Written for the When Love First Grows Competition at the Harry Potter Fanfiction Challenges forum.
I'd just like to say that this is the longest one-shot I've ever written, and I enjoyed it very much. Lily and James are a wonderful couple :)
Disclaimer: I own nothing except the idea that inspired this.
Slowly, With Time
The first time, it is a joke.
Eleven-year-old Lily Evans looks up from her Charms essay and scowls as she sees James Potter approach her, his hair sticking out in every direction as it always is, an annoying smirk on his lips.
"What do you want, Potter?" she asks curtly. Already she can feel the stares of her fellow Gryffindors, who find it very amusing when James taunts her.
He doesn't answer but merely continues walking towards her, and she can't help thinking that it's a bit odd that his friends aren't with him. The so-called 'Marauders' (a silly name, in her opinion) rarely visit the Common Room during the day, preferring to wreak havoc in other parts of the castle.
Lost in her own thoughts, it takes her a moment to realize that Potter is standing in front of her. Too close. Uncomfortably close.
"So, Evans, I was thinking..." he begins, smirk still in place.
She stares at him, trying to work out what he's up to.
"I've always had a thing for gingers..."
She raises an eyebrow, confused.
"Do you want to be my girlfriend?"
Her eyes widen and she freezes at the unexpected question.
He rolls his eyes. "My girlfriend, Evans," he says, as if he were talking to a child, "Girlfriend. Girl-friend. Do you want me to spell it out, too?"
"Why do you want me to be your girlfriend?"
Her eyes narrow as he hesitates, proving that her suspicions are true. She stands up and takes a step closer to him so that they are no more than a few inches apart. Taking a deep breath, she begins to yell.
"DO YOU THINK I'M STUPID, POTTER? DO YOU THINK I DON'T KNOW THAT THIS IS ALL SOME STUPID JOKE YOU AND YOUR SILLY LITTLE FRIENDS HAVE COME UP WITH?"
He blinks. "I... er..."
"WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? YOU KEEP BOTHERING ME, HEXING MY BEST FRIEND AND MAKING MY LIFE IMPOSSIBLE! WHAT HAVE I EVER DONE TO YOU, HUH?"
"I DON'T WANT TO HEAR YOUR EXCUSES! I'M SICK OF YOU!"
And then she slaps him.
Grabbing her bag and her essay, she exits the Common Room, but not before hearing Black wolf-whistle.
James stands there, in shock, until his friends walk up to him.
"I told you so," says Remus.
The second time, it is a bet.
"I bet you won't dare to ask Evans out."
"What, and get slapped again?"
"Prongsie, Prongsie, Prongsie... That happened last year. For all you know, Evans may be harboring a secret, burning passion for you right now."
"You're daft, Padfoot."
As James Potter enters the Great Hall on a chilly November morning, he immediately spots Lily Evans sitting at the Gryffindor table, calmly chatting to Mary McDonald. Her hair is loose today instead of tied up in its usual ponytail, and it falls down her back in fiery waves. James is surprised by how pretty she looks, and confused because he has never thought of Lily Evans as pretty before.
He sits down in front of her, smiling sweetly. "Good morning, Evans," he says.
She glares at him before continuing her conversation with Mary.
"Giving me the silent treatment? How petty of you, Evans."
"Well, seeing as my attempt to make polite conversation is not working due to your rudeness, I'll just get straight to the point, shall I?"
She doesn't say anything, but her hand clenches into a fist.
"Do you want to be my girlfriend?"
She stares at him, eyes wide, sure that she must have misheard. Not even Potter would be stupid enough to ask that stupid question again, would he? His smirk tells her that yes, he is stupid enough.
James feels a sudden surge of irritation, though he doesn't know why. It's not as if he's bothered by Evans' rejection. Of course he isn't. For some strange reason, he wants to irritate Evans, too.
"You wound me, Evans. What have I ever done to you?" he asks, using the same question she asked him the year before. Seeing her scowl makes him feel very smug.
"You're an arrogant, bullying pig, Potter."
"Am I? What about dear, darling Snivellus?"
"Keep Severus out of this!"
"Ooooh, touchy. How sweet of you to protect your boooooyfriend from big, bad James."
A few students laugh.
With great dignity, Lily stands up, grabbing her glass of pumpkin juice. Then, without saying a word, she dumps its contents on James' head and walks away.
James stands there and jumps slightly when Sirius claps him on the back.
"You just won yourself ten Galleons, mate."
"Shut up, Padfoot."
He tries to grin, hiding the fact that he feels guilty for the first time in his entire life.
The third time, it hurts.
It's the first trip to Hogsmeade of the year, and the third-years can barely keep still with excitement. They're standing near the Entrance Hall, impatiently waiting for old Pringle, the caretaker, to take their permission forms. Slightly further away from the group of students, Lily Evans is talking to Severus Snape.
