Chapter 15 : Sincerity.
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“Yeah,” James said, running a hand through his head and offering me one of his grins, “you’re the one making this all dramatic Lily – I’m just suggesting we don’t sit outside and freeze to death before we get anything sorted.”
“You still walked off,” I said reluctantly, “and left me outside.”
“You were supposed to follow.”
“Why should I?”
“Because it’s my house?” James suggested. “That’s what you do in people houses, right? You follow them?”
“Don’t be condescending James, it doesn’t suit you.” I returned stiffly, folding my arms and looking round the library feeling vulnerable all over again. Anger at James either resulted in an explosion of truths or blocking everything off to be exploded at a later date, and I’d more or less been preparing myself to join Sirius in the repressed emotions club... but then James had told his parents he was going to finish showing me around the house, took me to the library and repeated the sentiments about talking. Now, it didn’t seem like I quite had the right to be angry and closed off, but I was still bitter and resentful – so, back to how I’d felt this morning essentially.
“Being all superior suits you,” James grinned, “you look cute.”
“Don’t push me.”
“You can’t start attacking me or yelling at me in my own house.”
“You tricked me here to make me talk about things.” I accused, finding it hard not to smile a little bit. I turned my back on James and faced the rows of books instead, although knowing James he’d probably recognise that I wasn’t really mad at him. Not really really.
“Well you’re so bloody reluctant,” James returned, too close behind me, “I just think we should talk, that’s all. Is that so unreasonable?”
“You’re the one who gets me to ask you out, says yes and then changes your answer.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“Talk about mixed messages.”
“Thought I’d follow your lead,” James continued, his head practically resting on my shoulder and his body close behind mine, “see if it’s all changes you resent, or just – ”
“I don’t see what there is to talk about.”
“Well you wouldn’t, would you?” James asked, stepping backwards. I turned around to face him, hand on hip and waiting for an explanation for all the words that he was throwing out there. He looked tired. Well, he wasn’t the only one.
“I don’t see why anything has to change, anyway.”
“It’s driving me crazy, even if you’re okay with it.” James said, taking a seat at one of the tables and gesturing to the chair opposite. I wanted to argue with that, because it was so stupid and awkward to take seats opposite each other and to be just out of arms length. I didn’t, because chances were, we were going to argue anyway and there was no need to start the yelling prematurely.
“What’s driving you crazy?”
“I don’t know what the hell’s going on in your head, Evans. I probably never will, but it’d help to have some idea of what you want from me before we start this.”
“It’s not a business contract: I don’t have bloody terms and conditions, Potter.”
“So, I was talking to Sirius – ” James began, acknowledging the wit of my comment with a small nod. Thank you very much, James.
“What did he tell you?” I asked, folding my arms over my chest and making a point of not so accidentally kicking James’s left foot whilst I stretched out my legs. James retracted his legs, cool and calm as anything. It took so much to really get under his skin. It was irritating. If I was angry, I wanted him angry too.
Then I reminded myself of how abysmal the week in the hospital wing without James had been and decided that it was probably for the best.
“He said something about you having abandonment issue.”
“Tosser,” I muttered viciously, “you can’t trust anyone.”
“Are you purposefully being ironic?”
“Oh, shut up.”
“Come on, Lily, what did you expect? He’s my best friend; of course he was going to tell me what you said.”
“Yeah,” I said bitterly, “so if I don’t want you to find out about something, who am I supposed to talk to? It seems like if you take out you and Sirius I haven’t got anyone else left.”
“Alice,” James said quietly, “Lily, if this has a chance of working out we need to be honest with each other. There’s a lot of stuff we just haven’t talked about it and I think... I just, well, it’d be a God damn waste of effort if I chased you for years then we didn’t even work out properly because we didn’t start in the right place.”
“But this is so forced!” I complained. “I can’t just bleed my guts onto the floor because you think it’ll be good for us, surely this is supposed to come spontaneously once we’ve started like... being together.”
