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Charcoal and Paint by ExquisiteAmethyst
Chapter 11 : And Then James Nearly Loses His Composure And His Sanity . . .
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 32

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James Potter:

When James arrived home Wednesday morning he was more than relieved to get a message, from his mother, that Mrs. Briarwood was not expecting him until around four o’clock that afternoon. He was too exhausted to bother wondering why, and was simply grateful for the opportunity to sleep. Remus had been more energetic than usual the previous night, and James could not help but speculate if it had anything to do with the news about Marlene McKinnon.

Sirius had apparated home instantly after he and James had transported Remus to the cellar. Although they hated to leave their bruised, bloodied, battered friend lying unconscious on the floor, they really had no choice. The Lupins – hell, everyone really – could never find out about their animagus forms and monthly escapades with Remus. It was their most significant, perilous secret. And so, though they despised themselves for it, they had gently placed Remus on the floor and ripped up the cellar a bit so that his scratches and bruises would have a place of origin. Then, silent as possible, they had apparated away so that sweet old Mrs. Lupin wouldn’t find them.

James sighed wearily and collapsed on his bed. The morning sunlight filtered through his swaying curtains and lit his own scratched, bruised face. He felt his body melt into the comforter, his bones throbbing with exhaustion.

He woke up around half three, and hastened to shower and make himself look less maimed before his perplexingly late art class. Mimzy handed him a cup of coffee as he rushed out the front door.

“Thanks, Mimz!” he called over his shoulder.

James arrived at the studio just as everyone else was leaving. He stood aside and watched as a stream of distastefully short kids filed past him. Rose Bennett, ever the charming creature, flounced past, tossing him a coy wink. Megan and Timothy both beamed at him. He smiled, and then ducked through the door the moment he could.

“Potter,” Mrs. Briarwood thundered, “I see you got my message.”

“Er, yeah,” he glanced at Lily, who was visibly suppressing her amusement, “that is why I’m here.”

The cantankerous art teacher scowled, “Cheek does not flatter you.”

James shrugged and sat on the empty stool beside Lily, “Can’t help it.”

She glared at him acerbically, “The reason I brought you here at this unfortunate time, is that your assignment cannot be completed during normal working hours. You’re painting the ceiling in the entry room, and I obviously cannot have you in there when we might have potential students or customers walking in.”

Personally, James didn’t think it would be that odd if people walked into an art academy and saw people painting. Course, Mrs. Briarwood was a loony old bat.

“Now, I want a huge flower on the ceiling,” Mrs. Briarwood stared them down with her beady little eyes, daring them to oppose her taste, “and it must be realistic. Ladders and such are in the storage closet. If you don’t know where the paints are by now, you are utterly imbecilic. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am,” James saluted her. Lily nodded.

“Good,” she frowned, “off to it then. Be out of here by seven, tomorrow morning. You don’t have class tomorrow.”

Wonderful – at this rate James would become bloody nocturnal.

“Call both your parents,” Mrs. Briarwood instructed, shoving a bulky contraption into James’ hands. He stared at it, befuddled.

Lily shot a sweet smile at Mrs. Briarwood and yanked the unwieldy muggle device out of James’ hands. “I’ll call first. Thanks Mrs. Briarwood.”

“Put that back on the hook once you’re done with it,” she ordered sternly. Then, with one last incinerating scowl at the pair of them, she wheeled around and stormed out the door.

“What a lovely woman,” James said fondly once the tetchy art teacher was out of earshot. He glanced at Lily, who was looking at him with a funny expression on her face. “What?”

“What happened to your face?” she demanded, clutching the heavy muggle contrivance to her chest.

James reached up and felt his face. He winced slightly. Both cheeks were bruised, he had a scratch on his forehead, and a gash running down his left cheek. “Er – wrestling?” he tried.

“No, really,” she deadpanned.

James contemplated his options. Either he could fabricate a story that she would immediately see through but he would defend anyways, or he could smile vaguely and say in an infuriatingly lofty tone that she would be better off not knowing. Both options would probably end up inflaming her infamously combustible temper, which he really wanted to avoid. For self-preservation.

“The truth, Potter,” she snapped.

A third option came to him quite suddenly; he could be honest. Course he wouldn’t actually tell her the truth, that was utterly inconsiderable, but he could avoid lying.

