Chapter 16 : An Interlude
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abyss @ tda
Staying at Pemberley was strange, to say the least. She was seeing a side of James that she had never seen before, and admittedly, she was liking what she saw. This time, there was a flurry of butterflies in her stomach, instead of the one or two lazy ones that had sometimes flown about when she’d thought she’d fancied Snape.
Wait, pause, rewind. Fancy? She didn’t fancy James Potter, did she?
Lily tried to analyze it in a matter-of-fact manner. He was certainly different from what she had pegged him for at first; that much was true. There were the minor things, the things that she had misinterpreted about him-- willfully, as he had said, once upon a time. He wasn’t arrogant; he was just confident and sure of himself. He didn’t think that he was better than others; rather, he was blunt and unabashed, and sometimes, it came out wrong.
More importantly, he was not the terrible person that she had thought he was, when she had naively believed Snape and her own judgments. He was not unlike Sirius in his manner, and she could see why the two of them were best friends. And he was intelligent; he had proven that he could hold his own in a conversation with her, and sometimes even triumph in a battle of wits.
On top of all that, he was sweet. She saw the way that he treated his mother, his father, his friends, his house elves. She had read somewhere that the way to see what a wizard really was like was to see how he treated not only his equals, but also his inferiors. The way that James acted towards his house elves, then (and they all adored Master James, didn’t they?), seemed to signify that he was quite the person.
Oh, Merlin. Maybe she really was starting to fancy James Potter. But that wouldn’t do at all. After all, he was over her, she was certain of that. He had said so himself that he was perfectly fine with them being friends, which meant that he wasn’t trying to seek something more. And why would he, anyway? She had bruised his ego so much back at Rosings that it was a miracle he still wanted anything to do with her at all. It was another testimony to his good character, she supposed, that he still wanted to spend time with her, and give her the benefit of the doubt, something that she had not wanted to give him.
That was all right, though. Being friends with James Potter was brilliant, actually. They had fallen into an easy sort of friendship, teasing and using surnames non-sarcastically and enjoying each other’s companies. She didn’t want to ruin that by making things awkward between them again. She liked the easy state that they had fallen into, as if they were two misplaced puzzle pieces that had found each other again. Initially, they had been pushed together in the wrong sort of way, oriented incorrectly, so that they clashed. All she had to do was turn and see things in a new kind of light, and they would fit together perfectly.
Well, it was just a small crush. She would get over it soon.
“Want to take a ride on my broomstick, Evans?”
Getting over her crush on James Potter was not made easier by the amount of time they spent together--and the fact that sometimes, she was 99% sure he was flirting with her. (But that just might be his personality, her inner voice told her.) “You wish, Potter.” She looked up from her book for enough time to throw one of the couch pillows at his smirking face.
He caught the pillow deftly, stepping aside to reveal the Nimbus 1997 he had hid behind his back. “Mind out of the gutter, Evans. I don’t know what you were thinking about.” This was met with a snort from her; his eyes merely twinkled mischievously. “I was talking about an actual broomstick.”
“Of course you were.” She hoped he didn’t notice that the tips of her ears had tinged pink. “Where would we even fly?”
“The Quidditch Pitch, of course,” he said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“You have a Quidditch pitch set up here?” Her voice was etched in disbelief.
James looked amused. “I don’t see how you can still be surprised at this point.”
Well, he was not wrong. Pemberley was a huge estate, and the Potters were a wealthy bunch. Besides, both Potter men were obsessed with Quidditch. Installing a Pitch didn’t seem out of character at all. “No wonder you made the team in--what, second year, you said? Not quite an accomplishment. You have a sodding Quidditch pitch at home.”
“You wound me, Lily.” He clutched his chest dramatically. “Always trying to undermine my talents.” Dropping the act almost immediately, though, he gestured outside. “Well? It’s a beautiful day out.”
“I suppose,” she acquiesced, closing her book and getting up. She wouldn’t consider herself a Quidditch person by any means, but she had enjoyed the flying lessons she had had back at Hogwarts. She loved the rush that flying gave, though the residual fear of heights from her childhood usually prevented her from pursuing it. Yet none of her usual hesitance factored in. Strangely enough, she found herself readily agreeing to a lot of James Potter’s whims.
Maybe it had to do with the way his face lit up, like she had just made his entire world. “Brilliant. You’re welcome to join me, but if you want to fly solo, I can grab one of the spares from the broom shed for you.”
“I’ll fly with you,” she answered quickly. Not too quickly, she hoped. “I’m not sure I trust myself handling a broomstick alone just quite yet.” He looked like he was about to make another suggestive comment, so she shoved him playfully. “Oh, put a can in it, Potter. I’m serious.”
“Merlin, I hope not. I’d much rather share a broomstick with Lily, if you don’t mind.”
She rolled her eyes as he led the way through the grounds (Pemberley was big enough to have grounds! Actual grounds!) to the Pitch. It was almost a replica of the one at Hogwarts, and though she would not call herself a Quidditch person by any means, even she whistled appreciatively. “Merlin. When you said Quidditch Pitch, you actually meant Quidditch Pitch.”
