Chapter Eight -- One To Mend
Avoidance had been key to Lily’s progress in the past couple of months. She had failed to surround herself with what had once seemed to consume her life - primarily, Michael. Although parties were still frequently held upon the Quidditch pitch, Lily opted to spend her time within the castle. She knew that there was a good chance she would run into Michael had she attended any of the festivities, finding that alcohol was a big draw for someone so dependent upon a crutch. Although she’d always envisioned Michael as someone strong in both physical and emotional nature, she now knew the latter to be false. He was anything but emotionally stable, as had become evident in the last weeks of their relationship. Although Lily had always been under the inclination that Michael was the dominant force in their so-called ‘romance’, she now knew that he’d needed her. He’d needed someone to take out his frustration upon. He’d needed someone to help him through his weakness, to hold him when times became unbearable.
Although James had assisted in allowing Lily to take her mind off of that particular person, the very same person who had broken her heart and attempted to break her spirit, there was little he could do upon nightfall, when everything went dark and all Lily had to support her was the pillow beneath her head, the moonlight streaming through her curtains, and the tears she shed every now and then in remembrance. She had very little to cry about these days and yet, there was an emptiness inside of her that seemed to receive such a response.
Seemingly, Lily had accomplished so much in terms of moving forward. She’d made friends, unparticular as to which house they hailed from. But, more importantly, she’d made one true friend. She’d brought someone who she’d believed to lack sincerity into her life and allowed him to prove her wrong. He’d contradicted every pre-existing thought she’d once had upon his name and brought about a character of his very own. James Potter had gone above and beyond his line of duty as a friend and fellow Gryffindor. He’d brought new meaning to the word trust. Although the castle viewed him as their savior in terms of bringing entertainment to their small little worlds, playing pranks and exceeding upon the Quidditch pitch, he was just James to her.
But, that was it. He was just James. Nothing more, nothing less. He knew so very much about her and what had happened to her and what she wanted to happen to her, but he failed to know one thing. He failed to know of the emptiness, the emptiness that still pined for Michael to reassume his place in her heart. He failed to know of the hope she held, the small shred of hope that still lingered upon his name. Lily knew that Michael had once relied upon her. He’d once needed her, although he’d never say such a thing aloud. It was this thought, this faith she held, that allowed Lily to feel that maybe, just maybe, she could be the one to fix Michael Crouch.
“James Potter, where are you taking me?” Lily found herself demanding, although she couldn’t seem to suppress the smile that had found it’s way upon her face. Her hand had somehow been miraculously placed in his, her brilliant green eyes hidden away beneath a simple blindfold, and her feet were following in that silly Gryffindor boy’s lead. Their afternoon classes had been cancelled, thank Merlin, and James had taken the opportunity to treat Lily to a pre-graduation gift, as he’d referred to this small adventure. Reluctantly, although she couldn’t deny the butterflies floating about within the depths of her stomach, she’d agreed. Lily had always been rather hesitant when it came to new places and exploring new things. She didn’t recall ever being that way as a child, but at Hogwarts she’d somehow morphed into the quiet, observant type. Her mother had once called her a little hellion, endearingly, of course, due to her curious nature and unfaltering determination.
She’d once been as gifted at exploration as James Potter claimed to be. It was tapping back into that side of her that was the difficult part. But, for the umpteenth time in the past few months, James was there, holding her hand through it, and leading her back to the person she’d once been.
“Are you going to make me define ‘surprise’ for you again, Evans? I can tell you where I’m not taking you. Let’s see, I’m not taking you to the library. And I’m also not taking you to the Great Hall. And, well, I’m imagining you already knew that since it’s a tad bit windy out here, which means you must know I’m not taking you anywhere within the castle. But, that’s all you’re getting out me. No more questions,” James insisted, offering her hand a bit of a reassuring squeeze, which only seemed to add to the anxious, excited state she was currently in.
