I hadn't expected James to come home with me over Christmas holiday. I mean, of course, I'd invited him to the wedding, and I'm not sure what I did expect — that he would just apparate at my house the day of without explanation, not knowing any of my family? Or worse, that he would try to drive? Regardless, when I finished up my last midterm exam (in Arithmancy, to be specific), I was fairly shocked to see James Potter waiting for me outside the door, suitcase in hand, ready to take the train back to King's Cross with me.
"I — er — I haven't even packed yet...I was going to take the 1 o'clock train," I muttered lamely, looking pointedly down at the suitcase in James' hand. He was grinning broadly.
"That's fine! I don't mind waiting!" He was exceptionally cheery, which only made me a little more uneasy.
I smiled slightly. "Okay."
James was grinning broadly the entire time I was packing up my clothes, though I wasn't quite sure why. I assumed that it must have been relief for exams to be done, for Christmas hols to start, but he just kept looking at me so intently that it made my stomach flutter in an unusual way and made my face flush under his gaze. When I finished packing up my clothes and we finally made our way to the Great Hall to say goodbye to our friends, James was nearly skipping down the hall, his arm linked in mine. I laughed as he bounced down the hallway, his elbow intertwined with mine. Eventually he resumed walking at a normal pace, although our arms remained linked, and eventually slid down very naturally into holding hands.
I immediately blushed at the contact of his hand against mine and my stomach churned in a pleasant sort of way, filling my whole body with a dull heat that felt both uncomfortable and nice at the same time. I couldn't help it — my grin became as broad as James'.
When we entered the Great Hall and found Remus, I imagine we must have looked like pretty big fools, standing there, holding hands, giant grins plastered across our faces. It didn't help that Remus looked particularly sullen, and when I gave him a hug goodbye, I noticed that he held me tighter than normal, as though he was afraid what would happen when James and I left.
Still, by the time we got to the train, I was actually really looking forward to returning home. Aside from everything going on with Petunia, the fear of the constant threats made against Muggles and Muggleborns, and the fact that I would be housing James Potter for a week (something which I was both excited and terrified for), I would finally be able to rest for a little while. Away from the castle, I would be able to read a bit, watch some television with my dad, go to the grocery store — things that made me feel completely and utterly normal. It was my favorite part of Christmas hols: being able to get away from being a witch for a couple of weeks and just spend time with my parents.
As soon as James and I got off the train though, I knew this holiday would be decidedly not relaxed. My parents and Petunia stood waiting for me at King's Cross, and as soon as they saw me, I realized that they hadn't yet gotten my letter that James would be coming. My parents looked both shocked and intrigued (my mother a bit more excited than my father, who eyed James somewhat suspiciously), and Petunia looked absolutely stunned, and then supremely annoyed.
"Bugger," I muttered as we walked towards my parents, still out of earshot.
"What?" James asked, trying to maintain a look of composure.
"They didn't know you were coming," I replied, a smile plastered to my face as we came closer to my parents.
James looked at me, alarmed. "Wait, what-?"
"Lily!" My mother flung her arms around me, and pulled me into a tight embrace. "It's so great so see you!" When she pulled back from the hug, she looked towards James with a questioning look, but before she could say anything, I interjected.
"Mum, Dad — this is James Potter. You remember, he —"
"Of course! James," My father stepped forward, his look of suspicion fading into a warm smile, as he pulled James into a big hug. James, looking somewhat taken aback but relieved, awkwardly patted him on the back a few times. My father continued talking as he hugged James. "You and your parents took care of our Lily over the summer. We can't express how nice it is, knowing that Lily's got friends looking out for her like that. I hope you're staying with us, we'd love to repay the favor."
James looked at my dad, absolutely beaming. "That's very kind of you, Mr. Evans. Actually, Lily did ask me...well, she said she wrote you..."
"Yes," I interjected, speaking now to both of my parents. "You must not have gotten it but, I sent you a letter about how I asked James to...well, I invited him..."
"Lily asked me to be her plus one to Petunia's wedding," James offered. I shot him a grateful look — this whole situation was getting increasingly stranger, and I wasn't particularly at my most eloquent.
James smiled and stuck his hand out towards Petunia, who eyed it coldly. "Nice to meet you, I'm James." Petunia looked at his hand, and then back to his face, then back to his hand before she wordlessly shook his hand loosely, with just her fingers. Despite her look of annoyance and disgust, James continued to smile, before shaking my mother's hand as well.
The car ride home was strange, yet almost exactly as it could be expected. My parents weren't anticipating the space needed for both me and James, and all of our stuff, so I sat squished between James and Petunia in the backseat of the car. On one side of me, James explained animatedly to my parents the logistics of Quidditch:
"But if the Golden Switch — "
"Snitch," I corrected.
