One By One
"Do you realize how gorgeous your eyes are?"
Those eyes rose up from the wrinkled parchment to meet hers, which were no doubt bright and eager. Lily had never perfected the art of imagining herself without being able to see her reflection clearly, but she thought it must be so because she was much more eager for this study session.
Remus Lupin, the young man seated across from her in the library on that fated, dreary day, flushed slightly as her words finally registered. She smiled awkwardly in apology. Lily found it almost impossible to keep her mouth shut when she fancied somebody, and even though she wasn't one-hundred-and-one percent sure that she would adore Remus forever, she certainly liked him more than the rest of the Hogwarts fare at the moment. He was kind, could hold up an intelligent conversation, good-looking in his unique way, and altogether not James Potter. Lily did not wish to dwell on the significance of that particular trait, because she did not wish to dwell on any thoughts involving Potter at all. Just because he was a bit less frustrating now...
She had dwelt on Potter. Her lips pushed into a pout, and she realized too late the way that gesture would appear after her flirty comment. Remus, thankfully, was once again absorbed in the work. The work that she should be doing. She rationalized that she would be doing the work if only her study partner didn't insist on looking so attractive when he concentrated. This rationalization failed, and Lily, sighing, had no choice but to pick up her quill.
It took her a full minute to realize she forgot to dip said quill in ink.
Her study partner glanced up at her with those blasted pretty eyes, and she smiled back automatically. "Are you all right today, Lily?" he inquired softly. She unconsciously clutched at a bundle of her red locks before remembering that was classified as a bad habit (just like staring at certain study partners and certain Quidditch players) and dropping them.
"I happen to be excellent today, Remus," she replied, and noticed (with a rather distant feeling of horror) that she had done the nose-scrunch thing those teen movie girls did so often. She didn't think that Remus frequented Muggle movie theaters, and certainly not those showing "chick flicks", so she considered herself safe. He didn't need to know that his "only intellectual equal", as he sometimes referred to her as, actually enjoyed those brainless, formulaic far-from-masterpieces. "How are you?"
He looked a little tired, she saw too late, but his eyes were bright. "I think I'd feel better if we could finish this assignment," he said frankly.
Lily's mouth formed an o, which she liked to think of as "delicate". "Right, yes, the assignment. The reason that we study. In the library. Because that is what we're doing here."
Sometimes she honestly wondered if, on entering the grounds of Hogwarts, some slimy fifth-year had hexed her with some Dark curse that caused her words to jumble and ramble and babble. She was certainly doing all three of those unpleasant activities.
The activity she wanted to be doing was neither rambling nor studying. She was examining the hands of her study partner (surreptitiously, naturally), and had come to the conclusion that they would be soft from books and lovely from care and perfect hand-holding hands. Not at all like the hands of a Quidditch player, especially one who would take pride in the fact that his hands would be rough like a Quaffle and rugged and lovely in their own way. Except not, because the Quidditch player she had in mind was in fact James Potter, and nothing about him was lovely, not even when he perfectly Transfigured that sturgeon. Not even then.
She had dwelt again. She wondered why it was happening so often, but she fell upon the conclusion that it was because Remus (whom she fancied, let no one forget) was one of Potter's best mates. Lily could never understand what such a pinnacle of intellectual virtue could see in that toe-rag.
Lily scribbled a few more notes and then returned to her scrutiny of Remus's hands. While she could not deny that yes, athlete's hands could be attractive, she needed a more bookish type. Someone very much like her. Remus fit that mold perfectly. She inched her free hand a little closer to his own. Her eyes flickered back to his face; he was lost in concentration.
After her third repetition of this activity, she caught a glimpse of alarm in his eyes, the very eyes that may or may not have started this whole mess. "Lily..."
She pretended to surface from the realm of whatever they were studying. Her mind was so jumbled...oh yes, History of Magic. Hardly a wonder it had slipped her mind. "Why, yes, Remus?" she said with a bit more drama than necessary.
