Chapter 1: Veni.
She’s just another face in the crowd.
But she stands out.
She’s battling her way through the waves of I’m late-s , I should have gone to bed earlier-s and Why haven’t I started that bloody paper yet-s entangling themselves in people's legs. They trip, but she bears on.
Her hair is made of flames; they lick their way through the sea of people, turning them to ashes, burning a path for her - James is entranced. Her brow is furrowed with decision, and she doesn’t hesitate to nudge someone out of her way with her shoulder, or to make herself bigger with the size of her backpack which looks like it could make her topple over. She parts the flood with sheer determination in her eyes.
He goes unnoticed.
“Hey, er - you!”
James can’t resist. He has to talk to her.
The girl turns around and the force with which her backpack hits him almost makes him fall over, but he catches himself just in time.
“Oops, I’m sorry!”
“No worries, er…”
The girl glances at the clock that hangs in the school corridor, then balances on her heels, looking at him expectantly. James realises she’s waiting for him to say something; he’s the one who interrupted her march after all.
His mind, usually overflowing with colours, blanks out.
“Er - ”
He curses himself. He had been so busy trying to get her attention that he hadn’t thought about what he would say to her if he actually got it.
She peeks at the clock again, then takes a step back.
“Listen, I really need to go - sorry!”
She turns around and dives back into the crowd that swallows her whole.
It's too late. She's gone. James shakes his head, then runs a hand through his hair, his eyes fixed on the spot from which she dropped out of sight.
He starts seeing her everywhere; in the library, walking past the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, in the corridors between classes, at the bus stop on campus. She’s a spark that bursts out of a fire, only to die out just before he has the chance to catch it.
This time he notices her in the cafeteria. He’s sitting down at a table when he distinguishes her now familiar crimson hair. She’s in the queue waiting to pay, a sandwich in one hand, a twitch in the other, while she taps her foot to the beat of a seconds clock hand. She doesn’t have a tray in her hand. She’s eating out. Damn it .
“Earth to James.”
James blinks and slowly sits down, his eyes glued on the girl.
“James’ middle name is -”
He snaps out of his entrancement and plunges onto the long-haired boy sitting next to him, covering his mouth with his hands.
“You promised, Sirius! You promised you wouldn't say anything!”
“Let me go!” says the boy, his voice muffled by James’ hands.
A second later he jerks his hand away, howling with pain. The people in the Great Hall steal glances at them.
“You animal! You bit me!” he says unfazed by the attention they’re getting.
Sirius bites the air and looks at him with a self-satisfied grin.
“Kinky,” says Remus.
James glares at him and latter squints his eyes giving him a fake smile.
“What was the sole center of your attention this time?”
“A girl probably,” Peter purrs.
Sirius swings an arm around James’ shoulders.
“A girl? You should have said so immediately! When do we get to meet her?” he says loudly, turning around to look at the queue.
Remus strains his neck and Peter gets up on his chair, standing on his toes.
“Cut it out! She’ll see you!” he says grabbing Sirius by the chin, forcing him to look in the opposite direction.
Sirius bares his teeth at him.
“Who’ll see you?” says Marlene dropping her tray on the table with a clatter, then plopping herself next to James.“James’ COTW,” says Remus.
Hestia, who’s arrived with Marlene, takes a seat next to him.
“James’ what?” she says, her soft-spoken voice barely audible over the roar of the cafeteria.
“James’ Crush of the Week.”
“I thought he already had a crush of the week.”
“Technically, he's had four,” Peter says taking a bite out of his sausage, having given up the search of James’ new crush.
Marlene turns around, perching her elbow on the back of her chair.
“So, who is this mystery girl? Anyone I know?”
James peers at the queue again, then slumps in his chair.
“She's not there anymore,” he says, his lower lip dropping like a child’s.
“Poor bloke. Can’t keep a girl satisfied,” Sirius says leaning back in his chair, his hands behind his head.
“Neither can you,” snaps James.
“But that, my friend, is for a whole other reason.”
“She probably saw the lot of us staring and ran for her life,” says Remus.
Hestia nods approvingly.
“What sort of friends ruin your only chances to speak to the girl of your dreams?” he says glaring at them.
“So this would be James’ fifth GOHD ?”
“Sixth,” says Peter counting on his fingers. “No, wait! Seventh. Two of them he's met this week.”
“I'm sensing a pattern here…”
“Yeah, it's that this love-struck dork will have the hots for anyone who sets their eyes on him for more than five seconds.”
Sirius gasps, his eyes alight with understanding.
“That explains why he's always been in love with me,” he says snapping his fingers. “I mean, I keep telling him he's like a brother to me.”
“Kinky,” says Remus, his lip curled.
“The chances of me being in love with you are lower than those of me kissing Filch!”
Sirius clutches his heart.
“How did you meet this girl anyway?” says Hestia, honest interest in her voice.
James messes up his hair and sighs.
“I saw her in the corridors, but I don't know who she is. I haven't seen her around before.”
He looks up at them with hopeful eyes.
“Do you guys know her? She’s got deep red hair and these amazing green eyes. Like emeralds,” he says a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
“Have you already written sonnets about those eyes, James?”
“He's probably written his next essay on them.”
“I know her,” pipes in Hestia.
James slams his hands on the table, making Peter jump and spill lemonade all over his Star Wars t-shirt.
“You do?! You’ve got to introduce me to her!”
“But - ”
“Hestia, you don't understand! My life depends on it!”
“But, James - ”
James throws his arms in the air.
“Hestia, I thought we were friends! Friends are supposed to be there for one another! And have each other’s backs!”
“James - ”
“Hestia, what if she was actually the one? The true love of my life? What if she’s really my soulmate, my better half, my kindred spirit, the Juliette to my Romeo, the Isolde to my Tristan, the Angelina to my Brad? Would you really want me to miss the single opportunity that whatever God above - thou be merciful - has given me to meet them? What if I never find someone again? What if I chase aimlessly after love for the rest of my life, because you didn't want to introduce me to her? What if I grow old alone and end up raising an army of fifty-three cats? What if I depart this miserable life alone? Do you really want to live knowing that it’s your fault? Do you really want that weight on your shoul - ”
James feels a splash of cold water hit his face and his fringe slaps against his forehead, soaking wet.
“God, that was getting annoying,” says Marlene banging her empty glass on the table.
A roar of laughter bursts out of Sirius’ mouth, while James’ falls open.
“What goes around comes around,” Peter chants.
James spits water out of his mouth.
“Was that really necessary?”
“Perfect timing, Marlene,” says Sirius while holding his sides. “He really needed a cold shower.”
“Hey look.” says Remus whose squinting face is a couple centimeters away from Peter’s chest. “It looks like pee is leaking out of this storm trooper’s suit.”
James stuffs his paper between his books and empty wrappers - the contents of his messenger bag practically spilling out - unbothered by the fact that it is getting completely crumpled. The last thing he wants right now is to get started with McGonagall’s corrections, but given that his mates have disappeared to God knows where and that his football is currently sporting a hole the size of a ping pong ball in it, he has nothing better to do on his agenda.
(Yes, he has checked. Multiple times.)
He opens the door of the Art History Department and walks down the small flight of stairs, two steps at a time. It's a perfect day to play football, he notes bitterly. The breeze has chased all the clouds away, letting the sunshine warm the fields on this pleasant autumn afternoon. Unfortunately, practice won't start until Wednesday, by when he will have to have bought a new ball. His feet falter and he finds himself walking in the direction of the sport shop close-by. It won't hurt to just have a quick look after all.
His phone beeps, and he opens it, then curses under his breath. Goddammit, that woman can read his mind.
He’s just received an email from McGonagall reminding him of the due date of his paper - that is, in two hours. Begrudgingly, he turns around and drags his feet towards his flat, through the Forbidden Forest, which is the student’s nickname for the park on campus that it had received after last year’s infamous Easter holidays. So infamous had it been that some faculty members - and by faculty members he means McGonagall - had had to draft a series of decrees particular to these events.
(Such of these decrees include:
- It is forbidden to push a fellow student on the playground’s swing high enough that they do a complete 360.
- It is forbidden to use the slide, causing a fellow student to get stuck in it.
- It is forbidden to sneak into the school’s kitchens and steal three pounds of butter in order to unstick forenamed fellow student.
- It is forbidden to play on said playground, resulting in the escape of scared children from it.
- It is forbidden to climb the trees whilst pretending to be the baboon from The Lion King.
- It is forbidden to build a fence around a section of the park and call it the Independent Republic of the Marauders.
- It is forbidden to make Professor McGonagall, or any other faculty members, the Public Enemy of the Independent Republic of the Marauders.
- It is forbidden to threaten aforementioned faculty members with exile or execution when they attempt to cross the borders of the Independent Republic of the Marauders.)
He doesn't worry about how long it takes him to get his flat, given that it’s practically on campus. For the price he pays, he doesn’t expect anything less than that. Luckily, sharing it with Sirius, Remus and Peter makes it affordable, although a bit crammed from time to time. Not that he needs to worry about the rent. He could have easily afforded with all the money he inherited.
A little boy cuts him off. He’s toddling after a flock of pigeons, as fast as his small legs can take him, clapping his hands together in front of him. The birds taunt him; they stay still until he's a second away from catching them, then take flight, leaving the boy grasping at thin thin air. It doesn't wipe the smile off his face though. On the contrary, his silvery laugh echoes through the empty park.
James turns on the spot. There is no one around. He looks over at the playground. No one there. Not on the bench, not on the slide. Not on the empty swing that balances in the wind, its oxidised hinges piercing the stillness with a grating, shrill cry. Where are the boy's parents? He's barely older than one, he can't have possibly gotten here by himself.
He turns around again and finds the baby sitting on his bum, looking shocked. He’s just fallen down. The birds have taken flight and he looks around him with big, watery eyes, his mouth slightly jutting.
“Ma-ma? M - ma-ma?”
He scrunches his face and starts crying, his mouth wide open, and his wails quickly overwhelm those of the swing.
James panics. He strides over to him, but hesitates, and his arms fall at his sides, useless. He has no idea what he should do. Should he pick him and try to calm him, even though it might look like he’s taking him, or should he just sit with him until someone arrives? He runs a hand through his already messy hair, pats his sides awkwardly, his darting eyes searching in the distance, then finally decides to sit down next to him, waiting for his parents to come. The baby’s cries are as loud as an ambulance’s siren, and he hopes that whoever’s looking for him will hear him soon.
“Hey, hey little fellow,” he says with a soothing voice.
James turns around and sees her running towards them; the girl, the one he’s been seeing everywhere. She screams urgency with her open arms and her flaming hair.
At the sight of her, the little boy named Harry reaches out to her, clutching his small, chubby hands and she picks him up as soon as she reaches him.
“Oh my god,” she says squeezing him and resting her chin on his head “I'm never ever letting my eyes off you again. Never.”
She kisses his forehead, cheeks, neck, nose. Anything she can find. Harry squeals with delight.
“I - I found him here and I had no idea what to do. He started crying and I didn't see anybody around and I couldn't leave him, so - so I just waited.”
“Th - thank you,” she says wiping her eyes with her free hand.
“It's nothing really. It was pathetic.”
He stuffs his hands in his pockets and studies her. Running a hand through her hair with shaky fingers, she takes a deep, forced breath. She notices him looking and chuckles awkwardly, before tucking her trembling hand under the baby’s arm.
“Are you - er, okay?”
She laughs again, but it ends up sounding like a cry. She breaths deeply.
“Er, y - yeah. Yeah,” she says nodding as if trying to convince herself. “I'm fine. I should, er - ”
“I'm James, by the way,” he pauses, then rubs his neck. “I don't know if you remember this, but we've meet before. In the corridors - ”
“Yeah, I remember. I'm sorry I wasn't particularly nice with you. I was in a hurry.”
“Don't worry about it,” he says.
He looks at her expectantly.
“Would you mind telling me your name?”
“Oh, yeah, of course. I'm Lily. Listen, thank you again, but I should - ”
She’s going to leave again.
“ Wouldyouliketogetsomecoffee ?” he blurts out before she has the time to disappear.
“Would you like to get some coffee? Or tea. With me.”
She shifts Harry from one hip to the other.
“Er - ”
“Some water?” he says in a high-pitched voice.
She glances at Harry who’s poking a strand of her hair, before yanking his finger away as if he were playing with flames. He squeals with delight when a ray of sunshine catches it on fire.
A smile tugs at James’ lips.
James grabs the two mismatched mugs and heads to the table where Lily is playing with Harry. They’ve walked into a small cafe, barely five minutes away from campus. The tall window panes on each side of the door let in a clear light that brightens up the whole space and reflects on the checkered clothes that cover round, dark-wooden tables, a small vase of a single, fresh flower on each one. The back wall is covered with a shelf so full of books it seems it could topple over any moment, while the one behind the counter shows a display of teapots of all sizes, shapes and colours.
James sits down and watches Lily lay a napkin on Harry’s head and the little boy scrunches up his face with delight the moment she pulls it off his face. He’s made of rosy cheeks, missing-toothed smiles and giggles that make James’ chest swell. She sets the napkin on his head again and James can almost see the boy shiver with anticipation under it.
His clear laugh fills the air and Lily kisses his temple, laughing against it. A little old couple sitting at the table next to them whisper to each other while stealing glances at them, their faces wrinkling with the lines of past smiles.
“He’s got your eyes,” James says suddenly.
She looks at her son, her eyes shining with happiness, and tucks his fringe behind his ears, unaware of the mop of hair standing up at the back of his head.
“Yeah, he does. He’s the spitting image of his dad though.”
“Does he also go to Hogwarts?”
The question wipes the smile off her face and she nods slowly. They fall silent. James kicks himself mentally.
“I - I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“It’s fine. I’m not bitter about him looking like his dad.” she says, laughing to herself. “We were never together. His dad and I. One-night stand. I know. Stupid.”
Her lip twists and James scratches his neck.
“Yeah, if you’re stupid enough.”
“You’re not stupid.”
“How would you know?” she says arching her brow. “You've just met me.”
“I just do. And I’m rarely wrong,” he adds with a cocky half-grin.
She shakes her head, but her eyes betray her; they smile.
“It’s true! You look smart!”
“Tell that to my grades.”
“Oh, don’t be modest. I’m sure you smash all your exams.”
She snorts again, but doesn’t contradict him.
“So what are you degreeing in, Mr. I’m-always-right ?”
He puffs his chest out.
“English lit and history of art. You?”
James crinkles his nose which makes Lily laughs.
“What? You didn’t do well in high school in chemistry?”
“Oh no, I aced my finals,” he says, a smug look painted on his face. She rolls her eyes, but it doesn't discourage him. “What about you? What did you get in your A-levels?”
“See,” he says pointing his hand at her. “I told you you looked smart!”
Harry slams his fists on the table, bringing their attention back to him and Lily strokes his cheek.
“He looks like a nice kid.”
“He is,” she says nodding unconsciously. “He just takes a lot of time.”
“How do you do it?”
“You know, school, being a mum, everything.”
“I have a sitter that looks after him while I’m in class. The rest of the time I take care of him.”
“When do you study?”
“When he’s asleep.”
“And how much sleep do you get?”
Her voice wavers and she clears her throat to cover it up.
“How is that working out then?”
“I’ll tell you when I find out.”
She tries to make it sound as a joke, but her voice has no real mirth to it. It falls flat on its face.
James knows he should stop badgering her with questions, but he can’t stop himself. He’s just curious. Curious about how she manages to look so alive when she’s got a baby clinging to her side and her education hovering above her head like a sword ready to drop. He wonders if her bones were forged under miles of earth, her heart beating to the fall of the hammer on her skin.
“Why don’t you hire a sitter during the afternoons?”
“My parents don’t have the money. They’ve already gone out of their ways so I could come to this bloody school, and for Harry. And they live too far away to be able to take care of him. And I don’t have enough time for a job. I barely have enough time to study. Or sleep.”
She says this in a deadpan voice as if she has repeated it to herself a thousand times, looking for loopholes, alternatives, tearing its structure apart only to build it back again with her bare hands, stone by stone, to make sure no solution has gone unnoticed. No detail undetected. Any detail. Even a tiny one. Anything that she could hold on to.
Guilt twists at James’ gut. It’s so easy for him to forget about money since he's never had to worry about it. He’s never known the crude reality of not having enough of it; his childhood carries the memories of soft velvet curtains and fine china, not those of unpaid bills and hand-me-down clothes. Those possibilities have never even crossed his mind.
“I'm sorry,” he says.
Her eyebrows shoot up.
