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Chapter 7: Overconfidence
Lily had often wondered why Anna insisted on reading the Daily Prophet when the slightest mention of her sister seemed to ruin her entire day. The only blessing was that she did not subscribe to Witch Weekly—Lily carefully avoided mentioning the special wedding issue they had put out, in which Desdemona was featured giving her opinion on everything from empire waists to hors d’oeuvres. Either Anna had not heard about it, or she was too disgusted to even verbalize her thoughts.
On a mid-October morning, however, Anna did not need the Daily Prophet or Witch Weekly to be reminded of her sister, for two snow-white barn owls swept into the Great Hall at breakfast and dropped gilded envelopes in front of Lily and Mary. Anna took one look at them and stabbed her bacon violently.
Lily had no idea who would be sending her such a letter with such ceremony, but as soon as she picked the letter up and read Miss Lillian Evans in shimmering gold ink, she had a feeling she understood.
“She still thinks my name is Lillian,” she said to Anna, who looked like she might be about to crack her plate in half.
“Oh, I’m sure she knows it’s not,” Anna said. “She probably just thinks Lillian sounds so much more refined. And Mary, you don’t have to do that.”
Mary had been about to slit open her envelope with her unused knife, but she paused.
“Put it on the table,” said Anna. “Now tap it with your wand.”
Mary followed her instructions, and the envelope began to unfold itself like some sort of backwards origami until it lay flat, with the invitation on top. The invitation itself had two small flaps, like doors, made of delicate silver paper, or wire, or ribbon—which one, Lily couldn’t tell—and it too unfolded. If this performance wasn’t enough, several small silver fireworks popped in the air above the invitation.
“Wow,” said Mary.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Anna said dispassionately.
Lily didn’t bother opening her own, but instead leaned over to read Mary’s, which had the usual wedding invitation message on it, inviting them to the late-May ceremony and reception. Near the bottom, underneath the R.S.V.P. request, were the words “friend of the maid-of-honour”.
“Her invitations have fine-print,” she said, and Anna nodded.
“Well, Lily, when you’re inviting half the country, you’ve got to have an organizational system,” Anna said, doing her impression of a crazed bride.
“She’s really taking this seriously, isn’t she?” Mary asked.
“Yeah, last I heard, she’d hired a choir of four dozen wood nymphs for the reception. And don’t forget about the one-of-a-kind twelve-tier Butterbeer cake they ordered from Belgium. Oh, and did you notice the location? A castle,” Anna said, every syllable dripping with disdain.
“You know, if I didn’t know you better, I’d say you were jealous,” Mary replied.
“Well, it’s a good thing you know me better, then,” Anna said. “You know what it is, that just absolutely galls me? They’re spending a large fortune on a wedding, and people are dying every day. It’s like they’re taking all their silk napkins and white tea rose centerpieces and rubbing them in everyone else’s faces.”
“People have to find happiness where they can,” said Mary, displaying her trademark optimism. Anna merely grunted and swallowed another mouthful of bacon.
“As I said before, you two are forbidden from coming,” Anna said.
“Try and stop us,” Lily said, smirking.
“Fine, I’ll let you two come, but only if you,” she said, looking at Lily, “bring James as your date, and Mary brings Remus.”
“Ha, ha,” Lily said. “I’m not even going to respond to that.”
“I would,” Mary said quickly, not meeting either of their eyes, “but he’d probably say no, just like when I asked him to Hogsmeade.”
All thoughts of weddings were pushed out of Lily’s head.
“You never mentioned this before!” she said to Mary, whose cheeks were bright pink.
“Well, I wasn’t too keen on admitting I’d been rejected,” she said.
“What happened?” Anna asked, and Mary sighed.
“I thought he was too shy to ask me himself, so I asked him one night when we were studying. Apparently, he wasn’t too shy...he just didn’t want to.”
“What did he say?”
“He said...erm...something like he only liked me as a friend,” Mary replied.
