My books were splayed out across James’s bed as I tried to focus on the transfiguration essay that McGonagall had set us in our last lesson, whilst James was supposed to be attempting his Potions essay that was already a week past it’s deadline; instead, what was really happening was James was propped up on his elbows with the potions book open upside down and I was sat with my back against the headboard getting angry at persistently blank pieces of parchment.
“Potions is unforgivably dull,” James said, shutting the book completely and looking up at me, “can’t we do this later?”
“Prefect meeting,” I sighed, “there’s not enough time in the day.”
“You acquire it, I’ll just come along for the ride. Did she talk about this at all during class? Or is the information just supposed to have spawned in my head?”
“You’re supposed to read the textbook, I think,” James said with a derisive shake of his head, “at least that’s the impression I get.”
I slumped downwards so that I was more lying, rather than sitting, and held the textbook over my head so that I could read it. I managed a few lines before I let my arms drop and instead found myself face to face with the textbook.
“Trying to absorb it?” James suggested, peeling the textbook away from my face and pressing his lips against mine instead. He might have been aiming for a half-arsed peck, but my hands automatically went up to his face and held him there. Unfortunately, having one participant staying up right via their elbows and the other half lying, half sitting isn’t helpful when snogging, and thus James sort of fell in my direction and his potions textbook fell off the bed.
“Sod it.” James said, shifting into a similar position to mine and kissing my properly.
“James! Studying!” I said, reluctantly reclaiming the textbook and once again attempting to read it.
“That was your fault, anyway.” James said, not bothering to retrieve his textbook and instead simply propping himself up on his elbows again and watching me pretend to read.
“Don’t do that.” I muttered, holding up the book so that it blocked out his face.
“I know you’re not reading.”
“You promised me we’d do our essays,” I complained, setting the textbook down, “we’ve got the Prefects meeting later, then you’ve got Quidditch practice, patrols after that and at some point I’ve got to sleep and do a million lesson’s worth of homework and we’re not getting anything done.”
“I never get anything done,” James commented lightly, shifting so that he was lying on his back and looking up at the ceiling of his four poster bed, “I don’t really see the issue.”
“You should really try and be a better example.” I said, feebly turning to the right page in the textbook and looking at the title.
“Lily,” James said, grinning towards the ceiling, “you’re lying on my bed, pretending to study and lecturing me about being a bad example.”
I pursed my lips.
“Stop being pedantic.”
“Has Petunia written back yet?”
After spending far too much time stressing out about the situation with my mother I’d ended up writing a long, lengthy letter to Petunia full of appologies and explanations and more heartfelt words than I’d thought I possessed until I started writing it. I’d forced James to look at it, and then I’d talked about it with Sirius and Alice too for good measure. Then after spending even more time with the letter in my pocket, I’d actually sent it.
“How do you feel about that?”
“You’re my boyfriend, not my therapist,” I said, hitting him with the textbook and turning to face him properly, “maybe we should just give up.” I concluded, letting the textbook fall to my side and joining James at looking up at the ceiling.
“Studying was your idea.”
“I thought it was a euphemism.”
“Shut up, Potter,” I laughed, “you have met me, haven’t you? You’re taking up all my essay time.”
“God, I am sorry,” James grinned, “hey,” he sat up and glanced over at the window, “that’s an owl, Lily – maybe Petunia’s written back after all.”
My heart froze for a second as I sat up. Part of the reason I’d been so scared of sending the letter was because I’d know idea how she’d respond – part of me expected something scathing, part of me expected her to at least try and reply properly and the other part suspected that she simply wouldn’t write back at all. But, one thing was for sure, I definitely was not ready for it.
James opened the window, “oh, no,” James said, “it’s from my parents – sorry, Lily. She’ll reply soon though.”
I picked up the book again and turned to the right page, forcing myself to read through the long, wordy paragraphs whilst James read his letter by the doorway – it was impossible to concentrate on anything properly when James was being an idiot, but with him occupied I might as well at least attempt to read.
“Mum’s sick,” James said eventually, not moving from the window, “she’s in St Mungo’s.”
“What’s happened?” I asked, the familiar panic creeping up inside me. I pictured James’s Mum: round face, James’s eyes and laugh lines etched around her mouth. I swallowed.
“Just hippogriff flu,” James said, “but... because she’s so, you know, old. Dad’s cleared it with Dumbledore for me to go and visit.”
“Yeah,” James said, folding up the letter and putting it back in his pocket, “so I guess you’ll get your essay done after all.”
That didn’t seem like much of a consolation prize.
