It’s all very complicated.
At least, that’s what she tells herself.
They were arguing again—Lily can’t really remember what about, except that it hadn’t been exactly pretty. The second Lily’s insults became directed at her brother-in-law, an awful man named Vernon Dursley, Petunia got all angry and shrilly like usual, and then Lily’s tongue got sharper, and –well.
Her sister had wanted to make a point, and so it was only natural that when she implied Lily was unable to get a boyfriend of her own, which was—supposedly—why she was so incredibly rude to Vernon, Lily would have blurted out that she was in fact, in a relationship, thank you very much.
In hindsight, Lily reckons she should probably get a new mouth, one that waited for her to think before it started talking. Wouldn’t that be fucking great.
When Lily comes home after school one day, she finds her sister sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through a gossip magazine—either Ok! Magazine, Grazia or Marie Claire, she doesn’t really remember.
“You’re not really dating, are you, Lily?” is the first thing Petunia asks her, with her nose turned up in disgust as she stares down at her younger sister. “No respectable male would be caught dead with you.”
Lily scoffs as Petunia places down the magazine. “First of all, why do you assume it’s a guy when I’m as bisexual as they come—“
“You’re confused, is what you are—“
“—and secondly, I’m not messing with you. I have better things to do with my time than find new and exciting ways to annoy you,” she replies, rolling her eyes.
A dangerous smirk dances on Petunia’s lips, and as her eyes light up, she says, “bring him ‘round for dinner, then.”
“I will,” replies Lily, staring defiantly at her sister’s eyes, daring her to go ahead.
She watches as Petunia picks at her impeccably manicured nails. “Next Saturday, at seven o’clock. Don’t be late.”
“We won’t,” Lily snaps, her voice two octaves too high.
Petunia smiles, showing off her pearly white teeth and perfectly hydrated lips.
She’s laying on top of Potter’s bed, with her feet hanging off from the side and her face pressed into his pillow. She lets out yet another long and pained whine, and then says, “what have I done?”
“How should I know?” he replies from the leather swivel chair, biting his lip and furrowing his brown in concentration as he attempts a triple head combo on Ultimate Mecha Strike III. “The only thing you’ve done since you got her was complain about a ruined life. No clarification whatsoever.”
“It’s really bad. Like, worse than Sirius’-obsession-with-Gasolina-bad.”
He looks over at his bed and pauses the game, carefully placing the remote control on his lap.
“Get on with it, then.”
“I may have…” Lily’s cheeks are redder than her hair now, and for some reason, she can’t find it in her to face him.
She gasps for air before blurting out, “I-may-have-told-Petunia-I-was-dating-someone.”
James, the idiot, throws his head back and lets out the loudest bark of laughter, one that can only be rivalled by Sirius’ that one time during the year eleven ball when they saw Dumbledore roller-blading through the venue.
“It’s not funny, Potter,” she huffs, because of course he’d revel in her agony.
“On the contrary, Evans, it’s hilarious.”
“She wants me to bring them over for dinner this weekend,” adds Lily, looking absolutely miserable, and of course, James replies by laughing even harder. “What am I going to do?”
He pauses to think for a second, furiously running his hands through his hair, when suddenly, his eyes light up.
“What?” asks Lily, mid-ponytail-adjusting.
“I could be your fake-boyfriend,” James proposes, shrugging his shoulders like it isn’t that big of a deal. (It is.)
Lily lets out a breath.
“This will really annoy Petunia,” he prompts, licking his lips.
She looks down at his mouth, but shifts her attention back to his eyes before replying, “so it’s settled then.”
James stretches his hand forward. “Carved in stone.”
Lily takes it, and they both hold on for slightly longer than necessary.
“Brilliant,” she nods. “Thank you for doing this, Potter.”
“It’s no problem. I’ve always liked a good ruse.”
