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i love you (ain't that the worst thing you ever heard?)

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He’s not really sure how it happens. He’s not really sure what cruel twist of fate had them run into each other in Diagon Alley one evening, unplanned. He was just killing time, because Sirius is visiting his uncle and his parents are traveling. She was just killing time, because Petunia doesn’t speak to her and Severus wants her dead, in a manner of speaking, and Mary’s been traveling abroad as an early graduation gift from her parents.

James vaguely remembers his mother saying something about idle minds being a dangerous thing.

They were both just killing time. It wasn’t supposed to lead to this, to her letting him talk to her, to her letting him ask her for a drink. It wasn’t supposed to lead to this, his body pressed against hers, her hands tangled in his hair pulling him closer, closer, closer.

This isn’t how James Potter wanted to kiss Lily Evans for the first time. In daydreams and idle fantasies in times spent drawing out her initials on his parchment, he pictured her arms flung happily round his neck after a glorious victory on the Quidditch pitch or some homework assignment gone wonderfully astray. In fact, he'd been spending his idle summer time trying to map out just how he could convince her to do any one of those things, hyper aware of how precious little time they have together in school for her to even consider fancying him the same way he fancied her.

He didn’t picture Lily wandering alone, he never imagined the dullness that seemed to overcome her usually vivacious eyes, never fantasized about the way she looked at him straight on and asked, “Want to do something stupid?”

He, apparently, was something stupid.

So one moment they’re in the Leaky Cauldron and the next they’re stumbling into the alley way and she’s tearing at his shirt buttons and he’s learning that his hands like running through her hair much, much more than just rustling his own. Her hands are burning the skin across his shoulders, lightly scratching at his back while she’s being supported by her hips and the press of his body against hers into the brick wall. It is entirely, entirely too fast for him, but then Lily Evans moans into his mouth and he gets that same thrill he’s felt when flying a broom towards the ground again and again and again and can’t will himself to stop.

They do stop, though. Eventually. He isn’t losing anymore of his dignity crammed between two crates of bottles for the pub. James gets some amount of satisfaction from the fact that she’s as out of breath as he is, then even more satisfaction that in her glazed eyes, he can see life there for the first time all evening. 

He stares at her, completely unable to think, knowing that no thought could make any amount of sense of this. But all Lily Evans does is stare back at him, her bright eyes flickering across his face looking for something he doesn’t know how to give her. Her lips turn up in a friendly sort of way.

“Thanks,” is what she says, like all he did was help her with an essay. Then she untangled herself from him and was gone.

****

He didn’t actually think she’d be right there in the Cauldron the next night. Not seriously, at least. He tells himself he was just killing time. 

But maybe he knows Lily Evans better than either of them give him credit for, because she was. And she was waiting for him

So here they are again, her skirt riding scandalously far up, her shirt the one left open, and James finds the spot on her collarbone that coaxed out the same sounds from her that had haunted his dreams last night. He thought maybe it was just first-kiss exhilaration, the absolute shock and novelty of the feel of Lily Evans, that had made yesterday so maddening. It wasn’t, he learns, because he feels as if he’s back in the air again, plummeting from great heights once more. 

Her mouth does its own wandering, giving him just enough time to remember that he’d come again to do more than lose his mind in the back alley. Maybe it was a bit dangerous the way he let her lead him astray. 

“We should talk about this,” he manages to get out, trying to ignore how deep his voice sounded.

“Hm,” she muses, but doesn’t make any moves to listen to him. “I’d rather not.”

James found it very hard to disagree with her nibbling at his ear like that. 

“Evans.”

“Potter.”

He pulls himself up and away, not technically hard to escape her reach considering he had several inches on her, but it still felt a lot more difficult than it was. And a lot more futile, as her next move was to just reach up and kind of play with his shirt collar, her fingers curling into the fabric, leaving goosebumps where they ghosted above the skin on his neck.

“I’d rather not,” she repeats, eyes cast at his lips, not his eyes. Some of her familiar spirit leaves as her shoulders slump and her fingers go lax at his neck. When he doesn’t answer (and doesn’t pull his hands off her hips, either), she looks back at him with a vibrant smile that just doesn’t feel completely right. He knows her enough to recognize this counterfeit art.

“I’m having fun not talking,” she says, her voice sweet as those hands at his neck begin to not-so-innocently toy with some of the mop of hair at the base of his neck. “Aren’t you?”

He knows this is a bad decision. He knows this isn’t smart. He knows he’s feeding into something he doesn’t understand. It’s just that he doesn’t care. Lily Evans is talking to him, Lily Evans is kissing him, Lily Evans seems to actually need something from him and he can’t pretend he isn’t weak for it. Godric Gryffindor can roll in his grave for all James cares when her lips return to his jaw and his hands grip her hips closer to him. He’s a coward, because he knows this is far from the right thing to do, and he just doesn’t care. 

****

He finds he doesn’t care the next night, either.

Or the next.

****

A week is a little ridiculous, especially considering he’s got an empty house, and someone’s bound to see the two of them eventually. Wizarding society is small and he’d rather his parents not hear about someone who looks suspiciously like him being spotted ravishing a witch who might be described as suspiciously close to what they know Lily Evans to look like. 

She skips the Cauldron, knowing he’ll know where to find her. As soon as he rounds the corner, she grabs him, pulling him in with magnetic hands and a siren’s smile.

But James Potter came prepared this time. Coward he may be, fool he may be, but there’s still some semblance of sense to work with that he can access before she knocks it out of him.

He holds up the envelope in front his lips before she can reach them, his reflexes quick. Lily’s forced to stop, blinking up at him in confusion.

“What’s this?” She reaches up for the envelope, but he pulls it up and over her head, a dirty tactic given his advantage-- but Lily’s been playing dirty in her own ways, refusing to fill in the blanks in all his questions for her, and he was here to settle a few counts. 

“This, Evans, is the end of this particular rendezvous. This ,” he shakes the envelope enticingly, “is an open invitation to carry on with it, on one condition.”

She narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously. “Potter-”

“To talk. That’s all I’m asking. Once you’re ready to clue me in on whatever’s going on in that pretty head of yours, I’m yours for the taking.” 

She’s looking at him with a sort of blank stare, impassive and indiscernible, as he dangles the envelope like a shiny prize above her. He thinks this might be the wrong move. He thinks that whatever game he’s decided to start playing with Lily Evans isn’t one that can be defined by a conversation, but he’s always been someone whose needed to know the rules even if it was just for the sake of breaking them. 

He’s also always known how to play games, and better yet, win them. When he lowers the envelope back to within her reach, she plucks it from his hands with only a slightly dirty look up at him. 

“Alright, Evans,” James says, proud of himself as he backs away, cool as can be with his hands tucked away in his pockets. “I’ll see you around.”

She doesn’t say anything as she watches him leave. She waits until she knows he’d have long Apparated away before leaning against the crates and the brick wall, carefully opening the folded parchment. 

Inside is a photo of a house. A large house. A manor, and in the corner is a circle with an arrow drawn around a garden gate in red. Right above it, James’ slanted handwriting reads, Apparation point. 

****

She tells herself she was just killing time. She tells herself that this is just a way to make the days stop blurring into one, just a way to take her mind off more than a few questions, thoughts, and concerns. But that was the first time. That was serendipity, a one off, something to be forgotten by the time they’d start the school year.

The second night, a bonus. The third night, a problem. A week, a crisis. But this— standing in the small space between her home and the neighbor’s, studying the photo he’d given her in the orange light coming from the street lamp— is the worst decision yet. 

The thing is that Lily Evans is tired of making smart decisions, because they all tend to end the same anyway. 

She turns on her heel. 

The moment Lily lands with a faint pop , she knows that she’s found the escape she was looking for. The air doesn’t cling to her skin the way it does in her crowded neighborhood; it’s filled with the sickly sweet smell of summer blooms. She’s landed outside the Potter’s garden, glowing with fairy lights floating above the ground. Through the gate she can hear the soft trickle of a fountain bubbling merrily into the evening. 

He’d left the gate open for her.

James is lying on the ground, head propped on one folded arm with the other raised in the air, catching and releasing the Snitch she hasn’t seen him fooling with in over a year. He doesn’t look up, doesn’t stop his idle pastime, even though he knows she’s here when the gate makes its creaking noise as it closes. He knows she’s here when she plops herself down on the soft grass next to him. 

All he does is catch and release the Snitch, keeping some sort of time and rhythm that feels good in the summer evening. It’s not even, not neat, but there’s a pattern in the way the Snitch zooms, in the way his eyes track it lazily, in the way his nimble fingers work to keep up with the beating of its wings. 

“I do believe,” James started after a while, speaking into the hum of life in the garden, “the condition was that you talk.”

Lily shrugs. “I’m thinking.”

“Not quite the same.”

“No,” she agrees. “But they usually go hand in hand.”

 He makes some noise of discontent. “If you say so.”

“Don’t rush me,” Lily cuts back, looking down at him. “I’m not you, Potter. Not all of us can just do.” 

He gives a sidelong glance back up at her, letting the Snitch wander.

“Evans, I’m not the one who ‘just did’ this. I’m not the one who started this.”

“Yeah, well,” she says, petulant, “You certainly weren’t complaining.”

“No,” he counters, and she would have liked to hear some sort of playfulness there, some sort of amusement, but there is none. Just a serious and seemingly final way to how he shrugs his shoulders, attention back to finding the Snitch. “But I am now.”

That’s reasonable. Lily has to remind herself that he isn’t wrong. She’s the one who dragged him out by his shirt collar, even if he did follow along quite enthusiastically. She’s the one who made sure they put this conversation off as long as she could. 

“Okay,” she concedes, trying to lighten her tone, trying to come back to something fun, trying to not let him get to her the way he can. Merlin. Of all the stupid decisions she could make, she chose to spend more time with James Potter. He had already started to fill up more of her mind’s idle wonderings without her permission or enjoyment. He was changing right in front of her after so many other things had changed around her.

James Potter, who still confused her more than anything, oscillating from arrogant to kind, from cavalier to genuine, utterly unbearable to somewhat irresistible. James Potter, who still hasn’t said I told you so as she thought he would have when things went to hell with Severus. James Potter, who had spent the last year being... different. 

Lily Evans is tired of making smart decisions, but she isn’t stupid. She knows she’s playing with fire. She just wants to see how long she can stand the heat before it starts to burn.

“Okay,” she repeats, looking down to find him searching her face for answers she can’t give. “What do you want me to say?”

“That’s neither here nor there.” James avoids the question but doesn’t avoid her gaze. “It’s not about what I want you to say. I’ll figure that out later. I just need to know what the hell we’re doing here.”

“What’s so hard to grasp about snogging?”

One of his hands rub his eyes behind his glasses, the same move he’d pull when she knows he’s really irked at her at school. 

“Merlin and Morgana, I can’t believe I’m the one with objections.” He gives her a shrewd look, one that feels like he knows her, one that feels like he can see right through her. “What’re you on about, Lily? What’s gotten into you?”

“Nothing,” Lily shrugs, trying to hide behind herself again. She gets a moment to think when he distracts himself by reaching up for his Snitch, which had flown into range again. He throws it back into the air. “Nothing’s gotten into me. Why does everything need a reason? Why does everything need a significance?”

He doesn’t answer her. She sees his eyes tracking the Snitch, now avoiding her gaze but not her question. 

“What if it was? Significant?”

“Oh, come now,” Lily pulls out the last defense she has, the last and most shameful part of the reasoning and justification she’s turned over in her head this last week. “We both know it’s not.”

“Meaning?”

He really was going to make her say it. “It’s just that neither of us fancy the other, right?”

Because he didn’t fancy her, not anymore. Not since that fight on the Lake a year ago, evidenced by the awkward way he danced around her at school now. Evidenced by how they never even talked about it. Evidenced by how he never asked her out again. Evidenced by how he didn’t even bother her about dating a Ravenclaw this year, like he’d bothered her in the past, when he did fancy her. And she, well…. It didn’t really matter how Lily felt. 

James Potter looks at her, stone faced. Almost like he didn’t hear her. 

“Right?” She repeats, trying to hide her own mortification at this admittance, hide her shame regarding her curiosity of what his answer could never be. 

“Wait…” He looks like he’s chewing over her words the same one would molasses, like it was hard to get through. “You’re saying, we can snog because we don’t fancy each other?”

“Well, yeah,” She’s glad he’s turned his attention back to finding the Snitch. “Nothing to lose. No feelings to get hurt.”

James doesn’t answer and she doesn’t interrupt his thoughts, whatever they were. She’s not sure what sort of puzzle he turns over in that brain of his. But the singular grand thought he does decide to share? 

“You’re one odd bird, Evans.”

“Tell me about it.” A pause, and then, to get away from the very minor heartbreak seizing her chest, she jumps for a change in subject, jutting her chin towards the Snitch and saying matter-of-factly, “I hate that thing.” 

“I know,” he quips smugly, hand raised and ready to swipe at it. 

That’s when Lily Evans reaches her hand out, capturing the Snitch in her hand. James Potter looks up with eyes wide, startled. Impressed.

“Holy harpies, Evans. You’ve been holding out on me.”

She fiddles with the Snitch, turning it over in her hands for a moment, brow furrowed. “Why aren’t the wings folding?”

