week's worth of detention with Madam Pince, cleaning the Library and re-organising the shelves, because you wouldn't leave me alone. Just don't talk to me anymore; you've gone too far. You're just a sad, pathetic little boy who needs to grow up. Find someone else to annoy, do what you like, just STAY AWAY from me!
I try different combinations of the words, trying the shape of them in my mouth, and before long my floor is blanketed by a flurry of paper rejections, the comma curve of my hand freckled with dark ink. I close my eyes, feeling my way towards the correction syllables, the precise layering of vowels, and when I am finished I fold it carefully. I take care writing his name across the front of it, trying it out for the last time and allowing the jagged edge of the word to sit on my tongue for a second longer, as if I know that this will be the last time I say it. By the time I am finished it is late; the night sky has spun itself out into a heaving mass of inky-blackness, the yellow moon pitted with scars, and so as my dorm-mates clamber sleepily into bed I tuck the letter beneath my pillow, so that the words engraved upon the parchment might enter my subconscious, so that I will believe every one of them. I resolve that the very next day I will give him this letter.
As soon as I do it, however, I wish I hadn't.
I want to un-write the letter, feeding every single droplet of ink back into my quill, pouring the words back into my heart, where they never should have existed in the first place. I want this letter to join all the other ink-spattered attempts whose crumpled corpses litter the floor of my dormitory, unread and unintended. But as soon as it's actually in his hand I know that I can't snatch it back from his lightly curled fingers, and because I can't watch his reaction I do the only thing that I can, and I walk from him.
I try to keep my expression blank as I do so, because suddenly all of the fire that raged in my breast as I furiously wrote this letter, as I marched up to him and deposited it in his surprised palm, has been doused. The act of doing this has broken apart all of my defences, because suddenly I realise what it is I should be focusing upon; not the anger that compelled me to write this letter, but the hurt it will cause upon delivery.
We're standing in the courtyard, he with his friends, and I walk alone, with the intention to rejoin mine. I need their distractions right now. I need them to tell me I have done the right thing, except that I know that I have just done the worst thing I have ever done in my entire life. I want their girlish reassurances, and their promises of support. I never reach them.
The instant he has finished reading the letter, I know. I know absolutely. I don't have to look, and I don't have to listen. I know by the way my heart has stopped beating altogether; by the way the lungful of breath in my dry mouth refuses to leave. I hear footsteps behind me and, knowing they belong to him, I stop in the middle of the courtyard. I am expecting him to ask me what the hell it is that I have just done, and part of me desperately hopes that he won't, because how can I answer him truthfully when suddenly I don't even know the reason myself? I want to tell him that I'm sorry, that I didn't mean it, that I want to write him a new letter, a different one, because it's only now that I realise that every word he just read is wrong, that every sentiment he just felt isn't true and honest. I want to tell him that I wrote the letter out of frustration, not hatred, because I don't hate him, not even a little bit. I part my lips and ready the words, but he doesn't stop. He walks directly past me, curving his body carefully even as he passes so that not a centimetre of his lightly-tanned skin brushes against mine, and although he doesn't make it obvious I know he is trying not to look at me.
We spend the next few weeks like this, dancing this dance, and I hate every step of it. Every time he walks past me I feel my heart twinge just that little bit more. He does exactly what I ask him to do. He doesn't ask me out once. Not once in six entire weeks. Forty-seven days inch slowly by; forty-seven days in which James Potter not only does not ask me out, but nor does he call after me in the corridors, cast stupid spells designed to impress me, mess his hair up deliberately as I walk by, or sling a casual arm around my shoulders as we walk between lessons, trying to engage me in conversation. In fact, he stops doing anything concerning me at all. When we pass each other in the corridors, he does not return the smile I offer feebly; his eyes are cold, devoid of their usual brightness, and he doesn't even look at me, his jaw set firmly.
And then, bit by bit, he finds a replacement for me.
