Chapter 5 : Of Ice Fishing and Merlin
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Lily was taken by an uncharacteristic nervousness when she awoke the next morning. Of course James had briefly met her friends, but something about spending a prolonged amount of time with them made her stomach twist in knots. Perhaps she was afraid of the embarrassing stories they would tell; perhaps she was afraid that they would ask him questions about their school that he wouldn’t know how to answer; perhaps she was afraid of how she would react if they asked her how she felt about James.
Pushing her apprehension aside, Lily got dressed for the day and made her way downstairs. After a pleasant breakfast of French toast and eggs, Lily and James left the house bound for a nearby park. While a slight chill hung in the air, the weather was still accommodating for an afternoon outing, much to Lily’s relief.
“Lovely scrambled eggs this morning,” was the first thing that Lily said as they rounded the corner from her home.
“I’ll never give away my secrets, no matter how much you flatter me,” James replied with a wink and a grin.
“More salt?” Lily asked pointedly, shooting him a knowing look.
“You caught me,” he laughed, slipping his hands into his pockets. “So, didn’t you say earlier this week that you had a sister?”
Lily looked at him for a moment as they walked, caught off guard by his sudden change of subjects, before looking back ahead with a sigh. “Yeah, I did. Petunia. Why?”
“You said I’d meet her soon enough. I haven’t seen her around the house once,” he explained with a shrug. From her peripheries, she could see that his eyes were plainly on her.
“I would hope not. She’s living with Vernon, her significant other,” Lily said with distaste, her eyes shifting staunchly towards the ground. “She comes by every so often, but she avoids me like the plague.”
“So I won’t meet her then?” James asked slowly, furrowing his brow.
“Oh, no, you will,” Lily said, a tone of regret tingeing her voice. “My mom is all but forcing her to come to dinner tomorrow evening, without Vernon. And believe me, separating the two of them is going to be quite the accomplishment,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“Well, that sounds…Fun,” James said with a sympathetic smile.
“I’m going to apologize in advance for any insults she may throw your way. I would say she doesn’t mean to be so disrespectful, but…She does,” she sighed, her eyes drifting towards the park as they neared it. Without missing a beat, she changed the subject just as he had done a few minutes prior. “Now you’re sure you don’t mind hanging out with my friends for the afternoon? I really don’t want to bore you.”
“I don’t think that’s humanly possible,” he replied with a short laugh. “Anything I need to know about them? Secret pasts? Undercover occupations? Extra limbs?”
“You saw them all yesterday!” Lily objected, though she couldn’t keep the smile off her face.
“I don’t know…Maybe one of them is really good at hiding their third ear...” James muttered with a raised eyebrow.
“They’re all perfectly intact, thank you very much. As for what you should know, Adam will ask you about sports. Say you play rugby,” she began. She heard him repeat the word under his breath before she continued. “Zachary might ask weird questions—he tends to get protective over me.”
“Did you guys have a thing?” James asked immediately in a nonchalant voice that thinly veiled his alarm.
“Absolutely not,” Lily laughed, shaking her head. “He’s like a big brother, and has always been really defensive over me. Don’t worry, though—you’ll be fine.”
Before James could ask anything more, they had reached Lily’s friends, all seated in a circle on a large blanket.
“Well, hello again,” Lindsay chirped, waving cheerily before gesturing for them to sit.
“It’s James, right?” Zachary asked as he scooted over to make room. As James nodded and sat down, Zachary stuck out a hand for him to shake. “Great to see you again.”
Lily didn’t miss the shock in James’ eyes as he registered the strength of Zachary’s handshake, but obligingly pretended not to notice his delay in response. “Likewise,” he squeaked, flexing his hand uncomfortably when he was finally released.
“Well, how’d you like that match yesterday? Could you believe Collins—…” Adam began, Bobby piping in over him immediately.
Lily, all too accustomed to multitasking, was only half listening; she had long since learned that an occasional nod and an encouraging smile was all it took to appear engaged. Granted, she wasn’t one to let her thoughts wander, but this situation was different.
At first, she was simply wrapped up in James’ animated speech as he tried his best to recount some of his favorite maneuvers. Every time he would wave his hands expressively or make some joke that set off laughter around the circle, she felt her stomach leap a bit more.