"I'm sorry you can't come, Sev," she says quietly.
He shakes his head and tries to smile. "It's all right, Lily, I'll be fine." He knows he won't. He'll be counting the minutes until she comes back. Inwardly, he curses his father.
"I promise I'll tell you everything about Hogsmeade. I'll even bring back some sweets from Honeydukes!"
They are silent for a few seconds, until Lily steps forward and hugs Severus. Fighting the urge to blush, he hugs her back, breathing in her scent. She smells of vanilla and something flowery.
If you only knew, Lily...
"Get away from Evans, Snivellus, or you might cover her in grease."
They spring apart, scowling as they see the Marauders approach. Severus tries to take out his wand, but Lily puts a hand on his shoulder, silently telling him to wait.
"Leave us alone, Potter."
James smirks. "I'd love to, Lilian, but I owe dear Snivelly a hex or two," he says, twirling his wand in his fingers.
"Leave him alone!"
Seeing her like that, cheeks flushed, red hair almost crackling with electricity, eyes greener than ever, he feels a strange tug somewhere in his chest. His mind has gone blank. He was going to say something, something witty, but he can't remember what. Instead, other words escape his lips.
"I will if you agree to be my girlfriend, Evans."
He barely notices Snivellus stiffen, his eyes focused solely on Lily. Her scowl deepens and she grabs her wand, aiming it at him. Before his mind can process what's going on, she's already speaking the incantation for the Stupefying Jinx.
"MISS EVANS! What on Earth are you doing?"
She quickly puts her wand away, turning to face Professor McGonagall. Her cheeks turn as red as her hair.
"I'm sorry, Professor. I was just about to leave," she whispers, embarrassed.
Minerva McGonagall takes one look at her, then looks up to see James and his friends. Understanding flashes in her eyes, and she resists the urge to sigh.
"Very well, Miss Evans. Off you go."
Lily nods and turns to Severus, hesitating before giving him a quick hug. The tug in James' chest feels a lot more painful than it did before.
As Lily walks away, she gives James a look of pure loathing.
And then he realizes.
I love Lily Evans.
For many times after that, he tries. And he fails.
Every day, he asks her the same question:
"Will you go out with me, Evans?"
And every day she gives him the same answer:
He showers her with gifts, flowers, displays of fireworks, poems, anything he can think of that might make her say yes. Because he needs her to say yes.
And still, she rejects him.
Frustrated, he seeks out Snivellus and takes his anger out on him and other people he dislikes, hexing them whenever he feels like it, not realizing that that is the reason why Lily hates him.
Later comes the time when he realizes.
"I don't need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!"
Severus' words seemed to echo in Lily's thoughts.
"Fine," she says, feeling strangely empty. "I won't bother in the future. And I'd wash your pants if I were you, Snivellus."
James face turns red with anger. "Apologize to Evans!" he roars, pointing his wand at his worst enemy.
"I don't want you to make him apologize," said Lily, glaring at James. "You're as bad as he is."
James' eyes widen. "What? I'd NEVER call you a you-know-what!" he says, his heart sinking as her scowl deepens and she takes a step towards him.
"Messing up your hair because you think it looks cool to look like you just got off your broomstick, showing off with that stupid Snitch, walking down corridors and hexing anyone who annoys you just because you can - I'm surprised your broomstick can get you off the ground with that fat head on it. You make me SICK," she yells, turning on her heel and hurrying away.
James calls after her, but she doesn't look back.
"What is it with her?" he asks, trying to hide the fact that her words have hurt him deeply. The tug on his chest is more painful than ever, but he tries to pretend that he's all right.
"Reading between the lines, I'd say she thinks you're a bit conceited, mate," says Sirius, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"Right," he says, practically seething with anger. "Right-"
"Who wants to see me take off Snivelly's pants?" he asks, smirking when the crowd of students surrounding him cheers.
But, despite his attempt to distract himself, he can't stop thinking about Sirius' words.
Then, for the first time, Lily sees him as a person.
"I can't pretend any more. You've chosen your way, I've chosen mine."
"No - listen, I didn't mean-"
"-to call me Mudblood? But you call everyone of my birth Mudblood, Severus. Why should I be any different?"
She turns around and walks back into the Gryffindor Common Room, trying to hold back her tears. She only makes it as far as the fireplace before she collapses on the floor, sobbing.
She loses track of time. She forgets where she is, forgets that she should be in her dormitory, because she doesn't care. She doesn't care that she's cold. She doesn't care that her entire body hurts from being curled up for such a long time. She only cares about the fact that today she's lost her best friend, and she's never going to get him back. He chose his way, and she chose hers. And it hurts. It hurts a lot.
She jumps as she hears a voice and looks up to see none other than James Potter. Drying her tears, she stands up.
"I wasn't crying," she mutters, even though she knows it's a stupid thing to say.
