This is my take on Chapter 37 of TLAT!
I am not and will never be Jules, but this has been a really fun project and I hope you enjoy! Huge, huge, HUGE thank you to my beta/TLAT co-stan, vestida-de-verao
Read this read this read this! I mention a lot of random details you prob won't remember unless (hi!) you've been rereading it daily to try to suck Jules's soul into your body.
Before: (distant past) Lily Evans's dad died in January of her fourth year ('74) and she took time off school. Donna later accused her of not caring about him/generally not having emotions. Lily told the Marauders she's liked James since the first day back, Sirius told her she "clicks" with them. (immediate background) On November 2nd, Voldemort's followers attack the annual conference of M.F.P. (Magic for Peace), killing 87 people, including Sam Dearborn (James Potter's cousin) and Sarah McKinnon (Adam's sister). James only wants to see Lily but she hides because she can't face Sam being dead/telling him Sam is dead. Colista Black calls Lily Mudblood, says it's all her fault. Lily hexes her. Later, Colista apologizes and implies she doesn't like the side of the war she's landed on. Classes are postponed and students can go home. Marlene and Adam kiss, a distraught Marlene tells Mary. Lily goes to the Lantern bar, where she briefly fantasizes about a normal Muggle life with a normal Muggle boyfriend who she names Nicholas, then James Potter shows up. He takes her home and she falls in love with him (though she doesn't know it yet). They hold hands and agree to fight Voldemort, he kisses her cheek, she kisses his shoulder, it's lovely and sad and Not Enough, Dammit. Lily plans to return to Hogwarts on Monday, even though classes don't restart until Thursday.
Sunflowers in November
(1PM, February 11th, 1974)
Lily Evans was just fine.
Which was good, because she had a monstrous amount of homework, yet another Donna-Marlene spat to wrangle, and a best mate who never smiled at her without checking over his shoulder first.
Dad would have made it all funny somehow.
But she wasn't thinking about that, because she was fine. She just wished everyone would stop acting like she wasn't.
She said as much to Severus—seemingly the only person in the castle who hadn't asked her if she was okay twice daily for the last week—as they worked on a Shrinking Solution in Potions class.
"Thank you," Lily said softly. Severus laid his hand over hers, and Lily interlocked their fingers and squeezed tight. "For being the only one treating me like a person. Everyone seems to think I'm going to shatter at any moment…I keep catching Marlene staring…Donna complimented my hair the other day…even Potter has stopped asking me out…"
Severus pulled his hand away. "Do you want him to start again?"
"No!" Lily said, quickly and loudly. "I just want everybody to treat me normally. I want…I want something to happen," she realized aloud. "Anything, really, as long as it doesn't have anything to do with me. Hogwarts is just so insular…the only thing that's happened since Christmas break was me taking time off, so everyone wants to ask me about…about Dad, and I know they mean to be kind, but I don't need that. Not from my mates, and certainly not from random Hufflepuffs…if only something would just happen, so people would have something else to talk about."
Two tables away, James Potter, who had been uncharacteristically still and silent for the last three minutes, turned to Sirius Black.
"I'm bored," he announced.
(If the World Was Ending)
The children who had stayed at the castle after the Peverell Hall attack, Lily quickly discovered, had done so not because they wanted to, but because they had nowhere else to go.
Lily knocked on Professor McGonagall's door only a few hours after she returned to the castle on Monday. Together, Head Girl and Head of Gryffindor convinced Professor Dumbledore to throw an impromptu feast that night to bring the students together. Half a dozen children cried on Lily's shoulder, but she found she didn't mind. She wasn't fixing anything, but she felt useful, at least. She was no one's mother, but she was there.
The way she should have been after it happened.
On Tuesday, Lily left a note on the Entrance Hall bulletin board telling students to come find her in the Heads Office if they wanted to talk to someone. Several took her up on the offer, some wanting to sob, others bringing snacks or homework and settling in, just comforted by a warm room and a hug from a big kid.
While chatting with two fourth-years, Lily thought she saw Madam Keepdown glide by looking rather put-out. She assumed she was wrong until a (slightly larger) note materialized beside hers the next day. It offered "Fiona's" services if anyone wanted to talk to someone officially licensed to provide therapy.
Lily snorted. She wanted, very, very badly, to tell James.
She returned to the Heads office, and a few people trickled by, but it seemed most of the people who needed to talk had done so already. That, or they were talking to Madam Keepdown…
No. Definitely not.
In the afternoon, the castle grew louder, and Lily wondered vaguely why until she remembered with a jolt that classes restarted tomorrow. She put away her book and stretched, intending to return to Gryffindor Tower to see if her mates (James, for example) had returned.
Severus Snape was framed in the doorway.
Lily stood up involuntarily. She could not remember the last time she was alone with him. She discovered, with a hint of pain but very little surprise, that she was afraid.
"You didn't go home," he said.
Whatever Lily had expected, it wasn't that. "No," she agreed after a moment. "No, I went to Donna's."
"Why?" His voice was harsh—harsher than she could remember it since that awful day fifth year. He stepped toward her, into the room, stopping only a meter away. She wanted to tell him to back up; she almost wanted to call for a teacher.
"I don't have to explain myself to you," Lily answered instead, and was again unsurprised, merely sad, to find her hand edging toward her wand pocket.
"You didn't tell your family," he said, black eyes boring into hers. "About any of it. I went to your house to look for you…your mother didn't even know there was a war."
Lily turned white. "You what? You told…You had no right to tell my family…"
"I Obliviated her," he snapped carelessly, waving an impatient hand to silence her objections. "I got rid of everything you wanted to hide…she doesn't even know I was there."
"What?!" Now Lily's hand closed over her wand. "That's worse. How can you not know that's worse? My mother's not a toy, Snape. You don't get to play with her mind…"
"Why didn't you come home?" he snarled, furious now. "You should've been there. You were supposed to be there. You could've lied, told them some story…You're quite good at that," he sneered.
"Why do you even care?"
"You were supposed to be there!" he repeated. "I only went…" he broke off abruptly and his black eyes darted around the room before fixing on the wall behind her head. When he spoke again, his voice was icy and emotionless. "Gallivanting around with your mates when you're supposed to be with your family…you're disgusting."
"Let he who owns shampoo call pretty girls 'disgusting,' Snivellus." Lily and Snape whipped around.
He leaned would-be-casually against the doorjamb, one hand tucked in his pocket, but his wand was drawn, his knuckles white around it.
"James!" The word left Lily's mouth before she was fully aware she had spoken.
"Alright, Snaps?" His tone was nonchalant, but his wand was still at the ready.
Snape growled, low in his throat, and his hand twitched toward his own wand.
"Fine, thanks!" Lily said brightly, "Snape finished his uninvited visit," (it was important that James know this) "and he was just leaving."
Snape looked back and forth between them and his lip curled. Lily sensed he had more to say to her, but would not say it in front of James, and he moved wordlessly toward the door. James didn't step aside, and Snape aimed straight for the center of the door as if he couldn't see the other man. The two wizards bumped shoulders hard, Snape ricocheting away on a furious hiss. He turned back once more, hateful black eyes sliding from Lily to James and back, and then he was gone.
Lily and James looked at each other.
"I…have no idea what that was about," Lily admitted, mouth dry.
James watched her closely. "You really don't know why he was angry?"
"What, do you?"
"'Course not," he said with an easy shrug, "But he wasn't my best mate for seven years."
There was something he wasn't saying, but Lily found that she didn't much care. James was here, and she didn't want to talk about Snape.
She shook her head, feeling waterlogged, and looked back at him.
"Hi," Lily said, and James smiled.
She searched his face. He looked older, in some indefinable way, but better than he had on Sunday—the dark circles of sleeplessness were gone, and his smile seemed real, honest joy emerging from the pain. "How are you?" Lily asked.
"Better. I'm…it's…better." And she believed him. He shrugged. "Honestly, I'm bored. I always seem to forget just how many pompous old people I'm related to. And you?"
She tucked a flyaway behind her ear and shrugged, matching his smile. "Bored about covers it. Turns out Hogwarts is rather dull without you lot around to blow up broom closets."
For a long moment he just looked at her, and Lily was afraid she'd said too much, but then he crossed the room in three steps and pulled her into a tight embrace.
Lily's breath left her in a gasp, body stiff and frozen for a moment, and then her arms wrapped tight around him, her toes lifting into the hug and her face nestled in the crook of his neck. Strong and warm and lovely, he enveloped her, and for the first time in a long time, Lily felt safe. She had known she was sad and angry, but she hadn't realized, until the tension melted out of her in James's arms, just how terrified she had felt every moment since that awful day.
He smelled and felt so very James, though, and he looked so bloody good in his street clothes, that after a moment it became too much. She pulled away, sinking back onto her heels, and he followed suit.
James cleared his throat. "Speaking of my shenanigans…" he began, ruffling his hair.
"I love when you start sentences like that."
He smirked, but sobered quickly. "I had this…thought. You said that Dumbledore thought I'd make a good Head Boy. Well, everything is awful, and the school's a mess, and I haven't heard a real laugh in a week, and I reckon…nothing fixes depression like getting absolutely sloshed. So"—he jammed his hands in his pockets—"I've decided it's my Head-Boyish duty to host the Toadies tonight."
Though he'd made the announcement like a fact and set his jaw defiantly, Lily realized with a rush of warmth that he was asking for her opinion. She didn't have to think about it.
"That's brilliant, James," she said softly.
"See, I knew you'd—wait, really?"
"Really." She smiled. "Dumbledore knew what he was doing."
"But …" he adjusted his specs. "To be honest, I figured he appointed you to stop me from doing shit like this."
Was that what he thought of her? Lily managed not to wince, but it was a close shave.
She rolled her eyes instead. "So, in your vision of Professor Dumbledore's Head Student selection process, James Potter, when choosing amongst our entire year…he appointed you to keep you out of trouble…and then he also appointed me to keep you out of trouble?"
James burst out laughing. After a moment, Lily couldn't help but join in. He had been right about laughter—they sounded oddly rusty, and her chest ached slightly, as if the muscles were out of practice.
Worth it. Merlin, she loved his laugh.
"I…I should probably go, though," she said when they had calmed down, before she could think too hard about cheek kisses or pretty girls or hugs that felt like he couldn't help himself.