It’s a shame, then, that in reality Lily is completely infatuated with the bloke and would love nothing more than to grab him by the collar and shove him into the nearest closet. And, when Algernon –Potter’s cat– comes in with a bacon sandwich, it almost feels like he can sense how distraught Lily is over the whole thing.
Much later in the day—Potter invited her to stay over for dinner, because of course he did— they’re sat in his carpet, soaking up the moonlight, a bottle of rum that James nicked from Euphemia’s cabinets swinging back and forth between the pair of them.
“You were my first kiss, Potter,” Lily admits.
“You were mine, too.”
She tries convincing herself of how lucky she got, because honestly, it’s quite the perfect set-up. They’ve been mates for so long now, and she’s at his house more often than not, and he took her as his date to his second-cousin’s wedding.
Still, there’s something tugging at her heartstrings, but she vows to try her damn best to squash it. Whatever butterflies she’s got going on have got to go.
At precisely seven o’clock, Lily rings the doorbell, James at her side, holding her hand. When Petunia opens the door, he tightens his hold on it.
The house looks just like always, but tonight it feels even colder. It’s not particularly pleasant living with Petunia and her husband, but even Lily is not used to the icy blue hue that colours the kitchen. It’s the dead of winter and it almost feels like the weather is doing it on purpose. Maybe Petunia had something to do with it—she’s always liked having connections.
Petunia greets the two of them with a smile, a fake one, of course, and looks Potter up and down as if she’s testing him, as if she’s testing them. She can hear Vernon’s voice coming from the living room, rough and gravelly, and Lily hates it, hates that she feels like an outsider in her own house. James senses this, and presses a kiss on her left temple, all part of the act, nothing short of bittersweet.
They make their way to the dining table, calm and quiet, and James puts his arm around Lily’s shoulders, a silent way of telling her he’s there and she can rely on him for support.
She knows. He is her best friend, after all.
Petunia serves them meatloaf and mash, with green beans on the side. Vernon tucks right in, blissfully ignorant to Lily and Petunia’s silent argument. Vernon Dursley is not dumb, but he’s also not particularly clever, and Lily wishes that was the worst she had to say about him.
Today, however, he’s not important. What matters is that she and James make their sham of a relationship seem believable enough.
It’s harder for her than it is for him, she learns. He doesn’t have to think before reaching up to trace the back of her hand, or to flick her on the nose. Lily guesses he must have loads of practice in pretending, what with every ploy he pulls with the rest of the Marauders, his brothers in everything but blood.
And so, because he knows Petunia, James doesn’t launch into an elaborate story of how the two of them came to fall in love, and then into a relationship. Instead, he sums it up in two quick sentences, tries to act as normal as possible, and stares deep into Petunia’s eyes as if to say ‘I’m on her side.’
If Lily’s parents were here, it’d be different, he’d be different, but they aren’t. They aren’t—and well, Lily finds it best not to dwell on such things. This is what she has to deal with. This is her life now.
She is certain her sister can feel the animosity radiating from James’ body. He’s tense, and Lily can feel his leg jumping up and down in a failed attempt to let go of all the pent-up energy. She places her hand on his thigh. He looks down, and then his eyes trace the skin up her bare, freckled arm, to her exposed collarbone, to her flushed cheeks.
She’s all looks, Petunia is. Tall, thin, elegant. Sheets of blonde hair frame her face, white and pink pearls adorn her pale neckline. And when her eyes squint and her teeth show—that’s when Lily knows she’s in trouble.
“She saw right through us,” Lily breathes, holding her head between her hands as she crouches down on Potter’s sofa.
“You don’t believe that.”
“I do,” Lily murmurs, and then her silent sobs become louder and it doesn’t take long for her to be drowning in her own tears. It’s a good thing his parents aren’t home.
“Hey, hey, hey,” James tells her, his voice so gentle that it’s barely even there. “What’s wrong?”