“Are we almost there?” she found herself whining, knowing that whatever this was, it was bound to be good. James Potter had yet to disappoint her in the time they’d considered one another friends. Of course, she was failing to include the entire O.W.L. incident, as well as many other occasions that had once led her to believe him to be a pompous idiot. But, yet again, James Potter was a walking, talking contradiction. He was living proof that people could, indeed, change - sometimes even for the better.
“Well, we’re closer to being almost there than we were five minutes ago when you asked me that very same thing,” James replied coyly, knowing that the suspense was driving her insane. Lily Evans hated a surprise, which made her the most fun person to offer such opportunities to. She was his favorite person to surprise, as she genuinely appreciated the effort put forth. Her eyes seemed to inherit a bit more sparkle than was ordinary and her smile, well, it wasn’t genuinely exhibited entirely too often. He’d once asked her why she put forth a forced smile, rather than allow it to come naturally. What she failed to realize was that James Potter only wanted real smiles from her and loved receiving them. Surprises tended to work in his favor, in terms of getting Lily to flash him a true grin.
Biting on her lip nervously, Lily resisted the urge to whip off the blind fold and see for herself where she was being led. But, she knew that she would only spoil the fun - for both of them. As positively nerve-wracking as surprises could be, she was becoming more and more acquainted with reacting to them, as having James Potter as a friend seemed to entail plenty of unexpected occurrences. She was gradually becoming used to being on the receiving end of surprises and, the more she received, the more she appreciated them.
“Alright. We’re here,” James said at last, reluctantly dropping his hand from hers and reaching up to unfold her blindfold. “Off with the blindfold and in with the thrill you’re about to receive.”
Cocking an eyebrow as she heard James’ word and felt the small bit of cloth fall from her eyes, Lily said suspiciously, “What makes you so sure I’m going to be so thrilled with whatever it is you’ve come to show me?” Taking in the atmosphere, Lily presumed that the two of them were in the midst of the Forbidden Forest. It wasn’t so uncommon for them to take strolls along a path Hagrid had mapped out for the more rebellious students - a fact which was either lost from Dumbledore’s knowledge or one he chose to ignore for the sake of youthful expedition. Lily had actually grown comfortable within the forest, despite the measures many of the staff members took to prevent students from entering upon the threshold. It was within the forest that she’d confided so much to James. It had served as starting grounds of their trust, an almost sacred place. For him to bring her out here, after all the time they’d already spent within it, well, it seemed to be less than surprising. But, she didn’t lose faith in the one person who never seemed to fall short in terms of astonishing her.
“The Forbidden Forest,” Lily commented slowly, looking over at James as he walked towards one of the nearby trees nonchalantly, glancing at her from over his shoulder with a coy, devious smirk. “Well, you’ve outdone yourself here, Potter. I mean, wow, very shocking. My mind has officially been blown away.”
Lily merely stood back as she watched James walked towards a nearby tree, running his fingers along the rugged bark adorning the body. Something about the look in his eyes indicated to her that this was no ordinary tree. Obviously, they were coming to the catch of the situation. Lily had known there would be a catch. There was always a catch when it came to simple surprises with James Potter. He had a unique outlook upon the world, one that was beginning to be rivaled by that of her own. The two of them were constantly sharing their thoughts and views on the most random of topics. One moment they could be talking politics, arguing over who they felt rightly deserved nomination for the Wizengamot, and the next they’d be debating whether an apple or an orange held greater significance to the overall intake of fruit each day - Lily was all for the apples. The moment he’d unveiled the surprise to her by removing that blindfold, Lily had known there was something more to it. To James, she was sure the Forbidden Forest wasn’t just the Forbidden Forest. And, apparently, the tree standing before them was not just a tree.
“Come here,” he said quietly, having allowed silence to linger between the two of them for a few short moments. Timidly, her arms crossed against her chest as wisps of her auburn hair were blown into her eyes by the wind, Lily went to stand beside James, taking in the tree. Of course, it wasn’t a very remarkable tree - at least not in Lily’s opinion. It was rather tall, but aside from that, it didn’t seem to hold many extraordinary qualities. Then again, Lily had never really considered trees as anything other than a mere way to judge passing time. She’d looked to the leaves as an indication of the coming season. For so long, Lily had measured life upon the weather. But, lately, she’d taken to ignoring the weather and simply living life. And, who better to teach her how to do that than a Mr. James Potter? No one, really.
