September of 2020 (21 years old)
James Potter, considerably knackered after a week that had stretched on almost endlessly, watches with apathetic eyes as his brother downs his pint of bitter ale in one chug. Sirius Black does so with the amount of detached coolness that has been his trademark ever since he uttered his first word, disgraceful, which he claims to have rightly directed at his own mother.
“Impressive,” James says, not impressed at all. “Thank you for the demonstration.”
“It’s your turn now,” Sirius replies pointedly from across the table, gesturing at the lukewarm pint that James has been hanging onto for the last hour.
“I’m good, thanks.”
Sirius stares at him, contempt evident on his face. “Disgraceful.”
“Do not compare me to that woman. And we’re too old to be plastered every weekend! Tell him, Remus.”
He turns to Remus Lupin, pleading for backup, but his mate is currently ignoring their existence in favour of aggressively typing on his phone because of some work-event that no one was buggered enough to inquire about.
The fourth seat at their favoured table in the Three Broomsticks is filled by Peter Pettigrew, who’s currently staring dreamily at the bar, his entire face red as a tomato. His resistance to alcohol is practically nonexistent, so James knows he won’t be of any help here.
“I don’t even know who you are anymore,” Sirius says, spitting the words like they leave a sour taste in his mouth. “Nothing would’ve stopped you a year ago.”
“A year ago we had this exact same conversation. The year before that, as well.”
“I’ve been clearly trying to tell you something.”
“That I was funner to be around at seventeen,” James shrugs. “I get it. I just don’t care.”
“Fuck this,” Remus says suddenly. He raises his head and extends his hand over the table, letting his phone slip from his fingers and tumble over the wooden surface. “I’ll drink with you, Sirius.”
“There!” James enthuses. “Remus will drink with you.”
“That doesn’t make you any less of a disappointment,” Sirius says flatly. He gets up. “I’ll grab us drinks. Would you like some sugar with your tea, James? A bit of milk?”
“Just milk, please.”
Sirius snorts before marching off.
“Bring water!” Remus calls out after him.
“And a pint for me!” Peter chirps, balancing himself extremely far on the back legs of his chair, precariously holding onto the table with both his middle fingers.
“If you want him to die!” James chirps just as happily.
Whenever Peter drinks, there’s a 50/50 chance of him doing something stupid before the night is over. He’s constantly attempting to prove that he’s courageous, a word that leaves his mouth only on the occasion of him being irreversibly plastered. They’ve had proper conversations about it, all of them led by Remus, the only one amongst the four that was more concerned than amused by Peter’s life-challenging tendencies. It doesn’t seem to have helped all that much.
Since falling off from a chair is incredibly preferable to throwing himself out of a window (Sirius posted that fall on Youtube under Pettigrew’s resurrection), James and Remus don’t even blink at Peter’s adventurous business with the chair tonight.
“Why did you come out today?” Remus asks James, barely sending a glance to Peter when he starts to sing Dua Lipa’s Don’t Start Now. “I thought you would give it a rest this week.”
“Sirius called mum and told her I’m neglecting him.”
“The bit about the trauma caused by his biological family, I assume?”
“Ah, that old strategy.”
“It works every time,” James laments. “I have no idea how I still fall for it.”
“Look!” Peter stops singing to scream and point frantically at something with both his hands, which were supporting his weight thus far.
He predictably starts to fall, his eyes bulging out like they usually do when he realises that there's no coming back from whatever shit he's pulling. Such panic has been thoroughly tested and lasts ten to twenty seconds, depending on how much he’s injured afterwards, and then he’s right back to acting recklessly.
The fall seems inevitable and he’s already halfway through his descending route when James, known for his extraordinary reflexes, manages to grab the back of Peter’s chair.
Remus sighs loudly, but it’s unclear if he’s relieved or exasperated.
“Don’t be a tosser,” James chastises, patting him on his back. “Wait until Sirius gets back, if you're really keen on falling.”
“That’s why he keeps doing this shite, you know,” Remus raises an eyebrow at him. “You keep encouraging it.”
“I’m joking!” James says, raising his hands in defence. “He knows that. Don’t you, Pete?”
Peter stares at him as if he were not paying any mind to the conversation, whatever he was pointing at before completely forgotten. “Oui?”
James and Remus exchange exasperated looks. The French has started, which is never a good sign.
(Ten seconds later their courageous companion tries to turn the chair into a one-sided seesaw again. In response, James keeps kicking the legs of the mistreated furniture back onto solid ground.)
It’s a couple minutes before Sirius is back, managing to hold three pints and a water bottle. He looks like the cat who got the cream, which, considering the impasse of tonight, is a little bit worrying.
“Where’s my tea?” James demands.
“Oh, you won’t need it,” Sirius says, putting the drinks on the table and sitting down. He raises his eyes and smirks right at James, sliding a beer over to him. “You will never believe who I just saw over there by the bar.”
James merely looks at him, too proud to ask.
“...Who?” Remus intervenes.
Sirius leans over the table, gesturing at some people near the bar. James rapidly peers at them in the gold lighting of the pub and finds nothing abnormal, but then Sirius goes and springs on him two words that his brain has been wired to never ignore.
“See that girl next to the bloke in the godawful red shirt? That’s Lily Evans.”
James’s heart instantly backpedals.
“What?” he asks, his voice going up to shameful octaves.
He turns around to look again and clumsily raises his arm to tug at his own hair. His elbow knocks over one of the pints that Sirius has brought, sending the glass flying towards the ground. A shaken James tries and fails to catch it before it falls, but is much too slow. The glass breaks, spilling beer everywhere, and the loud noise attracts the attention of the entire room.
So much for extraordinary reflexes.
James looks back towards the bar. A few people have moved away and now it’s impossible not to make out that deep red amongst the heads that are very much staring at them.
Wide-eyed and terrified out of his mind, James does the only thing he can reasonably do.
He reaches out for one of the remaining pints and downs it in one chug.
December 2013 (14 years old)
They’re all in his room because he’s called on an urgent meeting.
“The thing is,” James starts, inhaling deeply to get through the task of unwrapping this incredibly well-hidden secret. “I… I think I… might fancy her. A bit.”
He stares at his three best mates, breathing in and out heavily whilst he expects a reaction. His poor, fourteen-year-old heart is beating too fast. He’s never told that to anyone.
Sirius gets up, puts both hands on his waist, stares at him for about a minute and then promptly leaves, all the remaining eyes following his figure across the room. He slams the door on his way out.
“What?” a wide-eyed James asks. “What just happened?”
He looks searchingly at Remus and Peter. The first one is staring at the ceiling, obviously trying to contain a grin, and the second is mindlessly cutting his nails with James’ nail clipper (he’s got to remember to wash it later because Pete’s nails are horrifying).
“We already knew it,” Remus says in that gentle tone of his that means he’s silently mocking him. “It’s quite obvious.”
James feels a sudden pain to his chest. “What? You think so? How?”
“The entire school talks about it,” Peter responds without raising his head. “Lily knows.”
James sits down on the bed. He puts one of his hands over his galloping heart.
It can’t be.
“Everyone knows,” Peter continues mindlessly. “Just the other day, Hagrid asked us about it. We said it was true.”
James just looks at him, his vacant eyes devoid of any lasting hope.
“He’s joking,” Remus intervenes hurriedly. “We told him it might be true…”
James Potter is dying because of a heart attack at fourteen, and he hasn’t gotten the opportunity to kiss Lily Evans once.
Rosmerta has barely left their table with the remnants of the pint, sighing vigorously at James’ pitiful excuses, when Lily starts to dodge the crowd currently blocking her path, skilfully forcing her lean frame into the empty spaces as she nears them with a blinding, heart-stopping, Hollywood-worthy grin on her face. James is a lesser man for immediately tracing her long legs in the tights and skirt she’s wearing. Her red hair is longer than it ever was back in school, when it had only reached her shoulders, and it falls in waves to her elbows now.
She is, as usual, magnificent.
“Bloody sodding fuck,” James murmurs.
Sirius barks a gleeful laugh. “I thought you might say that.”
James doesn’t have enough time to attempt to string words together and answer because suddenly she’s right there, those remarkable green eyes as warm as he remembers, like no amount of years have gone past at all.
“I cannot believe this,” she says as she stops by their table and looks at all of them in turn, amusement clear in the way her lips angle up at the corners. “The skies have kind of warned me, but I didn't expect meeting all of you at once!"
“Lily!” Peter greets. “Salut!”
They all get up to talk to her. She goes to Remus first, the closest one to her, and hugs him tightly. The two of them had been great friends back in school and they still seem to have the easy camaraderie that James used to envy. Lily moves onto Peter and Sirius next. All the while, James’s mind is working hard to try to process her sudden presence, like he’s watching a fantasy of his suddenly solidify into real life.
Of course, he’s thought of her since they parted ways back in school and imagined what could’ve been if he’d ever taken his shot, but a long time has gone past. He shouldn’t be feeling as if Christmas and a house of horror have been suddenly wrapped into one, confronting him with the one thing that he wanted and feared the most at the same time.
