Author's Notes: Written for the 2011 mwpp_fest at livejournal. Thanks go to both Corinne Bailey Rae and Billy Joel for some nice inspiration. Also, major kudos and endless thanks to Leah for her wonderful, swift, crucially helpful beta-ing!
"Still I wonder why it is
I don't argue like this
With anyone but you."
"Mind sharing the booth there, Evans?"
Lily lifts her head from the book she's been reading, quelling the urge to scowl as Potter slides into the bench across from her with an idiotic smile and not even a smidgeon of permission. It's been a rotten day—hell, a rotten week—and Lily hasn't the patience to deal with the fifteen-year-old twit. She drops her head back down and tries to find her place on the page. Hopefully he'll lose interest in whatever trouble he's looking to cause quickly. She can't handle much.
"No. Leave," she tells him curtly, her eyes trained on her book.
He lets off a sound of disapproval. "Oh, come on, Evans! Have a little sympathy for a fellow Gryffindor. It's bloody packed in here. And Pete's already gone to fetch drinks!"
"I'm waiting for someone. And you're sitting in his seat."
"Who? Cockpot Crebbins?" Lily refuses to look up, but she can practically hear the grimace of disgust in his voice. "If you ask me, any blighter who keeps you waiting about for him in Hogsmeade isn't worth much. Bit of a rubbish boyfriend, don't you think?"
Lily feels her face heat up as she reluctantly raises her gaze. Potter's still sitting there across from her, all decked out in a black cloak and his Gryffindor scarf, fidgeting about with the silverware on the table in front of him. He jostles a fork between his fingers, creating an irritating clacking sound as it taps repeatedly against the wooden surface. She scowls. "Well, it's a good thing no one's asked your opinion then, isn't it?" She drops her eyes back down to the book in a huff, and isn't quite sure why she adds, "But just for your information, Joshua and I ended it. He's someone else's rubbish boyfriend now."
The fork clacking stops. "What?" Potter asks.
"I'm not waiting for Joshua," Lily reiterates. "We've broken things off. Now can you please just move?"
"You're not with Crebbins anymore?"
"That's what I've just said, isn't it?"
She wonders what enjoyment he gets out of making her repeat it, if he's unnecessarily cruel enough to comment on it, to wonder aloud how Joshua had managed to put up with her for as long as he had. He's said far worse to other people, but Lily hopes he utilizes whatever modicum of decency he's got and realises that she's not in the state to be taking jibes. After a few days of petty rowing, Joshua had sprung the break-up on her the evening before. She'd spent the better part of last night in tears, and had almost not made it into Hogsmeade this morning. Only her wounded pride had forced her out of bed, into some decent clothes, and down to the carriages. It was not how she'd envisioned her first Hogsmeade trip of fifth-year going.
When Potter remains still and silent across from her, she chances another look up at him, wishing he'd just go away. But far from the mocking smirk and dangerous glint she's expecting to find directed her way, the boy simply looks a bit stunned. He shakes that off quickly, however.
"You're not meeting another date already, are you?" he asks.
Lily doesn't want to tell him that she's meeting Sev—if she'd somehow managed to dodge his insults about Joshua, she certainly doesn't fancy testing his restraint by bringing up Severus. It's none of his business, anyway. "I'm meeting a friend," she answers quickly instead, evasive. "And you're still sitting in his seat. Bugger off, Potter. You and Peter will have to find somewhere else to loaf about."
"Yeah, yeah, in a minute." Potter shifts restlessly on the bench across from her. "Listen. I've been thinking lately—"
"Well. Something new and different for you."
Potter pulls a face. "Yeah, thanks. I'll try not to make a habit of it. But anyway, now that you've rightly binned Cockpot Crebbins—"
"For Merlin's sake, Potter, his name is not—"
"—I was thinking you should probably go out with me."
The words die in Lily's mouth. She freezes.
Did he just…
"What did you say?"
The grin that is spreading across his face is positively gigantic. His teeth are very white. She almost wants to squint. "You. Me. Something a bit like this, actually." He gives a wave around the general atmosphere. Then he cocks a smarmy eyebrow at her. "Perhaps with a nice detour up towards my room afterwards—"
That snaps Lily out of her stupor.
"What? No! How—no!"
Potter stares at her, mildly bemused. "No?" He shrugs. "Well, all right. Didn't take you for much of a prude, Evans, but if don't want a visit to my room, we don't have—"
"Not 'no' to your room, you conceited toerag! 'No' to all of it! No, no, no!"
The mild bemusement freezes on Potter's face, remaining that way for a few terse seconds. Lily tries to catch hold of her own runaway emotions as, slowly, the paralyzed emotion on his face gives way to obvious shock. He stares at her, blinking. It seems almost as if he doesn't understand the words she's saying.
"What?" he finally asks.
Lily feels her face grow hot. "What game is this, Potter? What are you playing at? It's not even funny!"
"It's not meant to be funny!" He sits up straighter, his hands going flat against the tabletop. "I'm serious! I think we should go out!"
"Well, why the hell not?"
Lily almost can't believe what she's hearing. She keeps waiting for his taunting laugh, for his mates to pop out from behind her in raucous laughter, the prank finally concluded. But no one comes along and Potter still sits there across from her looking genuinely baffled and generally put out by her refusal. It's almost enough to laugh herself.
"Potter. You don't even like me," she says slowly. "And I don't like you! What in the world would possess you to think that this was even a remotely rational idea?"
"I like you plenty!" Potter claims, affronted. When Lily just stares, he goes on, shoving a hand through his hair. "I mean, yeah, you can be a right shrew sometimes...but you're a clever shrew! And I'm not blind, Evans. Summer's been kind to you. Did you think I hadn't noticed?"
Lily huffs as she crosses her arms over her chest, thinking she knows exactly what he thinks summer had been so 'kind' to and wanting to shield herself from the subsequent leering that will undoubtedly follow. She squirms about in discomfort.
"Potter. I don't like you."
The boy merely scoffs, flicking her protests away with a careless wave of his hand. The arrogant grin spreads his lips. "Come off it, Evans. Are you trying to tell me you don't find me wildly attractive?"
Lily wonders if the abject horror is evident on her face.
"Have you been sampling illegal potions?" she asks. "Is that what this is?"
Potter leans back, pleased. "See? You can't deny it."
Oh, she can deny it, all right, she thinks, narrowing her eyes on him. And she can deny it especially as he lounges back in the seat like that, so obviously full of himself. It doesn't matter that at certain times when her rationality hasn't quite woken up yet, Lily can stare at him and perhaps see what puts the other girls in her year in such a tizzy. When he's not sauntering or smirking or, heaven forbid, speaking, Lily might sometimes call him attractive.
But James Potter is an awful human being—an arrogant, highhanded, careless troublemaker who gets his kicks from cruelly bullying other people and then charming his way out of the consequences. For five years she's watched him at his worst, and though she isn't closed-minded enough to think he's as awful to everybody as he is to Severus, his treatment of her oldest friend nonetheless reveals a capability for that kind of cruelty that has always put her off.
She's always thought that Potter could do with a bit of a Snow White fate—forced into a magical coma until enough time had passed wherein he might have become tolerable. And in the meantime, one could merely observe his finer qualities.
Though now it seems as if Potter had gotten some mad idea about Lily being the one to kiss him awake. And Merlin help them all, she wasn't entirely certain he was joking about it anymore.
"You're not joking, are you?" she asks, somewhat in wonder. "You're actually serious about this. You want to date."
Potter's eyes flicker up towards the ceiling. "Finally, she gets it. Look, let me just ditch Pete and then we'll—"
"I'm not going out with you."
He starts to look more annoyed. "We can't play this game all day, Evans."
"I'm not playing any game! For Merlin's sake, Potter, we can't even have a civil conversation without arguing! What kind of relationship is that?"
Potter leans forward, a new sort of glint entering his eye. His voice is suddenly conspiring. "Don't you ever wonder why it is you don't argue like this with anyone but me?"
"Innate hatred?" Lily offers.
"We have spark, Evans," Potter replies, his lips lifting into a satisfied smirk. "We've innate chemistry. And I reckon it's about time we channel that into something a bit more productive than verbal sparring, don't you think?"
