Chapter 3 : 3.
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Lily was all softness and strength as she looked at him. All stubbornness and suffering. She was as she had never been before and he wanted to wipe it away from her as if it were a stain on a beautiful thing. Which was precisely the case. He hated McKinnon for making Lily care this much. It was ridiculous and stupid and so unbelievably selfish, but he was jealous too. Why should Lily care so much about Marlene McKinnon anyway? That girl didn’t even deserve it, it was such a waste of emotion. It was a waste of Lily’s emotion, which made him want to revive the girl just so that he could strangle her himself. With these thoughts in his head, James felt a bastard son of a bitch, but he couldn’t exactly help it.
"Not sleeping much are you Potter?" she said slowly and a corner of her lips lifted up almost imperceptibly.
"Not really. I have to finish the charms essay anyway, so…" He was almost whispering. There was so much quiet around them that he had the feeling if he spoke any louder something would literally break. Lily flopped on the sofa and against the big red and gold cushions she looked even smaller. She had been getting thinner too, she ate so little.
"Did you do those exercises McGonagall gave us?" She asked, as if she really wanted to know. There was something twisted in the way she tried so hard to pretend she was ok. It felt like watching someone hurt themselves.
James eased back against the cushions as well and spoke without looking at her. "Yeah. Sirius and I had a little fun trying them out last night. We transformed Remus's book in a miniature of the Giant Squib. He didn’t like it much."
Lily made a little sound that could have been a chuckle… or an exhale that resembled it. "Yeah, I bet. I transfigured a couple of roses into red fly-fishes that swam in the air. They were cute."
James couldn’t help but smile. Her magic was so completely fascinating. The most beautiful, compelling kind he had ever seen, the kind that made you stare. He could picture exactly how lovely that particular spell would look like as it unfolded. But her voice was breathy as if she was having trouble keeping up with the conversation.
James didn't know why he did what he did. He just couldn’t help it. She looked so cold and hurt and he wanted to give her something of himself. Something that would make it better. There was nothing logical to it - he knew that he had nothing she could want. But he wasn’t thinking anything in particular as he reached over and put his hand around her wrist, holding it lightly, feeling the soft skin and the bones beneath them. What he really would have liked to do was take her underneath his own skin and keep her there.
What was even more surprising was that she didn't pull away. She didn't do anything. She just sat there and with the corner of his eyes he saw that she angled her head a little to look at him. He couldn’t tell the expression on her face and he was too much of a coward to look at her directly. Doing that would mean direct confrontation with the fact that he was consoling her, which would mean he was recognizing that she needed consoling. She wouldn't like that, not when she practically jumped through the hoops to make everyone think she was perfectly fine.
Besides, he felt as if the mere movement on his part would break this spell of calm between them. And this moment felt precious. Rare. So quiet it was almost peaceful. With his hand holding her wrist and her accepting his warmth. The agony of not being able to look at her, to do more, was nothing compared to the exhilaration what he was feeling at the moment. His heart kept pounding in his ears. James heard her take a deep breath and then a long exhale. He could almost feel his warmth seeping into her skin. He could feel her pulse under his fingers, so even. James passed his thumb over her pulse in a small caress and then took his hand away slowly.
"I heard you need a new beater by the way... didn't Montague fall off his broom or something like that?" James turned his head to her so fast he swore he heard his neck snap. Lily smiled a little at his reaction.
"Don't let that get to your head Potter. I only know cause I’m a prefect and I’m supposed to know who breaks their necks in my house." She spoke calmly, but the hint of teasing was there.
"Good. For a moment there I thought I had died and gone to a place where you actually care about quidich." Lily chuckled and James took a deep breath, imagining himself breathing in her laugh and not really air. Weird... so weird the way he could get so sapped out on her. It was like his testosterone dried up on him when she was around.
"You sound much more reasonable than usual. Did you finally have that brain transplant that I told you about?" Lily asked and she was only half joking. James on the other hand simply shrugged, rolling with it.
"Nah, brains’ still there. I've given up hallucinogens though. They're bad for your health apparently." Lily turned to look at him wide eyes and he was so glad that he had finally provoked a reaction in her. One that would make her show some emotion. He looked back, his face as innocent as possible.
"You are joking right? I can never be sure with you."