He’s severely miscalculated this.
He prays to whatever listening deity that she won’t notice how floored he is when she turns to him. “Alright, Evans?” he asks, trying to get the first word in to convince himself he's in control of the situation.
“James,” she says, her lips twitching at the corners, and there goes any possible expectation of functioning as a regular human being. “Hello.”
They stare at each other until she sighs amusedly, like she’s somewhat put upon by the sight of him, and walks the two steps to where he’s standing. She raises herself up on her toes to give him a hug. He holds her waist carefully to balance her for the few seconds that she keeps her arms around his neck, not holding as tight as he would like to, lest she discovers just how affected he still is by her.
She smells the same, that citrusy scent that had plagued him for so long in school, and it’s a flashback to times when everything was relatively easier except for how much he felt for this girl. It’s a sad irony that he was able to experience that much emotion when he didn’t know what to do with it, how to channel it in ways that could endear himself to her. Now that he’s older and much more certain of who he is and how relationships actually work, he hasn’t been able to replicate the heart-breaking, world-shattering, confidence-wrecking love he’d felt for her.
Until now, that is.
She pulls back. His brain barely registers that his mates are watching them because he’s too preoccupied trying not to think of how depressing it is that this girl has such a strong impact on him. Still.
Lily sweeps his face with her eyes, unaware of the revolution she’s causing on his internal organs.
“You’re taller,” she accuses, pressing a finger against his chest. He hopes she can’t feel how his heart is currently auditioning for the percussion section of the London Symphony Orchestra. “How is that possible?”
“I’ve been eating loads of vegetables,” he lamely answers.
“Bollocks. I’ve been, as well, but here we are,” she gestures at herself.
“You look great,” he says, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he can contain them.
She raises an eyebrow, good-humoured. “Oh?”
“Yeah,” he says, his brain internally blasting a sound similar to a fire alarm. He points at his own chair to quickly change the subject. “Here, come sit with us.”
“Oh, no, I can’t. I have to get back to my friends or they’ll be mad at me for bailing.”
“It’s been too long,” Sirius cuts loudly, casually settling back on his seat, “we’ve got priority.”
“It’s hardly my fault that you disappeared off into the world,” she says, turning around to look at the others.
“You were ardently missed, though,” Sirius says, looking smugly at James over her head. James wants to give him the finger, but refrains from it.
“Ardently, you say?” she tilts her head.
“Ask Remus,” Sirius suggests.
“I can testify to that,” Remus agrees, the bastard. “Wasn’t it true, Peter?”
“Can’t remember,” Peter says frankly, shrugging.
“I imagine it wasn’t you who missed me, then?” Lily asks Peter.
He makes a half-half gesture.
She laughs freely at that. "Well, Peter, I missed you the most."
“You’ve got to stay, Evans,” James hears himself saying, making her snap back towards him. Now that she’s here, the last thing he wants is to see her walk away. “It’s been too long.”
She seems to roll this over in her head for a second, her eyes not leaving his, before she bites down a grin. “I’ll let them know. Don’t keep drinking without me!”
“Of course not,” Remus agrees. “We’ll wait.”
She waltzes off, entirely unaware of what she’s leaving in her wake.
James’s stupid, foolish heart starts its stretching to take part in a race that ends in a dead-end road, as he damn well knows. His eyes don’t leave Lily’s silhouette all the way across the pub.
“Things haven’t changed at all, have they?” Remus notes amusedly.
“And here I was, thinking you weren't seventeen anymore,” Sirius says, and without looking James knows he’s smug as fuck.
“She’s so pretty,” James groans in lieu of an answer.
“Stop stating the obvious,” his brother demands, “and go get yourself a drink.”
James stares dazedly for another second before doing as he’s told.
June 2014 (15 years old)
James is sulking. And only here because he strictly has to.
He spent the entire weekend up in his room licking the wounds he’s acquired recently on his last attempt to get Lily Evans’ attention.
It had been an incredible mess that ended with Lily calling him an arrogant toerag, even though Snape was the one saying hateful things towards her. James feels more guilty than hurt because of that, since it seems that he might’ve hurt her in the process of trying to humiliate Snape.
He is hurt, though, because she had said that he was just like Snivellus, which is the worst thing that she could ever say, except for saying that she’d rather eat copper than date him.
(Of course, she had also said that.)
He can’t help but wallow in all of it – the fight, the subsequent weekend, the solitude of his self-imposed isolation – whilst he leans against the door of the Chemistry classroom. He’s too early, earlier than anyone else. Slughorn decided they should take a test that’s worth half their grade, which is why he knows he’ll have to face her, but he has gotten here uncommonly early to try to avoid anyone.
After about ten minutes of messing idly with his phone, he pockets it and sighs, leaning his back on the wall and sending a look at the empty corridor. Just as his eyes tediously land on the far corner, someone appears, walking briskly in his direction. He looks away quickly because he never has to look twice to know that it’s her.
James is an emotional wreck by the time that she – distracted by something in a book that she’s reading – raises her eyes and sees him there. She stops cold in her tracks. It’s a few beats before she moves again, cautiously, and stops by the other side of the door.
He still hasn’t looked at her.
“You’re early,” she notes evenly.
He’s startled out of his misery, sending her a baffled look. She’s not looking at him. He follows her cue, staring at the wall on the other side of the corridor. There’s an incredibly interesting rubbish can there. “So are you.”
“I’m always early,” she informs him. “I have a free period before this.”
“Ah.” He nods as if he didn’t know.
Silence falls upon them. James counts how many stones there are on the wall from top to bottom whilst trying not to let his broken, wasted heart roll off the sleeve he’s been precariously dangling it on.
He should say something, he knows. He hates Snape more than he’s ever hated anyone on the entire Earth, more than he thought possible to hate another human being, but this time that rivalry has affected her. She doesn’t deserve it, not any of it, least of all to fight with a mate because of him.
He only wants good things for her.
“I’m sorry for what happened last week,” he mumbles, swallowing his pride as he follows the irregular pattern of the wall with his eyes. “I didn’t want you to get caught up in it. I didn’t mean—I know it doesn’t change anything, but I never thought something like that would happen. It wasn’t intended.”
She’s silent. He shoots a look at her and sees that she’s staring at her blue trainers, touching the tips of them together. She has drawn tiny flowers on them with her sharpies.
“You’re not responsible for what Snape said,” she says, raising her eyes to him. He feels their landing physically, like a weight on his face. “You’re only responsible for what you did.”
He nods tightly, although he’s not feeling guilty for what he did, but for hurting her.
“I gave some thought to what happened,” she continues, one of her hands, the one that’s not holding the book, tucking her vivid red hair behind her ear. “Your behaviour was awful and you were bullying someone and that’s not okay. That being said, I don’t think you’re a toerag.”
James blinks at her. “Don’t you?”
“No, not really. But the rest of it I meant.”
James doesn’t know what to make of it, has no idea how to retort, so he just rolls his head along the wall, staring ahead again, trying to make sense of it in his head.
It’s a lot of honesty. She obviously isn’t very fond of him, but the fact that she would even consider talking to him when he was the one to cause the entire situation is honestly much more than what he’d expected. He can only go up from here, right?
“The bit about my hair?” he jokes weakly.
Lily makes a frustrated noise in the back of her throat, refusing to engage. “You can’t treat people like that, no matter how little you like them, Potter.”
“But Snape is so—"
“It doesn’t matter,” she says, irritation colouring her words. “We aren’t talking about him.”
“Right,” James mumbles.
“I expected that from someone like Avery or Mulciber, not from you.”
James tightens his lips together, hating to be set in the same category as those two scumbags.
Lily sighs when he doesn’t answer and gracefully sits down on the floor, extending her legs and leaving her bag by her side. She opens her book again, apparently keen on ignoring him now.
He clears his throat after a minute or so of silence, unsure on whether to interrupt her reading.
“Am I forgiven?”
She looks up at him slowly, her green eyes calculating.
“Will you think about what I just said?”
“Yeah, I will,” he says hurriedly. He means it... Probably.
“Okay,” she agrees, then lowers her eyes. “I’ll think about it, too.”
An insurmountable weight is taken out of his chest. He nods and drops himself down on the floor, not nearly as elegant as she was.
He tosses a question around in his head for a few minutes, considering the possible outcomes, before giving in.
“What you’re reading, Evans?”
James knows how this goes for himself, which is why he places a chair for Lily between Remus and Sirius, so he’ll keep her at as much of a distance as the round table allows. It’s a coward move, but it’s a smart one, too, so she won’t be able to see how nervous he is. He’s hoping that every inch of distance will be a deterrent to the roaring ferocity with which his old feelings are making themselves known.
When she gets back, beautiful and flustered and glowing, she finds a seat and a drink waiting. She looks at the beer and then at James, although he hasn’t a clue how she knows he was the one to get it. “Thank you for this.”
