A/N: When inspiration hits me, I try not to waste it. I hope everyone is having a safe, happy January!
That Elusive Aha Moment
The Aha! Moment: a point in time when something finally clicks and all of the pieces fall together; an epiphany or enlightenment, of sorts; the moment when the lightbulb appears above your head.
Dumbledore realizes it first.
He sees them walking down the corridor - her with her overstuffed satchel dragging along on the floor, him with his too-long limbs and overeager willingness - and stops in the doorway of a classroom to watch them walk past. The little girl, Lily Evans, has a bright blush on her cheeks. James Potter is nearly vibrating as he walks beside her.
"I'll carry them back to Gryffindor, if you'd like," James says, nearly walking sideways in his attempt to help. Dumbledore is surprised that he has not tripped over himself yet. James puts a hand on the strap of her bag, as if to pull it off her shoulder, but she shrugs off his grasp.
"I don't need help," she says. Then, after three steps and a bite of her lip, she says, grudgingly, "But thank you. I appreciate your offer."
The poor boy looks crestfallen. He stops walking and shrugs, as if it doesn't matter, as if she hasn't ruined his idea of chivalry forever, as if he'll never ask a girl if she needs help ever again. To Dumbledore's surprise, Lily Evans stops walking once she looks beside her and realizes that he isn't there.
"I'm going to head back this way, then," James says, nodding his head behind him toward the Great Hall. "I guess I'll see you around."
Now Lily looks crestfallen, but she straightens herself up, nods, and turns away from him. As they walk in opposite directions from one another, Dumbledore guesses that this is how it'll be for a while, their resistance, their reluctance, and that one day, something will shift just enough to bring them together again. Because there was a light in their eyes, a beautiful light that -
"Um, pardon me, Headmaster? Can I get around?"
Dumbledore shakes himself out of his reverie and allows the students in the classroom behind him to leave. Ah, the ponderings of an old man about young love!
Dorcas realizes it when Lily comes back from breakfast with an ugly red valentine in her hand and a scowl on her face. She tries to broach the topic, but Lily silences her with a vicious glare. The valentine is thrown into the drawer of her end table - not the fireplace, Dorcas notices - which is then slammed shut, and when Lily flops on the bed with her face in her pillow, Siobhan raises an eyebrow.
"You alright, Evans?"
Lily says something that Dorcas thinks is, "I want to die," but Siobhan repeats as, "You want pie?"
When Lily doesn't respond, Siobhan, who has made it clear that she doesn't have patience for this kind of thing and will Dorcas please just let her know if she needs to wear mourning clothes tomorrow, leaves the room. Which leaves Dorcas with Lily. Which makes Dorcas uncomfortable. She doesn't have any siblings or close cousins or second-cousins or even young aunts or uncles, so comforting people is kind of new for her, especially since she doesn't really know anybody at Hogwarts all that well yet and the girls that live in her dorm feel emotions at the extreme.
So she gets up and sits on the side of Lily's bed, awkwardly patting the girl on the back in triangle-shape motions, and asks, "Can I read it?"
The worst that can happen is that Lily will kill her. The best that can happen is that Lily will let her read the valentine, explain in a calm manner what happened and why she is upset, and everybody will go on with their lives. The reality will probably occur somewhere in the middle.
Lily doesn't mutter a word, doesn't make a sound, doesn't even move save the slow rise and fall of her back - Dorcas should probably check to make sure that Lily's not actually suffocating herself - so this must be a yes.
It is worse than she first thought. The thing is shaped like a heart, smells strongly of Madame Puddifoot's, and is covered in lace and pinks and glitter. Her hands are now covered in sparkles. When she opens it, because she has started this and now she must see it through, it sings.
The valentine sings.
Dearest Lily Evans, you are so wonderful, you are so b-e-a-utiful, you are the heaven that I wish to seeeeeee-
"Please," Lily whines.
Dorcas shuts it. The song cuts off, but it rings in her ears like a horrible, torturous echo. She looks at Lily, at the card, back at Lily. It hits her.
"Was that James Potter?"
"He gave it to me in front of everyone, Dorcas," Lily mumbles. "Please put me out of my mercy. Make it quick. I no longer want to live."
Dorcas makes a sound of sympathy and continues rubbing the triangle into Lily's back. After a long moment of this, when Dorcas picks the valentine up and moves to throw it in the fire, Lily bursts into motion and snatches it out of her hands, a feral look in her eyes. They are both motionless. Dorcas is afraid for her life.