"It's just…if you're back, my mates probably are too, and Donna does not need to know where Ira's been sleeping…"
"I'm headed to the Tower too. I can carry your bag…"
"Actually, could you take a look at the patrol schedule?" she pointed to the chalkboard on the back wall of the Heads' Office where she had been planning the next two weeks. "They start back up tomorrow, and with everything that happened with the Slytherins before we left, we'll want to be more careful with patrols, probably, so I was thinking three per night instead of two…"
Lily squeezed James's shoulder briefly in farewell, and made for the door. Her hand was on the doorknob when a thought occurred to her.
"James." She turned back. He hadn't moved. "Will you…will you invite Colista Black tonight?"
He blinked. "Slytherin Colista Black? Mates-with-Mulciber Colista Black? You-hexed-her-unconscious-sixth-year Colista Black?"
"All of the above."
"I think I know why Dumbledore made me Head Girl," Lily said cryptically. James folded his arms over his chest, and she sighed. "Also, I sort of owe her. Just…trust me, okay? I'll explain at the party."
He didn't look entirely convinced, but… "I'll hold you to that, Snaps."
She smiled. "I'm counting on it."
James matched her expression, and Lily hesitated on the threshold.
Why did she keep walking away? She wasn't in the Shelley Boat anymore. He had been out of a serious relationship less than two weeks, so it might not be (definitely wasn't) smart, or healthy, or kind to herself to read too much into a hug and kiss that might very well have been (definitely were) friendly, but it wasn't wrong. Not morally.
"Er, James—my bag's sort of heavy, actually," she said, and his crooked grin widened.
"What about patrol schedules?"
Lily shrugged. "Sounds like Tomorrow-James's problem."
That was all the encouragement he needed to cross the room and tug her satchel off her shoulder. "We might just make a Marauder of you yet, Snaps."
"Dream on, Potter. Oi, but I did piss off one authority figure! We're swinging by the Entrance Hall. You have to see what Madam Keepdown's been up to…"
(9AM, February 14th, 1974)
Valentine's morning saw hundreds of pink and red heart-shaped balloons hovering above the House tables in the Great Hall.
"The decorations look lovely, Rubeus," Albus Dumbledore remarked over his morning porridge, but the half-giant blinked in surprise.
"I di'n' put up none o' this, Professor. Yeh di'n' mention decoratin' for the holiday…" he looked sheepish. "I wasn' happy when I saw 'em, ter tell yeh the truth. I though' yeh'd asked somebody else."
"Never, Rubeus," said Dumbledore solemnly. He assessed the other professors at the table, surprised that one of them had taken on this task. "Filius," he guessed, "Did you…?"
But the Headmaster never finished that question, because with a crackle and a roar, the opening chords of "Piece of my Heart" boomed through the Great Hall. A heartbeat later, the whole room broke out in laughter and wolf-whistles as Sirius Black and James Potter leapt atop the Gryffindor table, belting Janis Joplin's greatest hit from magically-magnified lungs.
Professor McGonagall, sighing with more humor than she would ever admit to in future recounts of this tale, stood and made her way toward the Gryffindor table. She ordered the boys to climb down, but with no illusions that they would obey.
Sure enough, the Marauders took off in opposite directions down the long table, gleefully waving their wands at every platter, bowl, and pitcher of pumpkin juice in their way. The dishware soared toward McGonagall and the other professors who had followed her lead, forming an edible barricade to shield the warbling miscreants from their teachers' rage. The professors were too skilled to be impeded for long, though. The Marauders were soon swerving madly to avoid hexes from four different wands.
If, as he raced past her, Sirius Black heard Lily Evans squeal, "This is my absolute favorite song!" he never said a word.
McGonagall managed to snag Sirius with a well-placed netting Charm, but in true Marauder fashion he caused as much ruckus as he conceivably could on the way down—including but not limited to setting three different fires. This distracted the professors just long enough for James Potter to snatch his broomstick from Peter Pettigrew and make for the ceiling, belting Janis all the way.
Minnie could've stopped James in a heartbeat if she'd really, really minded. A simple Protego could've knocked him out of the air. He didn't feel too guilty, therefore, twisting and cackling and yelling, "Oh, oh, TAKE IT!" He was unbelievably off-key now—the auto-tune charm had long since worn off, and Sirius wasn't there to keep him even in the vicinity of the rhythm—but James suspected that just added to his boyish charm.
(Evans was still laughing.)
"BREAK ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE OF MY HEART NOW, BABY!"
One more body-roll to dodge a frankly lazy Petrificus Totalus. A quick glance at Remus and Pete to check that their wands were at the ready (that prat Freckles was trying to talk to her, but she was still watching James).
He leaned forward on his broom, swung his left leg over and hitched up his right—shit, he should've used Bludgers when he practiced this, one of these bloody candles was going to set him on fire—and then he was standing upright, swaying madly but standing, feet splayed to the far ends of the broom for some semblance of balance.
The room broke out into applause—They thought this was the finale? Stupid buggers ought to know James Potter better than that (she wasn't applauding yet)—the music swelled…here we go…(she was squeezing Price's hand) ("Bet you were scared for me, Evans," he'd taunt her later)…'oh, oh, oh,' crooned the wireless…
"BREAK IT!" James bellowed.
While James's theatrics distracted the crowd below, the balloon hearts had drifted, unnoticed, to form a giant pink cloud above only the Slytherin table. When Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew slashed their wands through the air on their leader's cue, this fact suddenly became relevant.
The balloons dropped and popped en masse, releasing a tsunami of pink and red juice that soaked every member of Slytherin House, staining robes and skin and table alike a vibrant Valentines' tie-dye that, they would soon discover, repelled any and all Cleaning Charms with abandon.
James Potter accepted his week of detention with great equanimity. Pink was not Severus Snape's color.
(Lily Evans hadn't laughed like that in a really long time.)
Lily's dress was yellow.
This was a random fact, of no significance to James. Mary's dress was black. Price's was blue. Lily's was yellow.
He approached her by the drinks table, where she was ogling the (seriously impressive, Pete had outdone himself this time) selection.
It's just, wasn't yellow a summer color? Didn't birds think about that sort of thing? Didn't they have rules about dark colors in winter and light ones in summer? Black for funerals, yellow for weddings…
James shook himself.
"Alright, Snaps, fess up." Lily startled so hard she very nearly left the ground, and James grinned. He jerked his head toward Colista Black, chatting with another Prefect several meters away. "Why does Lily Evans owe Colista Black?"
"Oh. That." He raised an eyebrow. "Last week, I sort of…hexed her across the library because she saw me cry."
He blinked. There were a lot of things he wanted to say or ask, but he was James, and she was Lily, so what came out was: "I saw you cry."
"Yeah, well, good thing you never learned to read," she teased. James grinned, albeit shakily, and Lily shrugged. "You also didn't scream, 'This is all your fault,' and then call me a Mudblood, so that's another difference."
Lily grinned and bumped his shoulder with hers. "See? I knew you wouldn't invite her if I told you. Merlin, you're so dramatic, James."
"What the hell, Evans?" he took a furious stride toward Colista, but Lily grabbed his arm.
"Don't! She apologized. I wasn't in a place to accept it then, but I understand now."
"Snaps—" He took another step forward, but Lily stumbled with him, digging her heels into the carpet stubbornly.
"She wasn't just sorry for what she said to me, James. She was sorry for all of it…she wants to start over. To quit their side and…and learn how to be good."
"Bully for her. Get the fuck out of my party and go meditate somewhere."
"First of all, it's not your party, it's our party."
"Second of all, she apologized, and I forgave her. It's in the past."
"You don't have to forgive everyone who apologizes to you," James barked, uncomfortably aware that he demanded exactly that kindness from her at least once a week.
"I know. I don't." He raised his eyebrows. "Well, I know I could stop. Any day now. But…she wants to try to be good, and that's a hard road…the only thing that might make it possible is finding new mates. I had a chance to help, and I took it."
"Evans, you're insane."
She flinched. "Possibly. Probably. I know I don't have the greatest track record with trying to fix people. But…" she looked up at him, setting her shoulders back. His stomach turned over. "You said Sam thought that I…that I find the things to like. Well, I like that about me, and I'm not going to let Voldemort change it."
James's throat tightened. Her hair was half-twisted up in some complicated way, the rest falling softly over her shoulders, wisps framing her face. She reached two fingers up to tuck one of the strands behind her ear, and then her index finger brushed slowly across her cheek. It reached the corner of her lips and hovered there, trembling slightly.
"Good," James said, and he knew his voice sounded wrong. "Don't let him."
Don't ever make me live in a world where you're not just like this.
"Hey Mar, where's Adam?" Lily wondered half an hour later as she chatted with Mary and Marlene. She realized she hadn't seen him since Sarah…well, and he didn't seem to be at the party.
"How would I know?" asked Marlene sharply.
Lily blinked. "Because he's your best mate? It's okay if you don't, I just…"
"Right. Sorry. I do know, actually." Marlene was quite red. "He…he's with Prudence. Somewhere. He wasn't in the mood for a party. And he was in the mood for Prudence. Who he likes. A lot."
"Ah." Lily reached out and stroked Marlene's hair, and the blonde touched the back of her hand.
"Lily, there's something I need to tell you…"
But James Potter and Sirius Black appeared quite suddenly behind the girls, James throwing his arms around Mary and Marlene's shoulders, Sirius around Mary and Lily's. Marlene turned red and zipped her lips tightly.
"We need MacDonald," said James.
"Why?" Lily asked suspiciously, and Sirius grinned down at her.
"Jealous, Evans?" Twerp.
"You're not my type, Black," Lily tossed back. "I'm just concerned. This sounds like an axis of chaos."
"Rude," said James.
"Thanks," said Mary and Sirius.
"Why do you need Mary?" Lily asked.
"Party's too tame," James explained.
In the hour she'd been here, at least three people had puked. Several dozen had set up camp in a Reverse Gravity bubble, blissfully unaware they were on the ceiling. Bertram Aubrey, for reasons best known to himself, had climbed onto a windowsill to deliver a topless lecture about the Goblin Uprisings of the 1730s. His chest was alarmingly hairless.
Three minutes ago, Mundungus Fletcher had grabbed a fistful of Lily's hair from behind, wrapped it around his own neck, and whispered: "Freaky fuckin' friends you got, Ginge," before spinning out of his own stranglehold and toppling into a gaggle of fourth-years, taking at least three to the ground.
"Too tame?" Lily repeated slowly.
"Much too tame," Sirius agreed. "People should be dancing."
Marlene raised her eyebrows. "You're looking at three very single, barely-tipsy girls, so if you think we're going to start a dance floor, you've got another think coming."
"It's cute how wrong you are," said James.
