Lily Potter met Caitlin Finnigan when she was four years old.
Lily Potter lost her sight when she was six years old.
Years later, it will become apparent that these are the two most significant events she will ever experience.
So, then, the first one. She was four, and her dad was friends with this man who lived in Ireland. Apparently they had gone to school together, a million years before. Lily wasn’t really sure of the details - wasn’t sure why it should matter to her at all, really. After all - she was only four.
But this friend of her dad’s, he came to visit one day, and with him, he brought his little girl. Four years old just like Lily, with dark hair down to her hips and more freckles than Lily had ever seen on one face. She had no front teeth, light-up trainers, chubby cheeks, pink-painted nails, grazed knees poking out the bottom of her shorts.
Those were all the things Lily noticed within the first three seconds of seeing her.
They met in the park, all of them, and her Dad had walked up to his friend and they’d had some kind of meaningful conversation with their eyes, but it was over the top of Lily’s head and she didn’t care at all. Caitlin had been clutching her father’s hand and hiding half behind his legs, peering around to look Lily curiously, fearfully, adorably in the eye.
“Hello,” Lily had said, walking straight up to her and taking the hand that Caitlin wasn’t using to clutch to her dad. “Let’s go and play on the swings.”
Lily couldn’t explain it, at the time. But the second she saw Caitlin, laid eyes on her, she felt connected. Back then, it wasn’t Caitlin’s sweet fresh smell that mattered, it wasn’t the lyrical turn of her voice or the softness of her skin brushing against Lily’s in a gentle touch. She was only four, and she was innocent back then, she didn’t know the things she’d have to adjust too, eventually - so it was about seeing, to start with. She was only four, but Caitlin Finnigan made cogs turn in Lily’s head that hadn't been turned before. Made her toes tingle, her stomach hurt from giggling.
At the end of the day, Caitlin had gone away again. After all, she lived in Ireland, and according to her that was a very long way away. When she was about to leave, Lily had given her the blue plastic bracelet she’d been wearing all day - she’d won it, in a packet of sweets, the week before, it had been the most important thing that had ever happened to her in her life up to that point as far as she was concerned and she had resolved loudly and often to never take it off. After meeting Caitlin, though, she wanted her to have it. Caitlin had put it on, and kissed Lily on the cheek, and their dads had both awwwwed.
Lily had thought about that day for a long time, afterwards.
So, then, the second. She was six. It was an accident with a potion.
A strong potion.
There was nothing St Mungos could do.
Then, there’s the rest.
The rest of her life, that is.
There’s a lot of moments, in the whole rest of her life. Too many to count, really. There are good moments, and bad moments, and moments that are merely significant without being inherently good or bad, though she’s rarely aware of that at the time.
And then there’s the Christmas that she’s seventeen. That’s what we’ll be talking about here today.
A splash of bathwater; a voice calling through the door. Lily rubs the soap across her shoulder, down her arm, scrubs to an adjoining knee. She’s a tangle of limbs in the tub, a knot, and the water’s all over the floor.
“Nearly!” she calls back - nothing more, one word’s enough to get the point across. She can’t hear but imagines the impatient tap of Caitlin’s big boots against the floorboards, the soft exhalation of her harumph, the so-slight loudening of the tick tick tick as she raises her watch up to her face to examine the time, worrying they’ll be late.
“Lily, it’s Christmas day!”
A serious matter. Lily’s been around enough to gather how much importance Caitlin puts on Christmas, so she sighs, gives up on her washing. Unknots her limbs and uses all four to propel herself out of the tub, feels with her hand to the left until her fingers touch the soft terrycloth of her towel, dries herself off and wraps herself up in seconds. Then it’s the making her way to the door, slow steps, she knows this bathroom well but can’t anticipate the actions of her dorm mates to drop shampoo bottles or hairbrushes on the floor.
“Help me get dressed, then,” she demands as she flings the door open, makes her way back into the room. Of the eight girls who live in their dorm, four have gone home for Christmas. One more is in the castle but left their room for breakfast before Lily had even rolled out of bed. The sixth girl is still asleep, curtains pulled on her four poster, if her muffled snuffling snores are anything to go by.
