Chapter 12 : And Then Lily Finally Gets To Use Her Sweet, Beloved Charcoal . . .
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Lily woke to a haze of golden sunlight, coming the wrong way through her window, and the shrill shrieking of some sort of tortured banshee. She opened her eyes lazily, and stretched. Petunia’s screams happened to bother her much less than usual on this fine, sunny afternoon.
She examined her paint-stained fingernails and fondly remembered the oversized flower she and James had so painstakingly slaved over the night before, and early that same morning. It had been a strange, peculiar night. Her memories were blurred, but pleasant. They had chatted and painted and simply lay, quiet, enjoying each other’s company. Lily couldn’t remember the last time she’d willingly done that with a person.
Yawning, she pushed herself up out of bed and made her way to the door. She nipped across the hall and slipped into the bathroom, where the shower would undoubtedly drown out the noise of Petunia’s distress. Sure enough, as Lily stepped into the hot water, Petunia’s voice faded away and Lily was left, delightfully, with her own thoughts.
Water swirled purple down the rain, and it took Lily a good quarter of an hour to remove the lot of it from her hair and skin. She had certainly chosen a messy hobby. But the water did more than simply clean her; it relaxed the tense muscles in her back and cleared her mind.
She toweled off, dressed, and braided her wet hair into one long plait. Then she hurried downstairs to a much quieter kitchen.
“Afternoon, Lily,” her mother smiled at her from the kitchen table, “what were you doing all night at the studio?”
“Painting the entryway,” Lily replied, passing her breezily to snatch a biscuit off the plate, “couldn’t be done during the day, too many people. What was Petunia screeching about earlier?”
Mrs. Evans sighed, “Oh the usual. Seems something’s gone wrong with the location, so her and Vernon are off to meet with the planners.”
“Yes, well, I have better news,” her mother pushed an envelope towards Lily, “the Potters are having a dinner party, and we’ve been invited.”
Lily opened the letter curiously. The invite was written in swirling, elegant crimson script, and was signed by Mrs. Potter.
“Next Saturday evening,” Mrs. Evans supplied helpfully, “four o’clock. Seems it’s a bit of a fancy occasion. Mr. Potter did something well with work, so it’s partly a celebration and partly a social gathering.”
“And they invited muggles?” Lily asked, nonplussed.
Mrs. Evans smiled, “Well, seeing how you and James are such good friends and all now, and we are aware of magic, they saw no problem with inviting us. Mrs. Potter called to personally tell us that they would be honored if we would attend.”
“Well that’s . . . that’s great,” Lily smiled, thinking quite fondly of the Potters. Not every magical family would invite muggles over, especially not as honored guests. James had clearly been raised in the right sort of environment.
“I’m going to take you and Petunia shopping later today to get something proper to wear,” Mrs. Evans stood, and pushed in her chair, “besides, you’ll want something nice to change into for the wedding reception. I don’t want you in that horrid dress for all the pictures.”
Lily smiled brightly as her Mum left the room, and then hurriedly stuffed the biscuit in her mouth.
That evening, after her Mum had taken them to three different department stores, Lily finally found a dress that she thought would be acceptable for both the Potters’ party and Petunia’s reception. It was nothing terribly special, but it made her look decent. The folds of navy blue fabric cinched at the waist and left her shoulders bare. At the very least, Lily liked it a lot better than the repugnant yellow creation Petunia had purchased.
She fell asleep thinking affectionately of purple flowers, and the Potters’ very impressive kindness.
The next morning, fully rested and with her art bag slung over her shoulder, Lily headed to the Academy. The entire beautiful, sunny walk she had her fingers crossed that they would finally be working with charcoal. Although she was getting much better with paints, and had even enjoyed working on that flower with Potter, her fingers itched for the powdery, delightful feel of charcoal. She needed a confidence boost.
She walked right in, five minutes before it was supposed to start, and settled in her usual seat. Timothy and Megan bounded up to her.
“Lily!” Timothy beamed, “did you and James paint the entryway?”
“Er, yeah,” she smiled, pleased, “you like it?”
“It’s brilliant!” Megan bounced on the soles of her feet, “seriously, we walked in and were so impressed! Everyone’s talking about it. And you painted, Lily?”
