Chapter 1 : I Loved You First
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I loved you before you loved her. I loved you before she loved you.
James takes a deep breath and runs his fingers through his hair, his quill scratching the parchment as he repeats writing the same line etched multiple times above: I must not put Regurgitation Potion in the Slytherins' breakfast. At the table next to him, he can hear Sirius muttering under his breath as he counts the number of lines he has written, unsure as to whether he has written the required two hundred and fifty lines. Curiously, James quickly glances at his best friend's sheet of parchment and realizes that Sirius has forgotten to number his lines.
"Mate," he whispers under his breath, "don't forget, when you've added them all up, start numbering them so you don't lose count again."
"I worked that out for myself, thanks," Sirius mutters in response, before exclaiming loudly. "Dammit! Lost count!"
James looks up to see their professor glaring at Sirius with contempt.
"Mr Black, I assure you that I would much prefer to be watching the match instead of supervising your detention, but Professor Kettleburn felt that missing the match might help you to learn your lesson more effectively, and I have to say, I agree with him. Now, you can either remain silent and hope the Snitch isn't caught before you finish your lines, or I can add fifty more for using inappropriate language."
"No, no sir," Sirius answers quickly, bending down to recount his lines.
James resumes his writing, but before long he is distracted by the sound of a loud cheer erupting from the Quidditch pitch.
"SHE SCORES! ELLA MAX SCORES FOR GRYFFINDOR! SEVENTY-NIL TO THE LIONS!"
He sighs, running his hand through his hair once more. It is the final match of his second year, the match that is supposed to be his and Sirius’ first Quidditch Cup, but their detention has prevented the both of them from participating in the game to the fury of the Gryffindor Captain. James is not sure whether he should be grateful or not that replacement players could be found, because Ella Max, the girl who has taken his place as Chaser after narrowly missing out on the position last autumn, has scored four of the seven goals so far. He remembers being neck-and-neck with her at try-outs, and only winning the position because she lost her balance when swerving to avoid a Bludger — a rookie mistake made by inexperienced flyers. Clearly, Ella Max has been honing her flying skills because according to the commentary that James can hear, she's drastically improved since the beginning of the school year. He just hopes that the Captain will not decide to replace him with Ella next year, although he cannot deny that it is a possibility.
"Mr Potter," their professor says sharply, "I haven't seen your quill move for a whole sixty seconds -- at least. Is there something you require? Ink? Parchment? An attention span?"
"No, sir," James answers, shaking his head before returning to his lines, wishing as he continues writing that Professor Kettleburn had not happened to be walking past the Slytherin table at the time the regurgitation potion had taken effect. Perhaps then, the punishment that he and Sirius are enduring would not be so severe.
Less than a hour later, both boys have completed their detention and are walking towards the Quidditch pitch, where the game continues. As the Gryffindor Seeker flies low to the ground, searching for the Snitch's possible location underneath the stands, James hears him swearing loudly about the sentient golden ball with wings. To James' right, Sirius groans. Concerned, the boy turns to look at his friend, who is watching the players, and so looks up to see an unfamiliar Beater clad in red and gold ducking away from the Bludger. James is tempted to complain about the Beater being counterproductive to the team, but before he can open his mouth to speak, there is a loud whoop from the half of the stadium decorated in yellow and black.
"BAXTER HAS SPOTTED THE SNITCH!" the announcer screeches. "Baxter's heading towards the Snitch now, no sign of Williams -- no, wait, Williams has spotted it too and is closing in on Baxter, but I think it might be too late -- AND BAXTER'S CAUGHT THE SNITCH! HUFFLEPUFF WIN THE CUP ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY TO SEVENTY!"
Sirius lets out a whine, and James too is disappointed. The Gryffindor players begin to descend towards the pitch and James immediately runs forward, determined to console his teammates, Sirius close on his heel.
"Sorry we didn't win, Rob," Linda, one of James' fellow Chasers, sighs, patting the back of the Gryffindor Captain.
Rob is clearly disappointed, nodding only in response. However, when he sees James, he grins and extends his arm to pull the younger boy closer to him, his other arm outstretched in the other direction to pull Ella nearer so that the three of them are in a huddle.
“Right,” Rob says, looking at the two second-years. “Lindy’s graduating this summer, so we’ll need a new Chaser come September. I think, with a little bit of practice, the pair of you could be good together. You’ve both got the natural talent, and with the right plays, the three of us could be the best Chaser lineup next year.”
Ella frowns and shakes her head quickly, a motion that causes her blonde curls to bounce upon her shoulders. “Not a chance in hell. Yeah, I tried out for the team before, but he wasn’t on the team then.”
James nods. “She’s right. We have absolutely nothing in common — she’s a stuck-up princess —”
“— and he’s a pretentious, egocentric bully —”
“— but you do, even if you don’t realize it,” Rob answers with a smirk. “You see, you both agree on one thing at least, so I’m sure if you actually tried to put your differences aside, you could work together brilliantly. In fact, I’ll tell McGonagall now that we won’t need to hold try-outs next year — Lindy’s the only one leaving, and with you on board, Ella, we’ll have a full team, and you can start practicing with us straight away.”