"Just… I have to show my mum, you know?" Lily says, sitting on her bed and smoothing out her hair. There's a crease from her pillow stretching across her cheek. It looks like a battle scar. She doesn't look at Dorcas when she says, "And then I'll throw it away."
Dorcas nods, begins to back away toward her own side of the room. "Right."
Even after she washes her hands twice and casts a cleaning spell, she can't get the glitter off of her skin.
Siobhan realizes it when Dorcas comes downstairs and tells her.
"James Potter gave Lily an ugly valentine during dinner," is the report.
Siobhan looks up briefly from her magazine. Dorcas does not look distraught, so Siobhan assumes that Lily has not thrown herself off of a tower; she does, however, look grossed out, which Siobhan is all for. Clearly there is something being left out of this story.
"And what else?"
Dorcas shakes her head as if she wants to shake the memory right out of her ears. "And it sung her a song."
That's it? James wrote Lily a song? Siobhan would love for a bloke to write her a song, no matter how awful it was. Even the greatest lyricists had to start somewhere, and to be a songwriter's muse had to be the best thing ever. Look at her favorite band, Chafed Witch Paraplegic. Sure they were new to the scene, but their song "Helga, Please Don't Transmogrify Me, I Didn't Mean to Kiss Your Mom" was the most romantic song she'd ever heard. Why couldn't Siobhan be a Helga? Or even a Lily?
"Lucky bitch," Siobhan says, going back to her magazine.
Remus realizes it when James gets a detention for her.
The detention thing isn't new - that happens almost every week, without fail - but this time James goes out of his way to do something for someone else that could get him in even bigger trouble. Surprise: that someone else is Lily. Another surprise: James gets caught in the library.
"What the hell did you do?" Sirius asks, outraged that he wasn't included in whatever scheme James had been up to.
"Snuck into the Restricted Section." James looks proud of himself until he continues with: "Filch caught me when the cloak slipped, said he was going to string me up by my toes."
"Why were you in the Restricted Section?" Peter asks.
James looks away and - is that a blush? James is blushing. Remus doesn't bring it up in hopes of sparing the poor bloke from ridicule, but of course Sirius notices, and of course he puts the pieces together before Remus can devise a distraction.
"It was Evans, wasn't it?"
Peter frowns. "I thought we weren't supposed to like Lily?"
"We aren't," Sirius says with a glint in his eye. He pokes James in the chest. "So I'm curious as to why you, traître, have been fraternizing with her!"
James echoes this exasperation: "I haven't been fraternizing with her. I overheard her talking to Meadowes about wanting to learn more about complicated Charms so I got a book out for her. That's it."
"Oh, and so she would be ever so thankful and fall for your courageous bravery and throw the book aside and snog your face off? Is that it?"
"Sirius," Remus warns.
"I did it to be nice," James says. He stands up. His lips are pressed into a thin, McGonagall-like line. "I've got to go mop up the corridors now. Without you."
Not again, Remus thinks. He and Peter share an eye roll and Remus gets back to his essay, though he can't ignore the affront in Sirius's voice as he calls, "You'd better get back for the Exploding Snap game tonight!"
"I don't have to answer to you!"
"Yes, you do!"
"I don't get them," Peter says under his breath.
As Sirius chases James out of the portrait hole, shouting curses in French, Remus thinks that he understands. James had an adventure on his own. The point of the adventure was to retrieve something for Lily. James has detention on his own. Detention time is James and Sirius time. Lily takes James's attention away from Sirius, ergo Sirius dislikes Lily.
To sum it all up for Peter, who probably doesn't care about the long version, Remus simply says, "Sirius is jealous."
Madame Pomfrey realizes it after the young hooligan's first Quidditch game. Enthusiastic fool. He's laid up in bed with a concussion and a broken arm, leg, and finger, and normally he'd be awake and harassing her with all types of lewd jokes and commentary, but this time it was too much for him. She gave him a sleeping potion so that she wouldn't have to hear him moan in pain anymore, so when the door creaks open, she is able to hear the small feet tap across the floor.
The little red-haired girl looks like she's been crying. Her eyes are wide as she peers over at Potter's bed, alight with curiosity and fear and sadness and too many other things that shouldn't be on a thirteen-year-old's face. "Is he going to be alright?" she asks.
"Unfortunately," Pomfrey says.
The girl looks up sharply. Whoops. She can see it all flicker across the girl's face - disbelief, anger, relief. Pomfrey feels bad about surprising her and so she brings herself to stand closer to the girl, at the foot of Potter's bed, and says, "Is he your sweetheart?"
Her visible revulsion is not what Pomfrey expected.