“And what did you say?”
“I can’t remember! I’d be surprised if I got anything intelligible out, I was so humiliated.”
“His loss,” Anna said. “Forget about him.”
“It would be a lot easier if he wasn’t acting like it never happened,” Mary said. “I don’t care what he says; he doesn’t just like me as a friend.”
Something in Mary’s tone unnerved Lily, but the first bell rang and there was no further time to discuss it. It was only halfway through Transfiguration that Lily could put her finger on the strange edge to Mary’s voice: determination.
Lily made a visit to the library that night, mostly to check out a book, but also a out of curiosity. She kept her footsteps light as she walked between two shelves. When Mary and Remus' voices were finally audible, she stopped and listened.
“Anyway, we ended up crashing straight into the shelves in the trophy room,” Remus said. “The noise was unbelievable.”
“Did anyone get hurt?”
“Sirius got a trophy stuck on his head for a bit, but he was fine in the end,” Remus replied. Mary giggled. “The positive side was that we found one of the secret passages into Hogsmeade that night.”
“Are you ever going to show me any of them?”
“I don’t know if I can trust you,” Remus teased. The new librarian, Madam Pince, walked by the aisle, and Lily pretended to be examining the books in front of her. Mary and Remus fell silent until Madam Pince’s footsteps had faded away.
“I can keep a secret,” Mary said. “I promise.”
“I don’t know...you’re a bit of a shady character.”
Mary giggled again. “Me, shady? How could you be suspicious of someone that looks so angelic?”
Remus laughed. “It’s the pretty, innocent-looking ones that always have a hidden agenda.”
“Well, don’t worry; my agenda is completely out in the open.”
There was a pause in which Lily could hear Remus smiling at Mary.
“I’ll take you tomorrow night,” he said.
Lily had heard enough. She slunk out of the library as quietly as possible, trying to sort through all the thoughts that were running through her head. She had assumed that Mary and Remus spent their time in the library talking about classes and essays and exams, but they were obviously much friendlier with one another than Lily had ever imagined. Lily could now understand why Mary had thought that Remus liked her too, and it made her furious to realize how much he was toying with her friend. How could he be so kind, so tender, and then dismiss her so casually?
There was something else that was bothering her, but it was too selfish and petty to give much thought to. Why did James—who had always openly professed his affection for Lily—never tell her any stories about secret passages? Why had he never offered to show any of them to her? Were they not just as good friends as Mary and Remus?
For the first time, James could say that he was fairly sure that Lily Evans might agree to go out with him. They had been getting along so well in the past few weeks that he must at least have a shot at getting let down easy, which was a few short steps from a “yes”. The important thing was approaching it in the right way.
James had many memories of disastrous attempts to get Lily to go out with him. For all his confidence and charisma, his brain seemed to shut down whenever he tried to ask her on a date—well, whenever he had asked any girl on a date, really.
It wasn't until fourth year when James realized he spent an unnatural amount of time thinking about Lily. When she was not around, he was seized with the desire to seek her out; when she was around, he wanted nothing more than to impress her, or to make her laugh. He wanted to tell her that he was becoming an Animagus, that he and his friends had discovered no less than three secret passages to Hogsmeade that no one else knew about, and that they were creating a highly complex map of the castle. He wanted her to look upon him with admiration and respect.
These were not entirely new feelings; in fact, he had always felt this way, as far as he could remember. Even when he started having the occasional dream in which he kissed her, he managed to suppress any alarm. It was when he started having fully-conscious urges to make these dreams a reality that he realized something bizarre was going on.
He tried staying up all night to make his dreams go away, but he found that it just made them worse whenever he did sleep. He thought perhaps if he firmly ignored the feelings he was having, they might disappear, but this seemed to be about as easy as becoming an Animagus. He tried completely avoiding her, but it was like torture standing in the same classroom and not being able to even look at her.
