“I had a really nice time, and I hope to take you out again soon. How about next Tuesday? –James”
A secret and involuntary smile forced itself onto Lily’s face.
“James gave you this?” Lily asked Sirius, who was still half asleep on Lily’s couch. He nodded sleepily. “When? How? He was out of here in less than a minute.”
“He didn’t write it after you came back, he left it here for you before you two left...” Sirius explained knowingly. Lily blushed as she looked down at the piece of parchment in her hands.
“That arrogant, little...” Lily said, trying to be irritated by James’ confidence, but she sort of felt flattered.
Sirius was grinning at Lily who was trying to hide her blush.
“You’re falling in love again,” he whispered to Lily, kissing her on the cheek.
“No, I’m not! Seriously!” Lily replied immediately. “You cannot think me so stupid as to fall right back in love with him.”
“I think love makes a person stupid anyway, but stupidly falling in love with the love of your life is probably the smartest thing one can do at our age,” Sirius said soberly.
“Sirius, you make it sound like we’re old and have to seize every opportunity we get,” Lily said laughingly. Sirius shook his head.
“No, the exact opposite! We’re still young and that’s why we need to seize every possible opportunity for happiness. It’s the time to make mistakes, so when you’re old you’ll know which is the wrong decision and which is the right,” Sirius explained solemnly as if he was sad that was how things worked in life. “Unfortunately, we’ve both been hurt too much already to take such risks.”
And with that philosophical statement, he left Lily alone at her apartment, reminiscing everything that had happened that night with a smile on her face.
Maybe she should take more risks when it came to James, like Sirius had just said. But she could not forget how easily he had broken her heart last time...
She needed more time to heal, to trust... to love James again, and if he really loved her he would give her all the time in the world.
Lily had decided to see James again next Tuesday, and that knowledge made her leave for work the next day in the happiest of moods. She was going tell him on Sunday morning when the Order was getting together again. She had thought of replying immediately to the note he left after their date, but she liked to keep him in the dark just a bit longer. She wasn’t going to make it too easy on him, he still had to prove himself to her.
Despite the fact that she could not trust him as easily as she had before, it didn’t prevent her from seeing James, from having fun. For that was what it was, just simple fun. Like Sirius had said, they were still young and there was no need to rush into anything serious. All would come in time, and time was what the young Lily still had, or so she thought.
Although her state of mind had made her blissfully happy for four days, in which she did not see or hear from James, her fully worked out plan to just date James became a futile effort when Sunday morning dawned.
Lily should have expected what was going to happen when Saturday evening Sirius had inquired so very cautiously whether she was going to the order meeting the next day. He had asked whether she had heard anything from James yet and how her feelings were toward him at that moment.
Lily had dismissed his questions with blissful ignorance of what he was trying to say. He had been trying to warn her, to brace her against James’ behaviour toward Lily. Yet no words could have prepared her for what she was feeling while sitting around the large table in the middle of her father’s kitchen.
The moment Lily had walked through her father’s front door, she had spotted James sitting in her father’s favourite chair in the sitting room. He looked tired and sad, but Lily didn’t go over to ask him what was wrong –and yes, there was definitely something wrong. Lily stood frozen in the doorframe as she watched Cindy sit down on the armrest of James’ chair, putting her hand lovingly behind his neck. James did not protest. He even placed his arm possessively around her waist. Cindy looked absolutely vibrant with happiness.
Trying to be inconspicuous, Lily turned back and headed straight for the kitchen. She didn’t know whether anyone inside the sitting room had noticed. And how could she have? She had only had eyes for James.
She soon regretted leaving the sitting room so rashly, because if she had looked around the room more closely, she would’ve found Sirius, Remus and Peter there. In the kitchen she found Dumbledore having a very secretive conversation with Alastor Moody.
It took them a couple of minutes to notice anyone else in the room, but Lily hadn’t been listening to what they were discussing anyway. Her head was swarming with questions, dizzy with anger and disappointment.
“Dear Lily! You look... upset. Is something wrong?” Albus Dumbledore asked kindly. Lily shook her head, unable to speak.
Taking a deep breath, Lily tried to push back any thought of James and Cindy. For all she knew, she had misread every sign James had sent her during their date.
He had kissed her though... And hadn’t she been the one to decide to just date? Nothing exclusive, nothing serious?
“Lily?” Dumbledore repeated her name. She had a suspicion that he had been saying her name more than once.
“I’m sorry. I was... thinking,” Lily apologised.
“Well, with a head as brilliant as yours, you’re bound to get swamped in your own interesting thoughts,” Alastor Moody said jokingly, winking at Lily.