“Don’t mention it,” he dismisses casually. Under the table, his fingers nervously tap his legs.
“My colleagues weren’t very happy with me,” Lily says conversationally, shouldering off her jacket and hanging it with her handbag on her chair. James notices the way her long-sleeved shirt has a round cut that shows her freckled collarbones and the curve of her breasts, before forcing himself to move his eyes away. “But I explained how long it’s been. I think the last time I saw all of you was back at… Mary’s party? 2018?”
“2017, I think,” Remus corrects.
“God, it’s been such a long time,” she says, frowning. “I thought we would keep in touch much better than we did.”
“Probably our fault,” an apologetic Remus says. “We weren’t in London for some time.”
James looks away, holding back a wince and knowing full well it had been mostly his fault.
“Oh, yeah, I had forgotten about that,” she says, resting her chin on her hand. Her eyes hold his when he looks back at her. “So how was your trip?”
The four blokes stare at one another, wondering where to start.
They tell her about the gap year all of them took before deciding what to do with their lives. There are stories that come out easily – that time when Sirius almost got arrested in Greece, the months spent tending tables in Nigeria, how they lost a legless Peter in the streets of Amsterdam – and others that they tell more carefully, not wanting to stereotype places, but letting her know how much their time travelling changed their way of understanding privilege and social inequality.
Lily is a vivacious audience. She cackles at their antics and asks interesting questions about the places they visited. When they get to the most serious bits of what they have seen, she settles down on her seat, attentive and careful.
"Wow. Some adventures you had," she says at last.
“We’re lucky bastards,” James concludes, his third pint empty. He decides that that’s enough for tonight.
“Fucking bastards,” Sirius agrees drunkenly, hitting his umpteenth glass on the table.
“And courageous too!” Peter heroically raises the water Remus has convinced him to drink.
Remus refuses to engage, smiling as he takes a swig of his beer. He looks at Lily, shrugging, as if saying what can you do, they're idiots, and she grins widely, possibly because she has always been aware of that.
July 2016 (17 years old)
A chilly wind has emptied the enormous pool in the McKinnon’s yard about half an hour ago. Marlene McKinnon invited mostly everyone well-liked from sixth form for her birthday party.
Lily is sitting on one of the chairs around the pool, wearing a light blue sundress that makes her look like a fairy or something equally ethereal, her swimming ensemble — a yellow bikini that James won’t ever, ever forget — already discarded. He spent the entire afternoon pretending not to pay attention to her, whilst obsessing quite strongly about the fact that he’s been blessed with the sight of her navel.
Her hands move around excitedly whilst she talks to Marlene and Alice. Her hair is slowly regaining its deep red colour again now that it’s drying. It’s softly caressing her shoulders whenever she moves—
She chuckles at something that Alice says. She’s too pretty today. Every day. He’s thought about asking her out so many times but he doesn’t want to make her uncomfortable. It would be too fast, anyway, she’s barely started to laugh at his jokes—
Someone throws a sandal at his head.
“Ouch!” he says, one hand flying to his injured bits, his eyes finding Sirius’s hand still raised from attacking him. “What?! Bloody hell, what—”
“Stop being a creep,” Sirius says evenly, laying on the blanket they had extended on the grass.
“I’m not,” James responds, shivering. He forgot to bring something warmer to wear after swimming and is definitely bound to get a cold.
“Either go on and talk to her or stop bothering us,” Sirius says.
“I’m not doing anything!”
“The waves of pining you’re giving off are depressing,” Sirius replies. “Look at Pete. Doesn’t he look sad?”
“I’m not pining,” James hisses. “And Pete’s fine.”
Peter shrugs magnanimously, sitting by Sirius’s side. “Could be better.”
“It’s sad to watch,” Sirius informs.
“Bugger off,” James mumbles, before sending Lily another look. He sighs, giving in, and turns his body to sit facing his friends instead of the love of his pathetic, sorry life.
There are a thousand chairs to sit all around the lawn, closer to the pool, but Peter had brought the blanket and no one wanted to hurt his feelings by deeming it unnecessary. Anyway, it's nice to sit away from the lights for a bit. It’s possible to see many stars from here as the sun sets definitely. It's been awhile since James has left London and seen the sky properly, so he's certainly not complaining.
“Where’s Remus?” James asks, noticing for the first time the absence of their friend.
“Talking to Meadowes,” Peter says lazily.
Sirius raises his head to look, hiding a yawn on his arm. “Could teach you a thing or two, couldn’t he?”
“He could probably teach all of us a thing or two.”
“You need it more,” Sirius says, gesturing with his chin to something behind James.
James turns around. Quite certainly, the two groups – Remus and Dorcas, Alice, Mary, Marlene and Lily – have come together and are quickly approaching their spot on the grass, a bunch of comforters on their arms.
He looks back at his friends, widening his eyes. Sirius sends him an amused smirk.
“May we join you?” Lily’s voice asks, amused and beautiful and just the kind of thing James would love to hear every day for the rest of his life.
“We brought comforters and human heat,” Mary says.
“Be our guests,” Sirius answers, gesturing at the spaces vacant on the blanket.
“Ta,” Lily responds before dropping herself down right by James’s side. He tries not to stare at her whilst the others get comfortable, but she tilts her head to capture his eyes. “Cold, Potter?”
He blinks at the full force of her beauty being so close to himself and tries incredibly hard not to be a git. “A bit, yeah.”
“Here,” she says, handing one of the promised comforters. “Marly’s mum is giving out some of these now.”
“Oh,” he says, sounding especially dim-witted. “You won’t need it?”
“We can share,” she answers naturally, not even blinking in the face of his absolute shock. “What? Go on, I’m cold too.”
“Yeah, sure. Alright.”
He drapes the blanket over his shoulders, holding one end for her to get under as well. He has absolutely no idea on what’s happening to the others, since he’s trying with all his might to not die of absolute elatedness.
She gets under it, leaving some space between their bodies, and curls the comforter around herself.
James thinks this is what heaven must feel like.
“Better, eh?” she asks, hugging her knees. Her nose is red.
“Much,” he agrees, going for smooth but probably failing. Freckles splatter across her nose and cheeks, ones that weren’t there the last time he saw her. “Cheers, Evans.”
She grins at him before turning back to their friends.
By the time Rosmerta nears them, the last filled table in what had been an impossibly stacked pub, James knows a number of things about Lily’s current life: she’s still best mates with Mary, Alice and Marlene, but has lost contact with Dorcas along the way; she’s on the last year of her bachelor in literature, with plans to start her Masters soon; and she works as a secretary in a publishing company to pay uni.
He also rediscovers how Lily is capable of sucking all of his attention, and it’s been increasingly harder to make his eyes move away from her. She’s brilliant, even more than she had been in school, and his admiration for her has not budged a millimeter.
When the owner of the pub amusedly tells them she needs to close, they pay the bill quickly – and equally, because Lily puts her foot down and refuses to let them pay for her – and leave.
It’s slightly chilly outside and the street is practically empty. James checks the time on his phone. Ten past eleven.
Lily hides her hands on her jacket pockets as the five of them stand together. Her other friends are long gone, the redshirted bloke and two girls. All of them had stopped by their table earlier to say goodbye to her, curiously eyeing her company, and James wonders how she’ll get home.
“Let’s find somewhere else to drink,” Sirius suggests. He’s slurring a bit now. “It’s Friday.”
“YES!” Peter shouts, although he’s having difficulty staying entirely upright right now.
Remus smiles, then shrugs. “Might as well.”
“I'm done for the night, sorry, boys,” Lily informs them, apologetic, “but go on without me.”
His friends turn to look at James, their eyes full of assumptions that he’s happy to confirm. He hopes Lily doesn’t see through him as easily as his mates do.
“I’m headed home as well, folks,” James announces.
“Oh, the shock!” Sirius says drily. “Bugger off, then, you bastards. We won't even miss you.”
“Watch out for Pete,” James requests. “And if he does something impressive, film it.”
“Fuck you,” Sirius says to him, nearing Lily and hugging her with one arm. “Don’t be a stranger, Evans.”
Remus and Peter also hug Lily in goodbye. Before they leave, Sirius shows James the V. Peter copies him sluggishly, and Remus trails after them with a brief wave to the remaining two.
Once the reality of being alone with her settles, James feels his agitation return. He shoves his hands inside his own pockets to stop them from jittering around.
“Where you headed?” he asks her.
“Mile End,” she says, pointing in the general direction of the neighbourhood. The streetlights shed her in a golden glow. “Mary and I share a flat there.”
“You’ll take the tube?”
“That’s the plan.”
“I’m in Kensington. I could go with you. If you want me to, of course, I don’t mean to imply that you can’t—"
“I would like that,” she agrees, simply, not one hair out of place.
James tries to catch his breath. “Alright. Shall we, then?”
She nods before they start walking in the direction of the underground station. It’s not far, barely ten minutes away, but he hopes he can stretch the walk for as long as possible.
