He's a precocious little tyke, all dolled up in emerald dress robes (to impress her parents, probably, but she's too young to know yet), glasses pushed up to the bridge of his nose. "I'm Jamie," he tells her, sticking out a chubby hand, and she shakes on it as Mummy coos over his manners and Daddy remarks on what a fine husband he'll make for her someday.
Mrs. Potter nods and smiles and says this is the beginning of something beautiful.
They play for a while in the garden under their mummies' watchful eyes, chattering about flowers and magic and what Hogwarts house they'll end up in: Gryffindor for James, Ravenclaw for Dorcas. (He won't let her say Slytherin--he thinks it's too icky and slimy for a girl like her. But Dorcas is up to her knees in soil and has twigs in her hair; James is the one who won't touch the earthworms and still has clean hands by the end of the day.)
And Dorcas wouldn't have believed it at age five or six if you told her who James Potter would grow up to be.
They play for a while in the garden, and then one day they're all-grown-up and aboard the Hogwarts Express. James won't sit in her compartment. He seems to have caught on that Dorcas isn't like him, she's a girl, and girls are--well, Dorcas doesn't know what he thinks about girls, only his new friend Sirius doesn't seem to like them very much, and it's getting to the point by the end of the train ride that James will do whatever Sirius tells him. Her friend is missing, and she begs the Sorting Hat to put him where she can find him, only Meadowes comes before Potter and the Hat seems to think she's best suited for Slytherin after all. Fat chance now.
Then come too many taunts from the so-called Marauders in Potions class and too many nights alone in her common room and too-many-times she hears them calling her Jamie Jim. She's a wild child, Dorcas, tousled and badly behaved, but that doesn't mean that things don't sting her. Swearing to put an end to this nonsense someday soon, she sits tight and takes it for the first few weeks and months and years, until she's taunting back and she doesn't know James Potter at all.
Out of the blue, there's a letter. Not for her--she watches from across the Great Hall as James tears it open and reads, his face darkening all the while. He chases her down in the dungeons that night (she's not the one who's hard to find). He chases her down, and his eyes are wild, and he can't keep a straight face when he says, "My mum says I still have to marry you."
"Oh," says Dorcas, tracing circles on the floor. Her eyes are just as wild, but she's somehow still the one who's numb.
"So... I guess this means we have to be friends again," he goes on, fading into nervousness and awkward little smiles.
And Dorcas doesn't have anything to say to that. At least, she's pretty sure James wouldn't understand if she asked him when they stopped and told him she's been looking for him all along.
So they play pretend for a while, dancing around each other in classes but meeting up in the kitchens every night. James isn't nearly as precocious anymore; his talent is famous, pranks legendary. She still doesn't see what he sees in Sirius, and she doesn't think she'll ever understand how Severus Snape could really bad that bad, but they agree that Lily Evans is a pain, at least. Better yet (or worse, in a way), it's not like she's made any Slytherin mates for him to hate. At any rate, it makes things easier. He doesn't have to bend to her life; she just has to bend to his--and Dorcas has always been the more flexible of the two, anyway.
They play pretend, until one day James partners her in Potions and asks her why he can't seem to get it right with Lily. Halfway through criticizing his arrogance, Dorcas cuts off her tirade to say, "You know, Potter, if anyone else were your fiancée, what you're trying to do would probably count as cheating."
She's surprised to see that this wipes the smirk right off his face. "Dora, I... you know I would never... come on, we can hardly stand each other most of the time, I didn't think you'd ever want..." James stammers.
"It's just you who can hardly stand me," Dorcas mumbles. Things are going south fast, though, so she adds, "Show that side of you to Lily more often, and she'll come around."
They both let it go, but she's pretty sure that James blows it with Lily after O.W.L.s on purpose for her.
"Why do you hang around Dorcas Meadowes so much, anyway?" Lily asks. She's got her head screwed on straight, Lily does; he'd love that about her if it didn't make him so uncomfortable all the time. Even after a good half-hour of racy snogging, she still manages to make him squirm.
