Chapter 5 : Per Aspera
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(*Through the thorns…)
James was lying horizontal on his bed. He’d drawn his bed curtains though he didn’t expect his privacy to last long. In the last week he’d gone from flying high to having one of the worst weeks in his life. His father’s condition had just drastically deteriorated, possibly in relation to the recent murder of the Rabino family, close friends of his parents.
And then there was Lily.
All he currently wanted was to be left alone to wallow in pathetic misery. He was positive that he’d earned it. Did he regret hexing Snape? Not really. Snivellus had it coming; the Slytherin had been lucky that he’d been able to restrain himself and his friends for so long, with only a few mishaps here and there. They had been enemies since first year and the fact he was Head Boy and Lily disapproved did not erase the enmity that had been building.
Ironically, James had been trying to mollify Snivellus before things had gotten out of hand when the four of them had come across the git. Just a few sneers and insults thrown at each other intended to rile and they’d be on their way.
Snape had changed the rules when he’d thrown a dark hex at Moony; the time for niceties had vanished. James had frozen Snape, Padfoot had strung him up by the ankles and that was when Lily happened by them.
She had a lot of nerve telling him off as if he was a firstie. She had no right to tell him what he could and could not do. They were only snogging and even that had to be kept top secret. He was sick of living up to her impossible standards. Couldn’t she see that he cared about her and that was bloody more important than his faults? James couldn’t shake the feeling that Lily had been waiting for him to mess up, so then he’d be the reason she had to break things off, instead of sharing blame, instead of realizing she also had faults. Lily drove him crazy, but there was an awful empty feeling inside of him that if he was completely honest was because of Lily – because he missed her terribly.
“James?” The weedy voice penetrated through his curtains cautiously. James ignored the voice. Peter would go away if he just lay here quietly as if asleep. “Is it true you and Lily were intimately involved?”
‘Intimately,’ thought James; that wasn’t a word Peter would use, which unfortunately meant that Remus and Sirius had put him up to this and that they were also in the room, and his continued silence would not deter them.
“Because if you were,” Sirius’s loud carrying voice added, “I might have to question our friendship. How could you forget to mention the minor, insignificant detail that you’ve been snogging the lady of your dreams?”
James wasn’t sure where Sirius had learned of his relationship with Lily, and most likely that very information was circling, or had already circled, through Hogwarts.
“Leave me alone,” James said, hoping to sound firm and threatening, but his voice had too much of a whiney quality.
“Prongs, I was speaking with Tallie, and apparently Lily is as miserable as you are,” Remus stated matter of factly.
“Good,” James muttered.
“I think you should talk to her. Resolve your issues and start over.”
“There’s no starting over. I’m through with redheads and girls with green eyes.”
“Enough,” Sirius proclaimed and he yanked open the curtains. He certainly had no respect for privacy. “You need to stop moping. You’re going to go outside and get some fresh air and if you don’t comply, Moony and I will just drag you out.”
James rolled his eyes. “Fine, but I won’t be any fun.”
“You never are,” Sirius quipped back.
“Oh, clever. I thought you were trying to cheer me up. How exactly is insulting me going to accomplish that?” James said mockingly.
“It wasn’t an insult, just a fact that I think you need to come to terms with,” Sirius responded gravely.
Peter snickered and James was no longer able to fight off a smile. Sirius was very encouraged by his reaction and his energy seemed to double in the time it took them to get from the Gryffindor Tower to the Great Hall. He could barely stand still, circling around them all while talking. Sirius was a grand storyteller, making a mundane story into something worthy of the front page of the Daily Prophet.
At breakfast, which James had skipped, a trio of first years attempting to follow in the Marauders’ footsteps had tried to charm the silverware to dance, but instead all the silverware had just gotten up and walked out of the Great Hall, leaving the entire student body without any eating utensils.
By the end of the story James was feeling more like himself, more confident…well as long as he didn’t run into Evans. He took a deep breath as if to inhale the camaraderie and trust the four of them shared, using it to fend of the worry and emptiness inside of him.
His friendship to these three boys meant everything to him, and with this war starting - something they’d all enter into the moment of graduation - James felt as long as their chain of friendship held fast, as long as they could trust each other, two things his father said Voldemort was trying to discourage among all witches and wizards, then they’d all be safe. Then they’d all survive it through.
Outside in the fresh, albeit still brisk air, James suddenly wished he was still fourteen. It had been a glorious age where only pranks and Quidditch were important. Love was still just youthful innocence and he and everyone around him was immortal.
