Living a Little
This couldn't be happening, except that it very clearly was: Lily Evans had locked herself outside of Hogwarts castle in the dead of night with no apparent hope of regaining entry till morning. At least, not without being caught first, and being caught would entail a serious upset to her reputation, and indubitably, her future. The future meant everything to Lily. It was not supposed to include the memory of accidental nighttime excursions.
It really was an accident, being out there. Anyone who didn't know anything about the matter—that was, everyone—would whisper behind their hands that she had snuck off to involve herself in some sort of clandestine affair; conclusions inevitably jumped to, Potter's would be the first name to pop up.
Lily shook her head. Really, people took too much stock in romance. There were other things in life—plenty of them—that didn't involve snogging and beyond. Sometimes she wondered how a person could concentrate if all he or she thought about was somebody else's underpants.
Lily did not think about other people's underpants, except when dirty piles of them were strewn about in inappropriate places—such as the Quidditch pitch and the corridor outside the History of Magic classroom. What she did think about was school. The future. Ambition. Success. She thought about these things so often, in fact, that they could potentially overwhelm her during a nice, leisurely, stress-reducing walk by the pumpkin patch, and cause her to fall dead asleep for several hours thereafter, nestled between an alarmingly huge earthworm and several overgrown gourds.
Because that was precisely what had happened, something that had never happened before. And Lily was stuck.
She stared up at the sheer face of the castle, for all intents and purposes the equivalent of a cliff. If there was a window open anywhere, chances were that it would be up, rather than down—or any reachable height or distance. Scaling the walls was hardly a practical option, but it was quickly looking to be the only one. The idea made her dizzy; she liked academics, not heights, and there was a very distinct difference between the two.
She could always wait until sunup, and then tiptoe back inside once someone unlocked the doors, but the temperature of the air was dropping at an alarming rate; Lily's arms were already prickling with gooseflesh, and she could see (or imagine seeing) her breath coming out in white clouds. She would be found frozen solid on the front lawn, a fate even her own wand couldn't keep her from after a prolonged period of time.
Everything was hopeless. Lily sat down with a sigh on the frosty grass.
Suddenly, at that very moment, she saw a light. A light! Like a white blaze at the end of a long, dark tunnel, except that it meant salvation, and not death.
Which was always the more preferable option.
The light was coming from what looked to be a second-story window, in one of the otherwise darker and more secluded corners of the castle. Perfect. Lily leapt to her feet with uncharacteristic agility and ran as fast as she could, huffing and puffing in the cold, until she was standing directly beneath the beacon-like window of deliverance.
"Hello?" she called tentatively. She would have to risk revealing herself to be sure that someone was (or was not) on the other side of the window, waiting for her. It wouldn't do to have her stumble into Professor Flitwick's bathroom, or some such.
At first, all she could see was a dark head of hair airing itself out in a disembodied sort of manner. Then she saw the grin.
"Well hello there!" Sirius Black shouted down at her.
Oh dear. Oh no. Perhaps she could slink away without him recognizing her. Yes, that seemed the best way.
But as soon as she began moving away, Sirius made a tutting noise with his tongue.
"Don't reckon you want to do that, Evans."
Lily groaned inwardly, and put on a scowl. "And why is that?"
She could imagine his tongue lolling out gleefully like a dog's.
"'Cause you're locked outside," he told her, "and I'm your one-way ticked back in."
Was it that obvious?
She shook her head. Of course it was. Why else would she be prowling about in the dead of night like a delinquent?
Lily squared her shoulders. "All right, then," she said. "Just help me up, and we can both be on our way. I'm certain you must have… someone's self-esteem to stomp on, or something, and I have"—She paused. She had to sleep, was what.—"places to be, too."
"S'not gonna be that simple, Evans." He disappeared into the light for a moment, and reappeared soon after waving the end of a sturdy rope. "See, I've got this." He waved it about some more. "What I've not got is incentive, y'know?"
"No," she replied flatly.