“This, Lily Evans, is my tree. It’s been my tree since my second year at Hogwarts. You see that small, tiny engraving? The ‘J.P.’? That’s my mark. It’s been there for over four years now. At first, I came to this tree after my very first fight with Sirius. It had something to do with a girl we both liked, but the details aren’t really too important. I’d never gone into the forest alone before and, when I stormed out of my dorm and into this thicket, I sat under this tree until the next morning. I was lucky not to be eaten by wolves, or something to that effect. I know it might sound sort of naïve, but I believed that nothing could touch me as long as I stayed put beneath this tree. And, so no other hormonally imbalanced teenager would make claims to it, I marked it with my initials. And, now we’re going to climb it.”
Catches could be quite a bitch when they wanted to be. Lily had found herself almost touched by the reminiscent childhood memory James had shared with her and then, of course, he’d had to slip in the small, minor detail that they had come to the tree to climb it. But, this was James and she had no reason not to trust him. Although it wasn’t the most appealing of ideas, if he thought they could climb it, together, then that’s what they were going to do. But, first, Lily allowed her eyes to drop to the ground, landing upon something that she would need before she climbed. Bending down to retrieve it, Lily pressed her thumb against the sharp, jagged spot of the rock she’d picked up, biting her lip as she moved forward to make a mark of her own. Only a couple of inches from James’ initials, she’d added her own, looking over at him cheekily and saying quietly, “Just call me hormonally imbalanced. There’s no way I’m climbing this tree without a bit of claim, as well.”
James Potter wasn’t the only one full of surprises. And, it was in that afternoon that the two of them did manage to climb that tree. Although James was clearly better at tree climbing due to his height and strength, the two of them both helped one another through the task, not one person bringing more help than the other. It was in that afternoon that Lily realized that she wasn’t immune to trust. She could still bring herself to put that faith in another person. She had James to help her through it and, for the first time, he had her, as well.
One owl. One letter. One morning of complete and utter disarray. It was with exactly one sentence, with exactly eight words that Lily’s entire world had gone to complete and total hell. Everything that had been nearly stable, every little ounce of progress, had been thrown away with those eight words. There had been no sign-off, no signature, not even an initial. No, he knew her well enough to understand that she’d recognize that penmanship anywhere.
Astronomy Tower. Tonight. Don’t make me regret this.
Had Lily been thinking rationally, she’d have taken a sip of her orange juice, taken a bite of her toast, and proceeded to rip up the parchment that had been sent to her. She wouldn’t have allowed it to effect her at all. But, there was that emptiness. There was that big, gaping hole within her heart that was practically crying out for her to follow his words. Michael’s words. The very same Michael that had once left those hideous bruises upon her thin, pale arms. The very same Michael that had taken her for granted time and time again. The very same Michael who had been ‘better’ than her in all aspects of the wizarding world. And, yet, she pined for the very same Michael. She pined for someone to love her in a way that would cure the emptiness growing within her.
Throughout the entire evening, Lily was a complete and total wreck. She was a bag of nerves as she sat within the common room, waiting for curfew to hit. Somehow, she knew Michael wouldn’t be leaving his own house until it was inappropriate to do so. He wanted privacy. And, Lily had a feeling she knew why he wanted that privacy. However, she was still willing to meet him. More than that, she was still willing to mend the broken pieces that was their relationship. She wanted to fix him, one step at a time. She knew he needed her, whether he chose to acknowledge that fact or not. He was just as dependent upon her as she was him. Even now, she knew that between them, there was that gaping hole, awaiting closure.
