“I don’t need you, James,” She says, exasperated, pacing back and forth, gesturing wildly in front of the immovable boy stood watching. “Stop trying to save me. Stop asking me out, stop trying to talk to me, stop smiling at me, stop carrying my books, and stop being nice to my friends,” She lists off, turning to stare insolently at her companion (who, between you and I, looks no more concerned about her outburst than he does about most things, though his impassivity is engineered.) For a moment he thinks, or hopes, that she is finished, though she has never given him such a short speech in the past. There is a tenuous silence in the room, broken only by the rustle of papers and the whistling sound of a thread of breeze, filtering though the open window from the cold Scottish winter outside.
She is still looking at him, and in a dull stab he realises she is merely building up to the next outburst. He remains where he is, resigned to another ten minutes of reprimanding. As if on cue, she begins again:
“Stop looking at me at mealtimes and offering to be my partner in class, stop turning up at the oddest moments to pull me out of trick steps,” (at this, he smiles a little wistfully; the Marauders’ Map does come in handy sometimes, doesn’t it?), “Stop reminding me of the Gryffindor password, stop doing my patrols for me, stop trying to include me in your conversations at prefect meetings, stop trying to teach me about Quidditch when we’re working on Heads’ duties and stop looking at me like that,” She exclaims, throwing her arms in the air, and he wonders how he’s managed to offend her simply with an expression. It’s an impressive feat, even for him. He is barely registering the meaning of what she’s saying, barely taking in anything more than the movement of her lips, the curve of her jaw, the light of her eyes. That is, until she continues, more resigned, more dejected than he has heard her sound in a long time.
“I want you to leave me alone, not because I hate you or because I never want to see you again but because every time I look at you I am reminded of all the times I will have to reject you in the future, and I am sick of always saying no,” She sighs. “I am tired of giving the same answer every time. It’s not going to change, James. Not now, not ever. Making me repeat it every week is only going to drive me crazy and make me resent you the way I used to, the way I don’t anymore. You should give up on me, for your sanity as well as mine.”
There is a pause, before she finishes, “Let’s be friends. We’re good at that.”
There it is again. Friends. That disgusting word she throws at him from time-to-time, knowing that it’s the last thing he wants to hear. He wants to grab her by the shoulders and shake her until she sees sense. He wants to pick her up and take her outside, plonk her down by the lake and not let her go until she falls in love with him. She makes him want to shout, she makes him want to sing love songs and write rubbish poetry, she makes him want to break every valuable thing he owns, including his broom.
But he doesn’t do any of these things. Instead, he comprehends that she is finally finished, and he nods. Then he leaves, without a word.
She’s said ‘no’. Again. And it is almost more than he can bear.
He is running. Every footstep is one of her words, one of her rejections. Every heartbeat is a spark, every breath feeding his broken heart. He is running, because when he runs he thinks of her, and what could be. When he runs, he feels nothing but the pounding of his feet on the grass of the Quidditch pitch, the rush of the wind around his ears and through his hair, the sweat trickling down his back and the sound of her voice.
Today though, he is distracted. He runs carelessly, stumbling every so often on uneven ground, cursing his inattention. She really got to him, this time.
He can’t bear to watch her say ‘no’ to everything. He is angry with her, not just because she rejects him on a regular basis, but because she rejects everything. She needs to learn how to live.
He catches his foot on a particularly rough patch of turf and, as if in slow motion, falls, arms wind-milling, the distance between him and the ground somehow stretched, enlarged, infinitely greater than he’d thought it to be. When he finally hits the ground (the solid earth impacting his right shoulder with a crack) he does not move. He simply lies there, looking at the sky, and the clouds, cradling his shoulder, exploring the pain. The dull ache spreading from his collarbone to his elbow feels nothing more than a scratch compared to his frustration with Lily.
He drags himself, lopsided, up from the ground and sets off towards the Hospital Wing to get his shoulder set back in place. It will be the third time this week Nurse Davies has dealt with him, and she won’t be happy. He pictures her tight-lipped, disapproving look with satisfaction. Since becoming Head Boy, he’s been relatively thoughtful. He rarely irritates teachers anymore, so when a legitimate excuse presents itself he enjoys making the most of it.
He looks up, confused, as he realises his feet have led him to the Gryffindor Common Room instead of the Hospital Wing.