"Oh come on! don't tell me you've never tried some magic powder before?"
Lily looked scandalized. "Of course not! I do not, nor have I ever, done drugs Potter."
"Not even a little LSD. They're good for blood circulation... And the things you see..."
"Yeah, they're called hallucinations."
"What, you seriously haven't tried anything before? Not even marijuana?"
"Of course not!" She sounded so offended that James almost laughed.
"Don’t be so sure about that. Last year at the house feast after we won the Quiditch Cup, Sirius and I spiked the chocolate cake with a bit of green and..."
"You did what?!"
James would have liked to keep making her indignant, but at her tone of voice, hearing the usual fire behind her words, he felt such relief that he actually laughed, thus giving his joke away at once. Lily punched him on one arm and he laughed harder.
"Very funny Potter. No really, I can’t stop laughing." She deadpanned.
"It was a little funny. You should have seen your face." Lily rolled her eyes at him. "If your voice had gone any shriller, bats would have been the only ones able to hear you." James continued and Lily made a face at him. But in the end she smiled a little too and at the sight of that James felt his whole week light up.
"Well, I had doubted that you weren't always yourself. Your stare has always been a bit vacuous." She sounded almost playful, looking at him as if she was examining him. James smiled at her.
"That's just because the amazing depth of my thoughtful eyes."
"Otherwise known as 'the spacing out effect'. Common among illegal-substance users." Lily said but she didn't sound ironic as much as she sounded amused.
James looked at her, faking the curiosity, but not the fascination. "Really? What about the strange noises I hear from time to time? The sound like this: Puff-puff-puff..."
"That's your brain cells popping." She said with a half smirk.
The laugh escaped him so spontaneously that it almost caught him by surprise. The best part about it though, was that Lily chuckled with him as well. They looked at each other's smiling faces and then quickly looked away as if they had broken some kind of rule by making eye contact.
James sat back against the sofa's cushions and as he was about to start talking about some other irrelevant topic - preferable school-related - he heard Lily take a deep breath and then take it out in a long sigh. And then he remembered: The funny things about when you were sad wasn’t the inability to be happy. You could lighten up for a moment or two. You could even laugh heartedly. The heartbreaking things was that it went away so quickly.
When you were down, you could look up at the sky for a moment, but you always ended up with the face in the dirt again, too weak to do anything about it.
"Maybe I should take my own advice and have that brain transplant myself... Raysa seems to think I’m in serious need of it." James stopped breathing as if steel had been injected into his lungs. For a second he didn't know how to work the breathing thing. He didn't know what to say... All he wanted to say was the truth, the thing that she most probably should hear, the very thing that would make this very moment of friendly interaction between them end with the subtleness of a nuclear explosion. He really didn't want to do that. He wanted to stay with her like this a bit more... a lot more.
But this wasn’t really about him, was it?
"Nah, you just need some time. You know, to adjust to the new situation... until it changes again." James said slowly.
He waited for the air to shift, for the blast of heat that came with her anger that was always like a shockwave that pushed him backwards a few steps. He waited for three seconds and then had to look at her face. She was unchanged, sitting there as she had been before… as big tears swam in her eyes and then dripped over, licking her cheeks. More followed. Big fat tears that would put the one Alice cried in Wonderland to shame. Instinctively he reached for her but stopped before he made it all worse. No doubt she didn't want to be touched by anyone right now.
"You think she is already dead don't you? That I’m stupid for waiting her to wake up..."
"I don't know if Marlene is going to wake or not Lily. But I would never think less of your intelligence because you wait for your friend to come around. I... I think I'd do the same thing." he wanted to add that it was wrong of her to isolate herself with her sorrow but he didn't know how to phrase that in a delicate way that wouldn't get his nose broken or something like that. It wasn’t the injury he feared. It was the perspective of making her feel worse, or worse: making her think there was something wrong with her.
When his parents died two years ago and people told him that it wasn’t good for him to hold on to his grief so much... well, let’s just say that to this day, there were very few things that could get James Potter angry faster than that. He'd hated those kind of allusions. It was as if the people that said that were making fun of you, miles and miles away from the place you were in, unable to reach at you with their words, but still trying to poke at your wound with sticks of empty sympathy - which always felt more like hypocrisy than anything else.