James could not face the mortification that would come with telling his friends, so he endured several weeks of attempts to purge himself of thoughts of Lily Evans. It was very difficult to keep his head when she and her friends happened to be sitting next to him at the Gryffindor Table in the Great Hall; so difficult that he had to pretend he was feeling ill so he could escape to his dormitory.
He remembered sitting on his bed, his palms pressed against his eyes and a swirling sensation turning his stomach.
“Okay,” he had said to himself, “this is not a big deal. She’s just a girl. There’s no need to freak out.”
Easier said than done, his thoughts replied. He suddenly felt the desire to say it out loud; as if it would somehow alleviate the confusion he was feeling.
“No big deal. No need to freak out. So you fancy Lily Evans—what’s the big—?”
“YOU FANCY LILY EVANS?”
James had shot up off his bed in shock, and looked up to see his friends standing at the door.
“Bloody hell! What are you doing sneaking up on people like that?” he had yelled, jumping to his feet.
“What are you doing in here, talking to yourself about how you fancy Lily Evans?” Sirius said.
“I—well—so what if I do?”
His friends seemed to be at a loss for words.
“Er...fair point,” Remus said, though he still looked very shocked.
With the exception of the inevitable taunts from Sirius, and several incredulous exclamations all around (“How could you like someone so annoying?”), they had taken the revelation rather well, and had even encouraged him to ask her to Hogsmeade.
“Remember, just be confident. Girls like confidence.”
“Don’t be too confident, though. Sometimes you go a little overboard, and you know how she hates that.”
“Tell her she looks pretty.”
“Yeah, and while you’re at it, offer to sign away your manhood for all eternity,” Sirius said. “Come on, Pete? Tell her she looks pretty?”
Peter opened his mouth to retort, but James was faster.
“Don’t worry,” he said to his friends. “She’ll say yes.”
“Remember what I said about the overconfidence!” Remus had called out as James strolled out of the dormitory and down to the common room. With the benefit of hindsight, he could appreciate what good advice that had been, but, of course, his fourteen-year-old self had not possessed the same knowledge.
His stomach had turned over violently when he saw Lily sitting with Mary and Anna near one of the windows of the common room. He had to keep repeating the word “confidence” in his head as he walked over to her, so as to drown out all the other parts of his brain that were trying to get him to turn around. He refused to be discouraged, however, even when her face soured slightly upon seeing him.
He stood before her, but his brain had stopped working. How had he planned on starting the conversation again? He had practiced it so many times—how typical that he would forget it all when it actually counted.
“What is it?” she asked, regarding him as if he had sprouted three extra heads.
“Er...can I talk to you?” he said.
“You already are. What do you want?”
Of course she wouldn’t make this easy. He took a deep breath. Why was it so hard to ask girls out, anyway? Was it this hard with all of them, or only ones that were sure to say no? James tried to remember confidence as he spoke again.
“Could we talk privately?” There. That sounded perfectly normal, if a little strange. But wasn’t strange the opposite of normal? Which had it been?
To his great relief, Lily got up from her armchair and crossed to the other side of the room, which was much emptier. He followed her and tried to figure out what he was going to say next.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “Usually I couldn’t pay you to shut up.”
Not the most encouraging start, James thought.
“Ev—Lily,” he began, “I wanted to ask you something.”
“Well, you’ve had loads of time. Get on with it.”
A large group of people had then entered the common room through the portrait hole, and Sirius, Remus, and Peter had also come down from the dormitory. He felt heat rising in his cheeks as he realized what an idiot he was making of himself. Lily was never going to say yes to him if he kept dithering about like this. He tried to stand up straighter.
“I thought you might like to go to Hogsmeade with me next weekend,” he said. There, much better, he thought, at least until Lily's eyebrows contracted.
“You did, did you?” she asked, sounding displeased.
James felt slightly panicked. He had never talked to his friends about how to act if she responded badly—why had they never discussed it, when it was so likely to happen? It seemed like a change of tack was necessary, but all that he had practiced was confidence.
