A/N: Okay, let me just set this one up a little. This idea popped into my head one night, and ... well, here we are! Anyway, this story is semi-AU-ish, in that Lily is working at the Leaky Cauldron after graduating Hogwarts, and James is in the Order (well, that's still canon). Also, they never dated in school, and I have in my head for this story that they weren't Head Boy/Girl either. So, feel free to back out now if AU isn't your thing, I completely understand.
But for those of you sticking around, another disclaimer: This is the first time I'm doing a story where I actually update when the chapters are done. Okay, that sounds completely confusing, let me clarify. I usually write the first few chapters before posting anything, so I always have a little buffer in case I get really stuck. So yes, that means that if you've read any of my other chapter stories, I always had one or two chapters in the wings when I was posting. *insert evil laugh here* But it just made me feel less pressured, I guess. So, what I'm trying to say is, with this story I have no idea how long updates are going to be. I can say that chapter 2 might be a while, both because I have almost no idea where this story is going except for a few random scenes, and because I'm leaving in a week for LONDON to see the HP premiere! And visit my friend, but that's secondary ;) If it helps, just pretend this is a one-shot, and that'll get you through to the next update! Haha, right.
Well, I'll stop rambling.
Chapter 1: Potter Again
"Lily, hon, someone for you at table five!" Luanne called from the bar, where she was balancing three mugs with her wand as she filled them with butterbeer.
"On it, thanks Luanne," I answered, sighing inwardly. I hated the Friday night shift at the Leaky Cauldron. Friday night apparently gave everyone some unreasonable need to drown themselves in alcohol, and the Cauldron seemed to be the place to do it. Though why anyone would subject themselves to the dingy bar on a regular basis was beyond me. They were wizards, for Merlin's sake, all of London was open to them in the blink of an eye.
Whatever the case, Friday usually found me trying to juggle twelve tables of rowdy wizards, our usual old drunks at the bar who were almost more interested in trying to grab my arse than the whiskey in their glasses, and the inevitable drunken fight or five that would always break out by the end of the night.
Three hours into my shift, my patience already hanging by a thread, it was no wonder I nearly slit my wrists with the broken bottle that had just fallen off the bar behind me when I saw who occupied table five.
Whirling around, I ducked behind the bar and approached Luanne, now filling Mr. Cabel's glass for the fifth time that night. "Luanne," I hissed, causing the older woman to jump.
"Merlin, Lily, you know I hate when you do that," she scolded me.
"Sorry. Look, er, could you maybe take table five? I could cover up here for a minute if y—"
"What?" Luanne interrupted, confused. Craning to see the table in question, she added, "What's wrong with—oh." She turned to smile slyly at me. "Got ourselves a handsome one, I see."
I refrained from rolling my eyes with extreme difficulty. "No, that's not exactly—"
"Now, as tempting as he looks, I'm sure he'd be much more interested in you than an old woman like me."
You have no idea. "Well, see, that's exactly what I'm worried ab—"
"Lily Evans, you get your cute little behind over there! Right now! I've had enough of your excuses when it comes to having a man in your life."
"And what exactly makes you think he's anyone I'd like to get in my knickers?" I shot back, a little louder than I intended, causing a few wolf whistles and suggestive shouts from down the bar.
"You've got to be careful talking about your knickers around this crowd; what have I always told you?" Luanne admonished with a teasing wink.
This time I did roll my eyes. "Luanne—" I began in one last desperate attempt.
"Go! Or I will not hesitate to fire you on the spot!"
"You're insane, Lu," I muttered, turned resignedly away at last.
Taking a steeling breath, I pulled a quill and pad of paper from my apron and marched determinedly over to the table in the far corner. The dark haired, bespectacled young man sitting there sported a crooked half smile as he watched a crowd of middle-aged wizards singing loudly a few tables over, and didn't look over as I approached. Maybe he won't recognize me, I thought with foolish hope as I reached him.
"What can I get you?" I asked, with a valiant attempt at courtesy.
The wizard's eyes snapped onto mine and a grin immediately broke over his face. I groaned inwardly. "Lily Evans," he said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his hands behind his head. "Time has sure been kind to you, love."
And it hasn't changed you one bit. "It's only been a year since I've seen you, Potter."
"Been counting the days, have you?"
"No—it's the anniversary of our graduation today."
Looking slightly surprised, Potter frowned. "So it is," he said slowly. Grinning again, he added, "So, how've you been, Evans?"
"I'm not doing this with you, Potter," I said shortly.
"This!" I repeated, gesturing wildly between us. "Honestly, I'd rather be up at the bar, having my knockers ogled by one of those creepy old men than here talking to you!" Potter raised his eyebrows, and I flushed slightly. "Look, this is how it's going to work: You'll tell me what you want to drink or eat, I'll get it for you, you'll pay, and then you'll leave. Okay?"