A new voice, from behind Lily, startled her, “Too right she did. Excellently, if I say so myself.”
Lily rolled her eyes at James, who slid into his seat beside her and winked. “I practically didn’t do anything. I sat and watched as she did the whole sodding thing.”
“Rubbish,” Lily shook her head, “he did at least half of it.”
Timothy grinned, “I want an assignment like that! Painting the ceiling? That’s brilliant!”
Megan nodded fervently in agreement.
At that moment, Mrs. Briarwood stalked in and demanded silence. Megan and Timothy slipped quickly into their seats.
“Alright, it’s time to work with colored pencils. Now, they’re very tricky, and not the least bit forgiving. Not only do they blend terribly, but erasing is practically impossible. Which means no mistakes. If you botch it up too horribly, you’ll have to start over.”
Mrs. Briarwood pointed impatiently at the shelves of supplies, “Paper and pencils are there. You must draw an animal – any animal – and I advise you get a picture for reference. Due tomorrow by the end of class.”
Everyone waited, watching her with wide eyes.
“Well? Get going!” Mrs. Briarwood snapped.
The stools screeched back, chatters filled the room, and Megan and Timothy shot quick smiles at Lily and James. Then they bounded off for supplies.
“You two!” Mrs. Briarwood growled her usual greeting, “Charcoal work.”
Lily grinned. James groaned.
“Don’t give me that, Potter,” she said sharply to James, “you need plenty for your portfolio. Now, this is a two-week assignment. You each need to do five, perfectly proportional, excellently executed portraits, using each other for models. I advise you try different facial expressions and poses. Three should be head only, two should be full body. Evans, I expect you to give him plenty of advice and assistance.”
Lily nodded, excitement growing in her veins, “Should all of these be portfolio size?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Briarwood said, “and I don’t want you drawing in here either! You better have a ruddy decent landscape. Trees or something. Each portrait should take one day, so ten days to really finish it. Then spend the last few tweaking and perfecting. It’s a set, see? Every true artist’s portfolio should have one.”
Lily glanced over to see James thumping his forehead hopelessly against the table. Mrs. Briarwood raised one eyebrow, “Well? Get going. You can store your things in here, but I want you out, with a decent background, every day.”
She turned and stormed off, her tweed skirts whirling impressively around her ankles, leaving Lily and James alone with her instructions. Lily had never felt so excited for an art assignment. Finally, she’d be allowed to work with her preferred medium, with portraiture no less! And James wasn’t half bad looking – he’d be enjoyable to draw for two weeks.
“This is going to be hell,” James said darkly, “just you wait. Mine will be so terrible that she’ll expel me. Or worse, make me only use charcoal for the rest of the summer.”
Lily grimaced, “You’re not that terrible. C’mon, let’s get our things and go. I think Megan and Timothy will be wanting our table.”
James, his shoulders slumped and his fists practically dragging on the floor, reluctantly followed her to collect charcoal, pencils, lots of paper, clipboards, and a plethora of erasers. Lily also grabbed a few extra supplies, like rulers and such, to make James’ life easier. Then, she marched him towards the door.
“Er, wait for me outside, would you? I’m going to use the loo really quickly.” He unceremoniously dumped his stuff on top of hers, and jogged towards the bathroom.
Lily groaned, but made her way to the door. At least outside she could avoid the tiny kids running around holding sharp pencils.
But of course, her life wasn’t that easy. She couldn’t even get to the door without some sort of trauma occurring. This time, it was in the form of one Rose Bennett.
“Hey Evans,” she called, her tone clearly bitter, “where do you think your going?”
Lily rolled her eyes. “Out,” she said tartly, without pausing.
Bennett sidestepped in front of her, her clear blue eyes glimmering with barely-concealed hatred. “You’re not allowed to. Everyone’s supposed to stay inside.”
“Have you forgotten? James and I have special privileges. And Briarwood told us to go outside,” Lily narrowed her eyes, “so, we’re going.”
“Well, I couldn’t care less about that,” Bennett tossed her hair, “but I do mind that poor James looks less than happy to be going. Maybe you should leave him here with people who are more . . . suited to his tastes.”