Well, it was blinking really, since he had only one working eye left. The other was covered up by a black Pirate eye patch. It made him look rather ridiculous instead of intimidating. James had told Lily that Alastor had lost his eye only last month.
“It’s nice to meet you again. I’ve heard a lot about you and your intelligence since we last saw each other... From various people,” Alastor said meaningfully. Lily bowed her head humbly, blushing a little.
It had to be Dumbledore who had praised Lily so much. Sirius didn’t know Alastor Moody any more than Lily did, neither did Remus or Peter, Lily assumed. James knew Alastor pretty well. He had been a friend of his parents. Had James talked so highly of Lily?
James... Oh, come on!
“I’m very pleased to hear that, sir,” Lily said politely.
“Oh please call me Alastor. I’m not that old, although I already have lost half of my eyesight,” Alastor said jokingly. Lily didn’t know whether to laugh or not.
“St. Mungo’s trial for magical eyes is going very well, you know. It has become a real success. You should enter it. I can assure you it will do you good, especially your auror career,” Lily said, capturing Alastor’s full attention.
They sat down at the giant wooden table and talked non-stop about how there were different types of magical eyes, and how the most advanced eyes could really help Alastor, considering that they could see through almost any material.
When Lily was telling him that they were still testing the extreme limits of magical eyes without damaging the human brain, everyone started gathering round the table. Cindy walked in first and ignored Lily strategically, leading James to the other side of the long table.
Sirius looked troubled, while Remus and Peter followed James and Cindy carelessly. Lily breathed a sigh of relief when Sirius headed her way.
“I’m having this strange déjà-vu from when we were still in school,” Lily said, watching James’ behaviour closely.
Sirius smiled faintly at Lily. He looked as miserable as James did. But before Lily could ask anything about it, Dumbledore had started speaking.
For Lily the meeting passed excruciatingly slowly as she watched Cindy swoon over James, while in turn James tried to avoid eye-contact with Lily the entire time. By sitting at the other end of the table, Cindy had intended to keep Lily out of James’ sight as much as possible, but somehow it made their eyes meet coincidentally every time they looked up.
Lily was now convinced of how right she had been from the moment she had entered the house. Cindy was clearly James’ girlfriend... That was certainly the message James was trying to send. But why? Had Lily not been the girl on his arm four days ago? Was this his way of preteding that had not happened? She didn’t know, but it was clear that Cindy had him tonight.
Had it ever been otherwise? Lily didn’t know that either. She had no idea of what James was doing but it drove her crazy.
She was angry, of course she was, there was always a part of her that felt angry when she thought of James, no matter whether they were together or not. But aside from her usual anger, Lily was most of all confused, disappointed and... sad.
Had she already fallen for James more than she had admitted to herself?
She didn’t care for the answer to that question; if she had at one point felt anything for James Potter, it was clear that he did not return these feelings anymore. The thought was so very depressing to Lily that she tried to hide it behind her anger. She was too proud to show anyone how James had hurt her.
“Hello, James,” Lily said as she reached him and Cindy, who had been talking privately.
Before Lily had been able to say anything to Sirius, he had gone off to talk to Remus and Peter. After chatting friendly with the Prewett twins, Lily had seized the opportunity to talk to James without his Marauders around.
James smiled faintly, not looking Lily in the eye.
“Nice to see you again, Cindy,” Lily said then, smiling friendly. She was not going to be spiteful to the girl. It was not her fault, it was all James’.
“Yes... Likewise,” Cindy said awkwardly. “I’m sorry, what is your name again?”
“Lily... Lily Evans,” Lily said after a short hesitation. That was not a reply Lily had expected. As if Cindy didn’t remember her name... No, maybe everything was Cindy’s fault. Maybe James was just too stupid to see through the evil scheme she had concocted to steal him away from anyone else.
“I’m sorry but Lily, can I use your loo, please?” James asked after a long silence. He clearly wanted any excuse to get away from the awkward situation.
“Yes, of course. It’s upstairs...,” Lily said, considering her words carefully. “It’s right across of my bedroom.”
Lily saw how Cindy’s eyebrows rose, caught off guard for a moment by what Lily had said. James tried to hide his embarrassment and disappeared quickly.
Once alone with Cindy, Lily felt the despair tug at her heart again, but if there was one person Lily would never show any emotion of sadness, it was Cindy.
Lily looked around the kitchen and noticed that most of the order members had already left, and Lily decided to do the same. She told Sirius that she couldn’t stay there any longer, which he understood immediately. He was going to stay a little longer and talk to Remus and Peter.
