You don't realize how comfortable you are around him until he sits next you a Hogsmeade bench outside Honeydukes.
It's snowing, but you don't mind the snow. In fact, you love it, especially since it reminds you of Christmas, of tinsel, hot chocolate and the warm hellos strangers exchange with each other during the holidays. You're sitting on the bench, leaning against Honeydukes' cold stone wall and catching snowflakes with your eyelashes when James Potter sits next to you with a loud thunk.
'It's freezing out here!' he says immediately, as he shivers exaggeratedly.
You turn your head towards him as you lean against the wall and smirk at his half-buttoned cloak, the newest trend amongst Hogwarts boys these days.
'It might help to button up that cloak, hm?' you say.
He grins and reaches down to do up the thick buttons of his cloak. Then he shoots you a cocky grin. 'Happy, mum?'
You snort indelicately at that, but you're partly pleased that you are acquainted with him now as you have never been before. Jokes are allowed amongst acquaintances and you rather like this easy relationship with Potter more than the half-loathing (on your part), half-flirty (on his) relationship you'd shared before.
'What are you doing out here, anyway?' you ask as he leans back into a comfortable stance. 'Shouldn't you be out gallivanting with your mates?'
'Shouldn't you?' he returns with a grin.
'What makes you think I'm not?' You jerk a thumb towards Honeydukes behind you. 'Alice is in there picking out some sweets for Frank's birthday basket. It's been twenty minutes. I drew the line at ten.' You grin sheepishly.
He chuckles at that and throws you a knowing look. 'Never one for patience, were you Evans?'
You shrug with a smile and stretch out your legs as you feel the prickly sensation of numbness. 'What about you? Where's the claque?' You give him a half-mocking smile.
He throws his arms behind his head and crosses his right leg over the left casually. 'Sirius bet Remus ten galleons that he could chat up Madam Rosmerta and get himself a free Butterbeer,' he says. 'He's in there trying it right now. You know Sirius, when he gets going, he goes for a while. It was getting a bit embarrassing.' He points to the tinted side window of The Three Broomsticks, situated across the street and to the right in the distance. 'I saw you from the window. I thought I'd keep you company.'
'Nice of you.'
He grins his 'look-at-me-I'm-so-charming' grin. 'Haven't you heard? I'm a nice bloke.'
You smile at that, because over the past few weeks, you've started to realize that what you'd called arrogance for the past seven years is actually confidence, that it's starting to become rather endearing.
'Knut for your thoughts?' he says after a moment, and you snap your gaze from the crystal snow before you to him.
'Hm,' you say with a smile as you glance at him, 'you're going to need a lot more than a Knut to buy one of my thoughts.' There's a pause and you wonder whether you've unknowingly done it again—said something in a perfectly cordial manner, but then had it be interpreted as sarcastic or testy. You almost start to clarify before you realize that he's grinning, that he knows you better than that. After all, he's seen you at your crossest, at your most sarcastic. He can tell the difference.
He fishes into his pockets and pulls out a galleon. 'You're right,' he says. 'The brilliant Lily Evans? A thought from you will probably set a bloke back.' He holds out the galleon. 'This good?'
You laugh at his cheek and push his hand away. 'Keep your money,' you say. You pause, considering, and then hesitantly reach into your own pockets and fish out a small white card. You hold it out to him. He takes it and is quiet for a while as he reads silently. Then he's looking at you again.
'Petunia Evans,' he reads. 'Your sister?'
You nod in response.
'She's getting married?'
You're examining the powdered snow as it falls onto the ground in tiny, soft crystals. 'Looks like it.'
He hands the card back to you and you replace it silently into your pockets. He leans forward to scrutinize your indifferent expression. 'Er—well, aren't weddings supposed to be—I dunno—happy?'
'I am happy,' you say quickly. You falter after that, unsure of how much you'd like to share, and while you realize that Potter knows you're lying and expects some sort of elaboration, you appreciate that he doesn't push you. Instead, he flips his galleon over in his hand and looks out at the falling snow with you. You subconsciously acknowledge the comfortable silence between the two of you and think for a moment that this is actually quite nice.
