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Chapter 15 - Not Just Friends
“Just listen,” Remus continued, obviously aware that James’s attention was slipping. “If someone is after you, then they may as well be after all of us. If someone is after Lily, then it’s not just Lily. It’s not safe-”
“You listen to me,” James snarled with a burst of frustration, standing from his chair and pointing a steady finger at his friend. “You are not going to be out there alone tonight. Lily will be back any second; you have less than two hours until the moon and half that until Pomfrey goes to McGongall’s office to gather you. We don’t have time to sit here and go on about this. I agreed to stay here tonight-”
“You didn’t agree,” Remus spit back. “Dumbledore ordered you to because someone shot your owl out of the bloody sky. You’re staying here, Peter is staying here, Sirius is staying here. None of you are coming with me!”
“Well,” Sirius started, his voice managing an easy tone, even though the fists clenched at his side showed differently. “I don’t figure you have much of a say in the matter, mate. You’ll be in that shack in less than two hours and won’t be able to decide what we do or don’t do. We aren’t in any more danger on the grounds-”
At that, Remus’s face twisted against its normally placid features. “You aren’t in any more danger running around outside the castle than inside? Really now, because I thought that was the entire reason James and Lily were ordered to remain in their rooms! Dumbledore might as well have told them to go for a nice walk along the Black Lake if it’s no more dangerous!”
“Look Remus,” James began, taking a deep breath to calm himself. Calm, steady, solid. That’s how he got what he wanted. Not by blowing up on Remus… even if that’s what he felt like doing more than anything. “I know you’re worried. We get it, and it means loads to us. But we’ve seen what you look like after a morning by yourself in that shack. You know how sick it makes you wondering if we’re safe or not? Well, think of how we feel when we get a glimpse of you before Pomfrey puts you back together. Think what it does to us to see gashes covering every inch of your bloody face. However terrible it may feel being worried about us, it doesn’t compare worth shit to what we feel knowing we could have stopped that.”
Sirius stood up from the sofa, taking a step closer to stand beside James. “You know that there’s almost no chance that anyone is inside the grounds, Remus. McGonagall and Dumbledore just have to make sure James and Lily stay put while they try to get to the bottom of whatever it is they can about Beowulf. Even if, somehow, there is someone on the grounds, they won’t be looking for a dog and a rat. We’ll use the cloak; we’ll stay invisible until we transform. James and his huge antlers won’t be there needing to get through the passage so we won’t ever have to change from animals. We’ll be careful. You just need to trust us and let us do this, yeah?”
“Besides,” Peter piped up from his place on the ledge by the fire. “With Alice, Belle and Frank still having to go to Slughorn’s party….This means James and Lily will finally be getting a bit of time together.”
James couldn’t help but chuckle at his friend’s words. Leave it to Peter to be able to make a good situation out of almost anything. “Always a step ahead, aren’t you?” James said with a laugh before turning back to Remus, whose face was still nothing but serious.
“I swear, you lot are more work than you're worth half the time,” Remus finally said with a sigh, flopping down to the sofa.
James and Sirius followed, both exhausted. Fighting amongst themselves was grueling. Usually the group could laugh anything off; it was the rare instance that they were at odds with one another. But when it happened, it was always interesting to realize just how strong willed they all were.
“Yeah right,” Sirius argued, “we’re as delightful as a sip of butterbeer.”
“Okay,” James began, pulling an aged pocket watch from his robes. “You lot better get going. Peter, you still have the stuff?” Peter patted his own his robe pocket to double check that both the cloak and map were there, then nodded at James. “Right then, good luck tonight. Come here first thing in the morning, yeah?”
The three boys nodded at James before saying their goodbyes and departing from the room, leaving him back to his own thoughts.
Thanks to Remus’s rare but powerful stubborn streak, he’d been able to focus on something other than the attack. But with the silence of the Heads’ Quarters falling quickly upon him, he couldn’t help but to let his thoughts wander.
He knew what Remus said was true. If someone was trying to attack Beowulf and get the letter, they wanted information. And it seemed improbable that whatever they wanted to know was just about James. He didn’t think that it had to do with his parents…if Beowulf had been delivering a letter from them, the owl would been flying from the opposite direction. But just because he knew that, didn’t mean the attacker did. He’d have to make sure that Dumbledore understood that this needed to stay between them.