“Petunia not answered yet?” Sirius asked as we walked down to dinner without James – something which felt slightly strange as he’d been more or less attached to me since the beginning of term, but mostly because all this business about James’s Mum being ill made me feel uncomfortable and James was supposed to be there when I felt uncomfortable. I was so pathetic it hurt.
“I wish people would stop asking,” I said, “I’ll tell you when she does.”
“If she does.” Sirius corrected, smirking.
“Hey,” Peter said, glancing up from the table as Sirius and I approached, “heard from James yet?”
“He’s not back.” Sirius said, helping himself to dinner and shutting Remus’s textbook ceremoniously.
Remus rolled his eyes and didn’t reopen it, instead choosing to focus more on his dinner.
“You look tired, Remus,” I said, “too many essays?”
“You lot are obsessed with work,” Sirius said, “you and James spending all this time ‘studying’, Peter and his private tuition sessions and Remus with your working over diner. Where’s the fun of this place gone?”
“NEWTS, Padfoot,” Remus said, “they’re sort of important.”
Sirius shook his head slightly and flicked a piece of rice in Remus’s direction.
“Have you got more scratches?” I asked Remus, staring at the exposed bit of his arm. “You must be being really cruel to that bloody giant rabbit.”
Peter squeaked slightly and Remus flushed, pulling his robes over his arm opening his textbook.
“No digging, remember.”
“And that looks fresh, too. Where is this rabbit?”
“Where’s James when you need him?” Sirius muttered. “Give it a rest, Evans. Marauders business.”
“You look tired too, and you sure as hell weren’t up all night doing homework.”
“Hey, guys.” Rachel said, appearing with Alice and Frank. I shut up and returned to my dinner, sending one last curious look in Remus’s direction before giving up and resigning myself to forever being in the dark – everyone was allowed their little secret, after all.
“You’re a saviour, Rachel,” Sirius grinned, “officially my favourite person today.”
I was suddenly acutely reminded that Rachel had dated Sirius once. I shifted in my seat uncomfortably and set down my fork.
Peter looked tired too.
Everything felt wrong today.
“I think I’m going to go work on the transfiguration.”
“Carolyn’s going to be fine, Lily – there’s no need to worry.” Remus said quietly, looking up from his book and looking right through me. Peter nodded.
“I’m not made of glass,” I muttered irritably, “I’m just not hungry. I’ve only met her once.”
“And what a woman.” Sirius added, flicking a piece of rice in my direction for my efforts. God, he was irritating.
It’d become a more common occurrence to have someone slam into me and call me something foul whilst walking down the corridor recently, as the Slytherins seemed to think that the only thing worse than a mudblood Head Girl was a mudblood Head Girl in a relationship with a pureblood. Sirius had once or twice suggested that they should put shield charms around me whilst I walked, but I was more than capable of fighting back even if it did simply stretch to me tripping them up or throwing a return insult in their direction.
Now everyone was at dinner, so I was granted the freedom of being able to not expect to be thrown against a wall or cursed. But, it was probably more dangerous – no witnesses.
What I wasn’t expecting was for Snape to emerge from the stairs to the dungeon, do a double take and then look away quickly. I hadn’t been alone with my ex-best friend for a very long time. In a place as humungous yet deceptively small at Hogwarts, it wasn’t particularly surprising to come face to face with him – but I still hadn’t expected it. I swallowed.
James, Sirius and Peter had been merciless in their attempts to get a rise out of Snape, using the Map to casually run into Snape whilst discussing me (I’d been assured by James that only nice things had been said, but I didn’t exactly trust the shake of Remus’s head and his refusal to comment), rather obvious displays of public affection and just generally throwing it in his face. Other than the first occasion where James had done nothing more than kiss me on the cheek in Potions and Snape had turned an interesting shade of white and ruined his potion, he’d been nothing but impassive.
Snape was walking toward the hall and I was walking towards it which meant, at some point, we were going to cross paths and I had no idea how I was going to react when the moment came. Already both of us seemed to move further away, as if being repelled by giant magnets, to the point where I couldn’t walk any further to the left without my shoulder brushing the stone wall of the corridor. I suddenly really wanted to talk to him, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to demand an explanation or punch him the face. Half of me wanted to make out with James in front of him and the other half wanted to explain. I was torn, and every second we were getting closer to each other and I still had no idea what to do.
Not look at him? Smile at him? Swear at him?
We were level with each other, the wide expanse of the corridor separating us. I’d done nothing. The moment was over and I hadn’t done a damn thing.