“Tell me more about your life,” Lily says suddenly, their eyes meeting briefly. She’s less effusive than she’d been earlier. James wonders what brought the change, and hopes it’s not him making her uncomfortable. “What did you say you were working on again?”
“I have a company,” he states, and feels the wave of unsettlement that usually hits him when he states some of his privileges out loud. “We build sustainable houses, basically. I’m not nearly done with uni yet, so I can’t sign the projects or anything, but I’m working on the creative side of it for now.”
“That’s really nice,” she says, sounding impressed. “When I’m a successful professor with a bunch of books under my name, I’ll hire you to build me a house.”
“That’s not exactly how it works,” he replies, smiling, his hand finding his hair quickly and then dropping down by his side. “I mean, I would definitely design you something. But the company works with cities to improve housing for people in vulnerable situations.”
“Really. We’re usually designing for places outside of the UK, but we’ve worked here a few times as well, out of London.”
“That’s what your company does?” she wonders, her eyes not leaving his face as they walk. “Build houses for homeless people?”
“That's basically it."
“That’s just—" she starts, looking flabbergasted, “—it’s incredible, James.”
He’s taken aback by the wonder in her face.
“Thanks,” he says, awkwardly clearing his throat. “It’s nothing yet. We’ve barely started.”
“I knew you would use that huge brain of yours for something good.”
“Are you saying my head is abnormally large?” he says, faux-indignant, moving the conversation into teasing because that he can deal with.
“No,” she rolls her eyes. Her red hair is whipped around by the wind and she takes it into both hands and tucks it inside her jacket. “I’m saying I always knew that you had it in you. May I ask why?”
“Why dedicate your life to that?”
“Oh. That’s—a bunch of reasons, I guess.”
“Mmm,” she says, her eyes flashing knowingly at him. “Sirius might be proud of you.”
“He’s not very proud now that I’m not getting plastered with him every other weekend,” he says and doesn’t even bother denying her assumption that his brother's own momentarious homelessness had been at least one of his motives. “What about you? What’s going on in your life?”
“Currently? I’m realising that horoscopes might be a thing.”
James stops momentarily to give way to a bunch of rambunctious teenagers on the sidewalk before he regains his step. Lily has come to a halt a bit further, waiting on him.
“Horoscopes?” he asks as they move onwards. He’s relieved that any awkwardness between them is apparently gone. “How so?”
“Marly sent me mine this week because it said I would meet someone from the past again,” she explains. “I’m still not sold on the idea of it, but isn’t this weird?”
“A bit, yeah,” he confirms, feels his heart stutter in his chest. “Did it say anything else? Perhaps something about an exceedingly handsome young man? Because then there would be no denying that it was about me.”
Lily sends him an exasperated look, but it loses most of its effect because of the smile on her lips. “Oh, you haven’t changed at all, have you?”
March 2017 (18 years old)
He didn’t expect a surprise party on his birthday.
That’s the entire point of having a surprise party, he reckons, but it's never worked well for him before, the surprise part, because Peter cannot keep a secret. This time, though, Sirius and Remus left their more indiscreet friend out of the loop until the day came.
(In the end, it had been a surprise for both him and Peter, who had even needed a glass of water from the scare of watching all of their peers from sixth form jumping out of the dark at them.)
James’ parents stay elsewhere in the house, only coming down for the cake. He appreciates the privacy, although the party activities have been mostly tame. There is some drinking going on, though, and most people are still underage, so it’s helpful to not have to hide it.
He’s been walking around for a while now, making sure to engage everyone in conversation and inconspicuously finding his way to the far away sofa where Lily Evans is currently chatting with her mates. He doesn’t know what he’ll say to her when he gets there, but he knows he has to say something. This is the first time since they’ve known each other that she’s been here to celebrate his birthday with him, and he doesn’t want their interaction to be limited to the brief hug she’d given him once he had arrived.
For the time being, he focuses on his conversation with Frank Longbottom about the likeliness of Chelsea winning the Premier League this year, and lets his brain come up with something to say when he goes over to her.
There isn’t a need for an opening line, though, because she’s the one to approach him five minutes later.
“Hey, boys,” she says, grinning at him and Frank. There’s a red package in her hands. “Can I talk to you for a minute, James?”
James. She’s taken to calling him by his first name in the last few months, and he feels like pumping a fist each time she does.
“Yeah, sure,” he agrees, trying to come off unaffected despite the way his stomach feels like it’s being ejected from an airplane. “See ya around, Frank.”
“Later,” Frank says, sending him a knowing wink before moving away.
Lily looks at him curiously, her eyes mirthful. “Did Frank Longbottom just make a proposition to you?”
“Oh, yeah,” James nods instantly. “We’re having a secret affair, hadn’t you heard?”
“You’d make a nice couple,” she teases. “Although I know someone that might be heartbroken over it."
"Let's be honest here, Evans, whoever it is, they're probably less attractive than I am."
"Wouldn't be really fair to compare," she says to his surprise. "Would you mind stepping out for a bit? The girls desperately want to know what I got for you, but I don’t feel like giving them the satisfaction.”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” he says, his voice holding up despite the godforsaken mess that's going on in his head. “We can go outside.”
“It’s nothing weird, I promise,” she says. “Or humiliating.”
“I didn’t think you would ever give someone a present that was either of those things,” he tells her, honestly, gesturing at her for them to go on out to the porch.
His eyes search for his mates rapidly, trying to signal what’s happening. Sirius is currently having an amicable chat with Hestia Jones, and she's looking at him like she’s never seen anything better. Peter is right next to them, gleefully filling his mouth with whipped cream. Remus is nowhere to be seen. (Dorcas Meadowes is also mysteriously gone, it seems.)
James has to settle for leaving the room without any encouragement, with Lily following him closely.
“Once I gave Marly a luminol spray,” she announces. “Wouldn’t you say that’s weird?”
“Why would she need one?” James frowns as they leave the living room behind.
“She wanted to discover if someone had done it at the school library,” she informs, as he goes up to the cushioned chairs settled around a table and finds himself a seat, gesturing at her to do the same. Lily follows him, settling by his side, unaware that her graceful movements melt his every certainty in life. “Because once we saw two people whose names we can’t disclose almost shagging by the private section.”
“That’s great to know, so I can keep never going there. And how were the results?”
“Pince caught us and banned us from the library for a month,” she says, leaving his gift on the table and then sliding it to him. “So Marly used it at the tube station instead and started walking to and from home. So now, after such an enlightening tale, you know that I can and ever so often do give weird presents.”
“I feel so reassured.”
Lily grins sweetly.
James holds onto the rectangular red package and tries to hide how shaky his breath is. He starts to open the wrapping paper carefully, taking out the tape with accurate fingers.
“Just rip it.”
“I’m not a savage, Evans,” he says, not raising his eyes but imagining that hers are rolling at him.
When he finishes his meticulous task, unwrapping the paper and leaving it by the side, he holds onto a book. Before he can make sense of it, Lily starts talking.
“There’s a photo inside,” she says, and he rips his eyes away from his gift to stare at her. “It was taken that day on Marly’s house, remember? I thought it would be nice to give you a picture of all of us together.”
James slides the picture out of the front page and stares at it.
It was before everyone else came along to their blanket, when it was only him, his mates, Lily, Dorcas, Alice, Mary and Marlene. He remembers when Marlene’s mum had come out of the house and took the picture, but had never seen it before. Lily had grabbed his arm for support to prod herself to the front so she wouldn't be covered by him. One of her shoulders was sticking out of the comforter they were sharing, and there was a huge, genuine smile on her face. (He looked as if at any given moments the skies would open and he would transcend the mortal plane.)
Lily says it’s a picture of all of them together, and he appreciates that idea, but mostly what he sees is a picture of the two of them.
James grins widely, unconsciously replicating himself in the picture. “Yeah, this is really nice. Thanks, Evans.”
“Don’t mention it,” she says with a sweet lilt to her voice. “Then there’s the book. You’re always asking what I’m reading, so I decided to give you something to read yourself.”
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” he reads, flipping the book around to check the synopsis. He can feel her attentive stare on his face.
“It’s a hilarious book, so I thought you’d appreciate it. The Earth is blown to pieces within the first five chapters.”
“Sounds like something I’ll enjoy,” he chuckles. He looks up at her. “This is brilliant. Thank you, Lily.”
“If the girls ask about it, let them suffer,” she says. There’s a splash of red in her cheeks that James can’t help but wonder about.
"Alright," he agrees. "Am I allowed to make up presents?"
"Only if they're exceptionally dull."
"Deal," he says. "And thank you so much for the pen. I loved it."
Lily laughs and James wonders if he's ever seen anything as beautiful.
They spend twenty other minutes outside despite the chill and their lack of jackets. James considers telling her about his feelings, but doesn’t, because they’ve been friends for too little time now and he is terrified of being rejected again, after he asked her out that once, during the whole mess with Snape. She had said no quite forcefully then, and there’s nothing to say she won’t now, although she seems to tolerate him a lot more easily.