From the way his eyes gleam and his smirk sharpens, there is little doubt in Lily's mind just what this 'something productive' he's got in mind is. And though most of her has to check her upchuck reflex in order to keep from vomiting all over the tabletop, the smallest part of her wonders...
Well, 'spark' is certainly one way to describe the volatile inferno that constantly seems to exist between the pair of them. Lily can't deny the existence of such a thing, but Potter seems to regard the connection as something far more temperate, more versatile, than she does. There might be a fine line between love and hate, but Lily's rather certain that her sentiments lay firmly on the latter side of that dichotomy. She thought that Potter felt the same, but thinking about it now, she wonders why she's surprised. As far as she knows, James Potter has never met a line that he didn't want to cross.
Still, Lily finds herself regarding the boy across from her, searching his face for any trace of sincerity or genuine regard for her or his proposed plan. But if Potter actually cares about her or her answer, he doesn't show it. Lily grows more and more convinced that this is merely some game to him as he stares petulantly at her, waiting impatiently but not earnestly for her to agree to his suit. She feels a twinge of something—dear Merlin, that can't possibly be disappointment, can it? Lily isn't certain, but if it is, she chalks it up as a general disappointment in humanity that someone could be so shallow.
Sparks cause fires, after all, and Lily Evans has no intention of getting burned.
"I've asked you to leave twice already," she says, feeling slightly strange as she glances down at her book once more. "Please don't make me ask again."
Despite her better judgment, she finds her eyes flickering briefly upwards, her head still ducked low. Part of her regrets it when she sees a glimmer of what seems to be genuine disappointment flash over Potter's face, but as quickly as it's there, it's gone again, replaced by Potter's usual cavalier dramatics, making Lily wonder if it'd even been there at all.
"Fine, Evans. Back to the shrew, are we?" He sighs, loud and exasperated. "Have your fit of pride, then. I'll wear you down for the next trip."
There's no way in hell he'll keep this farce up long enough to finish his butterbeer, Lily thinks with a snort, much less by the time the next Hogsmeade trip rolls around. He'll give it up by tomorrow, Monday at the latest, and even only then if her refusal had particularly piqued his pride. Before she can say as much to him, a sudden shadow falls over the table. Lily glances up to see Sev standing at her side. He's sneering at Potter.
"Are you lost?" he asks.
Potter's hand instantly covers his nose. "Dear Merlin, Evans. Something foul's suddenly tainted the air. Do you smell it? Grease? Desperation?"
"I've been attempting to get rid of something foul for nearly ten minutes now," Lily replies pointedly, glaring at him. "Haven't had any luck yet."
She's not certain whether Potter's finally understands that she doesn't mean to change her mind about his little joke, or if he simply realises that it's now two-versus-one and the odds are no longer in his favour. Either way, he starts to move out of the booth. He and Sev shove shoulders as one moves off the vacated bench and the other moves in. Lily rolls her eyes.
"Goodbye, Potter," she says.
"Yes, goodbye, Potter," Sev repeats, though in a much darker tone.
Lily expects him to leave straight away, to skulk off back to his mates in order to instantly begin planning whatever retribution he thinks fits this particular run-in. But he doesn't immediately saunter off, instead coming to her side of the booth and ducking his head close to hers. Before she can question what he's doing, a series of sparks flare up from his wand.
"Fucking hell, Potter, are you trying to set the place aflame?" Sev cries.
Lily feels the blush begin to creep into her cheeks—anger? Embarrassment? Something else?—when Potter only ignores Sev and whispers, "Sparks, Evans. Just think about it."
Lily is still trying to figure out why exactly her stomach is twisting so frantically when he finally walks away. Face still heated, Lily's gaze flashes over to Sev. He's frowning.
"What was that about?" he asks.
"Nothing," Lily replies instantly, shaking her head and hopefully shaking off whatever temporary insanity had just been blanketing the booth. Merlin, she hates Potter. "Nothing at all. Potter and his games. Let's just order, yeah?"
She is more than aware that her eyes are still red-rimmed and her cheeks still flushed as she leaves the table where her mates are sitting—undoubtedly whispering about her now—and heads towards the crowded bar to get drinks. The noise around her echoes in her ears, proof that people are heavily immersed in their own affairs, but Lily can't shake off the feeling that she's being stared at. Moving determinedly forward, she practices the excuses in her head, just in case anyone asks. Nippy wind out there, isn't it? Autumn gales and all. Had my eyes watering the whole way here!
Will they sound as pathetic aloud as they do in her head?
The right side of the bar appears slightly less packed than its left side counterpart, so Lily veers in that direction with her head held high. A certain amount of shouldering is still necessary to reach the countertop, but she has enough fight left in her to get the job done. She squeezes herself in between a pack of giggling third-years and a couple of hothead Ravenclaws arguing over the latest Quidditch match. When no one immediately comes to take her order, Lily leans over the bar and scans for Madam Rosmerta. The pretty barmaid is all the way down the other end, chatting contently with a group of 7th-year Slytherins.
Lily scowls. At this rate, she'll be here until next Hogsmeade trip.
She feels someone come up behind her a second before she hears him.
Still lying partially across the bar top, Lily closes her eyes at the familiar voice, gritting her teeth as she slips back down to the floor. She doesn't turn to face him, in part because that will only encourage him, and in part because she can grudgingly admit that if there was any single person who could eye up her face and suss out exactly what's happening on and beneath it, it's probably James Potter. She resents the fact that he can read her so well almost as much as she resents that there's something for him to read.
"I believe I've already rejected your Hogsmeade invite for today," she tells him briskly. "Twice."
"Yeah, thanks. I remember."
She expects him to sound bitter about this—Merlin knows he's never passed up an opportunity to gripe about her constant rejections of his suit before—but there's nothing of it in his brief reply, not even the slightest of petulant hints. Instead, he says it all very quickly, and follows it up almost immediately with, "All right?"
She turns around. Potter is standing there behind her, hands shoved in his trouser pockets, visibly fidgeting. Her eyebrows rise of their own accord. Potter might suffer from cases of constant restless energy, but nervous fidgeting is not his style. Adding that to the fact that he is regarding her with a wary kind of wavering smile rather than his usual trademark smirk, and Lily is instantly suspicious.
"What?" she asks.
Potter's eyes flicker back and forth across her face, but there is no surprise at its reddened state. "All right?" he asks again.
Lily's not certain what he's asking. Is he simply trying to chat her up? But what's with the strangeness, then? Now she'sfidgeting, and she hates him for it. To distract herself, she turns back around and leans over the bar once more. Rosmerta is still chatting with the Slytherins.
"I'd be much better if I could get my drinks sometime this year," Lily mutters, trying in vain to flag the barmaid down again. Rosmerta doesn't see her.
Potter instantly slides up next to her, slipping between Lily and one of the giggly third-years. The younger girl merely ogles him and shifts aside. Before Lily can ask what he's doing, he sticks two fingers in his mouth and gives a shrill whistle. At the other end of the bar, Rosmerta glances up. Potter signals her with a quick wave. She signals back, holding up a single finger to indicate she'll be down in a moment.
"She'll be along," Potter says.
"Right," is Lily's only reply.
They wait in silence for Rosmerta to make her way down the bar, which the woman thankfully does quickly. Around them, people jabber out orders, but Rosmerta ignores the general masses and goes straight for Potter. They grin foolishly at one another.
"You can't have possibly finished that pint already," the barmaid chides, giving the younger boy a dubious look. She turns to her left and miffs with satisfaction as she waves a hand down the bar. "Just as I suspected—abandoned at the end of the bar still half full!"
Lily glances over to where Rosmerta has just pointed. Sure enough, there's a half-filled tankard abandoned at the very end of the bar, not so far from where they're all standing now. Loitering around that same corner are Potter's mates and a few 7th-year girls that Sirius Black seems to be simultaneously chatting up. Lily realises that Potter must have left his spot down there in order to come to her. She's not really surprised by this, but feels a bit discomforted all the same. Her gaze drifts up to him, but he's just grinning at Rosmerta, giving nothing away.
"Any excuse to tear you away from the bastards trying to steal your affections," Potter flirts shamelessly, giving Rosmerta a wink. His hand suddenly drops onto Lily's shoulder. She can feel his fingers curve over her collarbone. "I had to con Evans into letting me call you over for a drink order. Think it a good enough cover?"