I try to tell myself that this is a good thing; this is precisely what I wanted when I wrote that letter, even though it's not what I want now. I wanted him to leave me alone, and he has. And I don't know what's the matter with me, and I don't understand why my heart seems to sag in my breast as though suddenly made heavier at the sight of James walking down the corridors, hitching a smile at Evie Chapman. I don't understand why it hurts when the beautiful rose he has created from thin air is handed ceremoniously to Evie Chapman instead of me. I don't understand why my tongue feels too large for my mouth and the soft flesh of my throat feels as though it is aflame when I hear the silhouette of her name sliding smoothly from his tongue, when he never so much as gifts me with a casual "hello" anymore. I don't understand how he can move so cleanly onto someone else after almost five years, removing all traces that I ever mattered to him, and, more than anything else, I don't understand how it is that I can suddenly care so very much when I spent every waking moment of those five years wishing he would do just this.
And because I don't understand, I don't know what to do. I don't know how to react. I don't know who I am anymore, and this frightens me, because it feels as though the perceptions of my reality have been drastically, irrevocably, altered, so that I don't fit anymore. I don't know how to talk to my friends anymore, because I haven't told them what's wrong with me, and how can they possibly hope to stitch me back together when they don't know how many pieces I've broken into? I don't know how to look at James anymore, or even if I am allowed to, because I am seeing him in a completely different light, one entirely of my own creation, because I have spent so long looking at him with disdain that I don't know how to deal with any of these new emotions. I don't know how to look at myself anymore, because the face I am used to seeing never had to deal with this predicament; the face I am used to seeing has never had to warp itself so as to create the illusion that I do not care that James Potter is kissing Evie Chapman again. And the face that I am used to seeing never had to deal with seeing what happens when I am given exactly what I asked for, to the very letter.
And then, on the forty-eighth day, everything changes.
It's not a major change; not at first, at least; but it is significant. It begins in the Great Hall. I sit sullenly, picking at my food and not really tasting a single mouthful because over at the next table, directly opposite me at the furthermost end of the table, sit Evie Chapman and James Potter, an honorary Ravenclaw for the evening. I know I am being paranoid and I know I am being irrational but the smallest part of me can't help but think that the way he is sitting is deliberate; that he has carefully orchestrated the way he alternates between lightly holding her hand and cupping the knot at the base of her spine; that even the location of their seats has been chosen on purpose, just so that he can remind me of how blind I truly am. His face is close to hers as they talk, close enough that the wisps of ash blonde from her shimmering sheet of hair can tickle his forehead, and I don't understand how he hasn't noticed the way her watery blue eyes are far too close together when I have and I'm all the way over here. I don't understand how he can't see that her nose is too long for her pale face, and the spicy jealousy rises in me like bile, like revulsion, so that I do the only thing that I can; I react.
I carefully shred my napkin, rolling the little balls and quietly waving my wand over them, so that they hover obediently in my palm. By now most of the Hall is empty; I lingered purposefully over dinner, and so it is easy for me to wave my wand once more, sending the first of my pellets skittering across the Hall and hitting Evie Chapman in the back of her head. As she puts a hand to the source of the sudden pain, I duck my head, sniggering against my will into my soup. When she shrugs and settles back into her food, her hair rippling and James' arm wrapped protectively around her spine, I send the next one at her, and then the next, and the next.
By the time James looks around and sees me, I have already launched seven or eight at her, and the ninth is en-route even as I notice his angry gaze and scrape my chair back to run from the room. I run blindly, scuttling up stairs, veering left and right, taking every turn I come across, and behind me I can hear the patter of James' feet. I run even though he is coming to talk to me, even though this is the one thing I've been praying for every single day these last few weeks, and the steady scuffed tapping of my shoes reminds me with every step that I should never be allowed to make decisions for myself where matters of the heart are concerned, because clearly I cannot read myself at all. I run faster, my lungs burning in protest, as if trying to outrun my thoughts as well as my pursuer, and only when I hear his footsteps dying away do I allow myself to slow down.
I look around. I have somehow directed myself to Gryffindor Tower, so that I currently stand upon the roof; looking out I can see the silvery sheen of the lake in the distance and, beyond, the tiny hoops I know to belong in the Quidditch pitch. I rest my forearms lightly along the edge of the parapet, feeling the night sky dappling my skin, lost in thought and trying not to think all at the same time. I am a fool. I have been a fool ever since I slid that folded note, swollen with lies and misplaced fury, into James' hand instead of throwing it away with all the other failed attempts. I have been a fool every day for the past five years; a fool every time James has spoken to me or cast a smile in my direction and I have responded with poorly-disguised disdain, and I don't understand how it is that I could have thought I was ever angry with him when it is so clear to me now that really I was furious with myself for not even being able to decipher my own heart.
