"Fuck," Lily swore under her breath. The uniform skirt that had once fitted perfectly to her frame slipped down her hips as the seventh-year Gryffindors walked to the Great Hall for dinner.
"Do you want help, Lils?" Mary asked gently as the three girls walked from Herbology.
"I don't need your help, MacDonald," Lily snapped, her tired eyes narrowing. "And don't call me 'Lils' in that patronizing tone of yours. I'm not a bloody child."
Startled, Mary's open mouth clamped shut.
"Mary was only trying to help, Lily-" Marlene began.
"Yeah, well I don't need her help. Not hers, not yours. In case you haven't noticed, I'm doing perfectly fine on my own; I don't need you."
With that, Lily yanked her book strap tighter against her shoulder and stormed off.
"What just happened, Britten?" Sirius asked. The other three Marauders stood slightly behind him.
"Lily's in another one of her moods again, Black; same thing she's been in for a month now. Nothing exactly Daily Prophet worthy."
"I've got to do something," James muttered. He started running in the direction that Lily had disappeared in.
"What happened to waiting until we have a better plan, James?" Mary called out to him.
"This is the better plan, MacDonald!" James called over his shoulder.
"Should we be going to help him?" Mary asked the rest of the group.
Remus shook his head.
"No. Let them be. Maybe he'll finally get through to her."
After sprinting out of the Great Hall, James ducked into the closest corner and pulled out the Marauder's Map, tapping it with his wand.
"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good," he muttered. The Map came alive in his hands, the footprints of everyone at Hogwarts traveling throughout the parchment.
James eagerly skimmed the parchment, looking for the banner that said "L. Evans" in neat script, until there she was, pacing in the common room of the Heads' dorm.
"Mischief managed," he whispered, stashing the Map in his pocket and running to their room.
When he cranked open the heavy door, he saw that she had stopped pacing. Instead, she was sitting on the floor, knees curled up into her chest and head buried in her knees. Her shoulders were heaving with her cries. Immediately after she heard the door open, however, she leapt to her feet, drying her last tears on her sleeve.
"What the hell do you want, Potter?" Lily spat.
"I was worried about you. You bit off Macdonald's head so harshly there, I wouldn't be surprised if she looked like Nearly Headless Nick right about now." He shrugged, the smirk returning to his face. "Who knows? Maybe they would get married and be the Nearly Headless Couple of Hogwarts."
"Stop making jokes, Potter, I'm not in the mood."
He held up his hands in surrender.
"Hey, I get it, no jokes. Just trying to lighten the mood here, no need to dagger me with your eyes."
"I'm not daggering you with my eyes!"
"Well, of course you are. Look at that, right there," he pointed to an invisible spot on his sweater, "Do you see that huge gash? That's from your daggers. I tell ya, you're a ruthless opponent."
An involuntary smile graced her lips for a second before she wiped it away.
"Didn't I tell you not to crack jokes?"
He grinned in response.
A moment or two of silence went by until she said in a tired voice, "Why are you here, Potter?"
"I told you, I was worried. We all are."
"Well there's no need to be worried. I'm fine."
"You can't expect me to believe that, Evans. This person," he gestured at her, "who yells at her friends and doesn't pay attention in class, that's not you."
"Maybe it is and you just never noticed, Potter."
James shook his head.
"No. I'd have noticed. This isn't you."
"Oh, because you're my best friend? You obviously must know everything about me, then. You must know how my sister hates me. You must know that my parents can't afford all the supplies for Hogwarts, so I have to work during the summer to pay for my books. You must know how even if I didn't have to work, I'd probably do it anyway because I've got no friends outside of Hogwarts. You must know that ever since Mulciber hit me with that curse, I haven't been able to sleep or eat," she rattled off in one breath. Once she had realized what she said, Lily turned around to face the window.
"You're not okay, Lily," James stated.
Spinning around with her arms open, Lily screamed, "WELL OF COURSE I'M NOT OKAY, YOU BLOODY IDIOT!"
Calming down slightly and folding her arms, she added, "Of course I'm not okay. This terrible thing happened to me and I'm supposed to go on pretending like I'm fine? I can't do that, Potter. I can't and I won't."
James stepped closer so that they were mere centimeters apart.
"I saw you die, James," Lily whispered, unfolding her arms so that they had no choice but to rest on his chest. "Voldemort, he-he was torturing you because he wanted something from me and I saw you die." Her throat tightened up as she looked at him, realization dawning in his eyes. "I can't pretend like I'm okay with that. I can't pretend like I'm okay after Voldemort tortures someone that's so important to me…"
A slight frown of confusion hit James' eyebrows as he thought about what she'd said, his fingertips ghosting along the sides of her cheeks. But this wasn't the time for that; he needed to reassure her, not indulge his teenage hormones.
Wrapping his arms around her in a tight hug, he rested his cheek on the top of her head.
After many long moments of silence, he murmured, "So you think I'm important, huh?"
She laughed into his chest so that he felt the vibrations of her joy.
"Don't let it swell that big head of yours any more, Potter."
I'm so sorry that it has taken abnormally long for me to post this latest chapter. Hopefully, it was worth the wait, though. As always, reviews and feedback are very much appreciated!