"It'll do," Rosmerta grins, and deigns to stop giving leery looks at Potter long enough to glance at Lily and ask, "What'll it be, love?"
Lily holds back a grimace. She shrugs off Potter's hand. "Butterbeers. Four, please."
"Coming right up." Rosmerta flashes one last teasing grin at Potter. "Behave," she tells him, and then saunters back down the bar to fetch Lily's drinks.
Once she's left, Potter lets out a dramatic sigh, "And another one gets away." His eyes drop down to Lily. At least the smirk is back firmly in place. He sticks it on her at full force. "Reckon I'll catch one of you eventually."
"Good luck with that," Lily replies, sincerely hoping Rosmerta's prepared to ditch the fit bloke Lily saw her snogging outside the pub last term in order to give Potter a go. "You can go back to your abandoned butterbeer now," Lily tells the pining fool to make a point of this, motioning towards the end of the bar. "Thanks for the whistle."
The smirk drops again. Potter looks alarmed. "But that's not...I wanted to make sure you're all right."
Lily refuses to accept that he might have been watching her as she entered the pub earlier and immediately noticed her poor state, though she knows it's likely. She stares him straight in the eyes, lifts her chin defiantly, and dares him to mention it. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Potter scratches absently at the back of his neck, skittish again. "I was standing over there," he says in answer, pointing towards his butterbeer. "By the window. With the lads. Just before."
"Yes, I've discerned that."
Potter stares at her expectantly. "Over there," he repeats, jerking his head to the right. "By the window. I was standing there, drinking my butterbeer, by the window, Evans."
Exasperated, Lily turns to her right. "Potter, what the hell are you—"
Behind the clear glass of the small window situated just a short ways to her right, Lily makes out the hazy image of the cramped alleyway beside the Three Broomsticks.
The same alleyway she just spent the better part of ten minutes crying in after her brutal argument with Sev.
The color drains from her face.
Dear Merlin. Potter had been standing at the window. At that window. He'd seen it all. All of it.
She whirls on him, suddenly furious.
"So that's it, is it? You just stood there and watched the whole nasty scene? And now you've come to rub it in my face?" She glares daggers at him, her face heating violently, her voice sharp and scathing. She's horrified, humiliated. There's a familiar burning sensation at the back of her eyes that she ignores. "That's great, Potter. Really bloody great. Hope you enjoyed. I bet you had a nice laugh about it all—"
Potter's eyes widen. "What? No! No, I didn't—"
"I'm sure it was all just so amusing for you. Look at stupid Lily, arguing with that bastard Slytherin and then crying about it. I hope it was all properly entertaining!"
"You're an arsehole, do you know that? A real arsehole, James Potter!"
"I didn't watch!" Potter's voice rings out, loud and desperate even amidst the noisy din of the crowded pub. His outburst doesn't go unnoticed. The hothead Ravenclaws pause in their debate. The giggling third-years stop to stare, as well. Potter swipes an irritated hand through his hair, leans closer to her, and continues in a quieter voice, "I didn't watch, Evans. I swear it. I didn't!"
Lily's too mortified to accept the sincerity in his tone. "Why should I believe you? Why should I believe anything you say? And if you didn't watch, how did you...why would you know..."
"I spotted you and Snape when you first walked into the alleyway," Potter confesses, his voice hushed and somewhat strained. Lily opens her mouth to yell, but Potter interrupts, quickly adding, "But I didn't watch! You looked...it looked like a scene you wouldn't want people spying on. So I stood in front of the window—with my back to the window, Evans. Quit glowering at me like that!—so the others wouldn't spot you. I only glanced back occasionally to see if you were still there. I swear. That's it. I only saw you arguing and that you were...upset afterwards."
Lily brushes furiously at the corners of her eyes, feeling the evidence of more tears on her fingertips, but refusing to succumb to that impulse now, again, here in front of Potter. Part of her is desperate to believe him, desperate to think that her humiliation hadn't been reduced to the spectator sport she'd first envisioned when he mentioned standing by the window. It doesn't erase the fact that the boy in front of her was still a witness to her breakdown, but at least it contains it. Her natural skepticism and bruised ego keep her from clinging completely to that hope, however. If the last half-hour had taught her anything, it was that only fools cling to fruitless hopes.
Even as she thinks it, she hates the cynicism that seems to have settled over her like a heavy cloak. She'd thought she was past the point where Sev could affect her so much, but today's debacle had proven otherwise. She'd spent the whole summer coming to terms with the fact that he was no longer her best friend—no longer a friend at all—and even though it had been painful, Lily's always been the sort to rally when it counts. She'd turned him away every time he'd come knocking at her door that first week back home, hadn't she? And back here at school, when he'd approached her at Slughorn's first party, she'd walked away then, too. But today had been a surprise attack, and Lily's not quite sure why she went with him when he asked. Her mates had certainly sent her enough warning looks, but Lily hadn't heeded them. She'd gone with Sev into the alleyway and listened as he'd attempted to make his case again.
It had all turned ugly so quickly. One moment, they'd been trudging through the same old territory—yes, they'd been friends since they were children, but they weren't children anymore, and Lily was no longer willing to look upon Severus's actions with childish naivety—and the next, tempers had reared. Sev had hurled at her the same loaded slur he'd sworn he'd never intended to call her in the first place, and then left in a flurry of bitterness.
And in the wake of it all, Lily had just sat down in the dirty Hogsmeade alley and sobbed. She'd sobbed in a way that she'd never let herself sob before, because maybe she'd never let herself believe that this was truly the end of her and Sev. She'd sobbed until her lungs hurt with it, and then until a pathetic sort of hacking was the only thing she could manage. It took fifteen minutes to pull herself together, and even then she'd risen to her feet, brushed the dust from her clothes, and left the alleyway in a kind of daze. When she'd met her friends inside the Three Broomsticks, she'd known that they could tell she was upset, but she'd comforted herself with the fact that none of them could possibly know just how tragically she'd fallen to pieces.
Except now someone did know. Someone called James Potter.
Lily's eyes dart up to Potter warily. She's somewhat surprised to find him regarding her with an equal amount of trepidation. She isn't certain what she would have done next if a fortuitous interruption hadn't come in the form of Madam Rosmerta, returning with Lily's drinks.
"There we are. Four butterbeers. That'll be eight Sickles, love."
"Right." Lily goes digging in her cloak pocket for the money her mates each doled out to her earlier, but before she can even grip the loose batch of coins jingling around her pocket, Potter's already flipped the barmaid a Galleon. Rosmerta catches the golden coin with a wink, then leans over the bar to give Potter's cheek a pinch.
"This is why you're my favourite customer," she says, still grinning as she turns and saunters back down the bar to take more orders. Lily blinks after her, then glances up at Potter.
"I had the money right here," she says, frowning. "And you just paid her more than double."
Potter shrugs and grins. "Why do you think she comes when I whistle?"
Honestly? Her thoughts hadn't been anywhere near generous tipping for that one. Lily shakes her head, then shoves her hand back into her pocket and lifts out the jumble of coins. She promptly thrusts them his way. "Here," she says. "You're not buying me drinks."
Potter pushes the load of coins back at her. "You're right. I'm not buying you drinks. I'm buying"—he lifts himself up, eyes squinting behind his glasses as he examines something over her head—"Mary, Emmeline, Marley, and you drinks," he finishes.
Lily scowls. "Potter, stop—"
"Keep your money—"
"No, you take it—"
"You never let me do anything—"
"You've done enough, Potter, all right? Trust me, enough!"
Potter flinches, starting as if Lily had slapped him. The reaction is bizarre, but one that Lily isn't willing to ponder at the expense of an escape. She quickly drops the bunch of Sickles down on the bar next to Potter's hand. The metal against wood makes a loud clattering sound. Potter blinks down at the coins as Lily pulls out her wand and sends the four tankards of butterbeer to the table where her mates still sit.
"Go back to your window," Lily tells him, turning away. "Perhaps some other poor fool will be having a breakdown out there and you can not watch her."
She's not certain what makes her stop—the hand Potter catches her wrist with, or the fact that he's called her 'Lily', a somewhat jolting departure from their usual impersonal appellations. Either way, she's stopped and faced him once more, and now she can't possibly ignore the stricken look pulling at his usually breezy features.