The muffled sound of footfalls makes me jump; looking around I see James emerging from the door leading down to Gryffindor Tower. I'd like to know how he found me so easily, but the expression on his face tells me that now is not a good time to ask, and so I try to walk away from him, heading towards the door, but he follows me, quickening his pace and darting in front of me, cornering me, so that my exit is blocked. I stop and look at him, knowing he will speak first, half-wishing he wouldn't because then I can hide away for just a little bit longer.
"What the hell is your problem, Evans?" he asks angrily, folding his arms.
"Oh, you're talking to me now, are you?" I say waspishly, attacking him simply because I have no defence whatsoever. I try to sidestep him, but years of Quidditch training have sharpened his reflexes and he blocks my path easily with an outstretched arm.
"I'll say it again. What's your problem?"
The shrapnel of his anger hits me squarely in the face and with as much calm as I can muster I reply coolly, "What problem?"
James raises his eyebrows so high they half disappear beneath the messy strands of his fringe. "You know exactly what problem."
"If you're talking about what I think you're talking about -"
"And what do you think I'm talking about, Evans?" James cuts in, smiling softly, dangerously.
I hand his smile back to him, my voice equally soft. "You tell me."
James seems to digest this request for a moment or two. "Look," he says eventually, locking his eyes on mine. "Putting aside the fact that you blow hot and cold constantly, so that I barely know where I stand half the time, I know you've got a problem with Evie, and frankly I don't care what it is -"
"Excuse me, I don't have any problem with Evie," I say hotly, annoyed with myself for rising to the bait. James folds his arms once more and stands squarely in front of me now, the back of him bathed in the half-light cast by the moon, and I try to quell the fluttering of my heart at the sight of him, afraid he will be able to tell just by looking how much I want him.
"Oh, really?" he asks, disbelievingly. When I nod, he takes a breath and continues in a light, patronising voice, as if I am a very small and very stupid child. "So muttering to yourself every time you walk past her, completely ignoring her whenever she says hello and bewitching those little paper pellets to hit her head all through dinner tonight; that's you showing you've not got a problem with her, is it?"
"I didn't bewitch those paper pellets," I tell him, lying through my teeth, and he actually scoffs at this.
"You know something, Evans?" he tells me, shaking his head slightly. "You're pathetic."
He tries to push past me now, anger etched into every angle of his features, his strong jaw set carefully, but I won't let him past.
"I'm pathetic?" I repeat, incredulous. "I'm the pathetic one? You're the one who thinks it's funny and clever to wind me up. You're the one who thinks messing up your hair is all you need to do to make girls fall at your feet. You're the one who's not said a word to me for the past six weeks, let alone a smile; you're the one who followed me up here just so you could have a go at me; and you're the one who's so insecure about your new girlfriend that you think you have to make everyone love her just as much as you love yourself."
"Oh, I love myself, do I, Evans?" James interrupts, stepping back now, no longer trying to shove past. "Where the hell have you got that from?"
"It's just obvious," I tell him, regretting my words as soon as I watch the muscles of his face contort with his fury, because this is all going wrong; this is not how I imagined our eventual emotional making-up would go.
"Yeah, of course, I must love myself, mustn't I, because the amazing super-intelligent Lily Evans says that I do, so of course it must be true! I'm sorry; I forgot you know everything about everything! Silly me for not realising that! How very thick of me!"
"Oh, for god's sake, you're being ridiculous -" I start, but James seizes on this too, interrupting me.
"Oh, and I'm ridiculous now, too! Let's see," he cries, lifting a hand to count off on his fingers. "Right, so far I'm ridiculous, I'm pathetic and I'm in love with myself. Well, I'm sorry I'm such a bastard, Evans, it looks like you've been right all this time – I'm far too much of a git for us to ever be together. Well, if you don't mind I'll just get right back to pretending you don't exist, and then you won't ever have to talk to the ridiculous bastard again. Excuse me."
This time he succeeds in pushing past me, striding purposefully back across the tower towards the door that will take him back to the Gryffindor common room.