“Well?” Comes the voice of the Fat Lady, sounding slightly peeved.
“Er…fortes fortuna adiuvat,” He says, regretting his terrible pronunciation and cursing the tradition of choosing Latin passwords for the Gryffindor tower.
The portrait swings open and he climbs awkwardly into the common room, holding his swelling shoulder in his left hand and wincing. He is about to make his way to the boys’ dormitories to clean himself up before going to the Hospital Wing, when he glances towards the fire and catches sight of a head of auburn hair, reading quietly before the flames. Instantly, the frustration that has been bubbling inside of him since their argument earlier boils over, and he marches, well, ambles, over to her, his face set.
She looks up, taking in his bleeding eyebrow, his swelling shoulder, his mud and grass-stain covered clothes and gasps.
“James, what happened?”
He waves a dismissive hand, ignoring her concern and instead launching into a tirade of his own.
“You know what? One day you’re going to wake up and realise what you’ve lost. You’re going to be old and alone and scared, and you’ll wish that you’d said ‘yes’ – just once,” He begins, and her mouth falls open in shock. He isn’t shouting, but his voice is loud and accusing. He is lecturing her, reprimanding her back. She is startled. He never does this.
He is aching all over, pain is spreading from his shoulder into his neck and down his arm into his finger tips, but now he has begun, all the things he has wanted to say come rushing out.
“I’m not going to be here forever. I’m not going to wait for you forever. It might be weeks or months or years, but one day I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be different, one day I’m just going to give up. You know that, right? Because it’s too hard to watch you fuck yourself over everyday. It’s too hard to let you make yourself into something you never intended to be. I can’t watch you become a sad, lonely, miserable old woman,” He pauses, breathing heavily through the pain and the release of finally being truthful with her. Finally telling her what he really thinks, instead of keeping quiet.
“I’d rather not watch you at all than see you become that. Saying ‘no’ forever is only going to lead you to one thing Lily, and that’s loneliness. In twenty, thirty years, do you really think people are going to champion you for letting go of the greatest thing you’ll ever be offered?”
At this, she scoffs, which only succeeds in frustrating him more.
“I’m not talking about me, Lily; I’m not talking about that guy, or that guy,” He says, pointing at random people sitting in the common room, “Or someone you haven’t met yet. I’m talking about love. Falling for someone, and not in a stupid teenager way. I mean it in a big, real, scary, wonderful way. It might not be me, and I’m not telling you that it is. But if you never start saying ‘yes’, then you’ll never find out if it could be.”
She is silent, watching him with wide eyes and a pale face.
“You don’t have to listen to me; I don’t have much hope that you will. But if you take nothing else from this, understand that patience, and love, are finite. You won’t be offered them forever. Take them while you can, or lose them,” He finishes, turning towards the portrait hole to leave. As he reaches the gap he turns back, “I’ll be in the hospital wing. Don’t visit me.”
And then he is gone.
She abides by his wishes and doesn’t visit him while he’s holed up in the hospital wing, though he is there nearly three days and the worry nearly kills her.
His speech makes more of an impression on her than he imagines at the time. After he leaves, she sits in the same spot for hours, contemplating how often she says ‘no’, how much she misses out on- parties, jokes, friends, fun, because she never accepts an invitation to Hogsmeade, or the Room of Requirement. She thinks about her relationship with James, how she loves having him around, how he makes her laugh, how he is always there, just when she needs him. And she realises, for the first time perhaps, that he is telling the truth. He won’t be there forever, if she never gives him a chance. She thinks to herself that it will be a lonely day when James Potter leaves her side, and is instantly filled with a need to go and find him, tell him that she is giving him a chance, giving herself a chance.
After all, what does she have to lose except her own loneliness?
She remembers that she is not supposed to visit him though, and begins to concoct an ingenious plan to tell him that she has changed her mind.
The next day, she hears from Sirius Black that James won’t be released for another two days, and she has an idea. The next evening, she runs up to the Hospital Wing as a detour from her usual patrol (which is remarkably lonely without Potter), and chalks a big, “YES,” on the flagstones outside the double doors. She is sure he will see it when he is let out the next morning, and goes to bed content.
