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“All of my collections, I’ll share them all with you. Maybe by next summer, we won’t have changed our tunes.”

--

James isn’t sure what it says about him, exactly, that he no longer has to count the windows up to the dormitory for Gryffindor’s seventh year girls.

He knows it by heart, the flight path to her dorm room and which window rests exactly beside her bed. He’s certain he could fly his broom blindfolded without any sort of issue. He’s that confident in it.

His confidence rests in the fact that they’re friends, him and Lily.

They’ve been friends for a while now. Thicker than thieves, with no more quarreling between them.

Well, significantly less quarreling than before.

They currently bump heads as much as any two headstrong people would. Which is to say, once a day, at least.

But Lily is no longer threatening to date the giant squid, and James is no longer pulling childish pranks to make her want to date the giant squid.

Key word here being childish. He isn’t quite ready to give up pranks entirely.

Fifth year James would have an absolute heart attack if he could see him now. Or maybe he would have seen it coming. If he hadn’t dropped Divination after fourth year.

“Hey, Evans,” says James once he reaches her window. He pushes it open easily because she’s started to leave it unlocked for him. “Want to make a midnight snack run to the kitchens? I’ve got a craving for some -”

James stops suddenly, hopping off his broom and peering at her empty, neatly made bed.

Lily isn’t here.

She’s never not been in her bed when he comes to bother her. She’s always pouring over a book or writing an essay or fretting over something. Especially this year, between dealing with head duties and N.E.W.T. classes, she’s always studying around this time. James started stopping by and bothering her specifically so the girl would take a break.

She never takes a break at this time without letting him know first. Where is she?

From two beds over, a voice answers his unspoken question. “Lily isn’t here, Potter.” When James turns, he sees Mary sprawled out on her own bed and looking through a Witch Weekly magazine, bored. “She hasn’t been here all night.”

James blinks. While he’s normally confident in his ability to know which window is Lily’s and her ability to actually be here, he’s not confident in the fact that Mary knows that he’s worked his way around the trick steps to the girls’ dormitory. It makes him uneasy.

“Where is she then?” he asks, deciding that she doesn’t appear too concerned with him being there, so maybe he should act the same.

“The princess isn’t in this castle,” offers Mary, turning a page in her magazine and scrunching her nose at whatever she sees. “She’s been super stressed, so she took off.”

“What? Why wouldn't she tell me?”

Mary shrugs. “You know Lily. She tries to hold everything together. She doesn't want anyone to worry over her.”

“Well, I’m worried over her. I worry over her all the time. I noticed she was working herself too hard. That’s why I’ve been trying to get her to hang out with me more. To unwind.”

“I’m going to tell you the same thing I told her. Relax.” She turns another page. It’s almost intentional enough for James to believe that she isn’t actually reading anything in the magazine. “Oh, and check the pumpkin patch.”

“What?”

“The pumpkin patch,” repeats Mary slowly, this time looking over at him. “It’s where she normally goes when she’s stressed. You should try there first. We both know you’re going to look for her.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks… I think.”

“No problem.” She sinks a little further into her pillows. “Make sure she gets something to eat too. She hardly touched her dinner.”

“Alright. I will,” says James. He mounts his broom again, pausing by the window. “Just so you know… I only do this for Lily. You know, the whole flying and breaking into the girls’ dormitory. It’s to hang out with Lily. Not because I’m a creep or anything.”

Mary snorts, rolling her eyes. “Potter, I’ve known that you were coming here for months now. I’m not stupid. I know practically everything that goes on in this school.”

“That’s - Wait, everything?”

“Go. Focus on Lily. If I wanted you in trouble, don’t you think I would have turned you in already?”

James decides not to focus on the meaning of Mary’s words, resolving that it’s another issue for another day. Right now, Lily is his main issue, and she’s one that he still has to track down to help solve.

With a last salute to Mary, which she returns with her eyes crossed, he pushes off into the night again.

--

In her mind, Lily can nearly hear her mother’s lecture her about ruining her eyes.

From her spot in the shadows, she pulls her knees in and hunches slightly to get her nose closer to the parchment. Her unfinished essay sits on her lap. Her pen hovers over it and the book she’s using as a hard surface without resulting in any new words. She’s long since ditched quills, especially when she’s writing at night, mostly by moonlight.

She holds down the corner of her parchment with a hand, her eyes flickering to the edge of the forest every few seconds. A breeze picks up, ruffling the edge of the page and making her tuck her hair behind her ear again. Lily stretches, her arms barely coming up over the pumpkins that definitely don’t get a little magical help from Hagrid.

If anyone asks, she’s already sworn to say that she gave him an experimental potion to try.

Something whistles over her head. Tilting her head back and squinting into the night sky, she sees a shape pass over the stars, making them flicker.

If her star chart (already completed for their class on Thursday) is correct, they shouldn’t see anything interesting for a few more weeks. She almost makes a note to review it before class before the whistling sound happens again.

This time, the shape is bigger and closer to her. A second later, there’s another sound this time, even closer.

