James Potter had turned on his heel and strode away along the corridor. Dropping Lily’s hand like a stone, Sirius followed, the classroom door banging shut behind.
“Prongs!” he called again. James didn’t turn around, but Sirius did, as behind him he heard the door swing open once more. Lily’s eyes were wide and frantic, her lip quivering, yet Sirius knew she meant to follow him – both to prevent Sirius from facing the fallout alone, and to sooth her own guilty conscience. He couldn’t let her do either – they both deserved to suffer. He shook his head at her, motioning with his eyes for her to leave it alone. Then he left her, breaking into a run. He had to catch up to James.
“Hey, hey wait...!” Sirius began to draw level, yet James still didn’t look back. He grabbed at James’s sleeve.
“Get off me.”
“Prongs, look at me.” He pulled James to face him.
“What?!” James spun suddenly, his face coming close to Sirius’s own, his expression fierce. “What do you want from me Sirius?”
“James, James please, let me explain.”
“I...” Sirius stuttered. “How, how much did you...”
James laughed humorously.
“Oh God, James I...” Sirius stopped. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a flash of red hair, realising with a pang, that their classroom had been positioned at the end of a dead –end corridor. Lily would have to come back this way. Momentarily diverted, he let his attention waver, and James followed his eye-line. Lily was hovering in a nearby doorway – a girls toilet that she must have been about to disappear into. Her hair (Sirius noticed with some horror) was in a state of dishevelment which didn’t appear entirely innocent. Sirius turned back to James.
“Looks like someone’s waiting for you.” James said. Sirius looked back at him, into eyes full of hurt. He realised he still had hold of James’s shirt sleeve. James ripped his arm from his grasp, and stormed out of sight, leaving Sirius to gather his thoughts. He put a hand to his face.
“Sirius?” Lily cautiously approached, but Sirius shrugged off her hand more ferociously than James had his own.
“Get off, Lily.” He snapped. “Oh my God.” His hand returned to cover his eyes. “What have I done?”
Lily bit her lip.
“Leave him a while,” she said. “Let him cool off.”
Sirius didn’t move.
“No.” He muttered, the intensity in his voice making Lily jump. “I have to explain.”
She stared at him, but he ignored her. Then he broke into a run.
Sirius reached the common room in record time, sprinting the stairs to the boys’ dormitory, never less than two at once. He burst into the room, his breath ragged. James stood at the window, with his back to the door.
“Prongs,” Sirius panted. “I have – to explain – about Lily.”
“Why?” Came the cold reply.
Sirius stepped forward. “Prongs?”
James bowed his head for a moment, arms stretched out and clutching at the window sill. Then he turned to face Sirius.
“What is there to explain?”
“James, it’s over. I know that sounds like a big lie, but literally, we’d just decided we had to end it – we both knew it was all wrong - ”
“It didn’t look over to me. Looked like it was just hotting up, actually.”
Agonized, Sirius screwed his eyes tight shut.
“Re-living it are we?”
“Merlin, James.” Sirius snapped out of it. “Look I meant to tell you, I did. I didn’t mean to betray you or anything – but she was so... and it wasn’t until Easter that anything really- ”
“Easter was it?”
“Yeah. James, listen - ”
“But you didn’t ask her to the ball, eh? Not very gentlemanly of you. But then – maybe that would’ve blown your cover.”
“James, we wanted to tell you. I never wanted to start it, but - ”
“But Evans just had to have you. Gagging for it, was she?”
“Now wait just one... James, It wasn’t like that. I really – I mean she’s a great girl, I really care about her. I do. But I know I never should’ve gone there. I knew how you felt about her and -”
There was a moment of silence, then Sirius drew himself up tall, ready to face James’s anger like a man.
“And I’m sorry James. I’m just – so sorry.”
James looked at him, his eyes burning with barely suppressed emotion. Sirius looked at the floor.
Startled both by his words, and the abrupt change in his tone, Sirius looked up. James’s face was a blank canvas.
“Why?” James repeated tonelessly. “Why are you sorry? I don’t own her. She’s not my girlfriend, and she never was. She’s free to do what she likes.”
“No, seriously,” James continued, his voice rising, both in volume and pitch. “It’s not like I have any claim on her, in fact, Lily Evans has made it Crystal clear, for years that she can’t stand the sight of me, so why should I be surprised that she’s found someone else – that it’s you?”
“James,” he moved towards him.
“I don’t want your pity.”
“No,” said Sirius. “No, you wanted loyalty, and I should have given you that. Prongs, you’re my best friend. You’ve done so much for me, and - ”
“Stop it.” James cut him off. “You’re embarrassing us both.”
“Prongs...” Sirius’s voice became pleading. James strode past him towards the door.
“Why don’t you go and tell your girlfriend how sorry you are? I don’t need to hear this, she’s nobody’s property, mine least of all.”
As James past him, the desperate light of an idea shone in Sirius’s eyes.
“Wait James,” he began. “But she’s not my girlfriend, and you see that’s why - the real reason why - I ended it.”
“Why?” James snapped.
“Because I realised – she’s in love with you.”
It had been the wrong thing to say. The fire in James’s eyes flared, and his hand curled into a fist. The next thing Sirius knew, he was flat on the stone floor, looking up at the sloping ceiling of the tower room. James didn’t stop to look back, instead hurtling down the spiral steps, until his feet gave way beneath him, and he fell to his knees. His fist banged uselessly against the cold stone of the staircase wall, drawing blood from his knuckles, and hot angry tears from his eyes.
When Lily entered the girls’ dormitory later that day, her nerves were shot. Unsure of whether she wanted to bump into either Sirius or James she had crossed the common room with apprehension, and when she finally reached her dormitory she was visibly trembling.
