Chapter 17 : And Then James And Lily Have A Much Anticipated Conversation . . .
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The soles of his sneakers slapped comfortingly against the dark pavement as James hurried to his late, clandestine meeting with one Lily Evans. The sound echoed among the dark houses, but James made no effort to quiet his footsteps. He was not at Hogwarts, there were no snot-nosed prefects to catch him and dock points. Hell, he could stay out as late as he wanted. It was summer.
He shoved his hands in his pockets, and strayed away from the pools of light that gathered beneath street lamps. It was not that he was a creepy Slytherin that hated light, he just saw no reason to be blinded by artificial illumination when the night sky was so starry and beautiful.
It had been surprisingly easy to lie to his mates about where he was going tonight. He mentioned that Mrs. Briarwood had demanded more cleaning hours – payment for his shame in the form of manual labor – and Sirius, Remus, and Peter had promptly wrinkled their nose and bid him goodbye.
James didn’t blame them. If Sirius had detention, James sure as hell was not going to skip along for the ride.
Faking a letter had been the most difficult part. James had begun writing a number of letters, before crumpling the parchment and chucking each letter in turn on the floor. Eventually, he got so frustrated, that he settled for a brief meet me at the creek.
He let Remus catch a glimpse of an ‘apology letter’ filled with his handwriting (really, his summer homework Transfiguration essay . . . which he was not admitting to finishing already,) and then surreptitiously switched the two and tied the real letter, er, note, to his owl, Aristotle.
After all, everything would be easier in person, right?
Wrong. James was regretting this move with every step he took closer to his destination. Lily Evans was quite possibly one of the most intimidating people on this planet. Being face-to-face with an angry Lily was about as comforting as being face-to-face with a scorned hippogriff. Either way, James was likely to emerge maimed, disfigured, and possibly dead.
But James had never been great with written words. He had the ability to be heartbreakingly sincere in person, and irresistibly charming, but it never translated on paper. So, even as he grew more and more nervous, he knew this was the right thing to do.
He turned right on the street that lined the river. He had perhaps five minutes until he arrived at his and Lily’s drawing spot. Suddenly, his gut clenched, and James had to goad himself to go further.
“C’mon, head straight, go,” James muttered to himself. He ducked his head, and stared at the white tips of his sneakers. One foot in front of the other. Left, right, left.
Without warning, the mental image of Rose Bennett’s glossy, sticky lips pressed against his flooded James’ brain. He had to physically stop himself from retching all over the pavement.
“Dear merlin,” James gasped, hands on his knees, “will this never stop?”
It was not that Rose was bad looking, or all that repulsive at all. It was just that James had been forced into the snog, and Rose had all the compassion and kindness of a Gringotts goblin. She was, to say the least, a coldhearted bitch.
James shook his head, trying to clear his mind, and continued walking. The memories would fade, sooner or later. And the Marauders’ foolproof plan of revenge would help to alleviate the pain as well. Rose, hopefully, would back off forever.
He reached the spot where he had promised to meet Lily. Thick, dark bushes hid the little area from the path and street. James stared at the shadowy area.
Then, with all of his Gryffindor courage, and his own desire to make things right, he parted the bushes and stepped into the secluded, grassy patch of creek-side serenity.
And promptly stopped short.
Lily was perched on a large rock that jutted out over the water. Her white dress and pale skin glowed in the starlight, setting her at stark contrast to the shadowy nighttime world around her. She had her sketchbook on her lap, and seemed to be drawing something from her imagination. The creek bubbled and murmured around her, sighing softly in the cool night air.
“Er, Lily?” James whispered.
Startled, Lily looked up, saw James, and froze, wide-eyed.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” he held up his hands, and inched forward, “what are you sketching?”
“Nothing,” Lily said. Her tone was cold.