“Race you to the water’s edge. Last one there has to buy the rest a round of butterbeers!”
They set off, James forgetting that Padfoot could outrun him on foot, though not on a broom. They fell to the ground laughing (as predicted Wormtail finished last). Most importantly James felt younger and freer.
The four of them fell into easy conversation, joking lightly with each other in a way one could only do with someone they had a long and comfortable friendship with.
James felt a sudden rush of gratitude toward his friends, who in all rights could be laughing at his failure once again with Evans or calling him an idiot, but instead they were just there.
They stayed outside as long as they could, but eventually the cold air won, forcing them back inside, but only after Sirius declared James had enough fresh air.
On their walk back, James was suddenly bombarded with thoughts and feelings of Lily. He had been repressing them for a few days, the companionship had left him unguarded and a fresh batch of emotions had surfaced. In all honesty, he missed her a lot. He remembered wishing desperately for their relationship to go public (though not in this way) and now he’d do anything to go back to those secret kisses. There was nothing to be done about it. As deeply as he cared for the redhead, he would not change who he was completely. And she clearly despised him, despite how he had tried, and perhaps it was time to move on.
The next week was not easy. He ran into Lily everywhere. James expected to see her in class since they were in almost all the same N.E.W.T. classes, but not run into her (sometimes literally) in the hallways, library, and school grounds ten times a day. He was starting to think there was a conspiracy set up in order to drive him mad.
Still, he stayed very calm and collected around Lily, which lent people to believe he was not very upset. Only his closet friends knew the truth. He might not be looking at her, but he always knew exactly where she was in the room. This would have continued working if he had not heard:
“JAMES POTTER MEANS NOTHING TO ME!”
Six words and he was frozen, unable to move while his heart beat wildly.
A group of sixth year Ravenclaws snickered. One of them shook his head. “I tell you, Potter, that’s why I always say go after our kind - those girls understand the value of a proper match.”
James looked at him bewildered.
“Sod off, Yaxley,” Sirius said, circumventing what he probably thought would be a verbal or wand fight. Yet the boy had a point. James was very eligible bachelor; pureblood heir, wealthy, and though his family was viewed as Muggle supporters, this only teed off the very purist circles and even they still respected the Potter name. Except Lily didn’t understand that, which James accepted, but why did she always have to go to the extreme? Once again, shouting to the whole school of her lack of feelings toward him.
Just then Evans rounded the corner, her temper clearly still going, but the shock of seeing the Marauders seemed to zap all the steam out of her. Her cheeks blushed red, but James didn’t want to hear anything she might say. He didn’t want another argument, so he fled, something he never did when presented with a confrontation.
A mixture of emotions stumbled through his mind. He was angry and hurt. He missed her and hated her. He wanted to kiss her soundly and also never see her face again. Down the hallway Jocelyn stood chatting amiably to her group of friends. She turned, giving him a very coy and inviting smile, which triggered all the memories James had of hours spent with her. James didn’t miss Jocelyn in the same way he missed Lily. It was wrong to even think of Jocelyn; she’d only serve as a distraction. The thing was, James needed a distraction desperately.
“Are you doing anything tonight?” he asked.
“Maybe, maybe not,” she replied with a knowing look.
Noticing Sirius making his way down, he gave Jocelyn a cool look back and joined his mate, who rapidly started talking about everything, but Lily Evans.
Lily stood rooted to her spot. James broke away from the group stalking off stiffly down the hall, hands stuffed in his pockets. Sirius spared her a fleeting look of contempt before hastily going after his best friend.
Peter looking anxious gave her a look as well, staring straight at her with his watery eyes. “He really does like you.”
He scurried in the direction his two friends had gone. Lupin stood there for a few silent moments that felt like an eternity to Lily.
“Do you need something, Remus?” Lily asked tightly.
Remus didn’t react to the impatience in her voice. Instead he studied her in unbearable calmness before saying, “Peter’s right, you know?”
Lily shook her head, though not because she disagreed with Lupin. She knew Potter fancied her; that had never been the problem.
“It’s about time Potter got over me.”
“Maybe,” Remus conceded with a half-shrug. “But are you over him?”
He raised his eyebrows, nodded, and left looking pleased by the incredulous look on her face. The quick, first answer that surfaced in her mind was ‘no’. It wasn’t the truth, just as her outburst about Potter meaning nothing was also untrue. Though Lily was not ready to admit either of these facts.
