Chapter 17 : Petrichor
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“Go out with me, Lily?”
They were sitting together in one of the parlors on the first floor, her reading and him trying to. He was distracted, though, mostly alternating between studying her and watching the light fall of rain through the screen door that would lead to the yard outside. Only a second too late, when Lily had stopped to stare at him, her mouth posed as if she wanted to say something but was not sure what, he realized his mistake. His ears flushed, and his Adam’s apple bobbed, and despite the slight mortification, he could not help but wish that she would misinterpret him and say yes, because how wildly mad and incredible and brilliant would that be?
She did not do that, of course. Naturally. “James-- I thought--”
“I meant outside,” he corrected hastily, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach.
“Oh.” She looked-- relieved? Disappointed? He was not quite sure how accurate his reading was, whether he was just looking at what he wanted to be there, instead of what actually was. Meanwhile, Lily chanced a glance outside. “But it’s raining,” she remarked softly -- more of an observation than a protest.
“Only barely.” James was trying to calm down his heart rate. It was not working. “I like this kind of weather,” he admitted, when he realized that her bright green eyes were still on him. “It reminds me of Quidditch.”
“Of Quidditch?” Whatever it was that she had been expecting, it had not been that. “How so?” And then: “Does everything remind you of Quidditch?” She couldn’t help the tease.
It worked to alleviate the awkwardness. “Oi-- not everything. Just ninety nine percent of things,” he quipped. “On a more serious note, though: the rain reminds me of Quidditch practice. We’d practice in all sorts of weather, you know, even in rain a hundred times worse than this. Hell, even in raging thunderstorms. The captain was mad.”
“I thought you were the captain.”
“Exactly.” Lily grinned at his words, and she wondered how she could have ever possibly thought that James Potter was an arrogant arse who couldn’t care about any other damn thing in the world, when really, he was so good-natured and brilliant and funny. (And fanciable, but she was doing her best to ignore that.) His grin mirrored hers, and he continued, “I dunno, rain just reminds me of it. The thrill of defiantly flying through the storm, feeling it humming on my skin, the scent as it mixes with the refreshing smell of the Quidditch Pitch--”
“Petrichor,” she supplied, interrupting him. His explanation sounded a bit like poetry, she thought, though she knew that if she told him, he’d laugh. It was just-- he always seemed so passionate when he was talking about Quidditch, and his eyes lit up in just the right way, and she sometimes thought she fancied him something mad.
“Sorry?” He was thrown off; his voice pulled her back to the present. He doesn’t feel the same way anymore, she reminded herself. He had rushed to clarify that just minutes before, hadn’t he?
“Petrichor,” she repeated, this time with a smile. “That’s what they call the scent of rain on dry earth.”
“They have a name for that?” He was shocked. “I thought it was one of those things that you weren’t supposed to have a name for, on principle.”
And suddenly, oddly, wonderfully, Lily Evans was laughing. “James Potter,” she declared, “I never pegged you for the sentimental type.”
“It’s me being practical, not sentimental,” he disagreed. “Some things just aren’t meant to be named, you know? Words sometimes can’t capture the raw intensity of a moment, can’t really define how something can just consume you entirely, completely electrify you or overwhelm you with emotion or something strangely powerful like that. How can you put a name to that kind of a feeling?”
She wondered if he was reading her mind, because that was exactly how she felt. The entire time he had been speaking, their gazes had met, and she could feel-- what? Like he was seeing right through her, but more importantly, like he understood. Like there was something there, passing between them, jolting with the kind of intensity that he had just referenced.
How could you put a name to that kind of a feeling, indeed.
“Okay,” she said after a while, shaking her head to clear it of dangerous thoughts. The moment passed.
“Okay?” His voice sounded slightly off.
“Okay, let’s go out.” He raised his eyebrows infinitesimally. “...Outside.”
“I knew what you meant, Evans.”
“‘Course you did, Potter,” she said cheerily.
She got up and so did he, and they stepped outside into the yard. For a while, all they did was tilt their heads upwards towards the sky and breathe in that refreshing scent of rain on dry earth, together.
James was not sure how long they had stood like that, but after a while Lily had decided to jump into one of the puddles and laugh maniacally as it splashed him, and that had been the declaration of war.
Half an hour later, when rain started to pour even harder and James and Lily were very much drenched, partially from the heavens but mostly from the puddles, they had stepped back inside, laughing, him summoning towels for them to dry themselves with. They were dripping droplets all over the floor, and she had frowned that her hair was probably messed up something awful, but at that moment, he found her truly beautiful.
He suddenly felt confident enough to ask a question that has been lingering on the back of his mind -- for the past week or two, specifically, and for even longer, generally.
“You know,” he breached the topic, as she looked up at him, her clothes already dry from a spell she’d uttered and her hands wringing her hair with the towel, “earlier when I asked that--” A swallow. “Er, Sirius and I had planned on trying out this new restaurant for dinner, but he cancelled on me and I was wondering--”
That’s when the owl fucking collided into him.
He stumbled a few steps backwards from the surprise impact and then regained his balance, during which time the stupid owl, an express one from the looks of it, had deposited its letter into Lily’s hands. They’d left the door open; that was how it had bolted in, dripping wet but adamant. She was in the process of opening the letter when he continued, trying to regain his momentum, “I was wondering if you wanted to come with me. To dinner. It doesn’t have to be a date,” he rushed out, knowing that he shouldn’t press for too much too soon, and not daring to hope for anything further than baby steps, “but-- yeah.” It was a lame sort of finish, and he cringed. Smooth, Potter. So, so smooth.
But they were friends, right? So even in the chance that she’d reject him (he didn’t want to think about that, but it was a possibility) she would let him down nicely, wouldn’t she? At least then he would not have to live his life with what-ifs and regrets. It wouldn’t be at all like the last time, would it?