Lily looked, bewildered, back at where the bathrooms were. James was nowhere to be seen. But she didn’t remember him being too upset at having to leave.
“What are you saying?” she demanded.
Bennett pursed her lips, triumph dancing across her face, “Well Evans, let’s face it, James is quite the catch. And you . . . well, you don’t see any of the boys in here leaping to be with you, do you?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“See, I think James would be much happier with people who could properly match up with him,” she glanced at her nails, and then shot Lily a coy little smirk, “people like me, perhaps?”
Lily stared at her in disbelief.
“Go on, Evans,” Bennett said maliciously, “take him with you for now. But just know that he’d be much happier here with me.”
With a toss of her blonde curls, she sauntered back to her table.
Lily’s face blazed red. She marched out the door furiously, not caring that it slammed shut behind her. The sun pounded down upon the sweltering pavement, exacerbating Lily’s tremendous irritation. She stormed nearly a block before she heard a voice behind her.
“Oi! Lily! Wait up!”
She kept marching. She wanted as much distance between her and Rose Bennett as was physically possible. She’d end up walking into the bloody ocean if that’s what it took.
“Lily!” James finally caught up to her, “what’s up? Why didn’t you wait for me?” He eyed her for a minute, “why are you so mad?”
“Nothing,” Lily snapped, refusing to stop moving.
He rolled his eyes, “Real convincing. C’mon, what’s got your knickers in a twist?”
“Nothing,” she repeated.
He stopped walking, and grabbed her arm. “You’re about as good at hiding your emotions as Sirius. Now, what the hell happened in the last four minutes to make your face redder than my Quidditch robes?”
She sighed. Then wrinkled her nose. “It’s stupid. I shouldn’t let her get to me.”
“Yes, Bennett,” Lily snarled, “the cow.”
“Well, what did she say?”
Lily glanced up at him, his hazel eyes looking concerned behind the flash of his glasses. She let her shoulders slump, and handed him his materials, “Its actually not important. Never mind, I’m not angry anymore. Let’s just go draw. It’ll calm me down.”
“Okay . . .” James looked at her as if she was quite mad, “let’s go by the creek then. No one will be over there. It’ll be quieter than anywhere else.”
Lily agreed, and followed him as he led the way down a number of suburban streets. The sun beat uncomfortably on her freckled shoulders, and she remained bothered by Bennett. They were silent as they walked.
When they reached the path that diverged from the main streets to link up to the creek, Lily breathed a sigh of relief. A tiny bit of tension left her shoulders. The tall trees shaded the cheerfully trickling water, and the thick grass that surrounded it. James led her on the path for a while, and then slipped through a clump of trees to a little outcropping over the creek. The grass was deliciously soft, and shaded patchily by the imposing, noble trees.
Lily sighed, smiling softly at the little scene that would become her home for the next couple weeks. It would be a beautiful, quite place to draw. The sound of the creek and the birds chirping masked any suburban noise, and it smelled like honeysuckle.
She dropped her materials and sank into the grass, pushing Rose Bennett to the furthest corner of her mind. This had the potential to be absolutely lovely.
James felt vastly uncomfortable with this art assignment for a number of colorful and spiteful reasons. He couldn’t help but use every expletive in his vocabulary as he imagined the coming weeks, filled with charcoal, no color at all, and Lily’s disappointed face.
After all, he was supposed to be drawing five portraits of Lily. And the last thing he wanted was to offend her by drawing her face with some kind of horrible disfigurement. Or worse yet, draw a person who resembled someone else entirely. She’d either curse him, or give him grief about it for the rest of the summer.
Perhaps he should just give up now. Offer to do self-portraits instead. He’d botched his own face so many times that it hardly bothered him any longer.
“Right,” Lily arranged their materials, “you’re drawing first.”
“What?” he spluttered.
“You heard me,” her tone was dark, “and don’t argue. I’ve had a ruddy awful morning, and I’m in no mood to draw your face. It’ll look terrible. So pick up a pencil and tell me how you’d like me to pose.”
She was so bossy that James couldn’t help but recall Hogwarts. This was prefect, miss-perfect, don’t-put-one-toe-out-of-line Lily. Third-in-her-class, top-in-hexes-potions-charms-and-revenge Lily. Not the Lily James was too terribly fond of.
