With a sharp gasp, Lily sat straight up in her bed, her eyes wide and terrified. It took her three seconds to adjust to the light. Another two to realize she wasn’t in her bed. Three more to figure out that James Potter was kneeling beside her, his face the epitome of concern.
Lily burst into tears.
“Shit,” James murmured, clambering onto the sofa next to her. He put a tentative hand on her shoulder, trying to offer some sort of comfort without angering the feisty redhead – the last hug he’d tried to steal resulted in a week’s visit to the Hospital Wing. Little minx had come up with her own spell and refused to counter it – but Lily continued to sob heartily into her hands.
“Hey,” James tried again, his voice cracking with the desperation of a boy whose heart wrenched every time Lily Evans even frowned with unhappiness, “please don’t cry. It’ll be okay.”
He didn’t quite know what would be okay, but he figured that it was the thought that counted after all.
“It won’t be okay,” Lily whimpered.
There was a short silence from James.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” he tried, this time not even bothering to hide the urgency in his voice. He didn’t care that he sounded desperate and so in love…something was upsetting Lily, and that something had to go so he could see that addicting smile of hers again. “Tell me what’s wrong, Evans, and I’ll do something to fix it, I –”
“It’s nothing,” Lily said suddenly, pulling her face away from her hands and sniffing as she wiped away her tears, refusing to look at James, “I’m a mess.”
She stared resolutely at the fire, which reflected on her shining face.
“What’s wrong?” James whispered.
Lily spared him half a glance, “I said it’s nothing –”
Her mouth snapped shut in surprise.
“When will you stop pretending and let people in, Lily? You don’t have to fight the world by yourself,” he said.
Lily flushed red – he always read her personality spot-on, and she never quite knew what to think of that.
“I certainly don’t want to fight it with you,” she spat, crossing her arms across her chest protectively.
There was a short second of silence while James rolled his eyes towards the ceiling and Lily glared at the fire.
“You know, you’re always doing that,” he said conversationally.
Lily sniffed to let him know that she was no longer speaking with him and would like him to leave.
James ignored it.
(He usually did.)
“As soon as someone comes close to you, you just push them away. I don’t get that. What are you trying to protect yourself from?”
“I have friends,” Lily said tightly, “and they know whatever there is to know about me. Just because I don’t like you doesn’t mean I’m a frigid bitch, Potter.”
“I never said you were a frigid bitch.”
“You implied it.”
“No, I didn’t. You found an implication in my words.”
Lily sniffed again. Damn Potter and his infallible logic. Did he always have to be bloody right? It was irritating.
“What was it about?” James asked quietly, noticing that Lily accepted defeat as she continued to glare at the fire.
Lily’s heart nearly stopped beating in her chest. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” she said coldly. It was embarrassing enough that he’d caught her in the middle of it, then watched her bloody cry, and then done whatever he always did and show just how well he knew her…and hell if she was going to give him any more of herself.
James’ hand closed around her intertwined ones on her lap, and she nearly jumped out of her skin at the contact. Her head snapped towards his, the expression on her face meant to terrify.
“I made it my business when I fell in love with you,” James said in a hard voice that just dared her to argue.
That did it.
“You don’t love me!” Lily said loudly, trying to wrench her hands away from James.
James chuckled darkly, completely unaffected by her squirming. “Yeah. I do.”
“Stop saying that, Potter –!” She yelled shrilly, struggling wildly against his iron-like hold.
James pressed his other hand against her mouth. “You’re going to wake up the entire house, Lily.”
Lily tried biting him, but unfortunately for her, he was quite adept at wrestling and evaded her teeth easily.
“Let’s not get feisty now, Evans,” he murmured, his eyes glinting with humor.
She huffed, knowing that he’d gotten her all riled up – one of his favorite things to do – and she was playing right into the trap. He always knew exactly what to say to her, exactly what to do just to piss her off, or make her flush or…or…
Well, regardless. She hated it.
“I’m not getting feisty,” she mumbled mutinously, sitting rigidly on the sofa with her hands still stuck in James’ grip.
He chuckled patronizingly. “Sure you’re not.”
“Stop pretending like you know me.”
“I do know you.”
Lily’s jaw locked. Twice. Three times.
“No,” she finally bit out in a simmering voice. “No, you don’t.”
She sat there and fumed for a couple of minutes while James stared at her face. Finally, he sighed in defeat and Lily almost grinned at her victory.
“Alright, let’s go,” he said in a weary voice.
Her head shot up, alarm written all over her features. “What do you mean, ‘let’s go’?”
“I dunno Lily, what part of that phrase don’t you understand?” James asked idly, standing up and using his hold on her hands to pull her to her feet.
“The part about ‘let’s’, which implies that both of us are going somewhere, together, and I don’t ever recall being okay with going anywhere with you – oi! Oi! Potter, put me down now! I don’t like being manhandled! POTTER! HELP! HELP, I’M BEING KIDNAPPED BY A SADISTIC – mph!” she finished indignantly as her lips got glued together by a clever spell from James’ part.
