Chapter Thirteen: Skeeter's Secret Slipped!
"So it's Snape?"
"Are you really surprised?" Remus asked, cocking an eyebrow. "He's always hated you, James. And of course he and I are just the best of friends…"
"Actually," replied James, looking around the room in disbelief before he came back to Remus, "I am. Why on earth would he blackmail Skeeter into pushing Lily and I together if he fancies her?"
"From what he said, it sounded like the plan had been for her to see how she could never be with you," Peter piped up, avoiding James's eyes and looking a tad awkward as he said it.
James's stomach dropped. Of all people, Snape and Skeeter had been the ones to rightly predict how a relationship between him and Lily could turn out, fake or not. Well, there had been Sirius's "warnings," but he was James's friend…he was supposed to give him a hard time. With Snape and Skeeter it just felt bitter.
"Oh, don't believe that rubbish, James. It wasn't you who drove her away," Remus quickly amended as he glared at James's disheartened face. "It was Snape and Skeeter's plotting…and…" He stopped a moment to look at Sirius and Peter rather abashedly. "And us, I'm sorry to admit."
"What the hell did we do?" Sirius spouted off. The other three looked at him, and James in particular willed his face to ask Sirius what he hadn't done.
"Are you really asking that, Padfoot?" asked Peter.
"I didn't do a damn thing to her!" the accused continued, jumping up from where he'd been sitting. "She wrecked everything! She should've just left us alone!"
"She couldn't, Sirius," Remus argued back. "Skeeter dragged her into it just as much as she did the rest of us! Hell, the whole plot was practically about Lily! So don't blame her… It wasn't her fault." He sighed and looked at James again, a little pink in the face and obviously embarrassed by what he was meaning to say. "Look, mate, I know that I said some things earlier, but… I was just scared. I didn't stop to think about the fact that Lily has been my friend for years and wouldn't just sell us out like that…and I'm sorry."
"S'ok, Moony," James said, grinning, though his mood was still somewhat deflated by Sirius's sour mood towards Lily. After her stubborn aversion to just giving him a chance (which he hoped he'd broken down, or at least put a scratch in, somewhat that past school year), Sirius remained a stubborn obstacle to a relationship with her. For some reason, he'd just never taken much of a liking to anything past her legs under the school skirt (even then, James took care of that with a quick fist back in Fourth Year).
"Oh, Merlin," moaned Sirius, histrionically rolling his eyes. "Please tell me you're not about to kiss and make up like a bunch of women…"
"No, but I am going to go find Snape," Remus countered, heading towards the door with Peter at his heels.
"Wait!" James stopped them. "But how will we get him to tell us what he knows? It's not like he'll be all that willing to do us any favors…"
"Finally, my area of expertise." The others looked at Sirius to see him smirking and rubbing his hands together in quite a conspiratorial fashion. Suddenly he was back to his old, scheming self. "Mates, it looks like we'll be sneaking into Slughorn's private stores."
As soon as Lily left the Slytherin dungeons, she went straight for the stairs that would take her back up to Gryffindor tower, her heart pounding the seconds by, as though a large clock were counting down the time they had left to stop Skeeter and her plot before it was game over.
Finally, she entered the familiar, warm Common Room, short of breath, and wasted no time in going up to the boys' dormitory. But when she reached the door—and knocked—there was no answer. Even after Lily waited about a minute or so and called loudly for James (she was certain he was the only one who would even bother to respond to her), still nothing happened. Finally she just tried the door, wondering if James wasn't there, but the other three were. If that was the case, no matter how badly they might think of her, she had to tell them how to end everything with Skeeter. Perhaps then she'd be able to get her life back.
However, when she opened the door, she found the room completely empty.
Where could they have possibly gone, she wondered with frustration as she peered in the corners of the room, almost as if she expected to find them all huddled together, laughing at her. But she saw no such scene and decided to leave, thinking she might be able to find them somewhere else.
"Hey, Lily! Everything all right?" Mary asked, apparently noticing Lily's look of distress as she went back down to the Common Room. Her own face fell as Lily approached her and she asked, "Is something wrong?"
"Er, no, no, nothing wrong," Lily lied lightly. "Er…I was just wondering…have you seen James or any of his friends lately?"
Mary's eyebrows scrunched in puzzlement, but she pointed at the portrait hole and said, "They left about ten minutes ago, I think… Why?"
"It's not really a big deal," Lily said, waving it off. "I just need to ask James something…"
"Oh, okay. Er, see you, then…" Mary called after Lily as she hurriedly left for the portrait hole.
A tad guilty at the thought of leaving Mary and Alice out of the loop, Lily threw a wave and a smile over her shoulder and called back, "Later!" before she climbed through.
