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Chapter 2 : 2.
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When James, semi-hiding behind one of the large curtains of the Common room, saw Lily climb down the stairs that morning, he quickly looked away... only to have his eyes drawn back to her. It was useless to deny it - even if he could lie to his brain, his body moved instinctually.
She was so pale now that even the natural pink of her lips had faded. Her hair was neat as a pin, coiled up in her head in a tidy bun, but she had forgotten a loose strand behind her ear. Her uniform was crisp clean and perfectly ironed, but she had done the buttons up wrong. She was trying so hard to seem normal that it was almost painful to watch, and yet the little details gave away how far away she was from her old self. Even the vibrant emerald of her irises had dulled, faded. She sometimes grew very irritable out of the blue, bumped to people in the halls because she was so distracted. Even during lessons, she sometimes lost concentration, her mind would fly somewhere else...
Lily Evans was disappearing right in front of everyone's eyes the worse of it was that there was nothing he could do to help her, because there was nothing that could bring back what she had lost.
He knew what she was feeling because he felt it too: the helplessness of having their friends risk their lives while their were locked in the castle. The fear of having to be the one that watches and waits while someone else fights for you. Lily was strong, James knew that. She could take all of this. What had finally made her snap was something else: Marlene McKinnon had ended up in a coma after almost killing herself in an explosion in the second floor bathroom.
Marlene loved experimenting with potions, among other things, and this time her potion had gone awry. It had been 7 weeks and still that girl showed no sign of improvement. Even though nobody would say it at loud, it was clear that they had all lost hope on her. When 3 weeks ago Marlene had been transferred to St Mungos, everyone had known that they would never be seeing that girl again…
Having someone die at Hogwarts was strange in a way that involved everyone in the castle. Somehow like within the walls had become quieter and the buzz of the corridors more stilled. The second floor had been sealed off and the very thought of that was a reminder of what had happened.
Marlene had been Lily’s best friend. Whenever James tried to understand what she must be feeling, he thought of himself loosing Sirius… and the thought was almost too close to home for comfort.
James sighed and rubbed his eyes. It made him angry, the way Lily kept clutching at her friends so-called life. It was not healthy the way she stubbornly went to at St Mungos every Saturday and she would stay there all day. What she did there with a semi-corpse he didn’t know and honestly, James didn’t even care. He just wished she would stop.
He would love to tie her to the bloody bed just to keep her from going to that sick place anymore… but of course, he knew he could not do that. Lily would have his head on a silver platter before he got the chance to lay a single finger on her. Why didn’t Dumbledore do something? Surely it wasn’t normal for a student to leave the school this often, right?!
James clenched his fists so hard his knuckles crackled and went white. But he kept staring at Lily's red head from the corner, as she went by the dead fire and sat down. Marlene's family had surrendered hope and was now grieving, but not Lily Evans... In her characteristic stubbornness, she refused to let go of that little flimsy thing called hope. She clutched to it, fighting tooth and nail with everyone who tried to take it away from her. To James it seemed as if she were hanging on to a dead thing.
It was making her sick and all he could do watch her from a corner. Sometimes he returned a book that she forgot in the library, a habit that she had developed of late, or put back the ones she borrowed and didn’t take to their place. He did that for her because having Madame Pince yell at Lily for a misplaced book would not sit well with him. But then again, the chances of anyone yelling at Lily Evans were very scarce. Nobody ever yelled at Lily, not even now that she had grown careless...
It was just so completely natural for him to pick up things after her, to take care of her… and yet it felt wrong. It was wrong because leaving things for other people to pick up was so un-Lily-like that it scared him. She was the one that always took care of everybody. But now she was so distracted that she forgot her quills everywhere.