“For what? Getting pregnant? Because I'm not. Sure, since he takes most of my time and energy, it would have been easier if it had happened in ten or fifteen years, when I have a job and financial stability, but I would never regret having him. Never.”
They look at each and he is certain that if he weren’t sitting down, the resolve that radiates out of her eyes would have knocked him down.
Now he knows. She wasn't forged with fire and coal. She runs on it everyday. It makes her function. It's flows through her veins and spills out of her head, blinding anyone who gets in her path. It fuels her.
She’s flame and smoke and spark.
She is the fire.
They walk back to campus, Harry stammering on his bandy legs in front of them.
They take a few steps, Harry stops, picks up trash from the floor, inspects it, smells it, tastes it, spits it out (Lily’s orders). He stumbles forward, falls and picks himself up using a total of seven body parts (James counted). He picks up a rock, shows it to his mum, Lily feigns amazement, shows it to James, he imitates her, Harry giggles. James picks a flower and tickles the little boy’s nose with it. The latter wrinkles his nose, rubs the tickle away, giggles, but he scrunches his nose up at James, a silent invitation to do it again. He complies, Harry grins, little teeth poking out under his lip.
By the time they arrive at the bus stop, Harry is sitting on James’ shoulders, wiggling his small fingers into his hurricane hair. Lily apologises, but James insists he doesn't mind (he loves it). He whistles a song, while Harry babbles along, and, in the end, what should have been a five minute walk has melted into a twenty minute game, the streets their playground.
They stop in front of the Hogwarts library and James picks Harry off his shoulders, then sits him on his hip. Lily’s eyes are fixed on the flower her son is twirling in his hands.
“He seems to like you.”
“What isn't there to like?” James says gesturing to himself.
Harry claps his hands in agreement. She chuckles. He smiles. She checks her wrist; watchless.
“I should probably go. ”
“ CouldIhaveyournumber ?” he says simultaneously.
Lily twists her mouth.
“You'd like to have my number?”
“I'd love to actually.”
“I don't think that's a good idea.”
“But - ”
“Listen, I don't have time - ”
“For what? Exchanging numbers?”
“No, just for - ” she runs a hand through her hair and heaves out a sigh. “Listen, I just don't have time for other people. When I'm not with Harry, I'm in class, when I'm not in class, I'm looking after Harry, when I'm doing neither, I'm doing homework, writing essays and papers, finishing lab or group projects and when I'm doing none of those things then I'm doing something terribly, terribly wrong.”
“I mean, look! I can't even get coffee with a cute guy without Harry being there!”
He can’t stop the smile tugging at his mouth.
“Hey, hey, hey! It's okay, it's okay. I'm not asking for anything. I just thought that a friend’s number is a nice thing to have.”
“Plus, I'm an excellent sitter. First month is free of charge, too,” he says winking.
“I'd knew you'd come around. They always do when I throw in the free babysitting.”
“Wait until you offer to change diapers for them. They’ll be all over you then.”
“They already are.”
“Oh, don’t flatter yourself.”
James hands her his phone.
“I'll send myself a text if that's okay,” she says. “You don't have to type in your number in my phone that way.”
She hands it back and James can't help let his fingers linger on hers for a second.
“So, say bye to James, Harry.”
“Ba-bay, ba-bay,” he says clutching his little hand.
James ruffles the boy’s hair.
“Bye, little fella.”
“That was nice. Er, thanks.”
“I guess I'll see you later.”
“I would hope so.”
She waves goodbye and turns around. James watches her leave for a moment, then opens his phone and Lily's contact pops up. He throws his head back with laughter.
“See you soon, Hot Mama No Drama!” he says to Lily's back.
She turns around.
“No, it's perfect. Catchy and classy.”
Waving one last time, she doubles the corner and disappears, leaving James with an unmistakable giddy feeling fluttering in his chest.
James loves going to their home. It's made up of a small bedroom, a cramped kitchen and a living room, all filled with an array of furniture thrown in together without much thought, baby toys or papers and essays lying on each possible surface. It’s not much, but it works.
He loves that when he walks through the door, Harry’s face breaks into a smile; a smile that could keep him warm on the coldest of winter night. How the little boy now reaches out to him with his small arms and giggles when he throws him in the air then catches him. Pure, unadulterated happiness.
He loves how Harry has picked up little habits from him, like ruffling his hair, to Lily’s great dismay, or grabbing his glasses and pushing them clumsily onto his nose, decorating the lenses with his fingermarks. He gives up on ever having them clean now.
He loves how he laughed that time James spiked the boy’s hair up with water. How the little boy looked to his mum, his belly pushed out with pride and his face beaming with a grin that could eat the whole world.
He loves how Lily smiled in return. Hers is a smile that could set James on fire.
On the best days, the three of them will eat together, sat around the small table between the fridge and the wall. They’ll take turns waving a spoon like an airplane in front of Harry’s face, or making a spectacle of themselves to distract him long enough and stick the food in his mouth before he realises it. James will then spend hours and hours playing with Harry, giving Lily time to catch up on her homework. She’ll sometimes look up at them and wonder how his energy never wavers, how he can play with him for so long - dancing, showing him stuff, running after him - and make Harry laugh and squeal like no one else. It’s innate for him. He doesn’t have to think about it.
She’ll realise she’s falling for him and curse herself for it. She doesn’t have time for friends, much less a boyfriend. She has to take care of Harry. She has to study so she doesn’t waste her parents’ money. She has to pass this bloody year.
On other days, she’ll learn of the three boys he calls his brothers. Of the one who ran away when he was sixteen and that he welcomed in his house like his own. Of how his parent’s died barely two years later. Of how he wouldn’t have made it without his friends.
On bad days, he’ll learn that her grades have been dropping ever since Harry was born. How after moving into the city, she lost contact with all her childhood friends. How her sister hasn’t spoken to her ever since she got pregnant. How she sometimes think she won’t be able to make it too the end of the month without cracking into pieces. How she feels tired all the time. She’s being worn too thin. She’s not big enough. She can’t reach that far, can’t stretch that much.
James wishes he could help her. He wishes she would let him pay for more babysitting hours, so she could have more time to herself, but he knows she would never accept, so he doesn’t ask.
Instead, he spends as much times as he can with them, talking to her, helping her out. His friends think he's gone mental; playing babysitter during his free time when he should be getting ahead on coursework, making sure his grades don't suffer from the neglect. But he loves it. It feels natural to him. It’s rewarding.
When Harry said his name for the first time, James thought nothing would ever be able wipe the wobbly smile that stretched across his face. He ran into the bedroom where Lily was studying at her desk, grabbed her hand and pulled her into the living room without an explanation.
“James, what's wrong? Is Harry hurt?”
They burst in through the door, his hand still around hers and Harry looks up at them from the floor, toys in hand, his eyes still wide open with surprise from James’ sudden exit from the living room. James crouches next to him and gently pushes Harry's hair out of his face.
“Say it again, Harry.”
Wame is his simple answer.
“Did you hear that?” James says turning to Lily. “He said my name!”
“Wame!” Harry says louder this time, reacting to James’ excited tone.
Lily can't help but laugh at James’ boggled expression.
“Lily Evans, tell me you heard it too! That was my name!”
“Are you sure?” Lily says, teasing him. “Because it sounded more like ‘lame’ to me.”
“That was my name! You said my name, Harry!”
In a rush of happiness, he springs up, picks Lily up and hugs her, and she can't help the heaps of laughter bubbling out of her mouth like a waterfall.
“He knows my name!”
“That was lame , you idiot! I heard it!”
He lets go of her, her body sliding against his, their faces mere inches from one another.
“Liar, liar, head on fire,” he whispers.
Lily doesn't say anything. She can't concentrate when they're so close together and her t-shirt has ridden up from him putting her back down and his arms are still around her waist and his lips are so close she can feel his breath on her chin.
She remembers how many times she's drilled the thought into her mind that nothing can happen between them. Nothing. She can't let that happen. She can't depend on him like that.
But she doesn't listen. Doesn't care. She feels herself slowly inching towards him, her lips parting, her eyelids growing heavier by the second.
Something pulls at their trousers and they both look down to Harry's grinning face, the tension broken.
They let go of each other awkwardly and Lily picks Harry up.
“Wame,” he says jumping excitedly in his mum’s arms.
“That's right little fella.”
James looks down at his notes, not really seeing anything he's been writing until now, and doodles absentmindedly. The professor’s voice is like background noise to him as he traces the outlines of a football and starts filling in its pentagons with his pencil. He looks up at the clock. Still twenty-five minutes to go; too long to go.
“Mr. Potter. Did you hear my question?” says a piercing voice.
James notices that the professor has stopped talking and that all the heads are turned towards him.
Unfazed, he says,
“I'm afraid I didn't, Professor.”
“Well, I will say it again. Might you be able to tell me the similarities and differences between Egyptian and Mesopotamian art?”
James flips the pages of his book, searching for the answer.
“I'm afraid you won't find what you're looking for there, Mr. Potter. See, this information you can only get from listening to me.”
“Or google. Which amounts to pretty much the same thing,” he says with a crooked grin on his face.
Some of the students snicker.
James knows he shouldn't talk to his professor that way, but his bratty attitude that he worked so hard on to leave behind him in high school can't help but resurface in Mr. Stebbins’ presence. Everything about him infuriates him; from the way he speaks as if it were an honour to be in his presence, to his growing baldness and his twitchy mustache. It sends him through the roof.
“Well, I see that you don't know the answer to what I'm asking, given your childish answer,” he says straightening out the sleeves of his blazer.
James peers through his notes quickly and tries to decipher his scribbles.
“As I was saying - ”
“Actually -” James says putting his hand up. “- if my notes are correct, which I hope they are because I've been writing down what you've been saying, the main common characteristic between Egyptian and Mesopotamian art is that both of them are monumental, because they're meant to suggest - rather boldly might I add - power and authority. But there is one small difference. Egyptian art represents the power of divinities, while Mesopotamian, that of the leaders.”
He finishes his answer by dropping his paper on the desk and smiling at him. Mr. Stebbins’ mustache twitches.
He turns towards the rest of the class and resumes as if nothing had happened, ignoring James until the end.
“That was absolutely wicked, mate. Probably the best practice we’ve had this season,” Sirius says flinging his sports bag onto his shoulder.
James nods vaguely and they walk out of the locker rooms, their feet taking them, past the Art History department, through the Forbidden Forest, knowing that it’s the fastest way to their flat. James only half listens to Sirius’ chatter, his mind too enthralled by his own thoughts.
“And that’s when I popped down on one knee and asked Flitwick to marry me. He said yes! We’re getting married January seventh. A snowy wedding! Can you imagine?” Sirius says practically jumping on his toes.
James turns to him, his eyes wide open with incomprehension.
“Are you off your rocker?”
“Look at that! You’re actually listening.”
“I’m sorry! I just can’t stop thinking about her. I haven’t seen her in two days and she’s not answering any of my calls.”
“Hm, I wonder who you could be talking about… My, my, this is a hard one.”
“I’m serious! I’m really worried about her.”
“Mate, get your shit together. She’s probably too busy studying and forgot to call you back.”
“I dunno. Could be. But if that were the case, why hasn’t she called me? I could look after Harry while she finishes her work.”
“Because you’ve got work to do on your own! You’ve got football practice three to four times a week! You’ve got mates to hang out with!”
“Yeah, I dunno,” he says stuffing his hands in his pockets and kicking at the ground. “I still think it’s fishy.”
“Go to her flat and see what’s up then. Actually, no. I can get used to this absent-minded version of you. It’s not everyday that I see get you knocked to the floor by a ball to the head.”
“Prick,” he says nudging him in the shoulder. “Also, I didn't know you had a thing for Flitwick.”
“Oh, my love for him has never been a secret. I might even go through with that wedding proposal. You know, for science.”
James rubs his eyes as he tries to chase the sleep out of them, and lets his head fall on his desk. He sighs.
He's been trying to start McGonagall’s essay for the past hour, but his words won’t commit to paper as easy as they usually do, for every time he lets his mind relax, his thoughts rush back to Lily. Why should he care about if he believes Jane Austen to have either a conservative or radical approach to the issue of class in Pride and Prejudice (© gradesaver.com) when he hasn’t heard from Lily in three days?
He checks his watch. 22:27. It's still fairly early, but he might as well call it a day and try finishing his essay tomorrow, so he unlocks his phone hoping to see a reply from Lily. He's answered with disappointment. Maybe he should drop by her place tomorrow to check up on her, as Sirius suggested. But what if she's trying to cut him off? What if she’s seen those missed calls and just chosen to ignore them? The last thing she would want is for him to be waiting at her door.
As if it had been aware of his hesitation, Hot Mama pops on his screen and his phone starts vibrating. She's calling him; actually calling him.
“Yes?” he answers before the first ring has the time to end.
“Yes. Thank god! I've been trying to call you for days! Where have you been?”
“James, can you come? Please.”
James freezes. Lily has never asked for his help before. Her voice sounds wrong and shaky and he can almost see trembling fingers holding up her phone.
“I'm on my way.”
He hangs up and practically falls out of his chair as he jumps for the first pair of shoes he can find. He grabs some money, his phone and his keys and he's out the door.
James knocks on the door and Harry’s cries reach his ears before it flies open, Lily standing in the doorway as she bounces a howling Harry on her hip, and her tear-stricken face practically breaks at the sight of him.
Here's the boy who's never asked anything of her. The boy who helps them out of the pure goodness of his heart and who never expects anything in return. The boy who just gives and keeps giving.
In this moment, the only thing Lily wishes is to forget about everything. She wants James to hold her until there are no more tears left inside of her to cry, no more knots to break and let go of. She wants things to be taken care of for her. She doesn't want to care anymore.
But she can't let that happen, so she gets a hold of herself and straightens up.
“I'm sorry I called you this late, but I have a test tomorrow which is worth a huge part of my grade and I can't screw it up, I can't fuck it up and Harry won't stop crying! I've been trying to put him to bed, but he won't sleep, he won't eat, he won't watch cartoons and he just won't stop crying and this test is super important and I - I just don't know what to do!” Her voice breaks. “I can't - ”
“Hey, hey, hey. It's okay, it's okay,” he says with the most soothing voice he can manage, as she wipes the tears under her eyes. “Here, I'll take Harry.”
“I'm so useless. I can't even take care of my own son without needing help!” she says looking down, her arms crossed across her chest. “I'm a useless mum.”
“Hey, listen to me,” he says squeezing her shoulder. “You're not a bad mom. You’re an excellent one, and Harry is the luckiest baby ever to have you, but everyone has their limits, okay? Even the best mums.”
Lily sniffs her nose and nods numbly.
“Now. I'm gonna try to calm Harry down and you should probably try to get some rest - ”
“No! I have to study for this test!”
“Fine, then study for your test. But wash your face first, maybe even take a shower, have a cup of hot chocolate, listen to a song you like, it'll make you feel better.”
There's a moment of silence.
“Do you want to study in the living room or bedroom?”
“Bedroom. I'll take Harry's crib out for you.”
Her tone is dry and she doesn't look up from the floor, before she goes and fetch it.
Once Harry's bed is pushed into the living room and Lily is settled at her desk, James tackles on the task of calming Harry down. He tries everything - reading to him, showing him pictures, singing songs - but nothing seems to work. Harry's face is now so red that James thinks it might explode like a ticking bomb. He doesn't understand how Lily can study in these conditions, with the air so hot it seems like the walls are closing up on you and Harry’s wailing pounding on your temples like hammers.
In the end it's walking around the room that does it. He gently bounces him in his arms and hums to him and, soon enough, Harry's head gradually leans into his shoulder, his mouth open, but no sound comes out; only drool dampening James’ shirt.
James is shocked at the sudden absence of noise; everything seems overly still, almost dead, if not for Harry's slow and regular breathing. It's beautiful.
He can't believe it. He actually did it. He's so happy he could scream if it wasn't for the baby sleeping in his arms, so he casually punches the air instead while mouthing his celebration. He lays him gently in his crib and lets himself fall into the sofa, his brain so clouded with exhaustion that he's ready to hibernate for twelve months straight. But he remembers Lily is still studying in her room and in half a second he's up, any desire of sleeping having been cleared from his head. He tiptoes to the room and knocks on the door softly, but there is no answer, so he cracks it open.
A tangle of deep red hair spreads out on the wooden desk, Lily's face pressed against the opened pages of her book where a coloured and complicated graph is shown. Her back expands slightly as she breaths in, then out.
James is astounded at how young she looks. Twenty one. Not a child anymore and barely an adult. Just twenty one. She doesn't look like a single mother only just out of her teenage years, juggling finishing school and raising a baby. Twenty one, like him.
