i. Sixteen Going on Seventeen
November had just about flown by in a chilly daze. The days started to take on the repetitive quality they always did in the middle of term: classes began to blur together, and the not quite winter made Lily antsy for Christmas. That, at least, she could enjoy. In the meantime, though, the one shining spot in the gloomy month was Dex. Which was why, one morning in their dorm, Lily conspired to be alone with Mary.
“Mare,” she said, her tone perfectly casual.
Mary was fiddling with a brand-new wireless; one of her many admirers had assured her it would tune into Muggle stations, despite whatever interference Hogwarts caused. So far the thing had not proved effective. Lily didn’t think the boy had a chance anyway, but she felt sorry for him nevertheless. Mary looked up at the sound of her name.
“How did you know you were ready to have sex? The first time?”
Lily hadn’t expected to be able to get the words out right away; she blinked at her friend in just as much surprise as Mary did at her.
“Well,” Mary said cautiously, as though she recognised that a dramatic reaction would spook Lily, “I wanted to get it over with. I think when you have that feeling about it, you’re probably ready. But that’s not the only sign of readiness.”
“I don’t think I have that feeling.”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
Lily chewed on her bottom lip. She was sitting on the rug, leaning against her bed. “Hmm.” She could feel herself flushing. Was it too late to take it back? “I don’t mean to—”
Mary cut her off. “Do you want to? That’s sort of the first step.”
Did she? “I — don’t know,” Lily said honestly. She felt ambivalent about...waiting for love or for marriage, or what have you. She couldn’t just do it with whoever, of course. But her boyfriend wasn’t just anyone. And they’d been — well, it wasn’t sex, but things had been a little hotter and heavier than usual, so to speak. She knew she was growing redder by the moment.
“You don’t have to worry about it until you do know,” said Mary decisively. “Unless he’s pressuring you into anything?” A dangerous calm came over her.
“No! No, nothing like that. I was only wondering…” Lily realised she’d been seeking some sort of reassurance from Mary, but she wasn’t at all certain what sort. She didn’t know if Mary could give it, either.
“Look, Lily. Sex is whatever you want it to be. It can be — meaningful and special that first time, or it can be just for fun. I mean, ideally it’s fun either way. But, point being, you have your whole life to have it, and your whole life to have different kinds of it. Don’t overthink it. Do what feels right.” At the end of this speech Mary smiled, and said, “Okay?”
“Okay,” said Lily, a touch hesitant. She knew Mary was trying to be helpful. But her friend’s words swimming around her head only made her more confused.
Mary’s smile had dropped at the look on Lily’s face. “It seems like you’re waiting for something.”
Lily’s hands fluttered into a helpless half-shrug. “Maybe? I think I’m waiting for the right moment. It seems wrong to plan it.”
“Wrong, or embarrassing?”
No, Lily had been wrong. This interrogation was far, far worse than a confusing little speech. “I don’t know,” she said again, putting her face in her hands. “I just wish there was a guidebook for what to do and when. But I also wish things could just be spontaneous.”
Mary laughed, prying Lily’s hands away from her face. “Things are only as spontaneous as you make them, Lily. Besides, Fortescue isn’t keeling over anytime soon. You don’t need to have all the answers.”
Lily squeezed Mary’s hands. “You know that’s easier said than done for me.” She rose to her feet. “I think I’m going to take a walk.”
“You’re not upset, are you?”
“I promise, I’m not. I need to get out of my head, is all.”
Mary did not look like she entirely believed this excuse, but did not argue. With one last reassuring smile, Lily twisted a scarf around her neck and made her way out of Gryffindor Tower. Hufflepuff were playing Ravenclaw that morning, which explained where Germaine was. Scoping out the enemy on James’s instructions, no doubt. Lily thought she heard the crowd erupt into a roar; she remembered all the stupid stunts Gryffindor’s match had involved, and hoped to God nothing of the sort was happening again.
