Chapter 5 : The Riddle of the Sphinx
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He froze for a moment, and then immediately berated himself for it. Why was he nervous? He shouldn’t be nervous.
Pausing in front of the mirror at the bottom of the stairs, he examined himself. He ran a hand up the back of his head one more time, and then hurried across the corridor to yank open the door.
Lily had her hand raised to knock again, but she quickly let it drop back to her side. He was pleased to see that she was wearing the red leather gloves he’d given her for her birthday the year before. “Hi,” she said a little breathlessly.
She was looking especially pretty that day with a belted blue coat and a skirt that he could already foresee being an insurmountable obstacle to his concentration.
He stepped back quickly. “Er – come in.”
His girlfriend stepped into his house for the first time and looked around. “Wow,” she said, setting the box she was holding on the table right next to the door. He squinted at the wrapping paper, and realized after a moment that it was covered in little golden snitches that flittered their wings every few seconds. A warm feeling blossomed in his chest as she pulled her gloves off and stuffed them in her coat pocket. “This is definitely a change from my house.”
Having never been to her house, James could not quite be sure what she meant, but he could guess that it had something to do with the moving pictures, the feather duster sweeping over the top of the bookshelves of its own accord, and the festive red and green orbs that hung in midair along the banister and around the frame of the front door.
“Yeah,” James said uselessly. “I guess. Can I take your coat?”
He had no idea why he was this nervous. He didn’t even know what he was nervous about. He just was.
She smiled at him and shrugged off her coat. “Are your parents in?” she asked, handing it to him.
“No,” he said, looking around for the coat rack. “They’ll be back this evening.” He usually threw his coat on a chair or over the banister, but it would probably be in bad form to do that to Lily’s. After a moment, he located it and hung her coat on it. “Hey,” he said belatedly, turning around.
Lily took hold of his hands, which he hadn’t actually realized that he was holding out. “Hey,” she said, leaning in to kiss him softly.
It had been over a week since the last time he had seen her. It was all he could do to not to sink his fingers into her thick, red hair and—
“James?” she asked uncertainly. He blinked to refocus his eyes on hers. She was only inches away from him.
“Hmm?” He hoped that for once, she would not be able to read the thoughts on his face.
“I missed you.” Her green eyes were sparkling, and he knew that she could tell exactly what had been going through his mind.
He smiled back. “I missed you, too.” After a moment of being captivated by her eyes, he shook himself. “So what do you want to do?”
She wrapped her arms around his neck. “I’m not sure,” she said. She was mere centimetres from him. James could feel his heart begin to speed up as he put one arm around her waist, pulling her closer. “What do you want to do?”
James knew exactly what he wanted to do, but it somehow seemed in poor taste to ask his girlfriend if she wanted to have sex less than five minutes after she arrived at his house.
“I have something for you,” he said instead, leaning down to kiss her. Hers had not lasted anywhere near long enough for him. When they broke apart, he added, “That’s not it.”
“Good,” she said. “I love kissing you, but I do it all the time, and you get as much out of it as I do. It would be a really bad gift.”
He smiled, but inside, he was a bundle of nerves again. What if she didn’t like his gift? What if she pretended to like it but hated it? What if—
She pulled away from him. “I have something for you, too.” He glanced at the package on the table, but instead, she strode over to the coat rack and pulled something out of one of her pockets. He watched her curiously as she walked back toward him. It looked like some kind of cloth.
When she reached him, she held it out. It was a hat.
He stared at her in confusion. “I don’t get it,” he said after a moment of racking his brain trying to figure out the joke.
“Well, you’re always messing up your hair because you want it to look like you just got off your broom,” she said. “I wanted to make it easier for you.”
After he took a moment to process that, he broke into a smile. “You’re insane,” he told her. “Hat hair looks nothing like broom hair.”
She snorted. “James, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your messed up hair doesn’t look anything like broom hair, either.”
His smile broadened, and he took the hat and pulled it over his head. To his surprise, it was surprisingly comfortable. “Happy?”