He sits up for the first time all evening, but only so that he can wrap his hand right back around the Snitch. Which is still clutched in her fist, so really, he’s just sat up to close his hand ‘round hers.

“Flesh memory,” James whispers, eyes darting up to meet hers. There’s something behind them she doesn’t know how to read, but she can see the gold of the Snitch in their intertwined hands reflecting up calling out rich, light colors in their usually dark hazel. 

“What do you say?” She asks, trying to sound like his answer didn’t matter one way or another. “About just a bit of fun?”

“And then what?”

She shrugs her shoulders. “We’ll figure that out once we get there.”

His face is unreadable, impassive. For a moment Lily thinks this is it, that it was doomed from the start like she feared, but then James grins.

“Alright, Evans.” There’s an impish sort of sharpness to his smile, his cheeks, his teeth. All teeth. Too white, too sharp, too bold. “See that window, right there on the second floor, next to the lattice? Quite easy to sneak in and out of.”

“Oh?” She asks innocently enough. He stands, pulling her up with him.

“Let me show you.”

He does. She lets him, her stupidest decision yet, but it doesn’t matter, because none of this mattered. 

Friendships end. Sisters learn to hate. A rendevous with James Potter couldn’t hurt her if the only thing that mattered about it was how she didn’t think about anything else but the feel of his body on hers.

She’s just never been a great liar. 

****

The window creaks slightly when she opens it, like he warned it would. His bed also creaks, because it’s big and old and ornate, like every other piece of furniture in his room. He’s got pictures of his mates pinned up alongside pictures of Puddlemere United and the Chudley Cannons and the Holyhead Harpies, interspersed with still pictures of cars and motorbikes torn out of the pile Muggle magazines stacked on his desk. It is a motley image, much like him, this mess of old and new, of prim and improper, of magic and mundane— but somehow even the mundane is charming when it comes to James Potter. 

But that’s not really what’s on her mind right now. She’s got nothing on her mind right now. Right now is all splayed palm to rib cage, hands pulling hair, skin on skin and more, more, more. Right now is the Muggle wireless playing greatest hits in the background, right now is fumbling fingers at the hem of her shirt and clasp at her back, eager and messy and new, new, new. 

It really shouldn’t be new. She’s done this before, had boys clumsily undress her, but those boys weren’t James Potter, who is all glasses askew and teeth shining white and bright and sharp when they smile at her. She wonders when they’ll cut right through her like the knife she’s still trying to pull out from her back. Those other boys weren’t James Potter, for whom life itself seems to be a novelty, even though so much of their relationship feels like its got too much history to be new, to be changed. Being tangled up here with him feels like change to Lily, though, which is why she leaves before she can get too used to her chin resting on his chest and his arm draped over her when they’d finished.

His eyes follow her when she gathers her clothes off the floor, silent. He knows he can’t whisper stay the way he wants to, knows she won’t hear it even if he screamed it the way he wants to. He asked for clarity the other night and has even less than he did before now. James has never done this before— any of this, frankly. He doesn’t know what he’s doing and doesn’t know what kind of game he’s entered into with Lily Evans, but he’ll play it until he can’t or he’s disqualified. He doesn’t want to know the cost of his deception; he doesn’t want to know what she’ll do when she finally works out how big of a liar he really is. Losing this game isn’t an option for him, but he can’t see how winning could work, either.. 

He’s just grateful she keeps giving him a chance to figure it out with every night his window creaks.

****

“Just so y’know,” he says, not turning his head to greet her, focus on the Quaffle he’s been tossing up and down to pass the time. “My parents are coming back tomorrow. “

He didn’t want to bring it up. Talking about people who aren’t them, people who are outside of this thing, felt too real. Felt like it would remind her that this is something stupid, something she’s going to regret. He doesn’t hear her leave, doesn’t hear her walk over to him. She’s like a ghost in that way, passing in and out of this room like she was never there, like she could disappear at any point but haunt him forever anyway. 

She settles onto the bed. She settles onto him, actually. He forgets about the Quaffle. He remembers she’s not a ghost. She’s got a very real body that he knows in a very real way. 

“That means,” she whispers, hips on hips, hands framing his head, a trap. “You’ll have to learn how to be quieter.”

He really forgets about the Quaffle then. 

****

This time, she was waiting for him, splayed across the bed, magazine in her hand and a bag of candy and bottles of Butterbeer at her side, still wearing her big sun hat and light summer dress. He wonders how long she’s been there. He pretends it doesn’t affect him. 

But this is nice, joining her on the bed, Quaffle back in hand. He’s been missing Sirius and his parents are no replacement for friends. This is nice. This is like they’re friends, gossiping away, poking and prodding into each other with more freedom and permission than he’d felt allowed to at school. 

He catches the ball as it falls, turns his head to look at her. “Dennis Reid?”

“One bad date, but good snog. Ren Fawley?”

“Rumor. Never touched her.”

“Probably started by her, then.” She crumpled up the wrapper to the Honeyduke’s bar, successfully tossing it into the bin with a satisfied smile. He pretends that doesn’t affect him when it does, it really does. 

“Marcus Hockle?”

“Oh, gross, is he telling people we’ve kissed?”

“Says you more than kissed.”

“We did not. Hockle just thinks that grabbing my arse at Slughorn’s last Christmas party means I fancy him.”

“Git,” James says, but what he thinks is about how he’ll find Hockle on the first day of school and introduce him to the finer points of Muggle dueling. It rolls off of Lily, though, who just opens a chocolate frog. 

“Jenny Macmillan?”

“Nothing, either,” he says delicately, wondering what in him wanted to keep going in this conversation as Lily scrunches her brow, putting together the pieces.

“Pamila Porter? Marcie Prewitt? Olive Warson?”

James just shakes his head, avoiding her gaze and her too inquisitive brain that’s going to run when it works out how many firsts she is for him. What he doesn’t see is the secret smile on her lips, petulantly pleased at what she’s discovered. Covetous and somewhat mournful that this sweet boy is not something she can sustain forever. He doesn’t see her eyes roam over him, curious about the inner workings of his mind, curious about why she’s all these firsts when she isn’t supposed to be anything special to him. Curious about whether he feels the weight of what they’re doing too. Curious about whether he suspects he’s something special to her, no matter how many times she’s tried to convince herself he isn’t. Curious about when he’s going to have enough of her, the novelty of these firsts expired. 

“Ernie Tinkerton?“

Horrible snogger,” she laughs, a light sound in the air. “So, so bad. He’s nothing on you,” she adds, tapping him lightly with her socked foot to get his attention. She’s rewarded with his self-satisfied smirk, the one she likes. But then he’s tossing the Quaffle back up, the way he does when he’s trying to be casual about something.

“Thomas Lake?“

It no longer feels fun and casual.

“What do you think?” Lily says eventually, pretending to dig into that shopping bag stuffed with candy, but really just sitting up so he can’t fully see her face. “We dated for months.”

She feels him toy with the strings at the back of her dress, forcing her attention back on him. He doesn’t look critical. He just looks painfully neutral, the worst sort of thing he could be and exactly the sort of thing she asked him to be. 

“I never saw what you saw in him,” he says. Not judging her, not condemning her. Some of that neutrality is chipped away by the light way his fingers dance at her back and the way he won’t look at her. She wants to think that means something when he continues, “He’s a prick. And a Ravenclaw,” he added, as if it were offensive to his sensibilities. 

Lily sets the chocolate frog in her hand loose on his face. “You’re a prick, too.”

“Maybe,” James finally looked up at her, swiping the frog from his forehead and into his mouth. “But at least I’ve the decency to be charming about it. And a Gryffindor.”

“Charming?” Lily asks, eyes wide with disbelief, but something about the amused tug of her mouth tells a different story. “Is that what you call it?”

“Sure do,” he smirks, then pats his chest with his hand, big hand, big palm echoing resoundedly. “Come closer, I’ll let you see for yourself.”

Charming is right, she thinks. He’s charming and she’s charmed and sometimes she imagines there’s more magic in what she feels now than she has felt in years, her summer of despondency transfigured into something new and exciting. It’s easy to quiet the alarm bells in her head with him kissing her like that. She’ll figure out the consequences later.

****

“Where’ve you been?”

Lily stops dead in her tracks, brain working quickly despite the panic rising in her, despite the too early hours of the morning. But she’s a Gryffindor after all, so she turns to face Petunia. She must have been waiting here at the door, ready to ambush. 

“Hello, Tuney,” she says, chipper. “I’ve never known you to be a morning person.”

Petunia does not look amused. Standing with her hair in curlers and nothing but a thin robe on her thin frame, Petunia looks like the furthest thing from amused. 

“I’ve never known you to be a night owl,” she counters, one eyebrow raised haughtily. “But you must be, considering how much you’ve been sneaking out for weeks.”

“Sneaking out?” Lily asks innocently, damned by the fact that it’s four in the morning and she’s wearing yesterday’s clothes. She wonders what James has done to her hair. She wonders if her neck shows where he’d lingered too long. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“I’m not daft, Lily,” Petunia cuts out. “I know what an empty bed looks like.”

Lily drops the act. “What does it matter to you? I’m of age. I can do what I want.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Petunia puffs out her chest with authority. It reminds Lily of Vernon. It reminds Lily of how much distance is between them. “‘Of age.’ Come on, Lily, you’re a long way away from being responsible for yourself.”

“Not in my world,” Lily says, louder than she’d wanted to. But that’s a bold, ignorant comment from Petunia. Lily’s the only one responsible for herself. Petunia’s eyes flash at her.

“We aren’t in your world now, are we?” She says, chin held high, arms crossed over her chest. “This is the real world, Lily, and I’m in charge when Mum’s gone. That’s always been the rule.”

“Well, it’s a shite rule! I’m not a child!”

“You sure are acting like one, galavanting around with god knows what sort of ruffian or scum—”

“Galavanting? Scum?”

“Or any other sort of freak like you,” Petunia finishes, glare cold. Lily’s biting back too much anger to respond, hands clenched in fists of rage. “Too busy sneaking around to remember what today is, right?” 

“Of course I didn’t forget,” Lily bites back, offended. “How could I forget?”

“Sure you didn’t,” Petunia sneers in the nastiest way she can. “Get yourself cleaned up. We’re to be at the hospital in two hours.”

Lily stands there, trying to push back tears of frustration, trying to figure out how she let herself fall asleep back there in James’ arms and cut too close to when Petunia might be awake. Trying to figure out why Petunia feels it okay to be so cruel to her. Trying to figure out where it really all went wrong and whether any of it could be better. Her brilliant brain can’t see a solution, so Lily just walks inside the house, feeling every bit like the small, disgraced child Petunia wanted her to feel like. She turns back to her big sister, wondering if maybe...

“Tuney—”

But all Petunia does is fix her with another wavering glare. “Tell me you’re using protection, Lily. God knows we can’t afford a mistake like that.”

Wondering if Petunia hears her crying over the hum of the shower and if she would have cared anyway. 

****

“Evans,” he says the next night, after the window creaks open, after most of their clothes are on the floor, after he’s lost a lot of his senses but not enough to not know something’s off. Her complete lack of preamble, her complete lack of any sort of charming quip at her arrival, threw him off. Like the first night he saw her in Diagon Alley, like the first time he noticed the blank stare in her green eyes, he knows something is wrong in the ferocity of her body trying to make him lose track of time, lose track of truth. 

“Lily, ” He pulls away again, grasping her by her shoulders. She won’t hold his eye contact. “Slow down.” 

She plays with her hands, now mercifully in her lap rather than at his hips. “You need me to stop?”

James nods. He doesn’t want to be with her when she’s like this, eager in ways that just feel wrong. He doesn’t like this Lily Evans, this imposter. He hasn’t seen this one in weeks. He’d thought she was gone, replaced with the one who giggles when she kisses him, smiles when he smiles, the one who was starting to stay longer and longer even though he never asked. He selfishly thinks he had something to do with that transformation back to what she used to be. He sees her chest start to rise rapidly with her breathing, sees her eyes dart to his and immediately away, watches her slide off the bed, watches her reach for her shirt. 

“I—I have to go.”

He grabs her hand. She’s halfway to the window, half dressed, half sensical. He’s there still on the bed, half dressed, fully grounded. 

“Stay,” James whispers. He’d shout it if he thought she’d listen to that better. He’s never tested her disappearing act, never tried to see if he coax her ghost out of vanishing. His grasp on her hand is delicate-- she can break it if she wants to, but for the first time this summer, he’s certain of one thing. Lily Evans doesn’t want to leave. 

James isn’t good at this game. He started out already in violation of her only rule: no feelings. Staring at her and her staring back at him is a stand-off they haven’t had before. He prays she doesn’t see right through him, desperate to hide the flood of feelings he has for her, desperate to keep this casual thing going. It’s just that right now doesn’t feel casual. Right now feels heavy. Right now he feels the weight of what they’re doing, sees the weight reflected behind her guarded eyes. Eyes that are bloodshot with tears she didn’t want him seeing.

When she follows the tug of his hand, when she climbs back onto the bed and he leans on his headboard while she leans into him, James Potter isn’t sure who won this standoff. He isn’t sure this game they’re playing has any winners. He just knows he’s going to lose something major one of these days.