"Don't walk away from me, James Potter!" I cry, incensed, to his retreating back. "I'm sick of this! Every time I talk to you we argue and we barely even do that anymore! Don't walk away – why won't you talk to me anymore?!"
The last shrieked sentence is a ball of solid frustration and hurt that hits James in the tender part right between his shoulder blades and makes him stop in his tracks. He turns, achingly slowly, as if allowing the full force of my words to sink in, and then he walks back to me, the moonlight bathing the skin of his face with an almost ethereal glow. He grips my arms, not painfully but firmly enough to make me gasp, and looks hard into my face.
"Don't you remember, Evans? I'm not allowed to," he whispers, dropping the words slowly into my lap. "Remember? I followed your orders to the letter. Leave me alone, you said. I don't ever want to have to tell you that again. You'll never mean a thing to me other than a source of irritation, that was another classic line. Don't you remember, Evans? I bloody well do. Come on, you must do, you're the one who wrote it after all. Or don't you remember that charming letter you gave me?"
"I remember," I tell him, shame prickling at my cheeks, in my stomach, because I remember every single word of it. "That wasn't an easy letter to write," I say pitifully, the words breaking apart in my mouth beneath his scrutinising gaze, and James lets out a bark of laughter.
"Oh, it wasn't easy, was it? Poor little you," he says mockingly, his scathing voice double-edged with disdain. "Imagine having to write a nasty letter, you brave thing. How on earth did you ever survive something so traumatic as writing a letter intended to break someone's heart. It must have been so tough. I bet you never gave a thought to what it's like having to read that letter, did you? I bet you were so busy making sure you were the victim and collecting all the sympathy –"
"I didn't collect sympathy…"
" - that you never even thought of how it feels to be given something in writing that tells you exactly how shit you are and, even better than that, that you're so incredibly shit that you're not allowed to speak to the one person you want to not think you're shit. Do you know what that feels like, Evans?"
"I'm sorry," I gasp, tears welling at the base of my throat, but I don't dare to let them free. "I'm sorry."
"Do not tell me you're sorry, don't you dare!" James releases my arms suddenly, as if the sheer force of his fury has propelled him backwards. He runs his hands through his hair once or twice, almost therapeutically. Taking deep breaths, he seems to calm himself before resuming with slightly less vehemence. "Sorry's not good enough, Evans. Sorry is nowhere near good enough. You couldn't even be decent enough to give me that letter in private. You did it in the middle of the courtyard when all my friends were standing right next to me, knowing full well they'd want to know what it said. So thanks for that, Evans, thank you so much for putting me in the position where I have to tell my closest friends that the girl I've been enough of a dickhead to keep chasing even though all she ever does is reject me has just handed me a letter telling me that if I ever so much as say hello to her again she will be physically sick. That made me feel really great, that one."
"Oh for god's sake!" I snap, breaking into his diatribe. I pull my arms roughly from his grip and for a moment his own hang uselessly in the gulf between us. "This is exactly what I'm talking about! All you care about is that your friends saw you being shot down once again, not the fact you got shot down!"
"If that's the case then why would I have wasted four years of my life beforehand trying to convince you to go out with me, then?" James cries back, and in the moonlight I can see for the first time the tiny flecks of green that spatter his hazel eyes; I have never been so close to him for such a prolonged amount of time. I try not to become lost in them so as to focus on what it is he's saying. "Or do you really think I'm that much of a tosser that I'd waste four years just to make myself look like a complete arse?"
"I don't know why you wasted four years in the first place," I tell him, subdued, and suddenly I know this is true; these are the most honest words I have spoken in a long time. Suddenly this is not just a response to his argument; it stems from a genuine need to know.
James' face hardens; I watch him swallow, as though the first tumble of words that spilled into his mouth isn't deemed worthy enough for release. "I don't know either." His voice is quiet, barely a whisper, and when I continue to look softly at him he drops his gaze, as though he can't bear to look at me.
"Well, if after nearly five years you still don't know why, then you really did waste your time," I say gently, tasting my hurt as it spills down my cheeks.
"Yeah," James agrees, his voice still so quiet, as if awed by the power of his words. He braces his hands against the parapet, his head bowed. "I guess I did."