She sits at breakfast the next morning with her heart in her mouth, waiting, waiting, for him to enter the Great Hall. When he does, she is so surprised she almost falls off her seat. He is beautiful; rejuvenated, fresh, happy. She knows it is just her imagination, but it seems as though he is glowing, emitting an aura this morning. She wonders how she never noticed it before.
He takes a seat amidst his friends, and they welcome him back good-naturedly. She is still looking at him hopefully, wistfully, expecting him to look up at her any moment and give her a sign that he saw her message, but as the minutes pass and people begin to filter out of the hall to their classes she is forced to accept that he simply didn’t.
She slouches, and thinks about another way to tell him.
Later, in potions, they are partnered together by a stroke of luck. He barely speaks to her though, busying himself with ingredients and she is distraught. The easy friendship they had shared is gone, and she laments it immediately.
She tears off a scrap of parchment while he is in the store cupboard, scrawling, “Yes,” on it and leaving it on his desk before he sees. She watches out of the corner of her eye as he returns and, without even noticing the note, puts down a leaking flask of green liquid on top of it. She watches as he uncorks the bottle and measures out enough for the potion. She can see the underside of the note, stuck to the bottom of the glass, and hopes for a moment that all is not lost. If he empties the flask, he will see the, “Yes,” through the clear glass. She waits with held breath, as he finishes measuring and puts the flask back down, a clear inch of green liquid remaining in the bottom.
“Damn,” She whispers, and he looks up, brow raised.
“I…caught my finger on the flame,” She says lamely, as he turns away, barely listening to her.
They finish up their potion and part ways silently, him enjoying the use of his shoulder again and the freedom afforded him by the hallways instead of the Hospital Wing, her thinking hard about what to do. How can she tell him before it is too late?
Is it already too late?
This is it- her final plan. He has to notice this one. It’s completely obvious, there is no way he can miss it this time.
She is waiting outside the doors of the Defence Against the Dark Arts room with the rest of her classmates, wand in hand. She can see him further down the corridor, playing exuberantly with his stolen snitch, laughing with his friends. As the class begins to file into the dimly lit room, she hangs behind until the only remaining students in the corridor are herself and the Marauders, and she enters quietly, casting her spell behind her as she goes.
There, in the doorway, is a word written in magical ribbon. “Yes.”
He will walk straight into it, there is simply no way he can miss it. No way.
She hears the laughter and their footsteps getting closer, sees the black of his hair and the red of his tie rounding the corner and slumps. She has failed again.
He’s walking backwards, throwing and catching the snitch with Sirius Black.
At the moment the back of his head makes contact with the ribbon, it disappears, and he turns, oblivious, to take his seat in class.
She sits at dinner, completely out of ideas. People talk to her, but she barely registers them. As far as she can tell, there is only on option left to her, and it is not an appealing one at all.
She’s going to have to tell him. Face-to-face.
The thought fills her with fear. Not only will she be making herself vulnerable, but she’ll be admitting he was right all along.
And that has definitely never happened before.
She waits as long as she possibly can (a grand total of two more days), before admitting that it is the only way.
She marches up to him in the Entrance Hall, just as lunch is beginning, and without greeting him or asking about his shoulder, says “Yes,” as loudly as she can. He looks at her with raised eyebrows, confused.
“What?” He asks, looking around him as though he’s missed something important.
“Yes,” She says again. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”
“What are you talking about?” He says, lowering his voice and regarding her warily. She takes a deep breath.
“Yes to Hogsmeade. Yes to studying in the library. Yes to you teaching me how to play Quidditch. Yes to patrolling together. Yes to you holding my hand in public, yes to me hanging out with your friends, yes to everything.”
At this his mouth drops open and he takes a few paces backwards, shock evident on his face. “Wait, have you gone crazy?” He asks loudly, but she just smiles.
“No,” She answers simply. “I’m just saying yes, finally.”
There is a long pause in which James tries to comprehend what she is telling him.
“You’re…you’re accepting me?” He asks finally, frowning. She laughs a musical, lyrical sound, and smiles at him. This is easier than she’d imagined, telling the truth is a great thing.
“YES,” She exclaims in mock-annoyance. “I tried to tell you in a hundred different subtle ways, but you ruined them all. So here I am. Yes. Yes. Yes.”
He is very still, looking at her as though she is insane. He seems to be working something out in his head; she can almost see the cogs turning, the machine churning out answers, none satisfactory or compliant with the image of her stood before him saying all these wonderful things.