Lily Evans is tucked into his arms, flush to his chest, and he can literally feel her pounding heart keep a terrifying rhythm, preach a panicked tune. He just runs his hand up and down her back, keeping her head tucked beneath his chin.

After a while, he asks, “Do you want to talk about it?”

After a while, she says, “No.”

James hesitates, positive he’s breaking another unspoken rule of whatever this is. “ Should you talk about it?”

“I don’t know,” Lily bites out, her shoulder muscles tensing beneath the hand that had been tracing out her freckles. He stills his hand but leaves it there between her shoulder blades. Her shoulder blades, which he notices, are shaking up and down with her crying.

“That’s alright, too,” James whispers into her hair, for both her and for himself. “To not know.”

He’s not sure when she falls asleep, exhausted. He’s not sure when he falls asleep either, doing his best to not disturb her there in his arms, smaller than he’s ever known her to be. He just knows he wakes up alone and more confused than he was before.

****

His window doesn’t creak open again for a few days. He figured it wouldn’t. He figured that she was going to hide for a while before she could face him again, but he leaves it unlocked anyway, just in case. 

Sirius returns from his uncle’s in that time, and though James isn’t exactly bored anymore, he can’t help but feel like something’s missing, can’t help but feel lonely still. 

“Oi. Prongs,” Sirius huffs, leaning down on his broom, casually waving the beater’s bat in his hands. “What gives? That’s the third shot in a row you let me make.”

“Is it?” 

“Yeah, man.” Sirius pulls another apple from his bag, throwing it with force at the mock Keeper’s hoops. James catches it with ease.

“My point exactly,” Sirius says in that bitter, petulant way he does sometimes when things aren’t fully going his way. “What is up with you? I may as well have stayed longer at dear ol’ Alfie’s for all the attention you’re paying me.”

“Nothing’s up,” James says, tossing the apple back to Sirius, who swats it back at his direction with a swing of the bat. It bursts on his way, and James evades the mushy half-apple about to hit his Cleansweep.

“Liar.” James doesn’t think it’s fair that Sirius and him have seen each other lie to professors too often to not know when one is being told. Maybe his mother was right all these years to say his trouble-making will catch up to him as it is now, with Sirius knowing him too well, with him following James’ incriminating gaze back over to the house and to the lattice that leads up to his undisturbed window. Sirius looks at James for a moment, eyes narrowed, mouth open to say something James knows he can’t answer, but then closes it.

“Whatever. I win. This means you have to take the first detention of the year.”

“Oh, come on, that first one’s the worst. Filch just rambles for hours about his new torture plans.”

Back down on the ground, Sirius lightly whacks the back of James’ head with the bat, not moved to mercy on the loser’s penance. “That’s what you get for being a tosser. Speaking of Filch, I had plenty of time to plan the first moon…”

****

She reappears, but not in the way she used to.

He stays up late with Sirius to play Exploding Snap and thinks about how much of the card game could explain his life right now. They get bored. Sirius suggests hijacking a Muggle car. James suggests recruiting the gnomes in the garden to embark on a countryside revolution. They don’t do either.

“Prongs?” Sirius questions down the hallway at his guest room when James stands outside his door for a moment too long after opening it, transfixed. 

“Night, Padfoot,” James says absentmindedly. Light shines into the dark room, just falling onto his bed, just enough to reveal a curled up, fast asleep, body beneath his comforter. He could weep for the sight of it, the sight of her, nonchalant and familiar, but he doesn’t. He just ignores Sirius and shuts the door, climbing into bed, careful not to disturb her. She opens a sleepy eye at him anyway, the ghost of a smile playing on her lips.

“Missed me, then?” James whispers, eyebrow cocked, head propped on his shoulder.

“You wish,” she says. She must know that he did. She must know him. He doesn’t let himself think that. She scoots forward at the same time he does, hooking her leg through his, tucking her head underneath his. “Your bed’s just more comfortable than mine.”

“Whatever you say, Evans.”

****

What she feels for James Potter is big. If she can make it smaller, if she can trivialize it, she can survive it.

If she can’t, she’s going to start burning. 

****

The pop sound disguised in the thick of the leaves and the trickle of the fountain, the quiet screech of the garden gate as it’s pushed open, the quick left to right glance, the smallest of jogs she takes to get to the lattice— it’s all a bit second nature by now, something she doesn’t want to dwell on. It’s routine at this point. Nothing new. Nothing new except—

“I should have guessed.”

Except for that voice.

Stopped dead in her tracks at the foot of the lattice, Lily Evans turns around to meet her match. Tucked away in the shadows, leaning against the side of the manor, he twirls his wand back and forth between his fingers. It’s graceful and smooth and intimidating, just like him. 

“Black.”

“Evans.”

“Fancy meeting you here,” he says, all casual.

“Indeed,” she nods her head respectfully at him. She does have the decency to take her foot off the bottom rung of the lattice, but there’s not much that can save her or disguise what she’s doing, caught with the proverbial canary dangling from her mouth.

“Looking for me?” He asks delicately, stepping out from the shadows, careful not to step into the garden proper, where James might see him from his window. James won’t hear them. Lily had charmed the whole perimeter of the window and door with silencing spells now nearly a month ago. Sirius must have guessed as much, too, because he keeps going without a care for his voice, “You could have owled.”

“See, Black, owls can be so impersonal. Thought I’d do you the honor of dropping by.”

“Through James’ window?” Sirius asks, eyebrows raised. “Interesting plan you’ve got going there.”

“Mhm,” Lily tuts, stalling. For what, she doesn’t know. She never planned on this particular scenario, but now that it’s here, she should have guessed it was simply an eventuality. 

“Enough,” Sirius starts, harsh. She doesn’t flinch. “Enough of this coy bullshit, Evans. What the fuck are you doing?”

She just stares back at him, deadpan. “Do you need me to spell it out for you?”

“That would actually be incredibly helpful, yes.”

“God, Black, well, after puberty hits, sometimes blokes and birds—“

He waves her off with a dismissive hand. “Don’t play dumb, Evans, it’s not a cute look for you. Obviously I know what you’re doing right now. I just mean, what the fuck are you doing? And why in Merlin’s left fucking tit did you bring James into whatever you’re up to?”

“Up to?” Lily repeats. “I’m not up to anything.”

That same eyebrow is raised in judgment against her, evaluative. “This isn’t you.”

She burrows her brow in confusion, pinching her arm curiously, as if to confirm she’s corporeal. “Huh. Well, it doesn’t seem like I’ve been Imperiused and no one’s plucked any of my hair to make Polyjuice with lately, so I’m pretty sure this is me.”

“Hanging out with James isn’t you. Fancying James isn’t you, which means you’re just using him, and using people isn’t you.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she hisses, teeth clenched, fists clenched. She feels way too seen, way too noticed in the way that Sirius Black has always been able to pinpoint. 

“Then help me understand!” Sirius runs a hand through his silky hair the same way she’s seen James do when he’s distressed. “Can you blame me for being more than a bit confused? Last I saw you, you were still dating Lake and could barely hold a conversation with James without snapping at him. And keeping secrets isn’t him, either. You’re both right fucked up.”

Lily opens her mouth, closes it. Sirius has a point. Alright. One accusation at a time. 

“I’m not using him,” she starts, hesitantly. Sirius scoffs.

“Like hell you aren’t,” he bites. “You know how he feels about you. The whole bloody school knows what he feels for you. You found the most willing fool possible for this excursion.”

A pause. Too much truth in it, not enough truth in it. 

“James doesn’t like me.”

Sirius stares at her blankly. “Excuse me?”

“He doesn’t,” she says, voice strained with mortification. “Fancy me. Not anymore.”

He scrunches his brow. “He told you so?”

“Yes,” she nods, which isn’t exactly a lie, even though he never said so outright. But they’d talked, like he asked her to. He didn’t deny it when she said so. That’s the hard truth of it, not the fantasy she’s created in her head that maybe he still feels some of what she does. He’s sweet to her and funny and charming and good because James Potter’s one of the most decent people she’s ever met. It has everything to do with who he is, not anything to do with who she is. 

“Give James more credit,” Lily continues. “I haven’t spiked his pumpkin juice with Amortentia. I’m not using him. He’s got all the right to say no at any point.” A point that she knows is going to come sooner rather than later. She doesn’t address his accusation that fancying James isn’t her, because it very much is her. It just can’t be her, because nothing good could come from it.

She knows that ending this thing by the time school starts is the smart decision to make, but more and more, there are days where she feels being stupid is the only thing she’s good at lately. More and more she thinks about risking it all when there’s little left to lose. But that’s a question for another day, another time, when Sirius Black isn’t standing before her looking like this is also the last place he wants to be right now.

Sirius pinches the bridge of his nose. “Merlin. Merlin and Morgana and their bloody dog. This is a mess.”

“Why do you care so much?” Lily crosses her arms, crossly. “James is a big kid. He can make his own decisions.”

He barely spares her a glare out the side of his eye. “Not when it comes to you.”

Her heart skips a beat. What does Sirius know that she doesn’t? Does he mean— but he just shakes gruffly again. “What’s your end goal here?”

“I don’t need to tell you,” she evades. “This is none of your business.”

“If that were true, you would’ve climbed up that lattice already.”

She wavers. Maybe the most annoying quality of Sirius Black was his tendency to be right, and she’s paused for too long.

“My god,” he breathes. “You don’t have one. You have no clue what you’re doing.”

“Goddammit, Black, can you leave me alone?” Lily snaps, finally losing it. “I don’t need to justify myself to you.”

“You sure as hell do,” Sirius actually steps in front of her, blocking her access to the lattice. Smart bloke. He saw her next move was going to be the same escape she’d taken all summer. “James’ head might not be on, but mine’s here, and I’m not going to let him get hurt.”

“He won’t, okay? There’s nothing there to hurt,” Lily says, trying to ignore the prickle of tears at the back of her eyes, the small lump in her throat. The humiliation. In a much smaller voice, in a much more honest voice, she says, “I won’t hurt him.”

“Prove it,” Sirius challenges. “Prove that this means enough to you to not just walk away and ignore whatever mess you’ll leave behind.”

She crosses her arms, staring back at him. “How am I supposed to prove that?”

His eyes glint like steel. “You could start by stopping this sneaking around. Hell, anything to show you’re not just some apparition of this summer. Let him tell Pete and Remus, let him tell his parents— fuck, they’re still up. Come meet them! Be something more than this.”

Lily sputters out an indignant, panicked noise. “Excuse me?”

“See that, Evans?” He says silkily, quietly. “That’s the reaction of someone who's ashamed. That’s the reaction of someone who still only cares about her image.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, have I missed the part where you’ve acknowledged you’re wrong about him? Have I missed the part where you admit you aren’t better than him? Have you even swallowed your pride about the past and told Mary?” Again, another score in the correct column for Sirius, one of way too many for a boy who’s barely a friend to her to know so well. 

“That’s not what this is about,” Lily defends, but her heart isn’t in it. Before now, that’s not what this was about. Before now it was about protection, privacy. Something of her own that the world couldn’t touch. Was there more to it? More to the fact that she couldn’t stand the thought of anyone else finding out?

“Whatever,” Sirius cuts through her defense with callous dismissal. He starts to walk away, up around to the front of the manor she’s never seen, hands buried deep in the pockets of his leather jacket. “Find me when you’ve the nerve to walk through the front door, not the window. I’ll be waiting.”

****

James wakes up to a pillow thrown onto his face. He wakes up not alone, but not with the person who fell asleep next to him. Sirius holds the pillow up for another swing.

“Ah!” James protests, covering his face with his arms. “Foul play! I can’t even see properly, you mangy dog.”

That doesn’t matter to Sirius, who throws the pillow down again on his face before he settles himself on the desk right across the bed, arms crossed too, but in judgement. 

“You have got to be the stupidest person I’ve ever met.”

James blinks at him from behind his glasses. Wonderful thing, glasses. They let you see just how pissed your best mate is at— he checks the clock on his bedside table— seven in the morning. 

“That’s not fair,” James says evenly. “Jack Avery can’t tell a sickle from a knut.”

Sirius shakes his head disapprovingly. “This takes the cake, Prongs. This takes the cake and eats it, too.” Then, in response to James’ confused stare, he clarifies, “I happened to have a nice little chat with Lily Evans last night.”

James freezes. He considers throwing the pillow at Sirius and Apparating away, but Mum put a shield on the house when he and Sirius got licensed. He left his broom outside in the orchard. His wand’s in the bedside table. He’d never reach it faster than Sirius could draw his own. Maybe he could run, though. He’s more athletic than Sirius. Would Prongs be helpful here? But Padfoot could run fast, too. And his parents don’t know their only child is an illegal Animagus. Probably wouldn’t go over well when a stag ran through the breakfast nook. 

Well, bollocks. 

James just settles into his fate, mumbling darkly, “She didn’t say.”

“Figures,” Sirius scoffs. “I leave you alone for a month, man. That’s all it took for you to royally fuck up.”

“Hey!” James found himself actually getting worked up, actually getting offended. It usually takes a lot more for Sirius to get that reaction from him. “Where’s the fuck up? Evans is talking to me. In fact, doing a lot more than talking!”