“But…” James splutters, incredulous. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see that Ella has a similar expression. Rob, having clearly decided to risk Filch’s wrath by entering the castle still in his grass-stained, sandy Quidditch robes that threaten to dirty Filch’s gleaming floor, is whistling cheerfully.
“So,” Sirius announces, stepping into the spot previously occupied by their Captain, “we’ve got a new slogan for people to put on their banners, apparently.”
James raises an eyebrow and turns to his friend, who has clearly been eavesdropping on their private conversation. “What is it?”
“Potter and Max, the dynamic duo.”
Because they were always meant to be secret.
“Why are they giving us so much homework?” Sirius exclaims in frustration, throwing his quill onto the table and attracting hushed scolding from the librarian. “If the sixth- and seventh-years are telling the truth when they say NEWTs are harder, then I’m dropping out of school after these OWLs.”
“We could all drop out and start up a business selling flying motorbikes,” Peter suggests.
James knows from his friend’s tone that he is being only half-sarcastic, but the sarcasm seems to have gone completely over Sirius’ head.
“Oooh,” he says, “that’s a good idea, Wormy.”
“You need money to start up a business, and Gringotts automatically turn down any applicant who doesn’t have NEWTs,” Remus says, his eyes firmly fixed on the textbook in front of him. “Sirius, would you move your quill? I can’t read the rest of this sentence.”
“Move it yourself,” Sirius grumbles, leaning back into his chair so that it balances precariously on its back legs.
Their brunet friend raises an eyebrow. “The last time I picked up one of your quills, it ended up being a Sugarpaste Quill you’d been chewing on. My fingers were sticky for an entire week after that.”
Sirius groans and lets his chair fall back into its natural position with a loud thud before removing his quill from where it landed on Remus’ textbook.
“Would you please mind being quiet?” Lily’s familiar voice complains. “Some of us are trying to do our homework.”
Surprised to hear her, James turns to see Lily sitting alone at a nearby table surrounded by books, frowning at the boys.
“I’m doing my homework too, Evans,” Sirius retorts, gesturing at his essay in front of him by waving his hand wildly in the air, and in the process, accidentally slapping James in the face and knocking his glasses askew.
“Padfoot!” James yelps, adjusting his glasses with a frown.
He is rewarded with a loud shushing sound made by the librarian, followed by a hushed warning that further noise will result in eviction. Lily, however, appears to be unwilling to give the boys another chance and stands up, quickly piling her books on top of each other before lifting them.
"Evans," James calls out, intending to issue an apology on behalf of his friends, but Lily turns around and gives him a scornful expression, muttering certain choice insults that he is sure would make Snape's greasy, poker-straight hair curl.
"You know," Remus points out from behind James, "it might have helped if you'd addressed her politely."
"But I called her by her name!" James quickly answers before realization dawns upon him. "Oh. Should I go and apologize?"
"If you do, take this with you, but let me read it first," Sirius says.
Puzzled, James turns to see that his best friend has left his seat and is standing where Lily had been studying, holding a florally patterned notebook in his hand.
"Is that Lily's diary?!" he exclaims in a hushed tone.
Sirius shrugs. "Looks like it. Do you think she writes about Snivelly in here? We still haven't found out what his worst fear is, have we?"
Tempted, James stares at the closed diary for a few seconds, visualizing the moment he can finally give Severus Snape a taste of his own medicine, after Snape's goons saw his Boggart and Transfigured their candles in class to into his worst fear instead of mice. And yet, he is unwilling to exact his revenge by making Lily or anyone else suffer an invasion of privacy.
"Best not, mate," he sighs, staring at the diary wistfully.
Huffing, Sirius hands the book over, but as he does so a photograph falls out from between the pages. James picks it up, noticing that it is a Muggle photograph -- probably taken over the summer, since he has heard that some of Lily's friends stayed at the Evans home. In the picture, Lily and Ella are standing on a beach, their cheeks pressed together as they stand with their arms wrapped around each other, facing the camera. For a moment, Janes is confused at the presence of the photograph -- if Lily has an habit of keeping pictures of her friends tucked into her diary, there ought to be more pictures of other people -- Snivellus, for example, although his absence is pleasing. However, he quickly discards the thought: clearly, it must have been in Lily's bag so that she could show it to her friends for whatever inexplicable reason compels girls to like looking at holiday pictures, and was tucked into the diary to protect it from creasing. It is something that James has done himself, many times, with not just photographs but letters and homework and spare parchment.
"You'd better get moving, Prongs," Peter says. "If you wait too long to catch up with Lily, she'll probably suspect you and Sirius of reading the diary even though you haven't."
"You're right, mate," James answers, before bolting out of the library. As he walks briskly down the hallway, unable to run lest he attract the attention of the professors walking past, he sees Lily walking alone and resolves not to make the same mistake again. "Hey, Lily!"