Wrong. He hadn’t dared to make eye contact with her, which was a good thing because at the two words, his stomach plummeted all the way to his feet. “Right. Okay.” He wondered if witches knew, if blokes sounded differently when they were speaking with their stomach at their feet. A swallow, just in case. He had thought-- he had been so much more careful this time around, and he had thought that maybe, just maybe, he had read her correctly. Evidently not. He tried his best to keep his expression neutral, as if it wasn’t a big deal. “You didn’t have to protest too strongly, you know,” he laughed weakly. Again, came the bitter thought.
“What?” Lily said again, but this time with a bit of confusion laced in, and noticing the hysteria in her statement that he had missed before, he looked at her. Her green eyes were wide, etched with worry and disbelief, and he was confused now, too. “Sorry, James, what were you saying? I didn’t hear you.” Her hands were trembling, holding the letter, and he could have sworn that there were tears in her eyes.
He realized that the earlier protest must have been towards the contents of the letter, not his question. Ah, bollocks. Insensitive Prat James Potter was at it again. “It wasn’t that important, anyway,” he lied. “What happened, Lily? Are you okay?”
She shook her head, blinking back tears, though a teardrop escaped anyway and began a rolling descent down her cheek. Instinctively, he reached his thumb out to brush it away, but she recoiled. He drew his hand back, as if stung, and shoved it awkwardly into his pocket. “Dorcas sent the letter,” was all she managed, before she turned on her heel and headed to her room. “She told me-- Marlene-- I have to go. I’m really sorry James, but I have to go.”
He followed her up the stairs and to her room, regardless. “What happened with Marlene?” he demanded a second time. Obviously something big, if she was taking her suitcase out and throwing everything into it as if her life depended on it. She looked so vulnerable, so sad, and yet at the same time so determined. This was the woman he loved, he realized, and he would do anything for her. It didn’t matter that she didn’t feel the same. “Here. Let me.” He took his wand out and waved it, muttering an incantation so that her items began neatly packing themselves into the suitcase.
(He was selfish, but he loved her enough to help send her away.)
She shot him a grateful smile, still teary-eyed, and then looked out the window. “It’s Snape,” she spat out, after a silence.
At the mention of the name, his insides churned with a cold fury. Snape. He kept reminding himself that Lily knew the truth about him now, but that didn’t stop the jealousy from surging in, mixing with the previous hatred and betrayal. Wasn’t it just pathetic, that that dirty, foul piece of scum had had more of a chance with her than James ever had? “What did he do this time?” he said stiffly.
Lily looked at him, and swallowed. “He kidnapped her. He tricked her into going away with him somewhere and now he’s demanding ransom money, or else he’ll kill her.” She took a shaky breath. “This is all my fault. If I had only thought to warn her about him--”
Her shoulders started to shake, and he was by her side in a heartbeat, pulling her towards him. Her chin rested easily on his shoulder, and he wrapped his arms around her. “Hey, Lily, listen to me. It’s not your fault, all right? Snape’s a scumbag, and it’s not your fault.” He felt guilty for liking this-- not the fact that she was so upset, but this, the fact that she was right here, in his arms, even if it was for all the wrong reasons. Maybe he would never be anything more than the friend with a shoulder to lean on, but he would take it.
“But it is, James. I should have warned her. I mean, I did try to, but I should have warned her better. I could have prevented this.”
“It’s not your fault,” he insisted. “If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine, for not exposing him earlier.”
“You’re being ridiculous. Stop trying to blame yourself, Lily, because that’s not going to help!”
She pushed away. Both of their tones had risen, and James took deep breaths to calm himself down. He hated seeing her so torn, hated seeing her beat herself up for something that wasn’t even her fault. She couldn’t help that Snape was an opportunistic scumbag who did anything he could for money. “Why is he asking you for ransom money, anyway?” he finally asked, as her alarm clock disconnected itself and flew over his head, into a spot in the trunk. There weren’t very many items left: his time left with her was limited.
“Not me or Dorcas,” she shook her head. “The McKinnons. Marlene likes hyperbole, you know how she is. From the way she talks you’d think her family was loaded. I think Snape thought so, at least. But they’re not. They might have the wealthy Pureblood name and reputation, but not the fortune to back it up: they lost a lot of their money some years ago because of a failed business venture. They don’t really have much except for the big, empty manor house that her parents are living in. Certainly not nearly enough to fulfill his demand.” She wasn’t even sure why she was telling him all of this, but spilling things to James Potter, for some reason, was surprisingly easy.
Except James hadn’t said anything. He had remained silent for all of her explanation, and for quite some time after that. “You’re all packed,” he finally said, and sure enough, just on cue, her trunk clicked shut.
Her attention diverted to the trunk and she went over to pick it up. “Yeah.” The panic, which his presence thus far had surprisingly helped to assuage, came seeping back in. “Merlin, I really have to go now.”
“You can use the floo in my study.” He seemed to have closed up for some reason, and Lily wondered if it was because of the reminder of the types of people her friends were, or even of her lot in life, that she couldn’t afford ransom money for her friend. He wasn’t that type of person, she knew, but maybe it all was overwhelming nevertheless, and he realized that he really didn’t want to get involved with Lily Evans any further. He couldn’t wait to get rid of her, it seemed. She couldn’t blame him; she always seemed to create a mess wherever she went.
“Thank you.” She rose her eyes to meet his. “For everything.” He didn’t say anything, merely giving her a curt nod, and she smiled sadly. The last she saw of him as she left the room was the image of him sitting on her bed-- the bed she had temporarily borrowed, she corrected herself-- with an unreadable expression, bunching his hands around the sheets. Then she stepped into the fireplace in his study, and the green flames swept her away.
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