James sighed. He knew it would be like this. Although Lily was brilliant and surprisingly perceptive, she also had a temper and she hated Rose Bennett. James snogging Rose was equivalent to James snogging a Slytherin – Lily would be furious at him no matter what. Reason was lost in her rage.
“Mind if I join you?” James asked politely.
“It’s why I’m here,” Lily said. There was an obvious tone to her voice, which made James cringe a little bit.
He seated himself, back against a tree trunk, a few feet or so away from Lily. It was close enough not to be bizarre, but far enough that her aim would be seriously impacted if she decided to throw things, such as her unnervingly sharp pencil.
She closed her sketchbook, tossed it on the ground, and stared at him, eyebrows raised.
“Er . . . right. You got Remus’ and Sirius’ letters?”
She grimaced. “They worry a lot for you, don’t they?”
“Yeah, they do,” James smiled, “gits.”
Lily glanced to her right, listening to the water chatter as it chased itself downstream. Her small hands played with the cottony fabric of her dress. “I assumed you would have a lengthy, pathetic apology letter too.”
“I’m not so good with the quill,” James admitted, “I reckoned it would be to my best advantage to talk to you in person.”
She shrugged. “So talk.”
Right. The talking part. The apology piece. James was not so brilliant at this part. It was not that he had trouble admitting when he was wrong - hell James was wrong most of the time. It was that Lily’s hair was especially shiny tonight, her eyes particularly narrow, and James had a painful, overwhelming fear of mucking this up.
“Look, can I start at the beginning? Like . . . way beginning?”
Lily shrugged again. She seemed like she could not possibly care less.
“Okay,” James glanced at her nervously, and then resumed staring at his sneakers. “So you know I sort of despise Rose Bennett, right? I bloody can’t stand that type of superficial, self-centered bint, who only wants a fit bloke that won’t talk back. Trust me, Lily, she’s just about the last person on this planet I would ever consider even partially attractive.”
Lily’s mouth seemed to grow less rigid, and her eyes became minutely softer. James relaxed a little bit. Apparently, insulting Rose Bennett was the right way to go about this whole sordid affair.
“Really, she’s been pursuing me since the first year of the Academy, and every year my ‘no’ has become more and more blunt. Timothy and Megan know, they’ve watched it all happen. She’s chased me, I’ve said no. It’s a pattern, yeah?”
Lily shrugged. Again.
“So . . . er, this year it’s been worse, I reckon because Mrs. Briarwood paired us up. Bennett always thought she had a singular claim on me, you know? And then, all of a sudden, she had, er, competition.”
“I am not competing with Rose Bennett for your affections,” Lily said, her lip curled with disgust.
James backtracked hastily, “No, no of course not, trust me, I know that. I know you aren’t. But, er, she sees it that way, right? Surely you’ve noticed.”
She nodded bitterly. “Yeah, I suppose I’ve noticed.”
“Right,” James continued, relieved, “so yeah. She’s threatened by you, I think. Probably because you’re everything she wants to be. Funny, smart, talented, matched with me . . . you know how it is. You see it with the girls at Hogwarts too.”
Lily seemed to straighten slightly, as if she had long ago resigned herself to the fact that some girls were bitter, jealous cows. If James remembered correctly, Lily had often been the subject of such envious bullying during their younger Hogwarts years. Girls could be downright cruel during adolescence, and Lily, with all of her gifts and intelligence and confidence, had been a frequent target.
“Rose is just like all those other stupid girls, Lily,” James said quietly, “she’s insecure. Jealous, yeah? You have so much going for you, and they’re intimidated.”
Lily braided her hair, unfocused. The silky red strands seemed to shine in the starlight, and James found himself staring at the long red curls in fascination. Lily herself was unperturbed, cold, and continued gazing at the water beneath her.
“I didn’t enjoy that kiss, Lily,” James said suddenly, “I hated it, I assure you.”
She glanced up at him. “Then why didn’t you pull away? I mean, I’ve heard you go off on Bennett’s less-than-attractive personality traits before. It made no sense that you stayed there.”
