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Chapter 4: Sunshine
Slughorn did always have a flair for dramatics. So when he partnered James Potter with Lily Evans for their 6-week Final Project…well, frankly, no one was surprised. The old coot was known to do stupid things like this. Although he had a certain affection for the two sixth-years, he always did like to challenge them both in sadistic and unpleasant ways.
Which would bring us to the more shocking aspect of this project: the potion they were meant to create.
Lily was convinced that this was some sort of sick joke on her professor’s part. She was willing to bet a substantial amount of money that he was laughing his arse off at his own genius. Or indulging in more crystallized pineapple. Both were equally likely.
Not, that is to say, that James Potter was a completely incompetent partner for this project. In fact, if there was any Gryffindor that she’d want to be partnered with for a project that was worth half of her grade…well, putting all prejudices and personalities aside, she’d want it to be James Potter.
Unfortunately for her, the bloke was disarmingly clever. Typical, really, that the absolute bane of her existence would be nothing short of perfect.
(Top of his class, Quidditch Captain, Star Seeker, 12 O.W.Ls, on his way to becoming an Auror…and she wouldn’t be surprised if he made Head Boy as well. In fact, she rather expected it.)
It was strange, actually… as the weeks went by and they spent more time on the project together, she’d started to realize that James Potter was not just smart, but he was also rather charming.
This, of course, was met with abject horror and denial for about three weeks.
But she had to wake up and face it one day: James Potter was, frankly speaking, just really, genuinely good. He tutored first years. Taught people how to play Quidditch. He stood up for the Hufflepuffs that Slytherins tortured in the middle of the hallway. He opened doors for her and insisted on holding her books and always asked how she was, and…and…shit, when had James Potter finally matured and why hadn’t she realized that Hell froze over?!
This situation was not okay. It wasn’t normal. This world was like a freakish, mutated version of the real world and by Merlin she wanted the real world back! She actually longed for the times when James Potter acted like an insufferable arse. When he tripped Slytherins in the hall and called First-Years “midgets” (come to think of it, he still did that) and acted like the world was at his feet. She missed when he used to smirk at everything in his sight and act like a grade-A prat whenever she was around.
That made sense. It was routine, constant.
This was completely out of her comfort zone, this nice new James that made her laugh and smile, and made her insides squirm a bit whenever he grinned.
If she didn’t know any better, she’d say that she actually had a crush on him.
But obviously, that was impossible. Improbable. Totally and completely out of the question.
“I think it’s almost done,” James’ voice snapped her out of her reverie. He was looking at her anxiously, waiting for her expert potions advice on what to do next. She grinned at the way he looked – face flushed red from the heat, hair wilder than usual from the steam, hazel eyes glittering from behind his fog-repellent glasses. He was beautiful, even frazzled like this.
…objectively speaking, of course. This was merely for observational purposes.
Pushing some of her own strands back into the hasty braid she’d constructed to avoid frizziness, she leaned over the cauldron, took a deep whiff, and then looked at the book again.
“Er, why’d you sniff it?” James asked tentatively.
She chuckled. “I was checking to see if it smelled like anything to me.”
“Not yet,” she sang, pointing to the final ingredient on the page, “we just need to add Unicorn Horn Powder and stir counterclockwise four times, and then we’ll be officially finished!”
His entire face lit up. “Well then, what the hell are we waiting for?” he asked eagerly, doing an odd little jig as he pranced towards the supply cabinet. “Let’s finish this project. Good riddance, I was sure it was never going to end…”
Lily tried to ignore the sinking feeling in her heart. Why she really that insufferable, that he was practically convulsing from excitement at the near-completion of their partner project? Was he really that desperate to get away from her? She thought they were actually getting along. Actually…friends. Almost.
God damn it.
“Unicorn Horn Powder,” James announced proudly as he put a small bottle of the stuff in front of Lily. She blinked down at it, then quickly peered at her book again.
“Alright, I’ll put it in one tablespoon at a time while you stir clockwise twice, and then counter-clockwise once. Do that…eight times,” she instructed, handing him the stirring rod. They stood on either side of the table, Lily already holding up the first tablespoon and James with the stirring rod in the potion.
