The Sugar Quill
Author: Alkari (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Quidditch Practice  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

QUIDDITCH PRACTICE

Summary: Settling in to seventh year, James and Lily finally start to work things out. The sequel to “Silver Badge”.

Disclaimer: Naturally I do not own JK Rowling’s characters, or make any claim to them. She invented them and the wonderful world of Hogwarts. I am just happily visiting her world for a while.

* * *

Lily frowned, skimming the last few paragraphs quickly. No, there was nothing there that she hadn’t already covered in her essay … old Summersbee tended to repeat himself at least three times every chapter. She closed the textbook with relief, adding it to the pile to her left, and leant back in her seat to stretch tired muscles. Don’t think I can be bothered starting on that yet, she thought, eying the remaining green-bound volume with distaste. “History and Theory of Defensive Magic” by Erica Bosworth. Easier to read than Summersbee, but my brain’s stopped working. I’ll finish the stupid thing tomorrow.

She glanced around the library. It was getting late, but many of the tables and desks were still occupied. Her gaze passed over a number of other seventh years, inevitably settling on the twin black-haired figures bending over their work two tables away. Sirius was writing industriously on a long scroll of parchment, pausing only occasionally to dip his quill in the ink bottle. Lily suppressed a smile: the focused intensity which Sirius brought to his work when necessary still sometimes surprised her, seemingly so at odds with his exuberant, outwardly devil-may-care personality. To his left, James was steadily turning the pages of a massive silver-bound volume, jotting down notes and every so often pushing absently at his glasses as they slipped down his nose. His hair stuck up in all directions as usual – doesn’t it ever lie flat? she mused. Even when he doesn’t muss it up on purpose, it always looks as though he’s argued with a mop.

He looked up suddenly, as though aware of her scrutiny, and caught her eye. He grinned amiably, and she smiled and nodded in return, then hastily returned to her essay, hoping her interest hadn’t been too obvious. Why can’t I get him out of my mind lately? Why do I seem to notice everything he does? He’ll be impossible if he thinks I’m watching him. But somehow her eyes were drawn back to his table as she rolled up her parchment and leant over to put it in her bag. James wasn’t watching her, but Sirius was – and he winked. Lily knew she was blushing like a twelve year old this time.

Blast them! Do those two always have to read each other’s minds? She kept her head down, deliberately fiddling with the strap on her bag and feeling the heat in her cheeks. Wish I’d sat somewhere else! I’m an idiot. James and Sirius always work at that table – why did I choose this desk tonight? James. I’ve got to stop thinking about him. Realising she couldn’t stay bent over like this for any longer, she sat up and started to tidy her bits and pieces.

Why did I put myself down to do the rounds with James this evening? Just because Callisto Jewkes got sick. Why didn’t I find someone else for the roster? Now I have to wander round Hogwarts with him alone at night. What if he asks me out again? Only he’s said he wouldn’t – that I have to ask him - as if I’d do that … She tightened the lid on her ink bottle and snapped the lid of her quill case shut.

You didn’t have time to find anyone else, soothed the voice of reason as she put the items into her bag. Callisto only went to Madam Pomfrey just before dinner. Then another sneaky little voice added: You’re really glad. You know you don’t mind working with him at all. You enjoy it. He’s been a different person - since last year –he’s done everything right as Head Boy – everyone looks up to him - he’s really rather sweet when he smiles and says good morning at breakfast – he’s kept his word and he hasn’t asked you out for two whole weeks - and he …

What if he hasn’t seen the changed roster! He probably hasn’t looked at it this evening – what’s he going to say when he sees me? Oh, bother! I should have made sure … Madam Pince’s voice broke into these disturbing thoughts, announcing that the library was closing in ten minutes, and those wanting to borrow books should come to the desk now. There was a bustle of end-of-evening activity – the low hum of chatter replaced studious silence as students replaced books on shelves or trolleys, filled out book cards and handed them to Madam Pince, gathered belongings and filed out the doors.

Lily filled out the card for Bosworth’s book, and five minutes later she was standing outside, chatting to Fiona, Susan and Mavis as she waited for James. “Have you finished that stupid Charms essay yet, Lily?” said Susan, pulling a face. “I’ve written three feet and I still don’t think I understand it.”