“Huh?”

Lily tries to pull out her wand quickly, but it snags on the sleeve of her sweater. With a frustrated whisper of, “Lumos,” she lights the tip and detangles it from her clothes. She hugs the book to her when she leans forward to shine her light toward the forest.

“Hello?” she tries, attempting to sound intimidating. “It’s late, so you’re out of - Oh.” The light reflects back in a glare from a pair of spectacles. Lily’s eyes adjust to the new light and arrival to reveal…

“James? What are you doing?”

It’s not only James but also his broom as well. The latest Nimbus model, it’s the one he uses to sneak up to her room as much as he does for Quidditch lately.

Oh bugger, her room. She completely forgot that he would likely come looking for her tonight.

“What do you mean what am I doing?” he asks, guiding himself down to land in front of her. He hops off gracefully, like it’s the most natural thing in the world to do. He’s directly in front of her now, and she has to look up to meet his eyes. “What are you doing?”

The breeze goes by again, though she’s mostly guarded against it from her spot on the ground with the giant pumpkins as shields. It goes through James’ hair, rearranging whatever flying across the grounds has done to it. Her fingers twitch with the urge to make it just right, but she resists.

“Schoolwork,” Lily replies, almost reflexively. She repeats, “What are you doing?”

Lily brings her knees just a bit tighter to her, as if that will help her take up less space. Even though Potter has already found her.

He’s always had a talent for that.

“Looking for you,” James says. “You weren’t in your room, so I couldn’t bother you. Then I find out from Mary that you’re down here, stressed and apparently still studying? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I’m not stressed.” The pen falls out of her lap when she moves, so she tries to find it in the dark with her free hand. Her fingers brush the lines of turned soil without finding it. She keeps her other hand, the one with her wand casting light, steady so she can see him. “I needed a change of scenery. The dorm was stuffy.”

“Mary says you’re stressed, and Mary knows everything, apparently. Did you know that?” he asks her, his eyes darting back towards the direction of the castle. “She sort of scares me.”

“She thinks I’m stressed because she worries,” Lily answers, her hand still sorting through the dirt for her pen. A second later, their eyes meet again. “But it’s not that. I’m busy. I have a lot of things to do.”

“Evans, you have as much to do as, well, me,” James says, his lips twitching at what he thinks is his own cleverness. Lily’s lips mirror his involuntarily. “We both have the same classes, the same head duties. You don’t see me outside in the middle of the night, working on an assignment that’s due in two weeks.”

She’s glad her copy of the rounds schedule, which she was going to try to review, is hidden under the woefully incomplete essay.

“It…” Though she knows what she wants to say, it sticks in her throat at first. She’s repeated it to herself but rarely given herself permission to say the words to someone else. If James has shown her anything in the past year, though, it’s that she can say things to him, even if they aren’t quite right. Even if she isn’t sure how someone else will react. She’s okay with him reacting. “It has to be perfect,” Lily says. “And it’s due next Tuesday.”

James studies her for a moment, a smile she can only describe as fond halfway making itself seen across his face. “Not everything has to be perfect,” he tells her before moving to sit next to her on the ground. “If it’s that important to you, though, then okay. I’ll stay here and help.”

She lowers her wand as he sits next to her, casting new shadows across his face. Her hip touches him, just enough that she can feel it.

A small shiver goes through her, but she blames it on the autumn breeze.

“James,” she says softly, “you should sleep. Don’t you have practice after class tomorrow?”

“Sleep is for the weak, Evans. Besides, I can crash in your bed again for an after lunch nap if I need to. I swear, they make the girls’ beds so much more comfortable than ours.”

Lily laughs, and it makes something in her chest unknot. The side of her leg brushes against him when she lets her feet slide an inch or two forward. She doesn’t hold her knees as tight to her. “I guess Mary knows that you can get around the stairs now, if she told you where I was. So you shouldn’t scare her if she finds you in the middle of the day.”

“She’ll likely scare me more than I’ll ever scare her,” he says so quietly she wonders if he’s speaking mostly to himself. He looks over at her the next moment, flashing her a grin that no longer makes her teeth grind. “So, how long are we staying out here?”

Self consciously, she wipes the back of her hand across her forehead to push back some of her hair. “I brought the essay for Binns, but…” She looks over at him, really taking a few beats to watch his expression in the pale light. “I also brought the rounds schedule. There was a little conflict last week, so I wanted to smooth out things. Thought the fresh air might help me think.”

“Alright then, let’s look at the rounds schedule,” he agrees.

“I can do it later,” she says quickly. “Don’t worry about it. I know you have other things to do, lots going on, and -”

He looks at her, a small laugh escaping his lips. “Here,” he says, gesturing for her to move closer. “You’ve got a bit of dirt smudged on your forehead. Let me get it.”

Her eyes move to his hand. With the way she’s highly aware of where their legs are touching, part of her doesn’t think they can get any closer.

Then she leans toward him, only slightly, and she knows they can.

