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Chapter 4: I Know I'll Never Lose Affection
March of Sixth Year
“Looking for a specific book?”
James jumped, looking away from the book shelf he’d just been perusing. He knew, without looking, that it was Lily speaking. He’d memorized the particular tone and cadence of her voice long ago, without meaning to. It was hard not to when he always pushed her temper to the limits and caused her to shout at him so much.
“Evans,” James greeted her, not bothering to turn around. His heartbeat picked up almost imperceptibly. “Can I help you?”
“You’ve been standing in this aisle for a while,” Lily said, sounding guarded. “I was just wondering if you needed help finding something. I do know the library pretty well.”
Finally, James turned, regarding Lily warily. She was watching him speculatively, her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. Her mouth was set in a hard line and she looked as though she was waiting for a disaster of some sort. Not that James blamed her. He himself was prepared for an explosion.
The past five years, James and Lily had danced around each other in an odd sort of dance, twisting and turning, avoiding each other but for the occasional dart closer in confrontation, but still keeping a distance. They did not argue constantly, as many people assumed. Normally, they would be tolerant of one another, though never friendly. James was not a bad person, nor was Lily a shrew with a violent temper. But sometimes things seemed to ignite when they were together. They brought out the worst in each other. Or, some might argue, the best.
James could never really stop himself from acting like an arrogant berk around Lily. Though he could manage to be civil at times, something Lily reciprocated, he just couldn’t help, sometimes, but to push her buttons. That’s when Lily, normally so kind and soft-spoken, would lose her head.
But that was in the past now, that circling filled with the occasional stand-off. This year, however, things were different. James was different. Though he didn’t like to admit it, the events following the Defense Against the Dark Arts OWL had shook him. He was ashamed of his behavior. Snape was a foul git who was all too interested in the Dark Arts, yes, but James knew that it was his humiliation of Snape that had brought about the hurt of Lily. And no matter how much he liked to irritate Lily, see the sparks of anger in her vibrant eyes, there was no denying that he cared about her. Perhaps a little too much.
That’s why he’d tried to stop making her so mad so often. He still did, of course. He really couldn’t help it and doubted he’d ever be able to stop completely. He had, though, cut down on it and actually tried talking to Lily like a normal human being. It had worked – surprisingly well – though they were hardly friendly. However, instead of relieving the tension between them, it had only caused it to increase. Now, as they both looked at each other, the air was thick with the tension. It was no wonder they both seemed prepped for an explosion.
After a pause, James finally answered Lily’s question. “Help would be greatly appreciated, actually. Thank you. I need something for the Potions essay.”
Lily lifted an eyebrow. “Getting a head start on that? It’s not due for several days. I’m impressed, Potter. Normally you leave these things for the last minute.”
James shrugged casually, though on the inside his pulse was pounding. He didn’t want to mess this up. Although he’d managed to have several semi-amiable conversations with Lily this year, this was the first one she’d initiated. “I figured it was time for me to apply myself. Learn a little responsibility.”
The other pale red eyebrow joined its mate. “I see. Haven’t you already learned responsibility from being Quidditch captain? The team has really improved from last year, you seem much more cohesive. I figured that was your doing.”
“There’s a bit of a difference in being responsible for leading a Quidditch team and being responsible in school. Wouldn’t you agree?” James’s palms began to feel sweaty as Lily slowly began to move towards him with small, hesitant steps.
“I suppose you’re right,” she conceded, drawing even close. Her green eyes were fixed on his. James found he was having a little trouble breathing. Oh yes, he definitely likes Lily far too much for his own good.
“You know, you really do seem different this year,” Lily continued. She was so close, James thought he could feel her body heat radiating from her and warming him to almost unbearable temperatures. “The periods of time in which I actually find you tolerable have increased.”
“Why Evans, that was almost a compliment,” James remarked, his throat dry. There were twenty three freckles across Lily’s nose and cheeks. He could count them. He tried to swallow with difficulty, his Adam’s apple bobbing.
Lily lifted her hand, bringing it up by his face. James’s heart stuttered when her soft skin brushed with the lightest touch against his cheek when she reached for something behind him. He tried not to let it show, how much her proximity was affecting him. He blinked when a book suddenly appeared in front of his face.
“I believe this is what you’re looking for,” Lily said, placing the book in his hands. James’s mind was befuddled and he couldn’t quite figure out what she was talking about.
“For your Potions essay,” Lily elaborated, spotting his blank look. “It’s the same one I used for my essay.”
“Wait, you’ve already finished it?” James asked in impressed surprise as she stepped away, allowing a more socially acceptable amount of space to come between them. James was simultaneously disappointed and relieved.
“Of course,” she said with a wink. “I do like Potions. Besides, I’m Lily Evans, remember?”
“Oh, I doubt I could ever forget,” James muttered under his breath. Lily heard him anyways, and a faint pink flush colored her cheeks, making her freckles stand out even more.
“Good luck with your essay. Not that you need it, I’m sure,” she said, appearing slightly flustered. She started to leave.
“Hey, Evans, hold on for a second,” James said. “I… uh, I think we should… be friends.”
He wasn’t sure what made him say it. In truth, what he really wanted was something a bit more than friendship, but he knew she didn’t feel the same way. There had always been something about Lily Evans, though, that drew him in, something he could never explain. And he knew that even if he couldn’t make her his, he would like to have Lily in his life. Preferably in a way that doesn’t involve them getting into frequent arguments.
Lily was looking at him in vague disbelief. James waited, more nervous than he cared to admit, expecting her to reject him yet again, although in a much different way than in the past. That’s why he was so shocked when she nodded.
“I see no reason why we can’t try,” she said, almost pensively. “If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to being the only person that can manage to get under my skin so effectively. I used to think I was a nice, level-headed person until I met you. No one else can quite get me angry so quickly and easily. Well, except my sister, but that’s a story for a different day.”
“I look forward to hearing it,” James replied smoothly. On the inside, he was celebrating. He was the only one who could get under Lily’s skin. She probably didn’t mean that in a good way, but he still felt rather proud of that. At least he wasn’t forgettable.
Lily smiled slightly. “I’ll see you around… friend.”
She left, going back to the table where her friends had been sitting, occasionally shooting curious glances to where the two of them were. James refrained from doing a happy dance as he walked back to where Remus was waiting for him. That had been entirely unexpected, but certainly not unwelcome.
Things were looking up.
Story and chapter titles taken from the song In My Life by The Beatles