She can’t really tell him, of course. Can’t tell him the way it stings, because he’s a damn good actor and she’s desperate for it to be real. It’s overwhelming, and she’s tired, and she just wants to go home, but where even is that anymore? Certainly not at the house, where she’s treated like absolute garbage, and has been for the better part of two years.
“Lily?” he asks, running his hands through his hair, making it even messier than usual, and Lily wishes it could all just stop.
“I think I’m having a panic attack,” she says, and realisation dawns upon James’ face. It doesn’t take long for him to go into full-blown nurse mode. It’s not unusual for Lily to keel over with anxiety. Now that he has a name for it, he knows how to deal with it—he’s done so before.
“Lily,” he starts, slower this time, “breathe with me, okay? We’ll count to ten.” In and out, in and out. “You’re doing great, I’m right here.”
She closes her eyes and does as she’s told, and eventually her head stops spinning and she clings onto James like he’s her only lifeline. “Thank you,” she croaks out, and he shakes his head and assures her that it was no problem.
“How can I help?” James asks, carefully sitting next to her. Lily shrugs, at a complete loss about what to do. He is, too, until an idea pops into his head, except it’s coming from a place of wishful thinking, and so ridiculous that he doesn’t know if he should share it.
Lily, of course, notices. “What is it?” she asks, biting her lip so hard it could bleed.
“We could… um…”
“Yes?” she prods.
“We could practice,” James coughs. “For when she’s around.” He can feel his flaming hot cheeks burn, but when he sees the way Lily’s shoulders relax and her eyes light up, it’s worth it.
“You don’t have to do that, James,” she tells him, in the quietest little voice. It’s sweet, and somewhat hoarse, and he’s oh so very attracted to her.
“I don’t mind.”
She bites her lip again. “Are you sure?”
“Of course. Besides,” he presses, “it’s not like we’ve never done it before.”
That was true. They’d been about fourteen at the time. It had been right after school, and they were bored out of their wits and wanted to get it over with.
“So there’s no reason for it to be awkward,” Lily replies, excitement starting to bubble in her stomach.
“None at all.”
James nods. “I’m going to kiss you know.”
And so he does.
It’s been two months since the beginning of their charade. Neither of them have been able to sleep, the fact that this is only a ruse tugging at their brains, ripping at their insides. It didn’t take much to convince Petunia, to be honest. She just… walked in on one of their practice sessions and that was it. That, of course, only meant that now they absolutely had to keep it going.
Besides, it’s not like they can fake-break up to get it off their backs. No, Petunia’s annoying as is, it simply wouldn’t do to add fuel to the flame. They’re too young to be prey.
It’s the beginning of March and they’re back in his room, the colourful walls mocking their shared misery. In the midst of the strained silence, Lily hears James mutter, “I can’t do this.”
“This,” he says, this time a little louder, gesturing to the space between the two of them. “I can’t keep this up anymore.”
He wouldn’t. He can’t. No.
“It was your idea!” she counters, panic starting to cloud her vision. She’s desperate, scared out of her wits that this is their downfall. She can’t lose him too, not him, she’s lost so much already.
“Yeah well,” he starts, and Lily notices how he looks about to burst, “I thought I could ignore my feelings, but I guess not, uh—“ his mouth clamps shut. He’s said too much, and there’s no turning back now.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Lily asks, the tiniest hint of hope flaring up inside her, and she’s trying to contain it, because it’s likely that she only heard him wrong, but she can’t. She can’t and it’s taking over.
“I’m in love with you.” It’s Earth-shattering. “I’m in love with you, and I can’t deal with it anymore. I can’t stand not knowing what’s real and what’s not, or if there’s anything real at all, because—fuck I wish it was, all of it—“
Suddenly, her body is flush against his. Their lips are tangled together and she’s prodding his mouth open, and it’s desperate, really, the way he’s clinging to her back and she to his neck.
And then, they slow down, and it soon becomes more laughter and smiling and teeth-clashing-against-teeth than actual kissing, but it’s fine, really, because now Lily has her answer. This, right here.
This was home.