Once in the hall, Lily heaved a heavy sigh and sifted through her scrambled thoughts as she considered all the places where they could be. She checked her watch and saw that dinner was just about to start in the next fifteen minutes, so she decided to check the Great Hall first.
However, once she reached the Great Hall and gazed over the small number of people that had come early, she didn't see James, Remus, Peter, or Sirius and his ever-present egotistical smirk. Dejected, Lily turned away with a frown and headed in the direction to go back to the stairs. But just before she reached them, she heard familiar whispers by the dungeons and went to investigate.
Fortunately, as she rounded the corner, she saw that the owners of the whispering voices happened to be the very same delinquents that she'd been searching for! Huzzah!
James, Remus, Peter, and Sirius were all huddled together at a corner where one hall adjoined with the one that led to the Slytherin dungeons. It looked to her like Sirius was holding a vial and they all seemed ready to pounce on anybody who passed through the hall.
Lily came up right behind James and whispered, "What, exactly, is it that you're doing?"
James spastically (which, despite his former pig-headedness, Lily hadn't thought was possible) turned around and looked at her with widened eyes. "Lily!" he exclaimed, loud enough for his voice to echo down the chamber. Remus punched him on the arm and ssshh'd him with a roll of his eyes, though he sent Lily an apologetic grin.
"Sorry," said James, flushed in the cheeks. "Er…so what brings you down here, Lily?"
"Looking for the four of you," she replied heatedly. "Where the hell have you guys been? I've been all over the bleeding castle! And I have something to tell you!"
"Not now, Evans," growled Sirius, watching the corridor carefully.
Lily narrowed her eyes at the back of his head. His mouth was really starting to wear thin on her nerves. Oh, if only she could punch him. If only her conscience would let her rip a good one right in his jaw, just this once…she would never complain about Sirius Black again…
But her conscience didn't sign the permission forms for her fist to take a special trip on Sirius's face—not to mention the fact that she was likely to hurt herself more than him—so she settled for the tried and true (most of the time, anyways) method of ignoring him.
"No, really, it's important," she said to the other three.
"But can't it wait?" asked Peter, glancing down the hall nervously. "We're sort-of busy at the moment…"
"No, it cannot wait," she countered heatedly, enraged that they were treating her like this despite all she'd done to help them—especially the parts they didn't know about yet!
Sirius made an angry grunting sound and turned on her with bared teeth. "Well it's going to, Evans. Unlike you, we actually care about what happens to Remus, so shut your bitching trap!"
This little tête-à-tête caught the attention of the others who didn't seem to know what to say or whose side to vouch for. When she saw him, James especially looked torn—actually, he looked downright sick to his stomach.
But Sirius didn't seem to care about the thick atmosphere; he just kept spinning his tires and shooting off his mouth anyways.
"Now look here, Evans. I really don't give a damn how special you think you are. All you've done is changed James for the worst and ruined us. If you think you're good for him, then think again. We don't care about you or what you have to say. So just close your ever-loving mouth and get lost."
Oh, that was it. Okay, nowLily was pissed off. Stinging, hot tears welled up in the corners of her eyes and made her vision of Sirius's red face blurry for a few moments before she furiously blinked her eyes and forced herself to keep from crying. She wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of letting him know he'd hurt her.
"That," she finally said quietly, "is why I'm here. I already know what Skeeter's secret is—I found out about Snape and asked him myself. So we'll find her, sort this mess out, and then you can have your friends all to your damn self and none of you will ever have to deal with me again."
It truly was a large castle.
Lily couldn't help but be painfully aware of the fact as they trekked through the many corridors and up and down the multitude of stairs trying to find Skeeter. Remus and Peter said that they'd seen her in the office of the Herald earlier, but weren't sure if she returned since they'd waited until she'd left to slip out of their hiding spot. Still yet, it was the only lead they really had, so they checked anyways.
However, when they came upon the right corridor, they found the room dark and devoid of anybody.
"She's probably at dinner," Peter suggested quietly.
It was weird. Lily had never been in the presence of the Marauders and experienced such quiet at the same time. But, given the circumstances, she longed for the sound of their (sometimes manic) laughter and jokes. The silence was almost like the weight of a death hanging over them all. Lily shivered from the thought and kept walking as Peter and Remus led the group towards the Great Hall.
She really didn't feel like confronting Skeeter or anybody, to be perfectly honest. She had to fight to keep from crying out of the anger and hurt she felt—mostly, at least in regards to the anger, directed at herself. Lily hated that a dismissal by those four boys—the same ones that she's been rolling her eyes at or attempting to ignore for years—could be enough to make her cry. But, really, she couldn't lie and tell herself that she despised their company. She actually rather enjoyed it. After all that had been happening in the last few months, she'd felt like they were as close to her as Mary or Alice, and that scared her a little bit, but she liked it.