"Very cute." Sirius smirked. "Your cuteness will serve you well when you do 'Jump in the Line.'"
"Oh, Merlin," said Lily.
"Oh, no," said Marlene.
"Oh, yes!" said Mary.
"You see why we wanted MacDonald," said Sirius.
"Jump in the Line" was a Muggle party game, a silly children's dance choreographed to the 1960s hit of the same name that Mary and Marlene had taught Lily first year. A small group started in the center, and every time the titular lyric came up, each dancer pulled in an audience member until the whole room was dancing.
It should've been long-forgotten by now, but fate works in funny ways sometimes.
Enter thirteen-year-old James Potter, who defied basic common sense, Minerva McGonagall, and the traditional age-based hierarchy of boarding school popularity to throw the term's biggest rager on a Tuesday night in honor of his own "Entrance into Manhood" after discovering three black hairs on his chin.
James offered Lily Evans the privilege of performing the inaugural shave; she suggested a tweezers might do the job better. The ensuing screaming match did not end until Lily conjured a curtain to split the common room in two and declared her half "children only."
In honor of the theme, Lily, Mary and Marlene started a round of "Jump In The Line," which delighted the purebloods present (including James Potter, who had lasted all of three minutes before Vanishing the curtain) who had never played dancing games growing up, and they had never quite forgotten it.
If the Marauders had picked a traditional drinking game, Nicolai Mulciber might never have learned one very dangerous piece of information, and this story would've gone quite differently. However, they didn't and he did, and it was all because preteen James Potter felt an inexplicable need to convince Lily Evans to touch his face.
Fate works in funny ways sometimes.
"C'mon, c'mon, c'moooooon!" Mary begged. "Lily? Marlene will do it if you do!"
"Well, you will."
Everyone looked at Lily. Mary and Marlene's eyes pleaded, Sirius's dared her, but James…I figured he appointed you to stop me from doing shit like this.
"I'm in," Lily said. Marlene sighed and agreed, and Mary bounced on the balls of her feet.
"Excellent! Of course, we're not thirteen anymore, so we'll have to do the slutty version."
"There's a slutty version?" said James.
Oh, dear God.
The slutty version, based on the original choreography but with significantly more arse action and a 'get low' sequence, was a Drunk Mary creation. It had never been witnessed by any human being but Donna, who had declared herself legally blind after the first twenty seconds.
"No!" Lily made a face at Mary (and did not look at James). "MacDonald, I think this was a dream you had…"
"Do we really want to be getting into dream territory, Evans?" Mary asked, smirking, clearly intending to embarrass Lily into agreeing but with no idea how well she would succeed. "Because I never did get the details of yours after your s—"
"Oh, that slutty version!"
Mary laughed, and Sirius grinned like the Cheshire Cat. "Say, Evans," he muttered in Lily's ear, "I wonder where that sentence was going…" Lily pretended not to hear him.
"C'mon, Evans!" Mary begged.
"Because, of course, it's possible she was going to say 'your sex dream'…"
"But c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, please?"
"But grammatically, that's a little redundant…"
"Interesting argument. No."
"Hey, I've got an idea! What if it was 'after your sister's wedd'—OW!" Lily had elbowed him very hard in the gut.
Mary, Marlene, and James stared.
"He had a bug on his stomach," Lily said, smiling beatifically. She thumped him again for good measure: "Just making sure it's dead." She turned back to Mary. "And we are not doing 'Hump in the Line.'"
"But why not?!" Mary demanded as James and Sirius snorted.
"For one, because I'm Head Girl…"
"And getting this party started is your duty to Hogwarts…" Mary argued. James raised his eyebrows, but Lily looked pointedly away.
"There are eleven- and twelve-year-olds everywhere…" Lily tried again.
"One twelve-year-old left, and from what I've heard she's none-too-innocent…"
"Why are you listening to rumors about twelve-year-olds?"
"When somebody does what Blondie over there did, you don't really have to listen in order to hear, if you know what I mean…"
"Merlin. Even if I agreed, I wouldn't remember it! We haven't practiced it since we were thirteen!"
"Fourteen, and I was wasted…"
"Fifteen, you'd had one butterbeer…"
"Then Sirius must've spiked it…"
"What can I say? I give the people what they want," he teased.
She shoved his arm off her shoulder, laughing. "You give the people migraines, Padfoot."
Sirius jolted slightly, opened his mouth, then closed it again. Lily blinked. "Was that mean? I'm sorry."
James's hand was in his hair.
"You called him 'Padfoot," '" he said, hoping against reason that he sounded disinterested.
"Oh. Oh." Her cheeks flushed pink, and she tucked her hair behind her ears. "I…I'm sorry, I guess I've just been spending so much time with the three of you…I'm really sorry, I won't…"
"No need to shit a brick, Love," Sirius cut her off. "Nobody minds. Besides"—he lifted a hand to eye-level and clicked his fingers pointedly—"I love being right." Lily, blushing even brighter, pushed his hand down.
We've been drinking!
It was a really, really bright yellow.
"So…Hump in the Line?" Mary asked in a very transparent attempt to break the tension.
"Absolutely not," Lily said, with enough Head Girl authority that the argument was clearly over now. "Original only."
"Fine," sighed Mary, and James breathed a sigh of…relief. This was…better. Definitely better.
The Marauders looked at each other.
Eleven seconds later, James and Sirius had barged a path through half a dozen drunks, leapt atop a table and handed the girls up to join them, surveying the party from above.
"OI!" James bellowed, voice magically magnified and Quidditch Captain authority in full force. Conversation came to a halt. "Welcome, young and old…"
"Drunk and drunker…" Sirius continued.
"Ladies and gentlemen and Stephanie Belby…" Somebody (presumably Stephanie) whooped.
"To an ancient Gryffindor tradition!"
"One drunken night third year is not an ancient tradition, Black!" Lily heckled from Sirius's side, and both boys grinned at her.
"An ANCIENT GRYFFINDOR TRADITION," Sirius bellowed, mussing her hair, "where spiteful gingers are seen and not heard."
"Participation is mandatory," James roared.
"Halfarsery will not be tolerated," Sirius added.
"Drunken pratfalls are expected and encouraged…"
"And will be viciously mocked, as per the Official Toadie Code of Conduct, Bylaw…"
"SIXTY-NINE!" yelled several dozen intoxicated people and Mary MacDonald.
Lily looked at Sirius, who explained solemnly: "Bylaw 69 of the Official Toadie Code of Conduct decrees that all bylaws of the Official Toadie Code of Conduct are Bylaw 69."
"Right," said Lily slowly. "Tell me again how you two became the most popular blokes at Hogwarts?"
"Great hair and merciless bullying."
James hopped off the table and Sirius followed, but as he stepped down he turned back to grin at Lily. "Oh, and Evans?" he said loudly, "'First day back,' my pasty white arse."
At first, she didn't understand the reference. Then she did, and he was out of range of the kick she aimed at his head.
"TWERP!" Lily yelped, and Sirius blew her a kiss. Lily mimed breaking it in half, and he laughed. James, Mary and Marlene all shot her curious looks, but she ignored them all.
The girls explained the game to the crowd, then ran to the center of the room, the floor clear for them.
"Hit it, ladies!"
From the grapevine to the high kick, from running leaps to a clap-hop-stomp maneuver with which Marlene nearly took out Mary's eye, the dance was utterly ridiculous. But that was the fun of it, Lily thought as she windmilled her arms and flip-flopped her torso like an inflatable tube-man (copying Mary, but Mary might've just been trying to rebalance after the eye incident, because Lily didn't remember this particular maneuver from childhood…) Of course they looked stupid, but that's what made people laugh, and it's what would convince them to join in. The boys had been right, this was…
"Is this why you invited me here, Potter?" teased Colista Black, who had elbowed her way through the crowd to stand beside James Potter.
"C'mon, James," she said coyly. "I know you didn't bring me to this party to watch a bunch of muggleborns publicly embarrass themselves." James froze. Lily froze. Sirius froze. Mary and Marlene froze.
And then James Potter started to laugh.
"You think you're at this party because I want you here? Black, you're at this party because after everything you said to Evans, she's so bloody fucking good that she made me give you an invite anyway, to give you a fresh start you absolutely have not earned. And this dance? It's the best thing that's happened tonight, and the first time most of us have laughed in a week. Shut the fuck up and thank Merlin you even get to watch."
Lily's eyes were very, very wide. She was aware that Mary and Marlene were staring at her, that Sirius had stopped the music and the whole party must be baffled, but she could not take her eyes off James, who had not looked at her once, and was now speaking very quickly and quietly to Sirius.
Bloody fucking good.
Bloody fucking good.
"Honey, we are going to talk. About. That." Mary grabbed Lily's hand and squeezed it ferociously as she whispered in her ear. "But first…" gleeful, naughty brown eyes flashed… "C'mon, Love, don't you want to show her exactly how dirty our blood is?"
"Mare…" But as Lily looked at her tiny friend, giggly and defiant and bouncing on the balls of her feet with excitement, she felt something stir in her chest.
Lily squeezed her eyes shut and nodded, and Mary squealed. "But first…" Lily opened her eyes and took one, two, three purposeful strides until she stood right in front of James Potter.
If he had not been looking at her before, bloody hell was he making up for it now.
Lily reached out, wrapped her hand around the tumbler of something amber he held loosely, and tugged it out of his grasp. She laid her other hand on James's arm for balance (sort of), tilted her head back, and drained the cup in one go. Then she pressed the empty tumbler back into his hand and grinned, drunk on something much more potent than whatever had been in that glass.
"Thanks for the liquid courage, James," Lily said, and then she turned and scampered back to Marlene and Mary. "Now hit it, Padfoot!"
It was a fourteen-year-old's idea of a dirty dance, but it was also the sluttiest thing Lily had ever done in public. And when she grabbed both James Potter's hands and pulled him into the center first, the blazing look in his very dark eyes told her he had noticed.
God, dancing was fun.
It was really, really, really bloody fun, and it was intoxicating (especially when helpfully coupled with actual intoxication). By the end of the song, the Gryffindor seventh years danced basically at the center of a mosh-pit. Lily threw her head back laughing at Sirius and twirled Mary around and couldn't stop looking at James to find he was looking at her too, over and over and over again. Maybe it was the music and the dancing and the alcohol but his eyes looked more beautiful than she could ever remember.
Reginald Cattermole appeared behind Lily, looking rather silly and out-of-place, but pleased, too. She could not remember ever seeing Reginald at a party. She smiled and tugged him into their circle, and that was when she spotted them.