“So, what do you say? Up for some fun?”
When Lily’s face went bright red, James realized how his last question had sounded. His confidence deflated in less than a second.
“Oh, Merlin, I’m sorry—”
“I always knew you were full of yourself, Potter, but I never realized you were an absolute pig as well,” she said. James was quite sure the situation was beyond repair, but he felt he couldn’t walk away without a solid answer.
“So...you don’t want to go to Hogsmeade?”
Lily turned on her heel and hurried away without another word. James staggered back to his friends and fell into the chair they had saved for him.
“That looked...” Remus said.
“...like a disaster,” Sirius finished. “She said no?”
James shook his head.
“She said yes?” Peter asked.
James shook his head again.
“What, did she give you the ‘I need to think about it’ routine?” said Sirius.
James shook his head for a third time.
“Spit it out!”
James cleared his throat and unstuck his jaw.
“I blew it,” he said. “I came off like a complete idiot, and she just ended up walking away.”
“Ah,” Peter said. “Well, your chances always were a bit iffy.”
“What?” James yelped. “You three kept going on about how she had to say yes! You couldn’t have been honest with me?”
“We were trying to be supportive,” Remus replied.
“Well, thanks for letting me make a complete prat of myself,” James muttered.
Someone other than James might have given up after that first try, but the small fact that Lily had not actually said “no” continued to give him hope. In fact, every time he made another attempt, she either told him to go away or ignored him completely, but she had never actually told him “no”. It was enough to keep him going, even until now, a month-and-a-half into their seventh year.
She was going to say yes this time, he could feel it—as long as he didn’t put his foot in his mouth again.
Lily had made a habit of pretending to study in the Heads’ office a couple nights a week. In other words, she brought books and papers with her even though she had already finished her homework and waited for James to show up. It was an excusable way of spending time with him, because she could explain it to Mary and Anna as if it were not her fault: Ugh, James keeps popping in when I’m trying to study...
He almost always came, surprising her with his reliability. No matter what day it was, he somehow knew she was in the office and made a point of dropping by, sometimes for two minutes, and sometimes for an hour. They would usually talk about school, but occasionally their conversations drifted into other topics as well. Neither one of them pointed out that they these meetings were not at all accidental, as if saying so would somehow bring them to an end.
Now that she had been taking to James regularly about a variety of subjects, she realized that she quite liked the way he talked. He was self-assured and funny, and even the most basic conversations revealed deep convictions. Best of all, he was always honest, a stark comparison to many of the other people in Lily’s life: Snape needed no explanation, but even Anna and Mary veiled the truth at times. Anna was constantly covering honesty with sarcasm, and Mary seemed determined to keep them in the dark about Remus.
On a Thursday evening, a week before Halloween, conversation over Lily’s pretend Transfiguration homework had somehow spiralled into a discussion about Anna’s sister.
“Here’s a question you’d know the answer to,” Lily said.
“Because there are so few of them.”
“No, because it’s about Quidditch. Is this Aidan guy any good?”
“Lily, he plays for the Irish national team,” James said. “I’m surprised you’ve never heard about him. He’s a heartthrob.”
“I’m not really into Quidditch players,” Lily said, playfully scrunching up her nose.
“I think you might have mentioned that before,” James said thoughtfully. “Once. Twice. Maybe a couple hundred times?”
Lily rolled her eyes. “Anyway, that sheds some light on why Anna’s so bitter.”
“I think Anna always hoped her sister would mess something up,” Lily said.
James sighed. “I’m so glad I’m an only child."
“Yes, aren’t you lucky?” Lily said, and she found it difficult to try and sound like she was only joking.
“Well, maybe they’ll go through some really nasty divorce and Anna’ll still have her chance,” James said.
“Yes, let’s cross our fingers for that.”
She looked at her watch and saw that it was nine-thirty. What time had James arrived—eight? Seven-thirty? It had to have been at least an hour, but the time had gone by so quickly.