She avoided the pitch, starting towards the Lake instead. It was decidedly not the right weather for lakeshore socialising, and the front of the castle was devoid of any clumps of students despite the fact that it was the weekend. How perfectly depressing, Lily thought. She could’ve been the only student in the school. Sighing to herself, she groped for the crumpled pack of cigarettes stowed away in her pocket.
“So much for kicking the habit,” she said to herself aloud, lighting one with the tip of her wand and settling onto a nice patch of dried-up grass. Well — as nice as could be, for November.
“Shame,” said a voice behind her.
Lily jumped about a foot into the air, nearly dropping the cigarette. It was only James, hands tucked into his pockets, an innocent smile on his face.
“Merlin, never sneak up on me again,” she said, laughing a little. “What are you doing here?”
James quirked an eyebrow. “I was taking a walk, thinking about how no one would be here, and I wouldn’t have any probing questions to answer.” He grinned, taking the edge from his words.
Lily rolled her eyes. “I meant why aren’t you at the pitch, is all.”
James grimaced, sitting down next to her. “The game’s over.”
Lily frowned. “Over? But — I thought it would’ve only just started—”
“Ravenclaw are really quite good,” James said sadly. “Maybe it’s a good thing I stumbled upon you after all. Less time to think about playing them.” He eyed her cigarette. “I didn’t think you smoked.”
Lily sighed, lifting it to her mouth. “I wish I didn’t. I try not to at school, but it’s been a weird morning.” She saw the curiosity in his eyes, and realised she needed to change the subject right away. Even thinking of explaining the details of her conversation with Mary to James was wreaking havoc on her blood pressure. “One for you?” She held out her pack to him.
His expression shifted into sternness. “My body is a temple, Evans. Why would I get that gunk in my system?” And then he took a cigarette and lit it.
Lily snorted; she thought she saw him smile. They smoked together in silence for a few minutes, watching the Lake’s still surface. Of course the combination of this company and this location made Lily think of last year after their Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L.
The requisite twinge of shame, of hurt, struck her. It was hard to reconcile this...comfortable vision of James beside her, lounging on the grass perfectly happy being silent, with perhaps her worst recent memory. She worried, all of a sudden, that she was on the verge of saying something that would spoil this tranquil moment.
So she said, instead, “The Aurors are thinking of starting a Duelling Club.”
The slightest crease appeared between James’s eyebrows, although whether this was in response to the actual subject at hand or simply the suddenness of her speech, Lily could not be sure.
“What for?” James said.
“Teaching protective magic. That’s what they said to the prefects, at least. And as an outlet for students interested in… combative spells.” She gave him a meaningful look.
His frown deepened. “That doesn’t actually solve the problem of the Death Eater wannabes. They don’t want protection against Dark magic. They want to practice it. And teaching them the spellwork people use against it only makes them more likely to figure out how to get around them.”
“By that logic we ought to make Defense Against the Dark Arts opt-in,” Lily pointed out. “You’re probably right about Mulciber and Avery and that bunch. But isn’t it a good idea to prepare everyone else?”
He was quiet for a moment, blowing out a stream of smoke. “You really think they’ll need to be prepared — for something. Some kind of attack.”
Lily glanced at him, surprised. He hadn’t asked this as a question, not really, but— “You don’t? I mean,” she added hastily, “not that I think we’re about to be hurt tomorrow. But...what with the way things are going, I don’t think we can be ready soon enough. Especially if you’re right about what Mulciber and them were doing the other night.”
She braced herself for a defensive comment, but all James said was, “I think I do too.”
Lily nodded. “You’ll join, won’t you?”
“Yeah.” A hint of confusion entered his voice. “Are you asking because you think I should?”
“Well, yes,” Lily admitted with a small laugh. “Not because I think you can’t protect yourself.”
James smiled. “Kind of you to worry for my safety so much.”
She rolled her eyes. “I mean, if you and your friends join then — other students probably will too. It won’t be a boring extracurricular that’s being forced on us. It’ll be...if not fun, then cool.”