He slips one arm under her knees and one around her shoulders, hoping that she sleeps like a rock. She grumbles softly in his arms and her arms snake themselves around his neck instinctively, her head resting on his chest. He places her on the bed and pulls the covers up, then looks at her one last time, brushing her hair out of her face with his fingertips, before walking out and settling for the couch. He falls asleep immediately as if it were the most comfortable bed in the world.
When Lily wakes up, despite the annoying beeping of the alarm clock drilling into her skull, she feels more rested than she has in a while. She stretches and, as her fingers bump into her pillow, she realises she's in her bed. She rubs her eyes, her eyelids feeling lighter than they have in weeks, then props herself on her elbows, and, at the sight of her open chemistry book on her desk, last night’s events push back into her sleep-fogged mind. James must have carried her to her bed. She can't help colour rushing to her cheeks at the thought of him picking her up and tucking her into bed, and a surge of gratitude flows in her chest; not just for making sure she slept well, but for everything else too.
She gets up and walks out of the room to find James, head resting on his palm while he watches over Harry playing with his favourite doll, looking completely disheveled with his droopy eyes and his slept-in hair, flat at the top, completely unruly on the sides, but adorable nonetheless. She smiles to herself. This is a sight she could get used waking up to.
James hears her coming in and props his head up.
“Morning. How did you sleep?”
“Pretty good. I almost forgot what it's like to sleep in a bed,” she says stretching her back.
James’ eye twitches, which she assumes is from tiredness.
“When's your test?” he says ignoring her comment.
She walks to Harry and presses a kiss to his forehead, then sits down on the couch. They sit next to each other in silence, watching a sleepy Harry who mumbles and talks to himself, oblivious to the grown ups watching him as only a baby can be.
Lily wants to hold James’ hand. She wants to lay her head on his shoulder while he wraps his arms around her. She wants to be held by him more than anything she's ever wanted; but she won't let herself do that, so instead she thanks him. He nods.
“I wouldn't have minded you sleeping in the bed by the way. It's big enough for both of us and the couch doesn't look to comfy.”
“Don't you have any morning classes?” she says trying not to get frustrated by his lack of responsiveness.
“Yeah, I missed them already.”
Lily straightens up.
“Wait, while I was asleep?”
“Yeah, but it's fine, really.”
“You should have woken me up!”
“It's fine. It's an 8 a.m. class. I don't go that often,” he says trying to sound lighthearted.
“I don't want you to do that, James.”
“Skip classes to babysit Harry.”
“It was just this one time!”
“You think I haven't noticed how much time you spend here? You think I'm stupid enough to not know how much work you also have?”
James leans back on the couch and puts his hands behind his head.
“Maybe I'm just brilliant and know everything already.”
“I'm serious, James. I don't want to have to depend on you. God, it was so stupid of me to call you last night,” she says dragging her hand down her face. “You shouldn't have dropped whatever you were doing last night to come!”
“I wasn't doing anything!”
Lily just glares at him and he starts to sing I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends under his breath, trying to diffuse the tension.
“James - ”
“A little help doesn't hurt from time to time. And I don't mind babysitting Harry.”
“I've got a babysitter for that.”
“Then why didn't you call her yesterday instead of me?”
James feels a twist of guilt at his gut for bringing this up.
“Well maybe I will next time.”
“And how will you pay for it, may I ask?”
“I'll get a job,” she says matter-of-factly.
“The only possible way you can get a job is if you stop sleeping altogether which you already do little of.”
Lily looks like she's about to interrupt him, but he cuts her off.
“You know I wouldn't mind lending you some money.”
Lily springs up.
“I don't need your money! I don't want your charity!” she yells, her fists clenched. “I'm perfectly fine without it! I can work for things myself!”
“I never said you couldn't!”
“You just did!”
“You’re reading what I’m saying wrong.”
She doesn’t say anything.
“Listen, - ”
“No, James, you listen. I’m sorry,” she says sitting back down. James looks at her, a concerned crease between his brows. “You’ve been nothing, but incredibly nice to me and I’m being a complete arse. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s not.”
“It happens to all of us,” he says with a carefree shrug. “Don’t think you’re so special that you’re the only person capable of being an arse.”
“It doesn’t seem to happen to you.”
“That’s just because I’m the most perfect man in the world. Mothers adore me. They all wish I was either their son or their son-in-law.”
Lily chuckles in spite of her temper.
James unlocks the door to his flat and curses Sirius for thinking big panel windows were a good idea as the gloomy, but blinding, light pours in and maims his sleep-deprived eyes. He covers them with his hand and lumbers through the living room, managing to walk into what little furniture they have. Finally, his shins bump into the couch and he lets himself fall onto it.
“Look at what the cat dragged in!” Sirius says, walking out of the kitchen wearing nothing but his boxers, a few strands of hair falling casually out of his bun, and holding a bowl of cereal in his hand. “You've got some explaining to do, young boy. I don't think Moony, Wormtail and I fancy your unexpected disappearances. We've been feeling rather neglected.”
“Spent the night at Lily’s,” he says with a dramatic sigh.
“Did you hear that lads! He said he spent the night at Lily’s!” Sirius says, shouting towards the kitchen and gesticulating which makes his milk spill. “That makes me feel loads better.”
Remus and Peter’s heads pop out of the doorframe almost immediately.
“Well, that explains his face. Don't take his personally, but you look like shit, mate,” Remus says through a mouthful of croissant.
“I do take it personally,” James says his voice muffled against the couch.
Sirius gives him a sly wink.
“Didn't come around too much sleeping, did ya?”
“I hope you were quiet at least. You know for the baby’s sake,” Peter says, his lips curling.
“It wasn't like that!”
“Of course it wasn't,” the three of them say in unison, rolling their eyes.
“I'm serious!” he says, his head shooting up. “She called me because she had to study for a test and needed help with Harry and then I just stayed the night.”
“Of course he did,” Sirius says.
“Perfect little daddy he is,” Peter adds.
“Hey, if you're planning on running away with this girl to play happy family, mind giving us a couple days’ notice? Not that we'd care about not seeing you anymore, it's just so we have enough time to get another rich flatmate,” Remus says buttering his croissant excessively.
“Aw, come on, don't be sore about it. We actually miss you loads when you spend all day at her place.”
“Don't tell him that, it'll go to his head,” comes Sirius’ disembodied voice from the bathroom.
“I'm not listening to any of you anymore,” James says covering his ears with cushions.
“Now, now don't get all upset,” Peter says playing mother hen and covering him with a blanket which he can't help snuggling into. “Poor boy needs his beauty sleep. Otherwise, look at what happens to his hair. It's a mess.”
They continue picking on him for a few minutes which he tries to block out as best he can by singing nursery rhymes offensively loud. Once they get bored and move on to another game, James realises that he has actually missed them and how little he has seen them these couple of weeks; at lunch time, when he wasn’t with Lily, in the afternoons, when he wasn’t at Lily’s, and at night, which he had yesterday spent at Lily's. Although he doesn't want to admit it, maybe she had a point. He was neglecting his life for her.
It’s not completely of his own accord but, after that day, he starts spending less time at her place because, regardless of having made up after their little fight, Lily had really meant what she had said. She gradually starts to limit the time he spends at their flat. Although at first he assumes it's because she wants to spend time alone with Harry, as the days go by her excuses to not have him over get weaker and less believable.
“I made brussel sprouts last night and it stunk up the whole flat.”
Replaying what she told him earlier that day, James scoffs with disdain, blowing his fringe out of his face. He knows that she's doing it for him, so he can spend his time with his friends or getting ahead of his workload, and sure, a bit more of spare time is nice, but he isn't sure he likes it better. Nowadays, two or three days might pass between each visit he pays them. Yes, he still messages Lily as much as he can, but not seeing her almost everyday isn't the same. And he barely sees the little boy. He misses them.
As the days go by, autumn settles into winter and covers the town with a white coat which sends everyone into a holiday frenzy as colourful lights twinkle in every window, mistletoe is hung in every corner and Christmas carols get stuck in people's heads on hours end; everyone except Sirius, that is. He hates holidays, he says lying through his teeth. And joy, and kittens, and happiness and anything pure, Peter adds, personally offended when he comes back from his temporary job where the dress code is a full Santa suit.
Term ends one week before Christmas Eve and soon enough students start packing their bags and hopping on trains to visit their families, which sinks the campus into a restful state, the snow drowning out what little sound there is. Remus, Peter and Sirius, being part of that first shift of students, take a train to the Pettigrew's, which is where the four of them have been spending their last couple of Christmas holidays since James’ parents died. However, he decides to stay back and spend a few days with Lily all to himself since Harry isn't with her. Some relatives of hers who were on their way to her hometown to spend the holidays passed near Hogwarts and took the baby to his grandparents.
Lily, instead of relishing of a few days of freedom, takes up the opportunity to sign up for a week job at the library. But even though she does work full days, it's refreshing to spend time with her when she doesn't have to worry about Harry or school. James can sometimes almost catch a glimpse of what she used to be before she got pregnant. Lively, carefree, teasing. Young.
On his last couple of day on campus, he invites her to dinner with him.
“Just this place I know.”
“What's the dress code?”
“Casual is fine. Oh, and I'll pay. As a Christmas gift,” he adds seeing that she's about to protest.
“But I haven't bought you anything for Christmas!”
“You don't have to. Please just let me do this. It's Christmas!”
James juts his bottom lip out and she looks at him for a minute, then sighs.
“Fine, fine. Okay. You're worse than Harry when you do that.”
“Pick you up at seven?”
Friday. Seven p.m. He knocks on the door and after a few seconds it flies open.
“I thought you said casual was fine!” Lily says before he has the time to say hello.
“But you look nice!”
“I always look nice,” he says strutting into her flat, making a show of his outfit.
He's wearing a light blue dress shirt that hugs his chest and shoulders nicely, some casual, but well-fitted trousers and ankle wingtip boots, his peacoat and dark blue scarf thrown over his shoulder; even his hair looks particularly nice, not messy, but tousled.
“Give me a minute,” she says running into her room.
She slips out of her originally beige jumper which has lost its colour from all the times Harry has burped, drooled and vomited on it, pulls out her fanciest garment , which is a deep green cashmere jumper that she never wears, then slips into a pair of black jeans and straps on her tall black boots. She looks into her closet mirror, pulling at her sleeves and decides to twist her hair into a low bun, pulling some strands of hair out of it to frame her face. It’ll have to do. She slips on her coat, flings her purse on her shoulder and walks into the living room.
“You look nice,” James says getting up from the couch.
“Oh, shut it,” she says hoping that a blush doesn't appear on her cheeks.
“Wait, there's something - ”
“What?” she says her hands flying to her face, fearing she has a booger in her nose.
He doesn't say anything. He takes his scarf and wraps it around her neck, then tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.
“There,” he says, the hint of a smile on his lips, lightly tugging at the scarf, causing her to take a step forward. “Don't want you catching a cold.”
“You sound like my mother,” she jokes, trying to hide the fact that her breath has caught in her throat.
“Well, someone has to take care of you.”
She rolls her eyes, but lets the comment pass.
“What about your neck?”
“I can put the sides of my coat up. Now - ” he says pulling up his arm and bowing slightly. “ - m’lady.”
She follows his antics and puts her arm through his.
And they're out the door.
They walk into a nice, low-lit restaurant and a waiter ushers them to a table covered with white linen; they follow, their heels clicking on the polished wooden floor. They sit down and soon enough their drinks are written down and menus typed in flowery, but legible writing are handed to them. Lily opens hers and her brow immediately creases with suspicion.
“Where are the prices?”
“Your menu doesn't show them,” he says scratching his neck.
“Oh, please, James,” she says slamming it shut. “We're not in the nineteen-fifties.”
“I just want you to order what you want without worrying about the price.”
“Worry about the price? If you're paying I just want to make sure I'm ordering the most expensive dish. How's their lobster?” she says with a cheeky smile.
“Not as good as their filet mignon.”
James chuckles and shakes his head while Lily calls the waiter and asks for another menu.
“Ooooh, twenty pounds. Now that's a juicy piece of steak, isn't it?” she says her eyes gleaming at him with mischief over the brim of her new and improved menu.
James rakes his teeth over his lips, trying to bite his smile away.
They order and their conversation flows all throughout the dinner, only slowing down once their entrees arrive, and between the eating, teasing and laughing, they barely have time to catch a breath.
“I can't believe you had Sprite with your filet mignon,” James says once she takes the last bite out of her plate, his own being empty. “You know a little bit of red wine would do wonders to it.”
“Yeah, well I don’t drink alcohol. Haven’t since the day I found out I was pregnant,” she says her mouth stretching into a line. “I was drunk off my arse the night I got pregnant.”
“Oh, I didn't - ” he says stumbling on his words.
“Would you like some dessert?” says the waiter who's just arrived at their table.
Saved by the bell.
Lily smirks, looking at James from the corner of her eyes and says,
The waiter whips out two menus, clears the table and leaves. Lily peers over the dessert list, humming innocently and often looking up at James to tease him.
“I think I'll have…” she says once the waiter comes back, her voice thick with fake hesitation. “The triple chocolate cake.”
“Interesting choice,” James says.
“And you, sir?” the waiter says turning to him.
“Nothing, thank you.”
“I'm not sharing my cake with you,” Lily says once it arrives.
“I didn't say anything.”
“But you were getting ideas,” she says, her eyes narrowing to slits.
She eats away, making a show of groaning at each bite and dramatically looking up at the ceiling as if thanking the gods for whoever had made the cake. James looks at her through it all, his chin resting on his palm, not saying anything, the spark in his eyes and the half smile on his face speaking enough on his behalf.
Lily heaves out a big sigh.
“Fine,” she says pushing the plate toward him as a knight would drop her sword, accepting her defeat. “You can have some. Just stop looking at me with puppy dog eyes.
“I wasn't looking at you with puppy dog eyes!” he says, picking up the spoon nonetheless.
“Well, you were looking at me weird.”
They fall into silence for the first time during the whole evening and Lily takes the opportunity to reach under the table for her purse and pull out a shiny red paper bag out of it, then settling it on the table.
“What's this?” James says looking up at it.
She leans back into her chair and crosses her arms.
“Your Christmas present,” she says nodding at it.
James eyes’ widen.
“You didn't have to do that,” he says wiping his mouth on the napkin.
“Don't thank me yet and open it.”
He unfolds the wrapping paper and pulls out a pair of antlers, the small bells hanging on them chiming with glee . He looks back at her, his face torn between confusion and amusement.
“I want you to wear them all day on Christmas Day, in and outdoors, and send me a picture of yourself while doing it.”
“Look into the bag.”
He pulls out a round red nose with a string attached to it.
He lets out a hearty laugh.
“I'll do it. But I think you underestimate me here, Evans. I've been seen in much more an embarrassing attire.”
“Like that time Sirius, Peter, Remus and I were invited to a fancy dress party and Sirius thought it was a good idea if he went as Frank N. Furter and I as Rocky.”
“Sounds like a hell of a party,” she says trying not to think about how appealing the view of him in nothing but the tight golden shorts must have been.
“Oh, it was. And if I remember correctly I think Sirius and I lost a bet and were forced to kiss. Not that it would have been the first time.”
She throws her head back with laughter.
“I’ve got to say I'm not entirely surprised.”
“Well, I’m not complaining, Sirius is a handsome bloke. He's got boys and girls fawning over him.”
“Is that a bit of jealousy I'm sensing?”
Once the bill is payed and the waiter tipped, they decide to walk instead of hauling a taxi despite the stormy weather, the restaurant not being too far away from Lily's flat. Their shoes leave footprints in the fresh layer of snow, a crunching sound accompanying each step, while their bare hands redden from the biting cold; but they let them hang at their sides, not bothering to put gloves on or stuff them in their pockets, and their fingers brush against one another.
They arrive in front of her door and Lily falters when reaching for her key, hesitation settling itself into her face. She could invite him to go inside, like she has hundreds of times before, but this time she feels that something is different and she's not sure of what could happen next. Actually, she is sure. They would kiss; and one item of clothing would feel like one too many, and then thing would lead to another and he would probably end up spending the night at her flat. Or at least that's what she hopes that would happen. But this is her only friend standing in front of her looking at her with uncertain eagerness in his eyes which looks adorable on him, but makes things so much harder, and she doesn't want to do anything that would ruin what they have. She doesn't want to go back to the way things were before meeting him.
James reads this on her face and saves her from having to say anything. He opens his arms to her and she embraces them gladly, grateful for the warmth that surrounds her when she settles her head on his chest. In that moment she almost cracks; almost invites him to stay the night, because what could be better than falling asleep in these arms so familiar it seems she's known them her whole life, her head tucked under his chin, while the rise and fall of his chest cradles her?