“Where’s the blood traitor, then?” Snape said, the split after we’d passed each other on opposite ends of the corridor. I stopped and turned slightly. Mostly, I was surprised by his audacity. I thought I would have been the one to talk.
“James?” I asked, and then I hated him all over again. I did, I really did hated him. “He’s visiting his mother.”
“Not joining him?” Snape asked, his list twisting into an uncomfortable expression; the sort he’d use when talking about Petunia, or, like now complain about James.
“Not this time.” I countered, trying to find something familiar in the cold black of his eyes: like when we’d sat by the lake and talked about blood purity, or when we’d gotten the train to Hogwarts together, or when he’d called me a mudblood and he’d begged me to forgive him.
“Doesn’t it bother you?”
“What?” I demanded, my lips twisting into an uncomfortable sneer. I hated being horrible to people, but every time Snape came into the vicinity I thought about how he’d called me a Mudblood, how he’d blackmailed Mary, how he’d tried to torture me and about how he couldn’t do it. He’d left me in the corridor after I’d been torture, like the rest of them, as if our friendship had never meant anything. He brought out the worst in me.
“The type he’s friends with.”
“You can’t talk,” I spat, “piss off, Snape.”
“You said you hated him,” Snape said, “you’ve always said you hated him.” That was the first glimpse of the Severus I knew peeking through the craps, the first reference to the past...
“I love him.” I said, even though that wasn’t true. I wanted a rise out of him too. I wanted some penance for the agony he’d put me through, whilst he’d felt nothing and just existed from afar. After all the pain, I wanted him to hurt too.
That blow hit the mark.
Severus’s lips curled into a pained expression and he didn’t move for a few long moments. He looked as though he’d just been cursed, or had been stabbed, and didn’t want to move for fear of the knife embedding itself deeper into his gut.
Then I felt horrible. I wanted to reach out, do something, tell him that it was okay. Forgive him, or something. Anything.
But there was nothing left that I could say, so I paused there for a second – taking in his expression and wanting to pull my insides out – and then I walked off as quickly as I could, pulling my arms in around me and heading for my dormitory.
Severus, my old best friend, was stood in the corridor hurting because of some stupid thing I’d said. Something that wasn’t even true. And I’d made him hurt.
And if anyone knew he still cared, they’d kill him.
“Are you sure she said she wanted me to visit too?” I asked, threading my fingers through James’s as we walked through St Mungo’s. “I’ve only met her once.”
“You obviously made an impression,” Sirius commented, shoving his hands in his pockets and looking around the room with an expression of distaste, “I hate hospitals.”
“Who likes them?” James made a face. “Here.” He added, pushing open a door to the left before I had a chance to read the name of the ward and walking across the ward towards his mother.
She looked bad. James had seemed fine when he came back from St Mungo’s late last night, but then James always had been better at handling his emotions. I still didn’t see how anyone could see the transformation from how healthy she’d been only a few weeks ago to how she looked now and not be scared about her dying. Because I was.
“James,” Carolyn croaked, her lips curving up into a smile, “and Sirius and Lily. Magnus was just reading that book you brought me for Christmas -”
“- did you know it had saucy bits in it?” Magnus asked, conjuring up more seats with an expert flick of his wand.
“James,” Sirius said with a mock expression of surprise, “what have you been buying for your mother?” He reached down and kissed Carolyn on the cheek. These were Sirius’s substitute parents and yet I’d barely given a thought to how Sirius was coping. I internally berated myself for being in the habit of getting so many things drastically wrong.
“- Janette Primplerossen,” Magnus began reading, raising his eyebrows at the ridiculous name and nodding at James, “paused, her body alight with passion – searing touches – careless caresses – and then, Jarvis Blueberry takes off her panties with his teeth.”
“They’re not even married.” Carolyn added hoarsely, her chest heaving up and down as she laughed.
“God James,” I muttered, “Jarvis Blueberry?
“What did you expect from a book called The Baker’s wife?” Sirius asked, taking it from Magnus and turning it over in her hands. “A timeless love story that lingers in the mind.”
“Too right,” Carolyn added, coughing for a few moments, “I’ll be having nightmares about Jarvis Blueberry running off with my knickers for weeks.”
“Mum,” James said, “don’t talk about your underwear in front of Sirius, you know what he’s like.”
“Oh, get on with you,” Carolyn laughed, talking hold of Sirius’s hand and squeezing it for a moment, “don’t you listen to James, Sirius. I blame his parents.”
“You look like you’re feeling better,” James said, sitting on the char opposite and taking hold of his mother’s other hand, “more colour.”
