Lily could barely focus as she reported the incident to Professor Dumbledore. She could only think of James; James's face contorted in fear, James's robes drenched in blood, James's stomach splitting open…
She felt nauseous.
She wanted to get to the Hospital Wing where James was being treated so badly, she hardly cared when Adder decided that Snape's behavior only warranted a detention since, "Surely Severus would not have responded so severely to nothing," and "Had Potter been as skilled in duel, it is likely he would have fired a curse of equal measure."
She did not wait to hear Professor Dumbledore's reply to this. It was getting late, and soon Madam Pomfrey would not allow visitors.
She couldn't think about how angry she was at Severus, or how hard she was going to have to work the rest of the seventh year to keep Sirius from murdering Snape after what he'd done to James. As she dashed down corridors and flights of stairs toward the Hospital Wing, her thoughts were nearly incoherent, just impressions, feelings, memories…wild relief that James would be all right…shame for wasting their time with stubbornness…his face when she'd call him arrogant and obnoxious…his easy faith when saying, "We just go together"…the way it felt to kiss him…
Sirius, Peter, and Remus were there, probably had been from the moment they'd heard about what happened. Lily couldn't believe how quickly the past hour and a half had flown.
She was pleased to see that James not only had company, but the four boys were laughing uproariously about something. Apparently the gravity of the night's events had eventually become too dull for the Marauders. Typical.
She cleared her throat.
"The heroine of the hour!" Sirius bellowed, bounding forward and wrapping her in a rib-cracking hug.
"I really didn't do anyth—ow—Sirius, oh my god, I can't brea—"
Remus walked over, chuckling, and gently pried Sirius off of Lily—for the most part. Standing at arm's length and grasping Lily's shoulders tightly, Sirius looked quite deranged now as he looked into Lily's eyes.
"Thanks, Lily…and listen…I'm really sorry if telling you this creates something of an ethical quandary for you, but I am going to kill Snivellus."
Lily smiled slightly, glad that Sirius hadn't actually seen what Snape had done to his best friend.
"Somehow I don't think Snivellus is worth getting thrown in Azkaban," Remus mumbled.
By the look on Sirius's face, he did not agree with this.
"Anyway," said Remus, "Time to get going, eh lads?"
"See you tomorrow," James grinned.
Lily looked around at them. "Hey, listen—don't go on my account—"
Sirius laid an alarmingly wet kiss on her cheek, but otherwise ignored her. "Sleep well, Prongsie." He made his way toward the door, Remus and Peter trailing behind him.
She approached James's cot and sunk onto his bed, immediately coiling her arms around his shoulders. "I'm sorry," she said.
"It's not your fault."
"I mean I'm sorry for everything I've ever said to you. I've been horrible." She didn't bother trying to fight the tears rolling down her cheek. "And I'm sorry for ever being friends with that prat, Severus," she sniffed."I've been so stupid."
"It's alright," he said, then stared at her in silence for a long time. "Except…"
"What is it?"
"I really love you, Evans."
She froze, and now there was no avoiding James's gaze. It was difficult to concentrate on anything but the screaming in her head, her conscience shouting that she—unequivocally—loved him too. But what came out instead was her last sliver of uncertainty, the final fragment of doubt that she—and probably James, as well—could let come between them.
"Why?" she breathed, hating herself for the question's necessity.
"What do you mean, 'why?'"
Lily sighed. "I just worry that…that this has always been about getting what you want, about winning..."
He looked up after some tense silence. "Do you remember what you said—the first time I tried to get you to go out with me?"
Lily smiled. "In all fairness, Potter, you asked after you charmed Severus's cauldron into a toilet, and when it flushed it sprayed us both with Ageing Potion."
A loud, rather rude bout of laughter burst from the should-be serious Gryffindor. "I'd forgotten about that!" he laughed. "Ah, you've got to admit, that was an award-winning bit of taking the piss."
He sighed, the laughter dying away now. "If it makes you feel better, you're going to be a very sweet-looking old crone."
"Oh, shut it, Potter."
"Seriously though—do you remember what you said?"
Lily smirked. "I said 'Never in a month of Sundays.'"
"That you did. And…well…I'm still here," he shrugged.
When Madam Pomfrey popped her head around her office door and said, "Time to go, Dear," Lily's unwillingness to leave must have been obvious.
"Don't worry," said James. "I'll be out of here tomorrow. Might as well get as much rest as I can—big game tomorrow!"
"James—you are not playing tomorrow morning!"
"I am though," he grinned.
"No, he most certainly is not!" came Madam Pomfrey's muffled voice in her office.
"Leave it to women to worry over nothing," he mumbled, rolling his eyes. "'Cept for Professor McGonagall, of course. You wait, Evans—she'll clear me to play."
"Potter, I really don't think Professor McGonagall—"
"—Is dying for a Quidditch victory tomorrow to help our chances of getting the Quidditch Cup since Adder's already ruined our chances of getting the House Cup?" He smiled angelically.
Potter really did always have his way.
The final Quidditch match before the holidays had been so thoroughly discussed the past few weeks that everyone's nerves were running high. Gryffindor would be playing Ravenclaw, the latter having formed one of the best teams Hogwarts had seen in a long time. Most of the Ravenclaws were certain this victory was in the bag, but the Gryffindors were determined to start their holidays on a high note.
That morning, the Gryffindor Quidditch team were some of the last to enter the Great Hall; James must have kept them in the Common Room late to discuss some tactics last-minute. They each ate a scanty breakfast and received many well wishes from their friends at the Gryffindor table and even some Hufflepuffs, who were counting on Ravenclaw's loss for a chance at the Quidditch Cup at the end of term.