Later, when he’s alone in his room, he flips over the pages of the book Lily gave him and finds an inscription there that she hadn’t told him about.
To the bloke that would make it out of this utterly insignificant little blue green planet if we were ever invaded by aliens.
He doesn’t get the reference, not at first, but he goes to sleep with the biggest grin on his face.
“I can’t believe you remember that!” she snorts a laugh, minding her tone to not bother the few other patrons that are riding the tube at this hour. “God, I had forgotten about it.”
“That’s because you were the perpetrator,” he says, enjoying way too much how one of her shoulders leans into him. “I’m certain Mr. Binns hasn’t forgotten the girl that made him change his entire course.”
“Oh, please, as if he could pick us apart,” she says with a funny twitch to her mouth. “And anyway I maintain that he was bored out of his mind, too. I did him a favour.”
“Sure, why not, let’s call it that,” James smirks. “What was your exact wording? Excuse me, Mr. Binns, can I suggest an alternative method for the lessons?”
“I didn’t say it like that!” she cries, still at a low volume, narrowing her eyes at him. “And as if you didn’t jump at the opportunity right away, anyway. I recall that you were very loud about supporting my pledge.”
“That’s because I was a minute away from trying to lobotomise myself, so I needed you to keep going for as long as possible,” James says, although he knows he would’ve been rallying behind her even if she had been suggesting a nice little session of swallowing flaming knives. “But that’s not the point. The point was that you were an agitator.”
“That was an act of leadership,” she replies with a mighty sniff.
“You did it because you couldn’t handle his lessons anymore, not for the good of the people,” he argues, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. “Admit it, Evans.”
She doesn’t address his accusation, giving him a small, cheeky smile before moving her head to look at the train’s door as it opens and closes in yet another station.
It’s a few seconds until she speaks up again.
“That gives me so many flashbacks, y'know.”
"You, calling me Evans,” she says, her eyes still on the door. “It feels like I’m fifteen again and at any moment Professor McGonagall will come up here and tell me to stop passing notes during classes.”
“So I make you feel like a teenager?” he teases, although his heart is skydiving from dangerous heights right now.
“You definitely bring back my most immature self,” she retorts with an impish grin, gazing back at him. “Always have.”
“Yeah. That wasn't deliberate,” he says, wincing a bit as bits and pieces of how stupid he’d been around her come back to him.
“I didn’t say it was necessarily a bad thing,” Lily says, watching him with soft eyes. “More often than not it wasn’t, once we had grown up a bit.”
James nervously threads his left hand in his hair. “Well, I’m glad.”
“I want your current number, by the way. I’m not letting you and your mates run away again.”
“We didn’t run away,” he argues and opens his right hand, being careful to not dislodge her where she’s leaning against his arm. “Give it here.”
Lily takes her phone out of her handbag and unlocks it before handing it to him. James takes the proffered mobile, checking the background she chose (Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind, it reads in a bold font that makes him grin).
“Should I put myself in as fit James or dearest James, so you can set me apart from the three other Jameses in here?”
“Let’s not kid ourselves here,” she raises an eyebrow at him. “After this much time, you’re hardly the dearest one.”
“Ouch,” he says, lowering his head. “Fit one it is, then.”
“You can take that spot since I don’t have James Franco’s number.”
“What?” James asks, furrowing his entire face in revulsion. “James Franco? Really?”
“Mm-hm,” she confirms. “Since I first watched James Dean.”
“But I’m fitter than him!" James says indignantly.
“I’m extremely biased, you see.”
“That's unacceptable,” he tells her, shaking his head as he goes to add his number amongst James, James Brown and James Thompson. He moves his thumb to add a new contact to her agenda but she makes a noise that warns him not to. He raises an eyebrow at her. “What?”
“That’s you,” she says, signaling at the first, surnameless James. “Your number from before, I mean. I assume you have a new one?” When he nods, she goes on. “Add it in.”
He doesn’t know what it says about her organisational skills that she kept his contact for this long, but it instantly warms something in his chest. He taps his new number quickly and gives back the device.
“There. Now you can contact me at all hours of the day.”
“Don’t mind if I do. I’m a well-known sleep-texter, so you’re in for a ride, Potter.”
James grins. Joke’s on her, because he already knew that, ever since he saw her at the pub.
May 2017 (18 years old)
James limps along the side of the field, feeling incredibly frustrated, and his precariously immobilized ankle is the immediate reason for it.
He was lucky to avoid a fracture, which could’ve been easily the result of today's game. Avery hit him with the dirtiest, brutalest foul football has ever seen, and the only reason for James to not have broken his leg was because he had managed to jump at the last moment. Considering the pain that’s sparking up from his ankle, he knows this is at the very least a serious torsion, or, in the worst case scenario, a tendon rupture, so he’s certain he won’t be playing the next games of their intra-school league. Hence the fuming.
He tightens his fingers around the strap of his bag. He was the last one out of the changing room, still too worked up to accept the help of his teammates.
He wobbles in the direction of the car park where he’ll wait for his father to pick him up, since he’s not in condition to get the tube. He’s halfway across the field when a familiar voice calls his name.
James turns his head around and sure enough Lily is jogging up to where he stands. He feels the usual uproar in his chest as she approaches him.
For the last two months, he's been more determined than ever to ask her out. It’s been a very taxing stance to take, because he’s always looking for openings in conversation to do it, only to back out and be disappointed in himself afterwards for stalling. Now that they're friends, real ones, he knows it would feel absolutely devastating to stop talking to her.
Remus has told him a thousand times to go for it, and he will, as soon as he summons the courage to do it.
“Hey,” she says, a bit breathless from her jog, stopping by his side. Her eyes are concerned as they take him in. “Are you okay?”
He feels his irritation going away, suddenly, as if a vacuum had been turned on in bad emotion mode.
"Yeah. Nothing I can't get back from, so far," he says, even manages a grin.
“Gideon told me about it,” she says, her pretty face furrowing. “I can't believe Hooch will still let Avery play.”
“Haven't you heard? Apparently he didn’t mean it."
“He didn’t mean for you to walk ever again, I'm sure,” she declares, anger colouring her cheeks. It gives James a gut-based happiness to see how indignant she looks on his behalf. Her bright eyes take his injury in again and soften. “Can I help you?”
“Nah, it’s fine,” James dismisses, lowering his eyes to his ankle. He’s not sure why he denies help, since his leg hurts like hell. Must be his pride.
“Funny, that, because I saw you walking and it didn’t look fine at all.”
James looks at her, opening his mouth to refuse her assistance a second time, but she rolls her eyes and steps closer, settling quite forcefully under his left arm.
“You’re a piece of work, Evans,” he sighs, giving in and relaxing his arm against her. He’s relieved he thought of taking a quick shower before leaving.
“Right back at you,” she retorts, lifting her face to send him a satisfied little grin.
His heart bravely picks up pace at the sight of it, despite the intense session of cardio it’d been engaging in earlier.
They wobble out of the field and onto the car park in silence. James tries to keep most of his weight on his other side to not hurt her, and even then he has to admit that the support does help.
Lily appears to be discovering that his bones are mighty heavy, if her red face is anything to go by.
There’s a bench right next to the school entrance and that’s where they stop. Lily doesn’t sit beside him, but carefully eyes his injured ankle like it might suddenly turn rotten and pop off of his leg.
“Don’t look so worried, Evans. I've got a real shot at surviving.”
“You are ridiculous,” she states plainly, not partial to his teasing. “D'you think it’s broken?”
“Nah,” he moves his ankle around to be sure and pulls a face when the pain tightens.
“Stop juggling it around!”
“Yeah, yeah,” he complies with an exaggerated sigh, throwing his bag on the ground and settling his injured leg on top of it. “Happy?”
“Ecstatic,” she retorts drily. “How are you getting home?”
“Dad’s picking me up.”
“Okay, good. I was about to offer to take you, but we’ve barely made it here.”
“I’m heavier than I look.”
“I meant that you seemed one second away from toppling over.”
“But that’s the effect you have on me,” he jokes, and she merely rolls her eyes. James sighs dramatically. "Tough crowd."
"Do better," she says, a taunting smile on her lips.
“Oh, but I thought it was fine.”
“It’s mostly fine,” he mumbles, then goes to change the subject. “Hey, weren’t you supposed to be tutoring right now?”
“I rescheduled it,” she says with a dismissive movement of her hand. “Told them how helpless you would be without me.”
“Unnecessary, but thanks for coming.”
Lily snorts and shakes her head. "Proud git."
There’s an unusual lull in conversation as Lily looks away.
James lets himself look at her in her neat uniform, at the few threads of dark red hair that frame her face. She still draws flowers in her trainers, but they're red this time.
In ancient times, she would've been sinking ships and causing fights amongst goddesses.
If he was brave enough, he would hook his arm around her waist and bring her closer, tell her there hasn’t ever been another girl for him. But he doesn't, because sometimes he feels that she's so out of his league he couldn't compete even with two fully healthy ankles.