'Nice mittens,' he says after a minute, breaking the silence.
You grin and hold them up, dark green mittens with the patterning of a lily on each palm. Only your mum is capable of such a cheesy cliché, fashioning a lily on each mitten because it's your name. 'You like them? My mum knit them for me last Christmas. She usually knits me a pair every year. They're the only things she can knit save for scarves, and I've got loads of those already.'
'They look warm,' he comments. 'You ought to ask her to knit a pair for your good mate James Potter.' He holds up his own bare hands. 'I haven't been able to find mine since that snowball fight with the lads a few weeks ago. Apparently they mysteriously disappeared, but I'm convinced Sirius nicked them—he tore his own pair during the fight.'
He scowls and you let out a laugh. 'Merlin, you must be freezing.' You pause. 'You know, you don't have to sit out here with me. You can go back inside.' You nod towards the Three Broomsticks across the street.
But he waves you off. 'Nah,' he says. 'It's too loud in there. The lads'll come out when they're done. Besides,' he adds, shooting you a grin. 'I rather like the company out here.'
You roll your eyes at his persistence, but find yourself smiling anyway. You pull off your left mitten. 'Fine,' you say, as you toss it onto his lap. 'Here. I refuse to be held responsible for the Head Boy freezing to death.'
He stares down at it for a moment. 'You sure? It's freezing.'
You promptly shove your bare hand into your pockets. 'I think I'll live.'
He grins as he puts your mitten on. 'If you say so. The Head Boy thanks you, Head Girl.' He holds up his left hand to admire the mitten. 'Hm, tight fit but quite lovely.'
You laugh. 'Great, I'll tell my mum you approve.'
He grins, and though you're facing front again, you can feel his gaze on you. 'So,' he says. 'This…' he hesitates as he recollects the name he read on you invitation. 'This Vernon Dursley. I take it you don't like him very much?'
You snort. 'Vermin, you mean?' You pause and then shake your head. 'Sorry. That wasn't fair of me. I shouldn't have said that.'
But he's already sunken his head into his hands, and is shaking in mirth. 'Vermin?'
You watch him and find his laughter contagious. Suddenly, you're both laughing, he with his head resting on his hands but turned towards you as he laughs, and you doubled over forward in laughter as you give him a reprimanding shove on the shoulder.
When you've both calmed down, he leans back and turns towards you. 'Vermin, eh?'
You grin sheepishly. 'But honestly,' you say. 'Vernon's not so bad. He loves Petunia, and she loves him, and that's all that matters, yeah?'
'I suppose,' he says, finally sober. 'So then… why are you—er—'
You pull out the invitation and stare at it again. 'I'm happy that Petunia's getting married,' you say quietly. 'I'm happy that she's happy. It's just—I'm not sure—well, I don't know if I'm going to go.'
He looks puzzled. 'Why not?'
You gaze at your sister's name on the invitation, imagining it written as Petunia Dursley, rather than Petunia Evans. 'Well,' you say, 'I suppose we're not very close. Anymore, that is. It's a long story, but she's a Muggle. And she hates magic—she hasn't been very fond of me since I started at Hogwarts. So—so I suppose I haven't been able to figure out why she invited me in the first place.'
He nods slowly in a pensive manner, as though he's searching for the right words.
'You know,' he says finally as he tosses his galleon in the air and catches it. I got into a fight with Sirius over the summer. He'd just moved into his own place and was over for Sunday brunch. He wasn't really himself since he'd—well, he'd run into a bit of trouble with his family that summer andhe'd gone into the habit of doing a lot of stupid stuff. He started coming over to our place drunk pissed out of his mind. He even bought himself a motorbike—you know, those Muggle contraptions for transportation—and needless to say, my parents started to get worried, not just for his health, but that he was wasting away his uncle's inheritance. My mum tried to talk to him once, and well, he said—er—he said some things to her that he's not so proud of anymore, and I suppose at the time I just snapped. It got pretty bad, and the next thing I knew, we were wrestling in my backyard, ready to near kill each other before my dad pulled us apart. We didn't talk for the next few days, but when Sirius didn't show up for next Sunday's brunch at my place, I had to go over to his place to drag him there myself.' He chuckles at the memory and you can't help but smile a little.