“Well?” she put her hands on her hips and glared at him.
“Alright,” he gave in, defeated, “just – let’s just do your face for now, yeah?”
She lay flat on her stomach, and propped her chin on her elbows. He sat, facing her, and pulled a fresh piece of paper from the stack beside them. Careful not to tear or smudge it, he fixed it on the clipboard and pulled the pencils and erasers towards him.
“Um,” he sat there, stumped.
James looked at Lily, lying on the ground, looking enormously disgruntled, and quite nearly laughed. As uncomfortable as he was, Lily’s frustration was genuinely funny. Her feet were kicking the air, and her ratty jeans and paint-smeared sleeveless shirt showed her utter lack of interest in looking presentable. Not even the threat of a portrait could make her brush her hair.
He chuckled, “Alright. Let me just sit and think for a moment.”
She turned her head and stared out at the creek. “Take your time.”
He put down the clipboard and leaned back on his hands, staring at the subject of his portrait. Faced with the inevitability of the assignment, especially with Lily’s stubbornness, he figured he might as well put his heart into it.
Besides, if he toiled over this assignment enough, and focused his entire brain on it, there was a chance he’d forget about his deep mental issues and wipe the black knickers incident from his memory forever.
Course, that was setting his hopes pretty damn high. Black lace had been the predominant feature of his dreams, and daydreams, for over twenty-four hours. He was going absolutely mad. Knickers were popping out at him everywhere, clouding his vision, distracting him from important matters. It would be miraculous if he lasted a week in this clearly damaging and unhealthy condition.
“Alright,” he tried desperately to push away all thoughts of knickers, “I have an idea. You might not like it.”
“Not like I have a choice,” Lily turned to glance upwards at him with her bright green eyes, “it’s your drawing.”
“True,” he chuckled, and pushed back a number of lecherous, marauder thoughts, all involving substantial quantities of black lace, “mind if I position you?”
“Okay,” he eyed the grass and creek critically, “so if you could just lay on your side, over here a bit . . .”
James, though he struggled with words, finally managed to get Lily to lie on her side, cross-wise on the patch of grass. She rested her head on one arm, which stretched out towards the creek. Her other arm rested on her waist, her fingertips just trailing the grass. She looked at him with a decidedly peeved expression.
“My arm is going to fall asleep.”
“Too bad,” he stepped back to critique his work, “alright, now, do you think you could look a bit . . . er, happier?”
She stared at him.
“You don’t have to smile, but maybe get rid of the scowl?” he flashed a grin at her, “c’mon, look peaceful. Like you’re about to sleep or something. Or you’re just enjoying nature.”
Lily sighed, but closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deeply. When she opened her eyes, her eyebrows were no longer pinched together and her mouth was less rigid. She seemed lazy, and tranquil.
He hesitated. It was nearly perfect, but there were a few things off.
Carefully, he leaned forward and brushed her long red hair over her outstretched arm and around her face. The strands were soft, and she watched him skeptically as he made it swirl around her, on the grass and over her bare shoulders.
He smiled, “Perfect.”
He sat cross-legged in the grass a couple feet from her. She looked up at him through her eyelashes, and seemed puzzled. “Is this a portrait, or full body?”
“Portrait,” he replied, “I think I’ll do from your left shoulder to your right elbow.”
She glanced up at her outstretched fingertips. “Pity. It’d be a good full-body.”
“I have other plans for those ones,” he shot her a wicked smirk, “now be a good girl and lay still.”
Though she clearly did not appreciate the orders, Lily did as he said, and remained very still. The sunlight passed through the green leaves in patches, highlighting one strand of her vivid hair, and a spot on her jeans.
James looked down at the white expanse of paper glaring back at him, in the pockmarked sunshine. Suddenly, he felt very nervous.
He lifted a pencil, glanced up at Lily one more time, and then swiftly sketched the curve of her head, the line of her arm, and the nearly circular curve of her shoulder. His hand moved in large, sweeping motions, trying to get the fluidity, the curves of her body. Soon enough, a very rough, but proportionally accurate version of Lily lay gracefully across the paper.