“What time is your train tomorrow?” she says, her voice muffled against his chest.
His breath tickles the top of her head and she can hear his voice vibrating in his rib cage like a small bee.
“You shouldn't go to bed too late then.”
“Yeah. I should probably go soon,” he says softly.
But she doesn't say it out loud. She lets go of him begrudgingly and it might as well take every ounce of willpower she has in herself.
“Merry Christmas,” he says, his voice forming a cloud of steam.
“Merry Christmas. Don't forget the picture.”
The corners of his mouth shoot up and she can't help but wonder what it would feel like to kiss them.
So she stands on her tiptoes and does it.
But before he has the time to react she's said goodbye and gone inside, leaving him with a lingering feeling at the corner of his mouth. It drops slightly and he shakes his head, then reaches in the inside of his coat, pulling out a letter. After placing it on her doormat, he rings the bell and exits her building into the cold night.
When Lily hears the doorbell she's barely had the time to take her coat off, but has already regretted her impulsive act about a thousand times. She staggers to the door, afraid she'll have to give him an explanation, but when she opens it there isn't a single person standing on the doormat, but an envelope instead; and it’s addressed to her, her name written on it with James’ neat handwriting. She bends down and opens it.
My Dearest Lily,
I know I said that this dinner would be your Christmas present but, if I have to be completely honest with you, it was all a ruse to be able to buy you dinner, and buy myself time to think of an actual gift. Indeed, I've been racking my brain these last few days to try and figure out what Lily Evans would want for Christmas, and today, it struck me. Time. That's what Lily Evans wants.
And Time I shall give you…
I looked up the average wage of a babysitter in England and I am pleased to tell you that in this envelope you will find enough money for a full day’s worth of babysitting, that is, twenty-four hours.
I know what you're thinking; I know that you don't want my charity, but this isn't it, for it is a Christmas present and it would be extremely rude to give it back.
Now Lily Evans is free to make use of these hours however and whenever she pleases, but I wish to inform her that I would be more than happy to spend more than a great deal of them in her presence.
When Lily finishes reading it, tears rush to her eyes and she's not sure if those are of joy, sadness, or simple exhaustion.
Maybe a little bit everything.
Chapter 2: Vidi.
Just wanted to say that I'm seriously floored by you guys' response to this story. I know that there are other stories out there with way more notes and comments than mine, but the fact that this one reached 700 kudos makes me really happy. And I always love reading and responding to your lovely comments so thank you so much <3
When Lily gets off the train, the first thing she hears is his voice, one she could recognise in the loudest of crowds.
She turns instinctively towards Harry who’s trying to wiggle himself out of his grandmother’s arms and, once he succeeds, nothing can stop him from wobbling as fast as he can towards his mum, like nothing can stop Lily from letting go of her bags and running towards him.
Mother and son meet again.
It’s barely been more than a week, but Lily feels like a lifetime has passed since she last held him in her arms. His laughter fills her ears like music and she kisses his cheeks until his little hands push her face away to take in the eyes that are just like his and have always meant comfort to him. To her, it feels like being reunited with a part of her body that she felt achingly missing all along.
Harry clumsily wraps his arms around Lily’s neck and puts his head under her chin, deciding to stay there permanently.
“He’s been asking about you non stop since we told him you were coming,” Lily’s dad says, having just picked up her bags.
Lily settles Harry on her hip and embraces both her parents, rejoicing in the familiarity of their arms.
“It’s good to see you, sweetheart,” her mother says, kissing her cheek. “Although I do wish I was seeing more of you. Have you been eating enough? You look tired. Have you been sleeping enough?” she says, frowning at the circles beneath her daughter’s eyes.
“I’ve been sleeping just fine,” she lies.
“I don’t see how. Harry has the most abysmal sleeping pattern. He cries at least twice a night.”
“That’s strange. He sleeps like a rock usually.”
“Might be because he misses you. Good thing you’re back then,” her dad says, planting a kiss on her forehead.
“Yeah, good thing,” she says more to herself than anyone else as she wraps her arms closer around Harry and smiles at her parents, happy to be home again.
“Just stand still for a moment!” she says, holding her phone up, her hands shaking with laughter. “I’m trying to take a picture for James!”
Harry, who has been prancing on his feet in the living room and babbling to the tune of Christmas carols suddenly halts, making the bells on the antlers he’s wearing chime, then stop.
“Yes, James!” she says, nodding quickly.
“Wame! Wame! Wame!”
He starts jumping on his feet again and eventually falls on his bum, but it doesn’t wipe the smile off his face, and Lily takes the opportunity to snap a picture. She opens James’ contact and pauses at the gif he sent her a few minutes ago. Of the four people standing in front of the Christmas tree, there are three she doesn’t know, but from all the times James has talked about them it’s not hard to recognise them; Peter, the shortest and chubbiest of them all, but most adorable by far with his boyish face and rosy cheeks; Remus, tall and lanky, thin-faced, a full head of brown curls and a sarcastic smirk painted on his face, but eyes that scream kindness; and Sirius, the most attractive of the group - male-underwear model level of attractive - with his long, dark hair that falls casually on his shoulders, his sharp but elegant features, tall and fit, an eternal leather jacket wearer; then James, standing in the middle of them, like a fish to water.
She can’t help the smile spreading across her face when she looks at him; he’s wearing the antlers and red nose, and the camera caught him feigning annoyance with his eyes turned up to the ceiling, although the corner of his lips betray him. Sirius is pinching the side of James’ cheek while making kissy faces at him and Remus’ head is thrown back with laughter while Peter is kneels in front of all of them and holds up a banner which says “Thanks Lily! We owe you one!”
My friends have started calling me Prongs and every single old lady in a one mile ratio pinches my cheek when I go outside. I hope you’re happy. x
She opens the picture of Harry she just took and sends it to him.
Prongs Jr. supports you. And he’s got it worse. Little old ladies pinch his cheeks even when he’s not wearing antlers. x
“What are you smiling about?”
Lily jumps. She hadn’t noticed her dad coming into the living room with a bag full of torn wrapping paper.
“Wame! Wame! Wame!”
“What’s a ‘Wame’?”
“You know someone named Wame? Poor kid.”
“No, he means James.”
“Is he from Hogwarts?”
Lily nods and her dad raises his eyebrows at Harry’s outburst of excitement.
“Harry seems to be fond of him.”
“Fond of whom?” Mrs. Evans asks, walking into the living.
“Of James,” Mr. Evans says.
“James from Hogwarts.”
“James Potter,” Lily adds.
“Wame, Wame, Wame!”
“Harry seems to like him,” says Mrs. Evans, looking down at her prancing grandson.
“That’s what I just said,” Mr. Evans adds.
“How does Harry know James?” her mum asks.
“He visits sometimes and he helps out too. He’s really good with kids. He’s a friend,” she says, anticipating potential questions from her parents.
“A friend?” Mrs. Evans says, looking at her husband, her eyebrows raised.
Mr. Evans shrugs which makes Lily rolls her eyes.
“You two are insufferable,” she says, walking out of the living room.
“We didn’t say anything!”
“Did you see that smile on her face?” her mum whispers, thinking she’s out of earshot.
Lily lets go of the doorknob she was about to twist and turns around to see James, his glasses askew and his hair unrulier than ever, navigating through the crowd to reach her.
“Evans! Check these out!” he says, lifting in front of her face what looks like two movie theatre tickets. “Tickets for The Force Awakens!”
Lily puts on a puzzled expression.
“My mates wanted to go watch it tonight and they asked me if you wanted to come. The thing is, I already bought the tickets, so now you have to come.”
“So… Are you coming?”
Lily can’t help but smile at the slight blush on his cheeks.
“Er, dunno. I was planning on staying in to study for a bit.”
“But, come on! It’s Friday!”
“Will you be going out afterwards? Because I can’t come back late and I definitely can’t be hungover.”
“No, it’s just a dinner and a movie. I swear. Come on, you can’t say no. Plus, you have enough money for the babysitter thanks to my present.”
He looks at her jutting his lip out.
“Fine,” she sighs. “I’ll come.”
James shakes his fist in victory. “I’ll pick you up at 6 p.m. then. Gotta go! See you tonight!”
The bell rings and he breaks into a run.
“Want some popcorn?” James asks after having gotten their tickets checked.
“Do you even have to ask?”
James reaches in his coat for his wallet, but Lily stops him.
“I’ll pay though.”
“Come on, James. You’ve already paid the tickets. And the babysitting, technically.”
“That was a Christmas present!”
“Call it what you want. I’m paying.”
“Fine,” he says giving in. “Is it alright if I wait for you here while you go buy it? I told Sirius we’d meet here.”
Lily nods and walks over to the counter. When she comes she notices James surrounded by his friends and she self-consciously walks over to them, hoping that she won’t trip and spill all of the popcorn. When she arrives at James sides, he absentmindedly puts his hand on her shoulder.
“Lily, this is everybody. Everybody this is Lily.”
Five smiling faces look back at her and she feels her face turning the colour of her hair.
“Glad we get to meet you finally,” says Sirius, coming forward and shaking her hand casually. “I was starting to think Jamie here was making you up.”
James jabs him in the ribs.
“Well, I’m here. In the flesh. You could try running a hand through me, but I’m afraid it would hurt both of us.”
“He won’t shut up about you. It’s starting to get annoying,” says the pale and lanky boy next to Sirius, who Lily is a hundred percent sure is Remus.
Lily laughs nervously. “I’m sorry… I guess?”
“Nothing to be sorry about,” says Sirius waving it off absentmindedly. “It’s him who should be sorry.”
“Look! The prat is blushing!”
“Oi, you shut it Marlene!” James says, messing up his hair.
Marlene, a dark-skinned curly-haired girl, cackles in return. “I’m Marlene, as you might have figured out,” she says, shaking her hand too. “And this would be Hestia, but a little bird tells us you too already know each other.”
“That’s right. We have loads of classes together,” says Hestia, smiling.
“And I would be Peter,” said the boy in question, bowing his head.
“If you’re all done making fools of yourselves, we should get going. The film starts in five minutes,” James says, trying to push them towards the cinema room.
They enter room five which is already significantly packed with people and Lily ends up being seated between James and Sirius. The two boys animatedly pick at each other while the ads play and Lily can’t help laughing at their jokes. James reaches out to grab some popcorn, but Lily smacks his hand away.
“What’s that about?”
“You can’t eat the popcorn until the movie starts!” she says, looking at him as if it were obvious.
“But the ads have started already!”
“So? Do you want to be already halfway through the bag when the actual movie starts?”
“I gotta say, she’s right about this Prongs,” Sirius says, never wasting an opportunity to provoke his friend.
“Man, I didn’t know popcorn came with a set of rules.”
“I’ll let you read the rule book next time.”
James crosses his arms and grumbles, feigning to be annoyed, and Lily picks out a single piece of popcorn, holding it in front of him.
“You can have one popcorn.”
James looks at her from the corner of her eye. He sits up and takes it into his mouth, without using his hands, which makes Lily blush and thank the people in the control room for having already turned off the lights. The signature opening crawl starts to play and A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. appears in blue letters in the screen. James grabs a handful of popcorn defiantly.
“Are you crying?” she says, barely managing to hide the amusement from her voice.
“No, it just have a bit of dust in my ey - of course I’m crying, Lily!” he says, sniffing “Han Solo… Love of my life… Father of my children…”
“You’ll be alright,” she says, patting his arm.
“You’re so insensitive.”
Sirius shushes him.
“You know what? Kylo Ren sort of looks like you, Sirius,” Remus says as they come out of the movie theatre into the cold evening.
“No way. My hair looks much better than his,” he says, flipping it.
“But will it look as good after this?” Marlene says, creeping up behind him. She jumps on him and messes up his hair, making him shriek.
“Get off, you animal!”
Marlene runs away snickering.
“Good one, Marlene!” James says, high fiving her.
“So, Lily. James here tells us you have a little boy named Harry at home,” Marlene says, coming up next to her.
“Are you suggesting I kidnapped him?” she says, cocking an eyebrow.
“Dunno. Maybe. Gotta make you pass the test first to see if you’re honest and worthy.”
“So there’s a test?” Lily says, eyeing James.
“Hey, don’t look at me, I had no clue!”
“Can we see a picture of Harry?” Hestia says, with honest interest.
“Of course. I’ve got about a million of them. But don’t worry, I won’t make you see them all.”
“Do we have to pretend he’s cute if he isn’t?” Sirius asks.
James smacks the back of his head, but Lily giggles at his joke.
“If he looks anything like his mum I don’t think we’ll need to pretend at all,” Marlene says.
Lily searches through her phone for a cute picture of Harry, until she finds one where he’s laughing at James who has baby food spilled all over his jumper. She hands it to Hestia and the others huddle around her.
“Hey, I think there’s something wrong with your baby! It’s overly grown and has way too much hair,” Sirius says, squinting at the picture.
Remus shakes his head. “It’s frightening really, I would have him checked by a doctor.”
“I know babies are supposed to be messy, but this one’s something else,” Peter says, with a grave look. “He’s got food all over his front.”
Lily laughs as James yanks the phone out of their hands.
“He’s sooo cute,” Hestia says in awe.
“Thanks, Hestia. Warms my heart,” James says, giving the phone back to Lily.
“I was talking about Harry.”
“Not that I don’t love picking on James, but is anyone here hungry?” Remus says, patting his stomach.
Four hands shoot up.
Thanks again for the movie ticket! Your friends were lovely
No prob! I’m glad you could come :)
Don’t ever say that to their faces btw it’ll go to their heads
Well they were
Too bad I made a fool of myself haha
No you didn’t you were your charming self
“You could run a hand through me but it would hurt us both”
Who actually says that in real life??
That’s fine it’s endearing
You should hear all the stupid shit that comes out of their mouths
Plus I spilled my drink on Sirius’ leather jacket at dinner
He seems to be very fond of it
Does he ever take it off?
Forget about it
He actually has a huge collection and that wasn’t even his favourite one
I’ve just asked him and he says there are no hard feelings
And no he always wears a leather jacket
Even in the shower sometimes
Not that I’ve seen him in the shower…
You mean you guys don’t take baths together?
I must admit I’m surprised
Unfortunately the bath isn’t big enough for the both of us
Of course you’ve tried fitting both of you in there
Idk why I even ask
Actually we tried fitting the four of us
But Remus is too tall so he hogged all the water
Plus Pete tripped and banged his head so we didn’t do it again
Damn Peter for ruining the fun for everyone
I know we were mad at him for like a week
Lilyy i love u your so pretty muah muah kjdbhsfouerishfdjkny
Sorry that was Sirius
You should try putting a lock on your phone
Just don’t make it your birthday
He probably knows that
We’ve been mates since we were 11
He better bloody know my birthday
I wouldn’t put it past him…
He seems like a good lad
Well only most of the time
They’re shouting at me bc I spend too much time on my phone
I think I’m going to have to leave to make them shut up :/
Hahah no problem
The babysitter managed to put Harry to sleep so I was going to bed anyway
Good night :)
Good night :)
“Okay, your turn, Sirius!” Peter says after downing his glass of beer. “You have to go over to that blonde bloke standing by the bar and get his number by saying ‘You know what’s on the menu? Me-n-U’.”
Sirius grins. “It’s a done deal,” he says, grabbing the nearest menu.
Six pairs of eyes follow Sirius to the bar. Lily doesn’t believe he can do it, but then again he’s about the most attractive bloke she’s ever met. She watches how he strides to the guy who at first looks surprised and a little bit reticent, but is eventually eased into the conversation. He leans closer to Sirius and laughs at what must have been a terrible joke. Barely a minute later, Sirius is back with a number written on a napkin and an insufferable smirk painted on his face.
“Cheers, Pete! That guy is fit,” he says, admiring his new acquisition. “Your turn to down my beer.”
Peter sighs and grabs his glass.
“Okay, who’s next…” Sirius says, examining everyone on the table with hawk-like eyes.
“I’ll go,” Lily says.
Six pairs of eyes turn towards her.
“You haven’t an ounce of alcohol in your blood, Evans!”
“That, Black, is because I don’t need it to unravel my charm. Point me.”
“Fine, suit yourself.”He looks around the pub and, a smirk painted on his face, finally points to a tall, dark-haired guy who could easily be the most gorgeous bloke in the whole place.
“You don’t believe I can get his number?”
“Way out of your league. Sure, I could get it. But you? I don’t think so.”
Lily raises her eyebrows at this statement.
“Don’t get me wrong, you have the looks for it,” he says. “No doubt there. But you don’t have the attitude.”