She turns around, glaring at him vehemently. "What do you want now?"
"You left this in the library," he explains, proffering the book and the photograph. "And here, the picture fell out when we picked it up. I didn't read it, I swear."
Lily looks up at him, and her expression is visibly nervous. "You swear you didn't read it?"
"I'll swear on anything you like," James nods.
For a moment, Lily stares at the diary and the photograph. James is slightly unnerved by the glint of fear that he can see in her eyes, uncertain as to the reason. Even though he understands that Lily most likely suspects him of reading her diary -- despite the fact that he did not -- he has no idea why she appears to be afraid of what is concealed within. Surely she knows that he would never blackmail her or use that knowledge against her? Most likely, he suspects, she has probably proclaimed her love for Snivellus in the pages. And while the girl may have awful taste, James knows that who you fall for isn't within your control.
Eventually, she looks up at him and smiles. "Thank you, James. I'm glad you were honest enough to return it -- I can think of plenty of people who wouldn't be."
Clearly, she means the Slytherins -- and not Sirius, because he would have returned it after reading -- but he doesn't ask her to elaborate. He can't shake himself of the gut instinct that despite the fact his explanation is the only one which makes sense, it is not the correct answer.
"Have a good day, Lily," he answers.
"You too, James," she says.
James looks at her suspiciously. If Lily is not in love with Severus Snape, if she only considers him a friend, then what she is so afraid of James discovering?
And then finally, the penny drops. Of course. It is him who Lily harbours a secret desire for, although she is too shy to admit it yet. Flattered at this thought, James grins. With this newfound knowledge, he will charm Lily into his arms before the year ends -- of that, he is certain. He smiles and walks away, back to the library, whistling as he mulls over the concept of dating a bookworm -- according to Sirius, they're much more surprising than the ditzy, make-up-obsessed girls.
Perhaps he'll ask Lily out at dinner tonight. In front of the entire Great Hall, how can she possibly say no...?
Severus knew. Even though you were the only Gryffindor girl in our year who didn't judge me for being friends with him, you were still a much more socially acceptable friend than he ever was. And yet, he knew me better than you. I was scared. I lied. I kept a part of myself hidden, worried that you would see right through me. He was the only person at Hogwarts I could trust with the knowledge that I loved you. Somehow, he wasn't the only one who did.
I didn't mean for Marlene to find out.
Even now, I'm not sure how she knew. She says it was obvious, but I never saw how it could be. I never saw her real motives, either. I believed her when she said she was completely understanding of my feelings. In the end, she was just like me and you.
We were all liars.
The snowball careers past James and hits the back of Lily's head with a splatter. This causes Lily to turn around indignantly, scoop up some snow and throw it -- at James. He has no time to duck out of the way, and is victim to the chilly ice colliding with his face.
"Lily," he hears Sirius call out in the distance, "I don't fancy a snowball lobbed at my head, but Prongs will probably hex me later if I don't tell you that it was my snowball that hit you. I was aiming for him."
"Sorry, James!" Lily exclaims as James wipes the snow from his glasses, before turning to Sirius with a frown. "Aren't Beaters supposed to have good aim?"
"I do have good aim," Sirius retorts. "I'm just used to hitting with a bat, not throwing with my hands."
Lily raises an eyebrow. "Ella, is that true?"
Surprised, James turns around to see Ella approaching the group, hand in hand with Marlene as she pulls the younger girl behind her. The blonde appears dishevelled, with her school blouse unbuttoned at the top although she does not seem to realize it.
"What's up?" she asks. "Did I hear someone say my name?"
"We all know that you've got good aim when you throw things with your hands," Lily says, "but the question is, would you still have good aim if you were hitting things with a bat?"
Ella muses for a moment, clearly thinking over her answer to Lily's question when Sirius lets out an indignant cry.
"She's going to say the opposite of what I said, of course! She's Lily's best friend!"
"Well," James shrugs, "in that case, why don't we ask someone impartial? Marlene? What do you think?"
Instantly, Marlene blushes, the pink of her cheeks more noticeable against her sleek brown hair. James can't help noticing that her eyes are darting towards Ella in a silent plea for the blonde to step in, and momentarily wonders why his friend has brought Marlene to the snowball fight they'd arranged with the belief that it would be just the four of them. Obligingly, Ella diverts the attention from Marlene -- but James does not expect her to turn to him with her arms crossed expectantly.
"Why don't we ask James?" she says.
"Wouldn't that be counterproductive?" Lily queries. "You know, since he's Sirius' best friend so he's just as biased as Ella would be."
Ella smirks, glancing first at her flame-haired friend and then at Sirius. "Actually, we all know that James is head over heels for Lily, so he's biased towards you both, which consequently makes him impartial since it's a decision that involves choosing one or the other."
"Not necessarily," James interrupts, glaring at his blonde friend for stating the obvious in front of Lily. While his feelings are not a secret to his friends - hell, even the whole school knows - he does not want to remind Lily of that and risk making her uncomfortable. After spending the past few months building a friendship with her, James does not want anything to jeopardize losing that friendship. "Some people have good aim regardless of however they throw, while for others it depends on the method. Lily and Sirius are both right."