"What?" she asks curtly.
The hand that isn't still gripping her wrist goes straight to his hair again. He sputters, "You never let me...er, that's...I've never..."
"Apologise!" The word bursts out of him like a fit of wind, and he seems to deflate with it, the tension in his chest easing slowly. His face is red. "You've never...you've never let me apologise."
Lily's hand goes to her hip. "I thought you said you hadn't looked?"
"I'm not talking about the window!"
"Then what are you talking about?"
"Last term. After O.W.L.s. All of it. You never...you never let me apologise."
Watching him, her eyes flickering critically over his face, Lily suddenly realises what has James Potter's normally line-free complexion crinkling and cringing in an unfamiliar way.
He feels guilty.
She's a bit stunned.
"No. Wait. Just let me say it, all right?" His words come out fast, clipped. The sensations of remorse are undoubtedly new to him. He takes a breath, his eyes strangely bright as he stares at her. "I was acting like an idiot, that day by the lake," he begins, sounding not at all like the James Potter she's used to. "We'd been holed up in the Great Hall for ages, I had things on my mind, and Snivellus was an easy target. I didn't...if I'd known you were going to come along, that the wanker would go and call you that—" He spits out the word, as if even the vague placeholder is distasteful to him. Shaking his head, he goes on without finishing the thought. "I should've realised things were getting out of hand. He might not have done it if the lot of us hadn't been ragging on him. And even though I'm not sorry that you've ditched him because the scum's always treated you like rubbish and I've never understood why you put up with it...well, no one deserves to lose a mate that way. So, I'm sorry. For that. All of it, really."
He finishes somewhat abruptly, his quick, final comments ending with a nervous silence that Lily supposes she's expected to fill. But for the few moments following his elaborate apology, Lily's not certain if speech is all that feasible.
Has she ever heard him apologise before? She grapples for an instance, but can't find one that isn't tainted entirely in jest. If there has been such an earnest moment, she honestly can't recall it. Frankly, she's not certain she's even thought him capable of it—and certainly not when the occasion involved Severus. Yet here he is, standing before her apologising for his part in the whole mess. Lily considers pinching herself.
It's Potter's sigh, not a pinch, which snaps her out of her surprise. His shoulders sag and he finally drops her wrist from his tight grip.
"Fine. Right. I s'ppse I deserve the quiet. I'm a bit shotty with the timing. I did try to talk to you last term, though. You just wouldn't let me, so—"
"I thought you were just looking to rub it in my face," Lily interrupts, feeling a bit guilty now, too. She shifts restlessly from foot to foot. "That's why I kept avoiding you. I thought you were just looking to say 'told you so'. I didn't want to hear it, so I just—"
"I wouldn't have done," Potter says, shaking his head. "I mean, I did—tell you so, that is. But I wouldn't have said it. Bloody hell, Evans. I'm not that bad."
The comment is so typically Potter—a much needed return to her comfort zone—that Lily finds herself laughing rather than scowling, the pressure easing from her chest as the unexpected reaction escapes past her lips. Sensing a victory in this, Potter grins broadly. He leans towards her. After a moment, his eyebrows wiggle suggestively.
"You know, Evans...you might also want to reconsider—"
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Potter. Now?"
His grin spreads, unabashed. "Sorry. Sensed a moment there. Had to try."
She snorts, a strange mixture of amusement and exasperation at his utterly one-tracked mind. She's reluctant to burst that bubble of positive feeling, but her own niggling conscious protests her continued silence in the face of Potter's recent decency. He might not be looking so stricken anymore, but he'd obviously been grappling with his part in the dissipation of her and Sev's friendship for some time—a part that, she has to admit, is probably far smaller than he realises.
"Thank you," she hears herself say, the sentiment entirely foreign when directed at him. Potter seems equally as perplexed by the unchartered territory.
"Er...you're welcome?" he guesses.
"For apologising," Lily explains, her lips quirking upwards. "And for not trying to blackmail me into dating you with what you saw in the alleyway. And for not saying 'told you so,' even if you might have done."
"Oh." He straightens, more confident now. "Right, then. You're welcome."
"But you don't have to feel guilty about what happened between Sev and me," she continues, shaking her head. "Feel guilty about acting like a prick—that, you did—but Severus would have said what he did with or without your help. I'd been living in denial about it for awhile. And honestly, any less brutal of a scene and I might've continued. Perhaps it wasn't pretty, but it's the way it had to be."
A kind of debate plays over Potter's face. Lily watches as one side wins out over the other and he grudgingly asks, "Do you reckon you'll ever..."
"Sort things out?" At James's nod, she shakes her head. "No."
He tries to hide his relief, but does a rather poor job of it. "Oh." His shoulders visibly relax. "Sorry."
Lily shrugs. "I'm a firm believer in cosmic balance. It'll even itself out eventually. New mates or something of the sort."
Potter perks up instantly. "I'm a brilliant mate!"
"I generally prefer my mates not to be constantly hitting on me."
"Really, Evans. Where's the excitement in that?"
She doesn't quite manage to bite back her smile. "I'm actually in the market for a couple of really dull friendships right now," she says, not entirely joking. "If you happen across any particularly dim or dithery simpletons looking for a mate, send them my way."
"I'm dithery," Potter says. "And you call me dim all the time!"
Lily turns, stepping away from the bar and towards her table. "No."
"But you do—"
He follows her all the way back to her table, arguing for his dimness the entire time.
She finds him almost where Peter had said he would be, sitting outside the Three Broomsticks rather than holed up in a booth with Lucie Hall inside. He's perched alone on the curbside just in front of the busy pub, smoking a fag. Lily approaches with quick steps, grabbing the cigarette from his fingers and twisting it beneath the toe of her boot before plopping down next to him.
"That's a disgusting habit. There are far quicker ways to kill yourself," she says.
"I just lit that." He looks at her with mild annoyance, but doesn't go digging in his cloak to fetch another from the pack she's rather certain he has stashed in there. Instead, he stares at her expectantly.
"Where's Lucie?" Lily asks.
"Your girlfriend's ditched you for clothing? On Valentine's? Harsh."
"I told her I wasn't going in," James replies, shrugging. "She's already nagging to go to Puddifoot's. One decimation of my pride is enough for one day, thanks. Even Valentine's. Which is actually Monday, so I'm not even certain that's a proper excuse."
"Hm. Now I rather understand the fag." Lily smirks. "If I were forced to go to Puddifoot's, I might be looking for a permanent way out, as well."
James rolls his eyes. "Thanks. Now what do you want? Or have you just come to feast upon my tragic fall?"
Lily snorts. "No, that was just an added bonus. I have to talk to you. I have a plan, but I need your help."
James's eyebrows shoot straight up to his hairline, but Lily can only grin. She's been formulating this for the better part of a week now and is eager to get things rolling. She knows she could've gone to Sirius or Peter with her idea—perhaps should have done, considering both boys were far more available for an immediate consult than the boy presently sitting next to her—but somehow, James had seemed the best answer. From gossipy sources about the school, she'd known that he had a date scheduled with Lucie for Valentine's, but it somehow hadn't seemed such a poor idea to tear him away from his romantic outing for a few moments. She's happy to find that she hasn't been forced to interrupt anything. Though honestly, what kind of girl ditches her boyfriend on Valentine's Day? James and Lucie have only been dating since November. Could they possibly be that comfortable in their relationship already? Or is this a sign of discord?
Lily doesn't feel like pondering it—doesn't know why she even cares, really. Yes, she and Potter have somehow managed to form a somewhat mate-like, perfectly civil camaraderie since the beginning of the year, but that doesn't mean she should be dissecting his romantic relationships. Or that she even wants to. She thinks.
Shaking her head, she throws off such worthless thoughts and focuses back on the task at hand. Her plan. Right.
"It's about Remus," Lily begins to explain. "You know his birthday's coming up, yeah?"
Potter nods tentatively. "The 10th."
"Right. And I've just been thinking..." She pauses, lowering her voice as she leans in a bit closer to him. The smell of his cologne filters over her nostrils. "He's been really down lately. I think it's because of all these career meetings we've been having with McGonagall. He doesn't think anyone will hire him."
James tenses beside her. "Why would he think that?"