The only three people who had not been asked to jump in the line.
The final chorus was coming. Lily turned back to her friends, biting her lip, considering each of them in turn. James's eyes narrowed.
Lily ignored him. She looked at Donna and Sirius: "Too mean; way too mean…"
"Oi! Also, what?"
Lily ignored Sirius too and looked at Marlene and Mary: "Muggleborns who voted…"
Reginald: "Not at the stage of friendship where I get to boss you around…"
"But don't worry, she'll get there," Donna put in, and Lily stuck out her tongue.
She finally made eye contact with James: "Not you."
Which left…Lily eyed Remus and Peter, but before she could decide, Reginald piped up abruptly: "You can boss me around, Lily. I mean, if you want."
Lily squeezed his arm gratefully. "Are you sure? It would honestly help…"
Reginald was pureblood. "Could you…possibly…invite Colista? To jump in the line? The last chorus is coming up…"
He nodded solemnly and made his way toward her.
Which left…"Wormtail, go invite Shelley."
"Swap you for Meloni," she offered at once, and he shuddered. "Thought so. Go."
With one more muted grumble, he shouldered off through the crowd.
Lily looped her arm through Remus's and smirked. "C'mon, Moony. Let's go put some sunshine in your grey life."
"I thought I was getting out of this!"
"Nope! This is House solidarity in action. Also," she muttered as soon as they were out of James's earshot, "you're my moral support."
Lily and Remus reached Carlotta just as Harry Belafonte started to sing "Jump in the line, rock your body in time," and the brunette raised skeptical (perfect) eyebrows.
"Jump in the line, Carlotta," said Lily gently, an olive branch extended with her best imitation of a smile.
Lily elbowed Remus, and he gritted his teeth. "Seriously."
"But I thought I was the callous bitch that broke James's heart?" And Merlin, that would be the only line of Lily's whole speech that she remembered, wouldn't it? Lily dug deep, deep down for her last reserve of kindness, but she never had to find it, because Remus burst out laughing.
"Sure you are," he said. "But Lily's found a way to forgive you anyway. See, I dunno if you've heard, but she's bloody fucking good." Both girls stared at him, wide-eyed, and Remus smirked. "Jump in the line, Meloni."
Lily was still laughing when they rejoined the circle, triumph roiling in her veins and carrying her a thousand feet in the air.
Her friends were bantering about something, but Lily didn't care. She had eyes only for James, for that cord of energy, of understanding, that bloody fucking good thing between them when their eyes met. She looked up at him, eyes shining…and he didn't look at her.
For the rest of the song, he didn't look at her.
Oh, God. Oh, God, what was she thinking?
James had really, really liked Carlotta. Enough to ignore his friends' hatred and the whole school's revulsion. Enough to forget what she'd done to Moony. Enough to all-but-call Lily a murderer because she all-but-called Carlotta a slag.
And Lily had just openly joked about hating her in front of him. So much for bloody fucking good.
Everyone else got a reason.
I've just been spending so much time with the three of you.
Moony. Wormtail. Padfoot. James.
You made these messes, Potter, why would I trust you to clean them up?
She'd pulled his goblet out of his hand, and her smile and her eyes and her hand on his arm and he'd thought…he'd felt…he'd been so sure…
She was holding onto Remus's arm now, the most natural thing in the world.
So yellow. So unbelievably yellow.
He was such an idiot.
(I Want You Back)
"When I had you to myself, I didn't want you around…
Those pretty faces always made you stand out in a crowd."
Lily, chatting with a group of Gryffindors half an hour later, couldn't help the small, choked noise she made when she recognized the opening strands of I Want You Back.
"Snaps?" James was eyeing her curiously from across the circle, but Lily pretended not to notice.
Remus, standing beside Lily, was harder to ignore when he nudged her side and raised a curious eyebrow.
Lily sighed. "This is the third 'why-didn't-you-appreciate-what-you-had-when you-had-it,-you-stupid-bint,' song of the night," she muttered under her breath. "I'm starting to think God's playing some sort of joke on me."
Remus snorted. "I don't know about God, per se…" Lily tilted her head curiously, and he smirked. "I wondered why Padfoot volunteered to DJ. I've never known him to sign up for extra work before."
Lily's eyes widened, then narrowed in on Sirius, chatting with Peter across the room. She made a beeline for him and Remus followed, whistling jauntily along with the Jackson Five.
"Why, hullo, Red!" Sirius smirked so widely at the sight of her that any lingering doubts were wiped away at once.
"I'm onto your bloody agenda," Lily said, pointing a threatening finger at his chest.
"Agenda?" he grinned and peered over both his shoulders as if an agenda might be hiding behind his back. "What agenda? I don't have an agenda."
"Then why do you reek of premeditation?"
"That's pheromones, Ginge."
"How? I can't even spell agenda."
"I'll give you a hint: it starts with P and ends with L…O…T!"
"Really?" Pete put in, grinning, "'Cause I was going to spell it I...W...A...N..."
"Et tu, Pettigrew?" Lily cut him off as three out of four Marauders laughed.
"What're we spelling?" The fourth had materialized from nowhere, and Lily's breath caught in her throat as she stared at him. Sirius spoke before she could find an answer.
"Who knows," he drawled easily. "It's all way above my reading level. Although, if I did have one of those premedi-whatsits…"
Lily's eyes went wide. "Sirius, no…"
"…I bet it'd go something like this." He seized Lily's hand, spinning her away from him and singing in time with the Jackson Five. "Trying to live without your love is one long sleepless night…" he pulled her back in, wrapping his arm around her and then dipping her deeply, "Let me show you, girl, that I know wrong from right…" Still holding her in the dip, he grinned as Lily glared murderously (fearfully).
"No, you wouldn't," she hissed up at him through gritted teeth, "Because then you'd be capable of assessing risks. Like, say, the risk of getting your favorite appendage hexed off."
Still holding her close, Sirius smirked. "Oh, Sweetheart, you have no idea."
Lily pulled herself back upright, stepped out of his arms and dusted off her skirt. "You just became my second favorite Black," she lied primly. She turned on her heel and jogged away, calling, "Oi, Colista, guess what?"
"You're as funny as I am subtle!" Sirius called after her.
"Third favorite!" she yelled over her shoulder, and three out of four Marauders chuckled. James lasted eight seconds.
"So what was all that about?"
Remus and Peter shared a look, but Sirius shrugged airily.
"Inside joke. Never mind it."
"I don't mind," James snapped. He ran a hand through his hair. Then, in a very transparent maneuver: "Oi Moony, where's your Ravenclaw skirt?"
As the werewolf turned red, Peter elbowed Sirius. "Inside joke?" he muttered incredulously, "Are you hoping to be fished out of the Great Lake in pieces?"
Sirius just smirked.
That time I went and said goodbye,
Now I'm back and not ashamed to cry…
"Padfoot, is Snaps..."
Whatever I said, whatever I did I didn't mean it,
I just want you back for good…
"How do you like this one, Evans?" Sirius interrupted the conversation as the Marauders chatted with Lily and her mates by the fireplace.
Again she flushed pink with annoyance; again all of James's mates grinned knowingly; again she did not spare a glance for James or the questioning noise he made.
It was a really bright yellow. Almost garish, really.
"Are you serious?" Lily hissed.
"If that's a pun, I revoke everything I said about the click," said Sirius immediately.
"Why do you assume I considered that a compliment?"
"Careful there, Evans, or you might hurt my feelings."
"Feelings?" She stood on tiptoe as if to peer over Sirius's shoulders, and the other Marauders laughed. James ran a hand through his hair. "What feelings? You don't have feelings."
"So you'll stop?"
Lily sighed, laughing a little. "Padfoot, you're a menace."
James did not look at her. So very, very yellow.
She wasn't thinking about the way he'd kissed her and taken her home, the way he'd crossed their Office in a heartbeat to pull her whole body into his, the way he'd looked at her when he'd told her not to change…she wasn't thinking about any of that.
She'd be thinking about it even less if his shirt were a little looser, or if he hadn't rolled his sleeves up just above the elbow. If he wasn't lifting a bottle to his lips, arm suddenly drawn in hard muscular lines, bicep just peeking out from beneath his sleeve. If he weren't tilting his head back, hair falling across his eyes and jaw coming into even more prominence, Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed.
The bottle came down to rest at his side, and Lily took a deep breath. He was a boy—a brilliant, mad, completely fantastic boy, but all the same, just a human being. They were friends, and she was bloody fucking good, and that was enough. It had to be enough.
He wouldn't even look at her, so it had bloody well better be enough.
Sundown, yellow moon, I replay the past.
I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast...
"Moony, you, er…you'd tell me if…"
"I mean, if Lily…"
"Er—if Lily what?"
"Did we do the right thing, not telling him?" Remus muttered as soon as the three non-James Marauders had a moment alone.
"Yes," Sirius said firmly.
"They don't need our help."
"Look, I was going to tell him immediately…"
"Come on, you can't honestly be surprised by that. But I figured, after everything Lily did for me"—tiny pause—"last summer, I ought to at least give it a think. And then I realized I'll have a lot more material for my best man speech if I keep my mouth shut and let them spend ten minutes fucking it up before they finally make it happen."
"But then, what are you…the songs? The dancing? 'Inside joke'?"
Sirius shrugged. "It's been ten minutes. I'm bored. And all good speeches have Sirius Black playing at least a minor role."
"But…" Remus scratched his head, wondering how to phrase 'you're self-centered and lazy.' "You're self-centered and lazy," he selected, and Sirius snorted. "Why are you working so hard on this?"
Sirius set his jaw. He looked suddenly much less the Marauder and much more the man who had threatened to curse every pureblood he saw in order to catch a few Death Eaters. "It's probably better for inter-House unity if I have a project. And intra-House of Black unity."
"Besides—" he smirked—"I'm working to a deadline. We need to beat Hufflepuff on Saturday, and there's one pre-match ritual that I bet would really help Prongs play his best…"
Things were light again. "You disgust me."
"How is that match still happening?" Pete asked incredulously, "With everything? Why didn't Prongs get it pushed?"
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Have you actually met James Potter? This weekend was supposed to be Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff, but Davies backed out. Hooch wanted to cancel…Prongs volunteered."
"Wormtail, Evans isn't…"
"I mean, she's not…you lot would tell me if she…"
"Er, Prongs, I'm not sure we should—"
"She's not talking to Harper again, is she?"
The blond boy burst out laughing. Useless bloody lightweight.