Before his thoughts could go any farther, a noise on the outside of the portrait had his hand slipping into his pocket and tightening around the security of his wand. He stood and faced the portrait, his defensive stance solid as he listened to the sound of his own breathing.
His tension eased as the door swung open and Lily’s delicate face stared back at him, an eyebrow raised.
She stepped into their room and glanced at his wand, her expression growing more amused. “Really, I thought we’d moved past calling each other names and threatening to curse one another into oblivion?” she said with a smile playing into her lips. He let out the breath that had caught in his chest and relaxed his aim.
“Odd, I don’t remember ever calling you a tosser or threatening to curse you so badly that your glasses would be up your arse.” Lily’s face regained a bit of color as a blush flitted through it, something James loved being able to cause.
“Excuse me, Potter. My mother raised me better than to use words like tosser. Although, I’m still not above threatening you with your glasses up your arse.” Part of James wanted to laugh, but an even larger part of him just wanted to scoop her into him.
Being able to joke with her like this, to feel better just because she was around… it was so different than James imagined. Sure, he’d spent years telling her he was mad for her, but back then it was her waves of cinnamon hair and the way she smiled that caught his attention. What he felt then was nothing compared to the way he felt about her now.
“Thanks for the warning. Maybe I’ll consider investing in some sort of trousers that protect against the ‘glasses up your arse’ curse.” Lily snickered at that, covering her face with her hands. James knew she didn’t like the way she looked when she laughed, but he’d never understand why.
She slipped past him into her usual chair. An overly stuffed one she conjured a few weeks after living in the Heads’ Quarters.
“So, McGonagall and Dumbledore?” he finally asked, relaxing back into the chair adjacent to hers.
“Dumbledore escorted Hagrid back to his hut to speak with him, I suppose. Hagrid will keep an eye on Beowulf until he’s well. McGonagall had to go unlock her office for something, but she waited for me while I spoke with Alrek.”
“Oh?” James knew he was lucky that Lily seemed distracted enough to miss the tones of jealousy ringing in his voice.
“Yeah, I told Alrek that the professors needed my assistance with a Head Girl thing, and I asked him to join us for the Quidditch match. He mentioned during Hogsmeade that he’d never understood Quidditch. And since his House isn't playing ours, I thought explaining it to him during the game would be a nice way to make up for the last minute change of plans. Anyway, both professors will be here shortly.”
James let Lily’s words about Alrek toss themselves around in his mind for a moment. Part of him did want to resent the fact that she’d gone to such lengths to avoid hurting the bloke’s feelings... but he also knew that was just how Lily did things. She’d go to the same lengths to keep from hurting a slug's feelings, if need be.
And at least a Quidditch match was much less… personal… than accompanying her to a party. But even with those rational thoughts spinning around him, part of James still wanted to agree with Peter, who made it clear that he didn’t trust Alrek. Peter had always been so loyal to James, though. He’d be suspicious of anyone who he thought might try to ruin James’s chances at winning Lily over.
James was fairly sure he didn’t completely like the transfer student, but he didn’t dislike him, either. And he understood why Alrek would want a few friends outside Ravenclaw. Smart as the lot was, they could get bloody boring.
“James,” Lily said, the softness of her voice causing James to look up at her. “I should have never asked Beowulf to go back to Petunia’s. If he-” Lily cut herself off, the sound of the portrait opening distracting them both.
Although James didn’t reach for his wand the way he had when Lily entered, he still remained on edge until the distinct face of McGonagall became visible, immediately followed by Professor Dumbledore.
“Good evening to you both,” Dumbledore said, gazing down at them through his crescent shaped glasses. “If it’s of no mind to either of you, I believe Minerva and myself will be taking a seat.”
“Please,” Lily said, standing as she gestured to the empty sofa.
Dumbledore motioned for her to sit back down before saying, “No need to stand, my dear girl. Let’s all get comfortable and address the reason why we’re here, shall we?”
The professors positioned themselves on the cushions, and before James had the chance to ask what they knew, McGonagall was already clearing her throat. “Before we ask the two of you a few questions, I'd like you to know, Mr. Potter, that your owl should recover fully. We are still unsure of how long it will be before he can fly again, but I trust Hagrid to notify us on all the details of the owl’s health as soon as he himself figures them out.” James nodded at her, a small balloon of stress popping inside his lungs and allowing his breath to come a fraction more easily.
