Lily waited for the light at her wand's tip to manifest itself into a swan; however, the only thing that came was a feeble, glowing wisp. She wanted to cry she was so frustrated. N.E.W.T. exams were coming up in less than a month, and she seemed to have lost her ability to produce a Patronus.
She knew part of the reason behind it. The memory that had been her default for the charm had become tainted. Her childhood best friend, with whom she had shared the memory, had recently passed away in an accident. It still pained her to think of it, to find the good beneath all of the grief. Lily knew that there were other thoughts she could draw upon for the spell, but in that moment they all seemed to pale in comparison to this favorite one.
Lily could have torn her hair out, could have screamed. This was a charm, and she was ace at Charms. If she couldn't do this one simple spell—a spell that she'd been able to do since fifth year—what did that mean for her? What would be the next spell she wouldn't be able to cast because she was letting all of the bad in her life get to her?
Caught up in her frustration, Lily picked up her copy of Advanced Potion-Making from the coffee table and threw it as far as she could across the Head common room. Just as it was about the hit the wall next to the door, James walked in, and it barely missed his head.
"Do I even want to know what I did this time?" he asked, dropping his bag to the floor and toeing off his shoes.
"It's not you," she replied, before adding with a roll of her eyes, "for once."
James smirked and approached her, wrapping his arms around her waist. "Anything I can help you with?"
She knew that tone. It was James' let's-shag voice. His lips were on her throat in an instant, kissing and nipping at her flesh. She loved the way this made her feel, but now wasn't the time for it.
He did so without so much as a pout and took her hands in his. "Firstly, I want you to know that there is no problem that shagging can't solve, but it's your call. That being said, what's wrong, love?"
"I can't produce my Patronus."
"'Course you can. Really spectacular swan, I remember."
"Not anymore." She squeezed his hand, pleading to him with her eyes. "Show me yours."
James wagged his eyebrows. "I thought you said you weren't interested in a sh—"
"Stop joking, James. I'm serious."
With a laugh and a flick of his wand, James cast his Patronus for her—his stag so well-formed and bright it shined. The deer approached her and would have nuzzled her side had it been solid. Instead, she felt the warmth and happiness blossom inside of her from where the stag's nose was.
"What do you think of, James?"
"The first time you slapped me in fourth year."
She looked at him in disbelief.
He shrugged. "It was the first time you ever touched me. Not in the way I'd have liked, but sometimes a bloke has to settle."
Lily knew he was lying then; he was giving her those I'll-never-tell eyes.
"Just think of a time when you were really happy," James said, planting a kiss on her head. "You'll manage fine."
She wasn't sure. Happy times had been scarce as of late, what with the war. But Lily did remember something. She'd gone to James' home over the Easter holiday, and they'd kicked a football around his backyard. It wasn't much, but she'd been happy.
Lily took out her wand and said the incantation, thinking of their laughter and James' arms around her middle, lifting her up so she couldn't kick the ball—an attempt to cheat at their one-on-one game. She recalled being covered in mud, having sent each other to the ground a number of times all in good fun. James enthusiasm to learn more of the Muggle sport that Lily's father had raised her on, the kiss they'd shared after James had wiped mud from her nose, the talking under the stars that followed after—all of it filled her mind and senses.
When she opened her eyes—she hadn't realized that she closed them—the sight in front of her surprised her. Rather than a swan swimming gracefully through the air, before her stood a doe. It wasn't quite as bright as James', but it was still fully formed—its neck long and elegant, its ears pushed back, its large eyes shining back at her. She could see its every detail—the individual hairs, the ripple of its muscle as it moved. Her doe approached the stag, and the two beasts nuzzled one another.
She knew what a change in Patronus meant, and yet she found difficulty wrapping her mind around it. Switching one memory for another couldn't change the manifestation; it had to come from a change from within herself.
She looked over her shoulder and green eyes met hazel. So much had happened between them over the years, but none so much as this year. They'd started working together which had progressed into a few Hogsmeade lunches. From there, they'd somehow arrived at snogging and then shagging. Lily knew she fancied him, but this? Had her heart really known before she had?
"I love you too, Lily Evans," James whispered into her ear.