“How much more together do you want?” James half-laughed. “Lily, we’ve met each other’s parents, we’ve visited each other’s houses, we’ve written forest-worth of letters, we hold hands, we do couple stuff, we argue... the only thing we don’t do properly is talk. Maybe you’ve been in denial or whatever, but we’ve practically been dating for awhile and then only thing left to determine was whether you actually wanted anything to do with me or if you were just -”
“How could you think that?” I asked stiffly. “You’re still convinced that I’m just messing you around.”
“Which is why we need to talk,” James insisted, “because I don’t understand you. That’s probably not going to score me any points, but it’s the truth. I mean, you know how much I like you – but I don’t have a clue what goes on in your brain. The cruciatus thing, how you could just leave at the end of last year, when you stopped hating my guts – I don’t get any of it.”
“Well who says I do,” I answered miserable, “can’t we just forget about it.”
“No, that’s the point Lily – we need to talk it out. Otherwise, in the future it’ll just cripple us.”
“I don’t care about the future,” I said, “I just don’t want to have this conversation right now. Let’s go stand outside and hold hands or something.”
“It’s sleeting now,” James said, nodding towards the window, “you feel free to stand outside on your own, but you’ll have to hold your own hand.”
“I did stand outside on my own,” I retorted, “right after you stormed inside and made me look like an idiot to your parents.”
“Do you care that were arguing now?”
“We’re arguing because you’re making this into a really big deal.”
“This is a big deal for me Evans!”
“Stop using my second name when you’re mad at me,” I snapped, “I hate it.”
“Because you used to do it all the time and it made me so mad that you’d prattle on about caring about me and then you couldn’t even be bothered to use my first bloody name. I was half convinced you didn’t know it for about four months.”
“Okay,” James said, “good.”
“No, it’s not good!” I muttered irritably. “Nothing about this conversation is going to be good in any way. I hate being forced to talk about things, and if you ask me why, so help me Potter I’ll –”
“You use my second name.” James pointed out quietly. I felt my face flush with a mixture of indignation and discomfort at this home truth. For a few seconds I avoided looking at him, took a few deep breathes before meeting his eyes again.
“Do you hate it?”
“No.” James said, reaching out and taking my hand. I melted slightly. “But, I’ve always liked it when you get mad, so I suppose it’s different.”
“Why?” I asked wearily. “What’s so entertaining about getting me worked up?”
“Mostly, it’s the stuff you come out with,” James grinned, “you talk some right bullocks when you’re pissed off and then because you’re all passionate and fiery and it makes me want to sit back and just watch you fume.”
“Or stoke the flames.” I added, a tiniest shadow of a smile creeping back on me.
“Or that,” James agreed, “I know you’re not right when you don’t get angry properly. Like, before you left Hogwarts last year you’d never yell or get mad or throw things –”
“I don’t throw things.”
“Tantrums?” James suggested, squeezing my hand slightly. “But I knew you weren’t okay, then. That’s why I was worried, that’s why I tried to talk to you on the day...”
“The day my Dad died,” I said heavily, remembering, “thank you. I’m so horrible, James, here you are the very picture of caring and compassionate and me...all I do in this story is yell at you and get fiery.”
“That’s not fair,” James said evenly, “you’ve always been more of the caring and compassionate type, you just happen to be the exception to your rule. As I am to yours.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” James said, “correct me if I’m wrong, but you may have muted the ‘everyone has equal rights, even Slytherins, House elves, sock puppets, Hufflepuffs, muggles and doormats’ and that all the former mentioned people should have the right to be judged on themselves and not the stereotypical associations and well.. all that crap. You know I’m an arse, Lily – it’s no secret that we continually picked on Snape, that we used to make fun of Mary years ago, that we pranked people and humiliated them and then... you, well, I’m the only person you’ve ever humiliated and, well, regarded as less than yourself.”
“You weren’t that bad,” I said, “and now you...”
“We still hex Snape.”
“Drown him in his sleep, for all I care.” I mutter viciously.
“Why do you hate him so much?”
“It’s more the fact that he exists.” I muted, sending James a look.
“Don’t lie to me, Lily.”