It wasn’t sketching that was difficult for James. After all, he had to sketch before every painting. Proportions were simple, and transferring his ideas from brain to paper was never an issue.
It was shading, making it realistic, that caused James to rip out tufts of his hair and long for St. Mungo’s ward for the mentally unstable.
Lily seemed to relax the longer she lay there. Soon, she was gazing peacefully at the grass naturally, without effort. It seemed so normal for her, with her earthy, natural appearance, to be daydreaming quietly in the overgrown grass. A prefects badge would have looked enormously out of place on her rumpled, messy, serene person.
He sketched in her basic facial features, using the proportion skills he’d been taught over years at the Academy. Though it didn’t look like Lily yet – that would come with shading – the drawing already had the unmistakable almond shape of her eyes and the sharp line of her jaw.
“So,” he had no tolerance for drawing in silence, “has dear Petunia done anything particularly funny lately?”
Lily smiled, “Yesterday something happened with the reception location. Screamed bloody murder about it. But I suppose it’s fixed now.”
“Shame,” James said as he struggled with her eyebrows, “won’t there be a point where nothing else can possibly go wrong?”
“I thought we passed that ages ago,” Lily snorted.
“You know,” James grinned, somewhat puckishly, “Sirius, Peter, and Remus are coming to stay at my house tomorrow, until next weekend. We could pull a few pranks for you, if you want. Give Petunia a little grief.”
Lily laughed, “As much as I’d like that, I’m not sure my parents, or the house, could handle any more tantrums.”
“Aw,” he traced the lines of her untamable, long red hair, “well could we at least prank the neighbors? Someone? We go crazy without a challenge.”
“How ‘bout you pull something on Briarwood?” Lily suggested, “I mean, you’ve done something to every teacher at Hogwarts. Multiple times. With all the marauders I’m sure you’d have no trouble pulling some mischief at the Academy.”
“Brilliant!” He beamed, “oh the things we could do to that dear old bat. You’re a bloody genius.”
“Yes I know,” she shot him an amused look from underneath her lashes.
He felt himself chuckle, and then focused for a moment to get the exact folds of her shirt. His eyes strayed a bit too far down, and he was exceedingly grateful he had caused some of Lily’s hair to conceal that part of her anatomy. He felt a whisper of knickers float across his brain, and clenched his pencil harder.
“Why are all your mates coming to stay with you?” she asked, after a moment of quiet.
“No reason,” James cleared his throat, trying to sound casual, “I mean, they’re all invited to my parent’s party next Saturday, so they figured they might as well come spend some time with me beforehand. You’re coming to that, right?”
“Yeah, my Mum took me dress shopping yesterday,” Lily seemed to become even more peaceful, “it was really nice of your Mum to call mine and tell her that, even though they’re muggles, they’re still welcome.”
James rolled his eyes, “Yeah, my Mum’s always like that. She’s more into this wizard equality thing than Dumbledore.”
“It’s really nice. You’re the same way, obviously.”
James nodded, “Yeah, well, that Slytherin rubbish never made any sense to me anyway. ‘Specially with you beating me at Charms and Potions since our first day.”
Lily laughed, “Nonsense! I’ve never bested you at Transfiguration or Defense, not to mention Quidditch!”
“So, we’re equal,” he pointed out, watching her intently. He memorized the curve of her ear lobe, and then looked down and quickly sketched it in.
“That invite made my Mum so happy,” Lily said contemplatively, “I think she really wishes she was a part of our world. My Dad doesn’t care so much, I mean he’s excited of course, but my Mum is really thrilled. Petunia’s even a bit curious.”
James could not imagine Lily’s situation. His whole family was wizards. Hell, muggles were as foreign to him as wizards were to Lily’s mum. He had no idea how to drive a car, or operate a telephone, or any of those other confusing muggle contraptions. Truth be told, he should have taken muggle studies. But it was much too late now. He’d be a bumbling moron in the muggle world forever, probably.
“Well they’re welcome anytime,” he stretched, “my house is too big anyways. We should have events more often.”
“What did your Dad do at work anyway, that you’re celebrating him for?” she asked.