“C’mere, Evans,” James says, brushing her fringe back gently with one hand and wiping the dirt off her forehead with the cloak covering his other. “You can accept my help every once in awhile, you know. It’s what I’m here for.” He leans back, inspecting her. “There. All better.”

The faint touch of his warm fingertips against her cool forehead, unlike their closeness from sitting next to each other, is intentional. This, though she isn’t quite sure what it means, is different from the casual accidents that come from existing in the same space.

She moves the book slightly toward him, turning down the scribbled attempts of her essay to show him the sketched schedule. While tilting it, the back of her hand brushes his. It doesn’t make her jump back or recoil.

Lily doesn’t move away from him.

“Yeah,” she manages. It’s more of an exhale than an actual word, so she’s not sure if he hears her. “All better.”

--

Seventh year provides a whole new set of responsibilities, most of which James has easily been able to shoulder or plain out ignore, as is his nature.

He’s never been one to let something as simple as an essay or an overdue assignment cause him any sort of stress. He’s always held the mentality that anything that can be done well can also be done well at a much later date, if he so chooses. Honestly, it’s a wonder he even made Head Boy.

Lily - stresswise, anyway - isn’t handling the responsibilities of seventh year as well as he is. It’s something that she will never admit, but it’s something that he noticed since the start of term. He’s caught her more than once scrapping a perfectly good essay because it wasn’t meeting her standards and working late into the night so often that he knows she isn’t sleeping well.

He also knows she’s not eating well either, which is why he’s been attempting to cover his late night kitchen runs as boredom, when he’s really attempting to get a decent meal for her.

So while pushing off assignments and skiving off classes is in his nature, he knows that it goes entirely against everything that is within Lily’s own.

But he also knows that he’s very persuasive, a trait that Lily can argue against but never fully crack.

This is how he finds himself waiting in the first floor corridor outside of Binns’ class, hidden underneath his father’s old invisibility cloak and waiting for Evans. Because rule number one of persuading Lily Evans into doing something she absolutely will refuse to do under normal circumstances is the element of surprise. Springing it on her and giving her no warning whatsoever. That way there is little chance of her forming a well thought out argument beforehand.

He’s likely being a bit dramatic, he supposes, hiding underneath his cloak and waiting for her to show up, but dramatic doesn't mean he’s not also a bit brilliant. He surmises this last part when he sees her finally making her way towards him and his lips twitch in excitement. Her hair is up in a messy bun, exposing her neck in a way that’s hard to ignore, and oh, he’s tried so hard to ignore it lately. He forces his eyes to flick away from her neck, to where he sees her pouring over the essay she’s about to turn in as though there could be some possible mistake in it.

This makes him snort. Evans is an ever going editor. He’s even caught her editing some of his homework when she thought he wasn’t looking.

She really makes this too easy, the whole taking her by surprise thing.

He waits until she’s in front of him before he strikes, grabbing her by the wrist with one hand and gently covering her mouth with the other to muffle her shocked squeal as he pulls her underneath the cloak.

“‘Lo, Evans,” he says, moving to lean against the wall without removing his hands. He sees her relax when she realizes that it’s him, breathing her sigh of relief against his hand. Her eyes narrow the next second. He removes his hands, holding them up in mock surrender.

“Potter,” she replies, her voice quiet. She glances up at the cloak that is statically sticking to her hair. “Did you kidnap me?”

“Kidnapping is such a harsh word, isn’t it?” James asks, tucking a bit of her hair behind her ear. “It’s not so much of a kidnapping as it is a proposition for adventure.”

“Five minutes before class? Why?”

James grins. “That’s the best time for adventures, Evans.”

“I have to hand in my essay. I know you did yours, so you have to hand yours in too,” she says. She casts a glance behind her shoulder to the door. “I don’t think I have time for an adventure right now.”

“There’s always time for adventure. Have I taught you nothing? Besides, it’s Binns. He’s not going to notice if you’re there or not.”

She looks behind her again briefly, but her eyes turn back to him after a few seconds. “You make a decent point. What did you have in mind?”

“Hogsmeade?”

“And I assume you know how to get there without getting caught?”

“Honestly, it’s like you don’t even know me. Where do you think that pack of chocolate frogs I got you last week came from?”

Lily smiles, ducking her head slightly. When she looks up again, she’s that much closer to him underneath the cloak. “Can I still hand in my essay?”

“‘Course,” he says, matching her smile with one of his own. “I’m not an animal, mind you. I know you’ll be insufferable if you don’t.”

"You're handing yours in too. If I'm agreeing to ditch class, you're still getting a good mark."

“Deal.” When he turns slightly, he spots the swishing of bright blonde hair coming up on them. “Perfect timing,” he says, lifting the cloak slightly. “Hey, Macdonald!”

It doesn’t even look like Mary is phased. “Potter,” she answers, hardly looking up from her own essay that looks significantly shorter than Lily’s.

James tries not to harp too much on the fact that she seems entirely unimpressed with his invisibility cloak. Merlin, does this girl really know everything that goes on at Hogwarts?