"Excuse my rudeness, but why are you sliding your hand closer to mine?" His voice sounded shaky. She smiled back at the nervous young man, pleased that she had an effect on him after all. Lily opened her bright green eyes in her most innocent of expressions. While she had quite a good reputation, she was not above resorting to flirtation or downright schemes to get what she wanted, and sometimes in her doubtful moments she admitted (to herself and herself only) that she was not so much better than the Marauders after all.
"No," Remus said firmly, and she realized she should have known that he would see right through her. Still, his response puzzled her.
"What do you mean, no? Don't you believe in letting a girl down easy?" Lily thought she was half-joking, but that line was becoming more blurred. Was this another effect of Remus, akin to those long-awaited butterflies, or something related to that Chaser she was not thinking of?
"You don't fancy me, that's what I mean." His eyes weren't quite so pretty when they looked so pained.
She threw up her hands, not caring what the Hufflepuffs a few tables over thought. "Well, this isn't exactly the way I wanted to tell you," she hissed, "but yes, Remus Lupin, I do happen to fancy you."
"You can't," he replied, and she wondered how someone so intelligent could insist on being so terribly thick. He ran a hand through his light brown hair; not the way Potter did, all puffed up and thinking himself suave, but in a way that almost suggested frustration.
"Pray tell me when that law was passed." The young man across from her was certainly proving himself to be a true Marauder, because anybody else would have enough sense to tell when Lily Evans was losing her temper, and could tell you in a heartbeat that such an incident was never pretty. Remus knew that, of course, but he paid no mind. She gritted her teeth.
"I thought you had more sense than that for a few reasons," he said, and a look came into his eyes that she didn't know how to place, although it was far from unfamiliar. He spoke again only after it passed. "Not least of all, I'm one of James's best mates, which I'm sure you haven't forgotten."
"What does he have to do with anything?" she demanded, and a Ravenclaw in the shelves eased closer to the conversation, which was growing more interesting by the minute.
"He loves you," Remus said simply, as though it was common knowledge.
Whatever she had expected to hear, it was not that, although she did not believe Remus's words for an instant. Lily searched his eyes for a trace of humor, deception, even desperation, but found nothing save the bare honesty that characterized him. She noticed dully that she had been sitting up in her chair, and slid back slowly until her head thunked against the chair back.
"Remus Lupin, I thought better of you," she muttered when she regained her speech. She tried her utmost to sound as ashamed as possible, though the creepings of shame were inching up her spine. If he was telling the truth, and she had not believed him...
His blue eyes were wise and deep when he looked at her, and she felt an unwavering desire to hide from his stare. After a moment, he looked away. "It is true, whether you accept it or not."
"He may want you to think it's true, but that doesn't make it true. Maybe...maybe he realized that I fancied you and told you that he loved me so that you'd back off. He's always had such a ridiculous crush on me."
His eyes returned to hers, but this time they were far warmer. "James never told me he loved you," he said with an air of humor about his words. Lily couldn't find anything funny about the situation.
In response to the endless questions and accusations she communicated to him silently, Remus simply laughed. "When you've known James as long and as well as I do, you just know things. It doesn't take a Legilimens to find it out, Lily. You could see it if you wanted to, but you prefer to stay in denial."
She felt dizzy, and the last thing that could help ward off dizziness was thinking about James Potter. Abruptly and in her eyes appropriately, she shoved her chair out, slung her book bag over her shoulder, and left the library without another word. Still, the look in Remus's eyes as he assured her that James loved her would remain in her mind for the next few sleepless nights. Lily was positive that everybody, including herself, had lost their minds.
Lily Evans gave up on Remus Lupin that day. She knew his determination, and if he so fervently believed that James Potter loved her (even the thought was painful and foreign), there would be no getting through to him. She found the transition surprisingly easy, which worried her more than she'd care to say.
It took her a week to speak to him again, but when she took a seat by him at breakfast on that first day of forgiveness he smiled his familiar, wan smile and offered her jam for her toast. She had the strangest feeling that he knew the transformation she had undergone in her attitude towards him, and from then on their friendship was perfect and uninterrupted, despite his Marauder status.