James smiled, a flicker of pride burning deep in his stomach. “He caught a bunch of dark wizards a few months ago, and the trials are finally finished. All have been convicted of consorting with that Lord Voldemort. They’re going to Azkaban, and the ministry gave my Dad a medal of honor or something.”
“He caught them?” Lily seemed deeply impressed, “how?”
“Tracked them for months, then got a few Aurors and ambushed a meeting. One of his men was pretty seriously injured, but he stunned quite a few and knocked the others out. It was a big deal, all over the Daily Prophet.”
Lily glanced up at him, “Wow. I definitely see why you want to follow in his footsteps. He’s doing a lot of good.”
“He is,” James agreed.
They fell quiet for a few minutes, and James’ brain was torn between focusing on the drawing and thinking about this Dad’s work. Lily’s sketch was approaching completion, and soon enough he’d have to pick up a bloody charcoal stick.
All that was left was her mouth. James hated drawing mouths. He usually got them wrong. Either they looked like pufferfish, with giant lips, or Professor McGonagall, with none at all.
He stared at her face for a moment, as she gazed unfocusedly at the grass. Her mouth was relaxed, the corners turned just slightly upwards. Her lips were soft and pouty, and had the faintest hint of a heart shape. James snarled at the black lace bordering his brain.
He drew the line first, carefully upturning the corners and making sure the angle was right. Then, hesitantly, with many quick upward glances at her face, he managed to get the general shape of both upper and bottom lip. Still, when he surveyed his work, he thought it looked a bit demented. That was probably a good thing – the black lace had scampered back down whatever dark hole in James’ brain from which it had emerged.
“Okay, I think I’m done sketching,” James said tentatively, “guess this means shading now.”
Lily smiled encouragingly, “Just don’t toss it up too bad. Draw what you see.”
“I’ll be asking a lot of questions,” he admitted, putting his pencil away and picking up the charcoal stick.
“Feel free,” she seemed to want to help him, “I mean, really. Come show me if you have any difficulty.”
“I will,” he sighed.
“And work from the upper left corner downwards,” she instructed, “seriously, or you’ll smudge everything up with your hand and it’ll look terrible.”
He placed the charcoal on the upper corner, where the background of hazy leaves and the creek was supposed to be, and began to cautiously mark the paper.
“Don’t forget, charcoal blends as easily as watercolor paints,” Lily reminded him, “So use your fingers to blend it, swoop it, create shapes. It looks better than if you use the charcoal stick for every line. It’s like finger painting – a little bit of the material goes a long way.”
James nodded, “Alright.”
He used his ring finger to make large, blended shapes, and the edge of his pinky to do smaller lines. Soon, a pattern of leaves emerged, clear as day. He thought back, briefly, to when he was painting leaves on the ceiling with Lily, and he smiled. He could do it with the bloody charcoal too.
“And really, you should be using the eraser as often as the charcoal stick,” Lily said sensibly, “that’s how you get your highlights.”
He looked around, and then picked up one of the many erasers that littered the grass. He used it to carefully create the lighter highlights on the leaves. Suddenly, they looked three-dimensional. “Brilliant!”
She smiled softly, and then remained quiet. He was able to complete her shoulder, and the bit of shirt that could be seen without any help at all. They weren’t done, yet, but they were mostly shaded.
The sound of the playful, chattering creek soothed him, and relaxed his nerves as he started on her hair. An hour, maybe less, passed as he slipped into his flow.
The next time he looked up, her eyes were closed. Her chest was rising slowly, and James paused.
She didn’t respond. He smiled. It was rather pleasant, lying on the soft grass in the spotty sunlight, with nothing but the sound of the bubbling creek. He felt drowsy himself, but he was much more interested in completing the drawing than sleeping. After all, the charcoal wasn’t being a bloody nightmare at the moment. He was actually drawing with it!
The next few hours passed quietly, and James worked quickly in the familiar artist’s trance. He saw nothing but Lily and the paper, and thought of nothing else. There was a flow to his movements and his breathing, which were perfectly synchronized. James could never think of a time that he was more relaxed than when the artist inside him took over, and his mind was cleared of all but the work at hand. Only Quidditch, perhaps, could make his stress disappear as rapidly.