At this James properly laughed, a full-belly laugh with his head thrown back. Lily puffed at her cigarette, waiting for him to collect himself. An explanation would be forthcoming; he did not laugh at her without letting her know why.
No, that was an unfair thought. It would be more accurate to say he was open about what he felt — though so much of him seemed to exist behind a locked door she didn’t think she would ever pass through, James had an easy way about him. Call it confidence, or arrogance; Lily supposed she would have leaned towards the latter in years past.
“What is it?” she said when his laughter had subsided to chuckling.
“You think I’m cool,” he said, grinning.
Lily pulled a face. “Really? That was your takeaway?” At her exasperation, he began to laugh again. Lily huffed. “I don’t think you’re cool. I mean that the Hogwarts population at large thinks you’re cool. What does it mean to be cool anyway?”
“I see through you, Evans.”
“No, you don’t,” she said automatically, rolling her eyes. “Look, about our truce,” she started, before she could stop herself.
The mirth did not entirely fade from his expression, but he grew visibly wary. “Has anyone ever told you you have a bad habit of picking at things best left alone?”
“Not in so many words, but yes,” Lily said wryly. “I just wanted to say—” She shifted so she was facing him, the better to read his expression. “I do think the truce has become a safety net of sorts. More like a catch-all apology than a real truce, d’you know what I mean?”
He sighed. “No.”
“We’re still shitty to each other. Except now we argue and then let it simmer, on account of our truce. But that’s not what a truce means. It isn’t — firing at each other during a stalemate, but that’s what we’ve been doing.”
James was avoiding her gaze now, picking at the yellowed blades of grass between them. “Your metaphor’s got legs,” he observed mildly.
Lily did not let herself react to this. It was in his nature, she realised, to push back when a conversation veered towards discomfort; it was in her nature to push back when he did. Thus they careened towards arguments, time after time. Lily came to this conclusion in a calm, detached sort of way, impressed at her own thinking. Perhaps it was the cigarette. God bless Pall Mall, she thought.
“The point is, I’m sorry. I know we’ve already pulled a tabula rasa, but I want a proper one now. And — one in which we actually try not to be horrid.” This was more honesty than Lily had expected even from herself; she winced inwardly, wondering what his response would be.
James looked up at her, smiling a slanted sort of smile. “You’re right.”
“I’m what?” said Lily.
“You’re right. C’mon, you’re a smart bird, you know what that means.”
Lily scoffed, but she was smiling, altogether relieved.
“We can be nicer,” James continued. “I’m open to saying sorry once in a while. I thought I would only tolerate you, but you’re all right.”
She opened her mouth to protest, and he started to laugh again. “It was a joke!”
Lily relaxed. Of course it was, and maybe she did still feel a touch of stiff-backed affront when he said it’s a joke, lighten up, Evans, but she could bite her tongue if he did the same.
“We get along, when we try,” Lily said, pleased, as she took a drag of her cigarette.
“We always knew that.”
This took her by surprise; James said it with such simple assertiveness that she wasn’t sure what to think. Lily considered the fact that she and James could get along to be a recent revelation. Had he always thought they could? Why had he spent a good chunk of their school years aggravating her, then? Nothing made sense, but the crisp calm that smoking brought her allowed this confusion to simply exist. She could poke and prod at it later.
“If we’re being honest,” Lily said, with the cautious confidence of someone approaching a wild animal for the second time, “why’re you always so insistent about my not forgiving Severus? Do you really just dislike him that much?”
James lay down on his back, resting his head on a hand. “Picking at things, Evans.”
She said nothing, only looked at him.
“Let me put it this way. If Sni — if Snape were Mary’s friend and he’d said that to her, wouldn’t you tell Mary she ought to never speak to him again?”