Here it comes: the bomb he never got around to dropping. "That's the thing, Lil, Dora is... well, my parents know her parents, and--"
"God, what is it about you purebloods and your-your-your damn purity?" Lily seethes. She's still balanced atop him under the covers of his four-poster, his hand raking up her thigh, but she rolls off and keeps a blanket over her chest. "You gave me rubbish about Sev for five bloody years, and then you turn around and say that Meadowes--that-that Dora is your new best mate because of-of what, her name? Her father's money?"
"I'm not like that!" James roars; then, collecting himself, "You're my best mate; I thought you knew that."
She shakes her head. "I've been competing with Sirius ever since you noticed me," she argues.
It's true, he's ashamed to admit, but it certainly won't help either of them if he were to agree, or to mention that Dora feels a little like a soulmate sometimes. "It's different with Padfoot than it is with you, all right, but just looking at his family relations should tell you what I think of blood purity shit. Dora--"
"Hypocrite," Lily mutters.
"--They want me to marry her," says James loudly. That shuts Lily up. "We've known each other since we were kids. They just expect us to... graduate and get married and make little pureblood babies for them..."
Maybe it's his dejected tone that keeps her from getting dressed and leaving right then and there. "Well, you're not going to go through with it, are you?" she says finally, matter-of-factly.
"Why wouldn't I?" Shit, that came out wrong. "I mean--what choice do I have? What else am I going to--?"
"So you're just stringing me along, then?" Lily interrupts, closing herself off to him.
He doesn't know what to tell her. "It's not like we've talked about getting serious or anything."
"This is casual to you?" She's got her skirt straightened before he can protest, and by the time he's thought of a decent argument, she's halfway out the door.
He doesn't see Lily again until breakfast the next day, and she only has two words for him: "We're done."
So James does the natural thing and tracks Dora down, pulls her right out of the Great Hall and into the seclusion of (where else?) the nearest broom cupboard. "Lily broke up with me," he says in a rush, ruffling his hair and running out of breath.
She pulls his hand down, muttering something about how stupid that makes him look, and it only takes him a second to twist his wrist around so they're holding hands. "Potter, what are you--"
"Don't call me that," says James.
Shaking his head, he says, fast, "Don't call me Potter, Dora. This is me, it's James, it's Jamie, I-we're Dora and Jamie, we were always..." Dora is wild, but James has Quidditch training under his belt, and he just has to flick his wrist some more to get her pressed up against the wall, barely reaching his shoulders. "What happened to us?" he whispers into her hair.
Dora leans into him--had it occurred to him, he'd have known that he wouldn't scare her off--leans into him and says, "Hogwarts houses and Marauders and pranks," and oh, it hurts a hell of a lot less when Dora's the candid one. He breathes her in for a moment, burying his face in her hair. "Why did Lily dump you?"
"I told her about us," sighs James, and he doesn't give her time to register this before saying weakly, "Please marry me?"
The ceremony is quiet, like their parents wanted. She doesn't question James's choice of maid of honor (it's not like she has any mates anyway), but she can see from the way Lily's staring at him as Dorcas walks down the aisle that she ought to be worried.
Dorcas can't say she's surprised when James brings home divorce papers on their anniversary. Shocked, maybe, but never surprised.
"I just... my parents are dead, yours are in Azkaban, there's no need for us to keep doing this anymore. We're both in the Order, so it's not like there's any principle behind staying together, and... well... it's not that I don't care about you, Dora, you know that."
She doesn't mention that she's seen this coming since they were eleven, or that she's heard the rumor that he's got Lily Evans knocked up. "It's okay. Everyone sane knows that arranged marriages never work. Go get your new beginning," Dorcas says with a smile.
When she kisses him, she doesn't want it to mean goodbye, but he doesn't need to know that, either. Besides, she's gotten pretty good at playing pretend.
A/N: Written for The Reviews Lounge, Too's first collaboration, Storybook Beginnings. Be sure to take a look at the RLt's profile for more quality fics!