“But, I didn’t ask you,” He says eventually, slowly.
“I didn’t ask you anything. You can’t say yes to a non-existent proposal,” He says, his brow still furrowed, his expression still confused, no trace of amusement in his mouth.
“Are you joking?” Lily asks shakily. Instantly all the freedom she felt telling the truth is gone and she is left feeling empty and humiliated.
“This is the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me,” James says with a slow smile, and all of a sudden she realises he is teasing her. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“James Potter, if you don’t ask me right now-” She growls, irritated by his games, embarrassed that he got her once again. He laughs as she crosses her arms and gives him her sternest look.
“Fine!” He says, holding his hands up in defeat. “This is totally not how I’d pictured this…”
“Oh, fine,” He mutters, sticking a hand into his messy, silly hair and scrunching up his face before looking at her. Her knees go a little shaky. “Lily, do you want to…I dunno. Sit with me at lunch today?” He asks abruptly.
She is stumped. Of all the things she’d thought he’d say, that was not one she’d expected.
“Well, that’s romantic,” She says sarcastically. He opens his mouth in protest, shaking his head in disbelief at her.
“What? You didn’t give me any time to prepare!”
“Try again,” She says.
“What!?” He exclaims, looking at her as though she’s sprouted another head. “No. No, just say yes and let’s go. I’m starving.”
She squares up to him, arms crossed. “I’m not saying yes to that. That was the least appealing proposition I’ve ever heard.”
“You are completely insane,” He complains.
“Ask me something else,” She orders stubbornly.
“Did you fall down this morning? Maybe hit your head on a big rock? Do you have concussion?” He replies insolently, but only receives her best warning stare.
He sighs. “Alright, er…How about a wander around the lake later? We can chuck stuff at the squid. I’ve got new dungbombs.” He looks up hopefully as he finishes, but her expression is one of disbelief.
“What is wrong with you?”
“What?” He says, offended. “That’s fun! What’s wrong with you?”
“James-” She begins, taking a step towards him, but he backs away, irked.
“There’s no pleasing you! What do you want me to do, get down on my knees and beg you to date me?” He asks slightly dramatically.
“Yes,” Lily says, deadpan. He stops, mid-sentence.
“Yes,” She repeats. He laughs in a confused, sceptical manner.
“Oh, come onnnn,” She says playfully. He folds his arms and shakes his head.
“No. No way.”
“I have my dignity to protect,” He replies, thinking to himself that the girl of his dreams might, in fact, turn out to be a little bit crazy.
“You don’t have any dignity,” She counters immediately.
“Yes I do.”
“No you don’t,” She laughs.
“Yes I do!” He says indignantly.
“No you don’t.”
“Look, can we just go to lunch? Please?” He asks, as his stomach gives an almighty rumble. She looks startled by the noise.
“Fine,” She answers, turning towards the Great Hall, “But you’d better think of something more appealing to ask me while you’re eating.”
“Fine,” He says, following her to the Gryffindor table.
“So, thought of anything?” She asks as they get up to leave the Hall, filled with cucumber sandwiches and pumpkin juice. He yawns, feeling sleepy as one often does after lunchtime.
“I’ve got an idea, yeah,” He says eventually. She turns to look at him, eyebrows raised, expectantly.
“Well go on then, ask me-” She begins, but is interrupted as he grabs her by the forearm and pulls her roughly to him, flushing a little as he bows his head to hers. She is frightened and exhilarated all at once; shivering from the feel of his coarse hand on the back of her neck, the whispering breath on her cheek, the feel of his lips on her own. He is shaking slightly as he steps away from her, looking at her nervously, wondering if what he just did was allowed.
She is breathless.
The Hall is filled with whooping and cat-calling, clapping and rude comments and though she is whispering, he hears her perfectly.
“That wasn’t a question.”
He laughs a little, relieved she accepted it, glad she hasn’t hexed him.
“Yes it was,” He responds.
“Shut up,” He says quietly, taking her hand and pressing a kiss to her forehead.
“Yes then,” He hears her answer as they leave the hall, hand-in-hand, finally taking their walk around the lake.
If they have time, maybe they’ll throw things at the squid. He has a brand new pack of Dungbombs, you know.