Lily shifted uneasily. “Well, sure, but I’ve known him since—”
“—you were children, whatever. Say Mary did too. Would that change anything for her?” He raised his eyebrows at her meaningfully, as if he’d won his case already.
Lily sighed, looking back at the Lake. it would’ve been easier, far easier, if James had called Severus names and made snide remarks about his appearance.
“So you’re me, in this situation? Telling Mary what’s best for her?”
“Don’t project, Evans. Your…” He hesitated. “The people around you can sometimes see you clearer than you can see yourself. You can’t fix everyone.”
“Me?” She met his gaze, frowning. “I don’t try to fix people.”
“Sure you do.” James half-sat up, counting off on his fingers. “You befriended Remus in third year, because he obviously needed it. You stuck around Snape longer than you should’ve, despite the company he keeps — no, let me finish. Isn’t that what this whole truce thing is about?”
Lily’s mouth fell open; she struggled for a moment to find words. “Surely you didn’t agree to get along with me if you thought I was making you my — latest project!”
“That’s not what I said either,” said James, seemingly unaffected by her shock. “Remus is your friend, not your project. I think you go around trying to extend redeeming offers. But redemption is internal, at the end of the day. You can’t force Snape into it, the same way you can’t force me.”
“I’m not forcing you.”
“No,” he agreed. “That’s what I tried to establish at the beginning of this conversation. You aren’t forcing me.”
Lily shook her head. “No — that’s — none of that makes sense.”
She was faced, again, with the part of him that was shut off. It was as if she’d been walking the halls of a house with perfect freedom, only to come across an entire locked-up wing. Only, why was she so intent on knowing him, anyway? Why did she always want to throw herself bodily at the door and force her way in?
“It really doesn’t make sense,” James said, nodding. Then he rose to his feet. “Last week’s Potions essay is calling my name, sadly.”
“Last week’s?” Lily repeated, latching onto something she could at last understand.
“Sure. If I want to go to Duelling Club, I’ll have to stay out of detention, won’t I?”
“You’re incorrigible.” She had to squint looking up at him; the sun, apparently, was brighter than the overcast sky made it seem. James was a blurry backlit impression of a person in her vision.
“As long as you don’t force it,” said James cheerfully. “Thanks for the cig.”
Lily watched him go, somehow feeling unsettled and realigned at the same time.
ii. Two Minutes and Seventeen Seconds
The Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables were buzzing at breakfast; it was their big Quidditch rivalry match, after all. Dorcas, spooning jam onto her toast at the relatively quiet Gryffindor table, wondered as she always did why these two games began the season rather than finishing it off.
In any case, it worked out all right this season. If Ravenclaw lived up to the hype, the final match of the year — Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw — would decide who took home the cup.
These thoughts swirled around her head because Quidditch was necessarily on the mind. Turning to Germaine, Doe said, “You’re not doing anything this morning, are you? Want to watch the game with me?”
“You’re going?” Germaine said. “Whatever for? I thought you wanted to work on your Ancient Runes essay.”
“No point in working on my Ancient Runes essay when my Ancient Runes study partner is the commentator, is there?”
Germaine only hmmed in response; Doe wasn’t certain what to make of this, so she continued speaking. “Anyway, Michael was the one who asked me to watch. But I think I’d like some company, so you ought to come sit with us.”
Dorcas had thought this a perfectly innocuous invitation. By the look on Germaine’s face, she’d clearly thought wrong.
“Wait, wait—” Germaine noisily set down her goblet of pumpkin juice, shaking her head. “A boy asked you to a Quidditch match, and you’re asking me to be your chaperone?”
Doe laughed. “It’s hardly like that.”
“Well, it is. Why d’you need me? That’s what Michael is for!”
“If you really don’t want to sit with me, you don’t have to,” Doe teased. “It’s not like he can speak to me, can he? Not unless we want one half of the conversation to be broadcast across the pitch. I thought you’d be excited to watch.”
Germaine started, looking almost...trapped. “Me? Why would you say that?” she said, a little too quickly.