Caitlin really does make the harumph noise Lily had imagined this time, follows her over to her trunk grumbling under her breath that they'll miss breakfast, but she humours Lily anyway and begins pulling clothes out.
Lily long ago embraced her destiny as a fashion disaster. All the clothes she owns are either hand knitted jumpers from Grandmas Molly or gifts from Caitlin, and she’s assured that most all of them are hideous bright colours and strange patterns, an assault to the human eyeball in its functioning state. Usually she merely grabs a shirt and a cardigan and assumes the colours clash, doesn’t bother herself about it. Her hair is a violent enough orange, she’s been told, that nothing would look good on her anyway.
Today, though, is Christmas.
“Do I have anything green?” she asks Caitlin, and is handed items accordingly, and a minute later, trusting with faith in her friend, thinks she’s dressed in a green and white polka dot shirt, a red cardigan, red socks. Christmas, see.
“Now can we go?” asks Caitlin.
There’s presents at the ends of their beds and Lily’s dying to get her fingers on hers. It’s the most fun of Christmas day - feeling the shape, size, weight of the gift, trying to guess what it is, then finally opening it, and finding - well, what, a book in braille, a Weasley jumper she has to get Caitlin to describe to her, treacle tarts and homemade fudge and mince pies and marzipan penguins. There’s usually a lot of food involved - no wonder she’s impatient to get into it. Of course, by now, she knows the routine. She and Caitlin have spent the last six Christmases together; Caitlin doesn’t open presents before lunch. If there was anything that could break apart their friendship, Lily thinks it might be that.
She takes food very seriously.
But, okay, it’s ten in the morning and they need to head to breakfast. Lily lets Caitlin slot their arms together, though she really doesn’t need to be led, because she likes the familiar comfort of the brush of Caitlin's arm against hers. This is the first Christmas of her life she’s spent without her parents and Al, but they've all gone off to visit James in South Africa; she opted out of going because of how much more difficult unfamiliar places make her life. It was her choice, but it's still to have a piece of familiarity around on Christmas Day to make her feel better about it - it's still nice to have Caitlin.
As they walk towards the Great Hall, Caitlin chatters. Lily has long since learned the descriptions of the hallways themselves, learned the touch of the stone and where each and every bend or hidden alcove leads, probably better than any other student at the school. So Caitlin knows not to waste her time detailing things like that in a setting which is so familiar - instead, she narrates the changeable things, the people who are there - few since it’s the holidays and most have left for home - or a new painting, or the source of an unusual smell, noise, motion.
“We just walked past Greta and Zabini,” Caitlin mutters low into Lily’s ear one moment, a small trill of excitement colouring her words, “kissing! I guess they got caught under the mistletoe because they did not look happy about it!”
Lily can imagine - her mind immediately conjures up the image, a tight-lipped kiss between rivals followed by the wiping of lips and exclamations of disgust. She giggles to herself; Caitlin joins in.
“What did his face look like?” she asks. Caitlin mulls it over for a moment with a hmmm.
“Like he was holding a live bee between his lips,” she decides, and Lily delights in the image.
They walk a little further; Caitlin details all the portraits who have gathered around the Knights’ Round Table for their own version of Christmas dinner. Further still, and Lily hears tell of the suits of armour being draped in tinsel, every colour of the rainbow.
Further still, and they must be nearly there.
“What floor are we one?” she asks Caitlin with a sigh. Sometimes the vastness of the castle feels extremely unnecessary. “I’ve lost count.”
“We’re just about to go down the stairs to the Entrance Hall.”
Sure enough, Lily’s foot meets a step the moment after. They get closer, and she begins to smell the first wafts of the breakfast feast. Yum.
Down the steps, then, fast as they can, giggling together. Lily would say it’s something about the Christmas spirit in the air that’s made them this silly today, but truthfully, they’re always like this. In some ways, it’s like their friendship hasn’t grown up since they were eight years old - they’re still in the days of pinky promises, daisy chains, playing pretend. Lily kind of loves it.
Of course, in other ways, their friendship has grown up a lot.