“If you don’t mind, I’ll make the judgment of that. What’s my pickup line?”
“Oh, I know!” says Marlene who had been biting on her straw. “‘Are you a parking ticket? Because you’ve got «Fine» written all over you.”
Lily gets up feeling her cheeks flush with excitement and ignores the snickers and giggles coming from their table. She doesn’t remember when was the last time she had flirted with guys, or even gone to a bar on a Friday night for that matter, and it makes her feel like a seventeen year old girl all over again. She walks over to the guy as confidently as she can and clears her throat.
“Hey there,” she says, with what she hopes is a suave tone of voice. “Are you a parking ticket? Because you’ve got ‘Fine’ written all over you.”
She can barely keep a straight face, so she bites her lips, hoping that it will make her look more seductive. The guy looks at her, his face torn between confusion and interest and she catches him quickly looking her up and down.
“So, did it work?” she asks, expectantly.
“What? The pickup line? I’m not gonna lie to you, it sort of did… although mostly because girls never come up to me. I usually have to go up to them.”
“Poor baby. Must be hard, eh?”
“You have no idea… I’m Dominic, by the way. And you are?”
“I feel like I’ve seen you around,” he says, his eyebrows knitting together.
“Is that really the best you can do?” she says, rolling her eyes.
He laughs. “I’m serious! Do you come here often?”
“Oh, yeah,” she lies, nodding vigorously. “I’ve come loads of times.”
“Well that must be it.”
“Hey, Dom!” a guy shouts from the door. “Are you coming?”
Dominic looks back at Lily, clearly not wanting to leave.
“Come on, Dom!”
Lily, however, doesn’t want to miss her opportunity to prove Sirius wrong.
“Could I have your number?” she blurts out.
Dominic looks relieved. She hands him her phone and he types it in. “Bye, Lily,” he says, smiling at her before joining his friend. “I’ll see you around.”
She waves and turns around, triumphantly walking back to the table where she’s welcomed by wolf-whistles and pats on the back.
“Bravo,” Remus says, doffing an invisible hat.
“I don’t know how you did that,” Hestia says, admiration written all over her face.
“I must admit I’m impressed, Evans.”
“Why thank you, Black.”
She looks at James from the corner of her eye and sees him fingering a whole on the table, his eyes fixed on it. She sets her phone on the table and deletes Dominic’s number. Six pairs of eyes turn to her again.
"Why did you do that?” Marlene says, slamming her palms on the table.
“I don’t know what world you live in, but most uni guys I know don’t exactly react well when I tell them I have a one year old baby. Besides, he’s not really my type.”
“Why are you smiling like an idiot?” Marlene says at the sudden appearance of a wide grin etched on James’ face.
“What? A bloke can’t be happy spending time with his mates?” he says, unable to wipe the smile of his face. “So, who’s next? Marley, you still haven’t had a go. I want you to get someone’s number with the iconic ‘Do you have a mirror in your pocket? Because I could see myself in your pants.’”
Lily can’t help but feel a rush of satisfaction at the sudden shift in James’ mood and it takes her all the willpower she has to not close the space between them or place her hand on his leg. She tries not to think about how much she wants to trail her fingers through his unruly hair at the nape of his neck and, to make it up, she accidentally bumps their knees together, which makes him glance at her with a half smile that she would love to kiss off his face.
When James had invited her to go to the movies with his friends, she would have never guessed that she would be in a pub with them playing one of their favourite drinking games only three weeks later. Her welcome in the group had been smooth and steady from the beginning. She had had no trouble catching up on their antics and inside jokes, and was even able to partake in them due her quick wit, which made them adopt her as if she had always been their friend.
Unfortunately, she isn’t able to see them as much as she would have liked. She still has a lot of coursework and Harry is still just as demanding, which means that she can only have a twenty minute lunch with them from time to time and sometimes spend a couple of hours with them on Friday night. The rest of the week remains as routined as ever, which means she still sees James just as much. But routine also means classes and labs and essays and stress of receiving her first term finals and also not a whole lot of sleep.
To make matters worse, Harry gets bronchiolitis a couple weeks into February. He starts coughing and crying on hours end at night for a couple of days and she ends up having to take him to the hospital when he starts having trouble breathing.
Is everything alright?
More or less
We should be able to see the doctor fairly soon
Is Harry alright?
He’s crying and coughing a lot
But the nurses have already given him some medicine so he should be fine
It’s just the queue to see the doctor that’s huge
Do you want me to come down?
The hospital’s not that far away
No really everything’s fine here
You should stay home and get some sleep
Are you sure?
We should be able to see the doctor any minute now
But thank you
Call me if you need anything
“Knock knock,” James says, poking his head through the open door of Lily’s flat.
“Hey, come in. James, this is Cindy by the way, Harry’s babysitter,” she says, nodding to the petite, dark-haired girl holding Harry.
James runs a hand through his hair then puts it out to shake her hand. “Nice to meet you,” he says, flashing his characteristic half-grin.
“Likewise,” she says, a blush appearing on her cheeks.
“So, is Harry ready to go?” he asks.
“Yup. Everything he might need is in this bag,” Lily says, handing it to him.
James slides it up his shoulder.
“I don’t know if I’m going to regret this,” Lily says, shaking her head.
“Regret it? What better company could Harry have than Sirius, Remus, Pete and I? He’s going to have loads of fun.”
“That’s what I’m worried about. He won’t want to come back to his mama afterwards.”
“I’m not gonna lie, that’s quite probable. But you can always bribe him with sweets. Never underestimate the power of sweets. So, are you ready for your slumber partaaay?”
Lily rolls her eyes. “Don’t ever use that word. Marlene said that we should have a sleepover, so I invited her and Hestia over. That’s all.”
“Slumber partaaaay,” he says, throwing his fists in the air.
She throws Harry’s coat at his face. “Ouch! I feel like I’m not welcome here anymore, so if you’ll excuse me, Harry and I will leave.”
He picks Harry out of Cindy’s arms and wraps him in his coat. “Say bye to Mama, Harry.”
“Wames!” he says, jumping excitedly in James’ arms.
“You see!” Lily says, shaking her head. “He’s forgotten all about me already.” She sets her hands on James’ forearm and stands on her tiptoes to kiss Harry’s cheek. “Bye, Harry. Be a good boy.”
“So, we’re off then.”
“I need my arm Lily,” he says looking down at her hands, a cheeky gleam in his eyes.
“Oh, right - yeah, sorry…” she says stepping away from him. “Just… don’t give him a sugar rush, okay?”
“And call me if you have any questions. And be sure to give him his medicine if he starts coughing. It’s in the bag.”
“And - ”
“Everything will be fine. Bye-bye, Lily,” he says, closing the door behind him before she has the chance to say anything else.
“Oh. My. God,” Cindy says ,mouthing dramatically.
“Him. James, right?” she says, pointing to the closed door.
“Er, yeah… What about him?”
“Er, I guess.”
“He is. Are you two a… couple?” she says, pointing back and forth at Lily and the door.
“No bu - ”
“Does he have a girlfriend?”
“Not that I know of… No, I mean. He doesn’t.”
“So he’s completely free?”
“As free as they come!”
“So that means that I could like maybe ask for his number?”
Lily bites her lip to keep a straight face.
“Oh, that’s great! Too bad he’s left already!”
“It’s okay, he can’t be that far away. You could still catch him. Here! Just pretend I forgot to put this in Harry’s bag,” she says handing her a nappy.
Cindy thrusts her arms into the sleeves of her coat and throws her bag over her shoulder before running out of the door.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lily! I owe you one!”
“Don’t worry about it! Good luck!” Lily says before closing it.
Lily chuckles. She had hesitated to lie to Cindy and tell her that James was actually seeing someone, but it wouldn’t have been fair to him. If she’s still as determined to not date him, she can’t stop him from dating other people after all. However, it’s much easier for Lily to tell Cindy that he’s single, due to the fact that she’s three years younger than him and still in high school, than it would have been to tell any other more eligible girl, and she’s only sorry that she won’t be there to actually see how it happens. It would have been very entertaining and right now she needs all the entertainment she can get.
She lets herself crash onto the couch and grabs the paper sitting at the top of the pile on the coffee table. She can’t help but stare at the 39/100 written in big red numbers next to her name. Her blood boils at the thought of it. If only she had had one more point she wouldn’t have failed this bloody test.
After receiving it, she remembers having gone to her professor to see if there was any way that he could find one extra point to raise her average, but he hadn’t wanted to hear anything about it. Lily didn’t bother to tell him that she hadn’t been able to study for it because she had spent several sleepless nights dealing with Harry’s bronchiolitis, and a whole night at the hospital, waiting for their turn to see the doctor, only to have her look at Harry for two and a half minutes and send them home with some medicine. She didn’t want her professor to raise her average because he pitied her.
She clenches her fists and crumples the paper throwing it at the wall. She doesn’t want to think what this test will do to her already low average, so she pushes the thought to the back of her mind, then slams a pillow against her face and screams at the top of her lungs. All she wants is to call her parents and hear their comforting voice telling her that it would be okay. Or her sister’s voice. But she won’t speak to Lily anymore. She didn’t even come to the Christmas dinner at their parents house because of her. She had come up with a lazy excuse and rung them at the last minute, and Lily had tried to believe her - really, really tried - but she knew that the only reason they weren’t coming was because Petunia and her husband didn’t want to be around “a slutty little whore who had a baby out of wedlock”.
Lily hears a knock at the door and peels herself from the couch to open it.
“Hey there,” Marlene says, her forehead puckered. “Is someone getting murdered in there, I heard someone screaming.”
“Er, no, it was just the kettle. Come in, come in,” she says, stepping aside.
“Your kettle has a great lung capacity,” she says, ambling into the flat and dropping her bag on the floor. “Hestia’s not coming by the way.”
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“No, her parents surprised her by coming to visit so she’s spending the evening with them.”
“Good for her.”
“Yeah, right,” she says sarcastically. “Oh, gosh you’re being serious. I guess some people get along with their family.”
She bends over and starts rummaging through her bag before throwing something into Lily’s arms. “Catch!”
A bag of uncooked popcorn lands into Lily’s open arms.
A DVD lands on top of the popcorn.
“Mamma mia, baby!” Marlene says doing a little dance. “Get your laptop! We’re watching it now!”
“‘Friday night and the lights are loooooow, looking up for a place to gooooo’,” Marlene says, singing into an invisible microphone. Lily can’t stop herself from giggling at her impersonation of Julie Walters and Christine Baranski.
“‘Where they play the right music, getting in the swing, you’ve come to look for a king’,” she sings, her voice dropping an octave at the last verse.
Lily’s phone buzzes and she unlocks it to find a new message from James.
So I had an interesting conversation with cindy your babysitter
Is that so?
Yup. Funny girl that Cindy
Remind me how old she is?
I think she told me she was 18
God she looks about fifteen and a half
So what did you talk about?
Don’t act like you don’t know
“‘Anybody could be that guuuy! Night is young and the music’s hiiiigh…’ Come on, Lily! This is the best song!”
“Just a moment!”
Like I don’t know what?
You know exactly what i’m talking about lily
I’m completely in the dark here
Help me out
Plus Marlene is belting out the lyrics of dancing queen so I’m having trouble concentrating
“‘YOU ARE THE DANCING QUEEN, YOUNG AND SWEET, ONLY SEVENTEEEEN…’” she sings while jumping on the couch like Meryl Streep.
So you have nothing to do with the fact that she asked me for my number??
Really? I didn’t know she had it in her
You’re such a bad liar
You’re telling me that you have nothing to do the fact that she gave me an extra nappy although there were already about 6 in the bag you gave me?
You can never be too safe, right?
So what did you tell her?
Don’t play dumb
What did you tell Cindy?
I gave her my number
“‘YOU CAN DANCE, YOU CAN JAH-IVE’”
Are you being serious?
What? She’s cute
She’s still in high school
So what? Age is just a number, right?
Are you taking the piss?
Nope i’m being serious
In fact I might text her right now
Are you still there?
Just trying to process the fact that you’re going to go out with a high schooler
She’s 18! She’s legal!
“‘You’re a teaser, you turn them oooon…’ Man, too bad we don’t have a feather boa.”
It’s still weird
She’s Harry’s babysitter
It didn’t seem to bother Harry when I gave her my number
Are you jealous or something?
Why the fuck would I be jealous?
Just thought you’d be happier for me
I am :)
Doesn’t sound like it
Well texting is not always the best way to communicate emotions
I’m messing with you
I didn’t give her my number
You just made me look like an idiot!!
“’Feel the beat from the tambourine, oh yeeeeah!’”
Does the fact that it was quite amusing make it any better?
Didn’t think so
So what did you actually tell her?
Tbh I didn’t really understand why she was asking for my number
I might have asked her if she wanted me to babysit her
I know I shouldn’t be laughing but I can’t help it
And it has little to do with the fact that Marlene just burst into a dance routine
Although that’s quite amusing too
I feel bad
Idk that’s the first thing that came to my mind
She looked so young too
And she got all flustered and embarrassed
Send me a vid of Marlene
I bet you handled it like a gentleman
Hell yeah I was raised right
But I’m going to be avoiding her from now on btw
Marlene stopped dancing
“Lily! You’re missing all the best parts!” Marlene says peering over her shoulder. “Oh, you’re texting James. Well that explains a lot.”
“Yeah, just checking that Harry’s alright,” she says, aware that she’s blushing.
“You’re lying!” she squeals with delight.
“Gosh, you’re such a liar. It’s okay though. So am I,” she says, pausing the film on Lily’s laptop.
“How do I know if I can trust you then?” Lily says, cocking an eyebrow.
“You can’t. But that’s why it’s so much fun. I’m full of surprises,” she says, wiggling her eyebrows. “You know I can just send a text to James and ask him if that was really what you were talking about.”
Lily sighs. “Fine, you win. We’re not talking about Harry.”
“I knew it. He seems very fond of you. James, I mean,” she adds as an afterthought with a knowing smile on her face.
“Well, he’s fond of a lot of people.”
“Nah. Just a handful of people that he’s known for a while.”
“Have you known him for a long time?”
“Oh, yeah. James and I go way back. We used to take baths together. We’re practically brother and sister.” A mischievous smile pulls at the corners of her lips. “Okay, he’s going to kill me when he finds out, but do you want to see an embarrassing photo of him?”
“Do I?” Lily says, eagerly leaning closer to Marlene’s phone.
Marlene quickly scrolls through her camera roll and shouts “Ha!” once she finds the desired picture. Lily lets out an ebullient laugh at the sight of it. An eight year old James with an unfortunate bowl haircut smiles at her with a wide, front-toothless grin. He’s wearing football shorts that look about four sizes too short and knee socks that go up to his thighs. Lily quickly snaps a picture of it and sends it to James.
“Gosh, he’s going to hate me for it,” Marlene says, although she looks far from repentant.
Soon enough her phone starts buzzing furiously.
“He can wait,” she says, tossing it on the couch. “Do you have any siblings?”
“Yeah, older sister. Her name’s Petunia.”
“Did your parents have a flower thing? Don’t tell me your mum’s name is Rose.”
“It actually is, funnily enough.”
“Jesus. And are you close? With your sister, I mean.”
“Not really. We used to be, but she doesn’t really talk to me anymore.” She clears her throat to cover up the faltering in her voice.
“Well, that’s her loss, right?”
“Right,” she says unconvincingly. “Do you have any siblings?”
Marlene scoffs. “Yeah, a younger sister. She’s sixteen.”
“You don’t get along?”
“So, so. It’s just a little hard when she’s Little-Miss-Perfect and I’m the family disappointment. I doesn’t help that she’s stupidly sweet either. I swear she could start talking to birds and mice one day and I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“She doesn’t sound too bad.”
“That’s because you’ve never had your parents blame you for everything your angel sister did. Bet you wouldn’t be too happy about it either.”
“Yeah, I guess. Still, it’s nice that you still talk.”
“So why won’t your sister talk to you?” she blurts out. “If you don’t mind me asking.”
“She and her husband have a very catholic approach on what constitutes a proper way to raise a child. Getting pregnant after a one night stand and raising your child as a single mum doesn’t in any way fit their definition. They think I’m ruining Harry’s life. And that I’m a slut.”
“What a bunch of idiots.”
Lily shrugs. “Nothing I can do about it. Although, something that never fails to cheer me up is thinking about the fact that my sister married a human walrus.”
“You’re kidding,” Marlene says, her eyes alight with glee. “Please, please, puh-lease tell me you have a picture.”
“Lily scrolls through her phone and shows her sister’s wedding picture to Marlene, who howls with laughter when she sees it.