“Now,” she continued, “may I ask what the owl, Beowulf-”
“Creative name, Mr. Potter,” Professor Dumbledore interrupted. “I find myself curious to know if it was given with prior knowledge of the Muggle poem?” All James could do was nod at the professor, unsure if he felt more impatient to get to the questions, or more interested as to why exactly his professor had read Beowulf. Though, he supposed his parents’ library couldn’t be the only one in the wizarding world to house a good many Muggle works of literature.
“Very well, then,” Professor McGonagall said, seeming just as impatient to get back to the subject at hand. “May I ask what he was doing with a letter from Petunia Evans?”
“Professor,” Lily’s voice rang through the room. “A few weeks ago, closer to a month I suppose, I wrote to Petunia and used Beowulf to send the letter. I don’t have an owl of my own here. She didn’t respond, but on Friday James asked if I’d like to send Beowulf back to her flat in London in case she’d changed her mind and wished to write back.”
“Is there any reason to believe Beowulf would have gone elsewhere after picking the letter up from London?” The professor pressed, though her eyes didn’t have their usual hardness.
“No,” James answered, thinking carefully. “No. I don’t think so. I asked him to deliver a letter to my parents first, then go to Petunia Evans’s flat. I’d just given him a few mice that morning, so he wouldn’t have needed to stray from his path to hunt.”
“Professors,” Lily started, glancing at James before speaking. “Are you both sure… I mean, is it unambiguous that someone was attempting an attack on James’s owl? Could it have been a mistake?”
Both the headmaster and deputy headmistress hesitated, McGonagall finally being the one to break the silence. “No, Miss Evans. We aren’t absolutely certain. Mr. Potter’s owl is a rare breed, giving someone that may have come into contact with him the motive to try and capture the creature in order to sell. However, Hagrid informed us that, because of their small size, the Chaco owl keeps to very high elevations to avoid any sort of predators. Beowulf most likely would have been hundreds of feet up. It’s very, very unlikely a witch or wizard was flying that high without a predetermined purpose.”
James cleared his throat, wanting to ask a question that he knew would be all the answer they needed to find out if the attack had been purposeful. “Professor, how many curses was Beowulf hit with?”
Again, a silence loomed, though Dumbledore was the first to break it this time. “Approximately fourteen, Mr. Potter. Which leads us again to another suspicion… that whoever was after your owl didn’t want to kill him. Possibly just discover the contents of the letter before sending the animal back on his way. However, something must have altered the attacker's original plan. Chaco owls are incredibly proud; delivering the letter only to you would have been his main focus. Beowulf could very well have attempted to resist being captured, resulting in the more dangerous curses that were used on him.”
James just nodded, not trusting his voice. His mind was too drowned in images of Beowulf trying to escape curse after curse. It churned his stomach, forced his fingers to clench into his palms. The idea of some coward flying around, going after his defenseless owl instead of facing James themselves, triggered his usually calm blood and sent it boiling through his veins.
“Professor McGonagall and I have no way to be certain what sort of information, if any, the attacker was searching for. We thank you both for agreeing to remain in your quarters for the evening as an added precaution; it would serve well in times like these to be constantly alert. With our world in such a state of turmoil, the best thing we can give to one another is the security of friendship. Too often we turn our backs on what we need to do, in favor of following the path of least resistance.”
Just when James, who was far from in the mood to play a game of riddles, was about to ask their professor what on earth he was going on about, Professor McGonagall cut him off.
“I believe it’s time we take our leave. I’m sure Mr. Potter and Miss Evans have more than enough school work to amuse themselves.” James was surprised by the rigid tone Professor McGonagall had used to address their headmaster. As if he’d done something, said something that she didn’t approved of.
“Professors,” James said before they could stand to leave. He made sure his voice remained calm, and hoped that what he was doing was right. “I need to be sure that this, this attack on Beowulf will remain between us. My mum and dad will be here Saturday for the Quidditch match, and they can’t know about this.” James knew that he wasn’t using the most respectful tone, and that he had no right to try and order his professors around. But this was something he was extremely set on.
“Mr. Potter, if this was an act done for the purpose of finding information to harm you or-”
“Professor McGonagall,” he said, cutting her off and earning himself a glare that was as hard as steel. “I understand what the risks could have been, but whatever they were looking for, I think it’s safe to say they didn’t find it in a letter from Petunia Evans. I’ll make sure that anything else I send or receive is done so more discreetly. But I’m of age, and this is a matter that concerns me, not my parents.”