It happens when they’re so close to the Great Hall that Lily can hear the chatter of the few people inside, can not only smell but almost taste the hundred foods just waiting to be loaded onto her plate. It happens that all of a sudden, it’s like she’s walked into a wall - but not, because she knows well what that feels like and it’s not this. It’s like she’s walked into a wall of cushions or something, just bounced off the soft air itself, and it’s strange.
Then Caitlin’s soft laugh rings out.
“Lily!” she exclaims. “You’re under the mistletoe!”
Oh. Well - that explains it. Lily’s managed to avoid the strange enchanted mistletoe every year til now, usually Caitlin steers her well enough by their linked arms that she doesn’t even have to think about it. But she has, of course, heard the horror stories - people trapped under it with their crush and nearly dying of embarrassment, even worse people trapped under it with someone they hate. They’d just walked past Greta and Zabini, after all, who since first year have been an unmovable object and an unstoppable force respectively, clashed nearly every day because of it, neither of them could have been in love with the mistletoe in that moment.
“Oh, Merlin,” Lily sighs. “So I guess you’re stuck too, then?”
Even as she says it, her brain is processing something. It’s processing slowly, too slowly, so that when she realises it fully she almost lets out a full comical gasp. She and Caitlin are stuck under the mistletoe - together. The enchanted mistletoe. Which only lets you out of its grips if you kiss - and, well - well, she’d - she’d be lying if she said she’d never thought about that before.
But never like this - never when it was real, never when it might actually, truly happen. Lily has thought about this, maybe, once or twice. The once when they were hugging and her face was buried in Caitlin’s hair and she could smell the most delicious fruity smell she’d ever encountered; the twice when Caitlin had applied Lily’s lipstick for her on the way to a party and her thumb had traced Lily’s mouth to wipe away the excess, and she’d been stood so, so close. But still. Never - she’s never really thought about it. Not beyond the way all girls think about their friends with a quiet kind of curiosity, she assumes. And now, they’re stuck under this mistletoe together, and she kind of has to think about it.
Then - Caitlin hmms, unlinks their arms, takes a few loud steps away, boots clomping on the stone and Lily’s heart in unison.
“Nope!” she says. “It must have only caught you.”
There’s a suppressed giggle in Caitlin’s voice; it curls around the edge of her words as wisps of smoke and seeps over to Lily like it’s aimed directly at that one, small, brief fantasy she had just barely entertained.
“Well, if I’m not under it with you, who am I supposed to kiss!”
“There’s people in the Great Hall,” Caitlin says, a halting kind of tone to her voice, like she stops before she starts and never quite gets going for real. “I - I mean, I could - ask? One of them?”
Lily mulls it over, thinks about asking who’s in there, but realises it would make no difference. Her whole life, there’s never been anyone’s she’s been interested in, not even enough to wonder about kissing them. When they were eight, and Caitlin’s family first moved to England, right down the street from Lily, and the two of them had become best friends for real - back then, they’d made a pact, when they were eight, to never go out with any boys because boys were gross, and instead just stay best friends forever. After all, they’d decided, they could keep each other company much better than a silly husband ever could. Lily sometimes wonders if there was magic in that pact, because it seems to have stuck with her for ten years now.
“Will you just do it?” slips out of her mouth. And - oops. She wants to throw her hands over her face, claw the words back out of the air before they reach Caitlin and bury them deep down where they belong, but it’s too late now - she plays it cool, hopes her face isn’t as flushed as she thinks it is and giving her away. “There’s nothing I want to kiss right now except a waffle, and we can’t get to breakfast until I’m out of this stupid plant’s way.”
A pause; a rustle, the shifting of clothes. The air around her moves, and suddenly Caitlin’s close, so close, so close that her breath ghosts across Lily’s cheek
“Okay,” says Caitlin, her voice no more than a whisper but still able to make every hair on Lily’s arms stand to attention. “Hold still.”
And then. Faster than she’d been prepared for, faster than she can register what’s happening, the touch of Caitlin’s mouth against hers. Just a quick press, nothing more, and Caitlin’s plump lips are sticky with gloss that wafts the smell of manufactured strawberries up towards Lily’s nose. And one of Caitlin’s hands just rests gently against Lily’s sleeve, a barely-touch. And then she pulls away, but not back, hovers just in front of Lily’s face, breath still ticking her cheek.