"There she is," said Remus when they came to a stop at the doors, peering in on the house tables.
Everybody sort of froze, not knowing what to do since Skeeter wasn't alone and wasn't in the best circumstances for a confrontation.
"I'll get her," Lily finally volunteered, knowing that the others wouldn't want to do it—no matter how much she disliked this, she really just wanted to get it over with. Maybe things might go back to normal the next day.
When she entered, she noticed Alice looking around, presumably for her, as Frank was already sitting on her left. She eventually spotted Lily as she attempted to dart around the Hufflepuff table, heading for the Ravenclaws, undetected. But, when Lily shook her head at Alice's gesture of invitation, her friend frowned and sat down, looking rather glum.
Lily bit her cheek and kept going. She didn't like treating her friends like this—she was sure they were worried about how strangely she'd been acting—but she held on to the hope that things would sort themselves out soon.
She came up behind Skeeter and tapped her on the shoulder somewhat hesitantly. A group of girls—several associated with the Hag Mag—surrounding Skeeter gave Lily dirty looks.
"Oh. Evans," she said when she turned and noticed Lily. She looked at her expectantly—and rather bored.
"Can I have a word?" Lily asked, quietly.
And when Skeeter made no move to get up, she added, "In private."
Skeeter rolled her eyes, but swung her legs around the bench to face Lily. "What's this about, Evans? Hm? Going to dock me points because you can't keep your skeevy hands off Potter and I happened to catch you?"
She smirked and looked at her friends, who giggled as though she'd just told quiet a hilarious joke.
You're warm. Er—sort-of.
"Not quite," answered Lily. She couldn't help letting a smirk of her own slip. "Actually, I learned something really interesting about your brother and I was wondering if I might ask you about it."
The smile slipped right off Skeeter's face, almost as if Lily had charmed it off herself.
Then she stood up, her face in an angry scowl, and came so close to Lily that she stumbled backwards in surprise.
"Listen to me, Evans," she bit through gritted teeth, "I don't know what you're talking about, and if you ever—ever try to say anything against me, I'll ruin you. I'll ruin you so badly that you'll have to flee the country. Do you want that? Because, really, don't test—"
Skeeter looked over Lily's shoulder and Lily spun around to find Mary, Alice, and Frank all standing there. Mary had her arms crossed around her chest and Alice, who had spoken, was giving Skeeter a wide grin with her hand in her pocket, around her wand.
Skeeter returned a sour look and, after briefly glancing hatefully at Lily, said, "No. Not at all." She forced a smile on her face, resembling a clown, and patted Lily on the shoulder. "Just a friendly chat."
"Dearest Rita and I were just on our way out for a bit of private conversation. Weren't we, pal?"
Skeeter's icy gaze lingered over Lily for just a moment before she decided that there was no use arguing and succumbed with a flare of her nostrils and twitch of her lips. She stalked past Lily, heading for the doors, while Mary and Alice both approached Lily with questions all over their faces.
"What's going on, Lil?" asked Mary. "I know that you and James have had something going on, but that's not all that's happening. What's with you wanting to talk to Skeeter?"
"It's okay, Lily," Alice added after a moment. "You can tell us anything—you know we'll be behind you."
Lily's eyes almost bristled with tears again from the sheer worry showing in both their faces. How could she have ever even considered lying to them?
"Uhm, do you remember that story in the paper a few months ago? The one about, er, James and I…in the Astronomy Tower…"
They exchanged a confused look. "Yes," was their simultaneous answer.
"Well, er, as usual, Skeeter had an agenda with it. See, she's got something on James and his friends and if it gets out, they'll get in huge trouble. I don't mean docking house points or detention—or even expulsion. They could go to prison. But they didn't do anything wrong—it's just Skeeter's interpretation, really. But—"
"What does all this have to do with you, though?" asked Alice. "Just because James is in trouble doesn't mean he has to drag you down too."
"No! No, it wasn't his fault. Snape was with Skeeter. He told her the secret about James so that she would have a story to make it big with in exchange for…me."
They both frowned.
"Lily. Skeeter doesn't own you."
"I know, but Snape thought that if…if he tried to push James and I together it would blow up and I would go running back to him…"
"So it wasn't true," Mary deducted. "The story? Skeeter made that up and forced you two to go with it or something?"