“Mr. Potter, I think Professor McGonagall and myself can assure you that, as an adult, we agree it is your choice to make the decisions of one. Including keeping private matters just so.”
James let out a sigh, glancing up at McGonagall with what he hoped was a clear apology for interrupting her. “Thank you, professors. You know how my mum and dad are. If they got even wind that someone may have been trying to get information about me, or hurt Beowulf… they’d probably be back in their Auror robes and at the ministry before nightfall. And with their health…” James trailed off, not knowing where to go from there.
Even if it was for their own good, he hated keeping things from his mum and dad. Sure, they may not look a day over fifty, but the truth was that they were nearing their eighties. All the curses they’d taken throughout the years, the stress they’d lived under, had taken its toll. His mum endured mornings where it took her an hour to get out of bed. Her arthritis was so vindictive, it could occasionally seep through the potion she took to dull the pain and force her body to remember just how long it had lived. And his dad had been told by a Healer countless times that his blood pressure was too high, his cholesterol even more so.
James was certain that his parents knew more about the war, about whatever it was Dumbledore had going to try and counteract the Death Eaters, than anyone. But their age and their need to keep James from the danger of it all stopped them from doing anything more than passing along information. If they knew there was a chance that James or Lily had been targeted, that would all change.
As long as they thought James was safe, they’d continue living their retired lives. Helping where they could, doing what their health allowed them to. James was going to keep it that way.
“Also, before you both go,” Lily started, saving James from his thoughts. “The letter from Petunia… is it safe for me to read?” James felt hesitation in her words. Was it because of what had happened, or was she afraid of what the letter might say?
“Ah, but of course, my dear girl. I hope you don’t mind, but it was necessary that we perform a few spells to check the safety of it.” Lily shook her head at Dumbledore as he pulled the letter from his robes and handed it to her.
“One more thing,” McGonagall said, turning to face Lily as they stood to leave. “I’d hoped to have a moment to speak with Ms. Christopherson, but I don’t believe that time will allow it this evening. Can you inform her that her detentions have come to an end?” James almost asked the Professor what detentions she was talking about, until he remembered the incident at the start of October when she cursed Rosier and blew him up to twice his size. She’d been meeting with the professor a few mornings a week before class, but had never complained about it, or even brought it up, really. Which is how James supposed he forgot about them all together.
“Of course, Professor McGonagall,” Lily agreed.
“Well then, we appreciate both of you being so agreeable about the arrangements for this evening. I trust you’ll be kept busy with the seven inch Transfiguration essay due Monday morning.” James and Lily mumbled their agreement, saying their farewells as the portrait door snapped shut behind them.
“So…do you want to talk about it?” Lily asked, standing from her chair and plopping down on the sofa once the sound of fading footsteps was no longer present.
“Does it scare you?” he asked, moving to sit beside her. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to talk about it or not, but if she did, then they would.
“Yes and no,” she answered without a second of hesitation. “It’s not like we’re even sure that whoever attacked Beowulf knew it was your owl. People seem like they’re doing anything to blackmail their way into power or safety these days. Even the Ministry is turning on itself. Maybe someone just thought they’d be able to land themselves on something that would keep them protected. Either way, there isn’t much we can do about any of it.”
James felt himself relax at her words. He’d been worried that she would fall apart, which would have been understandable. Though, he should have known better; Lily very seldom fell apart. Even if she did, he would have tried to help make it better. But this way, with her attitude mirroring his own, it was so much easier to understand her.
“So,” she continued, glancing at the envelope in her lap, “should I open it?”
“Course you should open it, or I’ll have to.” He pulled his wand from his pocket and added strength to the fire. Then he set the oil lamps around the room ablaze so she wouldn’t strain her eyes trying to read whatever would be written on the parchment. The sound of a loud thump coming from upstairs caused the apprehension that was finally draining from James to pound back into his bones. He was on his feet in seconds, his wand ready to obey.
“James!” He glanced down at Lily, her green eyes laughing up at him. “Lower your wand, will you?”
“Didn’t you hear it...” he started asking, suddenly afraid he was going mad.
“Of course I heard it. I spend all night listening to it.” Still smiling, she turned on the sofa and raised her body so that she was kneeling on the cushions and glancing toward the staircase. “Butterscotch! Come down here, kitty,” she coaxed, her voice echoing through the room.