She seemed so alone, but that was not why he worried for her. The problem was that she was starting to like it that way, even going out of her way to push people away. She didn’t seem to want anybody’s help…
Another gust of antipathy spiked in James for Marlene McKinnon, and he couldn’t help but feel guilty. The girl was in a coma for Merlin’s sake, it was downright immoral to wish her anymore ill and James knew it… But he was annoyed at her anyway. Because Marlene hadn’t been Lily’s only friend. There was Raysa, who was the sweetest girl you could ever meet, and Dorcas and Kathy. They all had their ticks and whatever, but they were also great people who had been Lily’s friends since first year and who loved her and worried for her… and yet, Lily managed to look miles away even when she was surrounded by them.
Lily Evans was not the self destructive type. It was a sin to even think about something blemishing what she was. And yet, she was chirping away at herself and since it was biologically impossible for James to hate Lily for it, he hated the reason behind her attitude. Which made him feel guilty, but let’s face it, Marlene McKinnon deserved it and she wouldn't be the first - or the last - person to be hated after her death.
He still remembered that night, about a week ago, when he finished an essay for her. James still couldn’t believe it. Of all the impossible things that he had thought of, finishing an essay for Lily Evans had been on the bottom, right after the archangel Gabriel coming down the parting heavens to announce the Apocalypse.
He had been standing on the other end of the common room with the boys and just looking at her every 5 minutes or so.
"Prongs, you need to stop that." Sirius said, sounding half irritated, half tired. But surprisingly, James hadn’t been listening to what Sirius was saying. He was too busy looking at the way Lily kept re-reading from her book, as if she was having difficulties understanding, a frown etched deep between her eyebrows, more deeply than any frown had the right to settle on her skin. If that frown had been a corporeal entity James would have gladly beaten the bloody hell out of it. Again he was reminded of his powerlessness and he was so angry that he could just...
"Prongs, just go over there mate. You're starting to make me nervous with all whole looking-up-and-down thing. Prongs? …James!"
"What? What is it?" James snapped, turning his head around to look his friend.
"You're going to have to fix that, or McGonagall is going to have a fit." James looked down to where Sirius was pointing and saw that he had crushed his pen so hard against the parchment that the tip of it had broken, leaving quite a big stain in his essay process. He blinked, having no idea how or why he had done that and quickly made a move to grab his wand and fix the thing, but Remus was faster. He cleaned the paper up before James could even take out his wand.
"Thanks." James muttered.
"Look, Sirius is right, you should go talk to her." Remus spoke slowly and the reasonable tone of his voice was difficult to ignore, as always, but James shook his head.
"And say what exactly? ‘I’m sorry that your best friend died, but you should really get over it’?" He muttered as he tried to go back to where he had left off with his essay.
"Marlene isn’t dead yet." Remus said calmly and James had the sudden desire to hit his friend square in the face.
"She is as good as dead Mooney." James hissed through clenched teeth. "Besides, Lily knows that I bloody hated the girl, she is going to get angry at me for being a hypocrite... or something along those lines. I'd just make everything worse."
Remus sighed in defeat and said nothing more. Sirius looked like he had some serious talking to do, but one look at the way James was so intent on trying to concentrate on his homework made him decide that he would have to force that talk on his best friend some other time.
Truth was that James hadn't been entirely honest. Yes, it was true, there was too much bad water between himself and Lily – especially concerning his opinion about Marlene McKinnon - for him to just go over and talk to her. She could blow up all over him, that was a definite possibility, but that was not why he didn't want to talk to her. Had he known that yelling would make Lily feel better, he would be the first one in that line, but he knew that it wouldn't help her. In the end, getting angry at people that didn't really deserve her anger would only make her regret it later.
James dared another peek at her, this time trying not to be too obvious about it to his friends. She didn’t look angry, she just looked so...void. So unfocused that it broke his heart. After a couple of minutes, he looked up again to see what she was doing. Raysa was talking to her slowly, while she put a hand on Lily's forearm. Lily was looking back in her friend’s eyes and the more Raysa spoke, the more visible the frown on Lily's forehead became.
Suddenly Lily pulled her forearm out of Raysa‘s loose grip as if it burned and stood up fast. She said something, more like hissed, but it was low and didn’t carry to the boys, even thought the common room was half empty. Then Lily made a mess out of clearing out her things and left up the girls dormitories.