Their eyes met through the steam. He smiled.
“I like working with you, Evans.”
She dropped the powder in the potion.
“Stir, James,” she replied softly, carefully measuring out another tablespoon. He was pouting as he stirred the potion, occasionally glancing up at her through the hair hanging in front of his face. She rolled her eyes.
“Yes, Potter, I enjoyed working with you as well,” she conceded dryly. His face immediately swept into a grin and he dropped his eyes down to the cauldron again.
“You mean you never even felt the urge to hex me for being irritating?” he asked joyfully as he continued stirring in an almost absentminded fashion.
She held the bottle up to the light and watched the way sparkles caught in the powder. “Let’s not get crazy now,” she responded sarcastically.
“You wound me, Evans,” he declared, but the everlasting smile on his face promised otherwise.
Lily tipped the last tablespoon of powder into the potion and leaned over the book again. “Alright, I think after you stir, we should be –”
Her head whipped around at the noise. She was met by James, a huge dopey smile stretched across his face as he let the steam of the potion envelope him in characteristic swirls.
“Did you just purr?” she asked disbelievingly.
“I believe it was more of a contented hum,” he corrected, his eyes drooping slightly. “Hmmm,” he rumbled again, his hazy eyes slipping closed.
“So I’m taking it the potion is a success,” she noted, taking in his posture – hunched over the table with a hand on either side of the cauldron, leaning so far over the thing she was sure he would topple into the concoction any second now – and the way his expression seemed blissfully vacant. Come to think of it, she saw that look on Alice’s face quite often whenever Frank was around.
If being in love meant looking like your brain was recently sucked out of your ears…well, Lily was glad it hadn’t happened to her just yet.
But still – if being in love meant that you got to forget just about everything for that moment, then maybe it wasn’t so bad? She looked at James. He looked like he was at the top of the world.
“What do you smell?” Lily finally asked, curiosity getting the better of her. James eyes’ snapped open at the sound of her voice, and he pulled his head hastily out of the cloud.
“That thing can start doing wonky things to your brain,” he said nervously, running a hand through his tousled and slightly damp locks.
“You’re deflecting,” she said, an amused smirk lifting the corners of her mouth.
“What am I deflecting?”
“Ah – and which question would that be, exactly?”
“Lily,” he responded promptly. “Glad we finally got to the first name basis.”
Her eyes narrowed. He sent a winning smile her way.
“Don’t you want to smell it?” He asked, nodding towards the potion.
Lily eyed it – well, frankly, yes. She’d love to smell it. The curiosity of that particular piece of unknown was practically gnawing at her brain.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “If I do, you have to tell me what you smell.”
He imitated her. “Only if you tell me what you smell.”
“Then I suppose I just won’t smell it.”
“Oh Evans. You pretend like I don’t know you. You’re practically itching to smell that potion,” he smirked.
“Git,” she huffed; but she moved towards the potion anyway.
His grin was wide. “Vaguely tolerable git,” he corrected in a light murmur. She gulped slightly as she bent over their project. The liquid seemed to slosh lazily back and forth in the cauldron, swirls cascading upwards out of it – and as she closed her eyes and finally let the smell invade her senses, she could see why James had looked so utterly satisfied with his head stuck over the potion.
It smelled absolutely divine.
“Sunshine,” she murmured, forgetting that she was readily giving up her end of their bargain (Gryffie Rule Number 23: Never make a deal with a Marauder. He will cheat you out of it).
“What?” James asked.
“It smells like sunshine,” she repeated, louder.
“Er – sunshine isn’t exactly a smell, Evans, nor is it particularly manly–”
“Shut up, Potter. I’m trying to explain it to you. Just give me –” and she took another deep breath.
“It smells like…like the Quidditch Pitch. You know? That smell of cold air and clean grass…and it smells a little like Treacle Tart, and my jasmine shampoo…and ink. And something else.” She frowned. “Something woodsy. Kind of sharp and fresh. It…it seems a bit familiar, actually.”
She opened her eyes, finding his hazel ones immediately. “Sunshine,” she finished simply.
