A/N: Oh reviewers, you are all so amazing, and I thank you: june445, Jacki James Criss Potter, Jenn222, , RachelPuentes, Bamfvalerie, Jamiesgirl15, WobblyJelly, lollipopdiego, brittany177, RiTa-MD, Ulin, m3ggi3, leine312, and prongsridesagain (hey Ally ;))
SORRY this chapter took so long to get out….I had a spectacular case of writer's block, and then it ended up being a really short chapter….so I apologize. Anyway, it's here now, so off we go!
Chapter 6: Starting Over
I was working the late shift at the Cauldron, and it was busy as usual. As I went to pour a mug of butterbeer, I accidentally left the tap on too long, spilling a bit over the side of the glass. But when I tried to shut it off, it wouldn't turn. The butterbeer was now spilling out at an alarming rate; in almost no time at all, it was up to my knees, slowly filling the bar. I tried to move towards the door, but suddenly found that my feet were stuck to the floor. Panicking, I tried again and again to shut off the tap, but the butterbeer kept rising. As it reached my chest, I felt an urge to laugh at the absurdity of it all: I was going to drown in butterbeer. But panic soon hit me again when the liquid rose over my nose and then my eyes, cutting off all light and sound. I flailed desperately, needing to reach the surface, needing to breathe . . . my lungs began to burn, and from somewhere above me I heard a voice call, "Evans!" . . .
I woke in a tangled mess of sheets, the remnants of my dream causing me to struggle wildly to free myself from their restrictions. As my head finally emerged into the open air, I heard that same voice say my name again, and I whipped around to find James sitting in a chair beside my bed, eyebrows raised.
"Bad dream?" he asked sardonically.
I flushed. "I—er—" But I stopped abruptly. "Hang on, what are you doing in my r—" My voice cut off again immediately as a belated realization struck: This wasn't my room. I wasn't in my bed. Slowly, the previous night came back to me—settling myself outside of James's flat to wait for him, how my back had started to ache after the first hour, how I started to nod off after the second . . .
Gaze shifting quickly to James again, I reddened further. Too mortified to even attempt an apology, however, I heard myself demand, "Were you watching me sleep?"
"Merlin, Evans, of course not," he said curtly. "Well, I mean technically yes, for the past few minutes, but I only came in here because I figured that if I concentrated hard enough on my bed, I might be able to convince myself that I didn't spend the night sleeping on a lumpy couch." He rubbed his neck as he spoke, and I belatedly took note of his wrinkled shirt, the way his hair stood up more than usual, and the dark circles under his eyes.
Guilt stabbed through me, but it only served to make me more defensive. "Well, why didn't you dump me on the couch last night? Or better yet, why didn't you wake me up when you found me outside your door? Or just leave me out in the hallway?"
James shot me an exasperated look at this last suggestion. "Don't be daft, Evans—d'you really think I'd leave you in the bloody hallway all night? You might not have noticed, but these aren't exactly peaceful times. Who knows what might have happened to you?" His voice rose sharply as he spoke, and I winced slightly.
"Well, I still say you should have at least claimed your own bed for the night," I mumbled. "It's not fair that you—"
"You know what's not fair?" James interrupted harshly, and my eyes snapped to his again. "By rights, I should hate you. I really should. But for whatever fucked up, masochistic reason, I don't. So, you know, that's just brilliant." His hand fisted briefly in his hair in frustration, before he stood abruptly and strode from the bedroom.
I remained on his bed, heart pounding, his words having momentarily frozen me there. Hope surged through me with alarming strength, and I quickly clamped down on it, knowing full well its dangerous powers.
Finally regaining control over my limbs, I scrambled out of James's bed, straightening my wrinkled blouse and skirt as best I could as I hurried into the outer room of his small flat. James was at the stove, monitoring a pan of frying eggs with his wand.
I cleared my throat softly. "James?" His back stiffened, though whether it was in surprise at my unexpected approach or irritation that I was still there, I couldn't be sure. Deciding it was safest to assume it was at the very least a combination of the two, I continued tentatively, "Look, I'm not going to stay long, but I did come here to get a few things clear, so . . . I'm going to, er, do that." James didn't reply, nor did he turn around, but unless he'd inexplicably gone deaf in the last five minutes, I knew he was listening.