The awkwardness between us is painful and cumbersome; trying to move around it is impossible, and for a long time we simply stand together, two fools caught in a moment and waiting for the winds to change. I wish I had the courage to leave him behind but I choose the coward's way out, riding it out so that when later in bed I strip away the memory of tonight, the tiniest, hardest layer will be that he walked away from me; that I didn't have to be the one to make the decision, because then if it's the wrong one, it's not my fault.
"So you can run back to Evie now, and know that I wasn't worth it in the first place," I say, tripping over the shape of her name and watching the colours of his eyes shift as I do so.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asks, instantly flaring up.
"What's what supposed to mean?"
"I can 'run back to Evie'," James repeats. "What, she's the consolation prize, is she?"
"That's not what I meant -" I begin uselessly, but James isn't listening.
"I wasted my time on you so the booby prize is Evie, is that it?"
"NO, of course that's not it!"
"Well, then explain it to me! Come on, Evans, I'm dying to know."
"I didn't mean that!" I cry, clutching at my hair in frustration, because once again, somehow, this isn't going right at all. "I just meant – you obviously like her, she likes you – I just meant that you can go back to her knowing that's all finished with!"
"Knowing what's finished with?"
"Us!" I scream, startling a nearby rook which flaps irritably from the top of the tower.
"There's never been an Us to finish!" James cries. "How can I finish something that never even got started?"
"Well maybe if you'd not been such an arse about it, then it might have got started!" I retort, before snapping my mouth shut as I realise exactly what I have just said.
"What?" James is staring at me so intently that I feel as though I might break in two. "What d'you mean, if I'd not been an arse?"
Losing the battle with my dignity easily, I look him in the eye, drawing my cloak carefully around me as if for protection. "Maybe if you'd spent less time showing off and trying to impress me, I'd have actually been impressed. Maybe if you'd given me one single sign that you were actually interested in me as a person then I might have given you a chance."
"That's just it though, isn't it?" James mutters. "You never gave me a chance."
"You never tried!" I say hotly. James scoffs once again.
"How exactly do you talk to someone who pretends you're not there and walks away at the sight of you? Do explain that one to me!"
"I'd have thought you'd know that by now," I say coolly, my eyes hard. "Seeing as you've been doing it to me for the last few weeks. You don't even look at me in the corridors anymore. This is the most you've spoken to me in weeks -"
"I've already told you, I'm just doing what you specifically told me to do!"
"Shut up!" I screech. "For once in your life, just shut up! Do you know something? The second I gave you that letter I wished I hadn't, because I didn't mean it as nastily as it sounded. I wanted to tell you I was just angry because you wouldn't leave me alone, but after listening to you whinge on I'm almost glad I gave it to you!"
"So you did mean it, then?"
"NO!" My voice is cracked with frustration at his deliberate density. "But part of me has stupidly been thinking that maybe you might be smart enough to realise that most of that letter was just the anger talking! I didn't expect you to actually do any of it! Surely you must have realised that I didn't actually want you to do that?"
James' jaw is set; I can see the field of day-old dark stubble grazing the seam of it. "You know something, Evans? I don't think you know what you want, at all. I followed your letter exactly; there's not one single thing I've done that you didn't specifically ask me to."
"I asked you to leave me alone, not start acting like I didn't exist!"
"I had to!" James cries, his hands knotted into fists. "I had to pretend you didn't exist because that's all I could do!"
"You told me not to talk to you if I couldn't do it normally, so I didn't."
"Why not?" I question, exasperated. "It's not exactly difficult! How hard is it to talk to someone normally?!"
"Define normal, then, Evans, go on." James' voice is more subdued now; he places his palms flat against the back of his messy head, one laid cleanly on top of the other, and regards me carefully, waiting for my explanation.
"Well, I don't know, maybe not trying to get into my knickers would be a good kicking off point!"
I bite off the rest of the sentence and swallow it down again, because James actually looks hurt by my last comment.
"Is that what you think all of this has been about? Honestly?" he asks me, his voice so soft I'm frightened I will lose it. "Is that really what you think everything I've done for the last few years has been for – you think that's been the goal? To get you into bed? Is that really how little you think of me?"