Although she supposed that she sort of associated with the group, she was still taken by surprise when Peter Pettigrew (the mousy, unremarkable one in the group that might as well be made of models as far as the female population was concerned) approached her after Potions one day. He fidgeted with his somewhat grubby hands, and she couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for him.
"I know you're friends with Remus," he began awkwardly, "and I was hoping you could help me with something if you don't mind. If you don't or can't, I understand, it's just that..."
Lily pursed her lips and hesitated. Peter, despite the company he kept, was unpopular, and she did not wish to jeopardize her reputation by being seen with him. Still, his watery eyes gave her pause. She did like to think of herself as a decent person, and it really was ridiculous to worry about the opinions of others. He probably just wanted some help on his homework, anyway, although she couldn't fathom why he would bother to ask her when he had Remus (and, admittedly, Potter, while rubbish at certain things, was quite excellent at other subjects, and could be a help in a pinch if Remus happened to be unavailable).
"I'd be glad to help, Peter," she replied with more warmth than she'd expected. "What is it?"
He glanced around, as though expecting someone to eavesdrop on their conversation, and she felt a flicker of regret at agreeing so eagerly. He was a Marauder, and while she could hardly believe this weak boy could be as crafty as Potter or Black (or even Remus, if you gave him cause), something deeper was in his eyes.
"I've never really...well, it's never...I need help asking a girl to go to Hogsmeade with me," he said, looking relieved that the words had finally left his mouth.
The breath left her mouth before she could catch it, and it took out words as well. "Oh, is that all," she nearly sighed, but regretted it when she saw Peter's face. The pale boy seemed to think that this task was insurmountable, that she would surely hex him just for asking, and once again she felt herself well up with pity.
"Who?" she asked gently, and Peter raised a thin finger to point to a girl leaving the classroom. Lily recognized her immediately as Davy Gudgeon's sister, Elmarine. She was a year behind them and a Hufflepuff; the redhead was rather surprised, since she'd expected Peter to be after somebody far out of his league.
He sighed, and his lips twitched a little. "I don't think she'd ever give me a chance."
"Stop that attitude," Lily scolded, feeling something rise in her that could be described as a motherly instinct. The heat coming from her green eyes was nearly palpable. "I'm sure she'd love to go to Hogsmeade with you."
His eyes flicked to hers in a strange mixture of irritation and defeat. "Right, because I've had so much luck with that so far."
"And whose advice were you taking?"
Peter smiled thinly. "Well, Sirius..."
"Exactly." She tossed her hair primly. "Talk to her nicely. Have a conversation with her, don't just ask her right off whether she'd like to go out, and heaven forbid you use one of those idiotic pick-up lines that Potter and Black are so fond of. Be kind, and then casually ask her to go to Hogsmeade with her. Don't let on that you're nervous, but don't fake confidence either. Be yourself."
Peter was nodding his head as quickly as possible, and Lily wondered vaguely if he was taking in any of her advice. "Th-thanks," he stammered, then looked askance. "Could you keep this between us? Pro...uh, James and Sirius'd take the mickey out of me if they knew I asked you."
She nodded, and the other Gryffindor gave her a smile. "I can see why...why James loves you."
Lily shivered, but it was certainly only due to the chill and not at all because this was the second time in a few weeks that she'd been told that a certain Quidditch-playing arse loved her. Her fingers tightened around her book bag, and although she had a half-hour until her next class, she found herself muttering an excuse and scrambling away from Peter, who merely watched her with his small, dark eyes. She hardly knew where she was going until she was seated on her bed in the girls' dormitory, breathing heavily and failing to organize her thoughts. "Now, Lily," she said to herself, since nobody else was around, "just because two of Potter's best mates have told you he loves you doesn't make it true. It just makes it a very popular rumor."
She felt rather pitiful for not successfully convincing even herself.