“You know, I’m really glad we’re friends,” James said, leaning back in his chair. Lily smiled at him.
“Me too. I think.”
James exhaled a laugh, misinterpreting Lily’s words as a joke. Ever since she had heard Mary and Remus talking in the library, she had been questioning this friendship that she and James had been building. Their conversations lacked an easiness that friends should have had. It was as if they were always avoiding some unknown subject. Nevertheless, she smiled in response to his laugh, albeit somewhat wearily.
“It’s kind of weird how life turns out, isn’t it?” he asked.
“You’re going to have to get a little less philosophical if you want me to keep up.”
“Well,” James said, pausing. Was it in hesitation or concentration? “Take that day after our exams, in fifth year.”
Lily did not need to ask him for clarification this time, though she was surprised that this day figured so largely in his memory. For her, of course, it was the day she had lost her best friend, and it was therefore impossible to forget.
“What about it?” Lily asked, unable to keep her face from souring slightly.
“At the time, I thought it was a complete disaster,” he said, “but I realized that it was probably the best thing that could have happened, for both of us.”
Lily felt her stomach seize.
“And...how did you come to that conclusion?”
If James could sense the ice in her voice, he ignored it.
“It wasn’t until that day that you finally realized what an idiot Snape was. I was always trying to prove it to you; I felt like someone had to. I’m not saying it happened in a nice way, but if he hadn’t called you—you know—you still probably would have been friends with him, which would mean you would still dislike me.”
The only time Lily had listened to logic this twisted was when she had been friends with Snape.
“That day gave us a chance to be friends. We wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t said that.”
“I don’t understand,” Lily said. James suddenly looked nervous: perhaps he had finally realized that he had upset her.
“Like I said, it wasn’t pleasant at all—”
“How could you say that it was the best thing that could have happened?” she said, feeling like she was looking at the exact same James who had caused all that trouble by the lake. She now understood that this was the topic they had been avoiding, the topic that made all of their conversations slightly uncomfortable: their past.
“I think this is coming out wrong,” James said.
“No, I think it’s coming out exactly how you meant it to, and I’m really glad it did. I can’t even begin to explain how deluded you sound right now. To think: I actually apologized to you, and offered to start things fresh!”
James looked taken aback. “When did you apologize to me?”
“On the very first day of term!”
“I think you’re remembering wrong, because all I recall is you saying we should move forward.”
“Well, that suggestion contained an apology. Just because I didn’t say the words I’m sorry—”
“That’s a good way of avoiding a real apology.”
“Who even cares?” Lily said, her voice lifting in volume. “It was a stupid idea in the first place. We obviously can’t be friends.”
“We have been friends,” James stated.
“No, I’ve been your friend while you’ve tried to inch your way close enough to get me to go out with you!” Lily said, slamming her Transfiguration book shut and piling up her papers. “I was so stupid; I thought we could just put all that aside and just be friends. You're not capable of that, though, are you? Have you still been hexing every boy I talk to behind my back? Still playing tricks on Snape that could get him killed?"
“I'm not like that," James spat, and the ugly look on his face gave Lily pause, upset as she was. It was like someone had reached out and torn the air between them: the feeling of separation was that palpable.
James ran his hand through his hair in frustration, much like the way he had done to mess it up in the past, and this was the last straw for Lily.
“I think we should just forget about being friends,” she said, standing up and gathering her things. She clutched her books and parchment against her chest, her grip so tight she knew her fingers must be turning white.
“It’s never going to work if we’re in it for different things,” she continued. James squeezed a clump of his hair and then let his hand fall to his side.
“Will you just stop this, and please go out with me?”
Lily sighed and shook her head. Of all the things he could have said, he had chosen this. It was so typical that it almost made her laugh, despite her anger.
“I wouldn’t go out with you if it was a choice between you and the giant squid,” she said, leaving the room before he could say another word and spoil her perfect bit of poetic justice.