The entire week Lily had been on edge, finally cracking when the poor second year had simply asked if she was still seeing James. She had unleashed her fury on the girl who had just been an innocent bystander. Her fury hadn’t been at that particular girl, but at all the rumors and all the questions she’d been dealing with.
Lily should have foreseen such student body interest. James was Head Boy and popular, and she was Head Girl and well-liked by everyone. It had taken the rumor of her ‘fight’ with James longer than usual, a full three days, to fully circulate the school, having to compete with the recent disappearance of two popular Daily Prophet journalists.
At that time the rumors were fairly accurate, but within another three days the tales blew out of proportions. One such rumor was James had forced Snape to dig a hole in the middle of a hallway to uncover the buried treasure underneath Hogwarts left behind by the Founders and the fight had come about because James didn’t want to share the loot with Lily. Lily had not talked to anyone about what really had happened, so that only fueled the rumor because only a small group of students even knew the full story.
Lily had not shared any of her thoughts, not even with Tallie. She was afraid to express her feelings; afraid of the truth. Lily had not wanted any outside opinion mixing with her own tumult of emotions. She was terrified that she missed the attention James bestowed on her. He had become a constant presence in her life without her realizing it. Somehow he had sneaked through her barriers into her life and now that he ignored her, his absence was glaring.
The care-free, arrogant James had been replaced by a silent foreboding boy, who smiled less and grew more serious by the moment. When forced to speak to her during Prefect meetings or to relay information about Head Duties, he would place a careful mask over his features, the sparkle in his eyes gone, and all the while never meeting her eyes. His focus never on her, speaking either above her, to the right of her, to the left of her. It was becoming so disconcerting that she seriously contemplated snogging him in front of all the Prefects just to get a reaction other than indifference. It was so ironic that the one thing – Potter leaving her alone, that she had wanted for so many years – had happened at the exact moment when she suddenly craved his attention.
Unable to sort out her feelings, Lily finally realized she needed advice and went in search of Tallie. She was sitting in one of the squishy red armchairs by the fire with another of their roommates, Carlie. They beckoned her towards them with grim looks.
“Did you hear what happened to Ameli?” Carlie asked. Lily shook her head mutely. She’d been so consumed by her own problems and responsibilities that she gave little thought anything outside her thoughts. It was also a way to protect herself from needless worry about the uncertain world they’d be entering very shortly.
“Her little sister was found dead and her parents are missing,” Tallie relayed sadly. “No one knows why…I mean her family isn’t really involved in the cause or anything…”
Lily sat down feeling ashamed. Poor Ameli’s problem was ten times worse than a lover’s spat.
“I know it’s a shock,” Carlie murmured with comforting smile towards Lily. She had taken Lily’s pale face and uneasy manner with having to do with the news she had heard about their roommate.
Lily nodded. “It is...but-” She stopped herself. This was neither the time nor place to burden her friends with her superficial problems. They should be discussing what to do to best comfort Ameli.
“But what, Lily?” Tallie asked looking intrigued.
“Tell us, Lily,” Carlie said hopefully.
“Well I need your help…”
The two girls looked at her expectantly, almost as if she arrived with her problem at the exact time they needed it. Perhaps they were hoping to cover their worries about Ameli and their own families by concentrating on something they could have control over.
“I don’t know what to do about --- about James.”
“Ah,” Tallie responded with a smile. She did not look surprised by her statement, as if she’s been waiting for this.
Lily decided it was not the time to beat around the bush. “Specifically why he’s avoiding me after our – er – our incident.”
“I think you should start from the beginning,” Carlie instructed.
“Yes, start at your sister’s engagement party,” Tallie added.
“I’ve told you about that already.”
Tallie rolled her eyes exasperatedly. “I mean in more detail…we had a good time…blah, blah, blah…he was a gentleman…blah, blah, blah…Something must have happened then to change your relationship.
“I did have a wonderful time and nothing did change really. It wasn’t until the week after during patrols that he-” Lily felt her face heat up. “-when he kissed me.”
“Oh how utterly romantic!” Carlie responded with a dreamy look in her eyes.
“Did you curse him for doing that?” asked Tallie.
Lily looked down at the floor in embarrassment. “No…I might have kissed him back.”
“Might have?” Tallie asked, shaking her head with a mixture of disbelief and laughter.
“Ok, I kissed him back.”
“Once?” Carlie questioned.
“On that first day only once and we fell into a pattern after that.”