He glanced back at her, his hands still dangerously high on the backs of her thighs. She glared at him and beat her fists feebly against his back, and he grinned, knowing that she was brewing with anger at being tossed over his shoulder like some potato sack.
“Yes Lily, I love you too.”
James grinned lazily. “No, love, it’s not okay to have sex right now. We’d traumatize the young’ins, bless their virgin ears.”
“Don’t make me use Silencio on you,” he finally warned, tired of his one-sided conversation about a topic that was sure to never pick up between the two of them. There was always that small snag in his plan to win over the Lovely Miss Evans…and it was that she hated his guts. And the rest of him.
…well, maybe ‘small snag’ was a little bit of a hopeful exaggeration.
Lily breathed out sharply through her nose but fell silent and stopped wriggling around, knowing that it would not help her case in the slightest. For God’s sake, he always had to be this way. He always caught her at her weakest moment, he never left her alone no matter how many times she asked, he was always bugging her and she was…
She was tired of it. Of every second of it, really. She just wanted him to stop.
“Here we are,” James said happily, his voice echoing around him in the stillness. Lily’s eyes strained in the darkness as he set her on her feet. She didn’t even realize that he’d taken off his lip-locking spell as her eyes darted around her tensely.
“Where are we?” she finally asked in a hushed voice.
“Give me a minute,” was his vague response. There was the distant sound of him muttering something and then the tip of his wand lit up to reveal his grinning face and…
“A painting,” Lily said flatly, staring at the fruits in front of her. “Fascinating, Potter. It’s not like there are moving ones all over the bloody school or something…”
“Just watch,” he said, grinning at her sardonic tone. He took her hand, ignoring her jump of shock and the consequent ‘don’t touch me’, along with a feeble attempt to pull the hand back, and raised it to the pear.
Lily’s startled eyes focused on his amused expression. Poor boy…he always had been rather bright but it seemed as though he really had gone insane after all.
“Tickle the pear, Evans,” James repeated, letting her hand go, knowing that he’d probably overstepped his boundaries in even taking it in the first place. Oh, and carrying her here. And waking her up, and…
Well, no one really paid attention to semantics anyway.
Lily stared at him for a good three minutes.
“You’re an idiot,” she promptly decided, and turned around to leave.
“Fine,” James grunted, grabbing her around the waist with one arm and (once again) ignoring her resulting outraged screech at being hoisted up against his hip so effortlessly, “I’ll tickle the damn thing…try to share one of the most incredible secrets of Hogwarts and this is what I get…”
Lily froze, her hands still clamped around James’ forearm, her feet stuck in mid kick. A Hogwarts secret? Well, bloody hell, she knew the place had a lot of them and the best way to discover them was with a Marauder…and she was curious…
She twisted around to watch in fascination (but let it be known that she will deny this vehemently should anyone ask later on) as James tickled the pear…and a doorknob popped out.
She couldn’t quite stop the astonished gasp from escaping her.
James grinned to himself. “Would you like to do the honors?” he asked lightly.
“Put me down.”
He took that as a yes. As soon as her feet touched the ground, she reached out to grasp the doorknob and pulled it open to reveal –
“Welcome to the Hogwarts Kitchen, Miss Lily Evans,” James said in a regal voice, bowing her into the door.
An awed smile lit up her face at the bustling House Elves and the huge amounts of food, and bloody hell, was that cheesecake…?
“How did you find this?” Lily asked wonderingly, forgetting for the moment that she was supposed to be hating James Potter.
He placed a hand at the small of her back, testing his luck. She didn’t seem to notice, so he led her towards a small corner where he’d reserved himself a permanent table.
“Sirius and I spend a lot of time exploring the school,” he said.
“But that’s against the rules –”
“Yes, and we care about those so much,” James finished sarcastically.
She grinned, and he stared. She never grinned at anything that ever came out of his mouth.
“Why’d you bring me here?” she finally asked, after she was done staring in complete awe of the monstrous kitchen and everything in it.
James smiled and offered her a chair. She made sure to sit down only after thoroughly rolling her eyes at him, but he didn’t seem to mind much as he sat down on the other side and a House Elf placed a big slice of cheesecake in front of them.
“I find it helps to eat something fattening after I’ve had a really bad dream,” he said lightly, passing her a spoon and thanking the House Elf.
Lily stared at the cheesecake, and then at his expectant face.
He blinked, obviously confused. “What do you mean?”
“That’s it?” Lily repeated incredulously, “you just brought me here for cheesecake? No ulterior motive? No repeated demand for a date? That’s it?”
James threw back his head and laughed so loudly that it made Lily jump a bit in her chair. His laugh had always been that way – loud and carefree and brimming with happiness. It was actually a bit startling in its lightheartedness.
“Yes, Evans,” he finally said, still chuckling slightly even after he’d finished laughing, “I really just brought you here for cheesecake.”