He cleared his throat, still beaming. "I've been watching you these few hours, Evans," he said with mock sagacity. "Best entertainment I've had since Pete got his head stuck in the—anyway. I've been composing a list."
"Of what?" This didn't sound promising.
"Of incentives," he declared proudly. "Four lovely incentives to change my mind about not throwing down this rope and letting you climb up the thing."
"I don't trust you." The list was probably comprised of horrid, humiliating things that she would never want to do under normal circumstances; she didn't even want to do them under abnormal circumstances. Another way into the castle would have to be found, and that was that.
Sirius stared at her for a bit, maintaining his cheerfulness.
"I s'pect you've got to," he informed her at last.
"Got to what?"
He pointed. "'Cause your lips're turning blue."
Appalled, Lily's fingers shot up to lightly touch her lips, which did, admittedly, feel a little numb by then.
So she paused. She thought. She even argued with herself. And then?
"Fine," she muttered.
"What was that, Evans?" He cupped a hand to his ear innocently.
Lily scowled. "I said fine," she hissed. "Read me your stupid list, as long as you promise that after this is over, we'll both pretend like it never, ever happened."
The look on his face was very discomforting, indeed.
i. The First Task
"Four Activities in Which Lily Marie Evans Must—"
"How do you know my middle name?"
He shrugged. "My best mate, of course."
"What, so everything he knows, you know, and vice-versa?"
"Does he know I'm out here?"
Sirius faltered. "…No."
"Good. Read on."
Recovering, he resumed his reading from the dirty scrap of parchment he was holding close to the light. "Four Activities in Which Lily Marie Evans Must Partake to Serve as Incentive for Sirius Orion Black, Composer of Lists Whilst Moony is Off Duty, To Rescue Her. Now…"
Lily held her breath.
"As your first task, you must create a large bonfire."
"And then dance around it naked."
Lily felt her face go hot. "WHAT?"
"You must create a large fire around which you will then dance naked. You don't need to do any animal sacrifices, or anything, you could just mime—"
"You can't be serious."
"Well, I don't know who else you were expecting…"
She ignored him. "I just won't do it," she said firmly. "I won't do anything so demeaning. You're such a pig! All of you are the same, always objectifying—"
"Evans," Sirius sighed.
"What. Do. You. Want."
He recoiled a little. "I'll just close my eyes, s'all."
"Then what's the point, if there's nothing in it for you?"
He strummed his fingers against the stone windowsill thoughtfully. "Well… to teach you a lesson, I s'pose."
"No. No, not cruel." He shook his head wildly. "It'll teach you to get off your bloody pedestal and come down to join the rest of us."
"You prance about, acting like you're so much better than everyone, 'cept maybe the teachers. It's stupid. I can't stand people like that."
Oh, was that all, she wondered sarcastically. She thought it would have had something to do with the fact that she was an enormous prude. How lucky of her to not have that brought up.
"So. Will you do it?"
Lily bit her lip. What other choice did she have? "Only if you'll promise not to look."
Sirius put a hand over his heart. "On my honor as a Marauder, I swear to you, cross my heart and hope to die a horrible death by window treatments—"
"That's not good enough," she declared, and with that, she whipped her wand from her pocket and sent a blindfold hurtling at Sirius's face. She couldn't see very well from her vantage point, but the muffled yelp that followed a few seconds later seemed to indicate that she had been successful in securing his word.
"I'm bliiiind!" he wailed. But that was rather the point, so she took no pity.
What happened for the next quarter of an hour was, to Sirius, much of a disappointment. In total darkness, the only sense he had of Lily doing what she was supposed to was the sound of several things being dragged somewhere, and then the sudden smell of wood burning. There was some shuffling after that, and the smoke stung at him mildly through the cloth.
For Lily, the experience was far more vibrant. She did not strip completely naked, but rather only down to her underthings since, blindfolded, Sirius would never know the difference. All the same, it was absolutely freezing, and she was quick to conjure a warm bonfire, its light dimmed to prevent anyone from spotting her.