He looked at her square on, “I can’t tell you. It was recklessly dangerous, involved midnight marauder antics, and was entirely illegal. And you’d be better off not knowing the details.”

She narrowed her eyes – a flash of fear shot through his heart – but she relented. “Fine.”

“Thank you,” he grinned, “now, may I ask, what the bloody hell is that?”

Lily glanced down at the cumbersome thing in her arms. “A telephone,” she responded in an obvious tone that James didn’t really appreciate.

“And what do you do with this . . . telephone?”

She rolled her eyes and flipped it over. Like an insect, its belly was different than its back. She quickly pressed a series of numbers on the small pad, and then jabbed her thumb into a large green button. “Here,” she said impatiently, motioning for him to move closer. He inclined his head towards the telephone she was holding between their heads.

He heard a faint ringing and then a snappy, “Hello?”

“Petunia?” Lily asked.

“What do you want now?” the girl in the telephone demanded. She had a screechy, awful sounding voice that rose hairs on the back of James’ neck.

Lily rubbed her forehead, “Where’s Mum?”

“Out,” Petunia said tartly.

“When she gets home, can you tell her I’ll be here all night?”

The girl on the phone, who James presumed was Lily’s terrible sister, sighed as if all the world’s problems had just been dumped upon her. Then she growled menacingly, “Fine!”

“Thanks, Petty,” Lily cooed sarcastically.

There was a clicking sound, and then all noise abruptly ceased. Lily huffed and tossed the phone on the nearest table. James stared at it in fascination.

“That was my cow of a sister,” Lily announced matter-of-factly.

“Yes, I gathered that. A happy one, isn’t she?”

“Positively giddy,” Lily reached over and picked the telephone up again, “I’m assuming you don’t need this?”

“My mum won’t care, so long as I show up within a week or so.”

“Right,” Lily slid off her stool, “you want to start collecting materials? I’ll just go and put this back.”

James shrugged, and made his way to the storage closet. Hardly twenty minutes later he had set up a few different ladders and a scaffolding type thing in the front entry room. The ceiling was obnoxiously high. Mrs. Briarwood could have asked for a wall or a door to be painted, but no. It had to be the sodding ceiling.

Lily came into the room with her arms full of paintbrushes, buckets, and charcoal sticks. She dumped it all on the floor, dusted off her hands, and then appraised the ceiling, arms akimbo. James had to stifle a laugh. She looked almost comically short compared to how tall their current project was.

“This is going to be a right pain,” she muttered under her breath.

“Yes, it is,” James agreed, “do you have a flower in mind?”

Lily shook her head no. He picked up a charcoal stick and a scrap piece of paper. Quickly, he sketched out a hazy idea.

“I like it,” Lily decided. She drew her wand, pointed it at the ceiling, and swished it, “Evanesco!”

James nodded in appreciation, “Brilliant.” The ceiling was undoubtedly dusty, and the paint would not hold to it unless it was clean.

Lily looked around the small room, and James followed her lead. The ceiling was only twenty square feet, at most, and a thick welcome desk dominated half the room. Prized artwork littered the walls. It was white and dull. She toed the light hardwood floor, “We should cover this with a drop cloth or something.”

Together, they spread out a tarp. Lily grabbed a charcoal stick, “I’ll sketch, you stay down there and tell me if my proportions are off.”

“As you wish,” James sniggered.

She shot him a withering glare, and then stepped onto the ladder and climbed swiftly up. Her head was about even with the exact midpoint of the square ceiling. “Is this dead center?” she asked him.

“Looks about right. Go ahead and start. And make it dark so I can see it from here.”

Lily hesitated, gripped the ladder tightly with one hand, and then tipped her head back and began sketching on the ceiling. Her hair grazed her lower back. He stared for a second, and then quickly snapped out of it and began hurriedly setting up floor lights. They would need them once the natural daylight faded.

Every so often he would crane his neck to check on her progress. Privately, he thought she was doing extraordinarily well considering the awkward angle she was working at and her inability to see the whole thing at once. He always needed to see the big picture when he was initially sketching. Lily, it seemed, worked quite contentedly with smaller sections.

“Need me to move the ladder?” he asked helpfully when it seemed as if she had sketched all the area she could reach.

“Probably,” she admitted.

Breezily, he walked forward and pushed the ladder forward a few feet. She gasped and clung to the top of it, “James!”