The grin finally slid off Potter's face, and he let out a short sigh. "Fine. Er . . . I'll just have a firewhiskey, thanks." He handed over the menu, and I snatched it from him with perhaps a bit too much force before stalking away.
As I filled Potter's drink order at the bar, Luanne came sidling up to me. "So . . ." she started suggestively.
I sighed. "I went to school with him," I stated bluntly. "And we—well, let's just say we have a history. And not in a good way," I added quickly as Luanne started to grin again.
"Oh," she said, now looking concerned. "Oh, honey, why didn't you say so? I would have taken over for you."
I glared at her. "Well, I was trying to, but you were just concerned with getting me a decent shag, so—"
"Oh, now, that just makes me sound terrible!" Luanne protested, laughing.
"You are terrible, Lu," I said with a wry smile.
"Really, though, honey, if you want me to take care of it—"
"No, no, it's fine—I was bound to run into him one of these days."
Before I could start back to Potter's table with his firewhiskey, Luanne grabbed my arm and pulled me aside, near the door to the kitchens. "He didn't . . . hurt you, or anything, did he?" she asked seriously. "Because I am not going to let you—"
"No, Merlin!" I interrupted in frustration. "D'you think I would have gone over there in the first place if that were the case? No, we never—" I stopped. "It wasn't like that between us."
Luanne continued to look at me sternly for several more seconds. Nodding slowly, she said, "All right, love—just let me know if you change your mind, yeah?"
"Sure, sure," I said, smiling exasperatedly at her.
I made my winding way through the crowded bar back to Potter's table. "Here you go," I said, setting the glass of firewhiskey before him.
He brought it to his lips with a smile and nod of thanks.
"Anything else I can get you?" I asked as he took a long drink. Realizing exactly where Potter could take that statement, I amended hastily, "Anything food-related, that is."
Potter grinned briefly. "No, this should do me."
"Okay," I said. I waited for him to say something else, but when he didn't, I repeated, "Okay! Er, enjoy."
Enjoy? I repeated to myself in disgust as I walked away. No wonder Potter always teased me when we were at school—I somehow manage to make a complete idiot of myself whenever I'm around him.
The rest of the night flew by as Friday nights always did, though thankfully without the need to resort to magic to resolve the brief squabbles that broke out as the crowd grew generally more inebriated. It wasn't until most of our regulars had started to stumble out that I suddenly realized I hadn't checked on Potter since I'd brought him his drink. Looking over to his table, I saw that it was empty.
The prick better have paid, I thought angrily as I hurried over. At first, I thought he hadn't, but then I spotted a stack of sickles balanced neatly under his glass. Dropping them into my apron pocket, I noticed the scribbled note left on his napkin: Good to see you again, Evans.
To my horror, a pang of guilt twisted my stomach. I could have been nicer to him, I suppose . . . but really, why bother? He wouldn't treat me any differently either way. And yet, he had seemed sort of put out when I'd snapped at him earlier . . . Shaking my head, I crumpled the napkin in my hand and moved to bring the glass back to the bar.
Three consecutive days without any sign of Potter, and I started to breathe easy again. It was probably just a random coincidence; after all, like I'd told Luanne, it was inevitable that we would see each other at least once after school ended.
But it must have been long enough since our last interaction, because I'd forgotten the most fundamental rule about Potter: never assume anything.
It was just after the dinner rush began the following Friday that Luanne came up to me, eyebrows raised and a look in her eye that told me I'd regret whatever she had to tell me.
"Oh, Merlin, what is it?" I asked apprehensively. "Is Sam Gathje doing vodka shots again?"
"No, no . . ." Luanne paused. "It's . . . he's back."
Luanne just looked at me, and I let out a groan.
"Of bloody course he is."
Without waiting for her to add anything else, I marched over to the bar, stopping squarely in front of the stool where Potter was seated.
"Evans—fancy seeing you here," he said, smirking.
"Yes, it's mind-blowing," I replied dryly. "So, firewhiskey?"
"Actually, I think I'll stick with butterbeer tonight."
"Feeling a bit weak in the stomach, are we?" I asked tauntingly as I pulled a mug from beneath the bar.
"You do seem to have that effect on me."
I halted in pouring his butterbeer, pointing the tap threateningly at him. "Watch it, Potter, or you may just find your drink thrown in your face instead."
"Mmm, and that's why I came back on a Friday, which seems to be the busiest of the week—our conversations too often come to hexes, and I figured you wouldn't have time to hex me tonight." He grinned.
"Oh Potter, don't sell yourself short," I said sweetly, "I'll always find the time to hex you."