“You weren’t kidding. His mustache is excellent, it looks like a rat died on his upper lip.”
Lily covers her mouth with her hand to stop herself from laughing. “You’re awful! And it’s not like he has a nice personality either. He’s the most condescending, idiotic, rude, blinkered bloke I’ve ever met. I don’t know what she sees in him. My poor nephew will grow up to be just like him.”
“Don’t tell me he’s procreated. One of his kind on this earth is enough!”
“The worst part is that he looks just like him too.”
“Poor kid,” she says, shaking her head. “Do you want more popcorn? I’ll go get some in the kitchen.”
When Marlene comes back to the living room she stops in the doorway and bends down. “What’s this?” she says, picking up Lily’s crumbled up test and flattening it out.
“You’re a curious girl, aren’t you.”
“Curious, I like that a lot. People usually say I’m nosey.”
Lily chuckles. “It’s a test I sat. I got a 39/100.”
“That’s not that bad. I mean, sure, you didn’t pass the test, but it’s happened to me before. No biggie.”
“Yeah… I dunno.”
Marlene studies the paper for a few seconds, twisting her mouth. “Hey, if you ever want me to babysit for Harry when you have to study for a test you can always call me,” she says, setting the bowl on the table and sitting next to Lily. “I mean I know James looks after him a lot, but he also gets busy and, believe it or not, even he has to get some work done from time to time. And I know what you’re thinking, I’ve never had experience with kids, but how hard can it be? You feed them, you change them and when they cry you give them candy!”
Lily chuckles. “It’s a little more difficult than that.”
“Practice makes perfect, doesn’t it? I’m serious. You can call me.”
Lily doesn’t know what makes her do it, but she leans forward and hugs her. Marlene tenses up at first, but she eventually wraps her arms around her and Lily can’t believe how nice it feels to have a girl friend again.
James falls flat onto his bed, cursing himself for signing up for morning and evening classes on Tuesdays. He doesn’t care if it’s barely 9 p.m., he has every intention of taking a nap and not setting any alarms until tomorrow. Unfortunately, his phone has other plans for him and starts ringing in a way that he swears sounds like a fire alarm, so he places his pillow over his head to block the insufferable sound of it. The buzzing continues. He groans and digs through his bag, then answers it without bothering to see who’s calling.
“James? Would you mind coming to my flat?”
It’s Lily. He sits up on his bed.
“Yeah, sure. Is something wrong?”
“No, it’s just - please come.”
“Sure. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
James knocks on the door and it swings open almost immediately.
“Hi, is - ”
“Shhh,” Lily says, putting a finger on her lips and pulling him inside. “Harry’s sleeping.”
They tiptoe past his crib and into Lily’s room, shutting the door behind them.
“So, what’s up?”
“I’ll kill her!” Lily says out of nowhere, clenching her fists, while her face turns a vivid crimson.
“Your sister?” James says, his forehead puckering. “What about her?”
“I hate her!”
“That”s wrong!” she says, pointing with a rigid finger towards a stack of letters and an unopened present sitting on her bed.
“What is it?”
“All the letters I’ve been writing to Petunia for the last six months,” she says, her arm dropping like a slack rope. “Unopened. And the birthday present I sent her last week. Also unopened. I thought she would like it,” she says, her voicing growing smaller every second. “I spent so much time thinking about what I could get her a - and she didn’t even open it.”
James is lost for words. He had always known that Lily was heartbroken by the fact that her relationship with her sister had been ruined, but he had no idea that she was trying so hard to rebuild it.
“And that’s not even the worst part… I mean, I knew she wasn’t replying to my letters, but I thought she would at least be reading them! She sent them all b - back and she sent me this too.” She rummaged through the pile with trembling hands. “Look, she wrote me a note. How nice of her, right? ‘Don’t write to me again’. That’s what she wrote. L - lovely, isn’t it?”
She clasps a trembling hand around the note.
“I - I don’t know what I did wrong, James. I - I - ”
She breaks down crying and James immediately takes a step towards her, his arms wrapping around her as she clutches his sides tightly.
“Hey, hey, hey, you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong,” he says with the most soothing voice he can muster. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”
“She hates me!” she says, crying against his chest.
He tucks her head under his chin. “Of course she doesn’t hate you, she’s your sister.”
“W - why does she treat me like this, then?”
“I don’t know, Lily. People are confusing sometimes.”
“I don’t understand, I’m doing the best I can! But it’s not good enough! She’s right, I’m ruining Harry’s life. He doesn’t deserve to be raised like this.”
Her shoulders start shaking and he hugs her more tightly. “Hey, you’ve got to listen to me. You’re the best mum that Harry could ever have. I’m serious. He couldn’t possibly be more loved by anybody else. And you work so hard to give him everything he needs. You’re an incredible mum.”
“I don’t work hard enough! It’s never enough! I’m failing my tests! I - I’m failing, James! I’m wasting my parents’ money!”
“You’re not failing! It’s not too late to catch up. Listen, from now on I can take care of Harry all the time if you want. My grades can afford to get a little lower and that way you’ll be able to study more.”
“B - but I’m his mum. I should be able to do all of this.”
“Lily, you’re a human being, you need other people’s help. That’s what people do, it’s okay. People need people.”
Her breathing slows down a bit.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” he says, stroking the back of her head.
Her cries have almost completely stopped, except for an occasional hiccup.
“You should probably get some rest.”
She nods. “Do you mind staying, tonight?” she says, her voice barely a whisper.
“Of course. I’ll be careful not to wake Harry.”
“You don’t have to sleep on the couch. You can sleep here, if you want.”
She lifts her head from his chest. “Sorry for getting your shirt wet,” she says, wiping the tears from under her swollen eyes.
“Don’t worry about it,” he says, brushing a strand of hair from her face.
“I think I’ll go to bed now.”
“Of course. I’ll go check on Harry. I’ll be right back.”
He slips out of the room and Lily changes into her pyjamas. When he comes back, he finds her already tucked under the covers and he toes his shoes off, then lays down next to her. Lily edges towards him. He slides his arm underneath her, tucking her under his arm, his other hand stroking her shoulder. Her deep breaths settle him into a peaceful state and he’s about ready to fall asleep when she lifts her head and plants a kiss on his lips, her hair tickling his bare neck. But he doesn’t kiss back and Lily pulls back.
“I’m sor - ”
She doesn’t have time to finish her sentence before James kisses her softly, his lips brushing against hers for a few, slow seconds. However, he breaks the kiss before Lily has the time to react, pushing her away gently, but firmly, then plants a kiss on her forehead. Seemingly satisfied, she rests her head on his shoulder again. James knows that Lily is exhausted and he doesn’t want to do anything that she might regret tomorrow.
When Lily wakes up, she doesn’t question the fact that she’s tucked under James’ arm, her own wrapped around his torso, so she keeps her eyes shut and lets herself relax, her breathing falling into step with James’. Something nags at the back of her mind, but she pushes it away, enjoying the stillness of the moment. James takes a deep breath and stretches, indicating that he’s waking up, so she looks up at him and sees that he’s opened his eyes.
“Morning,” she says, her voice thick with sleep.
“Morning. How are you feeling?” he says, a slight crease between his brows.
The thought that she had been trying so hard to push away comes crashing through the fogged sleepiness of her brain and she sits up, her brows knitting together. She remembers what happened. “Er, alright.”
James sits up on his elbows. “Did you sleep okay?”
She nods. “What time is it?”
James checks his watch. “7:36.”
“Harry hasn’t woken up yet? That’s strange,” she says getting up from the bed.
“I haven’t heard him.”
“He usually wakes up about now. I’ll go check on him.”
James catches her wrist before she can leave the room. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she says wiggling herself out of his grasp. “I have to go check on Harry.”
James follows her out and watches her peer into Harry’s crib.
“He’s still sleeping,” she whispers. “That’s weird.”
“It’s no biggie.”
“I know. It’s just unusual. He usually wakes me up like an alarm clock.”
“Maybe he’s just tired.”
“It’s still unusual,” she says, walking back into the room with James at her heels.
She starts poking through her desk, straightening papers out, stacking her books up and adjusting her pens, then picks up stray pieces of clothing. James sits down on her bed and watches her, his forehead puckering.
“You’ve already straightened that pile,” he says when she starts picking at her desktop again.
“Do you have any classes?” she says, turning sharp on her heels. “You shouldn’t miss them.”
“Yeah, I have one at 8:30.”
“You should probably go then. Especially if you want to change out of your clothes.”
“Er, yeah. Sure,” he says, sitting up from her bed and putting his shoes on. “Walk me out?”
Lily pauses, her hands hovering over the letters and the birthday present she sent to her sister. She grabs them, opens her closet door and chunks them at the bottom with her shoes before pushing the door shut with her foot.
“Sure,” she says, with a forced smile on her face.
They walk out into the living room and James opens the door.
“Is it okay if I come back later?” he says, one foot in the doorway.
“Sure, you know where the key is.” He nods.
They haven’t really touched each other since they woke up and James is concerned about how distant she’s being. Without thinking, he leans in and presses a quick, but soft kiss on her lips, then closes the door behind him, leaving Lily with a lingering feeling on her lips. She brushes her thumb against them, her thoughts wandering astray. She snaps back into the present moment and strides into her room, then grabs a pen and a blank sheet of paper and sits down at her desk.
James walks into Lily’s building and heads to her apartment on the first floor. He stops in front of her door and lifts the doormat, expecting to find her key, but instead, his fingers wrap themselves around an envelop. He picks it up, his heart beating slightly faster, and notices his name written on it in Lily’s rushed and scraggly writing. He opens it.
I’m going to take the train with Harry to my parent’s house and by the time you read this I might be gone already. I don’t know when I’m going to come back and I would ask of you to please not try to contact me. You’ve done nothing wrong; far from it. You’ve been absolutely wonderful. I just need some time away. I hope you understand.
Thank you for everything.
By the time he finishes reading it the fourth time, he can’t tell if he’s spent five minutes or half an hour in front of her locked and empty apartment.
Chapter 3: Vici.
“Honey, I’m home!” Sirius says, coming into the apartment and slamming the door shut. He strides to the black leather couch and plops himself next to James, placing his arm over his shoulders. “Watcha doing?”
“Watching Mad Men,” James grumbles.
“Weren't you doing that last night too?”
“Where are Pete and Remus?”
James slams his finger down on the space bar of his computer, pausing the episode, and lays his head on the back of the sofa. “Remus is having a shower and Pete... I dunno.”
Sirius pushes himself off the couch and walks down the hallway, then opens the bathroom door, vapour billowing out through it. He steps in and James hears the shower curtain being yanked to a side.
“Oi! Can't a bloke have some privacy, you wanker!” comes Remus’ aggrieved voice.
“Calm your tits, Remus. I can't see your pickle through all this fog. Now get out already, your arse is squeaky clean!”
Sirius comes into the living room again with a satisfied grin on his face, followed closely by grumpy looking Remus leaving wet footmarks on the wooden floor, while adjusting a towel around his waist.
“Where's Pete?” Sirius asks.
“He's on a date,” Remus says, shaking the drops of water out of his head which fall onto Sirius’ face. The latter wipes them off with the tip of his finger.
“A date? With who?”
“Not sure. Didn't want to tell me.”
“Well, cheers Pete! Good for him. Coming back to the main topic of this discussion -”
“I didn't know we were having a discus -”
“Shut up, Remus. So, back to the main topic of this discussion, I am proud to, or rather, I regret having to inaugurate our first ever - but not last, I'm afraid - intervention. For Prongs,” he adds nodding at James’ slumped figure on the couch.
“Huh?” he says, looking up from his laptop.
“Have you even been listening?” Sirius says, opening his arms.
“Jesus Christ,” Sirius says, marching towards him and slamming the laptop shut before taking it from his lap and yanking the earphones out of his ears. James protests, but he ignores him. “This is an intervention. For you. Back me up here, Remus.” He slaps his bare stomach with the back of his hand and Remus doubles over.
“I think that what Sirius here is trying to stay - rather badly I have to admit - is that he's worried about you. We all are,” he says, rubbing the red mark on his abdomen.
“Why are you worried? I'm fine ,” he says, putting the hood of his sweatshirt up and stuffing his hands in his pockets.
“Really? Then why have you been watching Mad Men all afternoon for the last three days? That's not normal behaviour for you,” Sirius says, waving James’ laptop in the air.
“Hey, be careful with that!”
“Can I go get dressed now?” Remus says, rubbing his arms and jumping on his tiptoes. “I'm getting cold.”
“Remus, Pete, depending on how well his date goes, you ,” he says, pointing an accusing finger at James. “And me are all going to go out tonight. Bloody hell, it's Saturday night!”
“I'm not going out,” James says, crossing his arms and sinking lower onto the couch. Sirius glares at him.
“Damn right you are.”
He storms out of sight down the hallway again, then comes back holding an armful of clothes.
“Hey, those are mine!” James protests and Sirius throws them at him.
“Hell yeah, they are. And you're going to wear them tonight.”
James throws them to the side. “I am not.”
“Not that this little show isn't entertaining,” Remus says, pointing to the two of them. “But I'm freezing my bollocks off, so I'm gonna go get dressed now.” He walks to his room and closes the door.
“Remus, don't leave, Sirius is bullying me!”
“Not yet, I'm not. But I will if you don't do as I say. Get dressed!”
Sirius takes a deep breath. “James, you can't stay like this forever because Lily left. Stop acting like you've been dumped, you weren't even together!”
“So what? I've only been sitting around for a few days!”
“That's like a whole month in millennials’ time!” James looks down at his hands and Sirius rolls his eyes. “Did the fact that she's eventually going to come back reach your thick mind?”
“She's been gone almost three weeks now! That's basically four months in millennials’ time! Who knows when she'll come back!”
“Beats me! But all I know is that you can't keep moping around until she does! Now put those clothes on!”
Sirius eyebrows shoot up to his hairline before he strides towards him and grabs the hood of his sweatshirt, knocking James’ glasses off. James tries leaping out of his reach, but Sirius has a grip of steel.
“You're choking me!”
“Take it off!” Sirius says, pulling one of James’ arms out of the sleeve.
“No,” he says, kicking him in the crotch. Sirius buckles and curses under his breath, bringing a hand to the injured area. He grabs hold of the hem of the sweatshirt and pulls it up, exposing James’ bare stomach. James tries to pull it back down and aims a kick at Sirius, but he’s quicker this time, jumping out of the way.
“What the fuck is going on here?” Remus says, running into the living room, half-undressed. He takes in the scene in front him. Sirius’ knee is pinning down James’ chest, trying to pull the garment off of his head, while the latter tries aiming kicks and punches at him.
“Sirius, let go of him!” He doesn't listen to him and Remus marches to him, pulling him off of his victim, not without significant effort or receiving a couple punches or elbow jabs himself. “You two are worse than children!”
“He won't take that bloody thing off!”
“Shut up, Sirius! Listen, James. Although I don't approve of Sirius’ method of taking action, he's right. You can't keep lying around, waiting for Lily to come back! You should come out with us tonight.”
James crosses his arms which makes Remus take a deep breath. “If you come out with us I'll buy you one of those kebabs you like so much at the corner shop.”
James cocks and eyebrow and looks at Remus through his brow. “With the dumplings?” he says.
“With the dumplings. And extra sauce.”
James eyes Sirius distrustfully and takes a few moments to consider the offer.
“Fine,” he says, getting up from the couch and grabbing his clothes. “But apart from the eating, I won't be having any fun at all.”
He pushes past Sirius, sticking out his tongue at him, and goes into his room.
Lily hesitates, her fist hovering in front of the door, then finally makes up her mind and knocks three times. She waits a few seconds with no answer, thinking they're not home, when she finally hears someone stomp to the door before swinging it open.
“ … ungodly hour - oh, hi Lily,” Peter says once he comes face to face with her. He blinks repeatedly and his eyebrows knit together. “Weren't you up at your parents’ house?”
“Er, yeah. But I'm back,” she says, balancing on her heels.
“Right, right. Sorry if I'm a little slow. I'm a bit hungover.”
“It all alright.” She smiles awkwardly. “So… is James here?”
“Oh, right. Yeah he is. I don't know if he's awake yet, but come in, come in.” He steps aside and Lily follows him to the living room.
“Liiiiily!” Sirius says at the sight of her. He jumps up from the couch and hugs her tightly, almost cutting off the air circulation in her lungs. “Thank god you're back! James was starting to get so annoying.”
“Well, I'm happy to see that you've missed me for my actual presence.”
“Don't take it personally, Lily. He doesn't know how to give a compliment,” Peter says.