He finished and stepped back, “Yes?”

“You’re supposed to wait until I get off, you thickwit!”

He snickered, “Why waste the time, love?”

She glared, but James could tell she was not genuinely angry, “You’re a prat.”

“And you should be sketching right now,” he winked at her.

She rolled her eyes, but let it drop. She nudged his shoulder with her foot and then returned her attention to the ceiling. James watched as she stood on her tiptoes to reach the surface, her skirt swishing along her thighs.

Suddenly, James realized he could see her thighs. His mouth went dry and he gripped the ladder with one hand. Slowly, though every cell in his brain was screaming at him, he allowed his eyes to travel up her creamy white skin. He gulped, quite loudly.

Eventually, after what felt like ages, his eyes came to a pair of lacy black knickers.

Oh bloody hell.

Lily had smooth, lightly defined legs that were dotted with faint freckles. They were by no means endless or tanned or statuesque or any word used to describe famous legs, but the sight of them going up and vanishing into those knickers . . .

He felt very cold, and then unbelievably, unbearably hot. He felt dizzy and short of breath.

Shivering, sweating, and panting, James was forced to admit to himself that one pair of knickers was capable of turning him into a leaking, pathetic puddle of goo. He clenched the ladder even harder, for support.

And yet, he could not tear his eyes away. The way the black lace cleanly overlapped the pale skin, the naughty way the tiny slip of fabric hugged her narrow hips . . .

Oh bloody hell.

James felt like he was either going to faint or puke, or quite possibly both. A deep well of something was growing in the pit of his stomach. It was huge and craggy and, quite honestly, scared the shit out of him.

Gasping slightly for air, he wrenched his gaze away and staggered towards the desk. He leaned against it with one hand and bent over, blinking furiously.

Lily looked down at him, “What’s wrong with you?”

James squeezed his eyes shut, “Nothing, m’fine.”

“Why are you all bent over?” she asked curiously.

Lacy black knickers danced before his eyes, “Just . . . felt a bit sick. Really. Keep sketching.”

She did what he asked, though she could feel suspicion wafting off of her. James fought to regain his composure. He should not be so affected by a pair of girl’s pants! It was utterly ludicrous! Completely and totally absurd.

He straightened up and suppressed the aching, ravenous, dark craving in the lower reaches of his abdomen. James had no idea what had just happened to him. And he didn’t want to entertain the notion that it meant anything more than he was extremely sexually deprived.

James was a virgin, no matter how ruthlessly Sirius teased him about it, and hadn’t gone very far at all, with any girl. Although he had had many opportunities- he was considered quite a catch – he never went all the way. It had never felt right. He didn’t want to give something so special and irreplaceable to a girl that he didn’t feel an intense connection with. Sure, Sirius called him a pansy, but James didn’t care. He wanted it to be with a girl he was mad about, and who was mad about him in return.

So this little bout of . . . whatever the hell had just happened to him could be chalked up to an achingly inexperienced and needy libido. It had nothing to do with any kind of emotional need, or the owner of those delightfully naughty knickers. Nothing.

James shook his head, like a dog shaking water out of its ears, and firmly pushed away all thoughts of black lace and his own sexual deficiency. He had a ceiling to paint. He needed to be serious and focused, not an immature bit of awed scum gawking up the skirt of his female partner.

By the time Lily completed the sketch James had fully composed himself. Though he could not look beneath her collarbone, he could sufficiently pass as a functional human being. It was a start, at least. He would worry about his deeper issues later.

“Here,” he yanked the raised platform into position, “what say we both work on a petal? It won’t matter if all of them look a bit different.”

Lily shrugged, “Alright. You got a palette?”

“Er . . .”

He hastened to get that while Lily, reluctantly, fastened the buttons on the yellow smock he had given her. Like a true professional, he set the palette, a multitude of different sized paintbrushes, a dish of water, and a few rags on the top of the ladder, which had dragged right next to the rickety apparatus.

“So, how are we doing this?” Lily asked, eyeing the platform dubiously.

“Well we both get on that,” James pointed at it, “lay on our backs, and paint.”

“Can we fit?”

He began climbing up, “As neither of us is morbidly overweight, I’m assuming we’ll be fine.”