“Fancy turning in our essays so we can skive off?”

“Sure thing,” Mary says, finally looking up at them and holding her hand out without question.

"Thanks, Mare. I'll be back before dinner," Lily says, still under the cloak and digging through her bag. She produces the essay and passes it to Mary with a visible flash of her wrist. "Um,” she hesitates, turning the question over to him, “will we be back before dinner?"

“I know this will absolutely kill you, but let’s just play it by ear, yeah? Let’s not commit to any sort of timeline.” James grins at the shock that flickers across her features, knowing full well that having to go into anything without any sort of plan is one of her worst nightmares.

“Keep her out all night if you have to,” says Mary, neatly stacking their essays together. “Merlin knows she needs a night out.”

"Mary!" Lily objects, pushing back the cloak so her friend can see her. Her side and other arm are practically touching his front, but she's turned toward Macdonald.

“What?” snorts Mary. “Am I wrong?”

“No, you’re not,” says James, straightening his back against the stone wall to try to create the illusion of distance. It fails miserably. “She needs a break, but we definitely won’t be out all night.”

"I'm still here," Lily insists. Without seeing her face, he can perfectly picture the way she’s scrunching up her nose, like she does when she's annoyed. "Turn in my essay, Macdonald, and go to class."

Mary raises an unimpressed brow. “Is that an order from my Head Girl?”

Lily gives a half-laugh. “You’re going to be late. I’ll get the notes from you later.”

“Assuming there are any and Binns doesn’t put me to sleep first,” groans Mary before turning on her heel. She waves one last time before disappearing into the classroom.

“Well,” says James, smiling down at Lily. He lets the cloak drop over them again. They’re nearly nose to nose, the way they’re aligned. “Step one, complete.”

--

At this point, nothing about James Potter should surprise her.

They’ve known each other long enough to communicate well, sometimes without even talking. She doesn’t need to explain when she’s annoyed or anxious, because he’s already figured it out. Before someone else intervenes, she knows when he’s upset. She knows when to put her hand on his wrist and silently tell him to let it go.

Recently, his appearance by her dormitory window is normal enough that she already has her sweater neatly folded on her bedside table. She puts aside whatever she’s reading and pulls it on to join him in a late night run to the kitchens or a practical practice session in an empty classroom.

He’s always had a knack for trouble. He’s always known more about the castle than the whole staff put together.

Still, he comes up with new ways to leave her in stages of disbelief.

This time, to escape an hour-long drone from Professor Binns, they both duck under his invisibility cloak again. He doesn’t give her much information about where they’re going, so she tries to follow him as best as she can under the confines of the cloak. Hogsmeade is the end destination, but she doesn’t know how they’re getting there.

James stops short in front of a hunched statue. Lily nearly runs into his back, but she puts a hand out to stop herself. She peers over his shoulder as he mumbles a password. The statue creaks, and the hump opens.

Lily can’t help but glance down the hall, certain that someone is onto them.

“Step two?” she asks, looking over his shoulder again. “Sliding into a mystery tunnel?”

“You said you didn’t want to get caught, right?” James asks, turning slightly so she can see the curve of one side of his mouth. “Mystery tunnel it is.”

Getting caught would end their adventure pretty quickly, so she has to agree.

Besides, she trusts James, even if she can’t always trust his grin. Nothing in his plan is designed to hurt her. He doesn’t need to tell her that.

“Mystery tunnel it is.”

Pushing off the cloak, Lily clamors over the statue. She tucks her uniform skirt between her legs and presses them together for the ride.

After a beat, she inclines her head toward James. “Well, are you coming?” she poses, letting a grin of her own creep into her words. She holds onto the side of the slide with one hand and gestures to the open space behind her with the other.

“Wha- oh. Of course,” says James, shaking his head. Lily can only give him half a questioning look before he’s climbing behind her, his long legs stretched out beside her own.

She tucks his arms by her sides, ignoring the pleasant warmth that comes from the places where they touch. She doesn’t try to assign words to the faint buzz on her skin. Instead, Lily pushes off before she can change her mind or she insists that they turn around to check what they’re missing in class.

The wind whips through her fringe, but her braid keeps it from hitting James behind her. Too soon and not soon enough, they reach the end of the slide. It comes quickly, knocking her a little off balance when they land inelegantly at the start of a rough tunnel.

“Sorry,” Lily says, moving her elbow away from where she might have caused a bruise in his side. They’re a little tangled. She eases, rather than jerks, away from his hold, going through a mental checklist to determine that she isn’t injured by the quick descent. Lily stands, her cheeks a little pink, and brushes herself off. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” he confirms, though his glasses are a bit wonky and dirty. He takes them off, cleaning them on the end of his shirt that became untucked at some point.

Lily feels her cheeks grow warmer.

When he places his glasses back on, he blinks at her a few times before smiling brightly. “There, all better. Believe it or not, this happens all the time. I’ve actually broken my glasses a few times.”