He raises an eyebrow, but makes no comment.
"Why are you here, Potter?" she snaps.
"I heard a... a noise, and I came down to see who it was," he says.
He'd heard Mary McDonald tell Lily that Snivellus wanted to talk to her, so he'd decided to wait in the Common Room until she came back. There was something he wanted to do.
"Well, it was me. Goodnight, Potter," Lily said, walking past him and heading towards the stairs to the girls' dormitories.
"I'm sorry, Lily," he says. He hasn't turned to face her, but he can tell that she's stopped.
"For being so horrible to you all these years. For bothering you and... and Snape," he says, grimacing as he says his name. "I'll try to be a better person from now on."
Lily is surprised, and oddly touched. She's always thought of Potter as an arrogant bully, but now... She's never seen this side of him before. A small part of her suspects he may be lying, but she wants to believe that he means those words. That there is more to James Potter than she originally thought.
"Why? Why would you want to change all of a sudden?" she asks, suspicious.
He finally turns to face her and, for the first time in her life, she sees that his expression is serious.
The last time, she is the one who confesses.
Leave. Me. ALONE. Didn't I make it clear seven years ago? You aren't my sister. I don't want to have anything to do with you, freak. Stay in your freak school, with your freak friends and don't talk to me ever again. I've finally found someone I love, and you're not going to ruin this for me.
I don't care what Mum says, you are forbidden to come to my wedding.
Lily crumples the piece of paper in her hand and chucks it in the fireplace, watching it burn, feeling empty inside.
Six years. It's been six years since Petunia called her a freak for the first time, and it still hurts as much as it did back then. Her sister's words are like a knife, cutting through her, wounding her. Because, even though she knows it is foolish, she has tried time and time again to mend her friendship with Petunia, each attempt hurting more than the last. As far as Petunia Evans is concerned, she is an only child.
Lily shakes her head, trying to get rid of those thoughts, and concentrates on her Transfiguration essay. After a few seconds the words stop making sense and she sighs, burying her face in her hands.
"What's with the long face, Lily?" she raises her head at James' familiar voice and sticks her tongue out at him, trying to hide the fact that she was about to cry.
"Oh, nothing. I was just thinking that I'll have to put up with you for the next two hours if we want to get that Prefect meeting organized," she teases.
"You know you enjoy my delightful company," he tries to sound seductive, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.
She snorts. "Of course I do."
Maybe too much.
He grins and walks over to her, dropping his bag on the floor. Glancing at the small table next to her, he notices her unfinished essay and picks it up, chuckling as she protests.
"I can see... one, two, three, four mistakes in this, Miss Evans. I'm afraid I'll have to give you a detention."
"Yep. And one of them is a spelling mistake. Since when does 'potato' have an 'e' in it?"
"What?" she leans forward and groans as she sees the word.
James' smug expression makes her roll her eyes, and that's when she realizes that they're standing quite close. Too close. Uncomfortably close. She can see his hazel eyes, smell his cologne, and her heart starts beating incredibly fast, heat rising to her cheeks.
She's seen it coming for a while. After that conversation in the Common Room in fifth year, James had changed. He still hexes students sometimes, he still messes up his hair, but he is different than before. He's stopped bothering her and stopped asking her out. Instead, he's made an effort to be polite to her and, though it has taken a few months, she's finally decided to give friendship a try.
And it has completely backfired on her.
Because there was something about James Potter that fascinates her. Since his arrogance has decreased and he has demonstrated that he is, in fact, quite intelligent and capable of having a conversation on many different topics, Lily has begun to feel a light, fluttery feeling in her chest whenever he speaks to her. She knows what that feeling is and, at first, she'd been horrified. Then, slowly, she'd come to accept it.
She loves James Potter.
"Hey, what's this?" she jumps as James' voice interrupts her thoughts. He's crouching by the fireplace, staring at Petunia's letter, which is still burning.
"Nothing, just a piece of parchment," she quickly lies.
He pokes the paper with a stick, frowning. "Hang on, there's something written on here. Pe... Petun... Petunia?" he looks up, surprised. "You sister sent you a letter?"
"Yes, she did."
"But I thought she didn't like you!"
"She... She doesn't. She hates me."
James curses himself as he realizes that she's in pain. He sits down next to her, putting an arm around her shoulders, trying to comfort her.
"Don't be. It's not your fault."
Lily feels guilty for being happy about the fact that she's so close to James, instead of sad about her sister's letter. But she's made her decision now, too. If Petunia doesn't want to have a sister, then neither does she.
"Huh?" he looks up, slightly startled by how close they are. Her bright green eyes gazing at his hazel ones.
"I love you," she says simply.
And then she kisses him.
When they break apart, cheeks red, hair messy, he thinks that she has never looked more beautiful than she does now. Fiery. Beautiful.
His, at last.
Reviews are appreciated!