“Hey Lil,” Rachel greeted her, looking up briefly from the Witch Weekly crossword. “How’d it go with Mcgonagall? And how do you spell Cellist?”
“Like in the Wierd Sisters. The fat one.”
“Lily, what’s wrong?” Mary Mcdonald jumped down from her bed and ran towards her friend. “You look terrible!”
Lily laughed shakily, and Rachel looked up from her magazine to see if this was true.
“Thanks Mary!” Lily said.
“Hon,” Mary replied. “Seriously, sit down. What’s up?”
Rachel and Mary looked at each other, questioningly. Rachel mouthed ‘still shocked over last night?’ Mary shrugged. Lily lay back on her bed and rolled onto her side, her legs curled up under her. She heard the creak of a bed as Rachel pulled herself into a sitting position.
“Hey, erm, this might cheer you up Lil,” Rachel tossed over an emerald green envelope with an embellished ‘H.S’ in one corner. “Invite to the Slug club Christmas party. None of the rest of us are invited of course, but, you know. Snape’ll be there, I imagine. And the Marauders.”
Lily gave a sob, and quickly drew one hand up to her face. She heard Mary sigh.
“Oh,” she breathed. “What now, Lil?”
Tears began to well up in Lily’s eyes as Mary crouched beside the bed and looked into her face. ‘Sirius?’ She mouthed, so that Rachel couldn’t see, and Lily began to cry quietly.
“Come here.” Said Mary. Sitting down on the bed, she pulled Lily into a sitting position and into her arms. Lily sobbed harder.
“I’ve been so stupid.”
“No, no you haven’t.”
“Yeah – I have.”
Mary glanced over her shoulder at Rachel, who was looking horror struck – dealing with over emotional people had never been her area of expertise. Mary motioned for her to leave. ‘Save yourself.’ She mouthed. Rachel hesitated.
“Lily, are – are you okay?”
“I’m – fine.” She answered, the tears still heaving at her chest, hitching her words. “I’m –fine, Rach. Don’t worry – about - me.”
“Oh, erm, okay. See you later then.” Rachel made a speedy exit, with an apologetic glance back at Mary, who laughed.
“Bless Rachel.” Lily laughed, but it soon descended into tears again. “Ah, Lil,” said Mary. “Tell me what happened.”
Lily squeezed her eyes shut, and a tear leaked out of one corner, trickling down her cheek.
“It’s just – everything.” She said.”I mean what with – last night – I – I mean the – ball – was awkward – as it –was – and then all the other – stuff – last night.”
“I was meaning to ask about that.”
“Merlin, you don’t need – to know. It was just - mental. And then this morning the – whole thing with Severus and Mc gon – agall interrogating me for half an hour.” She stopped, attempting to catch her breath. “And then Sirius...”
She clung to Mary as the tears fell, and her friend stroked her hair patiently.
“I’m sorry Mary.”
“Tell me what happened. Although I think I can guess.”
“Not the half of it.”
“Well he – basically broke up with me – and...”
“Oh Lil, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be – I knew it would get to this eventually. He said he ‘couldn’t do it to James anymore.’”
“That was very big of him.” Mary’s tone was cold.
“Well, it was actually. But then he kissed me – sort of for the last time, and then... well,”
“James walked in?”
Lily nodded tearfully. “Ridiculous isn’t it?” She laughed, an edge of hysteria to her voice.
“Just a bit.”
Lily burst into fresh tears. “God, what have I done? I feel so terrible. What if they fall apart over this, and I’ve just ruined everything, and - ”
“Lily.” Mary shook her. “Pull yourself together. You know that their friendship’s stronger than that. They were always going to fall out at some point – if it wasn’t you it would’ve been another girl sooner or later. And yes - ” she hesitated. “James might’ve had a crush on you for years, but that’s all it was okay? A crush. It’s not like Sirius wrecked his marriage. Get some perspective on this. They’ll be friends again in a couple of weeks, and back to their irritating old ways.” She smiled a little. “That okay with you?”
Lily nodded, but her lip trembled.
“I really liked him though, Mary.”
“I know hon, I know.” She hugged her to her. “Now,” she said. “You go down to the girls’ bathroom and just splash your face and that. Then come back up here and we can break out my Honeyduke’s stash. Okay?”
Lily smiled. “Yes mum.”
Mary laughed. “Get on with yeh.”
Lily got up, smoothed her hair and descended the spiral staircase. She tried not to think about what Sirius was saying to James right now, and what James would think about her. As she emerged from the staircase however, her gaze was drawn upwards, the sight of James Potter jolting her out of her reverie. He exited the boys’ staircase with his head held high, yet his face was blotchy like her own, his eyes red behind his glasses. They stood for a moment and looked at each other, then he turned away.
“James - ”
He stopped still, considering, then turned back to her. She all but whispered.
“I’m so sorry.”
He took her hand in his, his manner as gentle as his tone.
“Don’t be.” He said. “I’ll get over it. And you never led me on, don’t worry.”
“But - ”
“Lily, leave me with some dignity please. I’m walking away from this, from you. But no hard feelings, eh? Me and Sirius will make it up. We always do. Might take a while, but - ”
“James, I need to tell you, he did break it off. Today. And you know in the beginning, he didn’t want to start anything because of you. It just kind of – happened.”
“Well,” said James sadly. “I guess that’s good to know. Anyway, I’ll see you around, Evans.” He turned away.
“Bye.” Lily whispered. Then she let him walk away from her, crossing the crowded room, and disappearing through the portrait hole. But her heart went with him.