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Chapter 1: one
It starts one morning in late April, when the sky is caught between the blue-grey of the pre-dawn and the burning red of the new day. Faint beams of light break through the thick clouds, which are dotted purple in some places and streaked a bizarre green in others.
At the Gryffindor table sits James Potter. He’s tired, unable to stop yawning as he pours a healthy amount of corn flakes into a golden bowl. The cereal rattles against the metal, one of the few sounds in the otherwise sleepy Great Hall. There is no particular reason why he’s up so early save for the fact that he just couldn’t sleep any longer.
Sleepily, he reaches for the flagon of milk and adds it to his cereal, not paying attention to the amount he’s added, so it overflows and a small river of milk leaks over the edges of his bowl. “Bollocks,” he curses, though he doesn’t bother to mop it up with the napkin in his lap. That’d take too much energy, energy that he doesn’t have.
He eats in silence, chewing his food slowly and doing his best not to nod off. There’s a few explanations as to why he could hardly keep his eyes shut and his body still when he was up in the dorm, wrapped up in his blankets, but James doesn’t feel like examining them. He doesn’t want to think about how worried he is, how defenceless he is in the great scheme of things.
The sound of her voice is hardly anything to choke on his corn flakes over, but that’s exactly what he does when Lily Evans speaks to him.
Sputtering, James lifts his eyes from his bowl and looks over at the red head seated several spots away from him. Her dark red hair is pulled back into a loose braid, the tail of end which sweeps over her left shoulder and rests against her chest. The smile on her face is friendly, but reserved, not at all like the grin he’s only accustomed to seeing from afar.
Wiping the trail of milk from his chin, James clears his throat. “H-hi,” he returns lamely, with all the bravado of a baby bird.
If she notices, she ignores it. “Are you done with the corn flakes?”
“Yeah,” he says, nodding. “Yeah, I’m done with them.” He pushes the box down the length of the table towards her, returning her smile, though his wiggles like a flobberworm on his face.
As she accepts the box, her smile is just a little brighter than it was before. “Thanks.”
For the next month, they eat breakfast together, Lily just a few seats away from James.
Sometimes they talk, but most of the time they sit in silence, enjoying the uncomplicated presence of another human being.
They eat corn flakes.
Days later in the middle of their Charms lessons, Flitwick finishes his lecture on the Patronus charm, winded and tired. As he hops down from his perch and sits himself down in his chair, the class chatters excitedly about their lesson. Some discuss the difficulty of the spell while others boast about how easy it’ll be. Regardless of the topic, the chatter starts to swell until the wall of noise is so thick, Flitwick can no longer ignore it.
“Quiet down, class,” says the small wizard, his voice magnified by a quickly cast charm. “I haven’t gotten to the most exciting part.”
The class quiets instantly, save for the four boys in the back of the room, laughing softly at some joke or another. Their laughter is easy enough for Flitwick to ignore. “I want you to find a partner with whom you can practice. There’s an odd number today, so there will be one group of three. Three,” he adds, staring pointedly at the back of the room. “Not four.”
“You got it, Professor,” Sirius Black proclaims, saluting the Charms instructor with a sly wink.
Already gathering his books, Peter Pettigrew halts when he sees Lily Evans approaching them. “Evans,” he says with a nod.
“Hey, Peter,” she replies easily, though her fidgeting fingers hint at her nervousness.
There’s a beat of silence before the redhead clears her throat and says, “Marlene’s sick today, so I don’t have a partner. And I was wondering if-”
Remus holds up his hand, smiling gently. “Of course I’ll partner up with you, Lily. Just let me get my -”
“Actually,” interrupts Lily, biting the inside of her cheek. “I was going to ask Potter.” She glances from Sirius’ smirking face to Remus’ shocked expression to Peter’s blank look. Lily chewed her lip, her gaze finally settling on James, who looks more like a gaping fish than a teenaged boy. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“No, not at all,” he says smoothly, though the way he scrambles out of his chair and gets to his feet suggests he’s not as calm inside as the outside suggests.
Lily grins. “Great.”
The next morning when she asks him to pass the corn flakes, she’s one seat closer, her smile is familiar, and she talks about her homework.
James is more than content to listen. He’s always liked the sound of her voice.
Exam week comes and goes and before they know it, it’s the end of their sixth year.
The sun hangs high in the sky, which is littered with marshmallow clouds and the hopes of what the summer might bring.
They don’t speak the whole duration of the train ride, rather they stayed holed up in their respective compartments with their respective group of friends, laughing and shouting and making promises that no one knows if they’ll be able to keep. When there is talk of the war, it’s brief and quiet until someone cracks a joke and brings them back to their youth.
It’s only when James is hauling his trunk onto a trolley that Lily breaks away from her friends to track him down. She cups her hands over her mouth as soon as she catches sight of his messy hair, a shock even against the swarm of people. “Potter!”