“He likes jumping from my bed to the top of my wardrobe,” Lily explained before calling the kitten one more time. “He’s really much too confident in himself. I keep telling him that he’s too small to be doing things like that, but…” her sentence trailed off as the small creature came sprinting down the stairs, meowing as he crept to the front of the sofa and sprang up next to Lily.
James smiled more to himself than the cat. That day, when he’d walked into the pet shop and purchased Butterscotch, was one of the few things he did on impulse that actually turned out well.
Usually his spontaneous decisions ended rather disastrously. Like letting Sirius transfigure their beds at his parents’ house into Muggle water beds, but those only worked if they were fully sealed. Sirius’s and his hadn’t been. Or letting Peter and Remus trick him into shaving his legs so that he’d be more aerodynamic during Quidditch. It hadn’t been until after he’d removed all the hair that he realized it would only make a difference if he played Quidditch naked.
Yes, his impulses didn’t have the best track record. But the only thing that had been filling his mind that afternoon at Hogsmeade was Lily’s face when she told them all that she’d never been able to have a kitten. He’d been dwelling on the thought that she deserved to get something she’d wanted for so long. She deserved to get everything she wanted, really. And then, before he could talk himself out of it, or could let his mates do that, he’d already paid for the little kitten.
Now, watching Butterscotch climb up the front of Lily’s robes and tuck himself under her hair, he knew he’d made the right decision. The way she giggled at the kitten was so different then the laugh she usually had… gentler, more free, somehow.
“You scared James, you know,” she whispered, glancing to the side at James. “Yes you did, you pretty boy. He thinks he’s so big and tough, but you’re tougher, aren’t you?”
James smirked at her teases, reaching forward and pulling the bundle from under the protective, red curtain of hair.
“You couldn’t scare anyone,” he argued, but instead of giving the animal a menacing look like he’d planned, he laughed as it turned into nothing but a purring ball. “Now,” James continued, moving his body so that his back rested against the sofa, letting the kitten get comfortable on his lap. “Open it,” he prompted.
Lily’s eyes lost a bit of the vulnerability, and he almost wished he wouldn’t have said anything. But he had to know. And he wasn’t going to let her go upstairs to open it alone, just in case it was something that would upset her.
The way Petunia had treated Lily after everything made it clear to him that the girl couldn’t be trusted, even if it was just a letter. Who knows what nasty things she could pile her words into.
Lily’s fingers ran over the sealed edge, carefully pulling it apart. Precise and deliberate, just like she always was. She slipped out a piece of parchment… well, something that resembled parchment. Only it was much whiter, and appeared to be relatively flimsy. Closer to the material that Sirius’s muggle comics were made out of.
He was surprised when she scooted closer to him and held the letter over so that he was able to make out the words as well.
“This way I won’t have to go back over and tell you what it says. We might as well figure it out together,” she answered to his questioning look.
He nodded back at her before glancing down, and for the first time that evening he become submerged in something other than the attack.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t appreciate being contacted by your abnormal way, nor will I respond using the same means. But since this thing doesn’t seem like it’s going to leave my window sill, I suppose I have no other choice. At least this way I can be rid of the creature before Vernon arrives home from work for the evening.
We are adjusting to living in the city quite nicely, though the noise can be bothersome. It is a much shorter commute, at least. I’ll be pleased when we decide to purchase a home, though it will be a normal one set in an acceptable neighborhood. Not an odd ball in a combination of much too small and too large houses like the one we grew up in.
“Wedding?” Lily exclaimed, before they continued reading.
We’re to be married the twenty-second of December, and if you can manage to fit in with the rest of the guests, I wouldn’t disapprove of your attendance. It’s probably necessary to get together before the ceremony so I’m able to introduce you to Vernon, and as we’re getting married in Swansea so Vernon’s grandparents can be present. I guess I can be bothered to reserve an extra room at the Inn we’ve booked. Though, don’t think I’m paying for you.
Well then, I guess we should set a date before I change my mind. The Seaside Inn is were we’re staying, and there’s a restaurant inside of it. Meet Vernon and I there at six p.m. on the twenty-first. Also, all the other guests are allowed to bring a person of their choice. I guess you can, as well. Just be sure whoever you bring is normal, presentable.
No need to write back, I don’t fancy another creature showing up at my flat.
Well, see you in December, then. Please don’t wear anything that clashes too horribly with your hair.