Sighing, Ella says nothing further. Sirius grins, before exclaiming that he sees Emmeline Vance, a fellow Gryffindor in sixth year like Marlene, and bounds off to ask her out to the Hogsmeade trip. The three girls are clearly confused while James rolls his eyes in exasperation: in a bid to "encourage" him to ask out Lily, his friends have arranged to go on dates and therefore be unable to accompany him to the village, knowing that he hates visiting Hogsmeade alone.
"Your button's undone," Lily says suddenly, having clearly just noticed Ella's attire.
Ella looks down and swears loudly before buttoning her blouse, struggling to do so with her thick gloves. James wonders why she is not wearing a scarf as most people are, but before he can ask the question, out of the corner of his eye he sees Marlene bend down, scoop some snow into her hands and fling it in Ella's direction. Immediately, Ella rushes to retaliate, and James is about to join in when he sees Lily walking away.
"Hey, Lily!" he calls out, abandoning all thoughts of a snowball fight and jogging to catch up with her. "Are you okay?"
She nods. "I'm fine, I just don't want to be in the way."
"You aren't," James insists.
"I don't know about that," Lily sighs. "Ella and I used to be so close, but that's all changed ever since she became friends with Marlene. I mean, look at her -- she'd obviously been snogging in a broom closet before she met up with us, but I didn't even know she's got a boyfriend. It kind of feels like we're drifting apart, and I hate it."
James sighs, before tentatively putting his arm around Lily and hugging her close.
"I honestly don't think Ella means to push you out," he says. "Maybe between the novelty of having a new friend and a new boyfriend, she's having trouble dividing her time between you all -- I'm sure you'll back to normal in no time. In the meantime, I'm here for you."
Lily smiles gratefully. "Ella and I were planning on Christmas shopping at Hogsmeade weekend, but I don't know if we're still doing that. I can't avoid making plans just in case she wants to come or not, so... Maybe you'd like to come? I know Remus said that he and Peter were going on a double-date that day, so --"
"-- Yes," James blurts out. "Yes, Lily, I'd love to come to Hogsmeade with you."
I wish I could tell you the truth. I wish that there was an opportunity to admit that James hadn't been my first choice, although I don't regret falling for him. And maybe, if you were a man instead of a woman, I could have. But you aren't and you won't ever be, and I can't risk telling you the truth.
I know it sounds stupid -- I'm a Gryffindor, I'm supposed to be brave. And when bravery involves other people then I can and will be, but myself?
I wish I could be like you. I wish that like you, I was brave enough to be who I am.
James is careful not to make a sound as he walks through the hallway. He has learnt from prior experience that the sound of footsteps is a warning to any rule-breakers, having been a rule-breaker himself during his younger years. To a degree, he still is, but nevertheless he is Head Boy now and cannot afford to jeopardize his position when it has earned him newfound respect from Lily, who has admitted that she is impressed with his new behaviour.
Suddenly, as he nears an empty classroom on the second floor — generally unfrequented by most students as it is furthest away from their common rooms — he hears the sound of a girl's giggling and immediately slows his pace to listen for the source. After he hears the voice of a different girl, he deduces that it is from the empty classroom and opens the door, expecting to see two younger students gossiping about their roommates or studying away from the hubbub of the common rooms since the library is now closed. He does not expect the sight that he is presented with: Ella, with her lips pressed against Marlene's and her hand roaming the brunette's body while Marlene entangles her fingers into Ella's hair and lets out a small gasp. For several long moments, James is unable to look away in shock until Marlene finally catches sight of him, whispers into Ella's ear and within seconds, the girls spring apart. Afraid that they will assume that he has been spying on them -- despite the fact that technically he was, although just for a few seconds -- James looks down at the patterned rug quickly and attempts to regain his composure.
"Five points each from Gryffindor for being outside the common room after curfew. Back to your dorms now," he says much too quickly, his nerves rampaging through his body as he struggles to comprehend what he has just seen.
Without a word uttered in response, Ella and Marlene sidle past James and begin walking in the direction of Gryffindor Tower. James follows at a much slower pace, his eyes firmly fixed upon the floor in front of his feet to ensure that he does not walk into a suit of armour, which occurred the last time he felt this shocked.
He does not understand it. He cannot fathom how Ella Max, a girl he has known since their first year and been friends with since the beginning of their third year, can possibly be attracted to another girl. James has grown up learning that relationships are composed of a boy and a girl, not a girl and a girl or a boy and a boy, and yet he was taught by his parents that who you love is something a person cannot control. Granted, they were speaking of his Uncle Charlus' marriage to the impossible, purism-obsessed Dorea Black, but the justification is the same. Their words can be applied to any couple, including Ella and Marlene. And in that case, what is James supposed to believe? How does he act now? Does he pretend that nothing has happened and behave as if Ella is perfectly normal, or does he acknowledge that she is a girl who is in love with another girl?