As she reached the front door, Lily heard the stairs creak behind her. Before she realised who was descending the stairs, Lily had turned around and stood face to face with James.
It looked like he desperately wanted to say something, but Lily wouldn’t let him. She gave him the coldest glare she could manage, before turning around quickly so he wouldn’t get a glimpse of the real feelings she had at that moment, and disapparated.
The next day Lily went to work as usual, pretending to be fine when Sirius came by in the morning... but all she could think about was James, about what he might possibly have said the day before if she had let him speak.
One moment she imagined him saying something that would make everything alright, but then she felt so stupid for even thinking that. At other times, she was glad that he hadn’t spoken. He would only hurt her more... That was all he had ever done to her, and it was something he obviously couldn’t prevent even if he wanted to.
Lily knew she was better off without him, yet she could not seem to stop her feelings from surfacing, no matter how hard she concentrated on her work.
Tuesday was no better. They were supposed to go on a second date that evening. Lily wondered whether she would still be blissfully ignorant if she hadn’t gone to the order meeting on Sunday. A part of her still wanted to see him tonight, but that would only make her look desperate, and she wanted to be strong, or at least pretend to be if she wasn’t really.
It was the moment when Lily walked onto the third floor and saw the nurses gathered around the desk, like they had done the week before, that she knew she had to see James that evening. She had to confront him, or else her questions would stay unanswered and continue to haunt her.
Lily turned around quickly; she couldn’t face the nurses who would surely ask about the mysterious handsome James. But she didn’t feel sad anymore when she left the third floor. She knew there had to be an explanation for everything, and she was going to demand to hear it from James himself. There was nothing desperate about that.
And so Lily left the hospital as quickly as possible, deciding to stop shortly at her apartment to change into something more pretty. But once she got home, she found Sirius already waiting for her.
“What are you doing here?” Lily asked as she walked in.
“Waiting for you of course, my dear Lily,” Sirius said smoothly while he turned off the telly. “How was your day?”
“Dreadful,” Lily said soberly. “But then I decided to make it less dreadful.”
“How so?” Sirius asked, following Lily into her bedroom.
“What do you think of this?” Lily asked, ignoring Sirius’ question and showing him a black dress from her closet.
“That’s too pretty to go see James,” Sirius said calmly. Lily raised her eyebrows.
“How did you know?” Lily asked, blushing slightly at being caught.
“Because I’m surprised you haven’t hexed the wits out of him sooner,” Sirius said, standing in front of the door as if he was guarding it. “You have every right to, Lily, but I’m asking you... Please, don’t go. Just... forget him. How hard it may seem, you have to try.”
“What? Why are you saying this? You of all people, how can you ask me to just forget...,” Lily said incredulously.
“It’s for the best, Lily! You know I’d never want you to be hurt, so please trust me. Don’t go,” Sirius said in an exasperated voice.
“So you tell me to stay in the dark? To dwell on ‘what if’s and not know what truly happened? Don’t you know me at all, Sirius? If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is to not know things,” Lily explained. Sirius was obviously struggling with what he wanted to say but could not. “Please tell me what you know, or I’ll ask James in person, which you seem to dread so much.”
“Lily, I beg you. Trust me when I say that it’ll hurt you less to just drop it. Forget your date, forget everything he said to you. Because that will still be less painful than...”
“Than what? Than to stay in love with him, pine each day, have sex with countless others but really tormenting yourself...? Yes, I know moving on is healthier than that, because I have been the one telling you that for more than a year now. But I have to know the truth, Sirius!” Lily said persistently.
As she walked to the door, Sirius stayed in front of it, blocking her way. He was truly not going to let her leave.
“Lily, it’s Cindy...” Sirius whispered, while Lily tried to get him out of the way.
“Well, of course it’s Cindy! She obviously has her claws on James and he doesn’t know to get out from under her grasp. That is why I must speak to him! If he doesn’t want to get out from under there, he can have the courage to tell me himself,” Lily rambled, not allowing Sirius to interrupt her.
“Lily, you don’t understand. He can’t help it,” Sirius said, easily keeping the struggling Lily at bay.
“Oh, yes of course! Poor little James! Such horrible things happen to him. He doesn’t ask for them! No, he just has to take care of his sister’s baby instead of having a normal youth, he just happens to have become a family with clingy Cindy! Oh no, he had no choice in all these matters!” Lily continued her rage, getting angrier by the second while Sirius tried to talk some sense into her.
Sirius sighed as Lily kept on rambling. He knew that only the truth would make Lily stop fighting him. If only there was a gentle way to say it.