Lily felt eyes upon her, although she was too anxious to allow her eyes to part with the clock. She’d been staring at the minute-hand for what felt like ages. Forty-three minutes, actually, since she’d been keeping time. Soon, very soon, she would make her departure and, hopefully, she wouldn’t come back to bed with tears in her eyes. She had that hope, that faith, that slight memory of a time when the two of them had been happy. Lily had hoped to let go of such things, knowing that counting on Michael was as hopeless as rain in the desert. However, it was that emptiness that drove her to spring from the couch and out of the portrait hole.
The Astronomy Tower had never felt farther away. Lily felt herself break into a run, desperate to feel those arms around her, to gaze into those cerulean eyes and feel, for the first time in ages, whole. She only hoped that Michael was the answer to what she was looking for. She only hoped that this was the right decision. But, right now, it seemed to be the only decision. As she made her way up the stone steps, her feet smacking against the cement with each move, she felt her breath catch in her throat and her body go motionless as she saw him. He was leaning against the frame of a small, rectangular window, looking just as empty as she’d been feeling. Frail was the only way to describe his current appearance. He’d certainly lost some weight, not to mention coloring. He was nearly as pale as a ghost. And, judging by the look upon his face, he was nowhere near as thrilled to see her as she was to see him. His mouth was thinned, his eyes lacking any sort of emotion, and he looked at her almost expectantly, waiting for her to snap out of the shock she seemed to have gone into.
“Michael,” Lily found herself saying quietly, clearing her throat and preparing for whatever it was that he intended to say to her. There had to be something, some sort of apology, that he’d been preparing. But, as she looked at him, she received no sense of remorse whatsoever. If anything, he just looked tired and worn. “You wanted to see me?”
Meeting her gaze, Michael seemed to finally allow himself to recognize her presence. He’d been looking at her, but it’d felt completely and entirely devoid of any true emotion. His reaction was either slow or being forced. But, Lily cleared her mind of such thoughts. She was here, he was here, and that was all that mattered.
“I’ve missed you,” he insisted simply, moving from the window he’d been perched against and taking small, steady steps towards her. Involuntarily, Lily felt a shiver run it’s course up and down her spine. But, she remained still. She didn’t flee. She didn’t even break eye contact. He’d missed her. And, although she knew it went against everything she’d been working towards, she believed him. He looked an absolute wreck. And all because he hadn’t had her to lean on. He did need her, even if he couldn’t say it. “And, now, I need you, Lily. I need you tonight. I was wrong before. The others, the other girls, they couldn’t take your place. You’re irreplaceable to me. Only you know how to take care of me. Only you know how to make everything better.”
He was reaffirming her suspicions, voicing what she’d been hoping he would. He was saying all the right things. He was charming her, once more. She was irreplaceable to him. But, there was still one thing she needed to know before she gave in. She needed to hear him say one thing - one thing he had never been too good with addressing.
“Say it, Michael,” Lily said stubbornly, as he pulled her body close to his, hugging his arms around her small frame and burying his head into her hair. He knew what she wanted to hear. He knew what it would take to seal the deal, to receive what it was he was longing for.
“I love you, Lily,” he managed to say, lifting his head from her shoulder and catching her lips with his in a fiery embrace, setting forth an ache in her limbs for his. Longing had never been a problem for the two of them. Intimacy, however, had yet to make an appearance in their relationship. Lily felt his fingers on the buttons of her blouse, but she failed to care. He’d said it and, hopefully, now, she could relieve herself of that burden - that emptiness. She would give him all she had to rid herself of that feeling.
However, she felt herself pull away as she heard someone stumble at the doorway. Although he’d attempted to leave before either Lily or Michael had noticed him, she managed to catch a distinct glimpse of that ever-familiar unruly hair of his, not to mention the look on his face as he’d intruded upon Michael and Lily’s rekindling romance. Lily Evans had never seen James Potter look more crushed than he had on that evening. And, it was that look on his face that allowed her to pull away from Michael Crouch and follow him down those stairs, hopefully to catch him before he ascended up those stone steps to his own dormitory, shutting her out as she’d unknowingly done to him.