Lily leans into the tips of her toes and back a few times before speaking again.
“Edgar Bones asked me out yesterday," she says lightly, like she's commenting on the weather instead of giving news equivalent to a punch on the stomach.
James’ happiness is violently sucked out again, to a point where he wishes for Avery to be back and finish the job of killing him already. He fights his shock down, tries to not give away the shattering currently going on in his chest.
Bloody rotten fucking week.
He knows that blokes occasionally ask her out, he isn't stupid and neither are them, considering how impeccably amazing she is. She has never told him about it, though, not for as long as they've been friends, and he's yet to see her on a date with someone.
He can only assume that this is different.
"Did he?" he manages, looking away and feeling like there’s a fist around his vocal chords.
“Mm-hm. I told him I would think about it."
"Why would you need to think about it?" he attempts an indifferent tone as his eyes fly to her face for a moment.
Lily hesitates for a second before answering, a crease between her eyebrows. “I don’t know him all that well."
"Ah." James pauses, tightens his jaw, wonders how his ankle hurts nothing in comparison to this. Lily wants his opinion on Bones, quite obviously, and he can't say no without giving himself away. "He's alright."
Lily shows a tight-lipped smile. "That's some high praise, Potter."
"Only talked to him a few times," he says as he leans down and reaches for the water bottle in one of the side compartments in his bag. He drinks it to have something to do with his hands. "Not much of a chatter, but seemed nice enough."
"Noted," she says, her face impassive before she turns it around to look at their school. "D'you need me to pick some ice for your leg?"
"Nah," James brushes off. "I'm fine."
And that's just as much true then as it is that weekend, when Lily goes out with Edgar Bones for the first time.
Lily doesn’t contradict him when he says he’d feel better if he dropped her off by her door, so they walk towards her flat together.
Conversation is still easy between them. Lily doesn’t believe him when he tells her about the Peter-centred playlist on Sirius’ youtube channel, and she’s so excited about it that they stop under a streetlight to watch the video Sirius filmed outside of Peter’s bathroom as Pete loudly duets with himself to Endless Love.
James looks up at her over his phone’s screen as she tries to keep her laughter under control and thinks about how he has dated smart, pretty, funny girls whom he truly liked before, and yet had never felt helpless in his feelings for them, had never felt like they could make or break him.
And the thing is, he hasn’t been waiting, not at all, hadn’t even been thinking about her lately. That doesn’t change the fact that, given the word, he’d still put everything else on hold to be with her.
It’s terrifying to think so, but he’s the only one to be blamed for the surprise the thought causes. He attributed the strength of his feelings for her to his youth, to his tendency to overplay things and to his inexperience, but that’s just not it. Watching her horrified face when Peter almost drops his towel as he leaves the bathroom once he catches Sirius filming him, he has to admit that at fourteen he discovered something that lingers, something that he still wants to shape his life around.
He just needs to get her on board with the idea.
They stop by the front door of her building a few minutes later, whilst she wraps up the story of how Mary had dated a psycho a few months ago, one that once took kids’ scissors to engrave her name on his skin.
“She has a restraining order against him now,” Lily says distractedly, hunched over her handbag in what seems like a quest for her keys. “Suffice to say, it was a bloody mess.”
“I’m glad he can’t be near any of you again,” James states, leaning against the building as he watches her and tries to think of a way to make this last as long as possible. He should definitely make sure that they'll see each other again. “Imagine it if he ever discovers the grown-up scissors.”
“Oh, I shudder to think,” she says, fishing her keys out. Her lips are pressed together for the few seconds that it takes her to meet his eyes. “So I have a confession to make.”
“A confession?” James repeats puzzledly.
“You see, I might’ve lied about being done for the night,” Lily pauses, a self-deprecating smile taking over her lips, “because I was hoping I would be able to properly talk to you.”
James pushes away from the wall. He stares down at her.
She doesn’t look away.
The cold breeze from the street travels all the way down to his lungs and all the way back out before he finds words to answer her.
“You didn’t have to lie about that,” he says, something wild twisting in his belly. “You could’ve just asked.”
“I’m asking now,” she shrugs, showing her keys to him. “Want to come up?”
August 2017 (18 years old)
James, Remus, Sirius and Peter will be travelling shortly after they receive their A-level results, so everyone agrees to have their end-of-term commemoration earlier. Mary MacDonald offers her house and schedules it on a weekend when her parents are away from home.
When the four boys get there, two hours late because that’s basically their motto, they almost trip on Frank Longbottom and Alice Doupe, who have been snogging right next to the entrance.
“Young love,” Mary sighs when she greets them.
James grins, pained, and wishes not to hear about love ever again.
He considered not attending today. Lily will most certainly bring Bones with her, and James would sooner eat shards of glass than watch her with someone else. But his mates insisted he come, because they are leaving and these are the few people they like in school, so he relented.
(He’s ready to bolt at any second, though.)
They are a tight group of twenty people, maximum, so there’s no way he would miss Lily if she had been there when they arrived.
Soon, James is won over by party shenanigans. He attempts to dance and fails miserably at it, plays a few wild rounds of Ring of Fire, films it when a plastered Peter starts to clap every time Sirius says anything. Although his ears are buzzing, he stops drinking early, getting himself water from the kitchen every so often. He’s a verbose drunk and there are way too many words stuck in his throat for him to allow himself to lose control.
He’s laughing at something Marlene is saying, sitting against one of the walls with her and Sirius, when Lily arrives. He knows it’s her immediately, doesn’t even have to glance up.
She’s by herself.
James tries not to do this to himself, but he can’t turn it off and is able to say with no amount of doubt where she is in the room at any given moment. It takes her ten minutes to join their small group, finding them after talking to everyone else.
“Hey,” she says, her eyes flitting over the three of them before she sits on the ground and tucks herself next to Marlene.
“You’re so late, love,” Marlene tells her, taking her hand. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” Lily says, a tight-lipped smile saying differently. “Are all of you drinking?”
“Absolutely,” Sirius says, raising his vodka plastic cup. “And you’re behind.”
“I’ll catch up,” she promises.
She avoids looking at James, which is not that unusual recently. He’s been wondering if she knows about his feelings and is embarrassed to acknowledge them now that she’s with someone else. It makes something squirm in his chest to think so.
James watches, for the next hours, as she keeps good word on her promise. She gets more and more expansive in her antics, joining the drinking games and laughing with the girls, and he keeps his distance.
At some point, much later in the night, he goes back into the kitchen to get himself water, very much dedicated to sobering up and not making a fool out of himself. Mary told him he could get some ice from the fridge, so he does, and is just closing it when the ghost of a laugh makes him turn his head around.
Lily enters the room, still giggling as she moves away from whatever it was that had amused her, and it takes her a few seconds to realise he’s in there too. Her face falls quite drastically at the sight of him.
That visual cue makes him feel so great about himself.
“Oh,” she says quietly, quieter than she had been for the entire night. “You’re here.”
“Yeah, getting water,” he says as plainly as he can, closing the fridge and realising that the cold he’s feeling is from his gut. “Want some?”
“No, ta very much,” she replies decidedly, moving towards the cabinets. Before she gets there, she wobbles dangerously on her feet, holding herself on the counter.
“Whoa, careful,” James says, leaping to her side and steadying her with a hand on her waist as he leaves his cup on the counter. “Are you sure you don’t want some water?”
“I know what I want,” she says, stubbornly, raising her chin.
“I never doubted that,” he laughs weakly. “D’you want to sit?”
“I want crisps,” she informs him, her eyes a bit red at the edges. “Mary told me to come here and get some.”
“Alright, stay here and I’ll get them for you,” he suggests. She shrugs, relenting, and he helps her settle into one of the stools by the counter before gesturing around the kitchen. “Where are they?”
She points at the general direction of the cabinets and leans her head on her other hand. “Over there somewhere.”
James can’t help but smile and accept that he’ll need to go snooping. It takes him a few attempts to find the crisps. When he does, he gets one of each kind before moving back to where she’s sitting.
“There you go, Evans.”
“Thank you,” she says politely, going for the cheese and onion package.
She doesn’t make any movement to go back to the party, as he imagined she would.
“You’re staying here?”
“Don’t want to share,” she announces sincerely, popping a crisp in her mouth and chewing slowly. “Marly always eats all my crisps.”
“Fair enough,” James says, eyeing the stool beside her. He wants to stay and have a last moment before not seeing her for who knows how long, but that might not be the wisest idea for the mending he’s been attempting to do for the last few months. The fact that she’ll be here alone tips the balance for him, though, and he sighs and sits down, retrieving his water cup. “I promise not to steal your food,” he promises when she raises her eyes.
She keeps looking at him, her crisps momentarily forgotten in one of her hands.
“What?” he asks self-consciously, touching the hair at the nape of his neck.
“You’re leaving,” she says, narrowing her eyes as if he’s committed a crime and she’s just found out about it.
“Yeah. I’ll be back, though.”
“A year from now, probably, but we’re not sure yet.”