He seems surprised, but he doesn't wait for my answer. He lowers his hands from his head and plunges one deep inside his robes; for a moment I am afraid, thinking he is reaching for his wand. For several long, awful seconds all that I can hear is the heavy throb of my heart as I wait for him to attack me. However, when he removes his hand from his robes all that is clutched in his heart is a faded sheet of parchment, carefully creased. James holds it in both hands, looking down at it as he speaks. His hair is hanging down, brushing over the tops of his eyes so that I can't read them, and for once I'm glad I can't, because I know that I won't want to see what's painted in them.
"When you sent me that letter," he tells me haltingly, as if he is selecting each and every word meticulously, "the first thing I did was write a reply. I thought it was just the anger talking, and so I wrote back, thinking I'd just give you the letter the next time I saw you, but the next time I did see you you'd just had detention with Madame Pince – I'm still sorry, by the way – and you completely blanked me. So then I thought maybe you had meant all the things you said." He lifts his eyes to me, so that I can plainly read the hurt etched into his heart. "I wanted to apologise to you, even though I knew you wouldn't want to hear it, but then I thought maybe if I gave you some space we'd be fine. And you blanked me again, the next time I saw you, so I just gave up. I decided you must have meant everything you said. It hurt, you know. Not even just the fact that you'd made it obvious that there was never going to be a chance for me to prove myself to you, but the fact that you clearly didn't even like me as a person, that you hated me enough to put it in writing. I thought about throwing this away. I don't know why I didn't. I don't even know why I'm still carrying it around with me."
He strides towards me, depositing the letter roughly into my palm and closing my fingers purposefully around it. "There you go, Lily. Have a good read, and then tell me what an idiot I am."
And then he is gone, and the only signs that he was ever here are the tears that stain my cheeks and the dim reverberation of the sound of him slamming the door to the Tower. I slide down the wall of the parapet, the unshed tears in my throat making it ache, and all because James has called me Lily, for the first time ever, and this more than anything else tells me that I went too far: this is the finish. I cry without restraint now, wishing with all my heart that I could take it all back. Occasionally I manage to calm myself, but then the knowledge that even now James must be being comforted by Evie Chapman and all because of me surges inside of me, and I cry so hard that I feel as though I'll be sick. Eventually, as the hiccoughing sobs subside I open his crumpled letter and by the light of my wand I trace the spidery symbols with my fingers as I read his words.
The first thing I want to say is that I'm really sorry about the detention. I did go back to Madame Pince and offer to do two weeks' worth to make up for it, but she wasn't interested. I know it was completely my fault, and I can only apologise. Forgive me.
I'm hoping you only wrote the letter you gave me because of what I'd done and how angry I'd made you. I hope that because I don't think I could stand the idea of you hating me. I know I annoy you sometimes, and I know that it doesn't do me any favours, but I can't help it. You're beautiful anyway, but I wish you could see just how beautiful you are when you're furious.
If that letter was sincere, then I just hope you'll think about what you're asking me to do, and back down. There is no way I'll ever be able to talk to you 'normally'; it just won't happen. I'm not capable of it. I don't know how to talk to you without wishing you could see me the way I see you. I can't help myself asking you out; my mouth just does it all by itself. I have tried, lots of times, but the second I get close to you my mind just shuts off and I do what comes naturally. I wish there was some way I could show you what I see and hear when I think about you, because I can't possibly tell you; I don't have the words for it. I wish I did, because then I wouldn't be such an idiot when I see you. I know I'm a complete prat, but it's just because I can't physically get the words out that I want to say to you, and only the wrong things come out, and then this stupid weird reflex kicks in, where I think that if I can make you laugh then you'll somehow believe how much I care about you. Except it never works.
I don't know how to make you see that I'm not the person you think I am; that's not all of me. I know you think I'm just a pathetic little boy, but I wish you would give me the chance to prove I'm more than that. I don't know what to do to show you that. I don't know what to say to you to make things right. Nothing I say is ever right anyway. I don't know how to be clever or witty or heroic when I'm around you. Everything just stops.
I know that this letter probably won't change your opinion of me and that's something I have to accept. But I just wanted you to know that I'm not the stupid prat you think I am, and that there's more of me that you've never seen. I hope one day you will see it, but if you don't and if you never speak to me again, I'll be happy knowing that I've told you that much.