And then, to dance. How did one dance around a bonfire, anyway? Lily didn't like dancing, even without a bonfire; it made her feel clumsy and awkward, which she normally wasn't (she hoped). Maybe she could just sort of hop about a bit. Hopping could constitute as dancing, right? She tried it, a little hop to the right. Then she did it again, this time raising her arms over her head. It wasn't bad. She took another experimental step, a skip, waved her arms a bit more. She could almost imagine some kind of a beat, and a flute, and—she turned in circles, her hair flying, and her face shining with perspiration. She felt like a windmill, whirling round and round, or maybe a bird, or even a fairy. Not a brainless, magical fairy, but the elegant Muggle ones she had secretly loved as a child, curled up beneath a blanket fort with Tuney, and—
"AHHHH!" she cried as she tripped over a rock and nearly fell flat on her face.
That was enough dancing for one lifetime.
ii. The Second Task
Sirius looked at her a little distrustfully after she had removed the blindfold, but seemed satisfied to find proof in the smoldering remnants of the bonfire below.
"Very well," he said. "The first task is completed."
"You'd better believe it," she mumbled under her breath. When she glanced down, she noticed that the buttons of her shirt were askew, and she hurried to fix them. Sirius shot her a disappointed look, and then carried on in good spirits.
"For your second task," he started, "you must—"
"I'm not getting naked," she interrupted hurriedly. "And no more fires."
"I just thought you should know."
"For your second task, Evans, you must make fun of McGonagall."
She looked skeptical. "That doesn't sound very difficult."
He waggled his eyebrows at her. "Oh. Isn't it?"
But of course it wasn't difficult. She had a very deep respect for Professor McGonagall (and so, as a matter of fact, did Sirius). Anything awful Lily said she most certainly wouldn't mean. It couldn't be that bad when one had to make up untrue things in order to insult someone—and it said quite a lot about that someone's character, didn't it?
"All right," Lily sighed. She screwed up her face in concentration, trying to think of the nastiest things she could say. But Lily Evans was not a mean person by nature—just a bit bossy sometimes.
"That McGonagall," she began shakily. "She's always wearing glasses. She mustn't be very smart, since people who wear glasses are stupid and can't see."
Sirius was speechless, which she took to be a bad thing. She'd have to try harder.
Mean. Really mean.
"Some… some students hate her," she continued. "She dresses like an old woman. She's very strict. Er… I think she fancies Professor Dumbledore? Once, she didn't have a solid lesson plan, and I spent the entire hour practicing Charms instead of Transfiguration—"
From above, Sirius moaned. "Stop, stop!" he gurgled. "Make it stop!"
Lily stopped, grateful. "Wonderful. Now what's the next task?"
Sirius shook his fingers at her weakly. "In order to move on, you've got to finish this one, first."
"But I have!"
He shuddered. "No. No, you haven't. Look…" He paused. "Right. Okay. Repeat after me."
Unsure, Lily nodded.
Sirius drew himself up so that he stood as a rigid silhouette in the window. "My name is Minerva McGonagall," he began, his voice an uncanny emulation of his target.
Lily blinked, waiting.
Sirius waited, too.
Then she remembered: repeat after me.
"Oh. My name is Professor McGonagall," she said.
"With the voice," Sirius hissed. "Change your voice and say it again."
Sirius continued. "…and I'm a terrible teacher."
"No she isn't!" Lily cried, aghast.
"Of course she isn't," Sirius agreed. "Everyone knows that. But it doesn't matter, does it?"
"It certainly does matter! She's a wonderful woman! Why, if she ever caught you accusing her of anything otherwise, she'd—"
"Merlin, Evans! Calm yourself!"
Lily looked at her feet miserably. They were just words, and she didn't have to mean them. She didn't. People said things all the time, and there wasn't necessarily any substance behind them.
"…and I am a terrible teacher."
"Now, put it together."
"My name is Professor McGonagall, and I am a terrible teacher."
"My name is Professor McGonagall, and I am a t-terrible t-teacher!"