James looked a bit nauseas. “You’re in love with a bloke who smells like…sunshine,” he repeated flatly.
“I suppose I am,” she agreed, pulling her head out of the steam with a little difficulty.
“And you’re sure this sunshine-smelling bloke isn’t batting for the other team?” he confirmed.
She sent him an irritated look. “I wouldn’t know, would I? Considering I don’t know who this bloke is. Besides, the way he smells is my perception of sunshine. He doesn’t actually smell like sunshine. Like you pointed out before, sunshine isn’t actually a smell.”
He put his hands up in the traditional gesture of surrender. “Whoa there. Getting awfully defensive over a guy you don’t even know.”
Lily put her fists against her hips. Gods, he really could be irritating. “What do you smell, then?” she asked aggressively.
James rubbed the back of his neck, his eyes flitting to the floor. “I’d rather not say.”
“Potter, don’t you dare cheat me out on this one –”
“The Library,” he blurted, his face coloring slightly. “That sweet smell of old parchment, kind of musty but still nice. Rain. My, er, cologne. Chocolate…and, uh – er, Jasmine,” he mumbled the last part rather hurriedly. “At least I think it’s Jasmine. I wouldn’t know.” He added, his cheeks now tinted dark pink.
She was watching his face, smiling slightly, glad that he’d trusted her enough to tell her. “Do you know who it is?” she asked quietly.
“I have a pretty good idea,” he mumbled. He rubbed the back of his neck again.
“Do I get to know who she is?” The small grin on her face grew into a teasing, very curious, extremely eager smile. The girl James Potter loves? Bloody hell!
“I reckon you’ll figure it all out pretty soon.”
And with a slightly breathtaking smile, he gathered their leftover ingredients and scampered off to the supply cabinet.
Lily huffed and crossed her arms, glaring at his retreating back. Coward.
It was another two weeks when they finally broached the subject again. Lily was seated in her favorite spot at the library, a small alcove tucked in front of a window and lined with books. She was in the middle of reading a wondrous passage on the benefits of Defense Charms –
“Evans.” James cut through the educational haze hovering about her head. She lifted her eyes off the book and let go of the lip caught between her teeth. He was standing there, looking nervous but excited, hands pushed deep into his pockets.
“I have made you my new project,” He announced proudly.
She didn’t even need to ask. “No.”
“Oh, come on, you don’t even know what it is yet –”
“There is not a single person stupid enough in this school to become one of your ‘experiments’,” Lily said calmly, tucking her hair behind her ear as she looked down at her page again.
“This isn’t going to be harmful!” He protested.
“Oh please. You’re a Marauder. Your idea of harmful and a normal person’s idea of harmful are two very different things,” Lily argued, putting her book aside. There was no point in trying to concentrate with him around. It was even more futile to ignore him.
“But I –” James stopped mid-sentence, furrowing his brow. “Hmm. Backhand compliment or veiled criticism?”
“Whichever one helps you sleep at night,” Lily quipped, rolling her eyes. Truthfully, even she wasn’t quite sure.
His eyes lit up. “Speaking of ‘sleeping’ and ‘night’ –”
“Alright, James. If I let you tell me what you’re up to, will you finally go away?” Lily cut across before he could finish with his inevitable perverse comment.
He straightened and grinned. “I’m going to help you find him.”
Lily stared. “Er. Who?”
“You know,” he said as though it was obvious. “The bloke you’re in love with.”
She sighed. Of course he would. “Why, Potter?”
He shrugged. “Bored. Curious.”
Wonderful; she was now his new source of entertainment.
She sighed again, deciding she was going to play along for just this instant, until things started to get really far-fetched.
“And how, exactly, are you planning to go about doing that? You can’t possibly want me to go around sniffing every single bloke in the –” she cut off quite abruptly at the huge smile on his face.
Oh bloody hell.
“No way,” she hissed furiously, standing up and sticking her finger in his chest, “James Potter, I am not sniffing every bloke in this school –”
“But it’s the only way we’ll know!” he protested.
“I’ll look like a freak!”