"I suppose its normal to keep hoping..." He swallowed hard and admitted now what he hadn’t told to anybody, not even Sirius. "Back when my parents died... I just kept waiting for them to walk into the room you know? Yeah, I know, that’s called denial, but I suppose that the closest I can get... to understanding you, that is." Oh, man, that had been so oddly phrased he barely understood it himself. But to his immense relief, Lily nodded as if it made perfect sense to her.
The awkwardness of the situation wasn't past James. At least for him, this was a difficult topic, it felt like walking on a minefield, even thought Lily looked perfectly fine with it. It was strange talking to her about these things. He felt like he was trying to walk on eggshells with combat boots on - constantly afraid of saying the wrong thing, of making it worse. Constantly wondering how come that out of all the friends she had, who were - or had been - much closer to her than he ever was, Lily had chosen to have this conversation with him - the bloke she had borderline-civil relationship with and who technically knew nothing about her.
"I know what you mean, but my assumption is a bit more ground-based than that." Lily said and James looked over at her, surprised at the odd calmness in her voice. There was no tinge of anger, which was the mark of denial. Lily was perfectly calm, lucid. So much that it confused him.
"Something like this had Happened to Marlene before. When she was a little girl, she got sick and went into a coma for months, and then came out of it."
So that was the reason for this... this fixation Lily had? James tried to control his temper, put himself into a tight restrain, focus his senses on what was important, something that he had learned to do in Quidich. He took a deep breath. Then another. And another. Then he finally spoke.
"Is there any medical indication that there are similarities between the two cases?" And when she didn't answer he turned to her to ask the question again, maybe in a simpler way, but he found her staring at him strangely, the hint of surprise on her face. He raised an eyebrow at her, challenging.
"Well... her brain activity is higher than most coma cases and it was like that the last time too... but this is not necessarily a good thing. I could mean that she is trying to get out of it. Or it could mean that her organism is losing the battle." Lily said as she looked at him, and then the fire.
"Judging from her response rate to outside stimulant and the fact that she has crashed twice, the probability of the second option is higher." She added flatly.
James just kept looking at her without so much as a loud breath. He was careful, so very careful not to break this weird sharing spell Lily was seemingly into, but it was difficult not to be astonished at her words, or to better say, at the tone in which she said them. So matter of factly, as if she was reciting something she read from a book. It made something in him recoil from her, which was a first. There was something wrong in her calm, something that made his instincts snap to attention. What was she doing? If she was into shock, into denial, she shouldn't be this calm.
"What does that mean to you?" James asked quietly. He dint even know whether or not he would get an answer, but he tried anyway. Lily shrugged imperceptibly.
"I know that Marlene is not easy to like. I know that you hate her. Let me be perfectly clear, I do not, nor have I ever agreed with you on that…" She said and her voice was suddenly much stronger than before, as if to make a point - like he needed that. She'd made a point all these years by never once turning her back on McKinnon. Fact was that Marlene was one of the reasons for some of their most clamorous fights.
"...but I can understand where it comes from." James doubted that, or at least part of it. Lily could undoubtedly understand the first face of his antipathy for Marlene McKinnon (it was practically the same he nourished for Snivelus, if not stronger) . But she could not fathom the but deeper reasons, at least he hoped she didn't.
All those reasons - the darker ones - the ones he was a bit reluctant to accept even to himself, made very little sense indeed and were all connected to her - to Lily. Like the jealousy over the fact that Lily felt so deeply for someone so undeserving. He hated how Lily and Marlene shared so much love and a connection so unfathomable and impossible to break. Those two could not be more different and yet, they were inseparable. Lily loved Marlene and that in itself was almost ok… but it was Marlene’s feelings for Lily that drove James up the wall. Because whether or not Lily realized it, Marlene loved Lily in a different way. James didn’t know how he knew, but he was almost 100% sure that Marlene McKinnon was in love with Lily. And seeing them together, the intimacy they shared, it was… it provoked a feeling inside him that was almost indescribable.
The truth that James was reluctant to admit even to himself, was that he was jealous of Marlene McKinnon and it was the real thing: the kind of feeling that James would have if Lily started seriously fancying some bloke… Which was pretty fucked up as far as James was concerned.