"Ugh, no! Potter? No. Certainly not. Absolutely not. Never. I can't stand him. In fact, I don't even know why I'm here. Sorry to bother you, Madame Pomfrey. I'll just be on my way. Bye!"
Pomfrey watches her go, remembering flashes of her own youth. Strong denial means strong feelings. That poor girl.
Severus realizes it when she doesn't seem to meet his eye anymore.
During Potions, when they are assigned as partners, she is civil, speaks to him about their class work, answers his questions, and offers him suggestions on his Charms troubles. She doesn't say anything nasty to him about him calling her a mudblood. It never comes up. He doesn't know if he should be thankful for that or not, because maybe if it did come up, he could apologize again and make her understand that he didn't mean it at all, he was just mad about dumb Potter and his dumb friends and he appreciated her help.
But they don't talk about it, and he is too afraid to break this fragile thing that is between them, this not-quite-friendship but not-hatred-either, so he lets it be.
When Potter walks past and tugs on a strand of her hair on his way by, Severus expects her to lash out and smack him or yell at him or glare, to react, but she doesn't.
Actually, she does. Her lips twitch. He can tell that she is trying so hard not to move a single muscle of her face.
He can't stop himself. "What is that about?"
"What is what about?"
He nods towards Potter, who is sitting at his cauldron and joking around with his partner. When Severus doesn't get a response, he looks and sees that Lily is not looking at him but at her book, folding the corner of the page back and forth. So he says, "Potter," and she jerks, ripping the corner clear off.
She doesn't answer, and they move on with their assignment, chopping ingredients and stirring and counting time in silence. He's disappointed, but whether it's more in himself or in her, he can't quite figure out.
Sirius realizes it at breakfast. He should be realizing other things, like the back of his eyelids or his goose down pillow or, hell, even how to get comfortable in a broom closet for a nap, but his partial awareness to the world sometimes - miraculously - leads him to actually notice things that are unusual.
Like this morning. This morning, he fell out of bed, wiggled into some trousers, pulled a shirt on, and shuffled to the Great Hall. He drank some orange juice and ate some eggs. He made a fort out of his bacon. Everything was going according to the Rules of the Universe. Remus sat down on Sirius's right side instead of his left, and Peter drank water instead of milk, but those things were forgivable. The Rules allow for variation.
As Gryffindor table filled up and the food platters gradually cleared, Sirius reached out and took two bagels.
Now, Sirius was no longer hungry. In fact, Sirius was full to the point where he had to unbutton his trousers in order to sit comfortably.
And this is where he takes a minute to ponder.
One of them is for James, who is late, and the Rules state that whichever of them is late, the other will grab the absentee something for breakfast in case he doesn't make it. These laws extend to all four Marauders.
Remus and Peter are present. Sirius is present, and is no longer hungry. James is the only one absent. So why does he have two bagels in his possession?
"You alright, Sirius?" Peter asks. Sirius doesn't notice Peter's hand waving in front of his face. "I think he's dead with his eyes open," he tells Remus.
And then, slowly, like a flame crawling down the wick of a dungbomb, it dawns on Sirius. Two bagels. He is present. Remus and Peter are present. Beside Peter, Meadowes and Delaney, who usually do not enter his sphere of awareness so early in the morning, are also present. Evans is absent.
The second bagel is for Evans. He has broken his own Rules.
"Merlin, is he alright?"
"Whoa, he's greener than Filch's inflamed toe."
Lily realizes it at Hogsmeade.
She is standing on a pedestal, watching the dress robes swish around her feet. They are beautiful, a deep blue color like the bottom of the ocean, inky like the sky just after dusk. The straps are thin and hang on her shoulders just so and the back stretches down to her waist and she feels like this could be the one.
It's saying something that even gorgeous Dorcas, with her long legs and sheet of golden hair, don't make her feel inferior. Dorcas's dress is russet and normally Lily would hesitate at wearing the color, probably because of her hair, but on Dorcas it looks amazing. Siobhan, who has chosen, predictably, a strapless black gown, is staring at herself in the mirror. Lily can see the cogs whirring: how short can she make it, and what alterations will it need to make it "different"? She can't look the same as any other girl at the ball, even if it is just for the small group of sixth and seventh years who've known her since she was eleven.
"What do you think?" Lily asks.
"I love it," Dorcas answers. "It's perfect!"
Lily sweeps her hair onto one shoulder and stares at herself. Perfect. She feels pretty good. Dorcas likes it. Even the storekeeper said that she'd hold it for Lily, so that must've meant that she liked it, too.
Her eyes shift to the left. She catches a reflection of someone behind her, someone gazing into the shop window, staring at her. Potter.