“Ah,” she says, then gives a long, drawn-out sigh. “Don’t want you to. I’ll miss you.”
His heart clenches quite forcefully.
“I’ll miss you too,” he reveals, clearing his throat to untie the knot that has lodged itself there. “A lot.”
“Even though you don’t fancy me anymore?”
James recoils abruptly, holding his plastic cup so forcefully it crumples in his hand, dropping water everywhere. He pushes his stool back to prevent himself from getting wet, then quickly checks that Lily didn’t get water on her clothes.
Then his brain tries to understand what she has just said, with no immediate success at such a task.
“That’s a mess,” she notes mindlessly, going back to her crisps as if she hadn’t just entirely turned his world around.
James splutters for a few more seconds, trying to regain his breath. “What did you say?”
“It’s a mess.”
“No, what you said about me not fancying you anymore? Just… What?”
“Oh,” she frowns and takes a few seconds to consider it. “You don’t fancy me anymore. I know you don’t.”
“Who said tha—”
“You used to, when we were kids,” she cuts him, strangely serious. “But then you stopped.”
“Who told you that?” he splutters, petrified where he is, not knowing exactly if he’s referring to the fact that she knows he used to fancy her or to the completely wrong assumption that he’s not interested anymore.
There’s a silver lining here, he can’t help but think, because why would she bring this up now? Why would she care at all if he had romantic feelings for her or not?
“We’re friends, right?” she says, looking a bit sad, as if she’s doubting it. “You’re my friend.”
James leans back into his chair.
They are friends, now, and that’s already so much more than he thought he’d get to be to her.
It should be enough. He shouldn't be looking for anything else here when he knows she's with someone else already.
“I am," he says finally. And means it, although it doesn't change the fact that he needs time to deal with his own feelings.
Mary finds them not a minute later, as James is trying to convince Lily to go to the living room with him.
“Oh!” she says, sounding quite surprised. “I was looking for you, Lily.”
James frowns. Wasn’t she the one who told Lily to get crisps?
“Mary!” Lily says loudly, turning around abruptly on her stool. James holds onto one of her arms so she won’t fall down. “James is leaving, did you know?”
“I did,” Mary agrees, turning a grin towards James as she approaches them.
“He says he’ll miss me.”
Mary’s brown eyes consider him. “Will he, now?”
“I’m sorry about the mess,” James says quickly, gesturing at the water he's spilled. “Where can I find something to clean it up?”
“Nah, leave it there."
“I tried to give her water, but she says she doesn’t want it,” James continues, letting go of Lily and taking a step back. “She’s a bit unstable.”
“We’ll have some water now,” Mary informs Lily, who sweetly nods.
“I’ll be going, then,” he says, gesturing at the living room.
Both girls turn to him. Mary nods, but Lily frowns, and he doesn’t know what to make of it.
He stays for another ten minutes before telling his mates he’s leaving. They loyally agree to go with him. After saying goodbye to everyone, promising to keep in touch although he knows they will probably be severed apart over time, he walks around Alice and Frank, still snogging by the door, and goes home without freeing any of the words taking residence in his heart.
That night, he and Sirius drink an entire bottle of their dad's oldest scotch. It's the first time in what soon becomes a tradition of getting formidably sloshed almost every weekend.
They go up the stairs quietly, avoiding the third step because it screeches and Lily has warned him about Mrs. Figg, an old lady known for owning thirty cats and hating any noise that’s not hissing after ten p.m. That’s how Lily puts it, a twinkle in her eye, and James has so many remarks to make but refrains from all of them, given his current company and the fact that said commentary would be too close to hitting home.
Lily’s flat is on the third floor. James follows her across the mostly unlit hallway, stopping when she does.
“Mary is home,” she warns him as she slides the right key into the lock. “She had the longest week, so we can’t make much noise.”
“Shit,” James says as she opens the door. “We’ll have to break all your tableware some other day.”
“Sunday works for you?” she jokes, entering the flat.
Lily takes off her jacket and he follows suit, hanging his on her coat rack.
Her flat is just on the right side of small. It’s well-decorated, with light furniture and the occasional splash of colour. There are a few things scattered around — mostly books, over the couch and the centre table, but also cases and an open laptop — that makes it lived in. There’s an enormous navy bookcase they’ve managed to fit into the back wall, filled with books from top to bottom.
“Ignore the mess,” Lily says, not looking very bothered by it as she walks further into the flat. “Mary always demands that I tell anyone that comes here that it’s mostly mine, so here is my confession. Make sure to tell her about it later.”
“Do you want to drink something?” she asks, taking her handbag off. She's quite a sight, with her leather boots and her skirt, and in the tiny room it's impossible to look at anything else. “We have water, tea and a wine bottle that’s so atrocious you’ll want to tear off your taste buds and burn them.”
James chuckles. “As promising as the wine sounds, water is fine. Or tea, if you’ll have some.”
“Tea it is,” she nods. “Milk? Sugar?”
“Just milk,” he says.
“If you want to refresh yourself, the loo is the second door on the left,” she points it out. “Feel free to sit wherever.”
Then she disappears into what he assumes is her kitchen.
As she’s gone, James takes the time to breathe, his hand finding his hair again. Not in a hundred years this was how he would’ve imagined his night to go. He heads quickly to the loo to throw some water on his face.
When Lily gets back into the living room, he’s already sitting on one end of the couch, messing mindlessly with his phone. She has changed her clothes, ditching her skirt for comfortable trousers that do absolutely nothing in making her less attractive. She hands him one of the mugs she’s carrying before settling down on the other end of the couch, tucking in her legs.
“I just checked my texts,” she tells him, pointing with her chin towards the phone he’s just locked before she takes a sip of her tea, “and my friends are not happy with me.”
“That, too, but I was supposed to be on a sort of date with someone today,” she says, wrinkling her nose in what he assumes is embarrassment. “Do you remember the bloke in the red shirt at the pub? The one that came to the table?”
Jealousy twists hot and heavy in his gut.
“Vaguely. Bit of a meerkat face?" he asks, although it's a guess as wild as any, since he can't remember the arsehole at all besides his red shirt, too consumed by thoughts of Lily as he was at the moment.
"Oh. Did you think so?" she frowns, seeming to think it through, but then shrugs it off. "Anyway, one of my friends from work was going on and on about him for weeks and wanted to introduce us tonight.”
“Ah. Did we save you from a boring date, then?”
“He was okay,” she says before grinning mirthfully. “A wee bit pompous. Would not talk about anything other than Bukowski and dirty realism. American, you see.”
James nods, although he sure as hell doesn’t get the whole meaning of it. The only poetry he’s ever read was in the off-chance he would use it to impress her back in school. That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy literature, he loves a bunch of novels, including the series Lily had introduced him to, but that’s not the kind of discussion he would ever be able to maintain at a pub on a Friday night.
“That’s what you’re into these days, Evans?” he asks, going for teasing to hide his disappointment. “Intellectual blokes?”
“That’s what my friends think I’m looking for,” she says, drawing in her shoulders. “Artsy blokes, I mean. Just the other day I had a blind date with a photographer that invited me to take nude pictures. He said it was an opportunity for me to own my womanhood.”
James raises his eyebrows. “Because he certainly knows so much about it, yeah?”
“Of course,” Lily says ironically. “More than I do, apparently.”
“What a presumptuous arse,” James snorts, his free hand quickly finding his hair again before falling by his side. “Sorry we crashed a good date, then.”
“It wasn’t good, it was passable,” she corrects, a glint in her eyes. "I left it willingly. And are you really?”
“Am I what?”
“Sorry about crashing it."
James blinks at her, maps her teasing smile, then chuckles and looks down at his tea. “No, I guess I’m not.”
When he looks back up, she’s smiling into her mug. “Are you seeing anyone?”
He stares at her and considers this question and the entire night since she came over to them. It’s not possible that he’s reading this wrong. “No, there's no one,” he says, and what he means is there is no one else.
She waits a beat.
“That’s it?” she teases, narrowing her eyes at him. “No enlightening tale of a past relationship? No glimpse into your life for the last several years?”
He's taking his shot, he decides, so he holds her eyes. “I can’t recall any past relationship at the moment, Lily.”
“You’re not that drunk.”
“You’re right, I’m not.”
Lily considers him over her mug, silently. He doesn’t look away, his stomach churning as if he’s just entered a shuttle loop on a roller coaster.
“Are you flirting with me?" she asks, apparently surprised by the prospect.
James starts, suddenly unsettled. "I've been trying to. Should I not? I can stop."
Lily inhales deeply, and looks like she's trying to piece something in her head.
“You know, right?” she asks, in a tone that suggests that whatever it is that she’ll say is common ground between them. “How infatuated with you I was in sixth form.”
Her words knock the breath right out of him. He stares helplessly at her as his head tries to find a way to wrap itself around what she has just said.
“You were what?”
Lily gives him a confused smile. "I fancied you. You didn’t know?”
James can feel his heart beating on his fingertips. "How could I?”