Now Sirius was aghast. "Are you… are you crying?" he asked cautiously.
"N-no." Lily's lip quivered.
iii. The Third Task
Sirius waited until she had calmed down before he continued, shuffling about uncomfortably and not knowing quite what to do with himself in the meantime. A typical boy reaction, Lily thought with a sniff.
"All right down there?" he called tentatively every so often.
When she finally answered in the affirmative, he grinned with relief, hoping to forget that he had upset her so—since he had never meant to in the first place. Well, let him feel at least a bit guilty about it, Lily thought. He deserved it.
"Ready?" he asked.
"…Yes," she answered at length.
"This one is my second-favorite."
He made a grand show of straightening out the parchment upon which his list was written and pretending to put something in his eye. Perhaps it was supposed to be a monocle. Or he was just trying to cheer her up a little.
(If so, it was starting to work, in spite of her efforts not to let it.)
"For your third task," he said, "you must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest…"
"…with… a herring!"
"A what?" This sounded familiar, for some reason.
At that moment, he reached behind him, grabbed something, and then chucked it out the window. Whatever it was careened toward her, tumbling and turning in the air. Lily ducked, and the thing landed with a SPLAT at her side.
It was a herring.
She didn't want to know where he had found it, and she wasn't very keen on the idea of touching it, either.
"I can't cut down a tree with this."
"'Course you can."
"Okay," she frowned. "Let's say, for argument's sake, that I can. How would you know that I actually went and chopped down a tree with it?"
"The mightiest tree."
"Yes, that one."
"'Cause you'd bring the tree back here when you were done."
"That's the point, innit?"
Ah. Another exercise in humiliation, then.
Lily stomped off without another word, not toward the mightiest tree in the forest (which she supposed would be very mighty, indeed), but to the edge of the pumpkin patch, where she had seen a small, weed-like sapling earlier that day. She wasn't about to get herself killed in the Forbidden Forest when she was so very close to successfully getting back to bed.
For a moment, she stared at the sapling, standing directly in front of it. Then she glanced at the herring. There was no way.
Curiously, she slapped the fish against the tree, but all that did was shake down a few leaves and scales and make her feel silly.
Lily shook her head. This was going nowhere, and the herring had already begun to fall apart, even after only one beating. She would have to bend the rules a bit more. With a flick of her wand, she was holding not the tail of a bedraggled fish, but the sleek handle of a small axe. Unfortunately, it didn't make her feel any less undignified.
Sirius was ecstatic when she came into view carrying a tree over her shoulder and a mangled heron in her free hand. The tree was too small, of course, but what mattered was the heron.
"It really worked?" he demanded excitedly.
"What, the heron?" Lily asked lightly, heaving the mini-tree onto the ground. She rubbed at her shoulder, wincing. "Of course it worked. What did you expect?"
He believed her for a split-second, and then deflated a bit. She was a terrible liar.
Noticing his disappointment, she couldn't help but laugh.
"Hey," she giggled. "At least I tried."
Maybe the fact that he had made her crack a smile would compensate for the fact that she had cheated.
(Though neither of them said so aloud, both agreed that it was a fair bargain.)
iv. The Fourth Task
"Last one!" Lily almost sang. She was feeling much more cheerful now, and had almost forgotten how cold she had been before she'd performed that semi-pagan, ritualistic-type, naked dancing. Almost naked, at least. It was far later than she ever stayed up, even for studying, but she hardly noticed now. She was wide awake, and her mind and eyes were sharp.
"I could always make another list," Sirius suggested, half sincere, half teasing.
But Lily crossed her arms, and he put up his hands in surrender.
"Last one," he nodded. "But be warned… this is the most difficult one of all."
This made her nervous, but not as much as it might have done before. "If I can almost cut down a tree with a fish…"
"Then get on with it."
"For your fourth and final task, Evans, you've got a choice."
A choice? That was new. How did he expect to humiliate her if she had a choice in the matter? She waited for him to continue.