Doe blinked. “Because...you play Quidditch? Because you want to scope out the competition? Because there’s nothing more pressing for you to be doing on a weekend, which I know for a fact is true?” Was she reading into Germaine’s odd behaviour? Whatever this was, she could get it out of her.
“Oh. Well. That’s all true, I suppose. I’ll come with you — but I will leave if I start feeling like a third wheel,” she warned.
“You won’t,” Doe said, rolling her eyes. “You sound just like Mary.”
Germaine and Doe huddled together in the stands, feeling rather out of place in the sea of blue around them. It was cold; Dorcas was glad she’d invited her friend along. She could hardly have sat this close to Michael. Although — funnily enough, his voice wasn’t deafening, even though they were right beside him. The acoustic effect from his magical megaphone was such that he sounded as if he were across the stadium, his voice a pleasant boom.
Once the teams were called out and the captains met for the toss, Michael lowered his voice and said, “I’m glad you both came. None of my friends sit by me when I do this — the last time we tried, their cheering made me cheer, and then McGonagall was not pleased.” The professor in question looked over at the sound of her name, eyes narrowed; Michael gave her an innocent smile.
“No chance of us cheering, luckily,” Doe said. “Germaine and I will be booing no matter what happens. Right?” She nudged her friend, who was staring with a worrying intensity at the pitch.
Germaine started. “What? Yeah. No cheering.” She was preoccupied with her own thoughts. This was the first time she’d watched Emmeline play since they’d started flying together. Would that give her some sort of insight into the way the Ravenclaw thought the game? Germaine had only ever practised with Gryffindors; knowing their style of play was sort of the point. And then she thought, why am I thinking myself in circles instead of just watching?
She ought to have found her teammates. At least James and Isobel and Evan would be constantly talking, the better for her to focus on something outside her strange nervousness. It was nearly as bad as if she were playing the match herself.
Perhaps it was because she wasn’t certain where she and Emmeline stood. They were friendlyish. The last time they’d practised, the two girls had actually spoken — briefly, but it counted for something after weeks of silence. Germaine was not an extrovert, but she considered herself well able to make friends. It seemed as though Emmeline was the unfriendly one. Then again, she was friends with Amelia Bones, so clearly she could make friends, so what was the—
“And we’re off! Hufflepuff with the Quaffle to start, which will probably be the last time they get their hands on— ahem, Johnston’s got the Quaffle, that is, oh! Not anymore.”
Doe and Germaine both hissed; a Ravenclaw Beater had aimed the Bludger right at the Hufflepuff Chaser, who was unhurt but startled enough that she dropped the Quaffle. Stephen Fawcett, the Ravenclaw captain, swooped after it and shot off towards the Hufflepuff hoops.
“He’s scoring here,” said Germaine.
“How d’you know?” Doe said.
Fawcett feinted right; Chris Townes lunged too far, and the Ravenclaw easily tossed the Quaffle through the middle hoop. The Ravenclaws around them erupted into cheers; Fawcett flew past them, egging them on.
“You’d think he just won them the game,” Dorcas said, amused.
“It won’t get any better,” replied Germaine, scowling. “Emmeline better catch the Snitch soon. I don’t want to hear about Fawcett all bloody week.”
But Michael answered that question for her. “Is — that — the Snitch? Merlin’s shining — sorry, Professor McGonagall. That is the Snitch, and Emmeline Vance has got it. That’s the game for Ravenclaw, by a score of one hundred and sixty to zero!”
“Christ Almighty,” said Dorcas. “How much time was that?”
Michael was grinning. “For those of you in the audience who weren’t keeping time, that was two minutes and seventeen seconds of game play. One for the record books, eh?”
Doe rolled her eyes and elbowed him in the side before turning to her friend. “We’ll have a real game against them, won’t we? Germaine? Won’t we?”
But Germaine was only watching Ravenclaw’s victory lap, looking vaguely queasy.