"Prongs! Wait for me!" Sirius' familiar voice shouts from behind him.
James slows his pace to allow Sirius to catch up, frowning when his friend does so. "Do I have to take more points from Gryffindor for being out after hours?"
Sirius looks at James uncertainly, his expression bewildered. "Mate," he answers, "I'm on my way back from detention. Remember? Filch made me clean the trophy room?"
"Sorry," James sighs. "Forgot about that."
"What's the matter, Prongs? This isn't like you," Sirius queries, an expression of concern etched upon his features.
Freezing momentarily, the raven-haired wizard sighs, attempting to buy himself some time to decide whether he ought to tell Sirius what he has just witnessed. There might even be a chance that Sirius already knows -- he and Ella have become close friends this year instead of sparring as usual -- and yet James is too afraid to take that risk.
"I've just got a headache," he lies.
Sirius nods, seeming to accept without question the untruth, before both reach the staircase leading to the portrait of the Fat Lady. To James' dismay, Ella and Marlene are standing in front of the portrait, attempting and failing to wake up the Lady -- he does not particularly want to speak to his friends until he has decided what the most appropriate type of behaviour in this situation is. However, Sirius bounds up the stairs three at a time, bellowing the Lady's name. When he reaches the top, he squeezes in between the girls and puts his arms around their shoulders, beaming as the Fat Lady opens her eyes blearily. James follows at a slower pace, hoping that they will have entered by the time he reaches the portrait. Sadly, luck is not on his side and he finds himself climbing through the portrait-hole directly behind Ella.
As they enter the common room, one of Marlene's friends instantly drags her away to discuss some homework while Sirius makes a beeline for Remus, who appears to be -- up until Sirius' arrival, at least -- comfortably reading a book by the fireplace. Distracted by his friends, James doesn't realize that Ella has grabbed hold of his sleeve until she pulls at it, subsequently dragging him into the direction of the boys' dormitories. Once they are inside James' bedroom, Ella closes the door behind them and points her wand at the mahogany wood.
"That doesn't always work," James interrupts, pointing his own wand at the door. "Muffliato. There. Now, why did you drag me up here?"
"We could hardly have talked in the common room," Ella snaps sharply, before visibly regretting it and exhaling as she sits down on the nearest bed.
James is compelled to tell her that the bed in question is Sirius', and that he spent the afternoon eating smelly blue cheese on the duvet -- in fact, he is sure there may still be a few crumbs precisely where Ella has just sat. However, he fights the urge to change the topic and remains quiet, unwilling to interrupt his friend.
"You can't tell anyone what you saw, James," she finally says, after a long pause. "Not Sirius or Remus or Peter, and especially not Lily. Do you understand?"
"I understand," James begins, "but --"
"-- no buts," Ella interrupts, cutting him off before he has a chance to ask why not even her best friend is permitted to know. "Remember those stories about Davy Hodgson?"
James remembers. Although Davy Hodgson had left the school long before he and Ella started Hogwarts, the tale of his disgrace has been passed down from older students to younger ones, usually as a warning not to do anything overly scandalous. A long time ago, Davy Hodgson was a Beater and Captain of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team -- a fact that James can verify after cleaning his trophy no less than sixteen times -- and according to the rumours, one night after practice, he attempted to kiss the Seeker of the Quidditch team, who was also male. The aftermath is where the rumours conflict -- some people say the Seeker was so angry that he put Davy in the hospital wing, while others claim he walked away, promising to keep Davy's homosexuality a secret but then announced it at breakfast the following morning. They all end the same way though: once the whole school found out, then Davy Hodgson, a sixth-year with a promising future ahead of him and the potential of becoming Head Boy, left Hogwarts in shame. Some say that he transferred to another school while others say he was home-schooled, but all agree: Davy Hodgson never recovered after his fall from grace.
"I don't want to be another Davy Hodgson," Ella says softly. "I know that I'm a freak, James." He is surprised at her bluntness, but before he can say anything, she continues speaking. "I know that I'm not normal, because everything my friends describe about their feelings for a boy -- that's how I'd describe my feelings for a girl, for Marlene. I've accepted that. It's something I can't change, and I'll understand if you don't want to be my friend any more. But I only have a few more months left at Hogwarts; I don't want to end up like Davy Hodgson, and I definitely don't want that for Marlene either."
James shakes his head vehemently. "I won't tell, I promise. But surely there's someone you can trust? Lily? She's your best friend -- it must hurt lying to her."
"It does," Ella admits. "But Lily was brought up in this sheltered picture perfect world -- she was probably taught a bunch of stupid misconceptions, and it's hard to change your philosophy when it's all you've been brought up with. Look at Sirius; he cried when he ran away from his family because he missed them and he loved them, even though in the end it was him who went against everything they believed in. Do you want that for Lily?"
"No," James sighs. "I don't."
There is a long pause, where neither of them speak, the awkward tension in the room increasing with every tick of the clock. He wants to break the silence, to say something, but he doesn't know what to say. Out of all the words in the English vocabulary, there are none that seem to fit with this situation.
