After class, Mrs. Briarwood yanked James aside. “Wait here,” she growled. Then she stomped off into the crowd of students streaming through the narrow doorway.
Bemused, he leaned against a table and folded his arms. Timothy and Megan lingered for a moment, watching him inquisitively, but then eventually joined the crowd to leave.
Mrs. Briarwood reappeared, trailed by a perplexed Lily Evans. James felt his chest tighten.
“Now listen,” their teacher barked, muting her tone as the last few kids disappeared, “you two are my most promising students this year, correct?”
Unsure whether it’d be too conceited to nod, James glanced at Lily. She had smiled slightly, ducked her head, and allowed her hair to hide her rosy cheeks. James had to hide a snort when he visualized himself doing that.
“You’re at a level that no one else has reached. So, I’m going to have you two be partners for the year. You can help each other out, pose for each other, and all sorts of things. Potter, you’ll help Evans with paints. Evans, you’ll help Potter with charcoal. I think you’ll improve more this way than if I kept you back,” Mrs. Briarwood grit her teeth, “you can help each other when I’m too busy whacking a thirteen-year-old for scribbling outside the lines in his coloring book.”
Neither James nor Lily laughed. They were both frozen with surprise.
“Oh, right, and you’ll both be given extra assignments too,” Mrs. Briarwood added, slightly put out at their silence, “feel free to use the studio whenever you please. The key is under the mat. I trust neither of you will rob me?” Her gaze turned very stern.
“No, ma’am,” Lily murmured quietly. Her eyes were widened with residual surprise.
“You best hope not,” she scowled, “now, you’ll start partner work tomorrow. Wear your smocks – we’ll be painting.”
It was the best news James had received all day.
“Mum, I’m home!” James shouted after he apparated into the grand foyer of his family’s estate. He brushed past the enormous marble columns impatiently, ignoring the luxurious opulence of the manor. He had lived here his whole life. The novelty of it had never quite kicked in.
“I’m in the breakfast cranny!” A faint voice called back from somewhere within the diamond-inlaid innards of the house. James groaned, and then hurried up the sweeping entry staircase.
He found his mother settled in the cheery breakfast nook – a little table near the kitchen, tucked in a cavity in the wall. She smiled over her tea, “How was your art class, sweetie?”
He collapsed in one of the chairs, “Awful. I bloody hate pencils, grayscale, and Mrs. Briarwood.”
“Whatever did she do?” Mrs. Potter asked, amusedly.
James frowned dejectedly, “She paired me and Evans up for the summer. Says we have to work together, help each other or something. I’ll be with her all the bloody time.”
“Lily Evans? Oh, she’s a lovely girl,” Mrs. Potter nodded, “her parents are wonderful people.”
“That’s great, Mum, but Lily and I don’t exactly work, you know? She hates me and I don’t understand her. We’re way too different. It’ll be awkward.”
“You’ll work it out,” Mrs. Potter said confidently, “you’re a handsome, charming young man and she’s a delightful, courteous young woman. I see ample potential in this.”
James shuddered, “Ugh, no.”
Mrs. Potter gave him a disapproving look, “Lily Evans is a wonderful girl, and you would do well to treat her kindly.”
“I do treat her kindly, Mum,” James protested, although it was not entirely true, “its not my fault she’s uppity and aloof.”
Mrs. Potter stood, and Mimzy the house elf whisked away her teacup, “Try to do better, darling. Oh, and a letter came for you today. Its in your room.”
James rolled his eyes at her abrupt subject change, “Thanks.”
His mother smiled, and quickly paced down the stairs.
The letter was from Sirius. James tore it open with unbridled, immature excitement.
How’s the painting going? Murdered Evans with a paintbrush yet? I’m sure it’s going well since you’d go all goo-goo eyed and drool slightly whenever we mentioned it last year. You lovesick fool. And all for paints. .
Uncle Alphard’s money is doing me nicely. The flat’s decent enough. You should come see it sometime. When can I come over for dinner? I miss Mimzy’s cooking. Feeding myself is way too much responsibility. I’m not sure I can handle it.
Oh – and Remus would like to know if we’re available on the full moon. I said of course we are. You are, aren’t you? Anyways, it’ll be at that forest near his house. A bit of containing, but that’s it. May be fun.
Don’t drown yourself in artwork this summer, Prongs. I require constant attention. Neglect me, and I will maim you.
James chuckled aloud when he reached the end of the letter. Sirius had never failed to either entertain or mortify him. This letter did not disappoint.
He reached for a quill, his favorite scarlet ink, and a scroll of parchment.
I won’t neglect you. I’ll simply ignore your existence until September. Sound fair?
Art class is strange. Evans and I are paired up for the summer because we’re top of the class, and the teacher feels we should learn from each other. I’m not too thrilled. I mean, its Evans. I fight with her every time I see her. She’s infuriating.
Come over for dinner any time. Mimzy loves you, and your nauseatingly large appetite. Of course I’m available for the full moon. Two Tuesdays from now, right?
Don’t bore yourself to death. I wouldn’t want to plan your funeral. Try to find a hobby or something, you lazy prat.
See you anytime
Satisfied with the letter, James cheerfully rolled it up and attached it to his owl, Henry VIII’s leg. The haughty bird glared at him, and then bolted out the window.
James stuck his tongue out after him.
It was a common occurrence for James to be late to just about everything. It was extraordinary for him to arrive fifteen minutes premature to his art class, so anxious and frantic that he had forgotten his own lunch.
He set up his paints at the desk next to Lily’s favorite one. Then he moved back to his corner. Then he returned to Lily’s.