Don't it always seem to go,
That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone…
James didn't want good. He wanted fun. It hurt because she'd always thought they did have fun together, but something was missing for him. That became clearer with every glance at his stony face as she bantered desperately with his mates. (Peter likes me, Remus likes me, Sirius likes me, why don't you? Pathetic.)
Lily bit her lip and hugged her body as she made her way to Marlene. She had barely talked to her friend all night, after all, and she was not the only one likely to be affected by the choice of songs. She took a deep breath (that only shook a little) and set her shoulders back. Get a grip, Evans.
They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot…
Marlene stood by the drinks table, pouring herself a stiff one and wishing she had dragged Mary with her here too.
"What a song." She turned to find Lily giving her a very forced smile. "Sirius has lovely taste, huh?" the ginger added ruefully.
Marlene wasn't really sure what her friend meant—she wasn't paying attention to the music. "Sure, yeah," she shrugged.
"Mar, are you alright?"
Marlene set her jaw. She wanted to tell Lily. She needed to tell Lily. If she was honest with herself, she needed Lily Evans to forgive her, to hold her and tell her everything would be alright, in order to believe it herself.
"No. Not really. Lily, I…" She trailed off, and Lily grabbed both her hands and squeezed.
Marlene took a deep breath. "I kissed Adam. Snogged, maybe, I don't know." She repeated exactly the same words she had said to Mary less than a week or possibly more than a lifetime ago. The time had not improved her grasp on what she had done.
Lily dropped her hands. "You…what?"
"I kissed McKinnon."
Lily's breathing was very shallow. She looked quite pale.
"You mean…last year? When he told you…"
"Then…Adam ditched Prudence?"
"So Prudence ditched Adam?"
"No. They're still…"
"You kissed him…on the cheek?"
"No. Lily, I snogged him. He's dating Prudence, and I'm in love with him, and we snogged."
"NO! Stop it, stop going in circles, you know what I'm saying. You know what I did."
Lily was very white, now, and her hands shook as she stared at Marlene. "You didn't."
Marlene just looked at her, and something in Lily snapped.
"But…how…how could you?! You…you're just like Carlotta! Why doesn't anybody understand that…that…that you can't just kiss whoever you want to kiss because you want to kiss them!"
Because Adam had a girlfriend (Shelley liked him first) and Prudence was lovely (they'd been drinking) and you just...you can't.
"I—Lily, I know that! I know it was a mistake—that I shouldn't have—but—"
"Do you? Do you know that? Because it really doesn't seem like you do. It seems like you turned Adam down, and he moved on, and now you're acting like you get to just…to just undo that, and you don't. You don't! You…you…you slag!"
Marlene reeled back, face crumpling, and Lily's eyes widened in horror. "I'm sorry," Lily whispered at once, "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have…I didn't mean…it's just been a really awful week…and I got…"
"What the hell?!" Marlene half-wanted to cry, half to hex Lily.
"I'm so sorry," Lily repeated. "I didn't mean that, I just…I just…"
"How dare you? After…after Snape…"
Lily's brow furrowed. "Snape?"
No. Stupid. Very, very stupid. Marlene's mind raced for a distraction, and suddenly she found herself asking a question she had never meant to voice aloud.
"What the hell is going on with you, Lily?"
Lily blinked. "I…'going on'? I'm sorry, Mar, I shouldn't have called you that, it was an awful thing to say, but…"
"Yeah. A completely awful, mean, out-of-character thing. So, I repeat, what the hell is going on with you?"
Lily blinked. "Out of character? There are a lot of things about which you could justifiably lecture me right now, but 'out-of-character' is not among them. I'm short-tempered and judgy. That's the Lily Evans deal. It's written right on the package. It says 'ginger, quips for days, self-righteous bitch!'"
"Yeah, and then it says 'unerringly kind, forgiving to a fault.' Where the hell was that, Lily?"
"I'm sorry, Mar. I am. I don't know what else you want me to say…"
"I want you to tell me what secret turned you into a bitch! What does Sirius Black know about you that your best mates don't?"
Across the room in conversation with the other Marauders and several Ravenclaws whose names he did not know and had no plans to learn, Sirius Black froze and sniffed the air. "Evaporate," he ordered the Ravenclaws, who did. James raised an eyebrow, and Sirius grinned. "Somewhere in this room, Prongs," he said slowly and solemnly, "women are fighting over me."
Remus rolled his eyes. "I thought we learned our lesson about the hotness of catfights."
"But Moony, these ones might be naked," Padfoot answered earnestly. He threw an arm around James and Remus's shoulders, leading them toward the corner of the room where the naked Amazons presumably battled.
"They're not going to be naked," Moony muttered.
"They could be naked!"
"Why would they be naked?"
"Sometimes, Moony, in the heat of vengeful passion—oh." All four Marauders stopped short at the sight of a furious (and fully-clothed) Marlene Price and Lily Evans.
"We've been your best mates since we were eleven," Marlene was hissing at Lily, completely ignoring her new audience, "and we're not all Donna, so yeah. Believe it or not, Evans, Mary and I actually noticed something's going on with you! We knew you weren't okay last April, and we've known you aren't okay all term!"
"But…but…but you never—"
"Asked? Yeah, because we knew you wouldn't answer, because you never, ever tell us anything. Even though it kind of really hurt that you were clearly talking to every bloody Marauder about it and your supposed best mates were completely out of the loop, we let you. We let you, because you're lovely, and kind, and selfless in every other way…"
"Every other…every other way?!" Lily sputtered. "Are you seriously calling me selfish for not demanding to cry on your shoulder and sleep in your bed and drink your liquor and leave candy all over your floor?"
"Kind of, yeah! Friendship is reciprocal, Lily! You're supposed to give something back." Marlene sighed, and some of the fight left her as her shoulders dropped. "I made a mistake. I know that. We're in an awful, horrible, hellish war, and everything was awful, and I…made a mistake. But…I…I'm a person. People do that."
"I know. Marlene, I really am sorry, I shouldn't have said what I did. You get to make mistakes. Why…why don't I?"
"Because you're Lily Evans!" Marlene cried, and she knew she was being unfair, and maybe Lily knew she knew she was being unfair, but she couldn't help it. She had kissed Adam, and she needed Lily.
Lily was Lily, she didn't get to hurt anyone.
"I'm a person, too," Lily said, very softly.
Marlene turned on her heel and walked away.
Lily did not look at the Marauders. "Please go," she whispered. James jerked toward her, but Remus grabbed his shoulder hard and pulled him away.
Lily picked her way to the portrait hole and pushed her way out. She leaned against the cool stone wall and tried her best to feel nothing at all.
Have another little piece of my heart, now, baby…
Four minutes later, when Lily pushed back through the portrait hole, the song was the first thing she noticed.
Once she located the Marauders, Lily poked Sirius in the side and smiled ruefully when he turned toward her. "Apology accepted."
"I didn't apologize!" he barked at once, grinning. "Nor do I plan to."
She shrugged. "Peace offering, then." He blinked, confused, and Lily rolled her eyes. "Come on, you big softie. You know I love this song, and I know all of you hate it, because I was soundly mocked for playing it…even though the musical laws clearly state that the owner of the lovely single room gets to decide the soundtrack that plays there."
Sirius's grin grew smirkier. "Talk to Prongs, darling. I wondered why he suddenly wanted to control the music…"
"What?" Lily's head jerked toward James, cheeks hot, but he did not look at her.
He addressed Sirius instead. "You, er…you were in Lily's room?"
Lily couldn't interpret his tone or his expression, but Sirius rolled his eyes immediately. "Dammit, Evans, I thought we agreed to keep the orgy between us?"
"Don't worry, Black," she drawled, "If I ever sleep with you, I promise I'll be taking that to my grave."
"Oho, so that's your kink? I can work with that." He turned and yelled, "Oi, Nearly-Headless Nick! I got some questions for you!" He vanished into the crowd, oh-so-conveniently leaving Lily and James alone.
Lily laughed breathily, watching him go, and then turned to James. "I hope you feel guilty that out of every nickname you've come up with over the years, Nearly-Headless Nick is somehow the one that'll still be around when our children get Sorted."
"Not remotely." But his smirk was…off.
"Nothing." He adjusted his specs and arranged his face into a more normal smile. "Nothing."
She frowned. "Last time you said that to me you almost turned in your Head Boy badge."
"And that would've been such a travesty," he said drily, looking around at the butterbeer-battered remains of what had once been the Gryffindor common room.
Lily looked at him sharply. "Yes, James, it would." She reached out…hesitated…but arms had always been fair game between them. She squeezed his bicep. "This was a bloody good idea."
He looked down at her, and his smile almost reached his eyes. "Alright," he said, and a little more James Potter swagger was in his voice too, "I throw a great fucking party. But if I weren't Head Boy, I could've thrown the same party and then just gone to bed and left these drunken idiots to fend for themselves. Now I feel this annoying compulsion to make sure no one dies tonight."
Lily snorted. "The badge has its perks there too, though." He raised a questioning eyebrow, and she turned to the nearest group she saw and tapped one of them on the shoulder. "Party's over, mate. Clear out, or we'll have to dock points." The boy, a fifth-year Hufflepuff, gathered his friends and shuffled for the exit, and Lily grinned at James. "Ready to embrace your inner Buzzkill?"
The Head Boy grinned back. "So ready."
Maybe there were perks to being no fun.
(12AM, February 15th, 1974)
James left the Valentines' Night party to collect more food, not because the Lily Evans dot was in the Great Hall.
It was reasonable to be curious, though, about what the hell Little Miss Perfect thought she was doing alone in the Great Hall after curfew. It was reasonable to cut through there on his way outside. It was reasonable to wear the Cloak, because if he ran into a teacher he could get in trouble.
He heard the record before he saw her.
Atop the Slytherin table, centered in a perfect white circle miraculously untouched by the pink that had stained the rest of the tabletop and the floor beneath it, Lily Evans twirled and leapt and kicked her legs like a Rockette as she bellowed "I Got You, Babe" into a wooden spoon. Her hair tangled madly about her face, a flaming halo, and long soaring arcs of white light rocketed above and around her.
James dropped his wand.
When the song ended and she came to a rest, James realized with a chest-wracking shudder that he had been holding his breath. He found himself panting in sync with her as if he too had been dancing and leaping and singing at the top of his lungs.
She bent, facing away from him, hands falling to her knees for a moment for support as she giggled breathlessly. When she stood back up, she raised her wand again, and James realized that the white light was not just spectacle.
She was casting spells. Painting spells.