Lily sighs. "Not everyone is as open-minded as you, you know. He probably isn't entirely wrong. Lycanthropy is a serious—"
Lily stops, blinks. "Of course, I know. You didn't know I knew?"
"No." James looks anxious, confused. His eyes flicker questioningly over her face. "How did you...I mean, you're bright and all, but everyone's worked so hard to cover it. Unless..." He stops. Instantly, his features harden. "Fucking—Snape swore to Dumbledore he wouldn't tell a soul! He swore. And if he told you, what's stopping him from—"
"It wasn't Severus who told me," Lily interrupts quickly, cutting off the rampage before it got out of hand. Potter's face is flushed, and he looks ready to kill. Lily lays her hand on his arm, firm and reassuring. She speaks hastily. "I mean, I'd heard his theories about it before, of course, but he never...he wouldn't defy Dumbledore. I'm sure of it. Remus told me," she clarifies, and feels James start in surprise beneath her hand. "It was just after we'd made Prefect. There are times that they schedule him for things, but he can't...so I cover for him when I have to. He was afraid people would start asking questions if he had to switch his duties too often. I suppose telling me was the lesser of two evils. A calculated risk."
Slowly, James's indignation fades into thoughtful hesitance. "And you don't..." He stops, shakes his head. "No. No, you wouldn't care. And Remus would know that, which is why he told you. Though I wish he might've informed the rest of us of that."
"Does it matter?" Lily asks.
James shrugs. "Keeps from having these awkward encounters. I like knowing friend or foe."
"Oh, you don't have to worry about that. We'll always be firmly foe."
But she says this with a jaunty smile instead of the pointed annoyance she might have once used and James mutters wirily, "Foes don't help each other plan birthday surprises, do they?"
"When it's a well-deserved birthday surprise for their best mate, they do," Lily replies.
James scruffs at the ground with the toe of his trainer, making a show of reluctant concession with a dramatic sigh and an obvious eye roll. "All right, fine," he finally says. "Let's hear your plan. But I'm not making any promises."
Lily claps her hands together in delight. "Excellent! So here's what I was thinking—Remus deserves a proper celebration, yeah? Especially as he's been so morose lately. But he isn't exactly one for the typical party, is he? He has too much stodgy professor in him for that. But what if it wasn't a typical party? What if it was typically Remus party?"
"Is that the theme, then?" James grins. "'Typically Remus'?"
Lily scowls. "Quit making fun! Listen!—what does Remus like more than anything else?"
Lily swats his arm. James jerks away with a laugh.
"What? He does."
James is still laughing as he bats around other ideas. "Books. Defense. That god-awful jazz music—"
"Yes!" James jolts in surprise at Lily's sudden exclamation, but she's too excited to care. She can feel her face flushing with it and she knows she's talking too quickly, but she can't help it. She's enthralled with her genius. "Jazz is not 'god-awful' and Remus truly loves it. He loves all that era. He's practically displaced in time. So what better way to celebrate his coming of age than with a brilliantly Gatsby-esque fancy dress? He'll love it."
"'Gatsby'?" James repeats blankly.
Lily lifts her eyes towards the sky. "Jay Gatsby. Classic literary icon? Don't you read?" James opens his mouth to protest, but Lily waves a quick hand. She can't be bothered with his poor literary education just now. She has too much to say. "Never mind. I'm talking jazz era. But it's got to be done properly, completely roaring 20's or else it'll just look sad and pathetic. And I've looked it up—Wizarding culture was exactly on par with Muggles then, so no one can claim ignorance as an excuse not to get it right. I swear, I'll turn people away at the door if they're not properly done up. It has to be right. Remus is too much of a jazz snob to tolerate anything else."
Up until this point, James has seemed content merely to stare at her as if she was speaking Mermish. However, as she keeps explaining, his dubious expression slowly begins to clear. She's come to know James's 'thinking' face rather well over the past few weeks. She can see the gears begin to shift inside his head. His lips thin.
"Remus is quite the snob about all that rubbish," he murmurs thoughtfully, his eyes narrowing. "And he nearly wet himself over the summer when he bought that trilby hat..."
Lily grins in triumph. "See? He'll love it! It's just what he needs to shake him out of his mood."
She launches quickly into the rest of her party ideas—food, location, guest list and, most importantly, the difficult but dire need to keep clever Remus out of the loop. The party needs to be a surprise. If Remus found out prematurely, his stodgy side would have enough time to talk his un-stodgy side out of it. He'd start to feel guilty about them going through so much trouble for him, and wouldn't enjoy himself at all. James quietly agrees with these assessments with brief nods and affirmative humming noises. About halfway through her explain, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out another cigarette ("What? I'm getting into character. I bet Jay Gats-face smoked, yeah?"). Lily shoots him a look, but doesn't squash the cig beneath her foot again.
"My birthday is coming up as well, you know," he says when Lily finally finishes the listing of her ideas, blowing out a skinny stream of hazy smoke. "Are you planning a party for me?"
Lily waves the smoke out of the air with a scowl. "You've a girlfriend for that." She's not quite sure why she takes so much pleasure out of James's frown and the fact that they both know Lucie Hall isn't the least bit capable of planning a party as elaborate as Lily's. Perhaps it's the same thing that drives her to cross her arms over her chest self-consciously and mutter, "You didn't even come to my birthday party."
The short snort that James lets out startles Lily, but not as much as when he goes, "Just because you don't remember my being there, doesn't mean I wasn't, Evans—though I'm a bit wounded you don't recall all of our bonding."
Lily falters. "What?"
James's grin is wide and amused, but he eyes her a bit shrewdly. "I'd wondered whether or not you remembered," he muses. "I suppose I'm not all that surprised you don't. You even reeked of Firewhisky."
"I had detention first. But of course I came. I was there towards the end." He doesn't seem to register her shock as he continues jokingly, "Things were dying down, but you still seemed to have a whole lot of party left in you."
"I was drinking," Lily feels it necessary to say, her stomach flipping. Her face flushes. Images of things she could have done— all the possibilities running along the same mortifyingly amorous themes, though why that should be, she doesn't know—skim through her head. She'd pieced together from various retellings a number of rather embarrassing things that had taken place that night, but none of them had included James. Until now, she'd honestly thought he hadn't even bothered to show up. She supposes that she might've sort of been avoiding him since. "No one told me you were there. They didn't say...but a witch only comes of age once, you know. I'm sure whatever I did...er..."
"You mean you don't normally sprawl yourself across people's laps and attempt to shock them with all the dirty Muggle songs you know? Really, Evans. I never would have known."
Lily freezes. "No, I didn't."
"Oh, yes, you did," James laughs. His eyes are twinkling. His grin is positively manic. "You seemed particularly enamoured by one about an eventful night in late December of 1963—"
"Oh my god—"
"—which I tried to explain had you at age three, but you weren't keen on listening—"
"—it was educational, really—"
Lily's head lifts from where she's had it buried in her hands, feeling slightly more mortified as Lucie Hall towers rigidly over them, a smile somewhat frozen on her pretty face. The fifth-year is holding a Gladrags bag tightly in her fists, and her eyes flicker quickly between Lily and James. James continues to laugh as he drops his fag to the ground and puts it out beneath his foot.
"Hey, Luc," he says.
"Hi." Her eyes skip over to Lily. She nods a jerky greeting. "Evans. I thought you and James were through with your Defense project?"
"We are. It's—"
"Dominated that Defense project," James interjects, puffing up proudly. "You should have seen it, Luc. It was sad. No one even came close to our brilliance. Tell her how sad it was, Lil."
"It was pretty sad," Lily replies dutifully, if somewhat hesitatingly. Her eyes drift tentatively back up to Lucie's still stiff smile. Lily reckons the Defense project is the last thing the girl wants to hear about, though James is right, of course. The project they'd been partnered together for a few weeks before winter hols had rather dominated the competition. When they'd presented it to the class in early January, it was almost comical how badly they'd shamed everyone else. But then again, they'd known they would.