He was beginning to gather everything together to go back to his corner, ignoring the curious looks of the other kids that had arrived early with him, when Lily walked into the room.
She bounced when she walked, her small frame struggling to support the enormous canvas bag dangling off her shoulder. Her red hair was swept in a long, swaying ponytail.
The familiar smell of lilies-of-the-valley engulfed him as she placed her things at her desk. She looked uncomfortable.
“Uh – should I sit here?” James asked awkwardly. He scratched the back of his neck.
“Sure,” Lily shrugged. Her shoulders were tense.
James sat on his hands. He hated discomfiting conversations.
“So, um,” Lily looked exceedingly uncomfortable, “what exactly are we supposed to help each other with?”
“I dunno. Advice, or something I guess,” James shrugged, awkwardly mystified, “use our different talents to just help each other. Or something like that.”
They sat there, not looking at each other, unsure how to act. On one hand, James could not stand her. On the other, he could not go and tell Mrs.. Briarwood that he simply would not work with Lily because that would be cruel and cowardly. So he was stuck in this awkward situation of not wanting to be there, but refusing to go anywhere else.
Luckily, Megan, Timothy, and Mrs. Briarwood entered the room at the same time. Megan and Timothy scurried to the desks near Lily and James while their teacher barked for quiet.
“Silence!” she ordered.
The class quieted, and stayed still. James felt self conscious.
“The rest of this week I’ll be evaluating your painting skills. I don’t care what or who you paint, but it must be on two feet by three feet canvas and using a multitude of brushes. Do your best, and I’ll assess your progress at the end of class.”
Oh boy, James could not help but think. He was excited and mortified at the same time. What was he supposed to do with Lily?
He glanced at her, out of curiosity, and saw that she looked both dejected and utterly annoyed. It was a mirror example of his face yesterday with grayscale.
The class buzzed with activity. Before James could stand to go fetch a canvas and easel, Mrs. Briarwood stomped over.
“You two!” she growled.
“You both need to paint the same object. Miss Evans, learn from Potter. Follow his instruction. Work together, understand? I want two beautiful paintings by Friday.”
Lily looked outraged.
“Okay, Mrs. Briarwood,” James intervened quickly, “will do.”
Their teacher went to go yell at a fourteen year old for knocking over an easel. Lily glared at James, her expression murderous, and James backed away quickly.
“Look, calm down, alright? You don’t have to -”
“I am not learning anything from you,” Lily spat, “don’t even think about trying to tell me what to do.”
He grit his teeth, “I wasn’t going to -”
“Just shut up Potter! You are not teaching me, I am not following you, and we can just forget this stupid partner arrangement!” Lily snarled, “Leave me alone!”
And, in a contradictory move, she stormed away in a swirl of red hair.
James glared angrily at her back, and stomped away in the opposite direction. He detested Lily Evans and her stupid pride and stubbornness and idiocy! She was a haughty, obstinate snob! He could not stand her sometimes!”
“ . . . And Vernon has decided he would like an indoor wedding, in the city, with all the important officials he’s connected with,” Petunia gushed, “doesn’t that just sound wonderful?”
“No,” Lily snapped.
“The guess list will be enormous,” Petunia continued happily, “can you imagine how many people will see me? Oh, it’ll be perfect. Absolutely perfect!”
“It sounds lovely, dear,” Mrs. Evans contributed as she dried the dishes, “I’m happy for you.”
Lily groaned loudly, allowing her head to fall into her hands.
“When we can we go dress shopping? Or flower shopping? There’s so much to do! I’ll never be so happy again!” Petunia sighed blissfully.
It was ironic that at the very moment that Petunia’s happiness was at its peak, Lily felt black to her very core. She was angry and frustrated and irritable and impertinent. While Petunia had been proposed to, Lily had suffered through what felt like the worst week in the history of the world.
First, she had shrieked at James Potter for absolutely no reason, successfully losing her confidential insight into his painting expertise. Due to her rash temper, she was stuck struggling with the colors, trying to bend them to her will disastrously. Then, not only had Rose Bennett torn her apart verbally in front of half the younger girls, but Mrs. Briarwood had loudly scrutinized her pathetic painting for the entire class to hear.
Lily felt as if she was the ugliest, stupidest, least talented person ever. Then, to add to it, Petunia was getting married. To the whale man. Who seemed to think it was his divine right to visit her house whenever it pleased him.
Petunia squealed, “Oh, Mummy, can we start on the guest list? Please?”
“Of course, dear,” Mrs. Evans dried her hands off, and then slid a pen and pad of paper off the counter, “here, you write.”
Petunia grabbed the paper. Lily stood quickly, “I’ll be going.”
Mrs. Evans shot her an amused look, and Petunia failed to even mind. Lily quickly exited the house.
The sun was beating strongly upon the summer avenue, the leafy trees doing their best to shade the quiet houses. Lily walked swiftly away from her home, moving in no specific direction. She felt as if she was trying to escape from her own despair.
Walk as she might, she could not avoid her misery. Images flashed through her mind like an old cinematic picture. James Potter’s hurt face, Rose’s triumph, Petunia’s horsy glory, Mrs. Briarwood’s disappointment, her weak, pathetic excuse for a painting, her messy room, Petunia’s wedding plans, Rose’s sneaky, malicious smirk . . . The pictures continued flipping.
Lily suppressed her temper and melancholy, and picked up her pace. If she couldn't escape from all these things in her brain, then she'd damn well get as far away, physically, as possible from them. Hell, she'd walk straight off the sodding island if that's what it took.
The Atlantic Ocean was starting to look pretty good at this point.
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