"You look horrible, mate," said Sirius as James rose to his feet and gestured for his team to follow suit. Remus shot Sirius a warning look and said, "You've hardly stopped practicing to eat. No point worrying, just give 'em your best."
James smiled faintly at this, but Lily, who was sitting next to Remus, got the impression that the Quidditch game was not the only thing troubling him. She rose to her feet, leaned across the table and planted a kiss on James's cheek. "Give us a victory, will you Potter? I don't think I could stand to see Myers gloating otherwise."
James looked at her in surprise, stood for a moment in silence, and then said, "Alright team. Let's do this."
They left the Hall to some scattered applause and a bit of sportive booing from the Ravenclaw table.
On the pitch, James shook hands with the Ravenclaw captain, and they mounted their brooms. A moment before Madam Hooch blew her whistle and the Snitch was released, however, James gestured for a time-out. The audience watched as James made his way toward Georgia Gardner, who was commentating on the match, and appeared to be asking her to hand him the Megaphone. A moment later, she did.
"Good morning, fellow Hogwartians," James greeted from his broom, hovering near the commentator's box. His team was looking at him as if he were mad, some of them even looking annoyed. Some of the Slytherins seated at the other end of the Pitch began sniggering, but Lily noticed that Severus Snape alone remained expressionless. He was eyeing James through narrow eyes, his face stony, but Lily knew Severus, and she knew his face; she hated him even more, seeing that he had been permitted to attend the match, and that his face betrayed no remorse whatsoever. She knew he was extremely disappointed to see James in such good health after his ordeal.
She looked away from Severus after a few moments and noticed that even Remus, Peter, and Sirius did not seem to know what James was doing. No one had ever made any announcements before Quidditch games, had they?
"Excuse the brief interruption," said James charismatically, "But I just wanted to deliver a message to a good friend of mine, and under the circumstances (the complicated details of which I will not bore you) I felt the need to do it this way, so that I can make myself look as big of a prat as possible." Many people in the crowd giggled. James chuckled back but, receiving a glare from Professor McGonagall, he turned his laughter into a cough.
"Right then, I'll move this along." James cleared his throat very theatrically and then, to Lily's absolute horror, spoke into the Megaphone: "Many of you know that I have been trying to get Lily Evans to go out with me for about thirty seven years..."
The crowd laughed loudly, some people wolf-whistled, and, though Lily would have given anything for the power to look away and bury her head in her hands, her shock and horror prevented her. She remained gaping up at James, her jaw dropped, eyes wide.
"…But somehow I have not managed to make myself look quite vulnerable enough, pathetic enough, or wretchedly enough in love for Miss Evans to believe I am being completely sincere. She is very stubborn, you see, one of the things I like about her. And that brings me to my next point. Here is your answer, Evans…"
The audience went, for the first time since James took the Megaphone, relatively quiet, and all eyes were on James, darting now and then to steal a glimpse at Lily.
James continued, "I like you, Lily, because you will talk to me about Quidditch and play a few casual games now and again even though you are crap at flying. I like you because you are really terrifying when I get on your bad side, and that is a bloody good laugh, but nothing feels better than when I am on your good one, even though I have only been on it about twice, and once was only because I was the one who found the Potions essay you'd spent about 8 hours working on before you misplaced it."
Even Lily joined the crowd laughing this time, and she continued to look up at James, but it was no longer because she was frozen in horror. At the moment, James Potter was the only person in the world who existed.
"I like you because you look good even with a tree branch sprouting from your head. I like you because you are clever, and a laugh, and probably the most genuine person I have ever met, even when I have had to learn that from your genuine hatred of me."
James had to wait a moment, as much of the audience was laughing in earnest now. When they quieted enough for him to continue, James said, "But most of all, Evans, I like you because you don't take any crap from anyone, and because you always call me out on mine."
James waited, watching Lily, and it was clear he was not completely sure what he was doing, or if she would ever speak to him again. But looking at her, something in her face seemed to tell him it was okay to finish what he had to say.
"So I'm going to ask you, one last time." He said this very loudly, the last part of his sentence punctuated by his nervous laughter. The Gryffindors in the stands were doubled over with laughter, and Siruis was whistling. Lily laughed into her gloves, shaking her head, feeling both uncomfortable and elated at the same time.
When James spoke again, it was even louder than his last statement. "For the love of Merlin, Lily, will you go out with me?"
Lily was so red at this point she was sweating in the cold December air.
"Have the Megaphone, and in the name of God's pajamas you had better say yes." The crowd laughed again, and James Magicked the Megaphone across the pitch toward Lily.
Several Gryffindors grasped the Megaphone and shoved it into Lily's face. Red all over, Lily said, "Fine then."
"Sorry?" James teased, shouting across the Pitch and pretending he couldn't hear. "You'd like some wine, then?"
"I said 'Fine,'" she repeated dryly.
"Hm?" he cupped his hand around his ear. "Dodgy Megaphone, I guess!" he hollered.
"FINE, I WILL GO OUT WITH YOU!" she shouted, laughing now.
"That's three yeses," James warned, pointing at her across the Pitch. "No going back from that, Missus."
Many of the students at Hogwarts cheered, some pretended to vomit over the stands, and the teachers were either laughing appreciatively or rolling their eyes.
James, for his part, grinned enormously, blew a very theatrical kiss at Lily, and sped off to join his team, who were all ready to play. Lily merely shook her head with a smile and sent the Megaphone back to Georgia.
The Gryffindors had never played better than they had that day. They celebrated their victory into the night, the entirety of which Lily Evans spent with James Potter.
And on the twelfth of December the following year, and three more after that, Lily and James wished one another a very happy St. Glinglin's Day.