“First of all, ew,” Sirius starts. “Second of all, you’ve been waiting years to date Evans, not just shag her. Those two things often go hand and hand, but look at the convoluted shit-show you’ve managed to create here.”

“I don’t think it’s that bad,” James mutters, crossing his arms. 

“It is,” Sirius says through gritted teeth. Then, “I’m wondering how you got Evans convinced you aren’t head over heels for her.”

James feels the tips of his ears turn pink. It was easier to hide how duplicitous he thought himself to be when no one pointed out that particular qualm about whatever agreement he and Lily made at the start of summer. “Not hard to do when she wants nothing to do with feelings. It’s fine, though. I can keep it casual.”

“Now, that’s a shit lie.”

“I can do casual,” James repeats with more fervor and confidence than evidence would suggest. “Don’t make that face at me, Sirius, I can do casual! What’s so hard about that?”

“What’s so hard is that nothing you feel about her is casual!” Sirius rolls his eyes, exasperated. “I’ve been waiting for you to ride out this weird aspiration of yours for years now and I’ve only ever seen you do more and more to have a chance in her good graces when she couldn’t spare you the time of day. We didn’t even prank the Ravenclaws at the feast because you didn’t want her to get angry at you! Merlin, I thought we could be through with Lily bloody Evans.”

“You know,” James says loftily, effectively ignoring all of Sirius’ correct but overly harsh observations, “I don’t see how any of this is your business.”

Sirius just fixes him with an exasperated look that contained a reminder of all the years spent doing nothing but taking on each others’ business. Sirius sighs. “I don’t get it. What’s your end goal here?”

“Er,” James rubs the back of his neck, “You know, summer. Then school…”

Sirius has his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose, which means he’s really miffed about this. Huh. “I can’t believe it. You don’t know either. You’re both just complete fucking idiots.” He spared James a look from the corner of his eyes, closed for dramatic effect, nose still pinched. “I don’t think you’re the only one lying about feelings.”

“What do you mean by that?” James knows he sounds as desperate as he feels in that moment.

“Not a thing. Figure it out yourself.”

“You’re a rotten best mate.”

You’re a rotten best mate. I can’t believe you sent me owls about the Chudley Cannons and not about the fact that you’re shagging Lily Evans.”

“I am a man of many interests, Padfoot,” James said haughtily. “Multifaceted. I needed your help in deciding who to draft for the fantasy Quidditch league. You know I can’t stand that Wormtail beat me last season.”

“Excuses,” Sirius scoffs, but James figures he isn’t so angry at him anymore because he’s eating straight from his giant bag of Bertie Bott’s. “You and Evans are both barmy. Maybe you’re meant for each other.”

“Toss me that Cauldron Cake. And would you lay off Evans?” James asks genuinely, ripping open the wrapping on his breakfast. “I think she’s going through something.”

“You think?”

“We don’t really talk all that much about that sort of stuff...”

“May I reiterate? Ew.”

James shrugs, satisfied, wide grin on his face. “Whatever, man. Wanna ride our brooms over the freeway again?”

“That’s the best idea you’ve had all summer.”

He throws the rest of his cake at Sirius’ face.

****

“I talked to Sirius,” he says, hovering above her, hands in her hair.

“Hm,” she evades, hands at his waistband. 

“So did you,” he pushes farther, tucking a stray hair behind her ear so that maybe she’d look him in the eye.

“Mhm,” she confirms, doing one of her very best evasive tactics, using her accursed touch to make him decide what he’s saying doesn’t matter.

“Are we going to talk about it?”

“No.”

“Okay,” he agrees, drowning out the alarm bells in his head letting him know that he’s playing with something too dangerous, playing too close to the chest-- literally-- and setting himself up for defeat. He thinks about the end. He thinks about how it’s coming, sooner rather than later, because he’s not sure how much longer he can take the ambiguity. He’s not sure how much longer he can stand his duplicity. 

He’s not really sure about anything. 

****

He can’t fight the curiosity anymore. It’s been too many weeks of questions with half answers and chemistry he can’t understand without more of the equation. 

He’s a coward. He doesn’t work up the courage to ask until she was turned from him, hair splayed across the pillow, maybe asleep. She’s wearing one of his Puddlemere t-shirts. 

“Lily?”

“James?”

His fingers play with the long strands of auburn in his reach. He feels small. 

“Why are you here?”

She takes a long time to answer. He thinks she won’t. He still plays with her hair. He still feels small. “Because you won’t turn me away.”

"No,” he confirms. He’d never. Even though he should, because this whole thing is built on a lie he’s sold her. 

“Why won’t you turn me away?” Her voice is small, too. He doesn’t know what she wants to hear from him. He doesn’t know what truths he can confess to her.

“Because I won’t.”

“Maybe you should.”

“Maybe,” he whispers. But he doesn’t. What he wants to do is pull her in closer, wrap his arms around her, promise her over and over and over that he’ll never turn her away, he’s never going to go. But he doesn’t. The inches of distance between them seem insurmountable. 

He watches her leave. She thinks he’s asleep. She does this, her disappearing act, when she thinks he won’t notice. He always does. The lump in his throat preventing him from yelling out or whispering stay seems insurmountable.

****

Here’s why he’s in the garden that evening. It started out with his mother kissing his father goodbye, gathering her tall witch’s hat, the one she wears to the Ministry. James and Sirius were lounging in the living room playing Gobstones. Nothing out of the ordinary.

“A to-do at the Ministry,” James heard Euphemia explain over the noise of rustling pots. She’d grabbed the Floo powder jar. “Explosion in Diagon Alley. Seems a Muggleborn and her family have been killed. Dumbledore’s been contacted, seems she was a student.”

Here’s why he’s in the garden that evening. Sirius locked eyes with James at the same time James locked eyes with Sirius and they’d Apparated out before they could stop to think of a plan for the chaos of the Leaky Cauldron and the sounds of destruction near Flourish and Blotts. 

“You need to leave.” That’s Frank Longbottom. He played as Chaser for Hufflepuff the first year James played for Gryffindor. Now he’s an Auror, instead of a professional player, like he could have been. James didn’t care about Frank’s new job. He cared about how Frank was shaking his head. “No, I can’t tell you anything, Potter. You’re just getting in the way.”

“Shove off, Longbottom,” Sirius seethes. “It’s a yes or no question.”

“And it’s one I’m not going to tell a couple of kids!” Frank stands up tall, puffing his chest out. He did that in school, too, when he was Head Boy and docking points from them. 

“We’re not kids, Frank, and that’s-— oh, thank goodness,” James nearly shoves past Frank, grabbing the shoulder of a short, pretty, and plump witch in identical Auror robes. “Alice.”

Something in his face gave away his question. Alice’s face softened, the way it would soften when she was Head Girl and took pity on Peter and wouldn’t dock him points when she should have. 

“Alice, was it her?”

Alice shakes her head. “I don’t know, James. No one does. We’re still—” she swallows, hard. Like she remembers helping Lily Evans adjust to school and magic and everything those years ago. Like she remembers she’s not much more than a school girl herself. “We’re still collecting remains. Only have a few eye witness reports about what was said before the explosion to know it was a Muggleborn with her family.”

James’ face blanches. Sirius’ porcelain skin looks even more so. Frank looks stone faced and hard, like he remembers he’s not much more than a school boy who found himself in a war whose toll he underestimated. 

“Now do you believe me when I say we can’t tell you?” Frank rolls his shoulders in agitation, the same he used to do before a match. James liked his Chaser form. He’d watched him closely. “Go home before you manage to waste any more of our time.”

“Oh, right, your important guard duty,” Sirius bites scathingly. James can’t really get words to rise past the pit in his stomach. In a much different voice, he nods respectfully. “Alice, lovely as always.”

“Cousin,” she nods back.

Sirius slaps James on the back, mostly to get his legs moving again. Over his shoulder, Sirius calls, “Eat dick, Longbottom!”

“He’s your cousin, too,” James comments sullenly, hands in his pockets.

“Every arsehole around is my cousin,” Sirius mutters back, also dejected, and in his own way, as concerned as James is about who was on the wrong end of expulso on a beautiful summer’s day like this one. 

The rest of the day passes unbearably slow, with no news from his mother and no copy of the Evening Prophet because this is too commonplace now for special editions. James used to read those articles meticulously, trying to figure out what the Ministry could have done different, what people around could have done different. James used to read those articles to know that someone out there is trying to fight back. James never read those articles for help in times like this, and that’s another thing he regrets, is no one ever preparing him for the worst like this. Old fairytale books and novels used to write about war like it was some noble thing, not this senseless, boundless terror that’s building in his chest, gnawing within the caverns of his bones, settling like a stone in his stomach. He knows now that dread tastes like poison and regret for all things left unsaid is a bitter, bitter thing. The unknown is the worst of all, the way it courses through his veins like liquid fire. 

Here’s why he’s in the garden that evening. Dad can smoke his pipe in the house, but Mum hates the smell of the cheap cigs Sirius prefers, so they’re smoking out in the garden to pass the time. Well, Sirius is smoking, and James is brooding. Usually it’s James keeping Sirius’ misery company, but Sirius repays that favor this evening as dusk falls and the garden assumes its night life. Gnomes tuck themselves away into the soil, the lanterns flicker like fairies, and crickets hum their own little love songs.

“Apparate to her place,” Sirius suggests reasonably.

“Can’t,” James says through gritted teeth. “Don’t know where she lives.”

Sirius stamps out his cigarette with the toe of his boot before plucking out another one. “Owl?”

“Takes too long without an address.”

“Well, bollocks.”

Here’s why he’s in the garden that evening. It’s to finally, finally, finally hear a faint pop beyond the gate. It’s to jump out of his iron chair and nearly sprint to the gate, knowing it can’t be anyone but her, and to nearly fully accost Lily Evans where she stands— lovely and alive, wearing bright colored Muggle clothes like always. 

He doesn’t fully accost her. He doesn’t tackle her to the ground just to know she’s real and has a body and a purpose and a story that he’s still trying to decipher. He doesn’t do anything but stare, which wasn’t why he was waiting in the garden all evening.

“Hi,” he whispers, because he can’t find it in himself to scream what he feels for her.

“Hi?” She questions back, confused. Hesitant. She takes a step back, small, almost indiscernible. This isn’t how they operate, this isn’t what they do. She doesn’t like the change. That’s one thing he knows about her, she doesn’t like change. Her eyes scan his face. He doesn’t care if it gives away the feelings he wants to scream at her. 

“There was an attack at Flourish and Blott’s today,” he explains. Or doesn’t. How could he ever explain himself?

“Oh,” she blinks. “Another one?”

“Yes,” he nods. “Muggleborn and her family. Killed.”

“Oh,” she says, then again in a different voice, one that’s heavier. One that half understands. “Oh. You thought—“

“Yes,” he breathes out again. His whole body is a battle, arms and fingers and hands that pulse with burning desire to rush for her, but his legs stay frozen in place.

“Well,” she shrugs, casual, too casual for what has been racing through his head the whole day. “It wasn’t.”

Lily Evans wasn’t in Diagon Alley that afternoon. She hasn’t been back since she found her distraction here. She’d been at the hospital again, a different scene of death and destruction and a different way of tearing apart her life. 

James watches her watch him with ongoing suspicion, ongoing guard, and he wonders for how much longer he’s going to let moments like this one slip by. Because that’s what he does— lets it go. He doesn’t tell her what he feels, even when they’re up in his room again, like always. He just hope she can feel it in every kiss, every touch, every single moment he’s with her. He wonders if she knows this heat is more than passing passion. He wonders if he knows how long he’ll let himself burn for her.

Lily Evans wonders how long she can keep doing this to herself, how much longer she can put out the flames in her heart, because tonight feels different. Tonight he seems as desperate as she does and she doesn’t know what to make of that. His touch feels like fire. Her skin is scar tissue but still, it burns. 

****

She doesn’t climb into his window again for nearly a week. Maybe it’s for the best. The late July sun brings more than a sunburn when he flies his broom up and down to the ground again to forget about her. The late summer sun is a death omen. The late sun means September, school, reality, is coming back. The late sun must mean she isn’t coming back. 

Sirius takes no pity on his foul mood.

“Not sure what else you expected,” Padfoot mutters, passing over the bottle of Firewhiskey while the two of them lay out in Sirius’ room. Padfoot’s laying out, researching charms. James is tracing a motorbike from a magazine, the model Sirius swears he can easily buy from a Muggle shop in London. 

“Shut up,” James says casually back, because he’s not sure what else he expected, either.

“You could talk to her, you know. Not that I’m trying to help or anything, because I think you’re both stupid bints. But you could try honesty.”

“Shut up,” James says casually back, because he’s already decided that. The next time he sees Lily Evans, he’s to make Godric Gryffindor proud. He’s not going to be a coward.

James taps his drawing with his wand tip, the engorgio spell silent and effective.

“Padfoot,” James says, holding up his new behemoth sketch, grinning like a maniac. “What about a giant motorbike?”

Sirius sits up, looking very serious indeed. “Prongs, I take back most of what I said about you being a stupid bint. You are a stupid bint with very, very, very brilliant ideas.”

****

Moony tells him, because he heard it from Mary, who heard it from Lily. Remus’ neat script reads out in much the same way his voice would have. 