It proved to be on the narrower side, and they were hardly comfortable. Still, it was the most efficient way of doing things because it allowed both of them to be painting simultaneously. James told himself this over and over again as he became hyperaware of the heat of her body pressing against the length of him. Her hair tickled his arm. She smelled sweet, like lilies-of-the-valley. Black lace, tantalizingly naughty, edged every one of his thoughts.

“Purple,” Lily sighed, “is a thoroughly obnoxious color.”

“You haven’t seen black,” James said darkly.

She shot him an odd look.

James used thin, precise strokes for his first petal. With a slightly darker shade of violet he traced he veins of the petal. Lavender blush spread up the charcoal design. Using color – sweet, beloved color – he shaded and highlighted the realistic blossom. It relaxed his harried nerves and tense muscles.

He glanced at Lily’s work. She used bigger, blocker strokes, and her shading was not quite as precise. Still, it was an admirable effort. Hers was set in interesting contrast with his own, more fluid version.

Soon enough they both finished, and James leapt down to move the platform. At the same time he flicked on the floor lights, as the natural daylight was vanishing rapidly.

Lily rolled on her stomach to look down at him, “Did you tell Remus?”

“Tell Remus what?”

“About Marlene.”

He glanced up at her, a twinkle in his eyes, “Yes ma’am. He was rather . . . excited about the news.”

Lily grinned, “Good. I haven’t told Marlene yet.”

James climbed up and lay besides her, acting nonchalant, “I’m glad our friends will be happy. They deserve that. Remus is such a good person, but I’m afraid life isn’t always kind to him.”

“I know,” Lily resumed painting, “I always feel so sorry for the poor bloke. Can’t get a break, can he? I do hope he’s Head Boy. Dumbledore should reward him for all his hard work.”

“Yeah,” James agreed, relieved that Lily didn’t catch his deeper meaning, “I’m sure you’ll be Head Girl.”

“Or Melanie Vincent,” she said with a surprisingly bitter relish to her words.

James carefully outlined his second petal, “The Ravenclaw?”

“Yeah, the stupid, superficial, egotistical cow.”

“Why do you say that?” he chuckled. Lily’s rage was always highly entertaining, as long as it wasn’t directed at him.

“No reason,” she painted with a vengeful scowl.

“Oh, really convincing,” he said sarcastically, “come on, tell us why.”

Lily threw him an aggravated look, “It’s entirely unimportant.”

“So?” he turned and stared directly at her, making her somewhat uncomfortable, “tell me.”

She was quiet. The only sound was her paintbrush, scraping gently against the ceiling. He waited, patiently. Simply painting was so therapeutic for him that he found it impossible to be anxious.

That is, until Lily’s fingertips accidentally brushed against his exposed hipbone as she raised her hand to swipe a piece of hair out of her eyes.

James immediately tensed and pinched his eyes closed. He almost didn’t hear when she began speaking.

“Fine, but you can’t laugh, yeah?”

“Promise,” he gasped.

She was oblivious to his preoccupied state, “Okay, well, do you remember Greg Samson?”

“Big chaser, Ravenclaw, year above us,” James recounted, somewhat regaining his mental faculties.

“Yeah, well, I may have gone out with him a bit,” Lily continued painting, “actually, for most of last year.”

James nodded and shakily raised his paintbrush, chills running from his fingertips to his hypersensitive hipbone, “I heard something about that. What happened?”

“Melanie Vincent happened,” she grumbled.

He chuckled nervously, “Well yeah, but what did she do, exactly?”

“I caught them in a broom closet together on my patrols,” Lily said matter-of-factly, “apparently, they’d been shagging during their patrols for months. He didn’t even apologize. The prick.”

James paused his painting. He felt an overwhelming urge to punch Greg Samson’s ugly, arrogant, sweaty face.

“I mean, he wasn’t perfect or anything,” she skillfully ignored his silence, “but I figured he was decent enough to be honest with me, you know? Thought he had that much in him. Turns out I was a fool, and Melanie Vincent is a stupid slag.”

“Samson is a bloody moron,” James stifled his anger, “why would he – why would anyone cheat on you? You’re fascinating and intelligent, unlike those boring flakes like Vincent and Rose Bennett.”

Lily shrugged, “Thanks. And I dunno, he was just looking for something different, I suppose. Different assets.”

James snorted, “What an arsehole. Did you hex them?”

“Both of them,” she grinned somewhat wickedly up at the ceiling as she edged a petal in a very dark, shadowy shade of purple, “they were in that broom closet, with a variety of skin ailments and incapacitating mental disorders, for a good couple days before anyone found them.”