“He blackmailed my dying best friend, what isn’t there to hate? More than that, he manipulated me he... if he hadn’t written that stupid note then I wouldn’t have stepped forward and then –“
“Mary wouldn’t have fallen down the stairs.” James finished.
“She’d still have died,” I said viciously, balling my free hand into a fist, “but she might have lived to her seventeenth birthday. I hate that because, what he did, I get to blame myself that Mary never lived to be seventeen. I know she might have stepped back anyway, so don’t say it, I know that it wasn’t really my fault but I... it still won’t go away.”
“Yeah,” James said, his forefinger pressing into the back of my hand as he looked at me carefully, “but you know no one ever blamed you.”
“Sirius did, for a minute.”
“Sirius blamed everyone for a minute.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, taking another deep breath, “I know. I really do like you, James,” I said finally, “like... you’re the most important person... I just, I don’t know. Abandonment issues and what not.”
“That’s Lily talk for don’t ever leave me, please.”
“Is that why you freaked out so majorly about the whole... cruciatus thing.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I tried to explain it to you.”
“Honestly,” James said, “you said you liked me and then I pretty much forgot everything else you said. Got carried away.”
“Too cute,” I said, “really. And you better start listening, if we’re dating.”
“You better forgive me for missing the point sometimes then,” James returns, “particularly if you’ve said something extraordinary.”
“Like, I like you or, I miss you, or it’s nice to see you James.”
I smiled at that and kissed him over the table. Even with the table digging into my front there weren’t many things I’d rather do than kiss James.
“Okay, so... tolerance? You’ll be more tolerant about... ah, you’re already pretty damn tolerant James. Why haven’t you just got fed up of me and left to go snog a blonde?”
“Honest answer?” James questioned. “Challenges are fun. And, obviously I care about you.”
“Right,” I laughed, “good addition to your answer, Potter.”
“Thank you, Evans,” James returned, “sorry, Lily.”
“No,” I said, frowning slightly, “that was okay. I’d rather you just be slightly annoying than you, like... tailor yourself around people. You do that when you’re upset and... it’s like you’re not being you anymore.”
“I’m beginning to see a fault with this talking lark,” James said, “say we’re arguing about something, we now both know exactly how to piss the other person off. I call you Evans and don’t act myself and you...”
“We are going to argue though, aren’t we,” I said, threading both hands through James’s across the table, “I mean... I think I’m glad we’re going to argue. It’ll feel more normal. I don’t mind arguing with you... I just don’t like it when we don’t talk. Yes, I know that’s a contradiction from earlier...”
“Are we going to talk about the torture?”
“I suppose we can’t avoid it,” I agreed grudgingly, “but I don’t really understand it myself.”
“Okay, try and make me understand.”
“It’s the future thing, maybe.” I said, trying not to look at James as I thought about what I’d done. Here, sitting in James Potter’s library making sure a group of Death Eaters found me with the intention of being tortured sounded insane, but it felt different at Hogwarts where I was gradually becoming aware that there were quite a few people whom I’d shared lessons with since I was eleven who were going to want to kill me. Hell, they already wanted to kill me.
“Lily,” James said quietly, “I’m not going to get mad at you again – just explain.”
“The war feels so real,” I continued, “I don’t know, I just feel... and everyone’s so mortal. I don’t want to die, James. I want to fight and I want to live. So part of it.... I just wanted to know what I was up against. And then I wanted to test myself to see what I can handle. That stupid duel with Mulciber, no one thought I could take care of myself except Sirius... and that’s probably because he doesn’t really care if I get beat up a bit, and I want to be taken seriously.”
“I guess I can understand that.”
“And then I knew you’d be mad, but I don’t want anyone to ever think that I’m just a, like, extension of you. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve always been slightly reluctant about the prospect of us getting together – ”
“Really?” James grinned.
“-so then,” I interrupted, “when it felt like it was going to happen I was all conflicted and, I don’t know, mad at myself for contradicting everything I’ve said for years. I didn’t want to... I didn’t want to hurt you I just wanted to make you mad. I don’t know, James, its complicated: all I know is that I hate the idea of the future and I can’t stand thinking about the past.”