But then someone else caught her attention. Lindsay, who was sitting adjacent to James, held the same wistful look on her face. After only a moment of observance, it became clear that Lindsay’s nods and smiles were just as counterfeit as her own, and jealousy suddenly flooded through her veins. Before the sour look on her face could be noticed, though, she was pulled out of her reverie by Bobby’s words.
“Remember when you used to drag that slimy kid to the football games when we were little, Lils? What was his name?” he asked laughingly, his eyes shifting around to the others for help.
“Oh, what was it!” Zachary exclaimed, snapping his fingers as if it would somehow sharpen his memory. “Something like Snevvery—it was the oddest name I’d ever heard!”
“Snape?” James immediately butted in, his eyes meeting all but Lily’s. Lily, meanwhile, felt her cheeks warming up as she looked down at the ground, hoping that somebody would change subjects.
“Yes, that was it! It was Snape!” Lindsay agreed, and the laughter that resounded between them was the slightest bit malicious.
“Don’t tell me he lives around here!” James asked incredulously. Lily could feel his eyes pass over her, but she made a point of staring down at the pattern on the blanket with interest.
“Spinner’s End,” Lily muttered, and all of them looked at her for a moment, as if they had forgotten she was there.
“Right—awful part of town, really,” Adam said with a shake of his head. “She tried to bring him to a few games, but he wouldn’t say a word to us. He wouldn’t even look at us!” He chuckled at the memory before continuing. “It was like we were poisonous or something.”
“But he’s not around here during the year much, is he…” Zachary muttered, his eyes shooting upward in thought. “Say, he’s not at that school you guys go to, is he?” he asked suddenly, his eyes darting between Lily and James.
Lily finally looked up at Zachary, but didn’t respond. After a moment of tense silence, James finally cleared his throat. “Uhm…No,” he recovered uncomfortably, adjusting his glasses. “Lily here’s just told me a bit about him. That’s all.”
As chatter resumed amongst the group, Lily let out a slow sigh and saw James’ eyes glued with determination on her. Unable to stop herself, she finally glanced at him; when he smiled softly to her, she felt her insides warm up again, and she couldn’t stop herself from returning it with a weak smile of her own.
This hadn’t gone unnoticed, though, for not a moment later Zachary’s voice addressed James. “Hey mate—mind if we talk in private for a moment?”
Lily’s eyes widened in horror as James broke their gaze and looked up at Zachary hesitantly. “Oh…Sure,” he stuttered, ambling into a standing position before they moved across the park out of hearing distance.
“Reckon he’s asking James about his intentions?” Adam snorted, shooting a pointed look to Lily who shook her head in disbelief.
“You’d think he was my dad the way he acts. There’s really no need for this,” she insisted, her eyes trailing over to watch the pair talking in the distance.
“So you’re saying there’s nothing going on between you two?” Lindsay asked suddenly, her gaze hot on Lily.
Lily had just watched Zachary point a stern finger in James direction when she heard this. Her eyes shot back to Lindsay, her mouth open slightly as she searched for something to say. Anxiety mounted when she finally spoke.
“Absolutely not,” Lily said with as much indifference as she could muster, throwing in a shrug for good measure.
“You’re sure? Because…” Lindsay paused for a moment, ignoring the looks of Bobby and Adam as she leaned in towards Lily. “Because I think he’s rather attractive, don’t you agree?”
“Well, ye—I mean… No, have at it,” she mumbled, shifting her glance back to James and Zachary.
“Oi!” Bobby yelled suddenly, turning towards the two as well. “Want to share your secrets with the lowly peons over here?”
Lily watched as Zachary patted James good-naturedly on the back before they returned, a weak smile playing on James’ face.
“Just having a little chat is all,” Zachary explained simply as he sat back down.
“Naturally,” Adam scoffed with a roll of his eyes, but didn’t linger on the subject for long.
The afternoon ticked along, and the group talked without interlude about anything and everything. James had been subjected to listing off his favorite rugby teams, but far from knowing what rugby even entailed, he was forced to make up his own names. (“Battleheaded Skrewts? I’ve never heard of them!” Adam had exclaimed. “Are they in the league?”)