Lily had never doubted the fact that James Potter knew his way around a wand, but working with him had proven that the boy actually worked on an entirely different level. At first, his ideas had genuinely overwhelmed her. His brain moved so quickly from one thing to another—one utterly advanced and complicated thing to another—that it was hard to keep up. But she'd got caught up in his enthusiasm quickly enough. She'd lost count of the number of nights they'd closed out the library together, or how many midnight common room sessions they'd suffered through in the name of genius. James had started dating Lucie only a few weeks before the project had begun, and to say that the girl had been unhappy with all the time he and Lily were spending together would be an understatement. Lily supposed that Lucie couldn't be blamed for that. James and Lily's past being what it was, there was probably reason for her not to want her boyfriend hanging around Lily so much. But that didn't mean Lily was going to feel guilty about it. Much as it pinched her pride to admit, she actually liked James. When he wasn't trying to chat her up or indulging in his occasional fit of stupidity, he was quite fun to be around.
They'd always had...what was it he'd called it? Sparks? Right. They'd always had sparks. James had obviously thought that needed to amount to something romantic, but it actually made for a rather amusing kind of friendship. And now with him otherwise attached and her obviously still not interested in such madness, they'd finally gotten a chance to explore it. Perhaps his girlfriend feels threatened by this, but that's Lucie's problem. Lily doesn't know why James is dating her, anyway. She's rather annoying. And she likes to go to Puddifoot's. Where's the appeal?
"We have a new project," James announces suddenly, snapping Lily from her thoughts. "Lily wants to throw—"
"James!" She jerks her elbow sharp into his side, effectively shutting him up. He turns to her in outrage, but she silences him with a good glare. "What about 'secret' don't you understand?"
"It's Lucie," he says.
"I know who it is. But who do you think the Guest of Honour is going to go after once he realises something fishy's going on? The weakest link, that's who! So we can't have a weakest link. He'll break her in a second," Lily says, motioning to Lucie. She gives the girl a bit of a shrug. "No offense."
Lucie crosses her arms over her chest. "I can keep a secret! Tell her I can keep a secret, James."
But James just scratches absently at the back of his neck, his head swiveling between Lily and Lucie. "Er." His face crinkles into a wince. "You know, Luc...it's always better to be safe than sorry with these things..."
He holds his hands up in a sign of defenselessness. "What? Look, Evans is the point man here. I can't go against her orders. It wouldn't be right."
Lucie's frozen smile shifts into a deep frown. She opens her mouth to say something, then seems to think better of it and jerks it closed again. After a few tense moments, she stiffens her back, goes, "I'm hungry. Can we go now, please?" and turns on her heel and is stomping off down the street before James can even answer. Lily watches her go, feeling a little bit like cheering.
"Sorry," she says to James, though she isn't.
He shrugs as he slowly rises to his feet. "Don't worry about it. You're right. She doesn't realise that Remus is just as sly as the rest of us—he's just better at hiding it. He'd have it out of her in seconds."
James gazes after Lucie's retreating form, but doesn't move.
Lily stands. In one, quick and calculated movement, she dives her hand into the left pocket of his cloak and is back out with his pack of cigs in a matter of seconds. She flips open the pack—half-full—and takes a single, white stick out. She passes the sole fag over to him, then flips the pack back closed and shoves it deep within her own pocket. James still hasn't moved.
"I have a feeling you're going to need that," she says, nodding towards the cigarette. "But I'm keeping these"—she pats her pocket—"and tossing them in the nearest rubbish bin. Jay Gatsby may have been a smoker, but he was also dead by the end of the novel. Think about it. And have fun at Puddifoot's."
James is smiling when she turns around and starts walking off down the street in the opposite direction. She supposes she's smiling, too.
She forgets to throw out the cigarettes. She keeps them instead.
The date is fated for failure almost from the beginning.
Lily has never considered herself a bad date. She's a splendid conversationalist and often mildly entertaining, even in the worst of situations. But she's known practically from the second she agreed to this date that the day spent with Davy Gudgeon probably wasn't going to end well—or at least, not in the way dates are supposed to end well. She is embarrassed to admit that she only said yes because it was two days before Hogsmeade and the only thing more pathetic than having waited weeks upon weeks for a certain someone to ask her was to sit inside the castle and mope about it when he didn't. Lily doesn't fancy Davy, but she doesn't fancy moping even more. So she said yes. Rather stupidly, she now concedes, but she'd done it nonetheless.
And poor Davy now has to deal with the fallout.
They make it to the Three Broomsticks after an awkward morning spent in and out of the other town shops. The place is packed as usual, but Lily is relieved at the break the chaos of searching for a table gives her from chatting with Davy. He's trying, and Lily feels guilty for being so difficult, but her heart just isn't into making the effort. Not when, with the right person, it could be entirely effortless.
Davy suddenly grabs her hand. "Look! Doherty and Manes are getting up. Let's snatch the booth before anyone else."
Lily nods, dully letting herself be tugged through the maze of students and tables until she and Davy reach the row of booths running along the back of the pub. As Davy claps Kent Doherty on the back and sides up possessively to the table, Lily glances absently about.
Except that who she's looking for is sitting mere inches to her left, staring at her.
"Hi," she croaks.
James lifts a hand in silent greeting, his eyes skimming over her as she turns a little more to give his booth partner, Peter, a quick smile. Peter returns the salutation with a wave of his own.
"Having fun?" James asks, his voice uncharacteristically low.
No, Lily thinks, but aloud says, "Loads."
"Lily?" Kent and Dana Manes have finally collected the last of their belongings and vacated the booth, and Davy lays an expectant hand on her elbow. And because she's a sick sort of masochist and reckons she deserves the torture for being such a crap date to Davy, she slides into the side of the booth directly in front of her, the one separated from James by a mere flimsy few inches of wood. It's impossible and fanciful, but she thinks she might be able to feel his heat radiating from behind her.
Davy doesn't immediately slide into the bench across from her. Instead, he stands at her side and cocks a thumb over his shoulder. "I'll fetch drinks, shall I? Butterbeer?"
Lily nods jerkily. Davy heads for the bar.
"His trousers are too short."
Lily whips around in her seat, not even remotely surprised to find James twisted round on his bench, staring definitively at Davy, but his comment obviously directed at her. Her eyes follow his. A healthy portion of brown sock is revealed with every step Davy takes towards the bar. She bites back a smile.
"It's a style," she declares airily. "Perhaps it's a new trend."
"Or perhaps his trousers are too short."
"Perhaps your trousers are too long."
James's head twists right. "Pete, are my trousers too long?"
"What?" Peter blinks blankly at the pair of them. After a second, he takes a glance under the table. His head pops back up. "Er, no. Look good to me."
James turns back to her. "See? Too short."
She shoots him a look of exasperation, but it doesn't escape her that this is the most stimulating conversation she's had all day, and how pathetic is that? The thought depresses her, simultaneously reminding her just why that is and who exactly could have changed it. The boy in question is presently smirking at her mildly chastising expression, making her heart thump even as she contemplates dumping the hot butterbeer he's cradling straight into his lap. To keep herself from indulging in such an appealing ruckus, she deliberately twists around, giving James her back.
"Quit criticizing my date. I'm not criticizing yours," she says.
"That's because my date's spectacular. Though, between you and me, I reckon we might be better off as just mates. No spark, you see."
Lily snorts at the word, and if it comes off as more bitter than amused…well, who can blame her? She is bitter, and she's not certain if James is deliberately baiting her or if he is actually that oblivious. A large part of her hopes it's the latter, but she's far too acquainted with his clever intuition to truly believe it could be. But why do it on purpose? Is he intentionally trying to rub her feelings in her face? She isn't so charmed as to think he isn't capable of such pettiness, but she has a difficult time believing he'd ever direct it at her. Besides, she'd been so certain…she'd truly thought…
Well, it didn't much matter what she'd thought, does it? The fact is that if James felt anything even remotely romantic for her, she wouldn't be sitting here with Davy Gudgeon. She'd be sitting with him. But she isn't, because he obviously doesn't, and that's that. Things might have gotten a bit out of hand, but her original logic still proves true: there is no use sitting around moping about it. She has more pride than that. She's rather certain this bothersome attraction to him will fade in time, anyway. It's not that strong. And he's always been a wanker. Her overzealous hormones will remember that eventually.
"If you don't turn back around, I won't show you what I got you."
He's grinning when she finally does twist back around, though she tells herself it's curiosity and not inevitability that spurs on the action. He turns away, but only to grab something off the bench next to him. When he straightens back out, he's holding a familiar golden Honeydukes bag aloft, shaking it with enticement.