She didn't choose a white patch, James realized, as he watched the white light wash over a magenta streak, she painted it. Almost like she was…
She was cleaning. He'd only done the stupid prank for…so she'd feel…and she was fucking cleaning up after him.
"What the fuck is your problem, Evans?" He'd barked the words before he was fully aware of taking off the Cloak, and Lily whirled around, cheeks a deep red that darkened when she realized who had interrupted her. The blush was so bright that it swallowed her freckles whole. Her lips were open in a round O of shock. Her shirt had ridden up just a little while she danced, and…
"W—what?" she hopped down from the table, hands fluttering frantically, straightening her shirt, touching her hair.
He took a few steps toward her and cleared his throat (deepened his voice). "No one asked you to clean up the mess!"
"Something tells me you're not here to get after it yourself!" Her flush had receded slightly, anger replacing embarrassment—perhaps she had decided he hadn't seen her dancing.
"Get after it?!" James ran a furious hand through his hair. "Nobody has to get after it! The house elves will get it, Evans."
Lily snorted derisively. She raised her wand to cast another Coloring Charm (her shirt lifted again) and muttered something that sounded like, "Daddy, I want an Oompa Loompa." James came closer.
He folded his arms over his chest. "Talk sense, Evans."
"Read a book, Potter."
"I have. Hogwarts: A History. It taught me the house elves will get it."
"You have not read Hogwarts: A History."
He had, actually, but..."It's all bilge anyway. Bathilda Bagshot used to babysit me, and she's not to be trusted."
"Why not?" Lily asked suspiciously.
"No real historical scholar would be called 'Tiddybags.'"
Her wand froze in the air. "You nicknamed Bathilda Bagshot 'Tiddybags'?"
"I was six!" he defended. "And they're honkers."
If he'd been anyone else, Lily probably would have laughed. But he was Potter and she was Evans, so she pursed her lips tightly and turned her back on him, returning her full attention to the floor.
This, predictably, did not go over well.
James Potter crossed the remaining distance between them in three steps and bounded in front of her. "What the hell is your problem?" he repeated.
Furious but determined not to give him her attention, Lily pirouetted neatly away. He jumped back in front of her.
"Stop acting like you're suffering some huge trial. I didn't ask you to clean up!"
Again she turned away, biting back retorts. Again he moved in front of her.
"Why are you trying to latch onto my glory?"
"My glory." Unbearably smug now that he had her attention, James ruffled his hair. "We pulled a brilliant prank. Everybody knows it was great. And you could never think of anything like that, so now you're down here trying to make yourself feel like you're part of it. But it won't work, because it didn't have anything to do with you!" The last words were nearly shouted.
"Obviously I know that!" Lily yelled back.
None of it had ever had anything to do with her. He'd made that abundantly clear by taking the most romantic day of the year—the one day when a Hogsmeade invitation undeniably meant something—and using it to bully Slytherins instead of asking her out. Not that she wanted him to, obviously, but the constant come-ons were just that bit less bearable now that she knew for sure.
"Doesn't really seem like you do, Evans, since you're trying to cash in on my triumph…"
"My God, Potter! How have you lived in the world for fourteen years without grasping that not every human being in it orbits around you?!"
"You just make it so confusing, Evans, when you follow me around, cleaning up after me..."
"Follow you around?! Follow you around?!" she shrieked, "I know this might be hard for you to understand with a head the size of a bouncy castle and one single brain cell banging around in there like a Snitch that, as far as I can tell, you've never once caught, but…"
And so it went, Lily's fury all the greater because until he'd shown up and attacked her, she'd been feeling rather warm toward James Potter. No one had asked Lily about her dad since the prank, and she was grateful for Potter's accidental kindness.
It was a confusing emotion, particularly mixed with her new, unflattering understanding of why he asked her out, but Lily Evans was a girl who tended to err on the side of generosity. She discovered the Painting trick while helping Sev clean his robes and decided to put a little more good into the world in return.
Trust James Potter to open his mouth and bellow it all away.
"It's alright, Evans, I get it," he was drawling, "I'm fantastic. If I were you, I'd follow me around too."
"How would you find you, though?" she inquired sweetly, "'Cause if I were you, I'd already have hopped on my broomstick and flown to Tanzania to liberate the Great British Isles from my crap personality!"
He rocked back on his heels, grinning that stupid grin. "Geez, Evans, if you want to be alone with me that bad, I'll just take you to Hogsmeade—it's a little early for a new continent. Five tomorrow, meet by the one-eyed witch?"
The bloody audacity of him.
Lily's jaw worked furiously for a moment, and then she set her shoulders and flipped her hair over her shoulder. "What time is it?" she asked.
James blinked, but recovered quickly, something new in his eyes. He took a sharp step towards her, and his Adam's apple bobbed. "I…" his eyes bounced around her face. His hand found his hair again. "Not that late," he said quickly, "We could…if you…it's still evening, practically…"
Well, that was certainly a lie. The sky had been black for hours. Spotting a glint on his wrist (trust Potter to have a gold watch at fourteen), Lily reached out and grabbed his arm. She didn't see his eyes widen or his lips part, didn't hear the soft noise in the back of his throat. She focused only on the little golden clock-hands.
12:20 AM, February 15th.
Not Valentine's Day anymore.
Lily dropped his arm and stepped back, laughing without humor, then turned on her heel and marched out of the Great Hall.
James Potter didn't move for almost a minute. He stared at the marks her fingers had left on his wrist as white faded to pink, then disappeared altogether. He looked at the watch. No answers there either.
With a roar of helpless rage, James sprinted back across the Great Hall to where he had stood as he watched her dance. He snatched up his wand, spun on his heel, and bellowed, "Evanesco!"
A mighty jet of light soared from James Potter's wand and splattered across the Slytherin table and the ground below it, washing away the white paint and leaving only the pink.
(We Danced Anyway)
When, at long, long last, every straggler had wandered up to bed or off to their House dormitories (or to fall asleep on the floor somewhere and wake up with rude words doodled all over their faces by Peeves), James tucked his hands in his pockets and approached Lily.
"This was brilliant," Lily said. "You were exactly right about the Toadies." Her smile was halfhearted, but he decided to blame Marlene for that. "You're heading up to bed now, I suppose?"
"Oh, I'll be along …" he frowned curiously at her, and she added, "You know me, I just want to…look out…over the grounds…"
"Oh, yeah…better that way. For the…ambience…"
"You're a terrible liar, Snaps."
"Okay." She touched her hair nervously. "But it's not a big deal…You can't get mad."
James's hackles rose at once. "Why would I get mad?"
"I don't know, but you're you…"
"I was going to…clean up."
It was the hair that broke the hippogriff's back, and he was fourteen again.
"You said you wouldn't get mad!"
"No, you said not to, because you knew I would!"
"I said not to because it's an idiotic thing to get mad about!"
"I don't want you cleaning up after me!" (I don't want you cleaning up after me!)
"What are you talking about, James? People have been cleaning up after you your entire life!"
"But I asked!" He scrubbed at his hair. "I asked you about the party and you said you wanted me to do it!"
Lily stared. "I…I did. I did want you to do it. I…" Softly: "I had fun."
"Oh, tons of fun," he roared sarcastically, waving a hand at the filthy room. Lily winced. "Look at all this fun."
"I did," she snapped, bristling. "Just because you can't seem to grasp that actions have consequences doesn't mean no one else can enjoy a party while also knowing eventually it'll have to be cleaned up!"
Both his hands were in his hair now. "Have to be...?! Evans, there's a literal species whose entire purpose in life is to clean up!"
"Entire purpose? Entire purpose?!" She shook her head incredulously. "Have you ever actually read anything about house elves, James?"
"Snaps, I have house elves."
"Yeah, but I don't believe you paid them any attention." Well. That was...true. "They're unbelievably powerful creatures, but their magic is...mismatched. They were bred to do impossible things at the drop of a hat if a wizard asked. But cleaning up a Firewhiskey stain? You don't technically need magic for that if you've got baking soda and vinegar, so nobody bothered to breed Charms skill into them. Cleaning up this party would take them hours on their hands and knees."
James swallowed hard.
"Why didn't you tell me…"
"What? So you could clean up?" As if the very idea was nonsensical.
"So instead you just sit in the corner of every party I throw thinking 'entitled prick doesn't give a shit about house elves'?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying!" she cried desperately. "Not at all!" She paused, breathing very hard, staring at him with wide eyes. When she spoke again, there was hesitation in her voice. She was a little afraid of whatever thought had occurred to her. "James, you...you know I don't mind, right?"
He blinked. "What?"
"Cleaning up after you. I…James, I'd so much rather that fantastic things happen, and you make fantastic things happen."
"R...really?" His voice cracked. Lily nodded fervently, eyes shining.
"I like fixing. I even sort of like cleaning actually, and…" she blushed faintly, "I've got a…cleaning ritual when I'm alone."
Grinning, thinking of her crooning into the spoon, not thinking at all: "I Got You, Babe." (Idiot.)
"I…" Bloody hell, there was nothing else for it. "I saw you. Fourth year. The…other time I yelled at you for cleaning up after me. From under the cloak."
"Oh." Her blush was not faint anymore. "Well, that's…um." She looked up, down, left, right, anywhere but at him. Then, quite abruptly, she stood up straight, stepped around him and marched over to the record player.
"My turn, James Potter," Lily announced. "If you get to spy on my guilty pleasures, then I'm spying on yours. Your party, your music, yes?" She indicated the box of records sitting on the table beside the machine.
James grinned, starting towards her. "Nice try, Snaps, but my taste is infallible."
"You should be."
"Stop right there!" He was less than a meter from the table when she whirled around and stuck both hands in his face, palms flat in a 'stop' sign. She jerked her chin toward a couch two meters behind him. "Plant your arse and stay there, Infallible." She patted his records protectively. "No tampering with the merchandise."
"Tamper? Me?" Edging left to get around her.
"Of course not. And do you know why?" Jumping back in his way
"Why?" Sliding to the right now.
"Because you will be sitting on that couch." Back in his way.
Potter: 0, Evans: 1.
James walked slowly to the couch. He needed the time to hide his smile.
He would rather have nicked that one particular record just to be certain, but it was very well-hidden. There was no way she'd find it. James collapsed onto the sofa and watched her as she leaned over the records.
The hair limited her sartorial options. Sometimes she had to wear yellow.
"Some of these are Sirius's…you share?" she mused inconsequentially.
"Mhm…" Did she have to bend over the records like that though?
"He can't stand Celestina Warbeck…"
"Mhm…" James ran a hand through his hair and looked away.