“Kissing instead of patrolling!” Carlie said, shaking her finger. “I never thought I’d hear you say that Lily.”
“But you kept it a secret?” Tallie continued.
“Yes. I wanted to keep it a secret. I wasn’t sure if it was real…if it was going to last. It was so pleasant being in our own world without worrying about other people’s expectations.”
“How long was this going on before the incident?”
“A little over a month. I caught James with his usual crowd bothering Snape again and you know what, I was relieved. Going from loathing James to suddenly have strong affectionate feelings, it was too large a change.”
Because as long as James was an arrogant berk, she had reasons to put off her feelings, to dismiss her attraction that had been there for years. Once James had straightened out, she no longer had that barrier of protection against her feelings toward the bespectacled boy. His first kiss had completely broken it down, leaving her vulnerable, and she hadn’t been ready. James was so sure of his feelings, since fifth year, announcing it to Hogwarts, unafraid of rejection, spouting words of poetry. And every kiss he gave her, he was opening up more, letting their souls entwine, letting her see he had insecurities too. Making him more human, less conceited, and she did not want to deal with this idea. Every time he let her see inside of him, she in turn did the opposite, closing up.
“So you yelled at him and he yelled back at you?”
“It was so different from our usual arguments. He looked hurt and he was really angry. Look how he treats me now, as if I don’t even exist to him! I just don’t understand it. I’ve called him worse, much worse. Why now? Why now does it bother him so much?”
“I think it’s obvious,” Carlie said, breaking the silence. “Part of the reason James played all those pranks, all those annoying antics, was to get you to notice him. And it worked, even though it was in a negative light, you still noticed him. But now he had your attention…he must have believed you fancied him in some degree. Before you showed you cared for him, your words were just words. They held less value because they didn’t change anything. You wouldn’t go out with him, fine, he’d try next week. You thought he was an arrogant berk, well nothing new there. Now you have – or had – a relationship with him, so your words meant more. He had more to lose this time around. You knew him on a more intimate level so if you thought badly of him now, I’m sure he saw it as a more personal attack on his character.”
Lily nodded. She had yelled at James in hopes of getting their relationship back to where it was, where she was comfortable. Lily hadn’t realized at the time that it was no longer possible. Their relationship, whether she was ready for it or not, had completely changed.
Lily knew what she had to do…hopefully it wasn’t too late.
It was becoming clear that James Potter was avoiding her. She needed to speak to him; she needed to explain. James was always on the move whenever she was near; having to go somewhere, meet someone, and that was when he wasn’t completely avoiding her. Lily had hoped to speak to him privately, but now she’d take any chance that arose.
The chance came unexpectedly. It was a Hogsmeade weekend at Hogwarts and Lily had certainly not planned to confront him in such a public place. In the morning she had spent some time shopping with her friends, then had gone off alone for awhile. She had finished up earlier than expected and swung by the Three Broomsticks, where she was to meet up with her friends in a half-an-hour.
She looked around and the bar was crowded already with Hogwarts students. Lily spotted James sitting by himself (no Black, Lupin, or Pettigrew in sight) at a visible table in the center of the room.
She took in a large breath, gathering whatever courage she could muster. This was the perfect chance and it was lucky that she did not notice the second bottle of butterbeer on the table nor the bag next to the unoccupied chair; evidence that Potter was here with someone.
James was absentmindedly swirling the straw in his butterbeer and he jumped when Lily called out to him.
He turned toward the sound of his name, his hazel eyes widening in apprehension at the sight of her.
“Evans.” There was no emotion in his voice. It was just cold.
“I need to speak with you.”
James twisted away from her. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Only for a few minutes. Please?” Her own voice sounded pitiful even to her. James made a slight motion with his right hand and Lily took that as an invitation to take a seat.
As she gazed at him across the table, studying how he stiffened and wouldn’t look her in the eyes, the words she’d been rehearsing caught in throat. An inevitable silence engulfed their small table and James threw her a cross look. She couldn’t speak and she was wasting his time. James must think she was an idiot.
“I was out of line,” she began her eyes firmly on the wooden table. “I shouldn’t have told you off like that. I shouldn’t have undermined your authority as Head Boy in front of your friends and Snape.”
“It’s a little too late for that,” James replied crisply.
“I know…I know,” Lily muttered. “I am trying.”
“Trying?” James spat. “Trying to do what, Evans?”