Forgive me, Lily. Please.
With all the love I have,
I sit like this for a long time, reading his letter to me over and over again, and every time I do I feel fresh tears stinging my eyes, until I am exhausted, and I simply lean against the cold stone of the parapet, defeated. I don't know how long I stay like this. I gaze up into the sky, watching the stars slip silkily by overhead, and I think of every stupid and nasty thing I have ever said to James Potter and wish I could un-say every single one of them. I read his letter again and cry because I am ashamed of myself, ashamed of the fact I could ever have doubted his intentions, ashamed that I could ever have been so blind.
For the first time in several years I wish that my sister were here; my beautiful big sister who would never have let this happen if our places were switched. She hasn't spoken to me properly since I was eleven, barely lingering in a room long enough to register my presence within it, but all I can think of is the way she hit Billy Jones in the playground at school for pushing me over; the way we used to sit cross-legged in the snow at Christmas, lying back and making the biggest snow angel we could; the way even now, when I know she resents me for coming here in the first place when it has always been denied her, I am sure that she would comfort me, she would tell me I did the right thing even though it's patently obvious I didn't.
When my arms and legs are long-since stiffened from sitting in the cold night air I fold the letter carefully back, sliding it inside my robes so that all that separates it from my heart is the skin and bone between them. I stretch my sore limbs out and am about to stand when I hear a noise coming from the doorway. As the door swings carefully open I freeze, wondering who could possibly have reason to climb to the top of Gryffindor Tower so late at night. I don't wonder for long. A tangle of wiry black hair, like singed steel wool, emerges from the doorway, swiftly followed by the rest of James' body. He swiftly crosses the stone to reach me and slides down into position beside me. I try not to look at him as he settles himself, gasping as the cold fingers of the stone parapet rake his bare skin.
"What are you still doing up here, Evans?" he asks once he is settled, carefully watching my breath tangle in the night air. "It's late and it's freezing."
"How did you know I was still here?" I ask him, staring down at my hands, examining the crescent moons of my nail beds; anything so that I don't have to look at him.
"You didn't come back to the Tower, and you didn't go to bed, either."
"Yeah, but how did you know I was still here? The castle's huge - I could have gone anywhere."
James shrugs. "I guessed," he tells me, tucking a folded square of worn parchment back into his robes as he does so. I don't question it.
Long moments inch slowly by, spooling themselves out into the night sky and collecting the fragments of silence and awkwardness from the air all around us. I am painfully aware of his proximity to me, and just for a second I allow myself to enjoy it, something I never believed possible, simply because this is the closest he has come to me in so long, simply because of how natural it feels even amidst the burn of my shame.
Eventually, James speaks, without turning his head to look at me. "Did you read it?"
His voice is low and rough. I nod carefully. "Yeah."
"And I'm sorry," I tell him honestly. "For, you know…being such a prat about things."
James lets out a shock of laughter. "You're calling yourself a prat?"
"Yeah," I nod, pulling my legs towards my cold body so that I can wrap my arms around them, as if I am trying physically to protect my heart before it is destroyed with words and glances and a kiss that never happens. And before I can think about what it is I'm doing I have slid my hand cautiously into his. I look down at our hands, palming one another easily, and fight down the giddy surprise of seeing them. I register the mild shock on his face before he masks it expertly and squeezes my icy fingers reassuringly.
"Jesus!" he yelps, "Your hands are freezing!" He doesn't wait for my response but takes both of my hands between his and rubs them gently, so that I can feel the calluses on his long fingers sliding over mine, and I find it in me to smile softly as he tenderly warms my hands.
"I didn't mean what I said," I tell him, directing my comments to the tilt of his mouth, because it is easier than looking into his eyes and saying this. "In the letter, I mean."
James pauses in his actions and looks at me, obtaining my full attention before he says quietly, "I meant every word of mine."
"Really?" I look up, hardly daring to breathe in case I destroy the fragile beauty of the moment.
"Every single one."