“So, do you know if James is up?”
“OI, JAMES! Come here for a second!” Sirius smiles back at Lily. “If he wasn't before he sure is know.”
A groan comes from the end of the hallway, which is soon followed by a sleepy James ambling down to the living room, rubbing his eyes and wearing nothing else but his trunks.
“What is wrong with you, Sirius?”
“There's someone here to see you,” Sirius says, satisfaction written on his face.
James moves his hands away from his eyes and stops short in his tracks, staring bug-eyed at Lily, which makes Peter and Sirius snicker.
“Lily!” is the only thought that he seems to be able to verbalise.”You're back.”
Lily smiles at him, barely able to keep herself from giggling and James suddenly becomes aware of his state of undress.
“Good thing you don't sleep in the nude, right, Prongs?”
James glares at Sirius and Peter can't help but burst into laughter.
“What are you doing here?” he says his face softening when he looks back at Lily.
“Enjoying the view obviously,” Peter says, giving James a once over. Lily has to look up to the ceiling to stop herself from following Peter’s gaze.
“Will you two shut up! Since we obviously can't have a mature and adult conversation in front of these two, I would suggest going to my room.”
James gestures Lily towards the end of the hall and flips Peter and Sirius’ grinning faces off before following her.
“Er, sorry about those two,” he says, shutting the door behind him. “Just give me a second to put some clothes on.”
“Sure.” She looks away as he picks up some trousers from his desk chair and slips them on. Not that she doesn't enjoy the view. She just feels that if there were a time to get a full view of him while he's not fully clothed, then this wouldn't be it. She takes the opportunity to glance at the pictures lining the wall, which depict James and his friends through all their awkward teenage phases.
“So,” James says after having slipped a white t-shirt on. “When did you arrive?” He sits on his bed, then pats the space beside him and Lily sits down next to him.
“Almost an hour ago.”
James can't help a smile tugging at the corner of his lips knowing that the first thing she did after arriving was coming to see him.
“Wait, where's Harry?”
She looks down at her open palms resting on her lap.
“He's staying with my sister.”
“Wait, what? But I thought - ”
“We reached an arrangement with my parents. She's not very happy about it - Petunia, that is. She needed more than a little convincing,” she says trying to sound lighthearted. “My parents made her come down to the house and we had a little family reunion. There was a lot of yelling. Mostly coming from me, and directed to my sister.” She pauses for a second and starts fidgeting with the hem of her sweater. “To be honest I wasn't to happy about the idea at first either. But both my parents thought it was the only way I could finish the year without driving myself crazy.”
James reaches for her hand and they interlace their fingers. “I think that's a good idea.”
“I spoke on the phone with the headmaster and explained to him the situation, and he's willing to look past a couple of things if I raise my grades significantly by the end of the term.”
“Yeah, we'll see.” She pauses for a moment and her mouth twitches. “The flat will be very empty now though.”
“You'll find ways to fill it up,” he says, squeezing her hand.
Lily's stomach growls, interrupting the silence, and James chuckles. “Haven't had breakfast yet? I can wheedle Sirius into making some pancakes if you want. He makes the best. It's also a great hangover cure, which I'll probably need since they practically threatened me to go out with them yesterday.”
The change that takes place in Lily over the next couple of weeks is almost magical. The glimpses of what she had possibly been like before getting pregnant - which James had caught sight of from time to time- seem to crack the surface of her shell and start to bloom again, colouring her cheeks with a hearty rosiness. It’s a sight to behold.
However, old habits die hard, and not allowing herself a moment’s rest is one of them. She starts studying more than before and even takes up a part time job at the Hogwarts library in order to earn some extra pocket money, which means that she still doesn’t have shedloads of free time, but her worries, which had reached the vertiginous heights of Manhattan skyscrapers over the last couple of months, had shrunken down to ordinary, five-story buildings now. They were almost ordinary uni-kid worries.
The major bump in her now somewhat even road is Harry. She misses him. It seems off to her, all this quiet time, all the free time that she can dedicate into activities such as sleep. It makes her restless at first.
(Although, if she must be honest, it doesn’t take her too long to get used to that particular aspect.)
But when Harry was here, even if he did spend some nights crying on hours end, all she needed the next day to forget about the sleep she had missed was to hear the smile in his voice when he called her name, or to see him laughing at one of her silly faces. He made it all worth it.
Fortunately for her, technology exists. Before leaving her parents’ house, she set up Skype on their computer, which now allows her to call Harry every afternoon he spends at his grandparents’ house. It’s a bittersweet experience. She’s able to see him, laugh with him and chat with him (as much as one can chat with a one year old baby), but she isn’t able to touch him. She craves being able to hug him and feel his little head resting on her shoulder, with his chubby arms wrapped around her neck. She also can’t help the nagging feeling of guilt squirming in her chest. She’s missing out. Missing out on some of her son’s first times. The first time he climbs up the stairs without any help. The first time he drinks from a cup without making a mess of himself. The first time he calls his grandparents Nana and Popop .
But it’s for the best. That’s what she tells herself over and over again, drilling the thought into her brain. She’s doing this for Harry. If she does well this year and earns some extra money, it can only benefit him. She wants to believe it.
However, what she does enjoy from the situation is getting a taste of what it is really like to be an ordinary uni student, or as close as she can get to that. She doesn’t spend half as much time as before at her flat anymore - only when she has to study - and her center of activities slowly gravitates towards James’ flat. It doesn’t come as a surprise. There’s almost everything she needs there. A group of friends to which she’s becoming more and more attached to and thanks to which she feels more grounded, stable. And James, whom she wants.
It would be an understatement to say that James is satisfied with the situation. He gets to see her almost all the time; she hangs out with him and his friends - their friends - and most importantly, he gets to see her thrive with a newly found energy. It leaves him dumbfounded many more times a day than he cares to admit.
“Earth to James.”
James shakes his head, tearing his eyes from Lily sitting next to him, only to meet Remus’ who’s giving him a knowing smile. James presses his index fingers against his lips, conveying a silent plea.
“Cough up, Black,” Lily says, extending her open hand to Sirius who’s sitting across the table from her. He mutters under his breath and smacks his cards against the dark-wooden table, then pulls a fiver out of his pocket before throwing it at Lily.
“Thank you,” she says, doing a little victory dance.
“You wouldn’t be so cocky if we were playing strip poker.”
“If you want to end up starkers so badly, you should just go to a nudist beach, Black.”
“Nice one Lily!” Marlene says from the couch behind them, rising a thumbs-up without turning away from the telly.
“I bet you would end up naked before I would!” Sirius says.
“That is the strangest threat I have ever received.”
“You start getting used to it when you’ve known him for a while,” Peter says, coming out of the kitchen with a glass of lemonade in his hand.
“Oooh lemonade,” Lily says, her eyes following Peter’s glass. She lays her cards on the table “I’m gonna go get some. I’ll give you a chance to scheme a new strategy, Sirius. I think your previous one is faulty.” Sirius sticks his tongue out and Lily copies him - being a mature adult and what not - before walking into the kitchen and taking the lemonade pitcher out of the fridge. She takes a step back and bumps into someone’s chest, making her jump and spill some lemonade on the floor.
“Oh, shit, sorry Lily. I didn’t mean to scare you,” James says, grabbing a cloth and wiping the small puddle from the floor.
“Wow, you’re a pretty silent walker. That can always come in handy.”
“Oh yeah? Like when?” he says, standing back up.
“Oh you know… a zombie apocalypse,” she says, realising how close they are now. James quirks an eyebrow.
“A zombie apocalypse? Why, that is quite probable. Yes, thank god for my silent feet. Although the zombies would probably smell my tasty flesh and find me to feast on me.”
Lily winces. “I’m getting images of zombies biting into human flesh, which isn’t exactly the loveliest of thoughts.”
“Hey, you’re the one who brought it up.”
Lily nibbles her lower lip, looking down at her feet momentarily and James runs a hand through his hair.
Since she’s come back, every time James and her have been alone they’ve ended up having silly conversations until eventually they run out of things to say to fill the silence with and then, an awkward silence ensues. It’s not painfully awkward. It’s just that neither of them really know what to do. They haven’t talked about their kiss - or in this case, multiple kisses - since she’s come back, and they haven’t kissed again either. Neither of them know if they should act like like it never happened, or pick up from where they left off again. Neither of them know what the other one wants.
“Er, I wanted to ask you…” James says, ruffling his hair up again. Lily looks up again, her eyes open with anticipation. “Er… are you trying to steal my friends from me?”
Lily’s eyebrows come together for a second, amazed by how quickly he can put on a confident facade, but she doesn’t miss a beat. “Trying? More like succeeding.”
Lily twists the doorknob of the boys’ flat, knowing that they don’t bother to lock it half of the time, and barges right in.
“Hey! Have you ever heard of a thing called ‘privacy’?” Two things, actually. ‘Privacy’ and ‘private property’,” Sirius says, lounging on the couch in his boxer briefs, a large book in his hand. “Foreign concepts to you, aren’t they?”
Lily snorts. “You’re one to talk. You know the others have told me of all the times you’ve barged into the bathroom while they were having showers?”
“The others a tattletales,” he says, his face disappearing behind his book.
“Is James here?”
“Bedroom. I would recommend knocking, he might not be fully clothed. Or not, I could always use a good laugh.”
Lily rolls her eyes. However, when she reaches James’ bedroom, she follows his advice and knocks.
“Oh, shit!” She hears what she thinks is James falling to the floor. “Just a minute.”
After a few minutes of stumbling about, he opens the door fully-clothed, a slight flush on his cheeks and his hair pointing every-which-way.
“What’s up?” he says, stepping aside so she can come in.
Lily yanks her bag open and pulls a sheet of paper out of it, which she holds to his face. “Look! I got an A! I got a bloody A!” she says, practically jumping up and down.
James face lights up. “Lily, that’s brilliant!”
“I can’t believe it!” she says, her eyes gleaming. She can’t help jumping into his arms and he picks her up instinctively, hugging her tightly. “A bloody A!”
“You’re brilliant! I knew you could do it!”
She laughs into his ear and, to him, it sounds like one those wind chimes that you hang over your door and start to sing whenever someone comes home.
“I have to tell Marlene!” she says, sliding back down. She grabs his hand and pulls him into the living room, before getting her phone out of her pocket and excitedly dialing her number.
“What’s going on?” Sirius says, propping himself up on his elbows.
“I got an A!” Lily says, interrupting her phone conversation with Marlene for a moment and holding her paper up proudly. James swears he can hear Marlene shouting “OH MY GOD” from the other end of the line.
“That’s amazing, Lily!” Sirius says, candid joy in his voice and Lily gives him a big grin before going back to her conversation.
“Sirius,” James says, wiggling his eyebrows. “I think this calls for a celebration.”
“Excellent idea! A party!”
“So, Pete,” Lily says over the sound of what she’s pretty sure is a funky remix of A ‘Fifth of Beethoven’, and sitting down on the couch next to Peter. “A little bird tells me you went on a date with a girl not so long ago…”
He turns to Sirius who’s just plopped himself down on the couch, almost spilling his beer. “A little bird can go fuck himself.”
Sirius frowns, confusion painted on his face. “I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now.”
“So… how did it go?” Lily asks.
“Only fine? You’ve got to give me more details than that, what’s her name?”
“Maaary,” Sirius drawls out.
“She’s in Sirius’ Astrophysics class, unfortunately for me,” Peter grumbles.
“Hey, I’ve been very nice, I haven’t spoken to her at all since I learned that you went on a date with her and since you asked me not to embarrass you.”
“You haven’t spoken to her at all?” Peter says, his mouth forming a big “o”.
“Not a single word,” Sirius says, emphasizing each word. “I’ve got your back, Pete.” He drapes his arm over his shoulders.
“But now she’s going to think that I’ve expressly told you to ignore her!”
“She’s going to think I’m not interested anymore!”
“No, she isn’t!”
“Of course she is! There goes my one chance to go out with her again!”
“Wait, no! I swear that on Monday, when I see her, the first thing I’ll do is talk to her and not shut up for a second a - and I’ll tell her stories about you, Pete!”
“Don’t do that, she’ll never want to see me again if you tell her stories about me!”
“Just don’t tell her the story about you four trying to shower together and you’ll be fine,” Lily says, patting his arm.
“Oi, Lily, there’s someone I want you to meet!” James says from the other side of the room packed with the boys’ friends, some of them chatting, others dancing, all of them seemingly having fun and at different states drunkenness.
She walks to him, past Marlene and a bloke she doesn’t know having a smoke by the open window, and finds herself shaking the hand of a petite brunette with shortly-cropped hair, and a tall and skinny boy with a cascade of blonde curls falling onto his forehead.
“Lily meet Alice and Frank. Frank and Alice meet Lily.”
“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” the girl says, her face brightening with a cute and genuine smile.
“Will you look who it is,” Remus says when he catches sight of the newly-comers. “If it isn’t the couple of the year, Alice and Frank, Frank and Alice.” He quickly hugs both of them.
“You’ll never catch one without the other,” James says to Lily.
“Legend on campus even says that they’ve had a magnet surgically placed inside them so that when they’re more than a few inches apart, they’re pulled to each other again,” Remus says. “Look, they never separate.”
Him and James each fruitlessly try pulling on one of Alice and Frank’s arm, making both of them laugh.
“Don’t believe these two pricks, we spend loads of time apart,” Frank says to Lily.
“Actually, that magnet might not be a bad idea, I might look into it for me and Harry. God knows I’ve lost him a couple of times without realising. Harry is my son, by the way,” she adds for Frank and Alice’s benefit.
“But if you hadn’t almost lost him that one time in the park, we would have never met, right?” James says, putting his arm over her shoulder and tucking her under his arm. “And that would have been huge loss for you.”
Lily can tell that he’s already drunk a couple of beers. This is probably the most and longest they’ve touched each other in a while without it becoming awkward, and she has to admit that she likes the warm feeling of being pressed against his side. He’s looking down at her with the small smirk he loves displaying whenever he’s being cocky, the corners of his mouth quirking up, and the blues and greens and browns in his eyes beaming playfully. Lily crinkles her nose, which is always a sure sign for James that she finds him funny without wanting to admit it.
“You think I’m funny,” he singsongs, poking her in the side with his hand that’s holding a half empty beer.
“You wish,” she says, barely able to keep herself from smiling.
“Jesus, you two, get a room,” Sirius mumbles, as he passes behind them on his way to the loo.
They separate, aware that Frank, Alice and Remus are staring at them with knowing looks in their eyes and laugh nervously. Unsurprisingly, James’ hands finds its way to his hair.
“I’m gonna go get a drink,” Lily says.
She walks into the kitchen and opens the fridge as a rap song starts to play, and absentmindedly sings the lyrics under her breath.
“‘Lost generation, fast paced nation, world population confront their frustration, the principles of true hip-hop have been forsaken*.’ ” She starts bobbing her head and swaying from side to side as she peruses through the fridge. “‘It’s all contractual and about money makin, pretend-to-be cats don’t seem to know their limitation*.’ ”
She grabs a bottle of coke, swinging her arms around and singing louder as the song goes on, then turns around, flipping her hair, and finds herself facing a grinning James, leaning on the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest. She halts on the spot.
“By all means, keep going,” he says, barely managing to stop himself from laughing.
Lily can feel herself becoming red. “How many times are you going to sneak up on me like that?”
“What was that you just did there,” he says, twirling his index finger in her direction.
“I, er, sort of like memorising rap songs.”
“And the dancing? I want to know more about the dancing.”
Lily rolls her eyes.
“I’m serious, could you teach me? I mean, I know I wouldn’t do it as well as you, but I could always try.”
“Oh, shut it.” Her phone starts buzzing with Skype’s characteristic ringtone and she pulls it out of her pocket. “It’s Harry! Do you think I could take the call in your room? It’s too loud here.”
“Er, my room’s a bit messy, but you could always use Sirius’.”
She answers the call and disappears down the corridor.
Half an hour later, he knocks on the door to check on her.
“Everything alright?” he says, pushing the door.
Lily, who’s sitting on the edge of Sirius’ bed and staring at her locked screen, quickly wipes her eyes.
“Yup, Harry says hi,” she says, fake nonchalance on her voice.
“Are you alright?”
“Of course.” She eyes the beer in his hand. “You wouldn’t happen to have another one of those, right?”
“You want a beer?” he says, his brow furrowing. “I thought you didn’t drink.”
“‘Didn’t drink. Past tense.”
“So, is this the moment where you point at a star and invent its name to impress me and I realise how wonderful you are and fall madly in love with you?” Lily says, looking at the space above her, her fingers playing with a thread of the blanket laid out beneath them.