"Right," I said quietly. In a firmer tone, I went on, "I know the other night was a massive mistake on my part—I don't mean the actual, you know, sex bit," I explained hurriedly. "Or, well, I do, but not in the way you're thinking. I shouldn't have done it because I wasn't ready to deal with the consequences. And that was completely, terribly unfair to you. Which I realized about . . . ten minutes too late. I just—I wasn't thinking clearly, that day . . . nor was I the year before . . . so I suppose I've learned I should just lock myself up on that particular anniversary, yeah?" I tried to joke. James was still silent, staring determinedly at the faintly sizzling pan before him.
I swallowed. "Er, anyway, I was just so used to us being—well, we've always had a . . . difficult relationship, and maybe that's my fault, I don't know. But I guess that's why it scared me so much to realize—despite all the arguing, and how you know just what to say to annoy me, and the fact that you seem to enjoy doing it, and . . . well all of that—that I wanted to be with you."
James's head whipped up and he spun around to face me, eyes locking with mine. I took a small, surprised step back, but held his gaze steadily. His face betrayed no emotion, and his eyes had that guarded look he'd worn just before he stormed out of my flat the other morning. Wishing desperately I knew what he was thinking, I cleared my throat again and continued talking. "Because maybe that's just how we are. I mean, I can't conceive of a universe in which we won't argue. But . . . there are good things, too; at least, I think there could be . . ." I shook my head. "I'm not making sense, I know. I guess all I really wanted to say is that I'm sorry. And that if you, um, stop wishing you could hate me, maybe we could . . . start over."
Silence filled the space between us, expanding until I thought I couldn't bear it a second longer. Just as I opened my mouth to say something—anything—James turned away, grabbing a plate and dumping the eggs from the pan onto it.
I let out a defeated sigh, a twisted, almost nauseous feeling filling my stomach. "Right," I managed to say. "So that's my cue, I guess. I'll see y—" but I stopped, because would I see him? My stomach dropping further, I left the sentence unfinished and started for the door.
"Evans," James called after me suddenly, and I whirled around again, heart leaping. James gestured with the plate of eggs towards the short hallway behind me. "Your shoes are in the closet."
Goddamn hope, I muttered to myself, glancing down at my feet. I hadn't realized until now they were bare. "Oh . . . thanks," I mumbled, turning and retrieving my footwear from said closet. Glancing back a final time as I opened the door, I saw that James had sat down to eat with his back to me. My throat tight, I walked out of his flat, the door shutting with a finality that sent a stab of pain through my chest.
"So, all in all, I basically mucked everything up," I concluded. I'd finally gotten around to catching Luanne up on the happenings of the past few days, because she'd caught me nearly in tears at the beginning of my shift and demanded to know what was wrong. At first, she'd been indignant that I'd held out on her for so long, but now she was watching me with a determined expression that worried me slightly.
Giving me a quick hug, she turned to the bar and poured me a shot of firewhiskey. "Drink this," she commanded, and I obeyed, wincing as the liquid burned my throat. "And you haven't mucked anything up, love."
I frowned at her. "Have you not listened to a word I said? I'm not sure how things could have gone worse, to be honest."
"Come on, honey, everyone makes mistakes—and James isn't completely daft, from what I've observed, so he'll recognize that eventually."
"Well, this was a rather large mistake," I said. "And sort of a repeat . . ." Lu raised her eyebrows in a 'do tell' sort of way, and I amended, "I mean, last time we didn't—well it wasn't exactly—anyway, it's . . . not good that it happened again."
"Lily—that boy has been coming in here week after week all summer, and from your reaction that first night I'm assuming he didn't exactly get a welcoming reception from you. Now, if that's not dedication, I don't know what is." You don't know the half of it, I thought wryly, starting to get the sense that she and Marlene would get along well. "So he's not going to give you up that easily."
I smiled tiredly at her. "Thanks, Lu—but even James has got a breaking point, I'm afraid," I said, feeling a sense of déjà vu. "And I think I may have found it."
"Nonsense," Luanne insisted with a wave of her hand. She nodded to the front of the bar. "He'll walk through that door again—you'll see."