“Very.” She kissed him softly again. “No, really, I have a present.” She grabbed the box off the table.
He grabbed her hand and led her into the room with the Christmas tree. She gasped, and he followed her gaze to the Christmas tree. He wasn’t sure what it was that was eliciting this kind of reaction; it was a fairly normal tree. The small griffin ornaments that fluttered around it and hid in the branches were certainly unique, but other than that…
“It’s just a tree,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly.
Lily approached it, and he stepped past her to kneel down and retrieve a gift of his own from under it. When he stood back up, he found her peering into the branches at the griffin slumbering on a bed of twigs.
“That’s lovely,” she breathed. “Are they really alive?”
He shook his head. “Nah. Every year, Mum and Dad just re-enchant them.”
She straightened up. “I love it.”
James led her past the fireplace to the red couch. When they’d both seated themselves at it, he held out his gift. “Here.”
She shook her head. “No, you first.” She handed him the box with the snitches fluttering across it.
He briefly considered arguing, but after a moment, he took it from her. She had a little crease between her eyebrows as she watched him, and he leaned over and kissed her. “Are you okay?”
“Just open it. I don’t know if you’ll like it.”
James very much doubted that he wouldn’t like it – if for no other reason, he would like it because Lily had given it to him – but he didn’t argue. Instead, he carefully unwrapped it, trying to preserve as much of the wrapping paper as possible.
Lily blew out her breath impatiently, but didn’t say anything.
When he pulled the wrapping aside, he found himself left utterly speechless.
She slid over, and he felt a jolt of electricity travel up his leg as they touched. “I thought you might like the snitch and the lion,” she said quickly, pointing to the golden snitch slowly moving across the dark red cover of the book and the lion prowling along the bottom. “I know the wrapping paper was also…” she trailed off. “I hope I didn’t go overboard.”
He shook his head in amazement. “Where did you find this?”
“I didn’t,” she said, shrugging. “I found a red book, and I enchanted it.” James was very impressed, but before he could say anything, she squirmed and nudged him. “Open it.”
James flipped it open and was immediately confronted with a picture of himself during a Quidditch match from their fourth year. He pushed his glasses up on his face and squinted at the narrow writing that he immediately recognized as Lily’s.
Even when you were obnoxious, I always did like watching you play.
A laugh escaped him, and he turned the page. There was a picture of him and Sirius down at the lake that looked like it had been taken in the fall of their fifth year. As he watched, the James in the picture reached up and ruffled his hair.
He looked down at what Lily had written on the bottom.
Nothing in the world could have gotten me to admit it to you then, but it did kind of make you look cool. … Kind of.
James felt a smile spread across his face again. “I knew you always liked me, deep down,” he said, looking over at her. She rolled her eyes but didn’t bother to comment.
He looked at the picture on the other page. This was one that he had absolutely no recollection of; it was centered on Lily, who was sitting at a table in the corner of the common room. She kept glancing off to the side as she doodled something in her notebook.
The caption read: So you can’t actually see it, but I kept looking at you, and I was doodling pictures of snitches. I remember, because Jane caught me at it and I couldn’t look at her for days.
Judging by her hair, the picture had been taken in their fifth year.
He looked up incredulously. “Really?”
She smiled. “Really.”
James stared at her for a minute, and then, before he had consciously thought about it, he did what he’d been wanting to do since she walked in. His fingers tangled in her hair and he brought his head down to kiss her again, and as she opened her mouth, he could feel his heart accelerating wildly.
When he pulled away, she asked tentatively, “So do you like it?”
He stared at her for a minute. “I love it,” he said, brushing her hair back from her face. “It’s perfect.”
“Oh, good.” She slumped back into the couch and let out a sigh. “I was afraid you wouldn’t.” James leaned back, too, and casually slipped his arm around her shoulder. Lily glanced at him. “That doesn’t mean you weren’t obnoxious back then or that I actually wanted to go out with you.”