“Lily,” James said, “you know I’m not going to let you starve to death when you can’t get a job, right?”
“I don’t want to be some silly, financially dependent girl.”
“Jesus, Evans – I mean, Lily – don’t start on some stupid feminism angle. Sirius is slowly spending his way seriously close to financial insolvency, Remus isn’t going to be able to get a job and who’d employ Peter? Chances are, the Potter family fortune is going to be split at least five ways.”
“Don’t... I just don’t like you talking like that. You don’t get it James; I don’t want to think about the future.”
“Because, James! No one knows what’s going to happen in the future and then you plan for it and everyone goes wrong.”
I could feel the fear creeping up on me again, what Mary’s death had ignited and what my father’s death had confirmed: anyone could die at any single moment. That we were all woefully, bitterly mortal. It was easier to push the fear of death away before the talk of the Order had crept upon us, before I’d been reacquainted with my mother and noted the new leathery quality to he hands, before coming to James’s house and seeing how truly old his parent’s were.
“What are you scared of?”
“Well what if we’re all dead?” I demanded, leaning forward on the desk and blinking a lot. “What if we all plan some great shiny future together and then you go and die?”
“No, don’t tell me that’s a stupid thing to say. People die all the time. The second we’re not at Hogwarts anymore, none of us are safe – no Dumbledore to protect us, joining the order, my blood heritage. You know what? I think Mary’s right: I think we’re all going to die,” I took a deep breath, “and anyway,” I interrupted before James could talk about something else, “why won’t Remus get a job?”
“Ah, shit.” James muttered, running his hands through his head. He looked pale, but I couldn’t decided whether that was because of my ‘we’re all going to die’ comment or because he seemed to have let something slip about Remus: either way, he should have expected these sort of things before he started to get me to open up.
“I thought we were having a talk?” I suggested, pulling one of my hands out of his to make a point (but not moving the other, because the point wasn’t really that important).
“Yeah, well, aren’t I allowed a little secret?” James asked lightly. “Oh, come on Lily – it’s not my place, this. I can’t... just, don’t go digging around?”
“What, me?” I questioned. “Dig?”
“Funny,” James muttered, claiming my other hand back and looking at me seriously, “please Lily. Just one stupid Marauder secret.”
“So, I get a secret too?”
“I suppose.” James said confidently.
“Excellent,” I grinned, “that sorts that out.”
“Definitely,” James said, leaning forward and looking at me carefully, “you’re a terrible, terrible liar...”
“If you say so,” I returned, smiling benignly as I put my hands into my pockets, “so, are we officially together now?” James narrowed his eyes at me slightly, as if half torn by continuing to try and ascertain whether I really did have a secret or to jump on the new line of conversation. “Or have we not filled your talking quota.”
“No,” James said, “I think we might be okay now... but this isn’t the end, Evans, from now on talking is of the agenda. Frequently.”
“So basically, the only difference is now you’re allowed to be annoyed when I don’t tell you things, rather than going all ‘well what do you even want from Evans!’ – yeah?”
“Sounds about right.” James grinned, and then it seemed like he wanted to say something. It was the sort of moment where you’d say ‘I love you’ if we hadn’t, moments before, just agreed to officially date (because maybe I wasn’t exactly a dating guru, but you didn’t whack those sorts of things out quite so soon – particularly when there wasn’t a chance they could really be true yet). So, not I love you, but something like I love you... but neither of us seemed quite capable of picking the right phrase so instead a quasi-awkward silence fell over the two of us.
“Thanks for waiting.” I said, finally.
And then James took his turn, “you’re stronger than you think.”
I almost believed him.
When James’s parents came to find us they found me sat cross legged on one of the comfier seats in the library, reading from a terrible book entitled ‘He jinxed me to love’ which I’d found on one of the lower shelves. James sat, squashed on a chair next to me and occasionally butting in to voice one of the horrifically created characters.