Suddenly, Sirius barges in while talking nineteen to the dozen, followed closely by Peter, who is paying close attention to Sirius' monologue. Ella quickly stands up and moves away from the bed towards the door, stopping it mid-swing before it closes.
"Thanks for showing me that Quidditch play, James," she lies.
He gives her a nod of acknowledgement. "I won't tell anyone, not until you're ready."
She smiles, murmurs a quiet thank you, and walks away.
After all, I thought that we would never be a couple. I would never be able to wake up next to you in the morning, at least not in the same bed. I wanted to seize the chance while I could. I memorized everything about you: the way your curly hair is always darker at the top and lighter at the bottom even though you don’t dye it, the barely-noticeable freckles scattered around your nose and underneath your eyes, the curves of your body visible even though your duvet was wrapped around you.
I wish I had known the truth. I wish I had known that you were like me, a girl who liked girls, because maybe then I could have told you how I felt.
I wish that it wasn’t too late for us to be a couple, because damn it, even though I’m falling in love with him and he says that he loves me, I loved you first.
In the middle of the Gryffindor common room, James stands and takes a deep breath. Normally, there would be forgotten possessions scattered around the room, while students sat on armchairs and at tables, talking amongst themselves about the day, their homework and any weekend plans they might have. James used to be one of those students, but now it ends. He is alone in the room because everyone else is busy studying for their last exams of the year or packing their belongings, ready to go home.
Suddenly, the Fat Lady's portrait opens. Startled by the sound, James turns to see Marlene entering the room, a pile of books held tightly against her chest.
"Hi Marlene," he smiles politely. They have not spoken often since he discovered that she and Ella are in a relationship, partly due to the whirlwind of NEWTs, Quidditch and Head Boy duties that James is inundated with, but also partly because Marlene seems to be avoiding him, although when he suggested the prospect to Ella, she denied it vehemently.
“Hi James,” she answers. “Are you free right now? You’re not waiting for your friends?”
He shakes his head. “No, they’re all busy. I’m supposed to be packing, but it feels too quiet. For the last seven years, I’ve been packing while Sirius is shouting about losing his stuff, Remus is trying to make all his books fit into his trunk and Peter’s talking about his plans for when he goes home. It feels strange to do it alone.”
Marlene nods. “I kind of get it. Emmeline and I normally revise together for exams, but she’s at home at the moment — you heard about her grandma’s death? — and I don’t know to explain the feeling; it’s just strange without her. Like she’s always been around, and now she’s not.”
James smiles at her gratefully, glad that she doesn’t consider him a lunatic. However, he is surprised when Marlene throws her books onto the seat of a nearby armchair and takes a step closer to him, and then another.
“Marlene?” he queries, confused at her unorthodox behaviour.
She steps closer, placing one hand on his shoulder and running it down his chest.
“I didn’t want to tell you,” she says, “but you’ll probably find out from Ella and really, I’m not the kind of girl who just waits around hoping that the guy she likes will ask her out.”
“Wait,” James answers, placing his hands on the brunette’s shoulders and pushing her away. “Marlene, what are you talking about? I thought you were with Ella…?”
Marlene shakes her head. “We broke up. Just now, actually.”
“Oh,” he replies. “Sorry. Is she okay?”
“Of course she is,” Marlene says — quickly, too quickly, causing James to look at her suspiciously. “Okay, she’s a little upset, but she’ll be okay. We weren’t that serious, anyway.”
James can’t help but wonder at the truth of Marlene’s words. Instantly, the memory of the night he walked in on Ella and Marlene returns to the forefront of his mind, and so does Ella’s reaction. He remembers the glint of fear in her eyes, and the almost-pleading tone of her voice as she begged him to keep their relationship a secret. Surely she wouldn’t have behaved that way if she considered Marlene just a fling? Before James can ask any further questions, however, Marlene resumes speaking.
“I broke up with Ella because I wasn’t in love with her — I’m in love with someone else, James. I’m in love with you.”
There is a pause of silence as James stares at Marlene in shock, but before either of them can say anything further, the portrait door opens and a distraught Ella walks in, wiping away the tears that are rolling down her cheeks, closely followed by Lily.
You lied to me, and you didn’t even have a proper reason why. Yet, despite that, I still cared about you. I was careful not to bring up the topic of girlfriends unless you did first, I was careful about how I behaved around you so that I wouldn’t give out the wrong messages without realizing. I wanted to tell you how I felt, but I knew that wouldn’t be fair. Even though it broke my heart to listen to you mourn your relationship with Marlene, how could I admit that I loved you first when I love James now? Although you never said it outright, I always suspected that Marlene was the first girl you’d fallen in love with, and I didn’t want you to live with the thought that the first girl you loved never loved you.
And yet, by the time I felt I could, it was too late to tell you.