"Exactly. She wanted us to keep up with all these stupid things. She kept saying that it was for her stories, but I know Snape told her to do it so that James and I would get caught up in it and…"
"Well, we did, I guess." Lily stared straight at the floor and she realized that it was true. Skeeter's games, forcing them to act like a couple, really made them a couple. She couldn't deny that after a while, it started to get…comfortable. It was normal. They could forget that it was all part of a stupid plot and enjoy the company of one another.
"Oh, Lil…" Alice pulled her close in an embrace and Mary quickly followed suit.
"So what are you going to say to her?" asked Mary. "Lily, I'm sure we can make her drop it. We'll help you find a way."
"It's all right. I've already found something to get her with. But thanks guys—thanks a lot."
Alice grinned and put a hand on Lily's shoulder. "You know we've always got your back, Lil."
Lily left Mary and Alice, feeling much better after she'd told them everything she could, and found the others waiting out in the hall.
"Did you have to stop for a bloody chat?" Black asked moodily when she returned.
"Sirius, shut up, will you? She is helping us out, after all," Remus countered, shooting his friend a dark look.
"Oy, don't side with her! She probably won't be able to keep her trap shut and we'll end up having to skirt the edges of society!"
"Like you don't already," muttered Skeeter, rolling her eyes towards Sirius.
"Stop!" Lily's wand—which she'd grabbed out of pure instinct—sparked at the tip and she pointed it at Sirius. "You keep quiet. I won't tell anyone a single, bloody thing about Remus because he's my friend. And you," she then pointed it at Skeeter. "Come with us. Let's sort this thing out once and for all before the teachers hear us and come out here."
With Peter and Remus in the lead, Skeeter behind them, and Sirius trailing at the very back, James and Lily were left walking side-by-side as they all headed towards the dungeons—the place where they would most likely not be overheard or intruded upon.
Lily glanced over at him through her periphery, but he was staring at the floor, either not noticing her or simply forcing himself not to look. Either way, a lump formed in her throat as she wondered how he felt about what was happening. Maybe he was having second thoughts—what if he was starting to regret telling her about them?
But there wasn't much that could be done about it then, so she attempted to focus on the matter at hand.
"Okay, I'm all ears," Skeeter said once they entered an abandoned classroom that hadn't been used since their second year. "What do you want?"
"We want you to stop sticking your nose where it doesn't belong!" Sirius demanded hotly.
Skeeter smirked. "I didn't. In a manner of speaking, I was employed, you oaf."
"We know," cut in Remus, before Sirius could counter her. "We've heard all about your agreement with Snape. That's why we're here."
"We know what made you do anything Snape said," added Peter, glancing over at Lily.
Skeeter followed his gaze and laid a mean one on Lily. "Apparently," she muttered through thin lips. "So, let's have it then. Tell them what it is that I've done, Evans."
Lily hesitated. What Skeeter did was probably one of the worst things a witch or wizard could do, and she deserved to be confined by it, but that didn't make the truth any harder to reveal.
The four of them were watching her expectantly, their curiousity growing with each passing second.
"She stole magic," Lily finally said quietly, as though simply saying the words was what made the act real. "From her older brother."
"Is that even possible?" asked Peter, looking at his mates.
"I'm sure, with something Dark," remarked Sirius, glaring at Skeeter. "What I want to know is how Snivellus sniffed this up. Got some of his Death Eater friends to do it, did you?"
Skeeter smirked. "Actually, Snape himself helped me." She glanced at Lily. "See, I had some friends growing up too, Evans. I got a mouth full of you from Snape, but it was worth it because I used to be a squib and now…well…now I'm not the disgrace to the family."
Sirius snorted with laughter at this.
"You don't seem very remorseful," noted James. "For doing something like that to your own brother."
Lily looked at him in surprise after his being silent for so long. He caught her eye, but looked away quickly.
Skeeter laughed, noticing the exchange. "Hmm… Looks like the two of you have some talking to do."
Lily blushed. "Don't change the subject, Skeeter. This doesn't have to be difficult. You know our secret, and now we know yours. How about a fair trade?"
"What? Just like that?" demanded Sirius. "We can't trust her."
"He's right," admitted Remus. "I don't like the sound of it."
"Make the Unbreakable Vow, Skeeter," dared Sirius after a moment. The others looked at him strangely. Lily didn't know much about it, but the Unbreakable Vow sounded pretty serious. "Just so we know she won't tell," he assured them. "It's the only way to be sure."
"With you? I don't think so, Black."
"With all of us," James cut in.
"Who will be the Bonder, then, genius?" asked Skeeter with a raised brow.
"Lily," he said at once. "She won't tell a soul anything."
Skeeter raised her other eyebrow and gave him a look. "Do you think I'm an idiot, Potter?"
"He'll cast it again for me," Lily said. "Whatever it takes. Let's just do it."