Amusement laced his eyes. “Funny, when people do that. Saying what they mean.” Before she could shove him again, he had gracefully leapt onto his broomstick, hovering around her head. “Well, Evans, what are you waiting for?” he teased, holding out his hand to her as he lowered his hover so she could climb on. “Need me to show you where to put your hands?”
She found herself giving into the innuendos. “Oh, I have experience mounting,” she grinned mischievously, climbing on without his help and wrapping her arms around him. Two can play that game, Potter. “All I need is for you to help me ascend.”
She wished she could see the look on his face. “Did you just--”
“Hush, James, I’m trying to enjoy the flight.” She couldn’t fight the smile that spread across her face as they rose higher. “Ah, I missed flying.” The wind on her face felt amazing. “I see why you like it so much.”
“Exhilarating, isn’t it?” She could hear the happiness in his voice, and she hoped part of it was because of her. When she agreed, he added, “Just wait, you haven’t seen anything yet.”
There was something in his tone that she didn’t like. “Hold on, slow down--”
Too late. He began rising in altitude, only to swoop down so low it almost made her stomach drop. She was barely able to catch her breath before he started doing loops in the air and sharp turns and other tricks, as if she were on a roller coaster in an amusement park. One with only one car, no track, and hopefully a talented controller. It was all she could do was hang on for dear life.
Despite that, she found that she was enjoying herself. In spite of the daring tricks he did, he was an experienced flyer, and he never pulled anything she couldn’t handle. She might have felt terrified, but the rush of adrenaline was worth it. And for some reason, she trusted him completely, trusted that she was safe in his hands.
“Exhilarating, isn’t it?” he repeated as he cruised to a hover again just above the ground. He threw a look at her over his shoulder.
“Yeah,” she said breathlessly. “But we’re not doing it again.” She couldn’t even pretend to be mad at him, though, because her laughter shone through. “That was amazing,” she said, relishing in the beam he gave her as a result. Now it was her stomach that was doing the crazy swoops and turns. “How long since you’ve started flying?”
“Honestly? I’m pretty sure I learned to fly around the same time I learned to walk,” he laughed, getting off the broomstick and holding it steady so she could as well. “My dad bought me one of those toy broomsticks as a baby, and I was always zipping around the house.”
She thought about all the lovely vases and paintings in the Potter household. “Bet your mum loved that.”
He was probably thinking along the same lines. “She was a good sport. And that’s what magic is for, right?”
“Right.” Growing up as a Pureblood must have been interesting. She was very much intrigued by his childhood--and perhaps not just because of that. She was far more curious about James Potter than she would care to admit. “Thanks for that. That was fun.”
“Think you’re ready to try it on your own, now? I can go grab a spare for you.”
“You know what? I’d like that, actually.” Again, she was agreeing too easily.
Even he was surprised, but pleasantly so. “All right. I’m leaving my broomstick in your care in the meantime.” He handed it to her, smirking. “Take good care of it, yeah?”
She twirled the handle between her palms, smirk matching his. “Oh, I always do.”
His chuckle echoed behind him as he disappeared into the broom shed.
“I still can’t believe you grew up here.”
It was midway through the week, and the two of them were sitting on a bench in the garden. Lily’s eyes were wide with awe as she took in the sights. Like the rest of his house, it was huge and gorgeous. Flowers were artfully picked, and the garden was laced with paths, fountains, and statues. It wasn’t the usual backyard garden cultivated by aging parents; the place looked like a landscape architect was behind it. Despite that, the garden still had a warm feel to it. It was the kind of garden that you spent lazy afternoons in, not just looked at.
“Well, it was here and the cottage in Godric’s Hollow, and the villa in southern France,” he corrected. A pause, as he took in the look she gave him. “What?”
Strangely enough, she knew him well enough now that she knew he wasn’t trying to brag: he was just listing a fact of life that he had grown up with. Like his garden, he was artfully raised, yet not pretentious. “Nothing,” she shook her head. “It just baffles me sometimes, how differently we were raised. If you saw Cokeworth, you would probably keel over and die,” she joked.
He remained silent for a while, and it made her uncomfortable. Had she broken their bubble by bringing up their differences? Maybe reminding him of the disparity between their childhoods wasn’t a good idea, but it had slipped out before she had given it a second thought.
“I want to see it.”
That--hadn’t been what she had been expecting at all. Then again, she had learned to expect the unexpected from James Potter. “What, you mean Cokeworth?” He nodded. “Are you sure? It’s even worse than the sketchy neighborhood our flat was in.”
“Netherfield was starting to grow on me.”
“Ah, is that why you skived off after only two months?”
He gave her a look. “You know why we skived off.”