"You don't have any of her albums either, right?"
"Mhm…" Wait, what?
He spun back to face her, eyes wide, and a gleeful smile split her whole face open as the one record she wasn't supposed to find dangled tauntingly from her left pointer finger. "You know, I actually own Celestina's 'Nothing Like a Holiday Spell,' and I swear the cover is blue, not red…" she drawled.
"Snaps…" He jumped to his feet. "That looks like Mum's. She's got all Warbeck's first editions…they look different sometimes…it must've gotten mixed in…" he edged toward her.
"Oh? Perfect!" Impossibly, her smile widened. "I love this album. Let's hear it, then." She reached the record player, laid the disc down on the turntable.
"You should get your copy, then. All her records are really scratched. It'll sound awful." Didn't he used to be good at lying? He needed to catch his breath. She needed to stop smiling like that. He took another step forward and reached for the needle, but she knocked his hand aside, openly laughing now.
"What guilty pleasure album is so embarrassing that James Potter hides it from Sirius Black?" she cried, abandoning all pretense. "Inquiring minds want to know."
"I don't—it's Celestina! Just my mum's Celestina." He grabbed one of her hands to stop her from setting the track, but she picked up her wand with the other and pointed it at the turntable. The record began to turn, music not quite coming yet.
"Sure, of course," she giggled. "In that case, you won't mind if Sirius comes back down…OI, BLA—"
James yanked her forward to clamp his other hand over her mouth. Her breath was hot.
They were very close now.
Her skin glinted gold in the flickering candlelight, and the dancing shadows made her freckles seem to move. She had barely stopped for breath all night, and her hair was a wreck, the half-up-twisty thing a distant memory. Her eyes were fixed on his. His hand, ghosting against her lips, felt her smile fall.
He wasn't smiling anymore either.
He wasn't breathing.
'Well, life on the farm is kinda laid back,
Ain't much an old country boy like me can't hack!
"Oh, my Merlin," Lily whispered into his fingers.
Both his hands flew from her to his hair and he reeled back, jaw working but no sound coming out.
"Have I died and gone to Heaven?" Her green eyes were wide, her hands pressed to her heart, her nostrils flaring and her shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter. She seemed unable to believe something so funny could be true. "Tell me this is really happening. Tell me James Potter is an old country boy…"
"So I enjoy a little John Denver from time to time," James fully intended to grumble, but, bloody hell, he was laughing too. "At least I don't twirl 'round and high-kick like I'm in a chorus line…"
"Merlin alive, I bet you do!" she pushed on his chest, giggling gleefully. "I bet you square-dance at hoedowns…"
"Okay, now you're just making up words…"
"I bet you stick a straw in your mouth and your thumbs in your belt loops and do a little jig!"
"Snaps, I'm an actual human man who sometimes listens to American country music, not a reanimated scarecrow…" but she had Conjured herself a pair of suspenders and grabbed onto them, jutting her lip out and swinging her hips and kicking her way across the common room.
She was unspeakably beautiful.
The song faded out, and Lily came to a rest in front of him, still giggling. "Okay, Country Boy," she said, "I…would really like to dance around and listen to a bunch of sappy old love songs while cleaning up now. But it's not because I'm trying to…erase the fact that the party happened, or…"
"Then let me help."
Lily blinked. "Do you…no, you can't. I want to, James. I like cleaning, and you…"
"Want to too," he finished. "Quit arguing, Snaps, you won't win and you're cutting into precious sappy old love song time. You'll never see my world-famous square dance at this rate."
"I thought I made that word up."
"I'm an unreliable narrator."
Lily laughed, and James joined her. She pulled out her wand and murmured, "Accio Eight Days a Week,' and a moment later a record sailed down the dormitory stairs and into her waiting hand.
"Beatles night?" James asked inconsequentially as she placed the record on the turntable. He didn't want to be staring at her in silence when the love song came on.
"Bunch of different artists, actually," Lily said, placing the needle, "There's a spell that lets you put whatever songs you like on a blank record."
"Why didn't I know that?"
She turned to look at him, and there was a little bit of smirk in her smile. "Because I created the spell."
James Potter took a two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach to cleaning, setting small fires or turning cushions into chinchillas whenever Lily looked away. He was physically incapable of undoing mischief for more than three minutes straight without putting a little entropy back in the world. She couldn't find it in herself to complain, though—the greater the mess, the longer the night, the more minutes and hours of James, dancing and laughing and spinning her round and singing off-key and mocking her music…Merlin, did he mock her music.
"What's with all these songs romanticizing poverty? I thought birds were supposed to like success," he grumbled after Let's Hear It for the Boy, and Lily snorted.
"Success, James. Not generational wealth."
He grinned. "Then why do they call it winning the genetic lottery?"
Laughing, she skipped ahead to Can't Buy Me Love just to annoy him, and James rolled his eyes harder. "Nobody tell the Beatles about Amortentia…or hookers."
Isn't she lovely,
Isn't she wonderful…
"Oh no," James moaned. "Crap pick, Snaps. Next song." He reached for his wand to skip the track, but she grabbed his hand, stilling it at once.
"Crap pick?!' Did you just call Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely", an instant classic, a defining work in its genre, a 'crap pick?!'"
"It's not that I don't like it. I have…beef with it."
"You have beef with Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," an ode to his beloved infant daughter that captured hearts the world over?"
Solemnly: "I do."
Fighting a grin: "Git."
"Why don't you like this song?"
"I love this song. Why wouldn't I? Snaps, do you not like Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," jazz-pop sensation celebrating the pure selfless joy of a father's love?"
Lily closed her eyes and briefly considered pushing him into the fire.
Or up against the wall next to it.
"Why do you have beef with this song?"
"Oh, that's what you want to know? Why didn't you say so?"
"James Potter, I swear to Merlin…" He smirked triumphantly at the blush that spread up her neck and across her cheeks, half-fury, half-fancy. All, apparently, victory enough for him to answer her.
"Okay. Stevie's blind, yeah?" he said. Lily eyed him suspiciously.
"Well, there you have it!" he spread his free arm wide like he was revealing the final card in a magic trick. "How would he know if his baby is lovely?"
"Oh. My. God."
"I can't believe you think blind people can't love their babies…"
"I can't believe you think only cute babies deserve love…"
"Lovely, Potter. Not cute, lovely!"
"Not just lovely! The second verse goes, 'Isn't she pretty, truly the angel's best'…"
"You memorized the words?!"
"'Pretty', Snaps. 'Pretty,' he says…"
"You posing pretender, I knew you liked love songs, I knew you weren't a cynic…"
"No, I'm thorough in my investigation…"
"Your investigation of looooooooooooove…"
"My investigation of how would Steve know, huh? How would he know she's pretty?"
"Oh my God, he can feel her face and know that it's adorable…"
"No. All baby faces are weird and lumpy, and that's not my opinion, that's fact…"
"Excuse you, I was a soft and smooth and feel-ably adorable baby…"
"Your weird lumps are a recent development, then?"
She let go of his hand (she'd been holding it the whole time) to swat his shoulder, and he instantly regretted it.
You might have tried just being nice.
Somewhere along the way, despite James's best efforts, the common room became clean. Sparkling, even. Shiny and new. They didn't stop dancing.
People smile and tell me I'm the lucky one,
And we've just begun.
Think I'm gonna have a son…
James made a face. "A weird number of these songs are about babies. Is there something you need to tell me, Snaps?"
"It's true. I'm pregnant."
"Who's the father?"
She didn't miss a beat. "Bertram Aubrey, of course."
He twirled her around to hide his expression. "You think you're funny, but you won't be laughing when that massive head has to pop out of you."
Lily laughed at that. When he turned her back to face him, his arm was a little less extended, their chests a little closer together. He thought (knew) she would step away, dance off to shimmy or kick or spin across the room, out of reach as always. But then her hands, in the air for the twirl, fell to his shoulders. Her palms were warm against his shirt. James stepped a little closer and let his fingers brush her waist. She smelled like green apple.
They danced slower now.
And in the morning when I rise,
You bring a tear of joy to my eyes…
"It's because these songs are my dad's," Lily said quietly. "He sang all the time. In the shower; making dinner; driving us to school. He was so bad at it…really, really awful, but he had good taste, at least, don't you think?"
"Yeah, he did," James admitted. They swayed. He waited.
"Do wizards have the lotto?" Lily asked at length.
"Nah, we don't. But if something's stupid, addictive and pointless, you can be sure Padfoot had a phase, so I know what it is."
"My dad had more than a phase." James winced, and Lily ducked her head, giggling. "It's okay, James. I don't expect tact." She paused. "I think I told you once that he had a gambling problem…Sometimes, if the payout was big enough, he'd spend his whole paycheck just buying up dozens and dozens of one-quid lotto tickets. Mum worked nights, so he'd get home to just me and Tuney, and we were little enough we didn't know to be upset. He'd dance us around the living room to these songs, telling us stories about the spectacular vacations we were going to take in far-off lands…I thought Narnia and Middle-Earth were real for rich people until I was about twelve, although finding out I was a witch may have contributed to that." She smiled ruefully. "Then when Mum got home…" James's grip on her waist tightened involuntarily, but she shook her head. "No, she didn't…she's a really, really kind person. She knew what he'd done, and I'm sure she was angry. But she'd let him grab her hands and waltz her around the living room anyway, because it made me and Petunia so happy. We'd dance next to them, trying to copy them…it was always a real ordeal for Tuney, because she didn't want to do the boy part, but she didn't want to let me lead either…I loved it, though. It was one of the things I missed most after I…lost her."
The song ended a few beats after her story, and James stopped their swaying. His hands were hot on Lily's waist. His eyes didn't leave hers. "Which part did you want to do?"
His voice sounded strange.
"I…I always let her choose…"
"But I liked when she led."
Very slowly, without breaking eye contact, James let go of her waist. He reached back to unhook her hands from his neck. He interlocked the fingers of his left hand with her right, steered her left hand down until it rested on his right bicep, then dropped his right hand to her ribs.
"Okay, then," he said, and because the universe had a way of bending to James Potter's will, the opening bars of Mambo Italiano trickled from the record player.
Sirius had told her once that all purebloods learned ballroom dancing.
Merlin and Agrippa, James Potter had learned ballroom dancing.
They spun and swayed and twirled and he lifted her off her feet and dipped her back, and Lily had danced with boys before, but not like this. Never like this.
He was beautiful, graceful, and skilled, but Merlin, he was strong—really, really strong. Lily would never have thought strength important in a dancing partner, but it meant that it almost didn't matter that she had no idea what she was doing. When she missed a step, he simply lifted her in the air, bringing her with him into the next move.