Sirius told me you’re doing something stupid. Usually when he says that, he’s miffed at you about Lily. So if I’m right, and if he’s right that you are doing something stupid, I thought you might want to know, in case you wanted to be there.  

****

There’s just not a lot to be said at funerals. 

There’s not a lot to say to someone who just lost their second parent. Not a lot to be said to a girl who's just lost her mother. Not a lot to be said to a girl whose own sister won’t even look at her on a day like today of all days.

So the whole thing passes in a bit of a haze. She vaguely registers the face of some forgotten neighbors and colleagues, fully operating on automatic drive when they shake her hand and offer condolences.

Perhaps the worst bit of today is the relief. It’s letting out the breath she didn’t know she was holding, letting go of the terror that had once gripped her in the night, the fear that told her to stop letting her parents go to Diagon Alley with her two years ago for fear that would be identified, recognized, and targeted. Because that’s what happened in Diagon Alley a week ago. Mona Midgeon took her Muggle parents for a bit of shopping and ice cream and never came back.

Then again, Lily wasn’t so different from Mona Midgeon after all. Lily did the smart thing and only let her parents glimpse into her world through the odd Charms book or potions kit, but that didn’t change the factory accident that killed her dad or the cancer that killed her mom. She spent so long in her own world that Lily Evans forgot that Death Eaters aren’t the only killers out there.

The pastor gives a nice sermon. Petunia gives a short eulogy. Lily was told to remain silent, to be polite, to behave. Tuney doesn’t want people asking more questions than Lily can provide answers to. Lily wants to sink into the background and pretend none of this is real, so it makes no difference to her. Mary sits with her at the front of the church, holding her hand. Looking at it makes Lily want to cry even more, so she spends most of her time making sense out of the wood patterns in the pew instead of trying to make sense of the patterns playing out in her own life (love, leave, love, leave, love, leave, die).

They couldn’t afford a casket and could barely afford the small stone engraved with her mother’s name that will sit next to their father’s memorial. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, with nothing in between but the weight of life’s demands.

Her mother’s ashes are escorted out the church by a processional hymn, which Petunia knows to be her cue. She and Vernon (who ignores Lily, who hasn’t said a word of sympathy or even pity) lead the small congregation out. There will be tea at Vernon’s parents house afterwards, which Lily felt was a direct jab at her, since Petunia knows full and well Vernon’s sister is a horror to her and his parents never stop quizzing her about boarding school. She selfishly waits for the church to empty, which Mary selflessly indulges, sitting tall and proud next to Lily as people file past her, waiting for her to take the lead.

When it’s quiet in the church, Lily stands, her duties done. Performance over. 

“Alright, Lily,” Mary encourages gently. “We’ll Apparate to the reception and be out as soon as you want to.”

“Alright,” Lily agrees, thinking that small finger sandwiches don’t compare to the comfort of solitude, knowing that this facade of strength has to last just a while longer. 

Walking down the main aisle of the church with Mary, though, Lily Evans discovers she was wrong to assume it was empty before. Some of the haze clears. Some of the fog lifts, because that is a very familiar body in a very unfamiliar Muggle suit.

Mary stills, the arm locked into Lily’s tensing. Mary stops them a few pews up from the boys with a worried glance at Lily, doing nothing to be subtle about it.

“Do you wanna leave, Lily?”

Lily shakes her head. James is starting to stand up. He’s following Remus out of the pew. Soon it will just be the four of them in this church. Soon she won’t have any secrets left to hold onto.

Mary nods politely at the two boys. “James. Remus.”

“Mary,” Remus nods back respectfully, then to Lily, “I expect you’re tired of hearing this, but I’m sorry. Really.” 

Lily nods. She can’t take her eyes off of James for more than a moment. Even amongst the four of them, it’s too many people. She so, so, so pathetically just wants to be held right now. She wants to be told sweet lies about how everything is going to be okay, lies about how it’s all for the best, how her mother’s in a better place now. She wants to be cradled in the biggest lie of all, that a kind pair of arms wrapped around her is enough to shield her from the cruelties of this world, but she can’t, because Mary doesn’t know and Remus doesn’t know and most of all because James Potter deserves better than to be used like this. His face is indiscernible, polite and neutral. It’s everything she asked him to be and the last thing she needs right now.

“Er, Mary,” Remus asks pointedly, his soft voice trying to cut through the too thick tension here. “Would you like to walk the grounds with me? I’ve never seen a Muggle church before.”

Mary’s eyes flick curiously between Lily, James, and Remus before catching on.

“To be honest, neither have I,” Mary says, then with a squeeze on her arm, she continues in much the same way one would talk to someone in shock. “I’m going to walk with Remus. Alright?”

Again, Lily just nods. Mary gives her hand another squeeze and then a small kiss on the cheek in parting before taking the arm Remus extends out to her.

“Come, Lupin, let’s continue both of our Muggle Studies…”

Mercifully, mercifully, mercifully, it is just James and Lily. Mercifully, mercifully, mercifully, the neutrality falls from his face. 

“I’m sorry,” he pleads out, justification for his presence, penance for his presence. “I know you don’t want me here. I know this is some sort of something that isn’t okay but I… I couldn’t imagine doing this alone and I couldn’t let you do it alone.”

Lily nods. He’s right. This isn’t something that’s okay, considering they weren’t friends, considering their secret. She doesn’t care that he’s right. She doesn’t care about rules she made up when the illusion of control in her life still existed. She just cares about the boy in front of her.

“I’m so sorry,” James says again, wanting her to believe him. “I knew something was wrong. I feel like I should have known.”

Lily shakes her head. “I didn’t want you to know. It wouldn’t have changed anything.”

“No,” James cedes, “But maybe it would have helped you, even a little bit.”

Tears start swelling in her eyes, prickling at the corner, treacherous tells that he means something to her. They’re proof that she, in fact, would have been helped by James if she had let herself be, but that would have been a stupid thing to ask of someone who isn’t supposed to mean anything to her. 

The damage is done and what’s left is the two of them, standing alone in this church. There’s something too intimate about the way he sees right through her. They’ve slept together all summer, but this is the most exposed Lily’s ever felt around him. It is vulnerable and raw, painful, the way she knows he sees past her brave face she painted on today, the face of a daughter who finished mourning her mother months ago when the diagnosis first came through. 

That’s not the face James Potter sees today. James Potter sees Lily Evans, exhausted and terrified. This isn’t the blank face he’s seen before. This is the face of a girl whose lived too many lifetimes and stood too many losses for her age. Maybe that’s what compels him to break the distance between them. In two long strides, James has her wrapped in his arms, shielding her from the rest of the world with earnest lies between the kisses he places on the top of her head, her forehead, her cheek. 

“Cry,” he whispers, feeling her stay tense in his arms. “Worry about the future later. Let it out now. No one else is here.”

Wrapped tight in the arms of James Potter, feeling warmth instead of fire despite the desperate, burning tears on her face, Lily Evans whispers back, “Thank you.”

****

Moony loosens his tie, walking back to the Apparation point with James, a small, satisfied smirk on his face.

“How long has Padfoot known?”

“Known what?”

“About you and Lily.”

James grumbles something indiscernible, kicking the dirt with his shoe. 

“Sorry, didn’t catch that,” Remus smiles politely, barely biting back amusement. 

“Nothing to know,” he mutters petulantly. 

“Not going to work here, mate, I’ve ten galleons against Sirius riding on this.”

“Betting on your best mate’s eternal happiness and love life? Shallow, Moony, really. I’m hurt.”

“Oh, you’re not,” Remus said, again in his exceedingly neutral way, the way that made him prefect, the same way that endeared him to Lily Evans before the rest of the boys. “What you are is hiding something.”

James wipes his glasses clean with the edge of his shirt furiously, avoiding Moony’s too astute gaze as they keep walking. “I’m working on it.”

He turns on his heel the same time Moony does, well versed in synchronicity. Remus gathers his balance, catching up to James again, whose tie was also appropriately loosed.

“Working in it? Working on what?” 

“I’ve no idea,” James admits, opening the garden gate, escorting Moony through the garden where Sirius is waiting, smoking, with a Muggle car magazine in his hands. 

“Padfoot,” Moony says. “You owe me ten galleons.”

“Hardly,” Sirius counters, not really looking up from his magazine. “Prongs didn’t explain?”

“Explain what?”

Prongs explains.

“Oh my,” Remus looks at him with barely concealed horror. “Padfoot was right. You are doing something stupid.” Some of his kinder nature returned, prompting Remus to pat James on the back, which James appreciated, because really, he is pitiable. Then, to Sirius, Moony added, “I’d still say this is at least five galleons.”

Pitiable and profitable, James supposes, watching Sirius fork over the bet money. Remus pockets it primly.

“The rest of the pot if James figures this out before the train leaves?”

Sirius smirks. “You’re on.”

“All right, Prongs, from the top again,” Remus says when the three of them settle in the living room, Butterbeer and candies strewn about, pouring over the sketched plans for the motorbike. “And have Lily check these charms next you see her. These are too advanced for me, and I don’t trust either of you to make sane judgments about safety…”

****

Well, it’s now or never, really. The countdown for the train is in full crisis mode with July fading into August. James stared at a blank sheet of parchment for much longer than he’d care to admit, especially considering how short his letter ends of being. He wonders if Godric Gryffindor accepts sacrifices in exchange for more courage and stout heartedness. He’ll have to consult his dad’s library and then consider what he’s willing to sacrifice. Not his hair, obviously, or his broom, but he’s willing to consider his glasses or favorite Canons jumper. 

Anyway. Here’s what he tied to Plutarch’s leg, who thanked him with a small nip on his finger, because James is technically supposed to ask Dad for permission before using his owl, but James has technically never followed that rule, either. 

Evans,

I’ve a challenge, if you’re up for it. Let’s call it a cross between your Muggle Studies and Charms NEWTS. Good practice for when you need to beat me for top of the class again.

James

Several drafts of the letter censor what he wants to say, what he doesn’t know what to say. Mostly about him being a liar and a fraud, mostly about how she asked him to stay well away from fancying her and he went ahead and fell in love instead. He crumples those drafts and burns them for good measure, just to be safe.

P.S. We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. But if you do. I’m here.

****

Here’s what surprises him. Lily reappears less than a week after the funeral, already asleep in his bed when he opened the door one night. He didn’t think she’d be back, possibly ever. He thought she’d disappear, the only proof of her ever being present being the scar on his heart. 

He closes his door, quietly, and changes into pajamas with equal caution not to stir her. When he lifts the comforter and slides into bed, he’s startled when she opens her eyes. The green in them isn’t what it should be, but the moonlight shines through them like precious gems anyway.

“Hi,” James whispers in the dark. “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t,” she mutters, then does something surprising again when she pulls herself through the space dividing them and immediately burrows her head in the crook of his neck. “Can’t sleep.”

“You’re in luck,” he says, hand in her hair, legs hooked in hers. “I’ve been told it’s a very comfortable bed.”

Lily doesn’t answer him. James looks to find she’s done exactly what she said she couldn’t.

This sort of thing happens for the next few days, finding Lily in his room, waiting for him so she can go to sleep. After the third night, he started making excuses to his parents about doing homework upstairs before bed that Sirius did not appreciate in the least.

“What was it you said about a challenge?” Lily mumbles into his shirt on one of those evenings.

“Don’t worry about it,” James says. It now seemed silly to ask her about charms while she was going through what she was going through.

“I like a challenge,” she counters, sleep in her voice.

“Tomorrow, Evans,” he assures her, kissing her on the head. “It’ll still be there tomorrow,”

****

“This is it?” Lily asks, completely without fanfare. Instead of being asleep, she’d helped herself to the copy motorbike plans he kept on his desk, helped herself to his Charms book and the others he nicked from his parent’s library, helped herself to fitting right there so naturally in his life, thick red hair tied up so it can’t get in the way of her reading. 

She’s awake. She looks rested. She looks more like herself again. He says as much, standing near the door, taking her in.

“You look good,” James says softly, praying he knows what she means. Her eyes dart up to his.

“Sleep does wonders,” she says quietly. “And asking for help. Like you with these plans,” she continues, deftly changing the subject. For once, he doesn’t think she’s trying to avoid something. For once he believes she’s just trying to keep going, because that’s the only thing she can do. “I have some thoughts.

She barely glances up at him when he joins her on the bed, crawling up behind her, chin resting on her shoulder so he sees what she sees. Unconcerned, uninterrupted, she comments, “The Ministry has codes against modifying Muggle equipment, you know.”

She can feel James shrug behind her, because she’s leaned back into him, letting her back rest against his chest. Indulgent. Selfish. She doesn’t always need to feel sad, she realizes. She can be present here with the feel of his body against hers, the feel of his voice vibrating, “Pretty sure they would also frown on you aiding and abetting.”

“Me? I’m doing no such thing. I’m simply adjusting a shoddy compilation of charms that can’t work together based on Zauber’s third law of complex interactions, which Sirius has always been shit at remembering.”

He smirks. She feels him do so, because his mouth is there on her collarbone. “Talk more about how Sirius is awful at theory application.”

She scribbles in a new word above the tailpipe, easily throwing away hours of research Remus and Sirius and him did for proper combustion regulation. 