“Right.” She cleared her throat. Damn it, Lily--that was the second thing she shouldn’t have brought up. Reminding her kindly host of how badly she had treated him earlier wasn’t doing her any favors. “Anyway,” she continued, avoiding eye contact, “I don’t even know how we could get to Cokeworth from here.” A nice, subtle subject change. Congratulations, Lily Evans.
He went along with it anyway. “We can apparate.”
“I can’t apparate, remember?”
“I can, and I’ll side-along apparate you.”
Why was he so insistent on visiting Cokeworth? Lily briefly entertained the thought that perhaps he was just as intrigued by her childhood and her life as she was by his--but that was impossible. He had stopped fancying her ages ago, she was sure. “You don’t even know what it looks like. What if we get splinched?”
“Describe it to me, then,” he was quick to respond.
“I don’t see why you’re so interested in visiting Cokeworth.” For some reason unbeknownst to her, she cared a bit too much about what James Potter would think of her hometown and the stark contrast it bore to Pemberley. She was proud of who she was, of where she came from, of how far she had gone--and yet. It bordered her insecurities, reminded her too much of her identity as a Muggleborn from a poor town with too much to prove.
Unfortunately, he seemed to catch that. “I don’t see why you’re so adamant in my not visiting it. You’ve now seen where I grew up, why can’t I see where you grew up?” He turned to look at her, challenging. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that you were ashamed of it.”
James Potter was far too observant for his own damned good. He wasn’t spot on, but it definitely struck a nerve. “That’s not--”
“Lily,” he interrupted, and the way he said her name made her soften. “I really do want to see Cokeworth. I’m curious, and I want to see where you grew up, and it’s not like we have anything better to do anyway. And I don’t think I’m better than anyone else just because I grew up in some swotty old manor, if that’s why you’re having reservations.” His face was so earnest that she realized she wasn’t even cross at him--more at herself for being so transparent, and for forgetting the indignant pride she had grown up with. Cokeworth--she loved Cokeworth, and so what if he wanted to see it? What did it matter what he thought of it?
Why did his opinion of things matter so much to her, anyway? Even when they hadn’t been on good terms, back when they had first met, she had cared too much about his opinion, she realized. That was why she had allowed that awful first impression to cloud her judgment of him from then on.
“I’m sorry. It’s just--sometimes it hits a nerve, you know?”
“It’s all right.” He looked like he was about to say something more, but changed tracks entirely. “Tell me about Cokeworth,” he urged. This time, she wanted to.
She sighed, closed her eyes, imagining. “It’s an industrial town. You know--factories, smoky gray skies, terraced brick houses. Near a river. Kind of a scruffy old town, but it’s home. We make it home.” As she talked about her hometown, a fond smile crept its way onto her face. Had she opened her eyes, she would have seen James looking at her in a way that would have made her heart lurch. “We make parks out of abandoned dirt lots. We celebrate small victories at the dingy old pub at the corner of the street. We know everyone’s names, and we look out for each other. We don’t have a whole lot, but we make a hell of a lot from what we do have.” Maybe that was her life motto.
She opened her eyes, and blushed when she realized the intensity of the gaze he had trained on her. “Now I really want to visit it,” he grinned.
She grinned back. “Think you got enough of it to get us there safely?”
“Don’t underestimate me, Evans.”
She linked her arm in his, and with a crack, they disapparated.
Having Lily Evans at Pemberley was strange. The fortunate kind of strange, the I-had-lost-my-balance-and-fumbled-the-quaffle-but-managed-to-catch-it-and-score-a-goal-as-I-spiralled-down kind of strange. The I-thought-the-girl-of-my-dreams-had-slipped-through-my-fingers-but-surprise-here-she-is kind of strange.
James had been just about to give up on her and move on, and yet here she was, literally right at his doorstep. Fate works in funny ways: that was fate, wasn’t it? And he could have sworn that the slip ups when he allowed himself to flirt with her--well, she flirted back. Unless he was reading her all wrong, there was a high chance that she reciprocated his residual feelings.
That realization made him feel better than when Gryffindor had won the Quidditch cup his last year at Hogwarts. Lily Evans was gorgeous, yes. He had always had a thing for redheads, he’d admit. But it was her eyes that drew him to her first. Sparkling green eyes, which showed a spark of determination and fierceness when she was angry, which shone in warmth and rawness when she was sad, which radiated life and energy when she was excited. He could detect the many moods of Lily Evans through her eyes: and that was how he knew he was a goner.
He couldn’t help but be attracted to her. The way she wasn’t afraid to give him hell when he disappointed her, the way she challenged him, the way she intellectually stimulated him. Her laugh made him smile. She was kind and brave and funny and amazing and every bit the right kind of girl for him, he realized.
But she had rejected him so strongly at Rosings, and, well. He might have been as Gryffindor as you could get, but even he knew when not to cross a limit. Being friends with her was amazing enough, and he didn’t want to push his luck.
A/N: One full chapter of pure, unadulterated fluff. :') Not sure what it says about me that fluff is a little bit less fun to write than angst -- but eh, I thought they deserved a break from all the drama for a moment. ^____^
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