"Nothing a quick reparo can't fix, I hope?" Despite her flush, she can't help but mirror his smile. It makes him and the whole tunnel a bit brighter. "Lead the way, Potter. I need some chocolate to get through the rest of the week."

“You have an addiction, Evans,” says James, standing and dusting off his shirt. He squints in the darkness before drawing his wand and muttering, “Lumos!”

With the light from James’ wand illuminating the space around them, Lily can now make out a narrow passageway that stretches out longer than James’ charm can distinguish. Dirt, moist and cold, cakes the bottom of her shoes as she follows him.

"They say Hogwarts is the safest place in the world," Lily says, sticking by his side so his wand can light the way. "So how many tunnels are there like this? I have a feeling you've found a few of them."

“A magician never reveals his secrets,” says James, bumping her with his shoulder. “Did I use that right? I learned the saying in fifth year Muggle Studies, and I’ve always wanted to try it out.”

She bumps him back with her shoulder. "Not bad." Lily gestures to the unknown amount of tunnel in front of them. “I guess I was deemed worthy of this secret.”

“Eh, you know,” says James, feigning boredom. He twirls his wand between his fingers, causing Lily to see floaters in the darkness as the light moves with it. “You’re alright, Evans. I suppose I can share a few of my secrets with you.”

“But only when I skip class?”

Especially when you skip class.”

She grins, though it’s probably too dark for him to see. “I shouldn’t make a habit of it. If I get expelled, you’ll have to explain it to my mother.”

“Your mother loves me, Evans. She’ll never believe I’m the bad influence on you. I made quite the impression on her at the train station last year. Remember?”

Of course she does.

James is distressingly good at charming adults. There is a reason, after all, why Professor McGonagall likes him so much, despite his detention record.

Lily’s mother isn’t an exception. In nearly every letter since meeting him by the train, her mother asks after him and dismisses any references to his troublemaking.

Although, Lily also remembers him leaving quite the opposite impression on her sister.

That, however, might be a point in his favor.

“That’s why you have to be the one to tell her. Mum will believe anything if you say it.”

“Anything, eh? The power I have over your image, Evans. You shouldn’t let me have that much control.”

She isn’t sure if it’s the low teasing tone of his voice or the fact that he’s turned his grin on her, but she feels her cheeks flood with warmth.

This is silly. Besides the fact that they’re friends, it’s far too dark in the tunnel for him to get this much of a reaction out of her. She isn’t even getting the full blown effect of his charm in the darkness, but it’s still radiating off him and causing little tingles to shiver down her spine.

It’s cold in the tunnel but all of her feels hot.

"Is it much further?" Lily says, looking down the ongoing stretch of tunnel. With the darkness working in her favor, she doesn't need to give him any other reason to realize how she's reacting.

“Not too far, no. Do you need a break?”

"No," she says. She skips a few steps in front of him to prove it. "Just trying to figure out how much longer until you have to buy me the biggest bar of chocolate they have."

“Hmm,” he hums from behind her. When she looks back, he’s got one hand tucked casually in his trouser pocket, his head tilted at her in a familiar way she knows by now. He’s sizing her up for something.

She squares her shoulders at him.

“Care to make a deal, Evans?”

"That depends on the deal," she counters.

Knowing him, she has reason to be cautious. Knowing herself, she is going to do whatever it is.

James chuckles. “It’s nothing too big. I promise.”

Lily nearly snorts. Nothing with James is ever not big. His pranks, his personality…

Her own feelings for him that she’s been trying to ignore.

"Well, what is it?"

He smirks at her impatience, reaching into his pocket. Lily blinks at his hand and the little muggle pocket knife in confusion before looking up at James, her mouth hanging open in a way that Petunia would scold.

“Relax, Evans,” he says, rolling his eyes. “I’m not going to have us slice open our palms and make some sort of blood pact. I was thinking more along the lines of defacing some school property in exchange for the largest bar of chocolate Honeydukes has to offer.”

"So we're still in the school?" It's not the most important thing, all things considered, but it's still what she says.

“The tunnel is connected to the school, so it still counts,” he reasons with a half shrug.

She eyes the knife warily and then returns her gaze to his. "What kind of defacing are you thinking?"

“What about a tag of some sort? Something to leave behind Hogwarts that’s strictly Evans, you know. Something that’s your mark.”

Lily looks to the wall beside her and back. "Should I be worried that you think 'Evans' and a knife comes to mind?"

“Such cheek. You have no idea what comes to mind when I think ‘Evans.’”

She almost asks.

The realization that they're truly alone hits, as if they haven't been since they ducked under his cloak. For the first time in months, she isn't surrounded by people. It's only them, only Lily and James.

She takes a small step closer to him. Her voice drops so he may have to lean in closer to hear. "What are you thinking?" she asks. "For the tag?"

“Something special to you. Something you’d want to be remembered by…” He trails off, pursing his lips together tightly in thought. She isn’t sure if he has something in mind exactly and won’t say it, or if he hasn’t expected to get this far.