"Fine, then," she said, striding towards them. "But I'm watching you two. I'll find my story somehow, mark my words."
"What happens if you break it?" Lily asked quietly as they were walking back to Gryffindor tower. The spell had marked their arms with what appeared to be permanent intertwining burns, as though a rope had been tied around their wrists and a large imprint was left.
"You die," said Peter simply.
"So don't do it, idiot," remarked Sirius, shaking his head at her.
Lily looked up surprised. Honestly, she'd thought that he would give up hating her after she helped them, but apparently not.
Clenching her fists in frustration, she blew up at him. "What is your problem? If it wasn't for me, she'd still be hanging this over your heads!"
"If it wasn't for you, Snape wouldn't have done it in the first place!"
"Well I can't help that!"
"Sure you could have. Just don't sidle your arse up with the Slytherins."
Lily shook her head angrily. She wasn't going to put up with this, she decided, and walked on ahead of the others so that she could lose them. She didn't care how much she'd come to enjoy the company of these lunatics. If this was how things were going to be, then she had to just forget all about James Potter and his marauder friends.
When they got inside the Tower, he let her go to her dormitory without saying a single word to stop her. What could he say? 'Sorry that we had a rough start. You know, relationships forced into existence by pure evil with blonde ringlets are destined for failure, so it's not entirely our fault! What do you say we give it another go?'
Yeah. That would work out swell. Real swell.
It wasn't that he wasn't glad that Remus could sleep soundly without having to worry about everybody knowing about his real hairy little problem, nor did it have anything to do with his own relief about him, Sirius, and Peter not going to Azkaban for being unregistered Animagi. But he still missed how things were when he and Lily could be around each other for hours at a time without anything being wrong. Sure, Lily had only started to spend time with him because he begged her to in order to appease Skeeter and protect his secret, but he was sure that they'd crossed the line of friendship somewhere. She had kissed him, hadn't she? Nobody else had been there to see it, so it wasn't for show. It had been real. As real as anything.
"Don't look so glum, Prongs. How about we go down to the kitchens and get some victory food?" suggested Sirius, wagging his eyebrows. And then in undertone, "I've got a fifth of firewhiskey in my trunk saved from Halloween."
James shook his head. "I think I'll just go to bed."
"Suit yourself," replied Peter, shrugging his shoulders. "Coming Pads?"
"You two go on. I'll catch up."
He and Remus nodded and left. James headed up the stairs towards his dormitory with Sirius trailing after him. "Don't follow me, Sirius. I'm fine, just tired. I mean it."
"Codswallop. It's not about that girl, is it?"
Really? Did he honestly think that Lily was something James was just going to put in a shoe box and forget like any other old girlfriend?
"Sirius you know how much I care about Lily. Don't go acting like I'm going to just suddenly stop."
"I don't see what's so special about her. All she's done is cause trouble!"
James sank onto his four-poster and started laughing grimly. "All we do is cause trouble! Lily didn't make Snape and Skeeter do this, so stop pinning the blame on her." Suddenly he sat up again. "And you know what? She stuck through with us for months doing this stupid charade all because I told her how much it meant to us. Who else would do that, Sirius? Any of the girls you go shagging around with in broom closets? Hm?"
"It doesn't matter," Sirius said quickly with a shrug of his shoulders. "What's the big deal?"
"I'm in love with her. That's the big deal!"
It was the first time he'd ever said that, aloud or otherwise, and it felt both liberating and constricting at the same time. Like he wanted to smile like a loon and vomit all over the place. But it was the truth; that much he was sure of.
Sirius stared at him for a few moments. "You don't mean that."
"Hell, I think I'm crying, Sirius!" he said in bewilderment as he wiped at his eyes and found them wet. "Merlin! Haven't I told you for years that I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I didn't get one date with her?"
"It's true," murmured James, staring at the floor. "I'm in love with Lily Evans." The thought sent a tingle throughout his body, but also gave him a strong urge to hit something when he came to a realization.
"And I'll never get another chance with her," he added. "She's done with me. Not only did I wreck things when I got my chance, even if Skeeter was the one who had to give it to me, but my own friends wouldn't give her a chance." He couldn't help looking up at Sirius accusingly as he said this.
"I've given her chances, mate," said Sirius. "I've given her six years worth of chances! Has she ever shown any indication of doing anything but yelling at you? No! Why on earth should any of us believe it when, all of a sudden, she starts to like you after Skeeter and Snape set you two up, of all people! Don't you see anything fishy going on here? She's just pulling your wand!"
"I guess I'll never know, will I?"
They stared at one another for a while. "Look, James," Sirius finally began. "If I knew that she meant it, then you know I would be right behind you. I'll be your best man at the wedding, if you want me to. But I don't want you to fall for her if she's just going to hurt you in the end."