And Lily. She’s. She’s not sure. She’s - frozen. No, not frozen, moving, shaking, shivering, her mouth falling just the slightest bit open and her tongue darting out to check inventory of her lips, because it feels slightly like Caitlin’s taken them with her when she pulled away, like she’s taken all of Lily, that she’s a hollow-shell-girl now. Or, no, that’s wrong, she feels fuller than she did before, like she’s all of a sudden gained twice the amount of emotion and it’s weighing her to the floor. But, no, that’s wrong too, she feels - she doesn’t know what she feels.
Caitlin’s still so, so close, and her breath on Lily’s cheek is coming out a little harder, now, like maybe she’s feeling this too - out of breath, shaken. Like maybe her whole world has just shattered and rebuilt itself in so many ways, just like Lily’s has.
Sometimes, Lily wonders what Caitlin looks like.
She’s not completely ignorant, of course. She can feel the shape of Caitlin’s face under her fingertips to get a vague idea, the few times she asks to, she can tell that it’s round and soft with puckered lips. Has felt the changes in it over time, too, as they’ve grow up, from when they were eight to when they were thirteen, from thirteen to fifteen, from fifteen to now. The rest, though, she has to ask for, piece together from other people’s words and those vague, hazy memories of the day they met when they were four. Caitlin fills her in as best she can, really, through the words she’s always known how to use much better than Lily could even hope to. She paints pictures in Lily’s mind, pictures of long, tree-bark brown hair, hair that Lily can touch to feel its length and silky softness but only guess at the colouring of, without help. Pictures of the dark freckles that scatter all across her face, of the depth of her brown eyes.
Still. None of it’s quite the same as if she could really see Caitlin.
And yet, that somehow never quite seems to matter.
The things that matter are: Caitlin’s gentle touch - to guide Lily when she needs guiding, to comfort her when she needs comforting; and Caitlin’s sweet accented voice - the way Lily can pick it out of a crowd from a mile away; and Caitlin’s heart - how she is only ever thinking of everyone else, how she’d give up her everything for a stranger if she was only asked; and Caitlin’s strange smart mind - the pictures she paints with her words, almost as good as if Lily could see the world with her own two eyes, maybe even better because it’s like looking at everything through a lens of Caitlin; and as she now knows, the taste of Caitlin's sticky lip gloss - and the way it feels pressed onto Lily's own mouth, the rightness of it all, the strange inevitability.
“I love you,” Lily says, realises, all in the same moment. And it’s true. It’s true and it’s good and it’s real and it’s Christmas so if she doesn’t say it today, then when?
“I -” says Caitlin, “Lily, there’s people - watching.”
“I don’t care,” Lily tells, which is true, and there’s horror, for a moment, horror that it might not be the same on the other end and that Lily might just lose the best thing in her life because of this. But then -
She feels the rush of air towards her long seconds before contact is made, and Caitlin must have thrown herself into this kiss with her whole body to make that kind of impression. Their lips meet, and this time, it’s not a simple peck, this time it’s something, it’s something other, it’s - it’s tongues meeting and mouths moving and arms wrapping around necks, backs, hands gripping onto hips for dear life, it’s their bodies pressing together as close as two bodies can press, it’s Caitlin’s silly, disbelieving giggle into Lily’s lips and the way Lily has never - never - felt happier.
“I love you too,” Caitlin mutters into her mouth, breathless, begins to pepper Lily’s whole face with kisses. “I have forever. Merlin, Lily, I was so afraid I’d never get to say that to you.”
Later, they eat Christmas dinner in the Great Hall. Open their presents together in their dorm after that, trying to guess at what’s inside each parcel, laughing at their usual incorrect attempts.
They fall asleep on a sofa in front of the common room fire. Lily wakes up on Boxing Day morning to Caitlin snoring and drooling on her neck.
Later still - the rest of Lily’s life.
She spends a lot of it with Caitlin.