Chapter 1 : Up in the Highest of Hights
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“You all right over there, James?” Lily teased, smiling softly up at him. “You look like you’ve been confunded.”
Embarrassed that he’d been caught staring, James quickly averted his eyes and suddenly became increasingly intent on examining his ratty trainers. “No,” he murmured, running a hand through his perpetually dishevelled hair, “Just thinking is all.”
“Oh,” she replied, her interest piqued. “About what?”
“Nothing,” James insisted – a bit too harshly, he realized, as Lily recoiled slightly, ostensibly stung by his tone. “Sorry,” he mumbled, still too mortified to look her square in the eye. They’d spent months building a rickety friendship, and James would be damned if he was going to demolish the fruits of all his labors with long-buried habits of the past.
“It’s okay,” she assured him gently.
He sighed again, and the uncomfortable silence was again resumed as the pair continued to shuffle languidly down the deserted corridor.
“I’d tell you, it’s just…” James blurted out against his better judgment, trailing off lamely at the end of his statement.
“Just what?” Lily probed, taking a step closer to the visibly distressed Head Boy.
“You wouldn’t want to hear it,” James decided, finally mustering up enough courage to peer into Lily’s delicate face.
“You can tell me,” she murmured breathlessly, raising a hand as if to settle it on his shoulder, but deciding halfway through to conceal the movement poorly with a feigned yawn.
“’Syoo,” James replied almost incoherently, thrusting his calloused hands deep into the pockets of his robes.
“Sorry,” she said, “I didn’t catch that.”
She was not one to be easily evaded.
“It’s you, Lily. I’ve been thinking about you,” He told her, taking extra care to enunciate each of his words carefully.
“Oh,” she said (in a voice so small it was nearly imperceptible). “Oh.”
Her cheeks flushed a dark crimson to match the curtain of shimmering hair that spilled elegantly over her narrow shoulders. Lily was ethereal, resplendent, bathed in the soft glow of torchlight, and James had the curious sensation that he was peering through her, rather than at her. Then, as if pushed by some invisible entity, he took a stumbling step towards her, face inclined so that mere inches separated them. With his heart beating an erratic tattoo against his ribcage, James allowed his fingers to rest softly along Lily’s freckled cheek. He expected her to protest: to slap him in the face, kick him in the shins, or admonish him soundly and humorlessly. James was then subsequently very surprised when Lily shivered slightly, allowing her eyes to flutter closed as her lips curved into a crooked smile that sent every hair on his arms on end.
Lily leaned into him slightly, the fragrant scent of her floral perfume intoxicating James into a kind of stupor he’d never before experienced. She was close now, so, so close. James could count every perfect freckle on her porcelain face, could see every single one of her delicate lashes, could spot the flecks of gold leaf swimming in her emerald eyes, could even –
“Oi, Prongs,” a voice interjected, startling the pair from their reverie. Horrified, Lily jumped backwards, face pained, as if scalded by James’ touch.
“I should…I have to…I…” Lily fumbled, looking from James to a very surprised Sirius and back again before fleeing the scene (each step faltering like those of a sailor missing his sea legs).
“What the bloody hell was that all about, Mate?” Sirius inquired dubiously, a half-eaten pumpkin pasty clutched in each fist.
“You have really brilliant timing, Padfoot,” James scowled darkly, brushing past Sirius and landing him with a good elbow in the ribs along the way.
As Lily sprinted through the dim, deserted labyrinth of the school, she considered each of her options carefully. The responsible, neurotic, rule-following part of her conscience berated her for acting so irresponsibly; this Lily would report to her dormitory immediately (it was, after all, well past curfew, and patrolling had been – for the most part – completed). Lily was so flustered, however, that she knew her keenly perceptive friends would demand an explanation, and Lily wasn’t quite sure she was even ready to admit what had happened (or, rather, almost happened) to herself.
The hopeless romantic in her (a much smaller personality, to be sure, than the rest) demanded that she catch up to where ever James was brooding, toss her arms around his neck, and…well, this alter-ego of Lily’s was foolishly reckless and relied almost entirely on spontaneity, and as such, had not formulated much of a plan past that point. No matter how the…confrontation panned out, Lily was sure she wasn’t comfortable to deal with the fall-out, and opted, instead, to succumb to her cowardice – an aspect of her personality that was, despite being a Gryffindor through and through, much more prominent. Pursuing this presumably fail-safe option, Lily scurried off to the astronomy tower (with her proverbial tail between her legs) to hide.
Emerging onto the blustery rooftop, Lily gasped softly at the expansive myriad of glimmering stars peppering the obsidian sky. The sight was beautiful - breathtaking, really - but even as she admired the constellations, Lily couldn’t ignore the bitter November wind that whistled through her school robes, burrowed through her fair skin, and settled deep into her bones with a chilling ache. Wishing she’d had the foresight to fetch a heavier cloak, Lily shuffled over to the nearest telescope to try and distract herself from the clattering of her own teeth. Astronomy, however, had always been dreadfully difficult for her (a well-kept secret), and after several minutes of random knob adjustments and mild expletives muffled under her breath, Lily could still produce no more than the exceedingly fuzzy image of what appeared to be an elongated turnip suspended in mid-air.
She’d been making good progress (the turnip had been taking on a definite circular quality) when she was startled by the call of her own name. Whirling around to identify the speaker, she slammed her elbow against the telescope so soundly that the entire apparatus rocked with the force. “Are you all right?” James asked, taking long strides to where she stood, red-faced and cringing, as she clutched the bruised appendage. “That looked painful.”
“No, no; I’m perfectly fine,” Lily assured him with a grimace. But James would have none of it; he grasped her elbow carefully, lingering for just a moment too long before letting his hand trail down the length of her arm, pausing only briefly to give her palm the gentlest squeeze, before allowing his own fall lamely at his side.
“So,” Lily began tremulously, shifting her weight uneasily from foot to foot, “How’d you find me anyway?”
“Er…Marauder’s intuition?” He supplied with a foolhardy grin. Lily quirked an eyebrow doubtfully, a wordless reprimand.
“All right, all right - I confess. I had a little bit of help from the map here,” James admitted, waving the wadded up piece of parchment he’d been clutching behind his back. “What are you doing up here anyway? It’s bloody freezing,” he said, taking note of the goose-bumps along her alabaster forearms.
“Just thinking is all,” she mocked good-naturedly.
“Oh really?” James questioned in mock surprise. “Whatever about?” He expected a cheeky comment in return, accepting quietly that this might be the extent of their relationship – forever. But Lily’s expression sobered immediately at the inquiry.
“This,” she whispered so quietly that, at first, James thought she hadn’t spoken. It wasn’t until she’d stood on tiptoe, resting a dainty hand against his chest for support, and pressed a too-brief, feather light kiss to the corner of his mouth that he’d become aware of her response. Completely taken aback, he’d tried several times to speak (his mouth opening and closing in quick succession like a floundering fish in the last throes of life) but his suddenly tight lungs couldn’t seem to produce more than a strangled sort of gasp.
“Goodnight, James Potter,” Lily grinned, flushed and slightly mussed, as she swept from the dark tower, leaving a positively ecstatic Head Boy in her wake.