He pressed his free hand to his heart and said, “Thanks, Lily. You really know how to make a guy feel special.”
Her lips curved into a smile. “I try.”
After a moment, James glanced down at the floor and realized belatedly that he had something for her, too. He leaned down to retrieve the boxes, inadvertently clapping his hand over one of the sphinxes wandering around the side. It started and raced over the top and down a safer side, and Lily gave a cry of delight.
“Here,” he said, feeling gratified that she at least appreciated the wrapping paper. He’d dragged Sirius all over Diagon Alley looking for something suitable the day after they’d gotten home for Christmas. By the time he’d found something he was satisfied with, Sirius had been so cross that James had given him half of his present early to make amends.
Lily plucked the smaller box off the top and began to open the wrapping paper with the same care that he had used, and he suddenly found himself sympathizing wholeheartedly with her impatience a few minutes before. When she finally pulled it away, laying it carefully on the couch next to her, she examined at the jewelry box in her hand.
“Just open it,” he urged. She darted a quick glance at him, but pulled the lid up.
Her face immediately broke into a smile. “Oh, James!”
He leaned over to examine the earrings in the box. Each had a small golden loop, within which a sphinx was sitting elegantly. Other than the tail that trailed down past the bottom of the ring and whisked back and forth, it was completely still.
“There was one that walked around,” he said after a moment as she continued to stare into the box. “But I thought that you might want something you could wear at home, and I figured…”
Lily turned a radiant smile on him. “James, they’re perfect.” She admired them for another moment or two, her head cocked to the side, and then she plucked them out of the box and slipped them into her earlobes.
He breathed a sigh of relief. He knew that Lily had a deep appreciation of sphinxes, but he’d been afraid that it wouldn’t be enough to base his entire Christmas gift around. Sirius had assured him that it would be, but Sirius was also oddly obsessed with sphinxes, so James hadn’t been sure whether to trust him.
Lily fingered her new earrings delicately for a moment before turning back to the bigger box. She pulled off the paper, and James felt his heart beginning to hammer again as she held up The Riddle of the Sphinx (and other wizarding tales).
She flipped it open, a slight crease between her eyebrows, and he said quickly, “It’s a collection of wizarding legends about sphinxes. Elise Penn wrote it, she’s one of the…” he trailed off as Lily turned her head to look at him, looking faintly bemused.
“James, I know who Elise Penn is,” she said. “I do take Care of Magical Creatures. But I’ve never even heard of this. Where on earth did you get it?”
He felt his heart rate returning to normal again. “It was a limited printing,” he said as she turned back to it. Her hair fell into her line of vision, and she pushed it back impatiently.
“So how did you find it?” she asked, without taking her eyes off the illustration of the pyramids and a sphinx pacing below them on the title page.
He swallowed. “I saw it in a shop, so I bought it. Do you like it?”
In reality, the entire thing had been a bit more complicated than that – he’d really gone to a lot of effort to search out the book, and had spent more money on it than he would ever admit to her. It would probably just make her feel uncomfortable.
But money was just money, and he had more than enough of it. He only had one girlfriend, and he wanted to make her smile.
“I love it,” she said, looking up from the book. James closed his eyes as her lips pressed against his, and started violently when she began to trail her fingers lightly up the back of his neck. “I love you,” she added, pulling back slightly. “I really, really do.”
James had absolutely no control over the grin spreading across his face. “I love you, too,” he said, brushing his lips against hers. “I really, really do.”
Lily closed the book carefully and set it aside. “Why don’t you show me your bedroom?” she suggested, her green eyes twinkling.
He jumped up so quickly that she laughed. “I’d love to,” he said, taking her hand and leading her up the creaky wooden stairs.
A/N: Yay, new chapter! As always, I hope you liked it (and, of course, that you had a lovely holiday season!). I certainly did, and through Gryffindor Secret Santas, I found a new favourite author! Her username is blueirony, and you should totally go check her stories out, they're brilliant.
Thanks for reading, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!
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