Over the next few weeks she was especially wary of the Marauders. She studied with Remus only once during that period, and those gorgeous blue eyes seemed to be searching her for a trace of change. Lily turned away and pretended not to notice. At Hogsmeade, she passed the Three Broomsticks to see Peter sitting by Elmarine; she waved, but he didn't seem to see her. Everything was positively ordinary until she ran into Sirius Black one day in the common room.
She was distracted, a book in one hand and hazy thoughts of a certain frustrating person who insisted on ruffling his hair at least a thousand times during Charms that afternoon clouding up her mind, and she failed to notice Sirius's presence until her face was in his robes. "Why, hello, Evans." His voice reverberated through her in a way that would not have been entirely unpleasant if it had been somebody else.
"Black," she said, by way of a greeting, and tried to shove by. The Marauder stayed in place, however, and though Lily didn't look up to meet his eyes she was positive he was wearing his commonplace, insufferable smirk.
"Get out of my way, Black," she muttered, imagining all of the very violent things she could do to him. Lily was entirely convinced that Sirius Black was inhuman, some sort of hybrid designed to bring torment to all sensible people. She had spent many an hour wondering how Remus could possibly put up with the young man currently laughing at her.
"Are you going to give me detention for being in your way, Evans?" he mocked, twirling his wand around his fingers. She rolled her eyes.
"No, but I might just hex you." Her eyes were dark, she was sure, and hopefully exuded an air of truthfulness. In all honesty, she had her heart too firmly set on being Head Girl next year, and Lily wasn't about to jinx her good chances by wasting time injuring Sirius Black, as satisfying as it would be.
He opened his dark eyes wider, and pouted his lips. She remembered all the other Gryffindor girls in her year discussing those very lips in the most gracious of terms, and nearly gagged. "You mean goody-goody Lily Evans would attack someone who was unable to return the favor?"
"You're perfectly able to hex me back, Black," she retorted, and felt her hands slip down to her hips in an irritated pose. Sirius promptly imitated her affectation.
"Oh, dear Evans, I'm far from able. For one, I don't duel with girls. Marauder's honor and all that."
"Second," he continued, unperturbed, "Jamesie would just have a fit if I injured his dear Lily-flower."
"Don't call me that." She carefully avoided his eyes.
"Oh, is Jamesie the only one allowed to call you that? My apologies." He ran a hand through his hair, in the same way that Potter often did, and she wasn't sure whether he was mocking her or had just picked up the mannerism from his scumbag best friend.
"You just think you're so clever," she said, and felt her lip curl.
He laughed openly at her. "And you just think you're so much better than the rest of us."
"I do not," she snapped, tossing her long fiery hair. Sirius made some sort of exasperated gesture at her, obviously intended for somebody in the growing audience. Lily found herself hardly caring that they were attracting attention.
"Evans, you'd rather be caught dead than admit you like us Marauders." He ran a hand through his hair again, and she could have sworn at least one girl in the small crowd nearly swooned.
"I like Remus," she objected.
He waved this away. "You like him on his own, sure, but when he's with the rest of us you avoid him like he's got spattergroit."
"Aw, are you hurt by that? I never knew you cared so much, Sirius." Lily hoped her voice dripped with sarcasm.
Sirius quirked an eyebrow. "You used my name."
"You avoided my question," she countered.
A voice in the background sounded, but somebody hushed its owner.
Sirius shook his shaggy head. "Personally, I don't give half a newt what you do, Lily. But James, you remember him, my best mate? Happens to be the poor bloke with the terrible misfortune to be in love with you. It's not fun listening to him whine about you constantly, how you don't like us, how you don't like him, how you won't give him a chance, how maybe if he pushed us off the Astronomy tower you'd like him more..."
Lily felt mildly uncomfortable with this exposition.
"I don't hate you, you know," she said quietly.
The Marauder looked amused. "Thanks, Evans, that means a lot." He turned, as if to leave, but Lily was not done with Sirius yet.