James finished the letter a few second after Lily, and lifted his gaze to her. To his surprise, instead of her face being twisted into an angry look as James’s was, she had a small smile creeping over her. What on earth about that letter would make anyone want to smile?
“So, this was good, then?” he finally said.
“She wants to see me, James,” Lily answered, her eyes shining with the flickers of the oil lamps.
“Lily…” How was he supposed to say what was in his head? Did he have any right to tell her how angry it had made him when Lily begged for Petunia to come see her, and the girl couldn’t be bothered? Now she wanted Lily to go watch her marry some stupid oaf? “Just because she’s your sister, it doesn’t mean she deserves to have you there. How she acted toward you during everything, it wasn’t nice,” he finally settled on, knowing it sounded weak.
He didn’t want to try and tell Lily what to do; this was her sister, after all. But he couldn’t stand thinking about the way Lily had gravitated toward Petunia during the funeral, and Petunia had simply walked away and left Lily to handle the pain on her own. It was true that everyone grieved differently, at least according to his mum, but that didn’t make James any less angry at the girl for adding more suffering to an already broken Lily.
Then again, he had no idea what started the separation between the sisters. And maybe it was something Lily felt like she needed to make up for?
“I know it doesn’t seem like much, James,” Lily finally began, “but for Petunia, it is. It’s so much more complicated than just how she behaved during the funeral. And yes, the letter isn’t a warm welcome, but it’s more than I’d ever expected of her. Does that make sense?”
“Sure, I suppose that is good, then,” he offered with a weak smile. If Lily thought seeing her sister would be good, he wouldn’t try to take that away from her. But he sure as hell wouldn’t let that girl do anything else to upset Lily, either.
“Lily,” James began, his mind piecing together the perfect plan to make sure Lily didn’t get hurt, and to get to spend time with her all to himself. “The letter talked about a guest. I understand if you’d rather Alice or Belle go with you, but if not…” he stopped, knowing he’d said enough to make his message clear.
“But, it’s during the Holiday.” Lily glanced up at him, an apology already forming in her features. “And your parents barely get any time with you as it is. It probably wouldn’t be any fun for you to sit through a dinner with Petunia and Vernon, then a drawn out wedding.”
“It would be fun for me to get to do all those things with you, though. But if taking one of the girls is easier for you-”
“No,” Lily interrupted, “no, it isn’t that. I just know you, James. I know you’re worried, and that’s sweet of you, really. But I don’t want you to waste two days of the holiday just because you aren’t sure how Petunia will treat me.”
James was amused that she’d figured out his motives so easily. But he supposed she wasn’t labeled the most gifted witch of their age for no reason.
“You’re right, I am worried about how she’ll treat you,” James answered, knowing lying to her would be pointless. “And that’s part of the reason I want to come. But only part. The biggest reason is because I want to be with you. Even if the wedding is boring, even if they make us go to one of those restaurants that serves tiny potions of food that couldn’t feed a Pixie, none of that matters. And besides, I’m sure you’ll take Butterscotch. It’ll be his first big trip. You wouldn’t want me to miss that, now would you?”
To James relief, Lily’s wide, ‘I’m sorry’ eyes lit back up. “Of course, then. As long as you aren’t doing it just for me, I’d love if you came. But you’re sure your parents won’t mind?”
He shook his head at her, knowing that they’d be delighted at the prospect of him experiencing more of the Muggle world. They’d lecture him about making sure he was a gentleman, of course. He’d need to write to the Gringotts Department of Currency Exchange and ask them to send Muggle money for their rooms at the Inn… room? No, no rooms, and meals.
He was about to ask her what the Muggle currencies were called again, but she began speaking first. “We should probably tell Dumbledore, because of what happened with Beowulf and all. Maybe we can ask him about arranging a Portkey?”
“Well,” James started, with a sudden burst of inspiration. “What was your favorite way to travel before you used magic?”
“Train,” she answered immediately, the excitement of her voice snapping Butterscotch awake. “I’ve always enjoyed train travel. I think it’s the first thing I fell in love with about going to Hogwarts, getting to ride the Express.”
“It’s settled, then. Holiday starts the twentieth, so we can go to my parents house for the first night. Then the next morning we can take the train to Swansea. And we can take it back to London the following night after the wedding. That way we’ll still be back in plenty of time for Christmas.” James was sure he’d never been so organized in his life, but he thought the smoother their plans went, the better chance he had of getting to squeeze every possibly of alone time out of those few days.