“He’s always going for drama above practicality,” Lily says, pointing to one of Sirius’ notes with her quill. “Look here. Bombarda could work, but you want a more steady release of heat in this chamber, so Incendio is really the way to go, even though it’s less showy.”

“Hm,” James hums. She feels it echo in her chest, in the hollow bones of her ribs, in the repaired fibers of the sinews keeping her heart racing despite her casual tone. It’s just hard to casual when he’s at her neck like that, when his hands have started tracing goose bumps below her shirt. “Keep going.”

“He doesn’t have a plan for merging the locomotor and levitation charms for flight,” she says, catching her breath, because James is kissing her and it’s harder to think when he does that. “Tell him— tell him to read more about Zauber’s fourth and a half rule.”

“Obviously,” James breathes out, forgetting everything she’s said the moment she did, charms books and motorbike plans now scattered across the floor. She seems to have forgotten those as well, for a while. 

“Oh! One more thing,” she says, sitting up from where she’d once been hovering above him, teasing languid and slow kisses from his mouth. She looks thoughtful, eyes looking up like she’s trying to remember something. Her hair is no longer pulled out of her face but floating down her pale shoulders in wonderful tresses. “Add a cushioning charm for the seat.”

James just smiles, looking up at her. It hurt, most times, to stare directly into the shining star light reflected in her eyes, in her smile, in her cheeks, in her. 

She’s lost in thought. He’s lost in her.

“Brilliant,” he whispers. She looks down, startled. “You’re brilliant.”

Lily smiles the smile she gives when she’s really, genuinely pleased. He was afraid he wouldn’t see it again. She shakes her head playfully, sitting back. “More brilliant than Sirius, at least.”

“More brilliant,” he agrees, also grinning widely. He can’t help himself. “Maybe not more beautiful, though.”

She shoves his chest playfully, cutting into the offended tsk she utters. “That’s not fair. He uses so much more hair product than me.”

“Well, he also doesn’t have all these freckles, ” James teases. “Like you’ve got the start of Spattergroit.”

“Sleep with Sirius, then,” Lily pouts, crossing her arms petulantly, a contrast with her mouth, which twitches up playfully. 

“Can’t,” James fingers the hair coming down her shoulders, which he easily reaches with his long arms. “ Horribly loud snorer. Very undignified.”

“Sleep alone, then,” she threatens with words that cannot be believed.

“Can’t,” he explains. “What if I’ve caught your Spattergoit and die? May as well stay now, Evans, and see how contagious you are.”

She shakes her head, laughing again, unconcerned for his condition or its eventual fatality. 

“Stay,” he repeats. Differently. Reverently. He’d promised himself honesty and bravery. He’d sworn to Godric he’d do better. Lily looks at him with a level gaze, no longer playful, just steady, when he whispers earnestly, “Don’t leave tonight. Stay.”

Lily takes more than a moment to answer. James watches her watch him, like he’d been watching her all summer.

“Alright,” she whispers. 

“Alright, Evans,” he whispers back, smiling softly. “Alright.”

****

Her eyes flutter open to early morning sunlight, to the slow, rhythmic, steady rise and fall of his chest at her cheek, his heart at her ear, his hand in her hair, his leg hooked through hers. This is a first in a summer of firsts and Lily Evans knows this has to be a last as well, because this cannot last. 

She shifts, trying not to wake him. She has to leave. She has to escape. 

He shifts, too. His hand tightens in her hair, wonderfully, awfully. When her eyes dart up, she sees his are open, awake, smiling softly at her. 

“You stayed,” he says, pleased like she knew he’d be, surprised like she knew he’d be.

“I did,” Lily acknowledges in a small voice. She feels small in his arms, hidden and safe. She feels small, knowing how big of a problem this is going to be. For the first time in this summer of firsts, Lily Evans thinks that it’s possible James Potter feels what she feels. And that? That’s the worst possible thing that could happen. That is a distant death knell, vibrating in the distance, traveling fast through the air, ringing out to tell her she’s going to lose someone else that she loves. 

He closes his eyes again, a boy again, sleepy again. Her fingers curl the fabric of his t-shirt, above where she still feels his heart beating. 

“We have to end this,” she says. She feels his heart skip a beat. “Like we said we would.”

He doesn’t respond for sometime. She thinks he won’t.

“We don’t have to,” he whispers in her hair. “Not yet.”

“Soon.”

“Not yet.” 

Time, he wants to beg. I need more time.

“Okay,” she cedes, weak as well. Tired as well. In denial as well.

There is no clean exit. There is no forgetting the summer. She’s going to break both of them and she’s going to have to do it soon, because it’s less than a month til the train leaves. Less than a month to find a way to put herself together again after she shatters what work he did for her here. By the time she climbs out the window again, the sun is in the sky, bright and hot and far too exposing.

****

“James, dear,” Euphemia says over her teacup, not looking up from her copy of the Prophet laid primly before her. “When are you going to tell us about the girl you’ve been sneaking in the house all summer?”

James nearly spits out his orange juice. “The— I’m sorry, the who, Mum?”

Euphemia Potter bites back a grin, watching James Potter’s eyes widen in horror as she continued evenly, “Oh, you know the one I’m talking about. Heard her leave this morning, actually. Is she the same one Augusta Longbottom wrote me about? The one she saw you consorting with behind the Leaky Cauldron?”

He looks more like a gaping fish than her son in that moment. Beside him, Sirius is smiling in absolute glee at his floundering.

“I don’t — Mum, she’s mistaken, I don’t—“

“Don’t what, dear? Don’t tell me you can’t remember? The way she put it, you two seemed to like each other very much to have disregarded manners and any sort of public decency.”

Sirius’ glee quickly turns into a bark of laughter, his handsome face tipped back in joy.

“Now, Augusta didn’t recognize the girl— much to your credit, son, as it seems you did try your best to find the seediest back corner there— but I do have my own theories. Would you like to hear them?”

All of the lying skills he’d managed to cultivate, all of his Maraudering seemed to have left him in this moment. “It’s not what- it’s just that- oh, shut up, Padfoot.”

“Boys, please, no shoving at the breakfast table.”

“Yeah,” Sirius grins smugly, successfully dodging James’ elbow. “No shoving at the table.”

Euphemia flicked open the newspaper again, staring at James from above her rounded glasses. “Unfortunately it seems we can’t leave the country with you home unsupervised anymore. I thought Sirius would have done a better job babysitting.”

“I tried, Mrs. Potter!” Sirius defends himself with some indignation. “I was gone, too! How was I supposed to know he’d go off and do something stupid?”

“Oh, we don’t blame you, dear,” Euphemia smiles warmly at him. “James does always have a way of just keeping you on your toes when he gets something in his head like this.”

“I’m right here,” James crosses his arms, feeling less mortified and more insulted as this carried on. “In case you two wanted to lighten up a little.”

Fleamont Potter walks in, shaking out his pipe. “What’s got you in a tizzy so early, James? Usually it takes Sirius ‘til lunch to do that.”

Sirius smirks. Euphemia says, “Nothing, Fleamont. I was just asking James about the girl running out the garden this morning.”

“Ah, the one whose been wearing our Apparation barrier thin,” Fleamont smiles. “Is it who I think it is? Is it that lovely Muggleborn girl Horace keeps talking my ear off about? I should really start going to his little functions…”

“Dad,” James’ imagination was suddenly filled with the possibility of his parents showing up to a Slug Club party. “ Please no.

Fleamont shrugs, smiling benignly. “Let an old man have his fun, son. Oh,” he starts, digging into his robe pocket, “Speaking of Horace. Hogwarts letters came. Your’s is heavy, James, perhaps they’ve sent you a spare Captain’s badge?”

****

Remus,

Thank you for your letter. You know that wizard post always changes my day and riles my sister up something awful, so it really is a win-win. It’s been terribly quiet and sad here and I’m just counting down the days to finally moving out. 

Hogwarts book lists have come, did you get yours? Please let me know!! Because I’ve some very exciting news and I’m really, really, really praying it’s not hampered by a stuffy Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff Head Boy. Have you been named? Please! Let me know! 

See you soon,

Your new HEAD GIRL Lily

P.S. This is really quite embarrassing and you’re sworn to secrecy based on our strong foundation of friendship, and I’d ask Mary, but you’re the one with perhaps insider knowledge and insight so… Have you talked to James lately? About me, perhaps?

Attn: Padfoot and Prongs of Potter Manor

I’ve been reading more for the motorbike. I’m wondering if we should replace the metal frame with something from our world for greater protection. I figure one of you Purebloods must have a stash of Goblin steel we could enhance the frame with. What do you think? 

Prongs— How goes it with Lily? I only ask because she asked. About you, that is. And I feel quite in the middle of this and want to know how much to talk about it with her. I had previously thought her a very brilliant witch, but now it’s clear she’s as clueless as you are in this. 

Have you tried that whole ‘honesty’ thing? Have you really talked with her, or have you just, you know, forgotten about all that? I really think she’s taken by you. I’ve never known her to be so careful about someone, and I used to hear her talk about Lake before they dated. This seems different. 

Please don’t fuck this up. I’d hate to have to choose sides if this blows up. She’s been named Head Girl, did she tell you? Be sure to congratulate her next you see her.

Now, James, stop reading as I’ve private business with Sirius to address.

Padfoot—

See above re: my becoming five galleons richer.

Hope you’ve been saving.

Moony

Remus Lupin, Previously of the Marauders, Formerly Known As Moony

I did keep reading, fuck you very much, as it still seems you’re only using me for my good looks, charisma, and charm to make money. I had always hoped it would be a very beautiful witch doing so. Turns out the traitor is my best friend. 

I will take your counsel under consideration. Please know I am trying but we find ourselves in a new and complicated situation, given your previous correspondence. McGongall and Dumbledore are having some sort of episode. Please do not inquire further. Please send me your prefect code book, as I’ve lost the one you knocked from Filch third year and I find myself in need. Again, please respect my privacy in this difficult time.

Formerly your best mate, 

Prongs

P.S. Goblin metal? Hm. I imagine I could find some. I’ll have to read up on what mixing Muggle and Goblin materials would mean.

MOONY

PRONGS MADE HEAD BOY. DUMBLEDORE AND MCGONAGALL OFF THEIR RESPECTIVE ROCKERS. PLEASE SEND ALONG CODE BOOK. LOOKING FOR LOOPHOLES AND ESCAPE.

PADFOOT

P.S. JAMES SAYS DON’T TELL EVANS. I SAY DON’T LET OTHER PEOPLE TELL YOU HOW TO LIVE YOUR LIFE. ARE YOU A WOLF OR A SHEEP, MAN.

__

Moony,

Hello, esteemed and respectable colleague in mischief, maraudering, and now, hallway management. I’m considering ending the embargo I had placed upon our valuable friendship to tell you that I think what Sirius meant is that listening to your good friend (re: me) request you keep one small secret from one fair acquaintance (re: Lily) is actually very punk rock of you, sir, as there’s nothing cooler than helping your very good friends out (re: me not being murdered by Lily upon her discovery of my rather unfortunate new title).

Thank you. Please let me know what course of action you choose to take.

All the best, your true and very good friend (and we’ve been friends longer than you and Evans by at least one week),

Prongs

Lily,

Congratulations seem to be in order! I knew it’d be you, didn’t I tell you? Who else would they have picked? You’ll make a much better Head Girl than poor Helen Hickory last year. I wonder if Mungo’s ever managed to reverse the cosmetic charms she was attempting.

I’ve not been named Head Boy. Let me know when you find out who is. I daresay you’ll have an interesting year.

Now. As for the next part of your letter, I have a few questions of my own. The first is, have you talked to James about you and James? You must know I’ve been on the receiving end of your question but from the opposite perspective a few too many times. I’m thrilled to hear it from you now, in much the same way I still hear it from James. Makes for more interesting times, you see. Does that answer any of your question?

I guess I just want to know, what do you have to lose? What are you waiting for? It’s not like you to hesitate or hold back. What’s really been on your mind? 

You know I can’t betray any confidences I have with James and whether or not he has in fact talked about you, but… I feel as if you couldn’t have made a better, smarter, safer decision than deciding to get to know him more genuinely. Obviously he’s a prat, but he’s one of the most decent people I know. That takes a lot to be nowadays. 

Think carefully, because I know that’s who you are. But I hope you find it in yourself to live as who you want to live as.

Excited to serve as your average Gryffindor Prefect,

Remus

P.S.  I mean it. Please do let me know as soon as you find out who your Head Boy is. 

__

Remus,

Hm. I-- 

Hm.

Thank you,

Lily

****

“You could have mentioned something,” Mary says, flipping through her History of Magic tome. Her eyes flicked to Lily’s, then down again, casual. “I wouldn’t have judged. Would have been ecstatic, actually.”

Lily blots out some heavy ink, trying not to ruin the twenty inches of analysis on changes in the Gringott’s system between 1432 and now. She and Mary were wrapping up school assignments after restocking on school supplies, tote bags full of new textbooks and potion ingredients. Lily doesn’t look up from the splot her essay. “Said something about what?”

“You shagging Potter.”