James sighed. He had been right, Lily didn’t want to be Anyone’s help. But just because she didn’t want anybody around didn’t mean that she didn’t need someone to help her through this. He could do that. He could do it from the corners, without her knowing. And he could keep doing it, because any help he could offer, no matter how small, made him feel less useless.
So he got up, went over to the table Lily had been sitting and picked up the pieces of parchment she had left there. The one she had been writing was half torn; probably she’d done that in her hurry to get away. He picked the thing up carefully and gathered her books and other sheets of parchment. He felt Raysa’s stare shift to him but he didn’t acknowledge her. However when she spoke Raysa didn't sound very friendly. She sounded tired.
“James please… this isn’t the time for silly jokes.”
He didn’t know what his face looked like when he made contact with her eyes, but he saw the way Raysa blinked, as if she was surprised by something. James quickly made an effort to even out his emotions, trying to look normal. But he was sure that he didn't do a very good job at it, because honestly, he didn't particularly care what Raysa thought at the moment.
“I agree.” James had said simply. Raysa didn't say anything, just looked away giving a small nod in his general direction.
After that James had gone back to his sitting place among the rest of the Marauders and finished Lily’s essay before he even did his own. He tried very hard to make his handwriting match hers - which was bloody hard. Normally Lily’s handwriting was impossibly neat, lean with beautiful arching, leaning a little to the right – basically like the ones you find in calligraphy textbooks. Lately it had gotten much more rushed and careless, with little smudges here and there – which James cleaned out – so it was just a bit easier to imitate it. Remus had helped a lot, since he knew this spell that copied handwriting, but they kept it light, because teachers tended to pick up on that kind of thing if it was used too extensively.
The next morning Lily had been a little frantic as she searched the table to her notes. When she had found the paper, she had frowned as if she didn’t remember whether or not she had done it herself. Or maybe she was wondering who had done it for her. She didn't like it. James had known that Lily would appreciate someone doing her work for her, but he had done it anyway. She would need that essay today. They had Transfiguration first thing in the morning, so James had known that she wouldn't have time to finish it herself.
Still, James remembered hoping hard that she wouldn't recognize his sloppy handwriting trying to pass as hers. To his relief, she hadn’t. Lily had talked to Raysa about it, thanking her friend with much less warmth than usual and also telling her firmly not to do it again, that she didn’t need help with her homework nor appreciated that kind of thing since it taught her nothing and so on and so forth… However, the blonde had denied everything and - thank Merlin - she hadn’t mentioned James’s name either.
James was pretty sure that Lily still didn’t know anything about him hanging around the edges of her loneliness, trying to be some kind of savior that would catch her. Except, she wasn’t the falling type, so he just hung around to reassure himself that he wasn’t just watching from the sidelines doing nothing for her. He hung around to make sure that nothing too bad happened…
Right now, as he watched her sitting on that sofa at 6 in the morning, he was doing just that: Looking on as she fell apart. He really didn’t want to dramatize, but it was what it felt like to him. He had a feeling that if something didn’t make her let go of her fixation, it was going to change her in a way that couldn’t be undone. The thought of her going hard and cold made him want to break something.
It couldn't happen. It would be unfair. Nobody had the right to do that, to make Lily Evans's flame go out. He was pretty sure that the world would be at loss if she disappeared. Because no matter how much of jerk and full-of-himself bastard he was to her, telling her how beautiful she was all the time and never complimenting her on anything else, he knew that the best of her was on the inside. There was nothing more beautiful in the face of this earth than her spirit.
James got up and slowly and neared the couch moving deliberately, as if he was stalking a doe in the forest. But he had a feeling that Lily didn’t feel him until he was sitting right beside her. She turned her head to look at him and when their eyes connected, something in him seemed to chirp away. He had never thought he would care this much about the well being of someone else, but he did. He really did. The fact that she looked at him with as much interest as she would look at curtains didn't change a thing.
“Good morning.” He said as he raised the fire with a quick spell.
“Morning.” Lily whispered back.
It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
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