"Too late for that."
"Maybe," said Sirius.
When Lily woke up the next day she found the dormitory empty and the drapes already pulled back to allow the sunlight to stream in. Seeing that the room was quiet and empty, she briefly wondered where Mary and Alice had gone and why they hadn't woken her, but decided that she was glad because she'd needed the good night's sleep after all that had been going on lately.
She sat up and stretched; then, seeing that it was nearly midday, she decided that she'd best be getting up and making herself decent.
After she showered and her body was clothed and her hair brushed, Lily traipsed down the stairs to find the Gryffindor Common Room moderately busy, as it always was during the weekend. But after a glance around, she didn't see Mary, Alice, or anyone else that she particularly wanted to see. So she returned to her dormitory and retrieved her bag, thinking that she could go to the library and at least get her work done before lessons on Monday.
What to do, what to do, Lily wondered. She couldn't exactly go back to just hating Potter's guts. That just wouldn't be right. Besides that, who else would help her with Transfiguration? Mary was downright unreliable when it came to explaining things and Alice's area of expertise lay more in the Charms department, with her, not in Transfiguration. So, surely, Lily must continue the friendship if only for the sake of her homework. That was all. It wasn't like she liked him like that and wanted him around for other reasons. Nah, not really. Sure, he was good-looking and had the ability to be charming (at times), but who needed that? Psh. It wasn't always all about a charming smile or—or…you know…other Potter-ish stuff. PSH! Yeah. They could totally just be friends. Psh. Not even that. More like, friend-in-training/tutor and pupil. Yes, indeed. That was the destiny of her relationship with Potter.
As Lily was reassuring herself with these fallacies and continually attempting to convince herself that they weren't fallacies, she bumped right into someone and caused the girl to drop her books, which scattered when they hit the marble floor.
"I'm so sorry!" Lily said to a sixth-year girl named Cecilia Parkinson, who she barely recognized as one of the nicer cronies of Skeeter. She hastily bent to help Cecilia retrieve a few mix-matched pieces of parchment that had fallen out of one of her textbooks and arranged them in a pile before she handed them over. However, as she was holding them out for Cecilia, Lily's eyes strayed to the handwriting and she couldn't help but think that it looked quite familiar.
"It's okay," Cecilia said, taking her papers. "Actually, I've got something for you." She sifted through her bag and took out a small scroll. "Here ya go," she said, handing it to her,
"I saw Sirius Black and his friends out on the grounds. He asked me to give this to you."
Cecilia grinned at her good-naturedly and, before she turned to walk away, she said, "See you around, Evans."
Lily blinked, not quite realizing the strangeness of Sirius passing a note on to her. She was still caught up in her thoughts of how she was sure she'd seen Cecilia's script before.
"Hey, wait!" Lily finally called after Cecilia had turned and taken several steps down the corridor.
Cecilia turned. "Yes?"
"Silent Sue?" Lily asked quietly, peering at Cecilia skeptically as her eyes darted this way and that, as though the moment might be lost if someone were to walk down the hall.
Cecilia raised an eyebrow and said, "Er, going a bit wonky there, Evans? It's Cecilia."
"Oh—oh, right. Of course," Lily said, flushing in embarrassment. "Sorry about that."
"But," Cecilia continued, "I'll let you in on a little secret—my middle name is Sue Ellen." She then bade Lily goodbye with a simple wave and cheery smile and went on her way while Lily stared after her, her brain rather frazzled from the exchange.
Had Cecilia just—was she—?
Lily shook her head to clear it, deciding it didn't really matter all that much anyways. Besides, the note that Cecilia had given her suddenly seemed very important.
She hastily unrolled it to reveal a short, swift message on the parchment, which read:
Take it from someone who knows, James cares about you a lot. So don't let any of his bugger friends scare you off.
Give him another chance. He deserves it.
Lily frowned. Was he apologizing to her? Well, as much as Sirius Black can apologize, that is. She stared at the words that said, "James cares about you" and her chest tightened. What if he was just saying that? But, then again, why would he care to write this at all if it wasn't true?
Not having a thought in the world for the consequences, she immediately went in the direction of the front doors to the castle, almost mechanically. Halfway along, Lily's step became faster until she opened the doors. Then, standing on the top step, she looked around at the students enjoying the first sunny day since the previous fall. Close to the lake, she spotted the person she was looking for and nearly fell over.
Oh, Merlin. Oh, dear, bleeding, batty Merlin.
Just as suddenly as she'd decided to do something, Lily was assaulted with the realization that she had no idea what she was going to do.