"It's for the Bad Day Bowl," he says. "We're running low."
This time, Lily's laugh is genuine. She grabs the Honeydukes bag lying on the bench next to her and presents it to him with equal flourish.
"Great minds think alike," she says.
She isn't quite certain which of them came up with the Bad Day Bowl, or if it just developed organically over the first few months of term. Lily had been highly skeptical and not entirely comfortable with the idea of sharing a set of rooms with James when she'd first found out they'd be working together as Head students. The private wing was supposed to be a luxury afforded to them for their hard work, but Lily had been battling her unruly attraction for her new Head partner since the end of the previous term and living with him seemed in every case scenario a bad one. She was therefore surprised that she no longer minded it in the least. Besides the comfort of having her own dormitory, she actually enjoys stepping into the common room they share and finding him there. It doesn't help her attraction dilemma much, but it's rather easy to forget the attraction is a dilemma when James is around.
But living with the boy was like a crash course in all his better and worse whims and quirks. The first quirk that Lily quickly discovered was that, though he wasn't wont to expose it as often or as dramatically as she did, James Potter had a temper. Moreover, when he was having one of his fits, he didn't want to talk, he simply wanted to brood. Lily was the opposite. When she flew into a rage, she wanted the whole world to hear about it. She had made the mistake of assuming it was the same for him and, witnessing him slam into their common room one afternoon in early September, had promptly broken off a piece of the fudge she'd been nibbling on, handed it over and went, "Calm down. Sit. What's happened?"
He'd taken the fudge, stomped up to his room, and slammed the door.
Sometime after that, the Bad Day Bowl had materialized on the coffee table next to their sofa. The bowl had been there before, though empty. Lily was the first one to fill it up with some excess sweets and fudge she'd had in her trunk, but James quickly followed suit. She wasn't certain when it became tacitly known that if either one of them were dipping into the bowl, it was a Bad Day. For James, this meant leave him be. He'd come clomping into the common room, grab a piece of fudge, and throw himself on the nearby loveseat where he'd proceed to sulk and brood for any extended period of time and Lily was to say nothing of it. For Lily, a dip in the Bad Day Bowl meant that James was required to immediately set aside whatever he was doing and listen to her rant and rave for however long she wanted. It was a system the two of them had perfected over the past several months, and Lily took gleeful pleasure in their private form of communication. It was something only the two of them understood.
Thinking on it now, Lily wonders if James realises that the reason the Bad Day Bowl has been left so bereft recently is because she's been dipping into it every day that he's failed to ask her to Hogsmeade. She had two sweets this morning as a comfort before her date with Davy, though James hadn't been in the room at the time.
"What've you got, then?" he asks, bringing her out of her morose recallings and nodding towards her Honeydukes bag. Lily clutches hers to her chest possessively.
"You first," she says.
James rolls his eyes, but reaches into the bag and pulls out deluxe package of Chocoballs. Lily lets out a groan, grabbing the large box to examine it.
"I should have known. You are so obsessed with these."
"You like the strawberry mousse ones!"
"Yes, but the strawberry ones are only a fourth of the box, making this"—Lily lifts the deluxe package—"a rather selfish purchase. I hope you're properly ashamed. And if you're not, you will be once you see mine."
Lily cheerfully passes over her Honeydukes bag, which James grabs and dives into immediately. His loud groan signals that he's seen her purchase, but she still can't help but watch as he lifts the package out of the bag and begins to slobber over it reverently.
"Fresh fudge? Bloody hell, Evans. This stuff is too good for the Bad Day Bowl."
"We'll save them for the really, truly rotten days," Lily says, grinning. "Like remember that time—"
"Here's your butterbeer, Lily. Hey, Potter."
Lily turns, perhaps never as bitter to see Davy standing there next to her as she is now, even though the poor boy doesn't deserve it. He's delivered her butterbeer in prime condition and is smiling cordially at James, acting the perfect gentleman, but Lily's never been so aware of the fact that she doesn't want a perfect gentleman, she wants rude, annoying, wonderfully lovely James, but he didn't ask her to Hogsmeade and Davy did, so here they are again, back at the beginning. The thought sobers her enough to dull her James Smile into a Normal Smile, which she directs Davy's way. She puts the Chocoballs she's still holding back into James's Honeydukes bag and quickly passes it over.
"Thanks, Davy," she says, and she sort of means it. The boy with the too-short trousers nods, then makes his way to the other side of the booth. Lily turns one last time—this will be the last time, she promises herself—to fetch her fudge, but she's a bit thrown when she sees that James has already opened the package up and is popping a small bit of fudge into his mouth.
"Hey!" she cries.
James gives her a piercingly pointed look as he slips the package closed again. She feels the look straight down to her toes.
"Sorry," he says. "Really, truly rotten day."
He passes the package back over to her.
Lily takes it numbly.
Could he mean…she'd thought so before, though…but now he's just…
Before she can think better of it, she flashes her eyes up to his, makes certain he's still watching, and pops the fudge package open again. She's already turning back around as she stuffs a piece of fudge in her mouth, but she knows he sees, message delivered.
Her heart hammers in her chest.
"Er…hungry?" Davy asks, eyeing her as she chews the chocolate, framing his tankard of butterbeer with his hands. Lily shakes her head, knowing she's being appallingly rude by stuffing the fudge back into her bag instead of offering him some, but she couldn't possibly do so now. She's more conscious than ever of the boy sitting just behind her, and hopes fiercely that he's as painfully conscious of her. If he is, offering Davy the fudge would have ruined everything.
Lily swallows, the chocolate settling in her stomach like a block of iron. Truthfully, she feels a bit lightheaded.
"All right?" Davy asks.
Lily takes a healthy gulp of her butterbeer. "Yes, of course."
Davy's smile is wavering, but he somehow manages to launch into a story about some Arithmancy lesson he had the other day without much unease. Lily listens with half-an-ear, nodding along, murmuring comments when she can remember to do so. After a few minutes, there are noises behind her. Shuffling noises. Creaking and moving noises. Are they—is he…leaving?
Her stomach sinks heavily.
She is contemplating more fudge and Davy is getting to the climax of his tale when James suddenly bumps into her from behind, and the scrap of parchment falls into her lap.
"Pete, watch it. Sorry about that, Evans. Have a good one, Gudgeon."
"Cheers, Potter. Pettigrew," Davy says, and while he's waving the pair off, Lily takes advantage of the distraction and folds open the crumpled piece of parchment.
Go to the loo. Five minutes.
Lily crumples the note up and shoves it in her cloak pocket. She fixes a winning smile onto her face and beams it across at Davy. "You were saying?"
Lily's not certain how she lasts one minute, much less five. She's never been more aware of the ticking seconds, their steady rhythm beating in time with her thrumming pulse. She counts because it's the only thing to do, the only way to keep still. She grips her tankard of butterbeer to keep from drumming impatiently against the tabletop, but she's still visibly squirming. Finally—finally—she gets there: 257…258…259…300—
"Sorry, Davy. Would you mind if I just popped over to the loo for a moment?"
Davy starts slightly at the sudden interruption, and Lily realises that she's abruptly cut him off and that her voice is too loud. Still, he nods an uncertain agreement and Lily can't keep off her feet much longer. She promises to hurry back, but she's hurrying towards the toilets instead. Though once she's gotten to the back room where the doors separating the ladies' from the blokes' rest, she's not sure what to do. Did James actually want her to go in? But which one? And how was she supposed to—
The hand appears suddenly from the unmarked door to her right. It grabs her wrist and jerks her inside.
Before she can even make a sound, James has her up against the door, kissing her.
Lily's startled scream fades into a moan.
"What took you so long?" he mutters against her mouth, his heated breath playing against her face for only a moment before he's captured her lips again, another heady kiss. He tastes like fudge—or maybe that's her.
"You said five minutes!" Lily cries, but she's too busy clinging to him to get more out, too focused on the feel of his mouth—his glorious, warm, punishing, wonderful mouth—pressing against hers. His hands grip her hips in a tight vice. Hers weave around his shoulders. She uses the door behind her as leverage to boost herself higher into his arms. His contented humming causes vibrations between their lips.
"Meant two," he murmurs between kisses. "Or one."
"Then you should have written one."