Though the platform is loud and bustling with activity, her voice cuts through him like a knife through melted butter. In this heat, he sort of feels like butter, too. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he smiles as she approaches. “You just can’t stay away, can you?”
Lily rolls her eyes, but laughs all the same. “I wanted to give you something.”
James raises not one, but both of his eyebrows. “A present?”
“Of a sort,” she replies airily. She reaches into her pocket and digs out the small scrap of parchment. “Here.” She thrusts it into his hand, rocking back on her heels as she awaits his reaction. Her own hand shakes so uncontrollably, she has to clench her fist.
Curious, James unrolls the parchment and reads the messy scrawl. His eyebrows rise even higher on his forehead. So high, they very nearly disappear into his fringe. Disbelief washes over him, saturating his features so thoroughly it’s almost comical when he looks up at her. “Really?” is all he can say.
You might have thought she gave him a winning lottery ticket, not her home address.
Still, she can’t help grinning. “Really, really.”
James blinks, still not quite sure what to make of it. “I’d be lying if I said I was expecting this.” He gestures towards the scrap of paper, wiping his sweaty palm on his trousers.
Lily shrugs her shoulders, the motion casual. Her hair, loose for once, bounces slightly. “I figured it’d be easier to owl each other. You know, since we’ll be spending a lot of time together next year.”
James waggles his eyebrows suggestively at her words, which makes her blush. “Is that a promise?”
“Oh, button up!” she exclaims, reaching out to playfully hit him on the arm. He mimes a pained expression, though she’s certain she didn’t hit him hard enough to cause any actual damage. “You know what I mean.”
Though the Head Boy and Girl don’t learn of their positions until they receive a letter from the Deputy Headmistress over the summer, Dumbledore had thought it best if they received the news ahead of time. “So you might overcome your differences,” he said, though the twinkle in his crystalline eyes suggested that he was well aware of the advances they’d made in their friendship.
James opens his mouth to say something, but he’s interrupted by the sound of a high pitched whiny from somewhere over his shoulder. “Lily! What are you doing? We have a schedule to keep!”
The girl in question ignores the shout. Her expression is anxious, all worry lines and uncertain eyes. “You’ll owl me, right?”
“Cross my heart,” he says, making an ‘x’ over his chest.
“Good, because I didn’t give you my address for no reason.” She smiles at him and it looks like she’s about to say something else, but another impatient shout reaches their ears. Lily flushes furiously. “I should go. My sister’s waiting.”
His curiosity growing, James glances over his shoulder to see where Lily is looking. A tall, skinny blonde is waiting by a shiny red car, behind the wheel of which is what James can only assume is a beached whale. He notices how the blonde is glaring in their direction and when he catches her eye, he grins. “Oh, she looks lovely.”
“Yeah, Petunia’s just a regular ray of sunshine,” Lily deadpans, pulling a face.
Unable to help himself, James twiddles his fingers at her sister, smirking al the while. This sets the older Evans off almost immediately, huffing and puffing and straining to keep her cool.
Lily smacks him on the arm. “Thanks for that. Now I’m never going to hear the end of it.”
“What?’ he protests, rubbing his arm. That time, it had actually hurt. “I was just trying to be friendly!”
“I’m sure you were.”
“I was!” he insists, rolling his eyes when Petunia points at Lily and beckons her forward as if she’s a small child about to be punished for doing something naughty. “Are you going to need help with your trunk?”
“No, I already loaded it into the boot. She’s just impatient.”
“Lily!” comes another shout, those this one is more of a screech than anything else. Not for the first time, Lily wonders why her parents always insist on sending her sister to come fetch her from the station.
Expelling a sigh, Lily pushers her fingers through her thick cascade of hair. “I’ll write you soon, okay?”
“Not if I write you first,” he replies, his words reinforced with an unyielding reassurance. He smiles at her, and it’s strong and vibrant, lighting up his entire face.
There’s tension in the air between them that neither quite knows how to interpret. They stare at each other, hazel locked on green, for what seems like a century but is only a handful of seconds.
On a whim, Lily drops her arms from her chest and latches them around his neck, holding onto him with all she’s got. She bites back a small gasp when he encircles her in his own embrace, giving her a long, tight squeeze. His chest is warm, his arms warmer, and she swears she can hear the blood rushing through her veins.
“Bye, Lily,” he whispers in her ear. His breath swirls and tickles while her heart skips a beat or two.
“Goodbye, James,” she whispers back, letting go with a certain hesitancy. As she turns her back on him and starts towards her sister, Lily finds that she can’t explain why it suddenly feels like all of the air has gone out of the room or why her eyes are prickling with tears.
They write each other over the summer, though not as frequently as either party would have liked.