The justice felt sweet for less than two minutes. She had assumed he was going to come running after her, apologizing and retracting his statements. Lily could admit that she would probably forgive him if he did, but she never heard his footsteps behind her. She was on the fifth floor when she finally resigned herself to the fact that he was not coming after her.
I am not going to cry, not about this, she told herself, even though tears were blurring her vision. Why would she cry about this? It was James Potter, for heaven’s sake. It hardly mattered whether they were friends, aside from the fact that he was so lovely to talk to and that she laughed so often around him.
Shut up, shut up, she thought. The friends she already had were better to talk to, and they made her laugh too. There was nothing remotely devastating about not being James’ friend. They had been friends for less than two months, anyway. If she had lived over seventeen years without him, she could definitely survive one more.
James could not move. It had been ten minutes since Lily had stormed out, but he was still hoping it was a dream, that he had fallen asleep in his dormitory and would wake up and find that none of it had happened.
So much for not putting his foot in his mouth. Why in Merlin’s name did he always think it would be good to say the one thing that would offend Lily most? He had definitely reached a new low in his timing.
A fleeting thought to go after her was rejected by whatever modicum of sanity he had left. Things would only get much, much worse if he harassed her any further. No, he would give her ample time to return to her dormitory and cool off. Surely, once she calmed down, he would be able to talk to her, and they could work things out.
Ten more minutes passed until James finally forced himself back to Gryffindor Tower. Though he was decidedly unhappy about Lily being mad at him, and would have apologized simply to make her happy, he did not think he was wrong. Lily might not want to admit it, but if Snape had never called Lily what he had that day, who knows where they would all be now? She was one of the smartest people James knew, but her loyalty to Snape had been—there was no other word for it—stupid. No matter how many people had told her that Snape was a worthless piece of scum, she had never believed them until that day. So, yes—James did think that it had been to her benefit.
And he couldn’t even get started on her so-called “apology”. She obviously had no proper concept of the word, for she insisted on people apologizing to her, accepted them flippantly, but refused to dole out any of her own. The hypocrisy of her anger was maddening. Something she learned from Snape, James thought to himself, wishing he had something other than a stone wall to punch.
On top of all that, he found her protests about them “not being in it for the same thing” laughable. He was the first to admit that he searched out signs of affection from Lily when they weren’t always there, but even the most objective observer would have concluded that she had feelings for him. She flirted with him all the time, sought out his company, spent hours talking to him, and he had definitely caught her staring at him in class and at mealtimes.
When he returned to the dormitory, he found his three friends all laughing at something Peter was saying, which only frustrated him further. How could people be laughing at a time like this?
“Prongs, you’ve got to hear this—Peter just saw two house elves pummelling each other in the kitchen!” Sirius said. James collapsed on his bed without saying a word.
“You all right?” Remus asked.
"Lily and I have just had a row,” he said, staring up at the hangings of his four-poster bed.
“What did you do?” said Remus.
“I don’t even want to talk about it,” James replied. James did not think he could bear their I-told-you-so looks and insincere sympathy; none of them really cared what happened between him and Lily. Besides, maybe if he pretended it wasn’t a big deal, it wouldn’t feel so much like one.
“Did you try to snog her?” Sirius asked in a tone of mock chastisement.
“Nah,” James said, sitting up. “Anyway, Wormtail, let’s hear this story.”
As he watched Peter do an impeccable impression of a house elf, James could feel confidence draining out of his body. There were few people that could make James second-guess himself, but Lily could get him every time. She could fill him with self-loathing with the turn of a single phrase. He had felt so thrilled that she finally found him worthy of respect, but maybe she never really had.
Author's Note: Well, hopefully that wasn't too disappointing--but you didn't really believe she was going to say yes, did you? :)
So, I have a feeling that few people read all the way down to the Author's Note, but for those people who have, would you care to review? Don't be afraid to be honest about what you think! (Although honesty tempered with kindness is always preferable.)