“James,” Lily started, but before she could continue with what was on her mind, her arms were slipping around his neck and pulling both of them into a tight hug.
“Thank you,” she continued, her body resting into his with her voice just inches from his ear. “Seeing Petunia again won’t be the easiest thing, but you being there will help more than I can tell you.” James felt a tug deep in his heart. It was a simple sentence, a thank you, but the vulnerability in Lily’s voice was something he rarely heard. The open honesty of her words.
He knew nothing he’d say would do justice to that moment, so instead he pulled her closer into him, marveling at the sensation of how small her body felt inside his arms. James started to make a joke, but as Lily pulled back from him he felt the breath that had been moving through his lungs tremble.
The shift of her body caused her hair to fall around them both, the faint aroma of her shampoo surrounding James. She froze as he glanced up at her; her face just a touch away from his.
He tried to remind himself what she’d been through today, to tell himself that he needed to pull away because she couldn’t be thinking clearly.
But even while that thought was attempting to stay alive in his mind, the feel of her arms still laced around him was all the could concentrate on. The places that her hands rested on his neck burned into his flesh with such heat that he knew he’d feel like ice the moment she took them away.
He meant to unclasp his own hands from around her; he knew that’s what he intended to do. But instead of slipping off of her slender frame, his fingers pressed harder into her lower back, drawing her closer into him.
Every part of him that was saying he couldn’t let this happen, she wasn’t ready for the next step, became drowned out by the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. The feel of her body dipping further into his. Then, the same hand that had held her against him, was again moving without his permission…traveling up her back and dancing under the waterfall of hair to land on the skin of her neck.
He was losing control.. maybe he’d lost it the moment his eyes fell on her, he wasn’t sure. But every thought-up attempt to restrain himself disintegrated as he pulled her willowy form into him. All of the warmth that their hug had held, all of the tension that was forever pulsing between them, gave way to a heat that James could have only dreamed about feeling.
Yet, this wasn’t a dream. As he finally closed the last flicker of distance between them and caught her lips with his, he was almost certain it couldn’t be reality, either.
“James.” The fragility of that word as she whispered it into him was enough to break past his delirium, and he used what amount of self control he could find to break the kiss. Though the second he did it, he was sure it was the worst decision he’d ever made.
“Lily,” he whispered back, gripping her arms and drawing her a few inches from him, then letting his head fall against her shoulder. He released a deep breath, closing his eyes as he concentrated on forcing his head to stay where it was.
“I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have…” he began.The feeling of her body tensing on top of his caused him to move his head and meet her eyes. He couldn’t quite remember how she’d gotten onto his lap, but it was odd being the one to look up at her.
“James Potter,” she started, and if his lips weren’t so tingly and numb, he’d have smiled as she crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow at him. “It’s not very flattering to have someone kiss you, then immediately tell you their sorry. Sure, I haven’t kissed many times before, but-” This time James did laugh, earning himself a McGonagall worthy glare.
“You know that’s not what I meant!” He insisted, immensely grateful to her for breaking the pressure surrounding them. “I just, I told you on the Quidditch Pitch that day we almost…that I’d let you make the first move. And, well.”
“I think it’s safe to say we both made a move this time,” she answered, sliding from his lap and to her own cushion. “But, James-”
“I know. We’re just friends. I shouldn’t have let it happen, but you’re so..” he stopped, not even knowing what word could describe her. He glanced over, then felt a sense of panic grow as her frown deepened. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No, not you. It’s just. I’ve been thinking about the friends thing.”
If he’d ever experienced more emotions in one night, he couldn’t remember the time. Because as quickly as panic came, it faded and was replaced with a terrifying amount of excitement. He ordered his mouth to stay shut, to let her continue, pleased that his body was again obeying him.
“It’s not like it’s a secret that we fancy each other, and something that Belle and Alice said Saturday night had me thinking. I just, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m ready to be everything. Ready for a relationship. Ready to see what happens if it all goes wrong.” She paused, but he could tell there was still more left for her to say, and remained silent. “But I think we both know that we’re more than just friends,” she finally said.
“So,” he began cautiously, grabbing her hand to stop her from picking at her lips, a clear sign that she was as nervous as him. “What does that mean? We’re not dating, but we’re not just friends?”