"If the Golden Snitch ends the game and is worth — what's that? 150 points? Then wouldn't whoever caught it win the game?" My dad scratched his chin in contemplation.
"Not exactly," James replied. "Well, sometimes it does wind up like that. But usually the games go on for long enough that the 150 points isn't enough to necessarily win the game. And the Seekers are so concentrated on finding the snitch and catching it that they can't keep up with what's going on. So, it's the job of the Chasers to score enough goals that, when the Seekers do catch the snitch and end the game, it'll be enough to win the game."
"Fascinating," my dad breathed, clearly intrigued by this strange sport.
To my left Petunia, who had been fiercely silent for the ride thus far, mumbled, "Sounds like a pretty stupid game to me." James, fortunately, did not hear her.
I was both impressed and unsurprised at how quickly James won over my parents. By the time our car pulled into my driveway, my mom was already discussing how he should come back over in the summertime, when the local fair was in town, since he had never been to a fair before, and James was already promising to bring my father to a Quidditch game. None of my other friends were this chummy with my parents — in fact, most of them had never even met them, and if they had, it was fleetingly. In fact, as we were walking in the door and my mum went to show James the guest room, my father pulled me aside and said:
"James seems like a really great bloke. I'm glad to finally get to know and talk to one of your friends from school," He patted me on the shoulder. "You know, we worry about you, Lils."
"Worry that I'm a social pariah with no friends?" I grinned, putting my arm around my dad's shoulder.
He laughed. "Oh no, we've never had to worry about that with you. You've got The Gift."
I frowned, confused. "The gift? You mean, magic?"
He shook his head. "No, no. Well, I suppose it's similar to magic in that it's undefinable in a way, but no — that's not what I mean. You've got The Gift. People are drawn to you, they — they see something in you that makes them want to befriend you. When people talk to you, they want to keep talking. You light up the room when you walk in. Like I said, it's hard to define exactly, but you've got it for sure."
"Sort of. But different in a way. Ever since you were a little girl, you just-you've been able to naturally befriend everyone around you. You had a way of making the bullied feel important and valued, and making the bullies change their ways to try to meet your expectations of people. I've never met anyone else who connects with others and feels for them and with them the way that you do."
"Thanks, Dad, but I don't know," I sighed, "I haven't felt that way recently, I feel like...like I'm becoming this constantly edgy, emotional person. I feel like I'm no fun to be around at all."
"You're going through a lot right now," My dad said, squeezing my shoulder. "But that doesn't change who you are. Don't ever forget that, Lily. Don't ever let anyone make you feel like less than you are. Even and especially if it's someone you love." I saw him glance warily towards Petunia's bedroom, and I felt my eyes well up with tears. I pulled him into a tight hug.
"Thanks, dad," I whispered.
"Wouldn't say it if it wasn't true," He said, patting me on the back. "But we do worry sometimes. We know it's dangerous times, and can't help but imagining you there, all alone...it's just nice to be able to see and know that someone is there looking out for you."
"Yeah," I exhaled as James bounded down the stairs with a look of pure amazement on his face, my mother standing somewhat behind him, smiling.
"Lily! In my room there's a — what's it called?" He asked, turning to my mother.
"A television," She responded, smiling broader.
"Yes, that's it! A television. How brilliant!" He continued grinning, and my mother looked absolutely pleased with herself for having a guest who was so completely impressed by our modest, Muggle way of living.
"Ahem." We all turned to look at Petunia, who was standing a few feet away from us, clearing her throat. "Shouldn't we be cleaning up the kitchen?"
I looked at her, confused, but my mum seemed to know precisely what she meant. "Oh, yes, of course!" She turned to my dad. "Dear, would you go down to the market and pick up some French bread? I wanted to wait until today so it would be fresh. One loaf should be plenty, but maybe get two just in case."
"Not a problem, love," My dad replied, kissing my mum on the cheek and walking out the door.
"Er...what's going on?" I asked thickly, as my mum rushed to the kitchen to grab some pots and pans from beneath the stove.
"Vernon's family is coming over for dinner tonight!" My mom yelled from the kitchen.
"...oh," I said, unable to feign enthusiasm. I looked at James, and then back to the kitchen. "Er...well, James and I are both really tired —"
"I'm fine," James replied, and I elbowed him in the side. "Oh. I mean — er — yeah. Tired." He faked a yawn. I rolled my eyes.
"Yeah, I think it's probably best for us to sit this one out," I tried to sound as diplomatic as I possibly could, but my mum wasn't letting us off the hook.