Before long, the Lily on his paper took a definite, recognizable shape. Her hair darkened, and was soon splayed across the fictional plane of his paper. Her jaw line was sharpened, her nose became prominent, and he drew in her eyebrows with a tiny, thin charcoal pencil. He was even able to shade her mouth, using an eraser to highlight her lower lip and the groove between her nose and upper lip. There was a small shadow on her chin, and another in the space between her eyes and eyebrows.
The only part he left untouched were her eyes, because he wanted to draw them open.
He drew the long, slender lines of her arm, and shaded them appropriately. Soon, a more-or-less accurate version of Lily, minus her eyes, lay across his page. It was looking fairly decent. Not quite perfect, but better than most of the shoddy charcoal work he had done before.
James carefully, using upward strokes, drew and shaded the tufts of grass around her. He was grateful she was such a still, peaceful sleeper. He thrashed about in his sleep, and usually caused extraordinary damage to anything unfortunate enough to be near him. Lily hadn’t moved an inch.
The sun was descending from its throne in the sky when James finally decided he should wake Lily. It was nearing three o’clock, and he needed both her advice and her open eyes.
Carefully, he crawled forward and gently shook her shoulder. She opened her eyes blearily.
“Hey, think you could wake up now? I need to sketch your eyes,” he said apologetically.
She nodded, careful not to move very much. He smiled in thanks and quickly skipped backwards to his clipboard.
“Where do you want me to look?” she asked. Her voice was a little raspy from sleep.
“At the grass, like you’re day-dreaming.”
Lily did as he asked, and managed to wipe all traces of tiredness from her face. James grinned, “Perfect.”
He used the very tip of his pinky finger to shade the creases of her eyelids, and the shadows beneath her eyes. Using a charcoal pencil, he blackened her pupil and the line surrounding her iris, wishing he could use the same shade of green that glistened beneath her lashes. Lily’s eyes, though pretty in any hue, were their most exquisite in their usual emerald green.
Finally, after making sure the highlights were in the right place and he hadn’t forgotten any shadow, he used the charcoal pencil and quick, upward wrist flicks to draw each of her thick, curved eyelashes.
Then, when he could find nothing else to fix on his own, he beamed, “Okay you can move now. I need your help.”
Lily groaned a sigh of relief, and rolled over onto her back. She stretched her arms and curled her toes, and arched her back in one quick, sinuous motion. James felt himself stop breathing.
Deep, mental issues, his brain reminded him snippily.
Unaware of what she was doing, Lily rolled back over on to her stomach and pushed herself up. She knelt beside James, and took in the drawing.
“This is pretty good,” she said, impressed.
James stood up, “You look at it. My eyes need a rest.”
Lily took the clipboard, and scooted back a few feet to lean against a tree. James heard his knees crack as he stood, and paced around the little clearing.
“Hmm,” Lily tapped a finger against her bottom lip, “do you want advice, or are you happy with it?”
“No, please give me advice,” James said honestly, not even thinking about it, “are you kidding? I need all the help I can get. These are sodding charcoals we’re talking about here.”
Lily giggled, “Yeah, but you’re good with them too!”
“About as good as you are with painting,” James amended, “but can we both agree that my skills with charcoal are very much subpar to yours?”
She shrugged, “Alright. Here, come look at this.”
James obediently sat beside her, and she put the clipboard halfway on his lap, and halfway on hers. “So I’ve told you this a million times, but the trick is to be dramatic.”
“Yes, dark with the shadows, bright with the highlights. No gray. Well, no, you’ll have lots of gray, but your shadows need to be very dark and your highlights need to be practically white. The dramatic ones at least. See here?” she pointed at the line of her shoulder, “the sun is glinting off it, and I’m certainly pale enough. Just make it white. The upper line of it, yeah?”
He nodded. “And here,” she pointed at her hair, “make the highlights bright! And the dark pieces, beneath my jaw, here, make it almost black! Nostrils, same thing, you see?”
James picked up the clipboard, an eraser, and a charcoal stick. “Okay, wait a minute, let me see if I can get it.”
As cautiously as if he were performing brain surgery at St. Mungo’s, he erased many light gray areas all over the page. Highlights became almost blindingly bright. Then, with the charcoal stick, he made the very dark areas nearly black, and the somewhat dark areas much darker. Soon, the portrait was entirely three-dimensional.