“Okay, then remind me why Sirius has gleaming star stickers stuck to the ceiling above his bed?”
“Because he’s fucking obsessed with himself. He won’t admit it, but I know he tried to recreate the constellation of the star he was named after. Plus he says he can’t fall asleep if he doesn’t see the stars.”
Lily snorts. “What a fucking dork.”
She glances at him from the corner of her eye. He looks peaceful, with one hand tucked behind his head, the other wrapped around one of the beer bottles he fetched them, and his eyelids dropping lower by the minute. The song “Love is a Laserquest” plays in the living room, and she can hear Alex Turner’s muffled voice resonating in the walls, along with Sirius’ melodious one.
“You know, when I’m an old retired maid, I’m gonna be a super nanny. I’ll work for free, because I’m going to be rich so my pension can sustain me until the ripe age of a hundred and fifty. I’ll have so much spare time and money on my hands that I’ll babysit the kids whose parents can’t afford kindergarten or a babysitter. And all the kids will call me G-ma Evans, cause it sounds like a cool rap name, and I’ll spit the sickest nursery rhymes, and they’ll say I smell wonderful of a flower field, even though I’ll smell of cats. And it’ll be a awesome.”
There’s a moment of silence in which James lets what she’s just said sink in. He starts laughing, his legs folding onto his stomach. “You’re such a lightweight,” he says.
She lightly smacks him on the arm. “What did you expect, I haven’t drunk any alcohol in over a year. And you’re one to talk.”
“I drank like three more beers than you!”
“But you’re stupidly tall so you should be a bit more tolerant to alcohol.”
“I didn’t know one could be tall in a stupid way.”
“Well, neither did I before I met you. Anyway, i think my plan is brilliant.”
“Okay okay, it’s pretty good. But it has one major flaw: why would you smell of cats? I don’t believe you could ever smell bad, even as an old bat.”
“Because I’m planning on getting as many cats as I know flower names and then name each cat after a different flower, and then, when the little kids tell me I smell like a rose, I’ll know I actually smell like my ginger, flat-faced, overweight cat Rosie which I just spent half an hour cuddling, and I’ll know they’re lying .
“Wow, that is actually brilliant.”
“I told you.”
She adjusts the pillow beneath her head and yawns, stretching her arms above her, then proceeds to look back at the stars.
“I miss him.”
James doesn’t need to ask to know who she’s talking about.
“I miss him too. And I know he misses you, although I think he might miss me more.”
She chuckles weakly and turns to him, nuzzling her nose in his side. He turns and wraps one arm around her, pulling her closer to his chest and, with their legs tangled together, they fall asleep.
“You know, of all the months I’ve known you, you’ve never come to see any of my football games,” James says, holding the door of Lily’s building open for her before coming in himself. “I’m hurt.”
“I’m the one who should be hurt, you’ve never invited me before,” she says as they climb the first flight of stairs.
“You don’t need an invitation, Lily.”
As they come onto the landing, Lily stops in her tracks, her keys clinking in her hands. Standing on her doormat are her dad, her mum, and Harry .
“Mama!” Harry says, opening his arms to her.
The keys crash to the ground and Lily runs to him, picking him up, laughing, crying, beyond ecstatic and barely aware of her surroundings, because she’s holding her whole world in her arms, and knows with every fiber of her body that nothing has ever felt as good.
“W - what are you doing here?” she says to her parents, hugging them, without loosening her hold on Harry.
“We wanted to surprise you, sweetheart,” Mrs. Evans says, wiping the tears from under her daughter’s eyes, her own shining brighter than usual.
“When did you come? How did you come? How long are you staying?”
Her dad chuckles. “We’re staying for the weekend and we arrived by car barely half an hour ago.”
“But it’s such a long drive.”
“It was worth it.”
Indeed, it was as if Christmas had come early.
“Oh,” Lily says, wiping the tears under her eyes. “This is James, by the way. James, these are my parents.”
He shakes their hands.
“Nice to meet you, James, or should I say, Wames.”
James laughs. “That’s me,” he says, running a hand through his hair.
“Wames!” Harry says, and James ruffles his hair, leaving it in a state of untidiness not unlike his.
The days that ensue are some of the happiest that Lily can remember since the beginning of the school year. She’s surrounded by everyone she loves, from Harry, to her parents and James, passing by their friends. She’s eager to have her parents meet every single one of them, Marlene, Sirius, Remus, Peter, Hestia, all of them, just so they see how well she’s doing, how lucky she is.
She shows them the A she got on her essay a few weeks back, and the couple more she’s collected since then, and by the time Sunday afternoon arrives, both of her parents feel like a big weight has been taken off their shoulders. Their daughter is taken care of. She ’s taking care of herself.
“Do you really have to go?” Lily says, standing by the car with Mr. and Mrs. Evans, and feeling like a child asking her parents to stay on the playground just a little longer .
“Your dad and I have to go back to work, sweetheart.”
She’s too old for tantrums, she tells herself. She picks Harry out of her mum’s arms and kisses the top of his head several times, then buries her nose in his neck.
“Bye, bye, Harry. Mama loves you.”
His little arms tighten around her neck. “No. Arry stay.”
“I wish, my love. But you have to go back to Auntie Petunia’s, like that I can work very hard and then we won’t have to be apart anymore.”
“No, Arry stay!”
She kisses him again, then straps him up in the baby seat, while he pulls at the buckle.
Mr. Evans comes to her side of the car and embraces her in a hug. “Goodbye, love. You’re doing great,” he says, kissing her temple.
She nods against his chest, then lets go of him, and he sits down in the driver’s seat.
“Lily, dear, your sister wanted me to give you this,” Mrs. Potter says. She pulls an envelope from her pocket and hands it to Lily. She opens it and, inside, she finds two pressed dried flowers, a lily and a petunia.
Lily’s eyes fill with tears, but instead of crying, she hugs her mum tight.
“See you soon,” she says.
“See you soon.”
Her mum gets into the car and she waves one last goodbye at the three of them before they drive away, dreading the moment where she’ll have to go back to her empty apartment, Harry’s empty crib. She looks down at the frame in her hands and, with trembling fingers, picks her phone out of her pocket and dials James’ number.
“Hello?” he responds after two rings.
“Are you at your flat?”
“Can I come over?”
Twenty minutes later, she arrives at his flat. He doesn’t say anything about the goodbyes. He knows it was difficult for her without having to ask her. Instead, they just watch a movie together on his bed, her head resting on his shoulder, with his arm wrapped around hers, and before Frodo has had the time to leave the Shire with Samwise Gamgee, she falls asleep.
The next morning, when James wakes up, instead of finding Lily sleeping by his side, his hand stretches out into empty space. He frowns, propping himself on his elbows, then sits up lazily and ambles out of his room and into the living room. Sitting on the couch is Lily, her laptop on her lap, and her fingers typing away on her keyboard at a fast pace.
“Morning,” he says, his voice thick with sleepiness.
Her face shoots up, alight with a kind of fervour that James would have thought impossible last night.
“Morning,” she says, before looking back down to her screen.
Her fingers stop, hovering over the keys. “Do you remember what I told that night we were watching the stars on Sirius’ bed?”
“Er, you told me you were going to smell of cats when you were older?”
“No, not that, the part where I would be a super nanny!”
“Are you going to tell me that you’re looking at ageing serums on the internet to accelerate the process?”
She rolls her eyes. “No, I’m talking about the part about the free babysitting.”
“Okay… how are you going to get someone to babysit Harry for free?”
“No, not for Harry, at least not right now. I’ve had an idea overnight. Here, sit down,” she says patting the space behind her. “You know how we’re always hearing about how Europe is witnessing a fast ageing population, and how elderly people generally don’t feel like they’re contributing to society and that they’re kind of pushed away to the side?”
“Sure, but what does any of that have to do with this?”
“Imagine if we could give elderly people the opportunity to feel useful? Imagine if there was a kindergarten where mostly retired grandparents worked to take care of the kids during the week when the parents are working, and where they would do it for free because their pension is already sustaining them?”
“I know it sounds like a crazy idea, but I’ve been writing down budgets and looking at flats I could rent to set it up, I just have to find one that’s not too expensive - wait! We could do it at Hogwarts! I know there are tons of big enough rooms that are not used - I - I have to call the headmaster!” she says jumping up, laptop in her hands.
“Wait, wait, Lily!”
She looks at him and he sees this bold conviction irradiating from her forest eyes, that same one that almost knocked him over at the café more than half a year ago, and he knows , he is absolutely certain that if this project doesn’t work out, she will at least give it all that she has in her to see it through before even thinking about giving up. And he wouldn’t miss seeing how she does it for the world.
“You need the headmaster’s number!”
Lily beams up at him and James swears he can see Sirius’ stupid, plastic star stickers glowing in her eyes.
She prepares what she’s going to say to the headmaster, writing down solid arguments, telling him how the creation of such a project will boost Hogwarts’ reputation and will put it on a pedestal where people will be able see that they care for the wellbeing of their students, which will urge more people to apply there.
Lily can’t believe it when the headmaster agrees to have such a project on campus, but there is one condition she needs to fulfill: in order for the school board to accept it she has to fund it and organise it herself.
Frenzy becomes synonymous to Lily over the next couple of weeks. Not only does she have to attend classes and work at her part time job at the library, she also takes it upon herself to develop her project. Luckily, her friends have got her back.
She starts looking for retired volunteers, willing to work for free (Pete’s gran is the first to sign up), she creates a website (thanks to Marlene’s coding genius), she collects used toys, and they all give her their favourite childhood ones to her, she scavenges second hand shops for cheap, but stable furniture to furnish the future kindergarten which will be set in one of Hogwarts’ old music rooms.
However, the biggest bump in the road is the money. The head board sets up a minimum budget they have to obtain in order to take the project from paper to something tangible. It’s not too unreasonable of an amount, but Lily doesn’t have that kind of money. Even if her friends put down at least thirty pounds each (which they do), the amount of money they have is far, far away from the goal.
James proposes he gives her the amount, as an investment, but she absolutely refuses.
“Come on, Lily! It’s no big deal!”
“Of course it’s a big deal, James! You can go through life expecting to be give things for free, this is the real world.”
“What are you going to do then?”
Marlene sets up a donation page on the website, where people can leave anonymous donations if they want. James designs flyers and graphics and posters in order to spread the word around campus and in town. Each of them talk to their friends, parents, neighbours and convince them to make a donation, however small it is, and once a week, they set up a stand in front of the main hall, where they present the project to passers-by and even prompt some to leave a few pounds in a box.
“What do you mean you don’t have any money, you liar! I saw you spend twenty pounds on beer last night, Prewett! Turn your pockets over!” Marlene says to a ginger bloke who looks as if he’s going to break into a run anytime.
“I’ll come back tomorrow, I swear! Will the stand be here tomorrow - I - I can come back this afternoon!”
“You better or I will hunt you down for the rest of the year.”
The bloke leaves and she turns back towards the stand, grinning at Lily who looks back at her unblinkingly.
“Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do business.”
“I think I’ll opt for a more diplomatic approach, but if it works for you then knock yourself out,” Lily says.
Lily reloads the website for the tenth time, but the number on the page doesn’t change. There haven’t received any new donations in the last week, and the school board is starting to ask pressing questions, which she can’t find the answers for at the moment.
If only a few more people donated, she’d be there, at the goal.
“No luck?” Marlene says, arriving at the stand in front of the Great hall and plopping herself down next to Lily. The latter’s crestfallen expression is enough of an answer for her.
“I could harass a couple people so they donate if you want.”
Lily chuckles meekly. “Don’t, I think Prewett wouldn’t be able to take it. I swear, whenever he sees any of us in the corridors, even the tips of his hair become paler.”
She looks down at her hands resting on the table and starts fingering one of the space bar of her computer.
“I really want to see this thing through, you know. I know it’s a pretty low-budget and limited sort of plan, but it’s not like there are a thousands of pregnant and broke students on campus who need their kids taken care of. Just a couple. And we don’t need that many volunteers, or space, or money, but it doesn’t seem to want to happen. We're still 300 pounds short.”
A woman walks to the stand and clears her throat, creating a towering shadow on the desk. They look up to find Professor McGonagall standing in front of them.
“Miss Evans, Miss McKinnon,” she says, nodding at both of them. “A little bird tells me that you have been raising money for a just cause, which would contribute to the well-being of the students on campus.” Lily is pretty sure “a little bird” is, in fact, James. “The comfort and happiness of my students being one of my main concerns, I would like to present to you a small donation.”
She slips an envelope out of long coat and sets it on the table.
“Thank you so much, Professor. I really, really appreciate it.”
“Also, some students of mine - who would like to remain anonymous - have asked me to give this to you,” she says, pulling out another envelope.
“Well, please thank those students on my behalf.”
McGonagall gives her a small smile before heading towards the Great Hall. As she opens the door, James, Sirius, Remus and Peter come out, each sporting identical grins at the sight of one of their favourite professors.
“Why hello, Professor McGonagall. How are you on this fine day?” Sirius says.
Lily opens the first envelope as the boys chat with McGonagall a few feet behind them.
“Oh my gosh, Marlene, there are like forty pounds in here. McGonagall bloody gave us forty pounds!”
Marlene’s eyes open like plates. “Open the other envelope!”
Lily rips the top of the second one without bothering to be careful, and what looks like two hundred pounds fall onto the table.
Lily and Marlene halt, mouths falling open.
“What the actual fuck,” Marlene says. “What. The. Fuck!”
“What’s up?” James says, strolling to the front of the stand, his hands in his pockets, and closely followed by Sirius, Remus and Peter.
“Someone gave her two hundred fucking pounds!”
Lily still hasn’t managed to utter a single word.
“Who do you think it was?” Marlene says, excitedly shaking Lily’s arms, then looks at James who’s running a hand through his hair and looking at the ground. She drops Lily’s arm. “Oh, you little motherfucker. It’s you! You gave her the money!” she says, squealing with delight.
“W - what? That’s bullshit, Marlene, it wasn’t me, it was an anonymous donor!”
“How did you know it was anonymous?” Lily says, having finally recovered her speech capacity.
James’ mind blanks, looking like a deer in the headlights. He looks down to his shuffling feet. “I, er, McGonagall, she, er, told me - ”
“James, was that money yours?” Lily asks.
James sighs. “Okay, yes, it was mine, fine! And before you yell at me, I know that you said that you didn’t want my money, and that life doesn’t just give you what you want when you want it, and that you need to work for things yourself, but you’ve already worked so hard, and there’s no harm in getting things a little easier from time to time if you deserve it, and - ”
Lily walks around the stand, grabs his collar and pulls him down, planting a kiss on his lips. James tenses up, taken by surprise, but he eventually relaxes, his arms bringing her as close to him as physically possible, lifting her slightly off her toes. He can hear Marlene squealing and Remus wolf-whistling, but he ignores them, because all he cares about is that Lily is kissing him - bloody kissing him. He feels her shoulders shaking slightly in his arms, and her mouth tastes of tears, so he pulls away.
“Are you crying?” he says, his brows knitting together with concern.
And indeed there are tears rushing to her eyes, but they shine with a happiness that he’s only ever seen in them when she’s looking at Harry, and the most beautiful smile he’s ever seen is painted on her face. She shuts him up with another kiss.
“Not… that I’m… complaining,” James says, barely able to speak between kisses. “But am I such a… bad kisser that you feel… the need to cry every time we kiss? Because I can work on that.”
She laughs against his lips.
“Get a room, you too!” Peter says, crinkling his nose.
“Hey, Lily!” Marlene says, her head hovering inches from the computer screen. “Someone just did an online donation and signed it with the username ‘Tuney’!”
Lily’s heart gives a jolt.
Tuney . Lily hadn’t called her that way in years.
She cups James’ face and plants another kiss to his lips, overwhelmed with happiness.
“Do I also get a smooch?” Sirius says. “Some of my money was in that envelope.”
Lily lets go of James and runs to Sirius, puckering her lips, which makes Sirius shriek.
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Get away from me, you monster!” he says, trying to run away.
She tackles him, planting kisses all over his face to Sirius’ (fake) dismay, and they topple over, making the others roar with laughter. They’re making a scene, and passers-by stare at them as they walk, their faces torn between concern and amusement, but they haven’t got a care in the world, for they are young, and joy courses through their veins and pours out of their very fingertips like honey, sweetening their sorrows and making them ready to bite into life without a second thought.
Chapter 4: Epilogue
CERTIFICATE OF ADOPTION
This is to certify that James Fleamont Potter has formerly adopted
Harry Evans Potter
On this 30th day of July 2020