"Oh, well, why don't you two go upstairs and get some rest, and then come down when dinner is ready? Petunia and I can take care of preparing, we don't need you down here."
"But, Mum —"
"Lily, this is very important to Petunia," She admonished, nodding in the direction of Petunia, who looked very much like she couldn't care less. "Now go upstairs. They should be here in a couple of hours."
With a deep exhale, I turned towards the staircase and trudged towards the top, heading directly to my room and flopping face-first on the bed. Moments later, I heard a tentative knock on the door.
"Yeah?" I called, not bothering to lift my head from the pillow.
I heard the door creak open. "Hey," James' voice came from the doorway. Immediately, I sat up.
"Hey, come in," I said, my voice a little bit higher than normal. He strode into my room, looking around. I looked around with tim, trying to imagine what my room must be like through James' eyes, wincing a little bit at how childish it must have seemed. A lot of it hadn't changed since I was a little girl-really, it had practically remained stagnant since I was 11 and started spending most of my time at Hogwarts. My room was still the same faint mint-green color that my dad painted it when I was born, with a cream lace border around the top of the room. My bookshelf stood in the corner, overstuffed and attempting to break free from the shelf constraints. There were still a few china dolls sitting on the shelves high up around my room, their small, painted-on faces coated in a thin layer of dust. The only thing that had really changed was the few pictures of me with my Hogwarts friends that were strewn about the room. They didn't move, in case a relative or friend from town happened to come into my room. I liked them that way, though.
James seemed to be really taking everything in, as he paced around my room, eventually sitting gingerly on the edge of my bed. Smiling, I sat down next to him.
"This is brilliant," he said softly.
"What is?" I looked around my room, searching for what he was talking about.
"Your room, it's just...fascinating."
I wrinkled my nose. "Fascinating how?"
"No, it's just...you. It just looks like you. But then at the same time, it's like-a window into who you were. It's-it's just really...it's nice."
I chuckled, looking down. "Well, after the wedding's over, I can show you around town, too, if you'd like."
James' face fell. "I'd–I would love to, Lily, but...I have to go home pretty soon after the wedding. Like, right away, actually."
"Oh," I replied, disappointment seeping in. "Okay."
"Lily," he began quickly, "it's–I wish I could stay."
"No, it's fine," I said with a smile. "I'm–I'm just glad you could come at all. I'm sure there are people you want to see and things you want to do at home."
He shifted, looking down. Immediately, I felt a sense of dread. "James...what's the matter?"
Not looking up, he murmured. "It's...well...nevermind."
"James?" I asked softly, not wanting to push him too much.
"It's...look, it's...my–" he paused, and exhaled. "My mum is sick."
My face fell. "What do you mean?"
He inhaled deeply. "The healers at St. Mungo's aren't-they don't know what's wrong, so they-er...they," James looked like he was beginning to choke back tears. "They, um, sent her home."
Immediately, I pulled James into a tight embrace, and I could feel his lungs expanding and collapsing as he tried to gain control of his breath.
"James..." I breathed against his shoulder. "I'm so, so sorry." He moved his head so that it rested in the crook of my shoulder and neck.
After a moment, I spoke again. "James, you–you don't have to stay for the wedding." He pulled away from me slowly.
"I want to," he said plainly.
"Look, I can...you really don't need to-"
"I want to," he insisted, "I...I promised I would and I don't want you to deal with this alone-and honestly, Lily-" he looked at me. "I've been looking forward to this since you asked me. I–I want to be here for you. I'll go home right after, but I want to be here. Now. With you."
I looked at his face and could see the conflict he felt written into his skin and I wanted to cry and to thank him and hold him and make his pain go away.
And then, before I could realize what I was doing, my lips were on him. I was kissing him. It only lasted a moment before I felt his body completely freeze, his face still and unmoving against mine. Quickly, I pulled away and saw that his eyes were wide and his jaw was slightly unhinged.
"I'm, I'm sorry, James, I shouldn't–" and immediately, like a switch was flipped, James sprang into action, his hands reaching towards either side of my face and his lips meeting mine again, but this time they were warm and moving enthusiastically, and his hands were moving to my hair. My own hands, almost acting of their own accord, began moving up his chest, feeling the softness of his shirt and the warmth of his skin. His lips smiled against mine, and with his lips still moving fervently, his hands moved from my hair down to the small of my back. And then his tongue brushed softly against my bottom lip and I heard myself moan embarassingly loud.
Then there was an ill-timed knock at the door, and we immediately jumped apart.
"Yeah?" I called out, a little too loudly.
"Vernon and his family are on the way!" My mom's voice rang out. "Make sure you and James are up and ready."
James and I turned to each other and grinned.
"Don't worry, mum," I called out in response. "We're both awake."