He shrugged, “I was shocked. Didn’t expect her to be so bold.”
“But why didn’t you push her off?” Lily persisted.
James rested his head back against the tree trunk, and stared at the girl who was so irritated with his behavior. Why did she have to be so bloody curious? Why couldn’t she be stupid, like half the idiotic teenagers their age, and be satisfied with his first answer?
But Lily Evans was known for her intelligence, and right now, Lily knew that James had a greater reason for not pushing Rose Bennett the hell away from him. He knew the answer. He knew exactly why he hadn’t shoved Rose Bennett off of him as if she were infected with dragon pox. But he couldn’t tell Lily.
There was no way in hell he was admitting to Lily that he, James Potter, was as inexperienced as a twelve-year-old.
When Rose had pressed him up against the wall, James had frozen stiff with shock. His mind had raced, his heartbeat quickened, his fight-or-flight senses jumped into action. For all intents and purposes, he had completely shut down. James was sensitive, the youngest of all the marauders, and completely ill equipped to deal with girls. Hell, if James were ever forced into a situation like that again, he’d probably faint. Or play dead.
He could not tell Lily that the instant a girl touched him he reverted back to the courage and skill level of a second year. It was as if he had been facing a dementor for the first time, and had no idea how to combat it or protect himself. His sexual inexperience, though unexpected by anyone who had ever heard of James Potter (and most people had), was his greatest weakness.
He didn’t care when Sirius took the mickey out of him for it, and he didn’t care that Peter considered him positively saint-like for avoiding girls in his halfhearted search for ‘the one.’ But he sure as hell cared that Lily, who had already lost her virginity, did not know he had the sexual experience equivalent to a toddler, or a coffee table. As in, none whatsoever.
Lily was different. James, for the first time, cared what she thought about him.
Pride, like a patronus shielding him from the world, kept his mouth firmly closed. He did not speak a word to Lily.
“James,” she said lowly, dangerously, “either you’re not being honest, or you’re hiding something. Why was it so goddamn hard to push a girl – who you clearly despise – away from you?”
His mind raced frantically as he tried to think up a suitable lie. But nothing came to mind, and he could only stare, blushing and unhappy, at the base of the rock upon which she perched.
She stood up, but James kept his eyes firmly below her ankles. Carefully, as if she were stepping on river stones, she crossed the grass until she stood directly in front of him. Then, she sat, her legs crossed beneath her, the white fabric of her dress spilling onto the dark grass, and stared directly at him. James casually pulled his knees to his chest to give her room.
He shook his head no. He couldn’t.
“James, if you don’t tell me whatever is going on, I’m going to assume you didn’t pull away because you’re a smarmy git that only wants a shag.”
That hurt. James looked up at her, and frowned, “It’s not that at all.”
Lily raised one, dangerously skeptical eyebrow. The girl had been taking a few pointers from Moony. The skillful, shockingly accurate twitch of that eyebrow had enough power to make James’ hands shake. Only Remus Lupin was usually able to do that.
“I don’t want a shag,” James repeated weakly.
Lily scoffed, “You’re a seventeen year old boy!”
“And you’re supposed to be a rational, forgiving seventeen year old girl!” James fired back.
Her eyebrow touched her hairline. “Tell me the truth.”
James looked back at the ground, sulky. He was trapped into a corner with no foreseeable escape route. Lily Evans, master manipulator and queen of intimidation, had him cornered faster than she would a first year out-of-bounds at night.
“Look,” he said, desperately clinging to his dignity, “it’s not at all what you think, and it’s sort of embarrassing, and I’d really rather not say.”
James huffed, “Lily! Give it a rest!”
“Wrong answer again.”
He glared at her. “Why does it matter so much why I looked petrified when Bennett assaulted me?”
“Because, James,” Lily said acidly, with the type of tone one normally uses when disciplining a toddler, “the natural reaction would be to shove her off. People don’t just freeze when a terrifying bitch gets that close.”