He never really thinks too far ahead, she’s noticed. He’s so unlike her sometimes.

"Here," Lily says, closing the shrinking distance between them and taking the knife from him. It's a little awkward in her hand. Turning away, Lily scratches a few lines into the side of the tunnel. She has to push a little harder than she thought, but she still manages. After a few swipes, Lily backs up and looks at the wall with him.

If she tilts her head the right way, she can see that the lines are supposed to be petals. "It’s subtle. That way they can't prove it was me if they find it," she explains. "But we know." She looks over her shoulder and offers the knife to him. "You should add something."

He reaches out to take the knife and there’s a moment when their fingers brush, lingering there slightly when he doesn’t take the knife back fully. If he’s noticed the spark she starts to feel, he doesn’t let on. Instead, he gives her a sort of half smile that makes her heart do a most peculiar plummet. “You sure you want me to taint your pretty petals with my awful artwork?”

"Yeah," she whispers, mouth a little dry. "You should be remembered. It's your tunnel and…" Lily looks at her crudely scratched flower instead of him. "We're going to be gone soon, but it's not Hogwarts without James Potter."

“No,” he laughs. “I suppose it’s not.”

When James takes the knife, Lily’s hand quickly drops to her side. She focuses on watching him make his own mark on the tunnel walls rather than thinking about how she knows his fingertips are calloused, likely from Quidditch.

He works quickly, likely having done this sort of mischief more than her. He knows what he’s doing, and she wonders if he was feigning his own lack of talent as she watches him put the finishing touches on a pair of stag’s antlers.

“There,” James says, stepping back so he’s beside her. “Now we’re together forever. Even after we leave Hogwarts.”

That’s it.

She can't identify why, but something catches in her throat. Without meaning to and without completely recognizing what it is, Lily pushes down a small sob. Despite her best efforts, a sound escapes her.

Why is she crying?

She swipes her face a little angrily. Not at him, but at herself.

“Whoa, what’s wrong?” asks James, clearly alarmed. “Did I do something to upset you?”

"No." The roughness in her voice makes it harder to talk. She intentionally softens her tone when she says, "It's me being stupid. Don't worry about it."

“You’re never stupid, Evans.” He says it so earnestly that she feels her heart swell. “Tell me what’s wrong. Please.”

"But it…" She resists the urge to wipe her cheek again. She takes a shaky breath. "What is going to happen when we leave here? When we - when I - don't have Hogwarts and…" Lily shakes her head. "I'm working really hard to… I don't even know. I don't know what I'm trying to do, but I can't just sit around and - and…"

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Slow down, Evans. It’s okay. I know you’ve been working yourself too hard. Now look at you.”

"It's not working too hard," she answers. "If anything - What if it's not enough? I have to work hard because -"

“Shhh,” he shushes her. ”C’mere, Evans.”

She feels more than sees him reach to cup her face, her vision blurred by her watery eyes. When his thumbs begin to brush soothingly against her damp cheeks, Lily worries that she’s going to cry anew and tilts her head forward so that it presses against James’ chest.

When did they get so close?

“Now,” James says after she draws a muffled breath. “Tell me, slowly, what’s wrong so I can fix it.”

"I don't know if you can," she replies stubbornly. "The world's a mess. I'm me and you're you and in a few months, nothing I did - nothing I do - is going to matter. It doesn't matter how well I do in class or what spells I know or - or anything. Hogwarts will be gone. I'll be alone, and you'll…"

She didn't plan to add that part of her list of worries.

"I don't know where you'll be.”

“What are you talking about?” James laughs, though it’s not unkind. “You think you’ll just never see me again after we graduate? Me? The boy who flies up to your window almost nightly to force you to hang out with me?”

"It's going to be different out there," Lily insists. "I read the paper. I hear people talk. I - I know what they want to do to people. To people like me.'

“You know I’ll never let anyone hurt you, right? You know that I would do anything to keep you safe.”

"You don't -" She scrubs her fingers across her dried tear tracks. "It’s not so simple. You have to worry about yourself and not getting tangled with…" Lily doesn't finish the sentence because she can't bear to do it.

There’s a moment of silence between them where the only thing Lily can hear is her own sniffles echoing through the tunnel.

James’ arms wind around her. Without question, she melts into them, cradling her head into the hand that weaves itself easily into her hair. When he speaks, it’s soft. His chin is on the top of her head. “What if I want to get myself tangled with you?”

This silence is loud.

"Why would you want to do that?" Lily tries to keep her tone light, but she's not sure it entirely translates. Honestly, she’s not sure what she wants him to think of it.

Lily doesn't move from his hold.

“Come on, Evans. You can’t be serious.” When she raises her head to give him a questioning look, James continues. “You have to know. Surely…”

"It's not -" Lily tries to start again. What he's alluding to might have been true. At one point. But now... "Once we leave, it's not so easy. Out there isn't like here. People will… you'll…"

“You think I care about easy? I fly up to your room every night instead of waiting for you to come down.” The world goes quiet except for the intensity of James’ words. “The way I feel about you has never been easy. And, ugh, I know how that sounds, but I don’t want it to be easy, Evans. I like that this seems out of control, what I’m feeling for you.”