She stared at him through narrowed eyes for a minute. Then, deciding that there was nothing particularly menacing about him, she shrugged and picked up her spoon.
“Well in that case…”
And she popped a huge chunk of cheesecake into her mouth. James grinned in delight – she’d actually eaten something he’d given her without a thorough background check first! – and dug in as well.
“You know, I don’t believe you,” Lily finally said through a mouthful of cheesecake once half of the slice had been effectively eaten.
“About the cheesecake?”
“No,” she swallowed. “About the dreams.”
He put down his spoon, the expression on his face peculiar. “Everyone dreams, Evans.”
“The bad dreams, Potter. Nightmares. You don’t get them.”
“Course I do,” he said flippantly, picking up his spoon again. “Just because I’m James Potter doesn’t mean I’m fearless.”
Lily snorted indelicately. Just because he’s James Potter…what, did he think he was some sort of legend or something?...well, technically speaking, he was a bit of a legend…
“What are you afraid of, then?” Lily asked.
James chewed thoughtfully. “A lot of things.”
“Like what?” Lily prodded.
“Bellatrix,” he said promptly, the expression in his eyes darkening for a brief minute. “She terrifies me. She’s not just powerful, she’s ruthless and heartless, and she wouldn’t think twice about torturing or killing another person. Doesn’t help that Sirius repeatedly likes to piss her off, the idiot…”
“I don’t like her, either,” Lily whispered, remembering the time when Bellatrix had accosted her in the hallway. It was really a good thing that Frank Longbottom arrived and hexed her off, Lily’s wits were cowering somewhere else at the time.
James’ glance was fleeting, but sharp. He didn’t say anything, though.
“I’m afraid of losing someone I love,” he continued, twirling the spoon between his long fingers almost absentmindedly, “My mum and dad, Sirius, Alice, Remus, Peter…” he looked up and caught her eyes in his, “you.”
Lily took another chunk of cheesecake to avoid looking that piercing gaze.
“I’m afraid of Voldemort,” he said softly, “because, you know, I reckon he’s getting stronger. And he’s dangerous. And he’s someone who can kill a person I love.”
Lily was afraid of him, too.
“I’m afraid of you,” James admitted quietly, and Lily’s head snapped up, the expression on her face caught between horror and outrage.
“Because you’re the only one who can crush me, Lily. With one word, you have the ability to tear me to pieces, just because I was stupid enough to fall in love with the one girl who hates me more than anything else in the world,” he finished bitterly, showing just how much Lily’s harsh words and continued rejection affected him.
Lily thought that was rather unfair. She didn’t hate him, necessarily. She just strongly disliked him most of the time.
Some of the time.
…damnit, not at all.
“Voldemort was killing my parents,” she blurted, “in the nightmare.”
James looked up, finally, the expression on his face of nothing but concern. “Hey, he’s not going to—”
“He knows about me, James,” Lily said in a constricted voice, forgetting that she was supposed to call him Potter, “Bellatrix told me…he knows about me and he hates me because of who I am –”
“That’s bullshit,” James said fiercely, “you’re the brightest witch in the year, who you are has nothing to do with it—”
“But he does, he thinks I’m a threat because I’m a powerful witch or something. I’m nothing more than a Mudblood to him though, and he wouldn’t think twice about killing my parents,” she said, finishing with a gasp.
“I dream about that every night. It scares me so much.”
James stared at the haunted look in her eyes. He couldn’t stand seeing her like this.
Three days later, Lily received a letter carried by beautiful Snowy Owl.
My parents are Aurors, and they have a lot of knowledge in protective charms and such, so I wrote them to ask about your parents. Don’t worry anymore, they’re going to be safe. Some Aurors have been assigned to tail them – which I’m sure your parents will love – and we used a Fidelus Charm on the house. I offered to be Secret Keeper. It seemed the safest since I’m protected at school. I hope it’s okay with you.
She stared in shock at the paper in front of her. He did that for her? He…offered to be Secret Keeper? Did he realize how dangerous that was…?
Abruptly, she stood up, ignoring her friends’ questions, and walked purposefully towards the middle of the Gryffindor Table, where James was in the process of getting up with a muffin in each hand to eat later in class.
When she tapped him on the shoulder, she didn’t know what she was going to say.
“Lily,” he said as he turned around, the surprise on his face not entirely masking the trepidation. She stared at him, the letter held loosely in her hand.
“I – er – take it you got the news?” James asked uncertainly. Sirius and Remus exchanged a glance behind his back.
Lily took one step forward and flung her arms around his neck, burying her face into his shoulder. It took precisely fifteen seconds for the shock to wear off, and he hugged her back, hardly believing his luck.
“Thanks you, James,” Lily whimpered into his ear, letting out a quiet sob against him. She didn’t know why, but she just felt so safe. “Thank you so much.”
“Hey,” he said softly into her hair, his arms tightening around her, “anything for you.”