“I was pretty transparent,” she states, searching his face. She finds something there that makes red pool on her cheeks. “I’m sorry, I just said it out of nowhere, I thought you knew—"
“I didn’t,” he says numbly, letting his fingers fuss with his hair. “Of course I didn’t know. I was in love with you, if I had known—”
“You were over me in sixth form!” she cries loudly.
A burst of laugh at the absurdity of it leaves his chest, wild and happy. “I still have no idea why you would think that, Lily. I’m not sure that I’m over you now.”
Lily stares at him, her eyes wide and beautiful and so fucking green they cut right through him.
“Oh.” She gasps at last. “I didn’t know that.”
“It’s true,” he says simply, holding back the urge to tug at his hair again.
“I’ve been trying to figure that out for myself for the entire night,” she says softly, “and I’m most convinced that I’m not either. Over you, that is.”
“Good,” James swallows down around a dry throat. “That’s... Really good.”
He puts his mug on the centre table and then extends his arm to take hers as well, feeling like something has just blown up around his chest, making it five, ten times bigger. Lily gives her tea away easily, just keeps looking with those haunting, remarkable eyes of hers as he moves closer and holds her face delicately between his hands. She stares up at him, so softly it hurts, and he wonders how they could’ve ever fucked this up.
“We should make sure,” he suggests, feeling completely wrecked.
“Agreed,” she says instantly.
So James leans in and presses his lips against hers in a light, barely-there kiss, the one he wishes he could've given her at sixteen. It doesn’t take him long to press his lips more intently, though, because his present self still can barely breathe from how much he wants her. Lily threads her hands into his hair as she leans into him and deepens their kiss. When he holds her waist and settles her in his lap she makes a satisfied little sound in the back of her throat that will reverberate in his head for the longest time. Her hands are soft but purposeful and her tongue does some magic trickery against his, ripping his chest open, healing wounds he’d sunk deeply into himself. It is easily the single most anticipated moment of his life.
Kissing her is as he’d imagined it would be and entirely different at the same time. He always believed that they would fit together, and they do, so goddamn well, but back then his dreams, intimate as they had been, didn't have the necessary experience to grasp how bloody amazing this would be when compared to anything else. Their chemistry is undeniable, sizzling, and although he can feel her everywhere, he still wants her closer, wants to explore and touch every line of her body. It settles something in him, like he’s just came across a part of himself that had been missing — not her, exactly, because she’s her own person, but his love for her, the undeniable and precise sense that there wouldn’t be anyone else for him that would be as right.
It’s a few minutes before Lily smiles against his lips.
"What do you think?" she asks softly, kissing his face again and again before taking off his glasses and setting them aside.
James doesn’t answer, overtaking her lips again. It's many other long minutes until they come up to breathe, because each time they try it he’s distracted by the pressing of her body against his.
"Not good enough," he says, caressing her face with his thumbs. “We should keep making sure."
“We should,” Lily smiles brightly, then catches his hands in hers and kisses his palms. She glances at him, her eyes soft. "Your hands are shaking.”
James looks up, attempting to regain his breath and make his blood circulate again on his body. "Well, can you blame me? I’ve been dreaming of this since I was fourteen."
Lily’s eyes are incredibly soft when she leans again to kiss his mouth, a touch that lingers for a few seconds before she opens her eyes again and butts her nose softly against his cheek. "Have you?"
"I have no idea how you missed it.”
She straightens, her hands coming up to his hair. He closes his eyes. “I knew you had fancied me sometime in the past because everyone talked about it, but I thought it had been a fleeting kind of thing.”
“I didn’t understand a word of what you just said,” he confesses, unable to open his eyes as she continues her caresses.
Lily laughs and gets out of his lap, dodging his hands when he tries to keep her there. “I want to talk about this.”
James cracks an eye open at her, indignant, but then complies with a sigh. “I can’t see anything.”
Lily hands him his spectacles back, which he quickly slides on his nose.
“And I thought your hair couldn’t get any messier,” she mumbles, settling against his side and leaving a kiss on his jaw.
“Why aren’t you waxing poetic about me right now?” he complains, turning his face to her.
“I love your hair,” she admits. “I always have. It’s so soft, too.”
"Hey, why don't you wax poetic about me?" she asks, pokes him on the side.
"I memorized a lot of poems to say to you," he confesses.
Lily looks instantly delighted. "Have you? Tell me!"
"I can't remember much," he says, suddenly, uncommonly embarrassed.
"Please," she insists, gives him another kiss. "Please, James."
"Alright, alright," he chuckles. "Using your kisses to convince me is beneath you, Lily."
"It's really not," she argues, and kisses him again.
"Fine," he sighs into her mouth, looks quickly at her expectant eyes once she pulls back. "I've got two verses and that's all I can remember."
"Your green eyes will slay me suddenly," he says, feeling like the most ridiculous human being on Earth. "Their beauty shakes me who was once serene, then something else I can't remember."
"Chaucer," she says softly, smiling. "That's not how it goes, though."
"Well," he shrugs, "that's how it goes for me."
Lily exhales, shakes her head at him in what seems disbelief.
“My heart, you bastard, how dare you,” she whispers, before holding his face in her hands and pressing her lips strongly against his. He breathes her in, sneaks an arm around her waist again, and it’s a few seconds before she pulls away. “That’s. I had no idea you would—Okay, now I want to talk about you fancying me even more.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Why did you never say anything?”
“I was going to,” he says, wraps his fingers around hers, “a thousand times. Could never do it, though, because I thought you didn’t like me back and then I’d screw everything up.”
Lily snorts. “I wrote you a note and signed it with love! I obsessed about that for weeks. I always came up to you, wherever you were. How could you think I didn’t like you back?”
"I think you’d have to shout it really loudly for me to understand it.”
“I have no idea why I didn’t think of that,” she says drily.
“If you fancied me, why did you go on a date with Edgar fucking Bones, then?" he asks, trying to block out the images of her with the bloke. "That bloody killed me.”
“It didn’t look like it killed you,” she says, lowers her eyes to their tied hands. “I wasn’t going to say yes, but I wanted to see if you would give me any sign that I should still hope for something. You didn’t, so I knew I had to move on.”
“And then you fell in love with him,” James guesses, although it pains him a fucking ton to say it.
Lily’s eyes flash up to him. “No. I mean, I liked him, but it wasn’t—we broke up even before you left. I was terribly unfair to him.”
James gapes at her. “Why—you never told me!”
“I was certain you wouldn’t care!” she cries. “Things were so awkward back then and I thought you knew that I fancied you and it’d be humiliating, like I was throwing myself at you!”
“Let’s be entirely clear that you should feel free to throw yourself at me at all times,” he says, leaves yet another kiss on her beautiful, indignant lips. “I would’ve been here so often if you had told me. We had planned the trip, but I could’ve—I don’t know, gotten flights back every other month or something.”
“Well, shit,” she chuckles, shakes her head. “I can’t believe we lost so much time.”
“I can’t, either. At least it’s now and not a few years down the road when one or both of us are married. It’d be considerably more complicated.”
“You’re that certain about this?” she asks, searching his face.
“I am,” he says, and he is. He hasn’t ever felt anything near this before. “Aren’t you?”
“I left my Bukowski date for you, didn’t I?”
James grins, leaning in again and backing her up into the couch. “That you did.”
The next morning, when a grinning James leaves Lily’s room behind her, his clothes rumpled and his hair sticking up everywhere, Mary, still bleary-eyed from what James assumes was indeed a very long week, takes a single look at them and raises an eyebrow at Lily, sipping on her tea with a knowing smile.
“I know,” Lily says before her friend can utter a single word, sending James a look over her shoulder before going to grab the milk from the fridge. “Found him yesterday, can you believe it?”
“And already brought him home? I’m so proud. Also, how many times have I told you that you were insane?”
Lily sighs, sends James a look. “I didn’t believe her when she said you fancied me.”
“Yeah, gathered that,” James says easily, leaning on the wall by the fridge. “How’s it going, Mary?”
“Doing great,” she replies pleasantly, her purple box-braids wrapped around her head. “You?”
“Happiest I’ve ever been,” he confesses.
Lily groans loudly by the sink, dropping the milk and turning to him. “Stop saying those things, James, it makes my legs all wobbly.”
“Well, I’m leaving,” Mary says, still smiling, taking her tea out of the kitchen, “I have some gossip to pass on. Take care, kids. Glad you’re around again, James.”
“Same for you, Mary,” he answers, and waits for her door to be closed before he crosses the kitchen and steps right into Lily again, holding her hips. “All wobbly, you say?”
“The girls will be so smug,” she says instead of answering, her arms going around his neck as she gets up on her tiptoes.
“I only left my flat yesterday because of Sirius. You have no idea what I’ll have to endure for the rest of my life.”
"Worth it?" she tries.
"More than worth it."
"And if they get too upsetting, we can give all the credit to my weekly horoscope."
“Two votes on giving the credits to the horoscope,” he grins, and kisses her again.