What if Sirius was wrong? What if James had changed his mind and was glad about how things had turned out? Maybe, after getting to know the real Lily, he'd realized that he didn't really fancy her all that much and was glad to get out of it.
But, then again, what if he did still have feelings for her? And maybe, perhaps, if she had those same feelings, and she told him about this convenient sharing of similar feelings, then maybe, perhaps they could do something about it. Something good.
But, at the same time, she didn't want to just walk over and start babbling about hot chocolate and snogging in forests and the smell of soap and lilies and—and—and all sorts of other romantic things! For Merlin's sake, it wasn't like she was in some stupid Muggle teenage melodrama. But damn it all if that wasn't what it felt like!
"Hey, Lily!" The sound of her name pulled her attention and her gaze upwards.
Simultaneously, she learned two things: one, she had—for some reason—been walking onto the grass, towards James and his friends, and two, if she didn't make like a Hippogriff and grow wings, she was likely going to be plowed by the flying tree branch that was coming her way.
Miraculously, however, she managed to throw herself in the other direction so that the branch missed her, but she knocked right into some other poor soul.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she mumbled as she shook her head and massaged a knot growing on her temple. "I'm not having my most graceful day ever…"
"I can see that," the victim of her ill-intended tackle responded, putting his hands on her shoulders to steady her.
Lily knew that voice! She would know that voice anywhere!
Her worries were confirmed when she snapped her eyes open and found herself inches from one James Potter.
"Holy—" Lily stared, wide-eyed, unable to really sum up her feelings in words. She'd never really figured it out until this point, but James had that way about him that made her unable to keep her mouth from shooting off. So when the next thing that escaped her lips was "hot damn," she silently cursed him as her cheeks reddened to a shade that surpassed that of her fiery locks.
He pulled a face that was somewhere in between a puzzled look marked with raised eyebrows and a smirking expression of amusement. "Well, er, most people just call me Potter or James, but I'll take that."
If possible, more blood rushed to her cheeks, leaving the rest of her body feeling like she'd collapse if she tried to move at all.
"Er, sorry," she spat out, just for the sake of not looking like a mute idiot, though she was sure she'd already made that impression. "I didn't mean to say that. I—er—meant to say shot damn—I—I mean damn good shot. With the…er…branch and all…and—"
"It's all right," he intervened, apparently noting her current troubles with vocabulary. "You haven't quite killed me yet." Then, when she didn't say anything to this, he sighed and told her, "Well, I'll see you, Evans."
He was already a few steps away before her inner-Lily bonked her a good one right over the head and she called after him, jogging to catch up.
He turned and raised a questioning eyebrow in response.
"Er…hi," she said once she reached him, though she immediately wanted to kick herself for such a stupid conversation opener. Because, really, any guy would just be stunned into falling in love with her by such kick-ass eloquence, right?
"Salutations…?" James said back, his puzzled, yet grinning face coming back as he seemed to search her, as though expecting to find an idiot label on her forehead.
"You know what, this is ridiculous. You're Lily Evans! Just say something."
Lily blushed again and looked up. "What? I didn't say anything."
Grinning as though trying to hold in a peal of laughter, James nodded. "Yes, yes you did. Something about you being Lily Evans and saying something."
Well, damn! That wasn't supposed to happen! Oh, hell with it all. Things couldn't possibly get any worse, so she was going to just go for it!
"I have to ask you something."
"Uhm" she began (again with the fantastic eloquence, she chided herself), "I wanted to apologize…"
"So you're asking my permission…to apologize to me…for…?"
They both raised eyebrows at each other.
"You said you had to ask me something," he reminded her.
"Oh—well, er, forget what I said. Anyways, I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry for—"
"You really don't need to apologize for anything," he interrupted with a coarse shrug. "I'm a big boy, I can handle myself—"
"—for hurting you," Lily continued through gritted teeth.
"—I'm not hurt. I'm in perfectly healthy condition. Well, actually, your rather large head hurt a bit, but I'll be okay, I just need to go over to Poppy and get some—"
"SHUT UP! FOR THE LOVE OF MERLIN JUST SHUT UP!"
Enraged, red, and frustrated, Lily glared at him while he immediately closed his mouth and stared at her with a rather surprised look on his face.
"You know," he finally said, "That's not a good way to end an apology."
"You know what, James! I don't care! I don't care! I was going to tell you I'm sorry for hurting you because, for some reason, I started thinking that I actually really like you! But hell no! A girl can't even tell you that she recently discovered that she really, really likes and that she might even be bloody in love with you without your big mouth opening and ruining it! So now, you can just stick it right up your arse and hope it doesn't—"
No. He. Did. Not.