When James isn’t busy scouring the city, trying to help Sirius find a flat, he’s preoccupied with entertaining his friends, who come over to his house almost every day. And when he’s not doing either of those things, he’s usually stressing out over the upcoming Quidditch season and balking at the idea of taking on Head Boy responsibilities. Sometimes, he sleeps.
Lily, too, is preoccupied, but not with things of her liking. When she was hit with the unexpected news of Petunia’s engagement, she was supposed to be excited, but she knew better. Suddenly, there’s a party to plan as well as a wedding, and though her sister hasn’t even told her what part she’s going to play in the ceremony, if she’s even going to be in it at all, Petunia dumps the majority of the work on Lily. It’s all of the time consuming work, of course, none of the fun stuff. Instead of hanging out with her friends and sleeping until the afternoon, Lily spends a decent part of her summer with the telephone wedged between her ear and her shoulder, talking to the most uncooperative people on this side of the Northern Hemisphere.
The letters they do manage to write are short, but the words are welcomed. A comfort in an otherwise hectic and dissatisfactory summer. Lily’s scrawl is messy, but loopy, slightly slanted at the top, but solidly rooted. James’ hand is much looser, all over the place yet stationary all at once.
In August, they meet up for breakfast.
They eat cornflakes.
“Your hair is a fright today,” comments Lily as she slathers a thick layer of orange marmalade on her slice of toast.
It’s their first breakfast of their seventh year. The Great Hall is nearly empty. Most students are still abed after spending the majority of the night catching up with their roommates. Despite the fact they’re both exhausted, they get out of bed for each other.
“Hark who’s talking,” he says even as his fingers find his hair and work in vain to flatten it. “Yours looks like its got a nest of Nargles in it.”
She flicks the extra marmalade on her knife at him. Her aim is terrible, so it soars over his shoulder and hits a Slytherin on the back. Lily has to clamp a hand over her mouth to keep from giggling. When James turns around and sees the huge glob on the girl’s robe, he doesn’t bother hiding his mirth. His entire body shakes as he laughs, a loud, warm sound that makes Lily feel just a little happier, though she’s not sure why.
“I need to work on my aim,” she laments once he’s calmed down enough that he can hear her.
Grinning, James shakes his head. “Nonsense, it’s perfect. You might not have hit your intended target, but I think that one is better.” He shoves a spoonful of corn flakes into his mouth, taking the time to chew and swallow before speaking again. “But if you really want to work on your aim, I could teach you.”
“Yeah,” he says, leaning back on the bench. “I’m only the best Chaser Hogwarts has ever seen.”
This time when Lily takes aim, she hits him square in the face, laughing as he nearly topples backward on the bench, his arms pin wheeling comically in order to keep his balance.
Slowly, but surely James realizes he’s become the one thing he never thought he would: a morning person.
It’s the middle of November, and the common room is alive with activity. A group of first years is playing a rowdy game of Exploding Snap in front of the fire whilst some fourth years observe, keeping a running commentary on each move the players make. There are girls of all years sitting by the window seat, all reading their copies of Witch Weekly and gossiping over who’s the cutest wizard the issue.
Gryffindor Tower has never looked so alive.
Sirius and Remus are engaged in a game of chess. Peter is watching the game over the top of his book, his watery blue eyes drinking in each move and committing it to memory. Both competitors are focused solely on the game - at least, they are until a bell-like laugh draws their attention away from the board and over to the corner to where James and Lily are sitting, their books sprawled out in front of them, completely ignored.
What they’re laughing over, no one is certain, but anyone with a brain could see that they were involved in each other, that nothing else existed outside of their little bubble. James leans his head down and whispers in her ear, which makes the redhead erupt in another fit of laughter. As James pulls back, he’s staring at Lily as though she’s a gift from Heaven itself.
A small smile touching his lips, Sirius barks out a laugh and says, his words coloured in disbelief and fascination, “Did you ever think you’d see the day?” When Remus looks at him quizzically, he nods towards the pair of them.
Remus stares at them, a certain fondness registering on his face, and then shakes his head. “Not in a million years.”
They resume their game.
Several moves later, Peter lowers his book and remarks, “That’s ten Galleons you owe me, mates.”
They exchange more letters over the Christmas holidays than they did over the summer, though they never see each other. Too busy with their respective families and the like. Unlike last time, however, they make sure to set aside the mornings to write a friendly note to each other. Always, the letters include their choice of breakfast foods for that particular day.
When she wakes up on Christmas morning, it’s to a pile of presents at the foot of her bed. She goes through them slowly, taking her time to unwrap the shiny paper and inspect her gift. Each one means the world to her, but when she opens up the package from James, she can’t help but smile.
She tells him just how delicious the corn flakes are.