“I -”

Two sides war in her head.

The side that wants to believe him. That side wants to believe that her thudding heartbeat and every hour they’ve spent together over the past few months meant something other than casual friendship. That he doesn’t say these things out of obligation or a schoolyard fancy that won’t make it past the iron gates.

Then the other side puts up a fight. This is the side that screams that no matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries, no matter what happens, she has to try even harder. She will have to be twice as good to get half as much. Things can’t come easily to her because the deck is stacked and the world isn’t built for her.

But this, standing in the circle of his arms, is easy.

Everything else may be out of control. He can say his feelings for her are out of control.

But being with him, whether they’re in the middle of a pumpkin patch or sitting in class or under the school in a secret tunnel, doesn’t make her out of control. When he’s around, things make sense.

At least for now, the nasty part of her brain taunts.

“I want that,” Lily says, pushing that down. “Being around you. The way I feel about you.” In spite of the time she has wasted worrying and convincing herself that she could never say it out loud, the world doesn’t shatter. It keeps spinning, as if she said something as innocuous as asking about dinner. Everything continues, and she has to follow along with it. "But I don’t know, James. Once we leave here, you could go anywhere. And I don’t know how to be ready. I always have to be prepared, but I don’t know."

“This time I’m prepared,” he says, grasping her hands and taking a step back so they can look at each other fully. “This time, I’m the one who is ready. You don’t have to worry about any of that stuff with me. About being on solid ground. My feelings for you are steady enough for you to safely plant your feet. I’m not going to let you fall. Not without catching you.”

This time, she doesn’t let herself overthink the decision. With their fingers still clasped together, Lily moves onto her toes. Hopefully, his words are also literal, because she can’t promise that she’ll maintain her balance on her own.

Lily presses her lips to his, softly at first, partially asking permission.

For her, James is security and sunshine. He’s the boy who thwarts centuries-old trick staircases to see her. The boy who cheers loudest of all when someone else accomplishes something great. The boy who ruffles his hair when he’s nervous, especially around her, despite every other deliberate show of confidence.

For him, judging by the words of his confession and the eagerness with which he responds to her kiss, she is what drives him wild.

She can feel it, the out of control burning of what he feels for her beginning to rage and consume her. It’s on his lips as he smirks against her own, granting her permission to kiss him. It’s in his teeth as he nips at her lower lip, asking permission of his own as he tilts her head to the side for better access.

Lily doesn’t hesitate in giving it to him, in exchanging the slow burn of her initial kiss for the fire of his. She moves forward and, true to his word, James catches her. A chuckle escapes his lips, breathing against hers, as if to say, ‘Did you ever doubt that I would let you kiss me? Silly Evans.’

She sighs, content in the contrast of it all. She lets go of one of his hands only so she can pull him closer to her. Nothing else in the world has to make sense - at least, not for now - when he’s holding her. She could do it alone, could put her nose down and keep doing what she was doing, but she doesn’t have to - she doesn’t want to do it without him.

When they break away, their fingers still intertwined, she can’t tell who pulls away first. Both of them want to be close, clearly, since their foreheads stay together.

“You caught me,” Lily says.

James appears breathless, but not so much so that he doesn’t laugh lightly at her words. “Told you I would.”

She knows she’s smiling. It feels almost too big for her face, like her cheeks will crack if she keeps holding it, but she can’t stop. Her shoulders are light. Her feet are on the ground, but she isn’t held to it. She’s floating and grounded all at once.

“Do you still want to go to Hogsmeade with me?”

“Are you asking me on a date, Evans?”

"Maybe," Lily says, almost, but not quite, bouncing on the balls of her feet. "Would you say yes if I was?"

“Hmm,” James hums, feigning thought. “I suppose so. I mean, I do owe you some chocolate, after all.” He tugs on her hand, fingers still threaded together, pulling her closer. “Plus, I’ve grown pretty fond of you.”

"That's good to know since I’m pretty fond of you too." She catches herself this time and squeezes his hand. "I guess I am asking you on a date, Potter."

“And I guess I’m accepting said invitation, Evans.” He’s grinning so brightly that she might see stars.

"Then let's go." She takes a step backward, taking him with her away from the castle and toward Hogsmeade. "I don't think we'll be back for dinner."

--

James isn’t sure what it says about him, exactly, that he’s so clearly smitten with Lily that it’s written all over his face.

He wouldn’t even know or necessarily mind if it weren’t for Sirius Black and his constant heckling of the matter. James ought to have known that his best mate would get a kick over the whole thing. After all, he has been on the receiving end of many of James’ lovesick, pining monologues over the girl in the past.

But the fact that he knows what type of lousy best mate he’s saddled himself with doesn’t stop James from sending a pillow flying into the four poster bed next to him when Sirius dissolves into his hundredth fit of giggles for the day.