“Who cares what you’ll look like?”
“James!” she shrieked, throwing down her hands, quite forgetting that they were in the library.
He crossed his arms over his chest, an obstinate pout on his mouth. “Don’t shriek at me in that tone of voice,” he said.
“I’ll do what I want.”
“And besides,” he continued, completely disregarding her muttered response, “you won’t actively be sniffing blokes. See, I’ve narrowed this down. You couldn’t possibly be in love with a Slytherin, they’re all evil gits. Hufflepuffs just don’t really seem your type –”
“And how would you know what my type is?” Lily cut across, her eyes narrowed.
He plowed on. “You might be attracted to Ravenclaws. And definitely Gryffindors. So I’ve taken the liberty to snag a jumper from the sixth and seventh-year males of both of these houses, and you’ll smell them all and tell me which one is the one that smells like…sunshine,” he winced slightly at the last word.
Lily’s mouth hung open.
“Merlin, how much free time do you have?”
“Sirius was in detention, Moony was PMS-ing and Peter’s boring,” he rattled off, unfazed. He pulled out a dark green swatch of cloth from his bag. “Here.”
Lily’s lower jaw jutted out as she shot him a petulant glare. “You’re completely mental.”
“Sure,” he agreed easily, “now sniff the jumper, Evans.”
Shooting a surreptitious glance around them, Lily quickly snatched the green sweater from his hands and raised it to her nose, taking an exaggerated whiff. She immediately recoiled.
“That’s disgusting!” she cried, tossing it back to James as though it was a hot potato, “bloody hell, does that person have any sense of hygiene?”
James winced. “Er, no. But at least we know you’re not in love with Peter?”
Growling, she hit him aggressively on the arm, but he merely shoved another jumper into her hand. This one smelled much too strong.
The entire process took an entire hour. She didn’t know why she put up with it, but she was insatiably curious – and Potter had taken the liberty to set everything out for her…so might as well. She sniffed jumpers that smelled even more disgusting than imaginable, ones that smelled extremely fantastic, and even one that came alarmingly close to her Amortentia scent, but had a hint of wet dog to it that instantly made her nose scrunch at the top in disgust.
(Good thing too; that sweater had belonged to Sirius Black and if anything, she saw him as nothing more than a brother-like acquaintance that could be more than vaguely tolerable at times.)
“There’s not a single on in there that smells like him!” Lily wailed despondently, an hour later, her olfactory senses tingling and a headache forming at the back of her skull.
James ran a discouraged hand through his hair. “Bloody hell, I’ll have to steal Hufflepuff and Slytherin and that’s just sad, Evans…”
“Are you sure you got everyone?” Lily demanded, her eyes growing slightly panicked at the prospect of being in love with a Puffer or The League of Increasingly Evil Gits.
“Every single male in my age group that belongs in those houses?” she pressed, trying and failing not to seem desperate.
James looked sheepish and suddenly incredibly nervous. “Well, I, er…left myself out.”
There was a ringing silence.
No…it couldn’t be…could it?
Eyes wide, Lily grabbed two fistfuls of James’ shirt and dragged him towards her. He was too shocked to scramble back and away – he couldn’t believe she wanted to sniff him, as if he was even a possibility –
Pressing down the innate desire to run away screaming, Lily slowly moved in towards James and took a deep whiff of his shirt, her nose brushing slightly against his chest.
She closed her eyes, tears burning behind the lids.
The Quidditch pitch. Treacle Tart. Her shampoo (not on his sweater of course; sort of just swirling around her head). Ink. And that unidentifiable yet familiar woodsy scent, clinging to him and making her head spin and of course it was him. Of course he smelled like her idea of sunshine.
“Shit,” she said brokenly.
She was in love with James Potter.
“Er, Lily?” James said cautiously, staring down at the redhead currently pressing her face against him. Not that he minded – in fact, if he were any younger, he might have imploded from pure joy at this contact. But this was Lily. And Lily did not go around hugging James Potter. And therefore, something was wrong.
James Potter was brilliant at deduction.
“Who do you smell, James?” Lily asked suddenly, pulling away from him. His expression shifted from mildly confused to alarmed at her tear-heavy eyes.