'What I'm trying to say,' he continues in a low voice, as he examines the galleon, 'is that even though Sirius and I nearly killed each other only a few days before, it was impossible for me to cut him out of my life. And I reckon it's the same for him. If I didn't go over to his place, he would have come over the next week demanding his Sunday brunch.' He chuckles again. 'He's like a brother, see. And I don't really know what the situation is with your sister, but maybe—maybe it's impossible for her to cut you out of her life too? You're a pretty hard one to forget, Evans. Maybe it's hard for her to get married without you.'
You stare at the invitation as you let his words sink in and by the time he's done, you're smiling. You recognize that it's your first genuine smile of the day, and when he catches it and returns his own grin, you realize that you're glad that he decided to ditch his mates for a moment with you. Your cheeks are suddenly warm despite the chilly weather.
He also seems encouraged by your sudden good mood. You know he's going to try to push his luck with you as he always does, but at the moment, you can't quite remember why you'd always shot him down.
'And y'know,' he adds lightly while tossing and catching his Galleon again, 'if you're really worried about facing sister dearest, you could always take me along as your charming plus one.' He grins impishly at you.
You laugh and when you stow the invitation into your cloak, you can't help saying, 'Well, you'd certainly liven the party up, that's for sure.' You avoid his gaze after that, sensing an awkward moment, because you're not quite sure if you're ready to say yes to him yet. When you manage to glance at him, you see that he's examining the Galleon again, with a grin on his face and a pink tinge high on his cheeks, and for the first time, you're tempted to go easy on him.
'Maybe,' you say quietly, and after saying it, you hope he hadn't heard because you're scared, really scared, to take this plunge. But he's heard, and you realize that he would have heard if you'd whispered it from halfway around the world. His head turns to you so quickly that you're surprised you didn't hear a crick. He appears stunned.
You don't answer for a while and though you're sure he thinks he'd heard you wrong, you're really gathering as much Gryffindor in you that you can muster. The door to Honeydukes opens and the bell clangs loudly, interrupting your thoughts soundly. Both of you jump at the sudden sound and turn to see Alice exit the store with bags of sweets in her hands.
'Oh Lily, there you are!' she exclaims. You get to your feet quickly to help her with her bags. James also stands and offers a wave.
'All right, Prewett?'
Alice smiles at him. 'Hullo, James. Nice mitten.'
He looks down at his hand and realizes that he's still wearing your mitten. 'Oh, sorry Lily, this is—'
You wave him off. 'You keep it. Alice and I are heading back to the castle. In fact,' you take off your other mitten and hold it out for him, 'you probably need it more. I'll just get Mum to knit me another pair for Christmas this year.'
He blinks and appears stunned as you press the green mitten into his open hand. He looks ready to say something when Sirius Black suddenly claps him on the back, holding a Butterbeer bottle in his other hand. You're surprised that you didn't see him coming, that you'd been so distracted.
'Oi, Prongs, where'd you get to? Did you see—'
'He actually did it,' said Peter excitedly. 'You should have seen—'
Behind him, Remus was shaking his head in a defeated, yet begrudging and impressed manner, mourning the loss of ten Galleons.
But James ignores them all. He looks down at the mitten and then back at you. 'Are you sure?'
'Of course,' you say, rather hoping to get out of the situation. 'See you all back in the castle.' And with a wave, you grab Alice by the elbow and turn towards the castle.
You turn around and he's standing right in front of you, looking down with an indecipherable expression on his face and eyes bright behind his glasses.
'Maybe,' he repeats. His voice is low, intense. He's examining you as though you're a puzzle to figure out and you realize that he's not going to let it go, the fact that you'd told him maybe. And maybe you don't want him to.
'Yeah,' you say, and the word lifts a weight off your shoulders. He's grinning, and soon enough you're grinning too, you're not even trying to suppress it. 'Maybe yeah.'