Lily spills the entire ink jar on her essay. “Oh, blast it— that’s not— eviscerate — that’s not. Um.” She looks back to Mary, who smiles devilishly back at her. “What gave you that idea?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Mary shrugs, her smile bright and playful. “Only you proving me right just there.”

Lily grumbles something along the lines of no such thing that Mary finds easy to ignore, still smiling wide. She throws a crumpled piece of parchment at Lily. Diagon Alley is busy once more, like it wasn’t the scene of a massacre two weeks ago. Fortescue’s radiates that cold, clean, and sweet smell all ice-cream parlors tend to smell. Flourish & Blotts reopened just in time for the booklists. Maybe it’s like how she’s put herself back together after massacres, too. There’s too many to count in the world and for herself for it to seem like an impressive thing anymore. Mary’s still smiling. Lily’s still stalling. Why?

“So?” Mary prompts again, wiggling her eyebrows. “When were you going to say?”

“Um,” Lily looks down. She can’t look at Mary at the same time she admits this shame. “Never, actually.”

“Never?” Mary blinks. “You mean, until school?”

“No. Never,” Lily confesses, mortified. She looks at Mary through her fingers, since she’s hidden her face in her hands. “Never. It wasn’t supposed to go this long. It was just supposed to be this stupid thing!”

Mary’s expression is no longer playful, just thoughtful. Not judgmental, like Lily felt she deserved. 

“Alright,” Mary says, like it was something she could be casually interested in. “So what happened, then?”

“I stuck around too long.”

“Hm,” Mary says, incorporating that cryptic information with what she knows to be true about her best friend. It’s a difficult calculation to make, but the effort’s there. She lets Lily sit in her misery for only a little bit before prodding again. “And what would be the big consequences of you sticking around longer? Finally dating Potter?”

Lily’s eyes open wide, panicked. “We aren’t—”

Mary waves off her interjection. “Obviously, or you wouldn’t be so codgy about shagging him. I just feel it’s inevitable. James is a good bloke, Lily, and completely  head over heels for you, so—”

“He’s not,” Lily says dejectedly. Mary blinks at her in confusion again

“He’s not?”

“He’s—  well, he said he wasn’t.”

“You’re going to have to forgive me for not believing you about that one, considering how many hours I’ve had to listen to James ask—”

“Ah, stop saying his name!” Lily looks behind her shoulder, paranoid a classmate is hovering right behind her. “You don’t need to tell the whole world!”

Mary just shakes her head, remaining infuriatingly calm. “You know I respect your privacy, Lily, even when I don’t understand it. But this secrecy? What is going on with you?”

Lily mumbles something, her arms crossed above her chest. Petulant. Small.

“So sorry, didn’t catch that.”

“It’s embarrassing,” Lily hisses, finally, cheeks red without being sunburnt. She wishes she could Apparate out of here and avoid another dreadful conversation about this problem she’s created. Mary just stares at her. 

“Embarrassing?”

“Embarrassing!” Lily tugs at her hair, running her fingers through thick tresses. “Embarrassing! How could it not be! I’ve spent years being so mean to him only to literally go crawling into his arms the moment I could because I knew he wasn’t seeing anyone else, because I knew he at least used to fancy me. Is that who I am? Some sort of desperate tart who uses people? Have I no pride or decorum or respect?”

“Woah,” Mary breathed. “Slow down, there, Evans, you’ll strain a muscle moving so fast. You’ve never—”

“And it’s more, it’s that—” Lily sits up straighter in her chair, like a puppet with a string so tight it might burst from the tension. “It’s just, this is James Potter we’re talking about here. The same idiot toerag who used to hang second years upside down for a laugh. The same git who used to be absolutely awful to Sev- to anyone he didn’t like. That’s who I fancy?”

“Come on, you know that isn’t James anymore,” Mary corrects reasonably. “Not really since the start of fifth year. Maybe he’s still bad with Snape, but you can’t really blame him, can you? Snape’s always after the boys.”

Lily opens her mouth to defend Sev, an old habit that’s hard to break, but she manages to hold it back. Her defense dies on her tongue, leaving only bitter tastes of other remorse, other shame that’s even more recent.

“And— no, that doesn’t matter.”

Mary raises her eyebrows. “What doesn’t matter?”

Lily wrings her hands, distressed. But she may as well say it, now that she’s already spilled too much truth onto Mary’s lap. Still, it almost hurts to get the words out, sharp needles of prickling shame poking through her cheeks, her chest.

“I guess I never really told you why Thomas and I broke up.”

“I thought it was what made sense,” Mary says, her head tilted to the side in confusion, because that’s what Lily had told her at the start of summer. “He was going abroad for research opportunities anyway.” 

Lily shakes her head. “That wasn’t what we were fighting about for so long. He said—  he said he wasn’t going to compete with James for me. He started getting weird about it, asking why James always bothered me so much even when he wasn’t asking me out anymore, asking why I couldn’t just ignore him, and then he started getting weird about whenever James and I did get along, like that was  even worse. I don’t know.” Lily sighs, puffing her bangs up and away from her face. “Things weren’t ever going to be forever with Thomas, and I guess I was getting distant... I was confused. I wasn’t happy. I knew something was wrong and I couldn’t figure out what. But Thomas thought James was the reason, and I don’t know if he was wrong to think that.” She paused, looking to Mary, hands still clenched tightly together, a woven art of fingers and nails leaving crescent shaped marks on her palms. “Summer started and Thomas dumped me and what’s the very next thing I do? Run into James Potter and immediately prove him right.”

“Oh, Lily,” Mary tuts sympathetically. “That’s… wow.”

“I know,” Lily agrees miserably. “I’ve made a huge mess of things and along the way I dragged James into something I still don’t understand.” 

“You haven’t,” Mary shakes her head. Lily can tell she’s trying to hide a smile. At least someone’s entertained by her treachery. “You haven’t made a huge mess. Of course you’re still trying to figure things out. Let me see if I got this right.” She ticks off her fingers as she talks like a simple grocery list, simplifying Lily’s entire life choices before her. “Sixth year starts. Thomas finally asks you out. James leaves you alone after that horrible fight after OWLs. Things go well with Thomas. James cools his jets and can actually hold a conversation with you without either one of you going off the deep end. That means something,” Mary says, nodding sagely with her fingers still in the air holding court. “You start realizing, ‘Hey, maybe Lake is actually a boring snob and isn’t as fit as Potter over there—’,” She stops, smirking, seeing Lily’s deadpan expression. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to editorialize, but one can assume it’s accuracy.”

“One cannot.”

“Sure,” Mary cedes, not at all abashed. “So Thomas picks up on what you’ve managed to hide beneath seven layers of repression and pressures you about it. Of course you’re going to be confused. And of course you’re going to be hurt when he breaks it off, even though Lake is a boring snob who isn’t nearly as fit as James.” She pauses to let Lily contradict her, but Lily doesn’t, which only goes to prove her right. “And then you had to be a proper prat about it and not tell anyone about what you were really thinking or feeling. And, well, I don’t actually know how the rest goes. How’d you end up crawling into his bed again?”

Lily mumbles something again, cheeks a bright red. 

“Again, Lily, the mumbling.”

“The Leaky Cauldron,” Lily admits with painful mortification, eyes skyward, praying for redemption or retribution, whichever would come faster. Mary’s face lit up with glee.

“The Leaky Cauldron? As in, the Sleazy Cauldron? Oh, Lily,” she put her hand on her heart affectionately. “I’ve never been so proud.”

“I didn’t plan on it!” Lily defends herself. “It just, you know, happened.”

“Sure, sure,” Mary says again, sweet laughter in her voice, sweet laughter on her lips. It’s contagious. Lily smiles, too. It feels good to smile again in the daylight. She has two people who can do that for her. 

“The question really isn’t about what’s already happened,” Mary tells her as they walk towards the Leaky Cauldron to Apparate home. “The question is what’s going to happen. You seem like you again, Lily,” she says, quiet. It gives Lily pause. “I feel like I’ve got James to thank for that. Are you willing to give that up over some rules you set for yourself at the start of summer? Are you willing to let it go just because you don’t know what’s the smart decision here?”

****

Lily’s thinking. It is, she believes, the prerequisite to talking, which is what she knows is coming next.

She’s thinking about the stupid rules she asked him to follow at the start of the summer. She’s thinking about how she broke her own stupid rules and about how maybe James is more than just a decent bloke, maybe he treats her the way he does because he’s broken a few of those rules, too. She’s thinking about how maybe they can keep doing this at school. She’s thinking that there isn’t a lot of difference between his home and the boy’s dormitory and that they’ve been fine living in the shadows this long anyway. She’ll be busy with Head Girl duties and he’ll be busy with Quidditch; they could return to living separate lives like before, but keep this fun thing going for just a while longer. Then they could figure out the rest at school.

She’s thinking about how she isn’t ready to have him but isn’t ready to lose him, either, so it really is about buying more time. If this is the love she fears it is, then in a few months, it’ll be gone or grow stronger. She’s thinking that the pain of burning herself out will be more bearable than the explosion that would ensue if she ever loses him. 

In short, she’s thinking. Or stalling. What’s the difference?

“Had an idea,” Lily starts, climbing in the window that James cracked open for her the moment he heard the lattice shift outside. He grips her hand, pulls her through the window, pulls her towards him until the back of his knees hit his bed and he’s hugging her loosely, hands crossed at her lower back. She stands, arms on James’ shoulders. Matches his smile. Her plan can work. Nothing needs to change. Nothing needs to change and nothing bad needs to happen, because no one can touch them if no one knows about them. Nothing can touch them if there’s still nothing there to be touched. 

“A brilliant one, I’m sure,” James says, loping grin crawling up his cheek to reveal sharp teeth below the curve of his mouth. 

“About the motorbike,” she clarifies, turning slightly to check that the plans are still on his desk. She leaves him to consult with the sketch.

“Ah, of course,” James sighs, falling dramatically against his comforter. “That’s all you and Sirius care about these days. No time left for dear old me. I’m going to wither away while the two of you abscond away on the coolest bloody bike in the world and forget me on the ground.” 

Her back is turned to him, but she trusts he senses her eye roll. “A tragic and unexpected demise for you. Very undignified.”

James gets hooked on another tangent about how Sirius suggested a sidecar— she sees it penciled in on the drawing— as Lily jots down a few thoughts  on creating a navigation system. Something happens when she puts the plans back down on the desk, though. He fingers brush something heavy and cold and familiar. She moves the motorbike plans to the side.

“James,” Lily breathes out, staring at the offensive object. “What is this?”

“Hm?” He asks lazily from the bed, apparently unconcerned with the quiet panic in her voice. Lily picks it up, cups it in one of her palms. 

James.”

He sits back up, finally sensing is truly wrong. “What?”

She picks it up, a tiny thing for how heavy it feels in her hand when she turns back to him, holding it out in her palm for him to see. But of course he knows what it is, because it was hidden on his desk and he’s the one who hid it there.

The red and gold pin had the words Head Boy written in neat font. It was exactly like the pin sitting proudly on her bedside table reading Head Girl. 

His eyes flash between her eyes, the badge, and back again. Guilty.

“How long have you known?” She asks in a hushed whisper, eyes making similar loops between him and the badge. He manages to hold her eyes steady now, though. He looks very serious all of a sudden. He looks too solemn.

“As long as you’ve known, too,” he says confirming what she’d feared. He knew they were about to be Head Girl and Head Boy, he’d had time to prepare himself, and didn’t warn her.

She stares at the badge. Stares at him. Too many things clammer in her head, too inconsistent with the plan she’d just thought of, too inconsistent with the image of who they were together. James Potter, Head Boy. She looks at him, looking at her. Why did it take this to realize how serious this is? Why did it take a stupid badge to realize who James is? They both got tied up in something bigger than they could handle, and Lily thinks this will be the breaking point.

Several things happen at once. James stands up as Lily drops the badge, backing away towards the window. 

“Lily—“

“I have to go,” she breathes out, reaching for the window pane, but James is blocking her.

“Lily,” he repeats, desperate. “Wait. Stay.”

James, her usual escape, is blocking her exit. She does the next logical thing. She makes a beeline for his bedroom door.

Lily— !”

But he’s too late. She’s flung open the heavy door, the first time she’s allowed herself into the house proper. She clocks the stairs to her right and darts as quickly as she can towards them, hearing James right behind her. Down the stairs is a living room, and in the living room is—

“Hello, Evans,” Sirius comments mildly from his place on the bench near the window. She’s stumbled into what must be a common thing here— Sirius lounging with a book and someone who must be James’ mother writing something by candlelight. She didn’t look up at the ruckus, but did look up as soon as Sirius said her name. Mrs. Potter looks amused more than anything else. 

“Hello, dear,” Mrs. Potter says pleasantly, like many girls have burst into her home like this before. She hears James at the stairs now, taking them two at a time.

Lily looks between the two of them. “Door?” 

“Just there,” Mrs. Potter points down a hallway. “Nice meeting you!” She calls out as Lily starts her next escape. Behind her, she hears Mrs. Potter say, “James, darling, I’ve just met Lily—“

“Later, Mum!”

She swings the door open and finds the back garden. She doesn’t have time to slam it behind her, knows James is hot on her heels, but she knows this garden too well, knows that the gate is just there around the hedge.

“Lily.”