She had a point. James feared Rose Bennett the same way he feared Snape; they were both incredibly creepy, bizarre to look at, and capable of great and terrible power. Rose’s power lay in her manipulative, conniving, and cunning one-track mind. Snape’s lay in his . . . well, his magical ability and his lack of hygiene. If either Snape or Bennett got that close to James, the ‘natural reaction’ would be to get the hell away. Flight, not fight.
But James’ natural instincts had somehow chosen ‘freeze’, because of his terrified and inexperienced libido. He may as well have crawled into fetal position and pretended to be dead.
The answer Lily wanted so badly lay completely and totally in his pathetic sexual inexperience.
And that was too damn humiliating.
“Er – full body bind curse?”
“C’mon, Lily,” James resorted to whining, “please let it go? It was nothing. I can’t stand her, I promise.”
Lily’s eyes flared, “James, I’m not going to trust you as an art partner if you can’t shake off Rose Bennett. It’s pathetic, and I truly loathe her. So you need to pick. Either grow up, tell me what happened, and we can move forward, or keep stalling and become Rose Bennett’s art partner.”
James paled. He was well and truly trapped. He may as well have been in windowless, door-less, oxygen-less room without a wand. In fact, that was probably preferable to this situation, with a seething, righteous Lily Evans.
Really, he was just screwed.
“Okay,” James said slowly, “okay fine. You’re coercing and blackmailing this information out of me, so I guess I don’t have a choice.”
Lily looked faintly smug.
“But that doesn’t mean I’m happy I’m about saying it,” James stressed, “I’d really rather you not know.”
She cocked her head, the smugness fading slightly. “You don’t trust me?”
James hit his head back against the trunk of the tree. “No! Merlin, Lily, I probably trust you as much as I trust my mates! It’s just . . . I mean, it’s personal, okay? And kind of humiliating. And you’ll laugh.”
“No, I won’t,” she rolled her eyes, “give me a little credit.”
“You’ll laugh,” he assured her.
“James.” She leaned forward, placing her hands on his knees, “Tell me. Now.”
He looked down at her small, pale hands, one on each jean-encased knee. Though he was too stressed for her touch to really affect him, he still winced a little. The naughty little knickers cackled from deep within him.
“Er . . .” he stalled, “okay . . . Who do you think I lost my virginity to?”
Lily pulled her hands back, looking a bit surprised. She pondered the question. “I’d say probably either Marcia Haddock or Emma Forrester.”
James shook his head no.
“Really?” Lily tapped her lip, slightly surprised, “Er, that Ella girl? Sirius’ girlfriend now?”
James emphatically shook his head no. Sirius had claimed Ella from first year; there was no way James would have ever delved into that forbidden territory.
“Ew no, she’s a bloody Slytherin!”
Lily stared at him, exasperated. “All of those girls have told me they’ve slept with you. And none of them were your first?”
James wrinkled his nose with revulsion, “I’ve never slept with any of them. Especially Greengrass. God Lily, do you really think I’d do her?”
Lily’s mouth fell open. “What?”
Suddenly, James realized what he had just said. He felt blood rush up to his cheeks, and he ducked his head with the pretense of adjusting his glasses.
“You’ve never . . . you never slept with any of them? All of those girls lied?”
He nodded, grimacing.
“They weren’t your first . . . and they’ve never had sex with you?”
James frowned miserably. “None of them. Ever.”
Lily was absolutely perplexed. She gazed at him with bewildered surprise, her eyes clearly confused. “So then, who was it? Have you slept with any of the girls who have bragged about it at Hogwarts?”
James avoided the first question. “Er, no. They like to make stuff up.”
“So that means . . . oh my god, Dorcas lied too!”
“Yes she did,” James felt a little sickened at the mention of Peter’s part time girlfriend, “I do have standards, you know.”