“I don’t know what it means,” she answered, her voice fortifying her exasperation. “But, I just… I don’t want us to be ‘not just friends’ with anyone but each other. I don’t mean to sound jealous or childish or anything, and I know it isn’t fair to expect you to wait around forever for me. But I also couldn’t stand the thought of you being ‘not just friends’ with someone else.”
“Lily, that’s ridiculous. You know that I don’t fancy anyone else, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have kissed you first, or kissed you back, or whatever happened, if I did.”
She nodded at him slowly, a certain kind of reassurance passing over her emerald eyes.
“I don’t fancy anyone either. And I hope you know that I only invited Alrek to Slughorn’s tonight to be polite. But, I still… even though I want us to be more, I’m scared it will end with us destroying our friendship. You mean a lot to me, James. And a few years ago I never thought I’d feel the way about you, about our friendship, as I do. Now I can’t stand the thought of losing anyone else, especially you.”
“Well, considering I’ve had the same best friends since first year, I think I’m a tough one to shake,” James joked, needing to see her smile again.
“So maybe we can..” she started, glancing back at him quickly before glancing away. “Maybe I can try to stop worrying so much about the what ifs, and just let things happen the way they’re supposed to?”
And the same euphoric sense that had filled him when Lily had been pressed into his body returned.
“So,” he started, turning his head back to face hers and lifting his fingers to her chin, keeping his eyes on her all the while to gauge her reaction. As slowly as before, but with a more controlled deliberation, he edged his lips closer to hers, and let them travel along the bone that framed her jaw. He paused for a moment, giving her what he believed was enough time to pull away, before once again seizing her lips with his.
“Does that mean that this is allowed?” he asked with a smile as they parented, relieved that she wasn’t giving him the, ‘in trouble’ look.
“I suppose,” she began slowly. “But not in here.” His jaw almost dropped at her last few words, sincerely confused on why he couldn’t kiss her in a completely empty room.
“James,” she began, clearly picking up on his bewilderment. “We’re in the Heads Quarters! A place we get for being responsible, role model students. Do you have any idea what Professor Dumbledore or McGonagall would do if they knew about this? And I’m sure they’d know somehow. This room can probably talk or something. No.. it’s just too weird.”
Of course, he should have known. This was Lily Evans, after all.
“Okay,” he agreed. “It’s allowed, but not in here. And if you change your mind… if you feel like things moved too fast and we need to be just friends without the not just friends part, I'll understand. And Lily, no matter what, I won’t let anything ruin our friendship, okay?”
She nodded at him, and he believed that she understood how sincerely he meant that.
“You know,” she began, glancing up at him suspiciously. “You are really a very good kisser. Is there any particular reason you’re so good at?”
“Oh no, if I can’t kiss you in the Heads’ Quarters, you can’t use it as a place to ask me about girls I’ve snogged, either. But,” he added, seeing her face fall a fraction. “If it helps, I can count the girls I’ve kissed on one hand.”
“And the girls you’ve…”
“On one finger.”
She let out a sigh, and for the first time he realized there may have been a chance that Lily thought the rumors always circling him were true. Not that he ever minded before if anyone believed the stories that a few vindictive girls had fabricated. If the school wanted to think he was a lady’s man, well, he wasn’t going to argue. But he didn’t want Lily thinking it.
“James? You’re not so bad, you know,” she said with a smirk that looked so practiced, he was certain she must’ve picked it up from Sirius. “So, you really think we can do this? Be an ‘us’?”
He waited a moment, wanting to make sure to give her a true answer. “I think that we care about each other, and that won’t change. And, let’s face it, we’ve already been an ‘us’ in my head since third year. That has to count for something, right?”
Lily’s laugh echoed in his ears, the sound of it every bit as intoxicating as her lips had been. Too many things were happening in their world to know what was around the corner. But just then, every part of James was confident that as long as Lily could keep making him laugh, as long as he could hear the sound of hers whenever he wanted, everything really would be okay.
Finally! You guys have no idea how excited I've been for James and Lily to get to this point. So, thoughts?
Thank you so much to CambAngst for putting up with my craziness and being an awesome beta. If you haven't checked out any of his stories, you're missing out!
Beowulf is an epic poem dated between the 8th and 11th century and it's original creator is unknown. Though the most well known translator is Seamus Heaney.
And now, I am so excited to see what you guys thing of this chapter! Thank you so much for reading!
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