He looked over at Lily and saw that she had this determined look on her face that he had come to fear.
"Everyone is always giving up on her. Even her family... I suppose they are much more tired than I am of the grief she has put them through." Lily frowned, crossing her arms on her chest. "I’m not going to leave her alone. She needs me... needs someone to be close to her. She will never get out of this thing if we all leave her alone."
"You know, I really don't get you." James said and for the first time, the anger he was feeling was showing in his voice - for the first time with Lily at least.
"I don't expect you to." The fact that it was said without any hint of defiance, as it if was a universal fact, almost made James want to scream in frustration. He didn't even exist in her world, not even as a hindrance.
"No, Lily, I get you just fine when you’re making sense. But that, those things you just said... it’s mental. Do you realize that? Do you listen to yourself when you say them?" Little by little James was raising his voice, and by the end of the sentence he was already sorry that he had done it, because Lily was looking him with such passiveness that it scared him for a moment.
"Yes, I realize it all. That doesn’t change a thing. Fact is that even if I considered Marlene as good as dead, it would hurt just the same."
"Yeah, but you’d move on. You would get used to the idea that you’ll always miss her and you'll always be fucked up about the fact that she is gone, but you would also look forward. You’d stop walking around the castle like you’ve just had a Dementor’s kiss.” James winced a little internally at the comparison, but it seemed that his brain had no control on his mouth anymore. It was as if the thing had disconnected or something.
James was about to apologies for his words but then he realized he didn't want to. He didn't because even thought she would hate him for them, those were words that Lily needed to hear but that everyone was afraid to say to her. But he knew better. Lily Evans was not made of glass. She was made of the kind of steel goblins make indestructible armors from. And he suddenly realized that he if she didn't hesitate to talk about Marlene with him, then he wouldn't be afraid to talk back with the same sincerity. No matter how much it would hurt her to hear the truth, someone should just step up, be a man and just yell it at her.
"You know, you have some nerve …What gives you the right to…?" Lily was looking at him shocked, stuttering her way through her indignation, anger making her speechless for a moment. But James knew that it would only be a moment. She would be quite articulate in the next 3...2...1…
He watched her take a deep breath and close her eyes in what was undoubtedly an attempt to calm down and get herself together.
"You always manage to surprise me Potter. Just when I start to think that there is more to you than broomsticks and megalomania, you go ahead and say things like this…” he watched her take a breath and stabilize herself . When she looked at him next, there was only sadness in her eyes.
“You know what's so sad about you? You hide behind what you call being oh-so-honest, but deliberately trying to make people feel bad isn't honesty Potter. It’s just being mean. The truth is you're just a spoiled child with a selfish distain for anyone’s feelings but your own." She was calm all the way and James wanted to tell her that the description she had just given out sounded more like her dear friend Marlene than like himself, but he realized that pointing this out wouldn't win him any points in the intelligence or timing department.
"Maybe you should stop making this abut me and try thinking about what I told you, because you know that I’m not as wrong as you'd like me to be."
And this was the drop that made the vase spill apparently, because all the calm facade was abandoned in a heartbeat and Lily wasn't trying to hide her anger anymore. And there was a lot of it.
"Good God, haven't you been listening? I don't care what you say, don't you understand? What is it with you always trying to be in the middle of everybody’s business? Are you honestly that starved for attention?"
"This is not about me..."
"Exactly! This is not about you! I don't want your advice, I have no use for it at all. Nothing you have to say matters so just for once in your life stop trying to ruin mine!"
She got up and left the Common room and James was left there feeling hurt and angry at the same time. Interesting how even in the most out-of-it moments Lily Evans could find those few magic words that would totally trash his ego. Wow…
James rubbed his face and send his hands through his hair, trying to slow down the last 10 minutes and understand what the fuck had happened. Lily had been the one to come talk to him, right? He hadn’t pushed her, he hadn’t poked in her business. She had been the one to start the conversation about Marlene. Had he crossed the line? Had he really hurt her that much?
Or was Lily simply that unstable that she would explode on anybody’s hands? Maybe she was just looking for someone to vent on… Or someone that would understand?
James sighed again as he got up and headed back up to his dorm. He wasn’t sure that understanding the way Lily felt about Marlene McKinnon was something he would be able to do…