She didn't miss many steps, though, because James was somehow good enough to know exactly how good she was. His pace was just slow enough for her to follow, and he seemed to remember every move she'd done half-decently all night, leading her into the ones she was best at over and over.
Less than a minute in, James twirled her out, then in again, then pulled her into a deep dip, exactly the same move Sirius had used just hours ago. Except Lily had not been hyper-conscious of every muscle in Sirius's arm flexed against her back, of the bob in his Adam's apple, of the crooked corners of his grin and the pride or triumph or something in his eyes that sent a thrill down her spine.
You didn't like watching me do this with another man, Lily thought, then immediately banished the idea as ridiculous and conceited. Even if he felt anything for her again, and that was a big if, of course James would never be jealous of Sirius.
He pulled the same move twice more in the first song.
Bloody fucking good.
Lily kicked off her heels quickly, and James's shoes followed a few songs after that. They danced, and danced, and danced. Time must have passed, because the songs kept changing, but it might have been hours, or days, or seconds. Lily and James wouldn't have known.
James sensed that Lily was tiring long before she seemed to want to stop, so he led her into slower, simpler moves. Fewer twirls and dips. No more lifts. Much, much more time chest-to-chest. A new song came on, something slower and a little sad, and James spun her slowly, matching the tempo, all the way around and then another 180. He pulled her in, his arms crisscrossing her stomach, her back pressed to his chest.
"I never thanked you," James breathed. She tried to turn toward him, but he tightened his grip, holding her in place. He didn't want her to see his face now.
Lily acquiesced to his unspoken request, relaxing a little. She did not quite lean into him, but her body brushed his everywhere, his toes touching her heels and her back against his stomach and her head warm at his collar. When she answered, he could hear her smile. "You're James Potter, so…no, probably not. What for, though, incidentally?"
There were so many answers to that question. He could barely get out the one he meant. "For making me talk to my dad."
"Oh," she said. "Last year? But I didn't…"
"I know, but I wouldn't have without you. And he's not…it's not the same. He's never going to be a superhero again. He's just…a bloke who happens to be my father, but he's a bloke who helps with crosswords, and knows a lot about books, and even makes a decent joke once or twice a month. And when Sam...I was really glad. To have him." He exhaled heavily, then breathed her in, steeling himself for his next words. "He was…he was Superman. Superman doesn't just give up. So when he left, I thought…I thought he wanted to go."
Lily's free hand met their entwined ones so both her little hands squeezed one of his. She shook her head fiercely, ear bumping his jaw, hair fluttering in his face, greenapplegreenapplegreenapple.
"It's not about want."
"I know," James said. His bottom lip touched her ear, and he didn't know if he'd meant to. "I was so angry when he quit the Ministry, for…for completely different reasons, but I finally realized it was the same thing. He just…wasn't brave enough. He does care. I don't know how you knew, Lily, but you were right, he always cared. He's just not as brave as I thought he was."
"He's not as brave as you," Lily said softly, and James's stomach flipped over. "That's a hard thing to learn about your father."
"Your mum's not as kind as you," he answered, and Lily sucked in a tight breath. "Or she wouldn't have let Petunia hurt you."
As the song faded out, Lily turned in his arms, and this time he let her. She looked up at him, eyes wide and soft, one hand still in his. A new song came on, and her other hand moved back to his shoulder. "Nothing hurts right now," she said.
And nothing did.
'Wild, wild horses couldn't drag me away…'
James held Lily's left hand in his right while his other arm cradled her waist. They barely danced now. They swayed, pressed against each other, her head leaning on his chest.
'No sweeping exits, or offstage lines,
Could make me be bitter, or treat you unkind…'
His heart thumped against Lily's cheek. Their entwined hands came to rest on his chest, and she leaned forward, just an inch, to press her lips to his knuckles.
'Wild, wild horses couldn't drag me away…'
He bent to kiss her forehead, and her eyes fluttered closed. Lily could stay here forever, she thought, with his warm arm around her and his jaw against her temple and his lips on her skin. If she was misreading every sign, if he never fancied her again, James Potter's arms were still the best place she'd ever been.
'Wild, wild horses, we'll ride them someday…'
The music began to fade, and Lily realized just how deeply she had curled into James. She opened her eyes and pulled back, every inch an aching mile. He lifted his lips from her forehead. As her hand slid down his arm, though, away from the shoulder where it had rested, his hands tightened around her. His arm around her waist felt harder, now—no longer a cradle, but a grip. She looked up to find her nose was inches from his.
Lily knew the look on James's face. She had seen it once before.
He was so bloody beautiful, and they were going to kiss.
After all these weeks, months.
They were going to kiss.
His arm pressed her whole body into him, and she lifted onto her toes as her hand slid back up his arm to cradle his neck. The fingers she had kissed a moment before clenched, painfully tight, over her smaller ones. His head lowered and her eyelashes fluttered.
I won't be able to stop this, she thought, in the milliseconds before their lips touched. I won't want to stop. Whatever you want from me tonight I will give you.
She couldn't find it in herself to be afraid of that.
Her eyes closed, and her head tilted. A heartbeat, a breath, not even courage, just accident, and their lips would meet…
An explosion rent the air and Lily dove instinctively in her pocket for her wand. James's arm around her waist tightened like a vice. He lifted her off her feet and spun them to put himself between Lily and the…house elf?
"Oh! Libby is so sorry, she didn't mean to intrude! Libby will clean later, Mr. Potter, Ms...er…oh!" The elf's bulging tennis-ball eyes grew impossibly larger. As Lily tried desperately to catch her breath, to bring her mind back into focus, the elf's face split into an expression Lily had never seen on a house elf before—a wicked, teasing smirk.
"Congratulations, Mr. Potter," Libby drawled. "Excellent work. Mr. Potter is doing such a good job…what did he call it?…Moving on? Mr. Potter was right: Love is so overrated."
Lily's stomach bottomed out.
From very, very far away, she felt James's arm tense around her waist. She saw his jaw clench, his eyes flick to her in sheer, unveiled terror. She saw his mouth move, saying something to Libby, something that was clearly a dismissal because she Disapparated, though not without winking one massive, bulging eye. Lily could not hear his words through the rushing in her ears and the words suddenly playing on repeat in her head:
Carlotta chucked him less than two weeks ago.
"Is it unusual that my first impulse after storming off was to head for the Kitchens?"
She could see him there—well, she'd never been to the Kitchens, so she was picturing him in her kitchen at home, which was…complicated, but still—chomping furiously, gesticulating wildly, and 'I'm done with Carlotta'…no, not Carlotta, Car… 'Done with Car. Love is overrated. Fuck the whole thing. Time to move on…'
Congratulations, James. You did it. You moved on. You found the girl on your hook and twirled her around and smiled at her until…
Until I would've let you do whatever you wanted to me.
Publicly dumped by the loveliest girl at Hogwarts after you've fallen in love with her; you don't get over that. Not in two bloody weeks. But maybe you fuck the girl you used to fancy…not as beautiful, not as funny, not as fun, but yours for the taking, and after all those times Lily had said no, it must be satisfying to finally win.
A solid consolation prize.
She knew she was being melodramatic—he was her mate, he cared about her. He wouldn't have meant to hurt her, he was just too wrapped up in his own pain to notice hers. He had no idea what he'd done to her. What he meant to her.
What sex with him might have meant to her, if not for the house elf's intrusion.
Shit form, Libby, Lily thought, and might've said, if everything weren't so wretched. Cock-blocked by a house elf…she could see the story being funny in a pub, years later, surrounded by friends. Tucked under Nicholas's arm.
House elves: rubbish cleaners, worse wingmen.
Nicholas would laugh at that joke. Nicholas had been a Muggle, she recalled, but that didn't feel so important now.
He wasn't James Potter. That was the important part.
"Lily?" James said, sounding choked, and she remembered abruptly that before Nicholas, before the pub, before moving on, there was this: a boy and a girl and candlelight and James Potter's arm still locked around her waist, his other hand hovering in the space between them.
"Please let me go," she whispered.
He didn't. His fingers scrabbled against her dress, then clenched on her waist. "Lily, I don't—I'm not—she—" Whatever lie he was aiming for, he couldn't even bring himself to finish it.
"Don't, James. Please, please, just don't."
"Libby doesn't—I'm not—"
"Just let me go!"
"Lily, please…" But she needed out. She could not bear to touch him for a second longer. She put her hands on James Potter's chest and shoved with all her strength, twisting so viciously out of his grip that she nearly tore her dress.
She opened then closed her mouth silently once more, and then turned on her heel and sprinted for the stairs. She took them two-at-a-time, one, two, three, four staircases without even feeling the burn in her legs.
Lily pushed her door open, crossed to her bed and collapsed into it, body racked by sobs.
She let herself take three deep, shuddering, aching breaths, and then sat up, tears still pouring freely but breath forcibly even.
This was fine.
She would be fine.
She already was fine, really, because she didn't love him. Of course she didn't. What she'd always said about sex and love was just romantic nonsense, just childish fantasy. It didn't mean she loved him.
She just needed time, and then she wouldn't feel like this anymore. She would love him the way she loved Sirius or Remus or Frank. She wouldn't feel this definitely-not-love-something, this painful, blazing oomph that made her pick fights with him and run away from him and hurt Marlene.
Lily Evans was not in love.
Lily Evans was just fine.
Four staircases below, in a twist of the knife so fucking poignant that maybe James Potter really did believe in Fate, Frank Sinatra began to croon "Something Stupid."
James lifted a shaking arm over his head and seized a handful of his own hair, pulling with all his strength.
"Fucking idiot!" he roared. A pulse ran through his whole body, and he slammed his foot into the yellow table. Searing pain shot through his toe as the record player flew into the air and cracked into hundreds of shards against the stone wall.
Thinking of mismatched magic, he pulled out his wand to repair it.
So…uh…I am in fact aware that I promised resolution. Heh.
I will! I swear to Sirius Fucking Black (the indisputable hero of the next chapter) that I will. There's some shit that needs to come out first (read: there's a reason both the arcs in this chapter started with Snivellus) but shipper shit is coming your way. I solemnly swear I am up to only good.
PS. No, I will not apologize for the Comm reference. This is a fic about a fic, there are no rules.
Please, please talk to me! First of all, because this is the longest chapter I've ever written and I would really like validation lol, but also tell me if I'm doing justice to these characters we're all still obsessing over seven years later. Constructive criticism welcome.