He laughs into her mouth and then she's laughing too, the giddy fluttering in her stomach making a happy mess of her insides. They can't snog while they laugh, but maybe that's not such a bad thing. Lily's head is swimming. She can't think when he's touching her.
James presses his lips against her neck, trails them up towards her ear. "Why the fuck," he says, "would you agree to go to Hogsmeade with Davy Gudgeon?"
"You hadn't asked me!"
"I was going to," James tells her, and the words are like a soothing balm against burning skin. She closes her eyes for a moment, but that's when James pulls back slightly to look at her and she wants to look at him, too. His glasses sit a bit crookedly on his nose, but his face is flushed a cheerful red and his eyes twinkle at her, even though his outrage. "Call me cautious, but a bloke can only be shot down so many times. I wanted to be sure you'd say yes. But then before I could bloody ask you, you'd already agreed to go with that git!"
"He's not a git," Lily says. "He's a perfectly nice fellow."
"He's a perfectly dull fellow. And you should have been here with me."
"I wanted to be here with you—want to be here with you. Though I don't think we can properly pull off snogging in this closet for very long. Davy's still out there and—"
"Hold that thought." James drops one hand from around her waist in order to go digging in his pocket. The movement jostles one of Lily's arms off his shoulders. She watches, still a bit scatterbrained, as he pulls an old looking mirror out from the fabric pouch. "Wormtail?" he calls.
"What?" Lily says.
"What?" another voice echoes.
Lily jumps, but the hand James still has resting on her hip gives her a careful caress and suddenly she's melting instead of flinching. James's hand continues to move as he talks at the mirror—an enchanted mirror, Lily's hazy mind realises, somewhat impressed.
"You're still by the Broomsticks, yeah? Wait five minutes, then go to Gudgeon. Tell him there was some to-do in the girls' toilets and Mary's run off crying and Lily had to go after her. Lily says she's sorry and she'll talk to him tomorrow. Got it?"
"Got it," Peter says, and as James tilts the mirror slightly, Lily sees his reflection swimming in the clear depths. He grins at her. "Hullo, Lily."
"Hi, Peter." She's blushing furiously.
"Later, Prongs," Peter says.
"Thanks," James says, and when Peter disappears from the mirror, he shoves it back inside his pocket. He faces her again with a blinding grin. "You were saying?"
Lily grins as well, the hand not still resting around his shoulders moving upwards to play around with the collar of his shirt. She presses into him.
"So I suppose this means we'll have to wait around in here for five—no, ten minutes to be safe—in order for Davy to leave." She nibbles at her lower lip, looking up at him with as innocent an expression as she can muster. "What ever will we do?"
Lily doesn't get an answer. James is already kissing her again.
"Good news! I've finally decided that this must truly be your child."
She approaches the table after walking—or perhaps waddling. Dear Merlin, she's started waddling now, hasn't she?—from the pub's loo, her protruding belly leading the way forward. James glances up from the letter she knows he's read at least a thousand times and gives her a small grin.
"Done a paternity test in the toilets, have you?"
"Simple logic," Lily replies, reaching the table. She places a hand over her stomach. "Since the little monster so clearly finds it utterly hilarious to sit upon my bladder and cause me to pee every forty-five seconds, who else's son could it be? None of my other lovers are nearly as asinine."
"I beg your pardon, wife," James chides as Lily drops slowly into the chair next to him. His arm moves instantly around her shoulders. "I am far too clever to be amused by something as dim as toilet humour."
"Oh. Well. Mystery's still on, then." She gives a small hum as James pulls her closer and presses a quick kiss against her temple. She picks up the menu lying flat across the table, scanning the familiar dishes with a pleasant wave of nostalgia. "Have you ordered?" she asks.
"Waiting for you," James replies.
"Oh, good. Whoever's kid this is, he's yapping for something greasy and disgusting. So you order that and I'll order something dainty and I'll just eat off your plate."
James's laugh rumbles against her hair. "You order what you want. I'm not hungry. I'll pretend to eat whatever you need."
Lily's head twists around in surprise, not certain she's ever heard the words "not" and "hungry" uttered together by her husband before. She's not surprised to find him staring down at the letter again, the fingers that hold the single piece of parchment aloft white with tension. Lily places her hand over his.
"James, please stop. You've read it a thousand times. The words aren't going to change."
Hazel eyes flash back up to her, but they aren't the warm, twinkling pools of colour she's used to having trained her way. James is worried, and that has her insides cramping up in knots.
The heavy sigh escapes from his lips slowly. "I know," he says, folding up the letter. "But I can't help thinking…why's Dumbledore asked us to meet him at Hogwarts? And why's his note so terse? 'There's something the both of you should hear'. What's that mean?"
"I don't know, James. But you're probably fretting over nothing. It's probably some kind of Order business—"
"Something he couldn't have told us at the meeting?" James is clearly dubious, pulling a face. He shakes his head. "No. No, it's something else. And I have a bad feeling about it."
"Well, there's nothing we can do about it now," Lily says, giving his hand a squeeze. "Let's just eat, and then we'll head up there. What comes will come. We'll face whatever it is together."
She leans up to press a quick kiss against James's chin, but his jaw remains grimly tight, and Lily's thankful for the distraction Rosmerta provides when she saunters up to take their order. The barmaid makes some small talk and coos over Lily's pregnant belly, asking the baby's sex and when it's due, but the lunch crowd is steadily pouring in, and Rosmerta has to move on. James remains more or less quiet throughout the entire exchange. Not for the first time, Lily yearns for the days when he would have shamelessly flirted with the pretty barmaid while holding her hand.
While they wait for their food, Lily knows that James is still preoccupied with the letter. Toying idly with her glass of pumpkin juice, she nudges him lightly in the side.
"Can I tell you something selfish?" she asks quietly.
James looks at her, his brows puckering questioningly. "Yeah, sure."
Lily delays for a few moments. She's been thinking about this for some time, but hasn't ever found the right time to say something. Now is probably not it, but something inside her is urging the words out. And at least she's warned him they're selfish. He'll know that.
"Part of me…part of me is rather hoping this meeting with Dumbledore is about all the missions you've been sent on lately," she confesses quietly, staring down at the table. "I know they're important, and you're one of the best the Order has, but every time you leave…you haven't any idea how awful it is. I just keep thinking…I could never do this—the baby, the war, life—without you, and every damn day people are disappearing. How could I…what if…"
She can't finish the thought, and when the tears start to fall, she swipes at them agitatedly with her fingers. It doesn't keep them from coming.
James tugs her close. "Lily," he whispers.
"I told you it was selfish," she sniffs into his chest, mopping her tears with his shirt now. "I j-just worry. It's the all the hormones. But the missions a-are important and—"
"You're important," James says, lifting her head off his chest and cradling her face between his calloused hands. He kisses her quickly, firmly. "More important than any stupid mission. You know that. You should have told me before that you felt this way. I'll tell Moody he's got to cut back on me. I'll stay home. You don't—"
"No." Lily's shaking her head furiously. "No, you can't. You're the best they have, James. Without you—"
"I don't care if I'm bloody all they have! You're the reason I'm doing it—you, us, the baby." He rests a hand against her stomach, stroking softly. "You come first." His voice is hard as steel, his eyes bright as he stares at her. "You always come first. We'll talk to Dumbledore about it when we get up there. All right? No more crying. We'll fix it. Promise."
Lily nods jerkily, closing her eyes and resting her head against James's shoulder. For the first time in weeks, some of her panic starts to fade. She's still not certain her request to keep James out of danger more often isn't anything other than entirely selfish, but at this point it's a selfish she's happy to have indulged. Whatever Dumbledore has to tell them, Lily takes comfort in the fact that the meeting won't be entirely awful. The Headmaster will understand James's request. He'll coddle the stupid, pregnant girl and her worrisome needs. And she won't force James entirely out of the field. Is it so wrong to want him with her more nights than he wasn't? That's all she's asking for. It isn't so much, really.
And in the end, perhaps it wouldn't even be enough to keep him safe.
But she doesn't think about that. She refuses to.
"I love you," James says, resting his head against hers.
Lily snuggles in closer. "Love you, too," she murmurs.
She's always thought that was enough. She's not sure if it's a good thing that the war hasn't taken that from her yet. But for now, they're safe. Lily clings to that thought.
For now—inside the old pub, here together—they're safe.