And of course, Lily and James endured concocting a ridiculous story that recounted their fictional past. After all, they could not tell the truth about Lily’s revulsion towards James for six full years. Unfortunately, their story of how they became such close friends (which involved cabbage, history notes, a missing pencil bag, and their shared love of ice fishing, among other things) only sparked more questioning as to why Lily had never mentioned him before.
James’ solution, which was less than suave, went as follows:
“Merlin! Is the sun setting already? Lily, I promised your mom I’d help with dinner. We should probably be going!”
Lily merely stared at him in shock, though, as did the rest of her friends.
“Did you just say Merlin?” Lindsay asked slowly, raising her eyebrows quickly.
James glanced at Lily, whose eyes were as wide as saucers, and he gulped quickly. “Oh yes…Of course… See, I’m trying to stop swearing… And I’ve tried all these substitutes,” he said dismissively with a false laugh. “Sometimes I say muffins, sometimes I say marmalade… Merlin seems to be the only thing that works, though!” he exclaimed with a shrug.
“Right…” Zachary said slowly, narrowing his eyes.
Nevertheless, Lily stood up along with James and forced a smile on her face. “Well, this was so lovely—I’ll write you guys and let you know if I’ll be back for Christmas or not. Don’t get into too much trouble, alright?” She would’ve given them each a hug, but she feared lingering any longer.
“Let us know if James’ll be back, alright?” Lindsay said quickly before they turned to go, and Lily gave a slow nod.
As they retreated far enough away from the park, Lily let out a loud snort. “Muffins?” she asked mildly through her laughter.
James eyed her in confusion, laughing halfheartedly himself. “I thought you’d be mad…” he said slowly.
“Well, it was thoughtless, of course. But I can’t seem to get the thought of you exclaiming various breakfast foods whenever you tripped or got hexed out of my head. Marmalade…” she murmured with a bit of residual laughter. “By the by, what did Zachary have to say to you? Nothing too bad, I hope.”
“I’m just glad you warned me,” James said, smiling a bit to her. “He just told me that you were a very special person, and that if he ever heard that I was taking advantage of you or did anything to hurt you, I would have him to answer to,” he said matter-of-factly, as if the words weren’t odd at all.
“And that wasn’t weird to you?” Lily said slowly, cocking an eyebrow to him in disbelief.
“Well, I already knew you were very special—that’s an understatement, really. And I know I would never take advantage of you, nor would I hurt you. Not knowingly, that is,” he added hastily, looking out at the trees that lined the sidewalk as he spoke.
Lily watched him for a moment before looking ahead as well in order to hide the small smile lighting up her face. They walked in silence for a moment as Lily marveled at the golden light that the setting sun emitted, enveloping their surroundings in a dull glow.
“By the way,” she said, a bit quieter and with perfect somberness. “Thank you for not telling them about Severus. I know they would have hounded you for embarrassing stories about him…They never did like him,” she murmured, looking purposefully away as he glanced towards her.
“No worries,” he said immediately, looking back ahead after a beat. “I knew you two were friends for a long time… I had no idea he lived around here, though.”
Lily didn’t respond for several seconds, as if debating how much she ought to say. Finally, she began to speak once more, her words slow and morose. “He was the one who told me I was a witch…He was always there for me, no matter what.” She stopped here for a moment, as if unable to continue. “We were best friends,” she finally said with candor, finally turning to look at him, unashamed, as they rounded the corner. “But you probably don’t want to hear that,” she continued easily.
“No, I—,“ James began, but Lily let out a lackluster laugh followed by a slow sigh.
“Well, everything’s changed now, hasn’t it.”
And somehow, as they walked up the pathway towards her house, they both knew that she wasn’t talking about Severus anymore.
Well, sorry for the delay. My only excuse is that I took the break to read through all the Harry Potter books again, which was such a treat! Anywho, for all the questions of Petunia and whether there is any somberness to come in the tale, I’m here to tell you that I’ve got it all planned! Do not fret, for I’ve not forgotten! That’s all I’m going to say, other than that I hope you enjoyed the chapter, and thank you endlessly to every reviewer!
Until next time,
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