He smiles and my heart hitches; we sit and look at each other for long moments, and bit by bit I feel myself leaning more and more towards him as we sit huddled together. There is moonlight in his hair and the slow curve of a smile on his lips. When he leans across and takes my mouth gently in his, removing all my hesitation, I can't help but gasp quietly. I can feel the burn of his stubble rubbing against my own skin; I taste his breath, hot and sweet as it rolls into my mouth. I am kissing James Potter and it is the most natural, beautiful thing in the world. When he pulls away, too soon, too fast, I move my face towards his once more, unfinished, but James pulls back again.
"What's wrong?" I ask, confused. James bites his lip hesitantly.
"Well, there is the small matter of Evie."
Oh. "Evie." I repeat the name, though it is a bad taste I want to rinse from my mouth. I want to never have to hear her name again. I want to never have to say it either. I get my wish and, for once, it is the right wish.
"I'll have to tell her tomorrow morning," James tells me.
"Won't she be upset?"
"How can you be sure?"
James stares at me, his grin so maddening that I want to scream. "She doesn't like me all that much."
"How can she not like you?" I ask, and blush when I realise what I've just said.
James smiles again. "Well, you managed it for long enough, Evans."
I hit him gently on the arm. "Shut up, you know what I mean. How do you know she doesn't like you much?"
He stretches carefully, lengthening his answer in a way that makes me want to hit him again, harder. "Well," he tells me casually, "for one thing, I was paying her to pretend she's my girlfriend. No, actually, scratch that – Sirius was paying her to pretend."
"I just told you, Evans," James repeats, examining my fingers as they lay across his palms and speaking in a matter-of-fact voice, as if his words make perfect sense. "Evie's not my girlfriend; she never has been."
"I know, I heard that but – why?" I sputter. "Why the hell would you do that?"
He lifts his eyes to mine once more, staring so gently and so deeply that I am sure he can see the smallest parts of me, the parts I only recognise in the middle of the night. "Well, it worked, didn't it?"
"It work – what do you mean, 'it worked'?"
"Well, you got jealous, didn't you? Decided you wanted a piece of Potter for yourself?"
"I most certainly did not!" I tell him hotly, but I can feel my cheeks burning with confession even as I deny the charges.
James laughs, a hearty soul-deep laugh and takes my hands in his. "Okay, Evans. Whatever you say. By the way, you owe me four Galleons."
"For extra services provided by Evie Chapman, i.e. her pretending not to notice when you sat firing paper pellets into the back of her head. And her distracting Sirius so that he didn't follow me up here when I came to find you."
"So, what you're telling me is that this is all an elaborate set-up?" I say slowly, frowning slightly, and James smiles apologetically.
"Sirius' idea, again; if you want to hex anyone, make it him. And I know it seems a bit dishonest, but it's not; I swear. I really did mean every word of that letter, and I meant every word I said to you tonight. Well, not every word, not the parts about you being pathetic, but I meant all the rest of it. Like me constantly asking you out not being because I wanted to get into your knickers. It's not that at all; it's because when I'm around you I don't know how not to be with you. And I'm sorry everything turned out the way it did, but in a way I'm also really glad, just because of tonight."
I nod silently and mull over this new information for a while, trying to allow it all to sink in, and as steadily it does my smile widens until I know I am not only wearing it on my face; it is written across my heart.
"You know, if you'd done all this four years ago we'd never have had this conversation," I tell James laughingly, the happiness in my voice catching in my teeth and pulling my smile dangerously wide, and he pulls me towards him once again, grinning more widely than I have ever seen.
"Shows what an idiot I've been, then doesn't it?" he says, the words whispered so closely to my lips that they graze my skin and I dodge my face away from his mouth, out of reach.
"Oh, and one more thing."
"What's that?" James murmurs against my skin.
"Please, please, in the name of everything that is holy, never say the words, 'a piece of Potter' again."
A pause. And then:
"Shut up and kiss me."
This is the longest oneshot I have ever written, at almost 10,000 words, but when I got the idea in my head I knew it was going to be a biggie. James and Lily spent so much time clashing that I think that would have been the only way they'd ever get their act together; rather like Ron and Hermione. I hope this was enjoyable; if you feel differently then let me know!
The quote at the top is a random one I came across; I am unsure of it's source, but I think it's rather fitting.
Update: 12/11/08 - I have rewritten several parts of this story - nothing major, just adding a few lines here and there to make Lily's perspective a little clearer.