Lily's face mimics Dorcas's dress, and before she can turn her gaze from Potter's, he does a twirling motion with his finger.
For some reason, she does. With her hands out to her sides, and feeling mightily ridiculous, she takes a slow spin. The hem of the dress flares out and she almost tips over into Dorcas, but as she looks back up at Potter, it doesn't look like he's going to tease her. What it does look like - and what makes her gut churn and her face heat up and her heart spin, spin, spin - is that he is pulling open the shop door and walking inside, walking right up to her despite a half-dressed woman's shriek and the shopkeeper asking him to kindly step outside for a moment.
"So… you like it?" Lily asks, feeling so stupid and embarrassed and silly.
Potter only looks up at her. First at her face, then his eyes travel the length of her neck, across her collarbone, skims past her chest and down her waist, lingering hesitantly on her hips, her thighs, right down to her bare feet and then back up again. Lily feels like she's just been checked out and she knows that she is supposed to be angry about it but she did ask him, and this assessment of his is just so that he can tell her the truth, right?
"Um," he says. He looks dazed. Lily hopes that it's a good thing, thinks that it might just be a good thing when he reaches out, pauses, and brushes his fingertips across the material at her waist.
Um, Lily thinks.
And she doesn't know it until later, when Dorcas fills her in, but the whole boutique is silent, the air full with this moment, waiting for something to happen, waiting for an answer to this unknown story.
His hand hangs in the air as if he doesn't know what to do with it anymore, as if it has just fulfilled its sole purpose in this existence. "Will you dance with me?"
Lily stares at him. Right now? she thinks, but she doesn't want to sound rude and say it aloud, because what if that is what he means? She doesn't want to hurt James's feelings by sounding like an arse. But what if that's not what he means, and then he might think that she wants to dance with him right now, and really, she doesn't. Not in front of all these people, at least. And Dorcas and Siobhan. And the passersby outside of the shop.
And then she thinks, I want to dance with him?
And then she thinks, When did he become James?
And then she thinks, When did I start to care about his feelings?
He seems to have gone through a mental conversation with himself, as well, because his hand has been given a command, and that is to run through his hair and fiddle nervously with his watch. "I didn't mean right now. I should've asked if you would save me a dance at the ball. If you want to, that is. You don't have to; don't feel like you're obligated, you know, just if you want to, and if you're not still going out with that Cal bloke, 'cause I don't want to get into a row with your boyfriend - "
"I'm not," Lily says.
James frowns. "You're not going to dance with me or you're not going to feel obligated or you're not going out with that Cal bloke?"
"Cal," Lily says. "Um, Cal and I broke up. So that's, um, not really an issue."
"Oh," James says.
They stare at one another.
"Oh for Godric's sake," Siobhan shouts. She steps off of her pedestal, marches over to James, and begins pushing him toward the door. "Lily would love to dance with you at the ball. She would love for you to snog her at the ball. You know, she'd even love for you to shag her at the ball - "
"Uhh - "
"You're right, Dorcas, I'm sorry. Let me clarify. Lily would love for you to shag her after the ball. None of us particularly want to witness it. So if you would kindly give her one last lustful gaze and shove off, we would all be grateful. Cheers!"
And she slams the door in his face.
"There's your answer," Siobhan tells a mortified Lily. At least the shopkeeper and now completely dressed woman look pleased at her intervention. One would think that Lily would be thankful that Siobhan got all that sexual tension bullshit out into the air so that her and Potter could move on, but no.
She just gets no appreciation.
Dorcas, ever the diplomat, fills the silence. "Well, now you know which dress to choose."
Peter realizes it when he catches them snogging in the common room.
It's not like he's invading their privacy or anything - the common room is pretty fair ground - so when he leaves the stairwell and sees them on the couch in front of the fireplace, he feels violated. Lily is lying beneath James, who has his hand up her shirt, and her hands have disappeared somewhere between them and they're making noises and oh, Merlin, Peter is going to gag.
Luckily he makes it back up the stairs and into his dorm without puking. Yeah, he thinks Lily is beautiful, and yeah, Prongs is his mate, but that doesn't mean he wants to see them snogging all over the damn place. Especially where he sits every day!
They're going to have to have a meeting about the Rules.
McGonagall realizes it at their graduation. It doesn't completely catch her off guard.
They'd been circling each other for seven years; it had to end up in something. As of now, it ends up with his arm around her waist and her head resting against his shoulder. Albus told her that it would happen, but Minerva hadn't accepted it.