Unfazed, Potter's grin didn't fade. "Some things never change, do they, Evans?" His tone was teasing enough, but there was a challenge in his eyes that unnerved me.
On the pretext of ensuring I didn't overfill his glass, I broke eye contact to look down at his drink. "I guess they don't," I answered finally, pushing the mug towards him.
James took it, and before he could say anything else, I spoke up again.
"Well, as you rightly pointed out, this is our busiest night, so I can't really stay and chat."
"I thought you didn't want to, anyway?" James said, arching a brow.
"I don't," I answered swiftly. "But, you know, just in case you were . . . wondering," I added lamely.
Potter chuckled. "Don't worry, Evans—after last time, I didn't really get my hopes up."
"Right. Well, enjoy the butterbeer."
"You're really keen on me enjoying these drinks, eh?" James asked teasingly.
"And that's my cue," I said with a roll of my eyes, grabbing a couple of empties from the wizard beside James and moving away.
Once again, Potter was gone by the time I had a spare moment to check on him. And once again, he'd left me the payment for his drink along with a scribbled note in his messy, nearly illegible scrawl: Until next Friday, Evans.
True to his word, James showed up the following Friday. And the one after that. And the one after that. In fact, we fell into a sort of routine. He'd arrive, Luanne would wave me over, I'd serve Potter a drink and we'd exchange a few words—more on the acerbic end than the amiable—before I left to serve the other customers.
Five Fridays after the first, I came on my shift to find James there early, chatting and laughing with Luanne over at the bar. My heart leapt into my throat at the sight—Merlin only knew what my boss was plotting.
Hurrying over, I stopped beside Lu, hands planted firmly on my hips.
"Oh, hello, Evans," James said breezily, as though it were a pleasant surprise to find me there.
"Potter," I said, glancing briefly at him before turning accusing eyes back to Luanne.
"Why are you looking at me like that, Lily?" she asked, but her eyes were dancing mischievously.
"Lu, I have known you too long not to know when you're up to something. What have you been telling him?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"I'm sure you don't," I said sarcastically.
"See, paranoid, isn't she?" Luanne added to Potter, who was grinning. "I'm telling you, some good sex would straighten her right out."
I let out a strangled sound somewhere between a gasp and a scream. "Lu! Merlin, Lu! I can't believe . . ." I turned to Potter, unable to quite look him in the eye. "Do not listen to her, she is insane," I said, blushing furiously now.
"Lighten up, honey," is all Lu said, patting my cheek and moving down the bar to serve a pair of young witches who'd just entered.
"Merlin," I muttered under my breath, glaring after her. "And don't you dare say anything, Potter," I warned him, poking him squarely in the chest.
He raised his eyebrows and held his hands up defensively. "Hey, now, I haven't said a word, have I?"
"No," I allowed begrudgingly. "I'm a bit impressed, actually."
He took a sip of the firewhiskey Lu had poured him. "Although, it's not necessarily bad advice," he said musingly. "On the whole."
I froze. Potter smirked.
"I knew you couldn't resist commenting on that," I said finally, eyes narrowed.
"Well, come on Lily—it's just sex. Everyone's doing it."
"Oh, really, are they, Potter?"
"And have you ever known me to be a 'go with the flow' type of person?"
James laughed appreciatively. "Ah, touché, my dear, touché."
"So, I've been meaning to ask—"
"Merlin, Evans, at least take a bloke to dinner first."
I leaned over the bar to punch him on the arm. "Let me finish—I've been meaning to ask: where are your band of loyal followers? Haven't seen you come in with any of them."
Raising an eyebrow, James asked, "Oh, so I'm the leader, am I?"
"You or Black, yes. And since he, impossible as I find it, is even more out of control than you are, but will listen to you and on the very rare occasion Remus . . . yes, I'd say you're the leader. I would say don't let it go to your head, but the point is rather moot by now."
"Shame, isn't it?"
James was quiet for a moment, as though deciding what he could or wanted to tell me. He took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes briefly, and replaced the round spectacles on his nose. "Fridays are my day off, but Remus, Sirius, and Peter are all on duty," he said finally. "For the Order," he clarified. "Er, you know what the Order—"
"Yes, I know what the Order is," I cut in curtly. Dumbledore had approached me at the end of last year too . . . I met James's hazel eyes evenly, as though daring him to ask me what I knew he was burning to.
But all he said was, "Right. So . . . well, I don't really fancy staying home."
I nodded, suddenly feeling a strange sort of sympathy for him. "No, that's . . . that makes sense," I said, cringing inwardly at my complete lack of tact. "I'd have thought they'd put you four together, to be honest."
James shot me an incredulous look. "Would you?"
"Well, all right, no," I admitted after a moment of thought.
Finishing off his drink in three gulps, James pushed the empty glass towards me and stood up.