“Apologize. I was horrible to you,” Lily explained. “I was scared. Our relationship scared me. I really disliked you James…and suddenly I had these new feelings – romantic feelings- for a person I never even regarded as a friend.”
James sat motionless and Lily plodded on with her explanation. She hoped her words were making sense.
“I’m not like you, James. You never worried about anything…you just went with your present feeling. I wish I could live like that. I wish I could just live in the present, but the more I thought about our relationship, the change in my feelings toward you, the more frightened I became.”
“What were you frightened about?” James asked softly.
“Your certainty! How could you be so sure we were meant to be together? You never paused to think what everyone else would say. You’re from a well-known pureblood wizard family…what would the school think, what would your parents think, what would society think, of your involvement with a Muggle-born?”
James let out a derisive laugh. “I can’t believe you. Don’t go blaming this on anyone else. Don’t go blaming our different parentage on our break-up! I don’t care what everyone else thinks or believes. I don’t care about blood – to the hell with everyone else – that should have been enough for you.”
The conversation couldn’t have gone worse. Yet at least his words held emotion, at least his hazel eyes were no longer so icy, at least she had struck something inside of him, even if it didn’t help her position. She was supposed to be explaining herself through her apology and not starting an argument with Potter.
“I’m not questioning your feelings for me. I was mixed up and that’s why I said the things I said. It was my attempt to bring things to how they used to be, where I was comfortable-”
A flicker of something passed through James’s face and Lily thought perhaps she had touched something. Suddenly Jocelyn was standing by the table looking angrily at James for an explanation. Jocelyn sat down on his lap, putting a possessive arm around him and she stared straight at Lily.
Lily hadn’t been aware they had gotten back together and she felt more foolish than ever.
“Evans, I think you should go,” James stated tightly.
Lily felt panic rising inside of her. She hadn’t explained herself at all. She had completely ruined her one chance, so she blurted out, “I lied. When I said you meant nothing to me, I was lying. James, you mean everything to me.”
Jocelyn made a noise in the back of her throat indicating she couldn’t believe Lily had the nerve to speak to her boyfriend (or date) in public. James was now looking at her and not just at her. His eyes had found her green ones and it was as if he were staring right through her, the intensity was mesmerizing.
“I made a- I made a mess of things,” she stammered. “I thought this was what I had wanted. I thought I wanted our relationship to end. I was wrong. I hadn’t realized how deeply my feelings for you had grown. All I could focus on was that I wasn’t ready for the change, but it was just that I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself.”
Lily glanced around to see everyone in the room had their eyes on her. How long everyone had been listening, she could only guess.
“The truth was I had fallen for you, James. I’d fallen head-over-heels for you and I still am.” Lily stood up abruptly, feeling her face heat. James didn’t stop her. James didn’t say a word. It was time to go. She raced out the door with as much dignity as was possible.
“Can you believe her nerve?” Lily heard Jocelyn declare loudly as the door behind her closed.
It was drizzling outside and Lily felt as if the sky was mourning for her. If this had been a movie or a book or a Muggle fairytale, James would have come out running after her. He would have accepted her apology with a kiss and then pronounced his love to all of Hogsmeade.
She heard the door to the Three Broomsticks open once again after her and she swirled around in hope and desperation. It was not James. It was Severus Snape. So much for the happily ever after ending…
Snape was gazing at her with disgust. He must have heard her conversation if he had been inside. He was looking at her as if she’d just severely disappointed him.
Lily recalled how in third year Potions, when Professor Slughorn had partnered her with Snape, how slowly in that year they had formed a shallow companionship. Their friendship continued into the next year, and then fifth year came about. It was in that year Lily’s popularity increased, Potter’s interest in her came into public eye, and Snape began to shut himself off from everyone. They were now in the middle of seventh year, Lily had multiple N.E.W.T. classes with Snape, yet she had not spoken more than two words with him.
Lily felt her eyes prickle with tears.
“He isn’t worth it,” Snape snarled.
Snape could have done anything with his life; she had at one time admired his intelligence, but now she saw a boy whose hatred for Potter and Black had overtaken him.
Snape viewed her as weak for falling for Potter’s charms, and she could understand that.
His dark eyes swept over her with one last look of loathing. Slowly he turned his back on her, his cloak billowing behind him.
Lily had finally opened her heart to James, and he had done exactly what she had feared; he’d broken it.
Author’s note: Thank you for reading. You know what to do now --- REVIEW! And if you like this story, check out my other story Dark Side of the Moon.
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