I’d just been laughing over James’s impression of the romantic Heroine’s Irish mother when James had looked up suddenly and then rolled his eyes at his parents and laughed a little, probably relieved that he’d noticed them before either of us had done or said anything embarrassing – which is what I expected they’d been waiting in the doorway for. I’d been more shocked to see Carolyn and Magnus Potter framed in the doorway than James and I began to wonder whether they did that sort of thing all the time.
I suspected they did.
It explained rather a lot about James.
“Lily dear,” Carolyn said, “hate to disturb you,” Magnus Potter winked, “but, well... it’s nearly nine O’clock and we didn’t want your parents to worry.”
“Lost track of time.” James said, running a hand through his hair as he placed the book back on a random shelf – ignoring the look from his mother which I could practically feel meant ‘all these books are supposed to be alphabetised, James’ – and standing up.
“I bet you did.” Magnus added in an undertone.
I laughed, biting my lip as I saw James’s expression. For the first time he seemed mildly irritated and I guess I could understand it: I could appreciate the humour from this side of things, but if I were to have lived continually with such beautifully eccentric parents I could see it getting old rather quickly. James’s jaw unclenched after a second and he smiled (possibly noticed that I was watching him).
“Funny, Dad,” James shook his head.
Magnus Potter grinned, looked straight at me and said “the old ones are the best.”
I couldn’t agree more.
“I’ll walk you to the apparition spot,” James said, slipping past his parents and out the door, “just to the gate.”
“Thanks for having me.” I told the Potters, smiling as they stood in the doorway and smiling at us until James shut the door on their faces (they seemed to have expected this because they were both laughing, and James rolled his eyes and grinned as he turned around).
“They’re probably going to lock me out,” James said, “probably should have brought a coat, in case they leave me out here all night.”
“Would they?” I grinned, as James put an arm around me.
“Who knows?” James returned. “Sorry for being a buzz kill.”
“That’s okay,” I said, “you were probably right.”
The walk to the point past that apparition spot was so short that it was hardly worth James leaving the house, particularly if he was going to be locked out, but he didn’t seem to care much. He frowned at me for a few long seconds – his expression so serious and un-James-like, but James like at the same time. I thought perhaps it reminded me of James in the days leading up to the funeral, or the James who’d asked me what was wrong with me at the end of last year.
“Hey.” I said, knotting my fingers up in the wool of James’s jumper as we faced each other. The sleet had stopped for a little while, a minor respite– no doubt it would resume after I’d apparated into the awaiting brush in that bloody park.
“Hello, Lily.” James said in return, so perfectly close with his stupid eyes and his half-frown.
“I don’t want to go home.”
“Stay here forever then,” James smiled, “my parent’s probably wouldn’t notice – you could camp out in the east wing.”
“You have wings?” I asked, shaking my head slightly. “You have an east wing.”
“Or you could just camp out in my bedroom.”
“You’re an idiot,” I smiled, “it’s late.”
“Yeah,” James said, his arms wrapped around my waist, “you should go home.”
“Don’t want to.”
“We’ve been here before.” James smiled then he reached forward and kissed me. We ended up spending an unfathomable amount of time tangled up in each other, kissing against the gate, me occasionally voicing the fact that I should probably go and James rather astutely shutting me up. It was strange, because considering the number of times we’d kissed I didn’t think it would be any different – but then James no longer seemed insistent on pulling away so damn quick, and I liked that. I liked that a lot.
“I’ve really got to go.” I told James. James frowned again and hit the gate irritably with his hand: it rattled loudly and the reverberations sent my head spinning. It wasn’t the only head-spinning thing about the moment though.
“See you at school.” James muttered, frowning as he kissed me once last time.
I was altogether rather surprised that I didn’t splinch myself, because the determination to leave was certainly lacking.
Oh HELLO everyone. This is officially one of the quickest updates of all time. I hope you appreciate it. There should probably be another update this month, because TAOS month is going very well indeed. Thanks to LWG, wait, sorry lwg (she doesn't use capitals now :S), for making sure I got to 300 reviews! Ah :D
As always, your reviews make my day and I hope you enjoyed the chapter!
(Up next: expect things to be thrown at Sirius, James and Lily to continue to talk andd.... well, you'll have to wait and see)
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