The Muggle street is bustling, crammed full with people jostling past each other. In the crowd, James’ eyes keep flickering between the people in front of him and the hand-drawn map in his hand, searching for his destination. On either side of him, Sirius and Ella are pestering him with questions, having been dragged on this covert shopping trip without being told the reason for their presence. James refuses to answer their queries, however, remaining quiet until he finally stops abruptly outside the shop he wishes to visit. Bewildered, his friends look up at the window, and their eyes widen in surprise.
“Oh,” is all Ella says, despite the fact that only moments ago, she was uttering so many words in such a short space of time that James internally wondered how she was managing to breathe.
Sirius does not say anything at all. James wants to ask his raven-haired best friend if he is all right, but is aware that the trio are obstructing the pavement and instead pushes the door open and enters, closely followed by his friends. Behind the counter, an elderly man is bent over the counter cleaning a necklace but upon seeing that customers have entered, straightens up and smiles.
“Good morning,” he says. “Can I help you today?”
James nods. “I’d like to buy an engagement ring, please.”
Instantly, the gentleman’s gaze flickers to Ella, who quickly puts her hands up in surrender.
“No, I’m not the bride-to-be! I’m her best friend — at least I hope so,” she jokes, causing both Sirius and the jeweller to laugh while James frowns at her.
“Lily’s the only girl for me,” he says, before turning to the jeweller and retrieving a photograph from his coat pocket. “Lily’s father came here and bought his engagement and wedding rings from this shop; here’s a picture of them. According to her mum, she’s always wanted her rings from this shop.”
“You’ve asked the father of the bride for his permission then?” the jeweller asks. “Ah, I remember these rings. I remember every ring I sell, you see. Evans, is it?”
Sirius seems impressed by the jeweller’s memory. “Bloody hell, you remember them all?”
“Language,” Ella tuts, her annoyance audible in her tone as she elbows Sirius in the ribs, while James nods in confirmation.
“Do you know what Lily’s ring size is?” the man asks.
Reaching into his pocket again, James pulls out a ring. “I pinched this from her jewellery box this morning,” he confesses, “so I’m really hoping that the only reason it’s there is because she doesn’t wear jewellery often and not because it doesn’t fit.”
The jeweller chuckles softly, before retrieving a tray of rings from underneath the counter. “These are all in a similar style to the ring your mother-in-law-to-be has; do any of them catch your eye?”
“Ella,” James says, eyes widening at the varied selection available, “a little help?”
In response, she takes a step back. “No can do, this is entirely on you.”
“Please?” he asks.
She sighs, stepping forward to inspect the tray closely before pointing at four different rings. “These are the ones I think she’ll like most.”
James looks again, this time at the specific four that Ella has chosen. One of the rings caught his eye the moment he saw it, and since it is one of the four that Ella has narrowed his choice down to, he points at it confidently.
“That one. Definitely.”
The jeweller smiles and compares Lily’s ring to his sizing chart before returning it to James. “I don’t have the correct size here, but if you don’t mind coming back in a hour, I can have my son resize the one we have in our workshop.”
“Ooh,” Sirius says. “I’ve always wondered how Mug-Mum got her ring resized; do you think I’d be allowed to watch?”
“Hey,” James complains mock-indignantly. “You do realize I brought you along because I need your help planning the proposal? You’re going to be my best man, obviously.”
Sirius cocks his head. “I thought the best man was supposed to plan the stag night, not the proposal?”
“Oh, go watch the resizing,” Ella interrupts. “I’ll help you, James.”
“Thanks,” he smiles as he approaches the counter and begins counting out the money for the ring.
A few minutes later, once the ring has been paid for, James and Ella are walking out of the jewellery shop. Ella is glancing around, searching for a cafe or restaurant where they can sit for the next hour, when James blurts out a question that he cannot restrain himself from asking.
“Did you ever think you’d get married?”
Ella is visibly surprised, but answers the question nonetheless. “Of course, when I was little. I mean, with four sisters, weddings were a topic that came up often. But once I got older, and I realized that I like girls the way I’m supposed to like guys, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen. I could never get married to a man I didn’t love — he’d hate me and I’d hate him and it would probably end in divorce.”
“What if you could? You know, if women could marry other women?”
The blonde scoffs. “I doubt that’d ever happen, but if it did… yeah. I probably would, if I found the right woman.”
“Lily?” James asks.
Bewildered, Ella turns to look at him. “What do you mean, Lily? Do you mean, did Lily ever think she’d get married?”
“No,” he answers. “I know you and Lily are close, and you were even closer at school before we graduated and… did you ever think that Lily might be, you know, the right woman?”
Ella shakes her head. “Nothing ever happened with us, James. I promise.”
He nods in acceptance and smiles before putting his arm around her shoulder and leading her towards a cafe he can see down the road. And yet, as they walk away, he cannot help but wonder why she did not answer his question.
And yet, it doesn’t change the fact that I loved you before I loved him; quite possibly before he loved me, too. Definitely before you fell in love with her. Perhaps even before she loved you — because I think she did, in her own way.
I loved you first.