“And when she asked if she could trade seats with me this morning in Charms so she could sit next to you!” Sirius continues on a rant that James has long stopped listening to. He buries his tear-streaked face into James’ pillow as he lets out another mad laugh. “You looked like a kid on Christmas morning! It’s like you’ve never had a girl sit next to you before!”

James growls, looking for something else to chuck at him. “I swear to Merlin, Sirius! If you don’t stop -”

“Leave him alone, Sirius,” Remus calls from the bed across from James. He puts his book down to send a glare in Sirius’ direction, which is how James knows that he’s also annoyed. “You’ve done plenty of embarrassing things around people you’ve liked before. Like that time you were trying on my cardigans -”

“Don’t,” orders Sirius, face flushed and pointing an accusing finger in Remus’ direction, “finish that sentence!”

“We all know you’ve got a thing for Remus and his cardigans,” Peter says, coming to throw himself at the foot of James’ bed.

"And the time you -"

There's a short series of knocks on their door, which cuts off Remus' sentence and makes Sirius turn like he's picked up a scent.

Peter pauses, as if he's counting the number of people in the room and finding that no one is missing. He shrugs one shoulder and lays back on the bed.

The knock comes again.

“What the -” James starts, rising to his feet. “You don’t think it’s Minnie, do you?”

“I hope not,” answers Remus, though he stands. “We haven’t done anything this week.”

James straightens his tie, fully expecting to be told off when he opens the door. Instead, though, he’s met with the beaming face of his girlfriend on the other side.

Your girlfriend! His mind practically screams at him.

“Hey!” James greets her. Suddenly, he can’t remember why he is so disgruntled with Sirius. His brain is flooded with serotonin looking at her.

"Hey," Lily says, one hand on the side of the doorway. "Are you busy?"

"Of course not. He's only waxing poetry about -"

There's a squeak of springs and Sirius stops talking quickly.

"Hi, Lily," Remus says from Sirius' bed.

"Hi," Peter adds, looking at the door upside down from his spot on James' bed.

“I’m not busy at all,” says James, moving so she can come into the room. “Why? What’s - Are you wearing jeans?”

Somewhere in the back of his mind, James can hear his mother chiding him for being so rude. Pointing out what someone is wearing by nearly shouting it at them is not how Euphemia raised him.

But Mum, he practically whines in his head, she’s wearing jeans!

The jeans themselves shouldn’t be as much of a shock. They’re not totally unknown at Hogwarts. He’s seen jeans before on other muggleborn students. He even owns a few pairs himself.

But Lily hardly ever wears jeans. She’s normally so well put together and proper in her uniform during the day. James loves Lily in jeans, whenever he’s gotten a chance to be graced with their presence.

Today is one of those blessed days, apparently.

"Should I not be wearing them?" Lily nearly frowns. She takes a step into the room and looks down, running her hands over the denim. "I wanted something comfortable, because I thought we might study."

Sirius' thin layer of control breaks with a laugh. He practically cackles. Although it's muffled quickly by Remus' hand, no one misses it.

Even Peter looks like he might be smirking.

“Ignore him. He’s just being himself. A git,” James says, yelling the last word over his shoulder and taking a step in front of Lily to block Sirius from her view. He turns back to her, grinning. “So… studying?”

"Yeah," she says with the easy smile that always makes her eyes sparkle and features soften. She leans in, lowering her voice to a secretive whisper. "A good excuse to spend some time together for a little while. Get away from these varmints." Her smile turns a little mischievous. "Are my jeans alright for that?"

“Your jeans are perfect for that,” he assures her, probably too earnestly. He gestures toward the door. “Shall we go?”

"Have fun, boys," she calls over his shoulder. Lily takes his hand. "I'm stealing him for a little while."

“Have him back by ten!” Sirius calls. “That’s his bedtime!”

Sirius is only saved from a string of expletives by Lily tugging James out of the room by the hand.

“He’s lying, obviously. I don’t have a bedtime,” James says, threading their fingers together as they go down the steps. “You can keep me for as long as you want.”

"As long as I want? Don't make promises you don't intend to keep, Potter."

“Evans, I would never.”

She hops a little on the last step so she's in front of him again. Taking his other hand, she swings them. "Seeing as we're on a study date and it looks like we both forgot our bags…" Lily grins. James thinks he might love this girl. "Where do you want to study?"

“Hogsmeade sounds like a good place to go on a not-studying study date, don’t you think?”

"You know,” she says, “I'll kiss you again, even if you don't show me a new mysterious tunnel."

James grins. “You promise?”

"Promise," Lily replies. "I happen to like kissing you." Her mouth twists up at the corner.

James wonders what it would be like to kiss her there. He determines quickly to himself that he’ll find out. Later though. They have all the time in the world to figure out such things. There’s plenty of time for exploring new kissing spots and each other. They have no need to rush.

He’s even more certain of that when he squeezes her hand and feels her squeeze back.