“Lily, what –?”
“Who do you smell?” she asked again, impatiently rubbing the tears on her cheeks away.
His face reddened. “I – I don’t think you’d want to know, Lily…”
She took a shuddering gasp. “I just – how the hell do you fall in love with someone without even knowing?!” she asked loudly, another frustrated tear slipping down her face.
James blinked. “Love’s like that. It sneaks up on you and never makes sense and usually it hurts to even think about.”
Bitter? Of course he was.
Lily was breathing sharply, unevenly. “And…and now, when I think about it,” she gulped back a sob, “I think I’ve loved him all along and I just didn’t want to admit it to myself. And that’s just…so ridiculous.”
“Lily, did you…” James hesitated, “did you smell me? In your potion?” His voice was so tentative it was practically self-degrading.
Lily let out a derisive sniff. “Of course I did, James. I should’ve known my little crush could never be temporary…like anyone could ever get over you; what was I even thinking, liking you?!”
He looked as though he’d been punched across the face.
“What – I – holy shit – Lily, I – well, fuck – don’t even – how does that…how does it even… what – dunno what to say, I –”
“Honestly, shut up,” she snapped, cutting off his incoherent ramblings. “If you can’t think of a way to properly reject me, don’t even bother saying anything. I get the point, James, you’re over me.”
“What – when did I ever –?”
But Lily cut him off by pressing her hands over her face and slumping back down on her seat. “Of course I’d smell James Potter in my Amortentia,” she moaned, as though the man in question wasn’t standing right in front of her, still looking as shell-shocked as though Dumbledore had proclaimed his desire to mate with the Giant Squid.
“Hold on,” James finally said sharply, getting his wits back about him. “Why do you look so upset about this? Am I really that horrible to love?”
She didn’t emerge from her palms. “Yeah, you are,” she said in a muffled voice, “everyone’s in love with you. It’s so cliché…so pointless…what the hell is wrong with me?”
“Oi!” he yelped. “There is nothing wrong with loving me, Lily Evans. You don’t even…you don’t even seem happy about this! Do you even actually love me?”
He didn’t understand why she was sitting there and moaning into her hands instead of jumping about in glee. That’s sure what he felt like doing – because, Merlin, she loved him!
“Why should I be happy about loving you?” she asked, looking utterly perplexed. “It’s not like you’d ever love me back –”
He gaped. Bleeding hell, she really was thick. “Are you kidding me? I’ve been after you for half my bloody life, Evans, why the hell would I not love you back?”
“You won’t even tell me what you smelled in your potion!”
Lily immediately fell silent, her eyes solemn and greener than he’d ever seen them.
“Of course it’s you,” he contined quietly, “it’s always been you, I reckon. How could you even think it wasn’t you?”
“I – are you serious?” she asked in a small voice.
“Jasmine?” he asked heavily, an amused smile lighting up his lips. “Honestly, Lily, who else smells like Jasmine and the Library? You’re such an idiot.”
She smirked. “Yeah, but at least I’m not a bloke who smells like sunshine.”
He immediately looked horrified. “Shit, Evans, of course as soon as you finally fall in love with me, you choose to do it this way.”
“I love you, Sunshine,” she crooned, hoping she didn’t look as goofy as she thought.
“Stop emasculating me!”
“JAMES POTTER SMELLS LIKE SUNSHINE!”
“LILY EVANS IS IN LOVE WITH ME!”
“ – SUNSHINES AND DAISIES AND GIRLY THINGS –”
“ – ASKED ME IF SHE COULD START POPPING OUT MINI-POTTERS AND EVERYTHING –”
“ – AND THERE WAS DEFINITELY A FLOWERY TYPE OF SCENT –”
“Screaming in my library?! Get out, you ruffians! Out! Out!”
And as they sprinted out with Lily’s textbooks hitting them repeatedly round their heads, laughing and holding hands, Lily realized that maybe falling in love with James Potter really wasn’t such a horror after all.
…besides, if he ever got too annoying, she could always threaten to tell the school that he smelled like sunshine.