Many Seasons Later
“Thank you for coming, Mr Potter,” William Max says to James, shaking his hand. “Ah, my dear Lily, could you go in the kitchen? It’s the room just opposite — Polly’s doing some baking to try to keep herself busy, but I think what she really needs is a good cuppa and a chat.”
“Of course,” Lily answers before leaving the room in search of Polly.
“By the way, please call me James,” the raven-haired wizard says. “I wish I knew the right words to say here, Mr Max; I’m sorry for your loss genuinely doesn’t feel good enough.”
The elderly man sighs. “Please, call me William, and honestly, the fact that you’re here is a major help. I want to help Polly, but I just seem to be getting under her feet. I feel like talking about her would be helpful, but she refuses to even say her name.”
“Your wife and granddaughter were close, then?” James asks.
William nods. “We were both close to Ella — I know we’re not supposed to have favourites among our granddaughters, but if we did then Ella clearly was. She got along with us far better than she ever got on with her mother; they were very similar, both of them quite stubborn and reluctant to admit if they were in the wrong. I think it was just the fact that neither of them were willing to back down first that led to their estrangement. I’m glad that she had you and your wife for friends though, James; I know Polly and I did our best to be there for her, but we’re not getting any younger and I think she was worried about giving us stress.”
“Everyone’s stressed at the moment,” answers James, before he glances out of the window. “It looks like a nice day — do you want to go for a walk?”
“That sounds lovely,” William says. “I think I need the fresh air, to be honest — I’ve not left the house ever since Polly and I found out what happened to Ella.”
The two men leave the house, walking for several minutes without a word. James can’t help but feel like he ought to say something to Ella’s grieving grandfather, given that she was his friend ever since the end of their second year, but he has no idea what to say.
William is the one to break the silence. “I know Ella and Lily were best friends at school, but what about you? She didn’t speak of Hogwarts very often — she always said she missed us and the farm and she wanted to enjoy her summers without thinking about school. We know a little bit, but not much.”
“Ella and I weren’t friends at first,” James admits, “but then she joined the Quidditch team. I didn’t like her at first, because she originally came on as my replacement during a match — I was in detention that day, you see — and I was worried that she was after my position. But then another girl graduated school, and Ella took her place, and our Captain that year made us work together more closely than most others would have. It was his last year, so instead of training us to work with him as a trio, he taught us to work as a duo so that we were a good team the following year and could work easily with whoever replaced him.”
“He sounds a smart boy,” William answers.
“He was,” James agrees. “Half the school used to call us Potter and Max, the dynamic duo.”
William chuckles, before they approach a tree in the corner of a field.
“Ah, James,” he says. “I was wondering if you could help me with something?”
“Yes?” the wizard asks.
Pointing at the tree, the farmer sighs. “Polly and I always wondered who the lad was… we went through every boy who lived in the village and none of them had those initials, so we thought maybe he was from school. I know it might be a long shot, but you might be able to guess who he might be?”
James turns to look at the tree in confusion, before realizing that a heart is engraved in the bark and within it, two sets of initials separated by a plus sign. He reaches out to touch the engraving, his thumb running down the spine of the L upon it.
“His name was Lawrence Edwards, but most people knew him as Laurie,” James lies, after a few. “He was in our year but we didn’t have much in common — we were cordial, but we weren’t close friends. Ella used to have a few classes with him, though, so maybe they dated for a little while or she had a crush… I remember that he was a good guy. I honestly think if they had been a couple, he would have treated her well. And if she had a crush and he didn’t feel the same way about her, he’d have let her down nicely. He was an upstanding guy.”
William smiles, seeming to be comforted by James’ deception. “Thank you; I’ve been wondering who he was for years.”
“I’m glad I could help,” James answers. “If you have any more questions, either you or your wife, please don’t hesitate to ask me.”
“Thank you,” Ella’s grandfather nods, smiling gratefully. “Just knowing that she died protecting other people… that’s enough for me. But her sisters, they’re young, they’re full of questions… if they ever ask, I’ll ask you. But personally, knowing she was a hero is enough.”
There is the sound of a bell ringing from the direction of the house, which startles James. William, however, does not appear to be surprised.
“Polly’s made food for us,” he explains to the younger man. “I can hear that bell anywhere on the farm, which is better than having Polly shout herself hoarse. Better get moving, though: the bell means there’s five minutes before the food’s on the table.”
James nods and follows William back towards the farmhouse. Yet, before he is barely a few steps away from the tree, he turns to survey the engraving in the bark once more, just to be quite certain that he didn’t make a mistake. And he has not, because the letters within the heart remain just the same — Ella’s signature upon the earth; a reminder that once upon a time, she existed.
That once, she was someone — someone who had been in love.
Author's Note: This was written for Ravenclaw333's Ladies Loving Ladies Challenge, with the femslash ships being Lily/Ella and Ella/Marlene, in case you were wondering ^.^ This is the longest one-shot I've ever written (I originally estimated it at being around 3k and it's now triple that, haha) so I'd love to hear your feedback on this -- particularly on the ending, since I was frantically trying to get it finished in time for the deadline. Even one little line would make my day ♥
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