“She’s just blushing,” Magnus countered, “I don’t think she was expecting to hear that much detail about Janette Primplerossen’s breasts.”
“Maybe I should borrow this book.” Sirius grinned, causing Carolyn Potter to start laughing breathlessly again.
“How are you, Lily dear?” Magnus asked, looking a little tired and ruffled but otherwise no worse for wear. Compared to his wife, who’s wrinkles seemed to have deepened, who’s skin seemed too baggy and skin seemed so pale, he looked the very picture of health.
“I’m good, thank you.”
“She’s been worried about not getting all her homework done.” James said, slipping his free hand through my fingers and turning to smile at me.
“He hasn’t been distracting you from your studies, has he Lily? Because I’ve told him time and time -”
“Oh no,” Sirius grinned, “they’ve been doing lots of ‘studying’ together.”
“Don’t worry, Carolyn,” I interrupted, “James isn’t half as distracting as he’d like to think.”
“Mum, they’re ganging up on me.” James whined, sending us both winning smiles.
“Oh, baby.” Carolyn said, lifting up one of her old leathery hands and messing up his hair. “How’s your sister, Lily? James said that she’s an interesting character.”
“He’s being nice,” Sirius said, “she’s horrid.”
“Misunderstood,” I corrected, “I don’t know, she hasn’t written back yet.”
“Oh well,” Magnus said bracingly, “they all come round in the end.”
James squeezed my hand in a way that seemed to say you did.
“I need to talk to Remus about something.” James said once we’d returned to Hogwarts and having laughed more with James’s parents than I’d laughed for a very long time. If anything, that only made it worse.
“I’ll just go grab my textbooks from your room.” I said, kissing James on the cheek and heading for the stairs, feeling more and more vulnerable with every step.
It wasn’t fair for me to be taking this badly when James was fine, but I couldn’t get rid of the image of her coughing and coughing into her handkerchief, her breathless empty laugh and her dead looking skin out of my mind. She’d been laughing and joking, but she’d looked almost corpse like – and if she looked better today then I could hardly imagine how she’d looked yesterday.
Death was everyone. It was suffocating and surprising and it could grab you at any moment and closes its fingers around your throat.
I stepped into the boys dormitory and crossed it to James’s bed. My books were in a haphazard pile by his pillow, but I couldn’t face going back downstairs and facing everyone. The horrible vulnerability and emptiness was creeping up my chest once more. I felt sick. Mary. Dad.
Why did people have to get sick?
I lay down on his bed and pulled my knees up around me, letting my head sink into the pillow and closing my eyes.
James came up the stairs ten minutes later, took the books of the bed, and lay down beside me.
“Lily,” he kissed my shoulder, “you need to talk to me.”
“I can’t,” I muttered, bunching up James’s blankets in my hands and not turning to look at him, “it’s not fair, I should be... I should be comforting you.” The tears chocked up in my throat, I hadn’t cried for awhile, and James was right behind me pressing his lips into my neck.
“Lily.” James muttered, wrapping one of his arms around my waist.
Neither of us said anything for a long time. I couldn’t, the words were stuck in my throat and every time I thought of voicing them another hot tear seemed to bubble up in my eyes. I could feel James breathing behind me, his chest pressing into my back whenever he inhaled. His breath on my neck. One hand pressed into the skin of my stomach. He was waiting for me. It seemed like James Potter would always be waiting for me.
I could have stayed silent for a lifetime, but I owed it to James to be stronger than that. It was his mother in St Mungo’s. It was his mother with the wrinkles and the look of someone who’d lost a lot of weight very quickly. My mother was much further north than London, drinking continual glasses of wine with Petunia for company. James had wanted me to talk.
“It’s the abandonment thing,” I said, shifting around on the bed so that I was facing him, my voice thick with my sobs, “that Sirius mentioned. Because Mary died and then my Dad died and it’s like, I just feel like anyone could die at any moment and I can’t stand it. Then Petunia, she didn’t want anything to do with me anymore, and then Sev... Snape, too, he... I’m just. I never thought, James, I didn’t think that I’d be able to need someone anymore James, because I thought that I didn’t have it in me. And then I’m so scared about my Mum and about the war any then, your Mum she just...”
“She’s going to be okay,” James muttered, the serious I-might-kiss-you-expression surfacing again, accept he didn’t – he just hooked one of his feet round mine and kept my gaze, “it’s just a bad case of flu, Lily – it’s nothing.”