Oh, but he did. He pulled the hand-over-mouth card.
"Did you just say that you're in love with me?"
Pissed beyond measure, Lily wrenched his hand away from her face and said, "Er…no! No! I'd have to be bloody insane to say or even think such things! Did you hear that, James? You drive me insane! I'm going to have to be put in bleeding St. Mungo's for this! I will never be the same! I'll have to be cut off from the world, cut off from civilization! I'm never going to be normal because of this! Because of you and your idiotic tendencies!"
Smirking, James asked, "So what, exactly, do you claim that I did to you?"
"You made me insane!"
"Clearly," he observed. "So, you admit that I have such an effect on you that my mere presence induces insanity. Is that right?"
Lily's anger diminished in a split second as he came closer to her and was replaced by unwanted nerves.
"But you don't seem very crazy at the moment," he observed, coming closer with each passing second.
"Very, very crazy…" she muttered, hardly following what he was saying.
"Are you sure?"
Woah. All of a sudden everything was going all fuzzy.
He was now so close that she felt his breath on her face her lightheadedness left her dazed and unfocused. "I dunno…" she mumbled detachedly, leaning forward and giving in to the temptation of kissing his conveniently placed mouth.
It was pretty wonderful, really. She could not deny that he was an excellent kisser… It was nearly perfect. She was just waiting for the—
"OI, get a room! Some of us are trying to keep our breakfast down, thanks! Bloody wankers…"
Hm. That wasn't exactly what she'd had in mind…
She and James broke the kiss and he chuckled, looking over at his friends as Sirius feigned gagging and Remus and Peter rolled their eyes at him, laughing along with James. His hand crept over to hers and clasped it. She looked down and grinned at their intwined fingers.
Well, close enough.
"Hey Alfie!" Lily sat down next to her freckly Hufflepuff mate, all a glow from the events of the weekend.
"Oh…er, hi, Lily."
"So how've you been? I haven't seen you in a while."
"Been okay, I suppose. I've—"
"EVANS!" A slew of girls than fiercely ran over to crowd their desk, brandishing copies of the latest Hogwarts Herald.
"Evans, is it true?" one of them asked, gesturing towards the title that read Evans's Faux Beau. "Did you and Potter really fake?"
"Couldn't tell you, ladies," Lily replied with a glare. "You see, I was trying to have a nice conversation with my friend Alfie, here, before you very rudely interrupted him."
The four girls stared at Lily, obviously offended, but backed away over to the desks on the other side of the room.
At that time, James walked into the classroom accompanied by Sirius, Remus, and Peter, and greeted her with a kiss (the hoard of girls all gasped in unison and one actually started crying while the others tried to comfort her).
"So, Alfie," she continued after James sat in the seat across the aisle from her, next to Sirius, "What were you saying again?"
But when she turned to look back at him, he has an eyebrow raised at her.
He glanced at James and then smirked. "I thought that those girls just came over claiming that the Herald said you two faked the whole thing?"
"Oh. Well, we aren't, you know, anymore… That paper is old, Alfie! Not current at all!"
"I thought it was printed yesterday."
Lily blushed. "Well, er, a lot's happened since yesterday morning! Like, uhm…" She glanced over at James, who winked at her, and blushed again. "Like…a lot of…stuff."
"So you just go around and let anybody kiss you these days?"
"No!" Lily protested at once, worried that he might get the wrong idea. "No, not at all. I guess, you know, we kinda are. Now, that is. Dating, I mean. Me and James. James and I, actually—want to be grammatically correct, right?"
Alfie stared at her with a peculiar expression on his face like he was of the opinion that she was hardly making any sense at all. And Lily was of the opinion that he was most likely right. James Potter could do that to a person. Well, a girl, that is.
Alfie nodded, still looking like he thought she was an eccentric loony. "Right…"
A/N: IT'S ABOUT FREAKING TIME! Yeah, I realize that I'm pretty much talking to myself since it's really my fault for taking so long, but I sometimes feel like the story itself is somewhat to blame as well. Dunno what it is. I guess it does have a mind of its own. It uses mind control and decides, "I shall not be written today!" Hm. Perhaps I shouldn't write authors' notes at 11:40ish at night... Probably not the best idea, considering how strange I already am when I'm not tired. Anyways! I am finally DONE and I hope that you enjoyed this because I certainly enjoyed writing it. Despite my long absences between chapters, I honestly am fond of this story. I'm just also very good at procrastinating ;) I'll leave you now, though, with HUMONGOUS thanks for anybody and everybody who actually had the patience to stick with this! I appreciate every single reader and every single review very much. You are all AWESOME. Ta ta, everybody, until next time, and I hope you all enjoy your summers! :)