“Good,” he nodded in relieved satisfaction, “and I truly hope you’re Head Girl and not Vincent. Least you don’t go off and shag guys like Samson, or my best mate.”

She wrinkled her nose, “Did Sirius really?”

Sirius and Lily had been on first name terms within an hour of meeting. Sirius was just naturally like that, affectionate and boundlessly inclusive. He roped Lily in like he had done everyone else, with a childlike charm and repulsively endearing antics.

James nodded regretfully for his immature mate, “Yes. Once.”

“Ugh,” she swished her paintbrush in the water, “Did you?”

“No,” he said firmly, “not her.” Or anyone.

Lily considered this. James worked on the tip of the petal, though he could feel his stomach tangling itself into knots, “Did you shag Samson?”

The question hung in the air for a moment, awkward and oppressively heavy, until Lily lifted her paintbrush into the air again, “Unfortunately.”

He felt a little sick, and doubly sorry for her, “He’s a bastard.”

“Yes,” Lily said, “he is.”

They stopped talking, each of them consumed with their own thoughts. Lily’s breathing beside him and the easy movements of his paintbrush helped soothe James’ fury. He focused intensely on the petal, trying not to envisage Lily and Samson engaged in some kind of passionate embrace.

The hours slipped deceptively by, and before he knew it the clock in the studio chimed midnight and most of the flower was completed. Although neither of them verbalized the happening, James went over Lily’s work and added minor details to make it appear more realistic. Tiny veins, hardly visible creases, little specks of pollen; James labored extensively on each bit. Lily watched with critical, observant eyes.

They moved on to the leaves that surrounded the vibrant blossom. Again, James put himself through agony by laying next to Lily. The tiniest movement of her hand or hip or foot would result in him wincing, the heat of her skin leaving a burning imprint on his body. Perhaps it was his profound sense of loneliness the previous night, or his lack of any real prior female companionship. Either way, her very presence was causing him excruciating pain.

“How do you make it look so transparent?” Lily wondered as he finished up his first leaf.

“Mix some white in,” he advised, “and, with a barely darker shade, trace leaves underneath it. Like this, yeah?”

She watched, and then copied his process almost flawlessly. He had to admire her capacity to learn swiftly. Though not naturally talented with paints, she was diligent and worked vigorously to make up the difference.

“You remember our defense teacher in third year?” Lily asked at one point.

“Yeah, Professor Hartmann,” James recalled fondly. The old teacher had a scruffy beard and a weird way of convincing his students that he was secretly twelve years old at heart.

“You remind me of him a bit,” she smiled.

He tried, very quickly, to determine if this was a good thing or an ego-crushing, painfully embarrassing thing.

“Your teaching style,” Lily clarified.

“Ah,” James pretended to get it, “how so?”

She gently painted in the tiny veins in the leaves, “You say things in a way that makes sense, and you don’t hover. You understand what needs to be said, and what doesn’t.”

He smiled, glad that the comparison was not a scathing, agonizing criticism of him as a person. “Thanks. You’re not so bloody terrible yourself.”

“How so?” Lily mimicked.

“Because you’re patient, and you actually care. Most teachers, art teachers anyway, show you and expect you to know it right away. You wait to make sure. It’s nice.”

He glanced at her and saw her fighting to suppress her smile. It made him grin. He always loved forcing joy to bubble up out of people. Lily’s was like the icing on the cake.

She cleared her throat, “Good thing we’re both such brilliant teachers.”

“Yeah, ‘cause Mrs. Briarwood is doing such a spanking job,” James happily shaded his leaf, “not quite on par with the likes of McGonagall, is she?”

“It’s difficult to be as good as McGonagall, I reckon,” she watched him work for a moment, “what do you want to be when you graduate Hogwarts, James?”

The question caught him. Though he knew what he wanted to be – he had always known what his life plans were – he wasn’t sure what Lily’s reaction would be. She never failed to surprise him. It was her unpredictable nature that made her so intriguing, and utterly terrifying.

“An Auror,” he eventually answered, “like my Dad.”

“That’s brilliant,” she resumed painting thoughtfully, “now I can’t imagine you as anything else. It’ll be terribly dangerous, but you seem fairly good at getting out of scrapes. You’ll be the survivor type.”