“But,” I said, sitting up suddenly and wrapping my arms around myself, “it’s not just that. It’s you, I just... God, James I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to fall apart if something happens to you. I don’t want, I don’t want to be scared of dying...”
James sat up too, watching me as I worked myself up into a frenzy as I tried to explain exactly how it was that I felt, sometimes: the delicacy, the lack of independence and the fear of everything slipping away from me. It wasn’t me.
“You don’t have to beat yourself up about these things,” James said quietly, “stuff happens, I mean, you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t scared. Just, Lily, I wish I could make you see.” James pressed a kiss on the corner of my lips. I liked slipping my hands underneath his shirt and using the warmth of his hips to make my fingers feel less numb, but now the simple movement on my behalf seemed much more intense – with me still crying, with James looking at me so seriously and with all those things just flying around. But, it wasn’t bad; it was the sort of moment I wanted to pin down forever so I could always remember how vulnerable I felt. And how being vulnerable didn’t necessarily feel like a bag thing.
“See what?” I asked quietly, because it seemed James had forgotten how to form the words.
“How well you’re surviving,” James muttered, “Lily, everything been so intense this year, you... you’re still alive and you’re still kicking and you’re still you.”
“I’m not the same.”
“Neither am I,” James countered, “and you don’t seem to mind that.”
“I wasn’t ready to lose that part of me yet,” I said, the tears beginning again, “it was... it was ripped from me.” James pressed closer. I didn’t want him to leave.
“No one’s ready to lose their innocence.”
“Surviving,” I said, pressing my fingers into his flesh and thinking about James – about how he was a bit of an idiot, and how right now his glasses were lopsided and his hair still wouldn’t lie flat, “is that enough?” One of James’s hands on my back. Natural, really. His eyes sparkled slightly, as if he’d just heard a joke.
James pressed his lips against mine, curled a hand around my hip and kissed me until I couldn’t think.
“We’re doing better than that,” James muttered, “we’re living.”
I’d always gone to the library when I needed to escape from something, except this time it felt more like a retreat than an escape. I just needed a chance to breathe and a chance to think.
The reality of everything had suddenly come crashing round my head and I felt like I was waking up from a strangely vivid dream, except some parts had been true and I was only now managing to grip hold of things.
It had seemed so innocent to study in the boy’s dorm, my books spread out across James’s bed and kissing, and talking and joking around. Now, suddenly, there was something deeper in it and I wasn’t sure about how I felt about that – about thinking of James kissing me, my back against the headboard and my legs automatically wrapping around his waist like some saucy moment in The Baker’s wife.
It wasn’t like I disliked the memory (a very recent memory, at that), it was just new. I’d never exactly had someone really want me before – ignoring, of course, the bloody Amos Diggory incident – and it had felt so real and unfamiliar and... different. Good, but different.
Then we’d stopped kissing. James had looked so heart wrenchingly serious and had assured me that it was okay, then I’d cried again and he’d wrapped his arms around me and I’d fallen asleep on his shoulder, just for a second, and dreamt of Mary falling down the stairs over and over.
But waking up and having James still there had make everything feel okay again. Manageable.
Which meant that we were serious.
My gaze ran along the edge of the bookcase as I selected something to read, anything, everything that had been spinning around my head for the past couple of days intensifying and filling my mind with pointless clutter. James’s Mum, Severus, James.
When Severus had said the type he’s friends with, I thought he’d meant Sirius. But that made no sense.
I selected the book of the bookshelf and felt its weight in my hand. It should have been heavier, for all it contained.
It reminded me of one of the conversations I’d had with Severus, once upon a time, as he was trying to dissuade me from talking to James. From falling for James, I expected.
I turned the first couple of the pages of the book and stared at the diagram and the title.
“I thought James told you not to dig.” Sirius said, sliding into the seat opposite me and raising his eyebrows at my choice of book.
“We need to stop provoking Snape,” I said quickly, “he’s really hurting.”
“Evans,” Sirius said sharply, “don’t change the subject.”
I didn’t say anything and glanced down at the page title Werewolves: the most vile of all the beasts.
Sirius snapped the book shut, narrowly missing slamming my fingers between the pages. He didn't look like he cared about that much.
“So,” Sirius said, “I guess this leaves us with a dilemma. Either you tell James you’ve been nosing around, or I tell him.”
So that was that. Confirmation.
It's official. Four updates in a month. Boom. It feels good, actually. I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter as it's pretty dramatic and such. Reviews are always lovely and I can confidently swear that I'll answer them all within a couple of days :)
Next time: Lily turns eighteen and celebrates in style.