He says it simply. He says it with all the gravity of the situation, a quiet plea of earnest desperation. He doesn’t yell her name or grab her here at the gate, even though she knows he could. The only reason she got here faster than him was because he let her. The only reason he followed her was because he knows her enough to know this is something she has to do, something she has to face. 

She wants to open the gate. She wants to run into his arms. 

What she does instead is simply turn around. She doesn’t bother hiding the tears that have been streaming down her cheeks.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Lily asks, trying to ignore how hurt she sounded. “We’ve known for a week. When were you going to say?” Her eyes are narrowed at him. Anger’s usually easier to deal with before anything else. “Or were you just going to let me show up on the train like a complete fool for a laugh?”

“For a laugh?” James’ eyes widen at her glare, surprised or offended, she can’t tell. “I’d never—“

“Then why!” 

“Maybe because I knew you’d do something like this!” James says, standing very still against the hedge, holding her gaze steady. “Because anytime anything happens that you don’t understand or can’t control, you’re out the door before I can get a word in edgewise.”

She ignores that jab. It’s true. She doesn’t have a defense.

“It just wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Lily shakes her head, hand pulling at her hair, staring at James. “It was supposed to be simple. We had one rule.”

“About that,” James starts, but Lily keeps going, because if she stops now, she’ll leave with more regrets than she could possibly count. 

“It was supposed to end! We were supposed to go our separate ways again, not spend more time together, and you weren’t supposed to change any more than you already have, and I was supposed to forget that you existed long enough to put myself back together.”

“I— wait, what?”

“I can’t do this.” she shakes her head, tears falling out. “I can’t, I thought I could but I can’t, I just— It’s just.” Her hands grip her hair, pulling, like she’s seen him do. The look she gives him is haunting, eyes wide.

“My god, James, I’ve been so in love with you this whole summer. I couldn’t even follow the one rule I told you to. Isn’t that awful? Isn’t that just horrible?”

James stares back at her, eyes open wider than she’d ever seen, eyes open wide enough to take her all in. Enough to see exactly what she’d been trying to hide from him all summer. But then he isn’t still anymore and isn’t just gaping at her, then he’s nearly atop of her, taking the few long strides he needs to be right there with her, hands cupping her cheeks, forehead leaning down near hers.

James is smiling. James isn’t shocked, or offended, or gone away. James Potter looks back at her red-eyes, grin as sharp and pleased as the devil. 

“Not as horrible as telling you I couldn’t follow that one rule, either,” he says, frantic energy radiating off him with in waves. She feels it the same she’d feel if his fingers were electric. “Not as horrible as telling you I’ve been in love with you this whole summer, too.”

Lily looks into his eyes, sees the color in them move like molten gold, sees what she didn’t want to believe this whole time. Her own lips crack into a smile, bright, genuine, whole. Two sparks of electricity nearly catching fire in the best way possible. 

“Lily Evans,” he starts again, showing off those too white teeth. “You had to have known how impossible I find it to follow any rule.”

That’s all he can get in edgewise before her lips are on his, desperate and desperately happy , desperately satisfied with the fact that something has gone right for her. This stupid, stupid game they’ve been playing around each other can stop. They’ve both lost and James has never been happier at that outcome. Between kisses, she hears him mumble things like, “It was a shit rule, anyway,” and “Impossible. Meant to be broken.”

Lily agrees and tells him as much. In the morning, she stays, with no other reason than to stay, to chose now, to be here. James complains something awful when she does leave.

“I’ll be back,” she tells him after a long, slow kiss that had her wanting to follow his plea despite her plan. “I promise.”

“Alright,” James smiles back at her. He couldn’t keep his pout on, not when he looks at her, not when she’s smiling back at him like that. “Alright.”

****

Lily Evans makes the smart decision. 

There, on that last day of summer, Lily Evans Apparates back to the Potter manor. Instead of heading down the path out the gate that leads to the back garden, she takes a new route— the one to the front door.

“Look at that,” Sirius comments after she’d finished chatting with Mr. and Mrs. Potter in the kitchen, giving Mrs. Potter several profuse apologies for bursting unceremoniously into her home the night before. “I was willing to accept James’ bedroom door as a step above the window, but you actually followed through.”

“You’ll find I’m full of surprises, Black,” Lily tells him with playful haughtiness, hands behind her back. 

He raises an eyebrow, sensing mischief like he was trained to sniff it out. “Like what?”

“Like this!” She says cheerfully back, happy he took the bait. Lily hands the wrapped package to Sirius, who stares at it suspiciously. “Open it.”

He does. Inside is a book: Zauber’s Theories on Complex Interactions for Wizards Who Want it Simple. Sirius stares at the cover and at the elderly witch staring kindly back at him before flicking his eyes back up to Lily, then back to the book. After a beat, he lets out a bark of laughter, tilting his head completely back, silken hair tossed over his shoulders.

“Fuck off, Evans,” he says jovially, smiling.

“Language, Sirius,” Mrs. Potter chimes in from the kitchen.

“Shit. Sorry, Mrs. Potter!”

Lily laughs when she hears both Mr. and Mrs. Potter sigh loudly.

Sirius just shakes his head, getting up from his comfortable position reclined on the couch. He leaves behind his novel in favor of his new gift. “Leave it to you to be too afraid to go off book.”

“Afraid?” Lily cuts back, following Sirius up the stairs, because Sirius stood up with the book in hand to immediately implement it. “I’m not afraid to go off book, I’m afraid of what sort of unholy arcane combustion is going to result from your careless spell combinations.”

“Where’s the imagination? Where’s the art?” Sirius questions with a sophisticated air before kicking open James' door, the second time in recent history it’s been flung open unceremoniously. Sirius makes immediate use of the book by throwing it at James, who went back to sleep when Lily headed out only a few hours ago. “Oi! Prongs! Wake up! We’ve got work to do!”

James, despite being unceremoniously awoken by Zauber’s Theories of all things, finds he isn’t bothered in the least by Sirius’ tastes in alarm clocks, because he gets to spend the rest of the day with Lily and Sirius who won’t stop bickering back and forth about charms, the composition of magic and Muggle material needed to maintain both magical and Muggle integrity, and anything else that came up. It filled him with more joy than anything he’d felt before, far surpassing winning the Quidditch Cup last year. He tucks the memory away, safe, to be called upon whenever he may please. 

Poor Plutarch makes the rounds that day, delivering notices to Remus and Peter and Mary about plans to meet up at where else but at the Leaky Cauldron that night to toast the end of their final summer. 

“Cheers,” Remus smiles, too knowing, when he showed up at their table with a Butterbeer in hand. He quips an eyebrow up at Lily, smirking at James’ arm slung lazily, casually, familiarly across her shoulders as he chats animatedly with Mary. “Lily. Glad to see you looking well.”

“And you,” Lily grins widely back, refusing to feel abashed, just joyful.

“Yes, I’m very well,” Remus comments mildly, sliding in the long booth. “Especially as I’ve recently come across some extra spare change. Sirius?”

Sirius grumbles bitterly as he fishes in his pocket for Remus’ rightfully won remaining Galleons. James covers his face with his hand while Lily looks on curiously.

“Really, guys, you couldn’t wait to do this later—“

“Do what later?” Lily asks, looking between James and Sirius and Peter for answers that James clearly didn’t want given. 

“Collect my winnings,” Remus grins, pale face flush with color and life in a way Lily doesn’t often see. “Next round's on Sirius!”

Peter shows up a little later, sporting a bandaged hand.

“Plutarch is a menace,” he says, filling in the rest of the booth, knocking about all the Butterbeer bottles which clink merrily to the disruption. “Honestly, James, tame that bird. Just because he didn’t like the only brand of treats Mum keeps in the house— Did I miss something?” Peter asks, finally noticing the curiosity of their company including more than just the boys, including a Lily who is leaning comfortably into James, leaving no room for interpretation or secrecy. 

Mary just laughs. 

“Oh, come on,” Peter pouts. “I say one time that I think a flying motorbike is a bad idea, and I get excommunicated from all news for the summer?”

“Disloyalty earns nothing, mate,” James says loftily. 

Sirius pats him consolingly on his arm. “S’alright, Pete, we all say stupid things like that sometimes.”

“Flying motorbike?” Mary asks.

“I promise, you’re really better not knowing,” Remus tells her.

“It’s no longer a bad idea,” Lily chimes in, smiling widely at Peter. “I’ve fixed all the mistakes on the plans.”

“Mistakes?” Sirius says with offense. “Blasphemous. Evans took all the fun and finesse—“

Please—“ They start again, an exchange that James, again, does nothing but enjoy. 

The evening winds down and comes to and end, as all pleasant nights tend to do. When it’s just James and Lily left, feeling warm and bubbly from more than just Butterbeer, he looks at her, twirling a strand of her hair around his fingers, arm still over her shoulder. 

“What now, Evans?” He grins, remembering her words from the start of the summer. “Wanna do something stupid?”

“Hm,” she muses, grinning too, because that’s hard not to do when it comes to James. “Don’t think so. I think I’m going to go home.”

“Home?” He asks, genuinely surprised. “Nonsense. Stay!”

“Can’t,” she shakes her head. “I’ve got to, you know, pack. For school. Which I know you aren’t packed for, either. The train leaves in,” she checks the watch on the wrist that’s hanging off her shoulder and playing with her hair, “less than twelve hours now.”

James scoffs playfully, fully knowing he can’t win this one. “School can wait.”

“It can’t,” she says back, smiling fondly at him. “In fact, I think I’m ready for tonight to end just so school can come faster.”

“Oh, really? Big year ahead?”

“Mhm,” she nods, foreheads close together. “I’m Head Girl, you know. And though I hear the Head Boy is a bit of a prat, I also hear he’s really, really fit.”

“Is he now?” James asks, trying (failing) to look serious. “That’s funny, because I heard the Head Girl’s something to behold. Some say it’s because she’s pretty (which is true), but I think it has more to do with the fact that she’s a bit of a rule breaker.”

“Well sounds like a pretty good match for you,” she says, taking him in, smiles and casual touch and more, more, more. “I’m just looking forward to seeing my boyfriend again tomorrow.”

The hand twirling her hair stops its playfulness. That’s the only sign she gets that he’s impacted by what she’s saying, because the rest of him is suave as can be. “Boyfriend? What’s he like?”

Lily shrugs. “Much the same as me. Fit, doesn’t always follow the rules. Good, though, which is what matters.” Her eyes flicker down to his lips, then back to his eyes. She cups his cheek with one hand, fully focused on him. “He’s good. He’s good and I love him.”

James melts, obviously. He can’t not after the summer they’ve had, which he’s also ready to say goodbye to in ways he hasn’t been ready to say goodbye to blissful summers past. 

“Call me corrupted by the title,” James grins, “But suddenly I’m very ready to go back to school as well.”

He kisses her, once, because it’s been a long summer and everything’s worked out just fine. She giggles as he does so and she smiles against his lips in a way he knows is special, he knows is for him. 

He kisses her twice, because everything’s alright. They’ve both waited for so long to know that the truth was he only ever wanted her and she only ever wanted him . This kiss isn’t about smiles but about dragging it out as long as possible, slow and rewarding. 

He kisses her three times, just because he can, just because he’s waited for what feels like his whole life to do just this, to just be with Lily Evans. This one isn’t about smiling or giggling but about a long and storied future hanging before them, ready for the taking.

By the time they head out to the Apparation point, Lily Evans may have forgotten what she’d said before about not staying, because it does take a good few minutes of snogging in the back corner where they’d first done so before James recovers enough of his senses to pull up and away. 

“I thought we weren’t going to do anything stupid.”

“Changed my mind,” Lily says. It’s a very easy thing for him to accept with her mouth at his jaw like that, but James Potter practiced nothing but restraint this summer and is well prepared to de-tangle himself from her, backing away with a wide, wide, smirk on his face at her offended expression. 

“I promised my girlfriend I’d be packed and ready for the train tomorrow— oh, today,” James corrects, checking his watch, then looking back at her. “I’d really hate to disappoint her.”

“That would be unfortunate,” she cedes, leaning against the brick wall they’d favored over the others. She looks at him, really looks at him, and feels just some of that summer sadness creep up when she says, “School’s going to be so different.”

“It will be,” James agrees. “Are you ready for that? Because I’m not keeping this a secret, Evans. I’m done with the sneaking around.”

“I know,” she shrugs, but he believes her when she says, “I’m done with the secrets, too.”

“Good. That’s good,” he says, taking a few steps back, because restraint is a practiced skill but one he still needs work on when it comes to Lily Evans, so he’s trying to put as much distance between them so they can make tomorrow happen. She believes him when he stands still and reminds her why everything was worth it, starting with a soft smile, “I’m leaving.”

“Well, carry on with it, then.”

He backs further away, hands in his pockets. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she smiles, equally soft, before quirking an eyebrow up. “Aren’t you supposed to be leaving?”

“Right,” James blinks, like he’d genuinely forgotten. “See ya around, then, Evans.”

“Potter,” she sends him off with a playful solute before she Apparates home herself, saying a joyful goodbye to this cruel summer and ready, for once, for whatever mischief James Potter has planned for this year and beyond. In this moment, Lily Evans is thankful for every stupid decision she’s made before that helped bring her here.