"I really don't," she continued, raising her voice. "I'm sorry if I act like I think I'm better than you, all of you, because I know I'm not. I'll even admit it, I do think some of your pranks are funny. I wouldn't mind being friends with you."
Sirius's eyes were wide, but this time with real emotion. After a minute, he said, "Who are you and where did you put the real Evans? Is she locked in a broom closet somewhere?"
Lily laughed, and her arms (completely of their own accord, she would insist later) reached out for him. She hugged him, then, feeling awkward, let go. Some of the people in their little audience applauded or whooped. Sirius simply looked shocked.
She felt an invisible tug and turned around to face the person she knew would be there. James Potter was standing in the portrait hole. It was obvious that he had just returned from flying because his hair was messier than usual; his eyes were bright and he was clapping slowly. She strode up to him. "I need to talk to you," she said quietly, not wanting the gathered crowd to hear this conversation as well.
He looked nervous, as though he thought she was going to start a row. Lily sighed and grabbed his arm. "Out," she instructed tersely. James, obviously still confused, followed her order.
"Where are you taking me?" he asked, and she tried to ignore the tingles starting in the arm touching his. "I mean, assuming this isn't a dream and you're not going to shove me into a broom closet. In case it is a dream, I want you to know that I wouldn't object to that."
"I'm not going to snog you, Potter." She reached forward and tried a classroom door. It swung open at her touch, and she pulled him inside more gently than she might once have thought to.
"Did somebody put something into your drink, Lily?"
She'd never noticed how delicately he said her name, even when he was complaining.
Dropping his arm, she crossed her own and looked at him. "Do you love me, James?"
James looked unable to choose what should shock him more: her use of his name or her demanding question. He ran his hand through his hair and she nearly swore aloud. His hazel eyes cleared quickly, though, and he said easily, "Of course I do, Lily."
Lily narrowed her eyes. "I mean it. Don't lie to me."
"I wasn't," he told her. She wished she could distrust that look in his eye more easily. "What brought this on?"
"People tell me things."
His brow furrowed, until a thought evidently dawned on him. "Remus told you, didn't he?" She almost expected him to look upset, but he just chuckled.
"Peter and Sirius, as well. I didn't think they could all be wrong..." She let her voice trail off. Standing in an empty room, alone with Potter...alone with James, felt suddenly awkward, especially after he confessed his love for her.
James cleared his throat. "So, uh, what do you think?" Lily smiled, realizing that he felt out of place as well. She liked this James, honest and a bit nervous, a lot better than the "smooth" James.
"They're decent," she said evenly, knowing full well that was not what he meant.
He grinned. "They really are, aren't they?"
"I might not always avoid the Marauders from now on." The words kept slipping out without her consent, but with James Potter grinning at her like that, Lily couldn't find it in her to mind. "Do you think that would be all right?"
"Are you sure we won't tarnish your sparkling reputation?"
A smile crept up her lips. "I suppose I'll just have to deal with it. Not all the time, mind you. Just sometimes."
"When the mood is right," he agreed.
"When the stars align..."
"And the cards fall into place."
They looked at each other for an instant. Lily was once again reminded of her "chick flicks" when she thought that moment lasted a lifetime. His hazel eyes were warm, and suddenly she found herself sure that if she stayed here any longer, they would kiss, and she wasn't ready for that yet. She had to get used to this friendship business before she could ever venture...if she even wanted to.
"I should go," she said. She noticed that she was holding her curls up again, and dropped them. James ran a hand through his own hair again.
"Right, yeah," he replied, as if waking from a trance. He offered her a smile.
"Good night, Lily."
She turned slowly. The moonlight was falling on him now, and Lily had to catch her breath. "Good night, James."
That night, as she laid in her bed turning over the recent events, she remembered something. In third year, she had written a list of reasons she "really hated James bloody Potter". She smiled, suddenly glad that term ended in a week. It would probably take her the entire summer to compose her new list, of reasons she really liked James (bloody) Potter.