She threw him a dirty look, but was unable to stay too furious. She was simply too confounded. James had never seen Lily a state of disbelief like this; she nibbled on her bottom lip and twisted the hem of her dress, staring unfocusedly into the darkness.
“They . . . they all made that up,” she frowned, and then glanced at him, “you wouldn’t believe some of the stories I’ve heard about you, James.”
“Oh I can imagine,” he said darkly.
It was true. James was well informed as to the rumors that had swirled around him and various girls throughout his time at Hogwarts. Whether it was from one of Sirius’ girlfriends telling him, or from one of Remus’ many friends that were girls, or from Peter’s strange way of procuring even the most outlandish gossip, James always knew. He had heard stories that made him blush, babble incoherently, and require isolation for a number of hours. The marauders were always very careful with James, for although he was their unquestioned leader, he was also vulnerable, and inexperienced. They did their best to quench all the rumors, intimidate the guilty girls into silence, and constantly make sure James’ sanity was intact. It was one of the many reasons he would always be indebted to his friends, for they were the sole barrier between him and hordes of needy, demanding, terrifying girls.
James sighed, despising his situation. He did not want Lily to know the truth.
“If you haven’t slept with any of the stupid Hogwarts girls . . .” Lily knitted her eyebrows together, utterly puzzled, “than who have you slept with?”
This was it. The one question James had hoped she would not ask.
He bought himself a few, precious seconds with his dignity by swiping his dark hair out of his eyes, and polishing his glasses. He coughed a little.
“James . . .” Lily stared at him, piercing. He fidgeted.
And suddenly, in one short instant, she knew. And he knew she knew. And he stared at the ground in shame.
“There’s no one, is there?” she asked softly.
He wrapped his arms around his knees, staring determinedly at a point on the ground six or so feet behind her. If he only had mere seconds left with his pride, than he would damn well enjoy them.
“Wow,” Lily breathed.
James gave up with his pride. He had no hope. So he heaved a sigh, and slowly forced himself to look up into Lily’s intense gaze.
“That’s . . . surprising,” she admitted.
“I know,” James frowned.
“Yes, I know.”
“Like . . . bloody hell, James! Your reputation! The things I used to think about you . . . and none of it is true.”
“None of it.”
Lily pushed her hair back behind her shoulders absentmindedly, her mind clearly reeling. James felt a different kind of satisfaction in seeing her shock. If nothing else, at least his act had been thoroughly convincing.
Her eyes widened again. “That means that I have more experience than you! Me! Prefect Lily Evans, has more sexual experience than the bloody ladies’ man James Potter!”
“A lot more,” James groaned.
She covered her mouth with her hand to suppress giggles. “Bloody hell, James!”
“Don’t rub it in,” he ruffled his hair, slightly anxious, “look, I’m not proud of it, okay? I’m not like this because I want to be. It’s just never seemed . . . right. You know? Never the proper moment. So I reckon I’ll live up to my reputation one day. It just hasn’t happened yet.”
She smiled. “I guess that just means you’re a bit chivalrous. It’s sweet.”
He wrinkled his nose. He didn’t want to be sweet. He wanted to be a rebel, a prankster, a mischievous little prat – something worthy of the title ‘Marauder.’
“If it helps, I’d give anything to be in your situation,” Lily offered, shrugging slightly, “I regret what I did. But I can’t take it back, and I just have to live with the fact that Greg Samson will always be my first.”
James prickled at Samson’s name. Since the night he and Lily had painted the ceiling, he had found himself intensely disliking the bloke. They had never been anything but cordial to each other before, but now James found he’d like nothing more than to let loose a few well chosen curses in the Ravenclaw’s direction. Or maybe just throttle him. Or introduce him to a man-eating giant squid.
“He wasn’t worth it, James,” Lily looked at him, her eyes sad and calm, “but at least you have the maturity and self-awareness to wait for someone who is.”