"You must either tell me your darkest secret," he recited solemnly, "or give me a kiss."
What absolute rubbish.
"What absolute rubbish!" she protested.
He shrugged. "I was going to have you fetch a cup of hot chocolate, since the house-elves are all downstairs and I'm getting thirsty, but you can't, since you're stuck out there. I was hard-pressed to think of something just as good."
"That isn't good, that's—"
"No! And what is this supposed to be now, a lesson in spontaneity?"
"Dunno. Could be. It depends on whether or not you learn from it."
This couldn't be happening. She could handle bonfires and mean words and dead fish, but she couldn't handle secrets, and she certainly couldn't handle a kiss. She would just have to poke holes in his logic, then; make him see reason. Surely, having already succeeded in making her less of an uptight person would count for something.
"How would I kiss you, anyway?" she asked innocently. "You're up there, and I'm down here. Even you must realize that it could never work."
"I'll send down the rope," he suggested. "You start climbing up, 'n everything, but I won't let you inside until you decide what to do."
"I'll fall!" she protested.
"Nah. I won't let you."
"What if I'm not interested in romance?"
"Nobody said anything about romance. Just about being spontaneous."
Lily thought of spontaneity. She thought of secrets. She thought of Sev, and of Tuney, of summer. She thought of thoughts, and of dreams. She thought of remaining outside for the rest of the night, after all. She thought of being too busy with schoolwork to have bothered with boys, and with kisses, or even with picturing someone else's underpants. How embarrassing, now that she considered it.
Lily licked her lips nervously.
"Give me the rope."
He didn't ask her to say please.
Climbing up the rope wasn't as hard as she'd imagined it would be, either because her arms were stronger than she remembered, or because Sirius was helping her and not letting on about it. (She assumed it was the latter.) The entire time, however, her heartbeat began to quicken, and she felt butterflies dancing in the pit of her stomach. It wasn't fair, putting her through this. None of it had been fair, really, but this was the least fair thing of all.
Yet she could do this. She had done everything else, suffered all that had been thrown at her—including a fish. She could make peace with a secret or a kiss.
A secret kiss.
Lily didn't have many secrets, since she only kept the ones worth keeping. But if someone else knew them, or even just one of them… True secrets were never trivial. Sure, there were things she didn't tell people, but that was only because she didn't think they would care to know—or because they simply didn't ask. She could be an open book, if only people would dig a little deeper. Maybe she wanted them to dig.
Just not for things she didn't want them to find.
Maybe Sirius knew this, she wondered. Maybe all of this was him digging deeper, trying to make her overcome her own boundaries.
Lily shook her head. No. That wasn't it. He was a boy, after all, and Potter's best friend. By job description alone, he wasn't allowed to be so insightful.
All of a sudden, Lily realized that she was at the top of the rope. Sirius was holding it steady, and when she looked past him, she could see a merrily-lit room, a fire roaring and a plateful of food abandoned on a comfortable armchair. She could feel the warmth billowing out like a pleasant perfume.
She looked back at Sirius.
There wasn't anything malicious or mischievous in his expression, for once. In fact, he appeared rather surprised, as if he had never quite believed that she would make it this far. He almost looked a little nervous, but it could have been for a hundred different reasons.
She looked at his grey eyes, his tousled hair. Sirius Black knew how to live a little. In fact, he knew how to live a lot.
Maybe she didn't.
The realization hit her like it had been thrown at her head by a giant. Maybe she was content with life as it was when she really shouldn't have been. Maybe the future wasn't the most important thing there was in the whole world. Maybe she was ignoring the present, always working towards tomorrow, when every tomorrow would eventually become a today. Maybe she was doomed to never reach what she desired. Maybe she didn't even know what that was, only that hard work would eventually help bring it about.
Maybe it wasn't too late to change that. Maybe she could find a balance between present and future. Maybe she could learn to live a little, too.
He leaned down to hear her better, and she kissed him.
Sirius smiled against her lips. "Welcome to the human race, Lily Evans."