“That’s the hope,” James reached over to her leaf and carefully fixed one of her askew lines, “what do you want to be?”

She smiled wryly, “I was about to get that. And same as you, an Auror. Or something that’ll make an impact, I suppose. Save the world and all that ruddy nonsense, you know?”

“Not sure the world needs saving right now, love.”

“You hear about that Voldemort fellow?” Lily demanded, turning to face him.

He shrugged and kept his gaze on the ceiling, avoiding her piercing green eyes and undoubtedly tempting scowl, “A bit. I’m hoping he backs down. If not, there’s nothing he can’t do. We’ve got Dumbledore.”

“Yes, well,” Lily sounded troubled and more than a little peeved, “I’m not going to waste my life doing something meaningless and completely irrelevant. That’s not happening. I’m going to make a difference, somehow.”

James could not deny that he was impressed by her resolve, “Maybe I’ll help you. We’ll be in the same department after all.”

“If you pass your test,” she smirked like the little minx she was. Then she sighed, “Though I suppose you could help me, somehow.”

They both finished their leaves, Lily a few moments behind James. He jumped down and moved the platform again. When he was finished with the base coat of paint on his leaf he carefully voiced aloud his thoughts.

“I really . . . appreciate how deep you are,” he cleared his throat, “like, you care about the world, see? And you’re brilliant. And now that I know you, I can say that you’re nice. Caring. I just want you to know that I’m really glad you’re not afraid to be more than a stupid, shallow slag.”

His words hung in the air, delicately suspended by the strings of their newfound friendship. He imagined them as pieces of abstract art, as Lily tried her best to analyze and understand them.

After a minute she nudged him gently with her shoulder, “I could say the same thing back to you. Really. It – the gladness and awe – goes both ways.”

James noticed that the friendly nudge, initiated by Lily, didn’t tangle his nerves or tense his muscles. It simply felt nice. He also felt a sense of relief that not only did Lily understand what he was trying to say, but felt the same about him. The friendship was mutual.

“But, instead of not being a stupid, shallow slag, you’re not an arrogant, egotistical git,” Lily amended teasingly.

“Good to know,” he chuckled, and found himself unable to stop grinning.

They painted in quiet, easy, content, thoughtful silence. James was happy. Purely, simply happy, even as the wee hours of the morning ticked by.

“It’s late,” Lily yawned as they painted the last of the leaves.

He nodded, “We won’t be done until class starts again. We still have to do the stem.”

“How do you want to do that?” she asked quizzically, using his transparent technique.

James inspected the ceiling, and then the four walls. “We’ll do it down that wall, there behind the desk,” he decided, “it’ll come out of that little gap between our two petals.”

“Brilliant,” she stifled another yawn.

James too was growing tired, but he knew better than to allow himself to succumb to it. They had plenty of work to do, and rubbing his eyes and yawning every minute wouldn’t get it done any faster. Besides, with Lily’s drooping eyes and frequent sighs, it looked like he might have to finish up by himself.

“Oh, I’m falling asleep,” she propped herself up on her elbows, “it’s the lying down that’s doing it. I’m nearly finished, can you do the last one by yourself? I’m going to walk around and wake myself up.”

“Sure,” he put the final touch on his leaf, “then you can sketch the stem.”

She maneuvered herself off the platform and quickly climbed down, but not before a bit of her hair accidentally trailed across James’ forearm. He stopped breathing.

Something was certainly askew inside his brain. His neurons were twisted, or something.

He painstakingly completed the flower by himself, and then carefully set the ladder up for Lily to sketch. Then he deconstructed the shaky platform, cheerfully swearing at it in his thoughts for causing such unnecessary agony. The thing was like a bloody medieval torture device. James had already proved to be an extremely fragile mental state. Close female contact only succeeded in making it exponentially worse.

A vaguely more awake Lily climbed the ladder, charcoal in hand. He began putting away materials while she worked. The clock on the wall read half past four, and he tried not to think about how utterly dysfunctional his sleep pattern would be.

When he turned around Lily was rapidly sketching down the wall. He quickly grabbed his palette and paintbrushes. He knew he would paint the stem alone. Consistency was vital and could not be achieved with two radically different painters.

“I’m going to put away the charcoal,” Lily announced, clambering out from behind the huge desk.

“And I’ll get started on this,” he gestured at the sketched stem.