He felt his stomach jump a little. Lily had never complimented him on maturity before.
“True,” he looked back at her in the darkness, mouth pulled into a crooked half-smile, “I suppose I’ll just wait and see.”
Lily gave him a smile that was both vague and beautiful. James looked at her lips, mesmerized by the slight, mysterious upturned twist at the corners. In that one, passing second, he felt decades younger than his female art partner.
And for the first time in his and Lily’s friendship, James felt like he had said something completely and absolutely right. Maybe telling Lily’s his most humiliating secret had actually been a good thing. Maybe, if James continued behaving like the mature seventeen-year-old he was meant to be, he might just get Lily on his side once and for all. Lily, with her incomprehensible wisdom and adorable flaws, might be the person necessary to force James to grow up a little more.
He sighed, and ruffled his hair. All of these realizations were bloody exhausting.
“What time is it?” she asked.
James checked his watch. “Nearing midnight.”
“I best get back,” Lily sighed, “Marlene and Alice are arriving early tomorrow. We have to do some preparation before your mum’s dinner party.”
He agreed, because he was beat, but a small part of him wished that he could just stay by the beautiful, bubbling creek, talking to Lily forever.
“Sirius and Remus want to go get coffee or something beforehand to go over some revenge details with you,” James yawned, stretching his arms above his head, “say it’s important, ‘cause they don’t want you to get blasted.”
Lily laughed, “Yeah, they mentioned it in their letters. Best do it tomorrow, right? Then the day after the girls and me have to get ready and help my family prepare for a wizard’s house.”
“I’ll let them know. Maybe around four?”
Lily nodded, “Perfect.”
James clambered to his feet, and brushed the grass and leaves off of his jeans. Then he reached a hand down to help Lily up. Her tiny hand fit into his perfectly, and he pulled her to her feet as if she weighed nothing at all. Her dress swayed around her knees.
“Thanks,” she said, and collected her sketchbook and pencil.
“I’ll walk you home,” James offered, “it’s late, and no offense Lily, but you look far too young and pretty to be walking by yourself right now.”
He thought he saw a tint of blush appear on her cheeks, but it was dark so he could not be sure. She simply shrugged, “All right then.”
The pair of them climbed back through the bushes, and began walking down the paved street. James’ footsteps seemed inordinately loud, but again, he didn’t care to quiet them. Lily walked silently, ghost-like, beside him. Her head hardly reached his shoulder, and he chuckled at the obvious height difference.
They walked in peaceful silence all the way to Lily’s front door. Neither of them felt the need to fill the quiet with useless chatter, and James found he enjoyed simply being near her.
“Well, thanks for walking me back,” Lily said, turning to look at him.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels. “No problem. Now I don’t have to worry if you got home or not.”
She tapped the bodice of her dress. “I have a wand, you idiot.”
He shrugged, “All the same.”
Lily stood, wavering slightly. He waited out the awkward silence comfortably. Inexperienced he may be, he was still perfectly capable of handling himself with goodbyes at a girl’s front door.
Then, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek, her hand barely brushing his shoulder for balance. He froze, inhaling the flowery scent of her shampoo and closing his eyes at the soft touch of her lips on his cheek.
Fight or flight, but this time, James chose freeze.
She shot him a cheeky grin, “Night, James.”
He blinked once, and she was gone, disappeared into her dark house. The door shut quietly behind her.
A grin slowly spread across his face. That little minx! He had the strongest feeling that she would be using her newfound information to torture him. Because although Lily was wise and intelligent, Lily was also a tad bit mischievous. And like James, Lily would not let juicy new information go to waste. He sighed, knowing the next few days, or even weeks or months, would be spent dodging Lily’s wicked agenda.
The dragon within him stood up, turned around, and lay back down, an evil smirk on its face. Knickers floated across his mind, taunting him.
James shook his head, torn between chuckling and groaning, and turned to slowly walk back home.
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