“Excellent!” Lily said enthusiastically, “see? You’re a bloody talented tosspot, and you know it.”
He nodded in thanks, and continued. With the pencil he blackened the inner part of Lily’s ear, and the shadows of her nose. The line of her mouth became black. The bottommost part of her arm also became very dark. Lily’s smile grew wider the more he completed.
“Alright,” he put the clipboard in the grass and stared at it, exhausted, “I think I’ll leave the rest of the touching up for the last few days of this assignment.”
“That’s an excellent idea,” she stood up, and brushed the grass off her jeans, “shall we pack up then?”
James helped her gather all the supplies, and then piled them on top of the clipboard, Lily’s portrait facedown. “C’mon, back to the Academy.”
They walked together on the path, and then crossed over onto a suburban street. The late summer sun cast a golden hue over the identical houses and neat little gardens. Lily walked a step ahead of him, her hair swishing.
“That was the easiest day of art class I’ve ever had,” she flashed a grin back at him.
“Yeah, tomorrow’s my turn. I get to nap, and you get to draw,” James smiled blissfully, “what a lovely day that will be.”
“Aren’t your mates coming tomorrow too? Isn’t that what you said earlier?”
James smiled brightly, “Yes m’am! The Marauders have over a week to wreak havoc on this quiet little neighborhood. It’ll be loads of fun.”
“You know, they could come watch us draw if they wanted,” Lily offered, “It isn’t like Mrs. Briarwood would know.”
He tried to imagine his friends, lounging on the grass while either Lily or James bent all of their concentration on sketching. Peter would nap, Remus would chat, and Sirius would find either a small animal or a muggle to entertain him. It could be a lovely day.
“I’ll ask them,” James decided, happy, “it wouldn’t bother you?”
“I’m the one who suggested it,” she replied dryly.
James hid a smile, and continued walking towards the Academy. Maybe he’d finally get to see Remus and Lily have their epic battle of the witticisms and sarcastic quips.
They reached the closed Academy. Lily fit her key in the lock, and opened the door. They passed beneath their striking flower, and continued into the empty studio.
James put his things away, and then turned to see Lily, on a stool, straining to put the clipboard on a very tall shelf.
Once again, her hair nearly grazed her lower back. She was on her tiptoes, her back arched, her entire, tiny body stretched to as long as it could get. He froze.
James was given an unprecedented and unbelievable view of the way her jeans stretched over her bum when she was in that position.
He felt that same deep, craggy, terrifying jerk suddenly open in his lower abdomen. His breath came in quick, short gasps. His heart seemed determined to beat its way right through his chest.
She turned, leapt of the stool, and pushed it back underneath the table. James struggled to regain his composure.
At least it wasn’t a skirt this time, was the only coherent thought running through his brain.
Lily eyed him curiously, “You look a bit peaky.”
He choked a little, “Do I?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
He gathered himself enough to wave her off, “Fine, fine. ‘M fine.”
Lily raised one, skeptical eyebrow.
“Really. I’m fine.”
It was easier to concentrate, now that she was facing him. He felt the well close, reluctantly, and he found he could feel his legs again.
“You should rest,” she said doubtfully, “I think the charcoal addled your brains.”
No, he thought miserably, I just clearly have a variety of unsolvable and potentially hazardous mental issues.
“I will,” he assured her, “and I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”
“Yeah, I’ll lock up,” Lily threw him one more suspicious look, “go home and sleep.”
James nodded, both grateful to Lily and extremely worried for his own mental health. “Er, thanks. See you tomorrow!”
She waved, eyes narrowed. He turned on the spot, disappeared with a pop, and reappeared in his room.
He sat on his bed, weak, and stared at the floor.
Excellent thing his mates were arriving tomorrow. He wasn’t sure he could handle another day without discussing his clearly worrisome and problematic health condition. One more slip up, one more accidental peek at something he shouldn’t see, and James was going to truly go off the deep end. He was looking at a long, hopeless future in some white, box room in St. Mungo's, away from normal civilization. There would be no hope for him.
He groaned, a whisper of knickers on his brain again, and left to go drown himself in the shower.
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