They nodded at each other, and then Lily turned on her heel and disappeared into the dark studio. James, though exhaustion was settling into his bones, raised his paintbrush and began slicking shades of green into the lines of Lily’s excellently drawn sketch. She was eerily good with proportional plant life, it seemed.

She returned and, as if the trek to the materials shelf had been fraught with peril and arduous obstacles, collapsed on to the drop cloth. Laying on her back she watched him work.

“You’re very thorough, you know,” she observed conversationally as James slaved over an improperly shaded leaf.

“It’s a terrible affliction,” he replied, his nose hardly an inch from the wall.

Lily’s only response was an epic yawn, and James privately predicted that she would be asleep before he was halfway done. It didn’t matter though, because she had done more than her share and honestly deserved a bit of a rest.

Sure enough, she didn’t utter another word, and James began painting to the tune of her slow, deep breathing. At his midway point he glanced down, and smiled. Lily lay nestled in the drop cloth, her hair flung about and her arms wrapped around her paint-splattered midsection. Her bare feet were tangled together. She looked so tired, so peaceful, that James deliberately painted slower so as to delay waking her.

He completed the stem around six, and paused to watch as the sky grew lighter and lighter as the sun rose over suburbia. Tiredness seeped into his bloodstream, but he forced himself to scale the ladder again anyways and do the final touches on the massive painting. He blended harsh edges, increased fluidity, got rid of all stray paint speckles, and added a tiny caterpillar on one of the leaves. Finally, with vivid shade of lavender, he spent ten minutes painting ‘Lily and James’ in curling, elegant script beneath a petal.

Reluctant to wake Lily, he put away all the paints and ladders by himself. Natural daylight filtered softly into the studio as he stood at the large sink and washed the paintbrushes. It was quarter to seven when, with nothing left to do except fold the drop cloth, he forced himself to wake the sleeping redhead.

“Er, Lily?” he tried. His voice sounded loud in the silent, cavernous art academy.

“Lily,” he repeated reluctantly. She failed to respond, again.

Hesitantly, he knelt beside her and shook her shoulder, “Lily, wake up - it’s finished.”

She stirred, and blearily opened her eyes, “Huh?”

“Look,” he grinned and pointed up at the ceiling.

He lay beside her, and they both admired their work. It truly was masterful. Lily sighed, half contentedly and half tiredly, “It’s beautiful.”

The enormous flower spanned the entire ceiling, illuminated by the pale morning light. The rich, purple color was vivid and vibrant, and helped cast a lavender hue over the entire room. The petals fanned out as if they were embracing the occupants of the foyer. Set against a background of emerald leaves and the thick, trailing stem, it set the tone for the entire space.

James was very proud. He and Lily made an exquisite team. And, most importantly, Mrs. Briarwood would be proud. It looked realistic.

“C’mon, up you get,” he offered her his hand. He pulled her up.

Once the drop cloth was neatly put away and Lily had located her shoes, they paused to admire their work one more time.

“Well,” James yawned hugely and put his hands in his pockets, “we did good.”

“Ruddy brilliant,” Lily agreed. She rubbed her eyes in exhaustion, squinting at the rays of morning light that played upon her face and hair.

James smiled tiredly at her, “Apparate?”

“Most definitely.”

There was a moment where they simply looked at each other, both of them about to crumble from exhaustion, and James flashed back to the agony he had endured that night, caused by an unknowing and obliviously innocent Lily. He felt his knees weaken at the thought of facing his obviously deep and troublesome mental issues. A fair bit of time would have to be spent worrying about those.

“Well, see you,” Lily said finally. With one last, weary smile in his direction, she disappeared with a tiny pop.

He looked around the room one last time, heaved a deep, satisfied sigh, and nearly asphyxiated on the paint fumes. Choking and spluttering, he quickly apparated to his bedroom before any more lasting damage on his person could be done in that godforsaken place.

I believe this is my most favorite chapter of this story. Not only because it is 5,000 + words, but because I'm genuinely delighted with the way it turned out. I'm so in love with James, I can hardly stand it. Haha

So anyways, if you adored it as much as me, or if you're entirely befuddled as to why I'm so attached to it, leave me a review! I've been getting a lot more feedback recently, and it does wonders for an author's confidence.

Thank you all so much for keeping with this so far! Your reviews are truly lovely. :)

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