"Leaving already?" I asked, taking my arms off the bar and straightening as well.
"Nope—wouldn't want to deprive you of my presence so cruelly, Evans," Potter assured me with a wink.
"Yes, that would be a tragedy. How would I go on?"
"Much the same as usual, I'd expect."
I laughed. "Very true. I suppose it—" but I stopped abruptly as James planted his hands firmly on the bar, jumped up, and twisted so he was sitting on the wooden surface.
"Potter!" I snapped as he pulled his feet up and stood, earning a few curious glances from those around him. "You can't be up there!"
Potter grinned crookedly down at me. "You always were a stickler for the rules, Evans. But I'm doing you a favor, trust me."
"By what? Doing a table dance? Trust me, Potter, if I wanted to see that I'd—"
But James wasn't paying me any attention. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he yelled, "Everyone, can I have your attention for a moment?"
"What the bloody hell are you doing, Potter?" I hissed up at him.
Ignoring me again, Potter looked around to gauge the reaction to his request. A few people were watching or laughing at him, but most were ignoring the crazy young man on the bar. Putting two fingers in his mouth, Potter let out a sharp whistle, no doubt perfected during hours of captaining the Gryffindor Quidditch team.
"Merlin," I muttered, flinching and rubbing my ears.
Having effectively gained the attention of the entire room now, James turned and held a hand down to me.
I snorted and shook my head. "If you want me to get up there with you, you're dreaming."
"Come on, Evans, play along." Potter wiggled his fingers cajolingly. I merely crossed my arms and raised a challenging eyebrow.
Of course, I should have known better than to challenge Potter.
With a sigh and a muttered, "You always have to be so difficult, don't you?", Potter stooped down, grabbed me by the shoulders and, before I had quite realized what was happening, pulled me easily up beside him.
"What are you—" I started again, but Potter cut across me, addressing the crowded bar once more.
"So, this is my fr—well, anyway, this lovely young woman has been feeling a bit lonely lately—"
"Potter," I growled warningly.
"And I thought, you know, I bet some of you fine people would be willing to give her some loving. Come on, any takers?" He turned to me with a wicked grin. I was staring at him, stunned. Had he really just—"Wave to the nice people, Evans," James said as wolf whistles and cat call exploded around us, and it was the smug confidence in his voice that finally snapped me out of my shock.
"What the hell was that for?" I shouted, pushing him roughly with every intention of knocking him off the bar. Infuriatingly, however, he only stumbled back a few steps before regaining his balance. When I raised my hands to push him again, James grabbed them in his much larger ones and kept my violence at bay with very little effort.
Relaxing in exasperated defeat, I let my arms go limp, but I was glaring at Potter so fiercely I half-expected his hair to start on fire.
"Why don't you take her home, mate!" someone shouted from a table near the back, breaking James's and my gaze as we both turned to find the source. "Seems like there's something there already, eh?" The wizard winked heartily at James. I caught sight of Luanne just a few feet to his right, laughing so hard she was holding onto a chair for support. Blushing, I looked back at James.
He glanced down, and I followed his gaze to where our hands were still clasped together. Dropping mine swiftly, James reached up a hand to ruffle his hair, and I cringed at the old habit. "Ah, you flatter me, sir," he called back. "But though this may seem like a lover's play-fight"—he jumped back beyond arm's reach as I made another angry swipe at him—"Lily would, in fact, like to kill me at the moment, or at the very least seriously maim my . . . er . . . valuables. And as I'm quite keen on keeping my bits attached and all in once piece, I really think I'd better not push her." And with that, James jumped down on the serving side of the bar and held a hand out for me.
Ignoring it, I crouched down to sit on the bar top and hopped from there to the floor. Whipping my wand from where I'd had it tucked behind my ear, I pointed it threateningly at Potter and snarled, "What the fuck, Potter? That was not funny; I don't appreciate being sold off, and . . . and you are not allowed behind here!"
"Oh, hey, now—I wasn't selling you," Potter protested, scurrying backwards as I jabbed my wand in his face. "All right, I'm going, I'm going." He moved around to sit back on his stool.
I kept my wand on him for a couple of seconds, and he folded his arms and smiled pleasantly at me. Finally putting it away, I shook my head. "You know, we might have actually been getting somewhere beyond the point of me wanting to toss you out the nearest window every time you open your mouth, but . . ."
"Ah, well, I'll cut my losses," James said, unbothered. "It's only a matter of time, anyway—you heard that bloke in the back—"
Grabbing the beer tap, I shot a spray of butterbeer straight into James's face. He spluttered and coughed, blinking in outraged shock at me through his spotted glasses.
I smirked at him in satisfaction. "That'll be seven sickles, Potter."