But I didn't allow myself to hope this time. I appreciated Luanne's stubborn support, of course, but she hadn't seen him that day. She hadn't seen the pain in his eyes, and the way they'd abruptly become blank and expressionless, James's way of shutting himself off from me. He wanted to hate me, and if I knew anything about James Potter it was that when he set his mind to something, he usually accomplished it. In all honestly, it had been nearly hopeless from the beginning, from the moment I'd let him walk me home that night.
So that was why I nearly had a heart attack when Luanne turned out to be right.
It was Friday—of course—though I'd purposefully stopped keeping track of the days in an effort to keep all traces of hope at bay. I'd just served a large group of young, rowdy wizards their second round of firewhiskey, resigning myself to a long, headache-inducing night, when Luanne came rushing over to me, eyes twinkling and a smile on her face that was simultaneously ecstatic and superior. "Luanne—" I started, immediately suspicious, but she cut me of.
"He's here," she said simply, and when I just frowned at her, she pointed to the door.
My knees buckled at the sight of James, and I grabbed Luanne's shoulder for support, eyes snapping back to hers before I could accidentally meet James's. "Oh, my Merlin," I said, panicking. "What is he—I mean, d'you think—no, he can't possibly—"
"Lily," Lu cut in firmly. "Go. Talk. To. Him."
"I—er, right. Yes. Okay. I can do that . . . right?"
Lu just rolled her eyes and gave me a little shove in the right direction.
Heart pounding in my throat, I moved towards James, wanting and not wanting to catch his eye before I reached him. He looked over when I was one table away, and I almost had to clutch the chair I was passing when his lips curved in a small smile. Get a grip, Lily, I commanded myself, and don't you dare muck it up. No idea how I was going to manage that second bit, I settled with a simple, "Hi," as I stopped in front of James, clasping my hands behind my back to hide their trembling.
"Hi, yourself," he returned. And then both of us were silent.
"So . . ." I started eventually. "Um . . ." But I trailed off again. James smiled in amusement, and my heart leaped again even as an embarrassed heat rushed to my cheeks.
"Starting over—how does that work, exactly?" he asked abruptly.
I blinked at him. "Oh, well . . . I think . . . I don't know," I admitted. "I hadn't really worked that part out yet. You know, just in case."
James tilted his head consideringly. "I'd have thought you would want to figure it out, just in case."
"Apparently," I said, starting to smile as well. "So . . . are you here for a drink as well?"
"That was my first aim, actually—you were just a side benefit."
"Just like usual, then," I said, and James laughed.
We started for the bar, and I subtly pinched myself because, cliché as it seemed, I was almost convinced I was dreaming. But when pain shot up my arm, I allowed myself to accept the next-best explanation, that James had succumbed to insanity. Pouring him his customary firewhiskey, I set it in front of him, but he just grinned at me without taking a drink.
"You look like you expect to wake up at any moment, Evans," he pointed out, and I wondered if he'd seen me pinch myself or if he was just that good at reading me. "I really am serious about this starting over business."
"I—okay," I said after a pause. "But I really don't think I d—"
"Nope," James interrupted. "You're not doing that," he added, looking at me sternly. "What happened, happened, you apologized and . . . well, starting over doesn't allow self-deprecation, Evans—I'm sorry, that's just how it works."
My throat tightened inexplicably, and I nodded, hoping he knew how grateful I was that he was sitting here right now, saying everything I'd never dared let myself think he would. "Okay," I repeated after I'd gathered my composure. "Starting over. Right. I guess . . . well, shall I yell at you, or something? I mean, how far back are we going, exactly?"
James grinned. "I could flirt with you first, if that'll help get you in the right frame of mind." I rolled my eyes, and James nodded. "Yes, that looks about right. Merlin, you're good at this, Evans."
I hit his arm lightly. "And there you go, annoying me like usual."
"See? I think we'll do just fine." His tone was teasing, but the smile he flashed me made my skin tingle pleasantly.
"I know we will."
A/N: And in case it is not obvious, this is the last chapter! Bit of a cheesy ending….anyway, I hope you enjoyed it, and thank you for reading!