The girl hated him. Minerva couldn't get past that fact for a while. Evans would shout and scream and yell until the walls crumbled around her if that would get him to listen. But the boy was a Potter, and a Gryffindor at that, and, well, he was hard-headed and just didn't know when to give up. Though his dogged pursuit was admirable, Minerva didn't think he'd succeed. She was wrong.
So when she approaches them, she tries not to scold them for wasting so much time. Instead, she smiles at them, and even laughs at the surprise on their faces. Lily hugs her and thanks her for guiding them through. James hugs her and kisses her cheek and thanks her for not killing him. She wishes them the best and tells them that if they ever need anything, anything at all (within reason), they need only send her an owl.
"So if Lily kicks me out, which we all know is inevitable, I can come crash at your place?" James asks. "I'm just trying to be prepared."
Minerva presses two fingers to her temple. He will never not try her patience, the cheeky boy.
When they walk away, holding hands, Minerva wants to tell them that she will miss them, but that is not her place. She is their teacher and she has prepared them as much as she can for the world ahead, even one filled of such danger, and letting them go is a burden of both a parent and a teacher. She feels like both.
Moody realizes it when Evans goes missing and Potter doesn't sleep for three days. Eventually he has to knock the man out and levitate his body into a sitting room.
They've lost track of plenty of people but this is the one that hits the group the hardest, and Moody stomps through rooms trying to rouse his Order but nobody seems to want to move on. Yes, Evans was a positive influence on the group and yes, sometimes her pep talks got on his nerves and yes, sometimes he wanted her to vanish so what Potter and Black could focus on their mission and not on protecting her and yes, he regrets that desire sometimes and yes, he wants her back. But moping isn't going to get anything done.
He cracks a lot of skulls that day and gets people up and ready. They are going to find her. If that's what it is going to take to get his level-headed group of fighters back, then he will go out of his way to track Evans down.
When they find her, grimy and dirty and bloody from torture, Potter breaks formation and runs. Spouting a rather long string of foul language, Moody blocks a curse that flies in that direction. Dumb bastard is going to get everybody killed.
But by the look on Potter's face, he doesn't seem to care if he dies on the spot or not. He cradles Evans to his chest. Tears stream down his face. As if they weren't in the middle of a bloody damn battlefield, Potter brushes the sweaty hair from Evans's forehead, leans down to press a gentle kiss there, and then holds her face in his hands.
Moody is not holding off three Death Eaters on his own so that they can stand there and stare at each other.
"Kiss her and move, damn it!" he shouts at them. "Or I'll kill you both myself!"
James realizes it at their wedding.
Not that he loves her, because he's known that since his first year, but that this is real and that she isn't going to change her mind any time soon. She had plenty of time to do that while they were dating, and she even had time to break it off after he had proposed, because even though she might've felt some kind of obligation to him with his ring on her finger, they weren't married, so there wasn't any paperwork to go through or families to disappoint or possessions to divvy up. All she had to do was take off the ring and poof, all done.
But now she's standing in front of him and she's wearing a white dress and her hair is curled and she's looking at him with that look, the one that says hey, dolt, pay attention and even though you are getting on my nerves right now, you are still adorable and I guess I love you, don't I? And she keeps looking, and her look keeps changing, and as Dumbledore says more words and someone - probably Sirius - nudges his side, he can't keep his eyes off of her.
They're getting married.
Lily is going to be his wife.
And if that doesn't quash at least some of his fears and provide some sort of permanence, he doesn't know what will. Maybe handcuffing her to himself and throwing the key into a dragon's nest. Maybe forcing her to make an Unbreakable Vow that she will never leave his side, ever, even to go to the toilet. Because isn't that what love is? Being comfortable enough to escort someone to the toilet?
"James," she hisses, elbowing him in the side, and he has pictured this moment for a few months - okay, years - now, and he never imagined so many people jabbing their elbows into him.
"Mr. Potter?" Dumbledore says. There is laughter from the people behind him. James laughs himself. Right. Wedding.
"I do," James says. I do, I do, I do.
Lily says, "I do," and Dumbledore says more words but James isn't listening anymore because his hands are on her veil and he is lifting it up and he is seeing her face and her smile and her look is speaking to his look and then her hands are on his neck and they are kissing. James is kissing his wife and he is now Lily's husband and it's like time traveling. He is kissing that little frizzy-haired girl from the Hogwarts Express, the girl who hated him, the girl who cursed his existence, the girl who tolerated his obnoxiousness and then learned to love what he hid behind it. He's kissing his wife and they will have at least four kids running around one day - at least - and they will celebrate their sixtieth anniversary together, surrounded by their family, and they will still be just as in love as they are right now, right this very second, right as her lips leave his.