Lily attends her first Quidditch game at the start of February. She’s nestled between Sirius and Remus, her scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, and she’s screaming louder than all three of the Marauders combined. When James gets fouled, her mouth turns foul, and Sirius is laughing so hard he falls off the bench and into a couple of second years.
Gryffindor doesn’t win the match against Hufflepuff, but it’s okay because there’s breakfast for dinner in the Great Hall, and Lily sits next to him. The Marauders bask in the redhead’s presence.
The moment Sirius throws his arm around her shoulders and declares her a gem, she can’t help grinning hugely.
She doesn’t sleep in anymore, not because she doesn’t want to, but because she can’t
The mornings mean so much to her, even her subconscious is aware of the fact.
When James enters the common room, covered in sweat and mud from Quidditch practice, he sees Lily sitting not at her customary table with her friends, but in the window seat, alone. Her knees are drawn up to her chest and even from here, he can see that her eyes are red from crying.
He frowns and makes his way over to her. “Lily?”
She looks up at him when he says her name, a sad smile on her lips. “Hey,” she greets unenthusiastically. She sniffles. She mops up the tears on her face with the sleeve of her robes. “How was practice?”
Playing along, James shrugs, his broom slipping down his shoulder. “It was fine,” he says, propping said broom against the wall. “A bit rough and more than a little muddy, but that’s life, right?” He offers a gentle smile, which she doesn’t return.
Instead, Lily averts her eyes and it’s only then that he notices the crumpled letter in her hands.
“Bad news?” he asks, taking it upon himself to sit down next to her. He’s careful not to get mud all over the place.
Rather than answering, she rolls her eyes and holds the letter out to him, knowing that he won’t give up until she gives him an answer. But her throat is raw from her earlier sobs and she knows that if she tells him himself, she’ll start crying again. She doesn’t want him to see her in tears.
Gingerly, he takes the letter from her and smoothes it out as best as he can. Despite the fact he’s pulled off his gloves, he still manages to get smears of mud on the parchment as he reads over the unfamiliar scrawl. The further he reads, the deeper the furrow in his brow and the frown on his lips becomes.
When he finishes the letter, he glances over at Lily. There are a million and one things he wants to say to her, but he can’t seem to form an intelligible sentence. He feels angry for her, but he also feels her hurt. It feels as though a wound has been opened up in his chest, and there’s nothing he can do to stop the bleeding.
He wants to tell her that everything will be okay, that it’s not the end of the world, but the words leave him in a rush of nerves and uncertainty. So he does the only thing he can think to do: he throws an arm around her shoulder and pulls her close.
As soon as her forehead is pressed against his chest, she starts to cry. Not body racking sobs, but soft cries that she manages to muffle in his dirty jumper. He lets her cry, rubbing a hand up and down her arm, not speaking. She’ll talk when she’s ready to.
It takes her several minutes to collect herself, but when she does, she pulls back. There’s a smear of mud across her forehead, which she ignores as she wipes her eyes again. Her nose wrinkles as she says, “Merlin, you stink.”
Despite himself, James throws his head back and laughs, and smiles when he sees that his laughter inspires hers.
It happens on an impulse.
Halfway to the Transfiguration classroom, Lily can’t fight the insatiable itch in her palm and blindly, she reaches for James’ hand. She finds rough fingers poking out from the long sleeve of his robes and runs her fingertips over the calluses. His hand quivers as she slowly twines her fingers with his.
She looks straight ahead, pretending not to notice how quickly his palm becomes slick with sweat or how much she enjoys the feel and the weight of his hand in hers. Their fingers aren’t a perfect fit, but it’s close enough that it’s all she can do to bite back her smile.
Right before they enter the classroom, she tries to slip her hand free, but his fingers tighten around hers and give a reassuring squeeze. A thrill shoots through her, lending her the courage to face the world, come what may.
They don’t break contact under the scrutinising eyes of their classmates or the appraising looks from their friends. They don’t even let go when McGonagall catches sight of their linked hands on top of the desks. And James swears he sees a smile on the professor’s lips, but it’s gone before he can point it out to Lily.
He kisses her for the first time just outside of the Great Hall. Their hands are linked, hanging down by their hips, and he pulls her close. He can tell by the hooded look in her eyes that she knows his intention. It helps that she pushes herself up onto her toes, lessening the gap between them.
Her lips taste like the strawberry jam she put on her toast.
It makes his head spin.
The next morning and for many after that, they eat corn flakes.
A/N: So this isn’t exactly my best work, but it’s my first one-shot in Merlin only knows how many months. I’ve been MIA these past few months, mostly due to issues in my personal life, but everything seems to have worked out much better than expected - and I have my muse back! I know I still have things to update, but at the moment I’m catering to my muse rather than forcing it to bend to my will, so we’ll just see where that gets me!