There was no chance to answer, because the last students piled noisily out of the library, James and Sirius amongst them.

“Ah! All these gorgeous ladies to meet me!” cried Sirius, blowing them an extravagant kiss. “My brain’s like marshmallow. At least I can sleep in tomorrow.”

“Quidditch practice before breakfast,” said James firmly. “Remember?”

“Who had the bright idea of making you captain?” grumbled Sirius, slipping an arm around Fiona’s shoulders. “You’re not human. Tomorrow’s Saturday.”

“I’ll wake you.”

“Please don’t.” Lily tried to look stern. “The rest of Gryffindor does not need another chorus of hunting horns and bagpipes at six in the morning.”

“It worked.” James was unrepentant.

“Try it again, mate – just try it. Remember, I’m a Beater.” Sirius swung his bag casually in James’s general direction. James dodged, laughing, then looked around.

“Anyone seen Callisto? She’s supposed to be doing rounds with me tonight.” He glanced inquiringly at Lily.

“'Fraid you’ll just have to put up with me this evening,” she replied, keeping her tone brisk and business-like. “Callisto’s ill - wasn’t feeling well before dinner and Madam Pomfrey’s kept her in the hospital wing overnight. I didn’t have time to find anyone else.”

“What! Miss Evans … you mean you are actually going to spend an hour or more in James Potter’s company, alone?” Sirius gave a low whistle and feigned shock; James looked completely surprised. At least you’re not smirking.

“I’m sure I’ll survive, Sirius,” she said, but he grinned, unabashed.

“Ah, but the question is: will HE?”

She was saved by the arrival of Robert Goodall, looking self-important as usual. “Excuse me Lily. You got my note, didn’t you?” he asked. “I swapped with Matilda for Monday – I said I’d tell you.”

“Yes thanks, Robert. I made a few other changes, so I’ll hand out the new roster tomorrow.”

“Who’s on tonight?” Robert frowned importantly, as if assessing the number of available prefects.

“James and me.” She found she could say it as though it were something completely normal.

“Oh. Right.” There was a slightly awkward pause: Robert looked from one to the other as though puzzled about something, then shrugged and said good night. Sirius let out a suppressed snort, and Fiona elbowed him.

”Come on,” she said. “You’d better escort me back to Ravenclaw – Peeves might attack me on the way.”

“Don’t stop off in any classrooms to look for boggarts,” warned James with a wink, and Sirius sighed.

“I’m being supervised by a prefect,” he said loftily, taking Fiona’s hand. “I shall of course do whatever she orders.”

Fiona rolled her eyes, and pulled him away down the corridor, calling out good night as they neared the statue of St Marmaduke the Mean at the corner. Susan and Mavis departed also, and Lily was suddenly alone with James.

“Prefect’s orders,” James chuckled. “So that’s what he calls it. Hmmm …”

“Oy! Lily!” Sirius poked his head back around St Marmaduke, grinning broadly. What now?Lily thought, bracing herself.

“If he’s not back by midnight, I’ll come looking. You’ve either snogged each other senseless, in which case I’ll have to carry him back, or you’ve hexed him into little pieces – and I’ll have to take the remains to Madam Pomfrey.” He’d vanished before Lily could draw her wand. Sirius Black...!

She took a deep breath, and turned back to James, who was trying not to laugh. “Sometimes – just sometimes …” she muttered.

“You love him dearly - but occasionally wish there were things called Almost Unforgivable curses?”

At least said he didn’t say the snogging was a good idea. “A permanent Silencing Charm would do.”

James chuckled. “Fiona must’ve given him the wrong idea about prefect rounds. You’d better have a word to her – not carrying out her duties properly.”

Lily pulled a face and smiled ruefully. “Needs more than one word for Sirius. How she puts up with him at times …”

“C’mon,” he said, as Madam Pince shut the library doors firmly and gave them a suspicious look as she marched past. “Better get going.”

She hitched her bag comfortably over her shoulder, and they started walking, James adjusting his normally long stride to match hers. The corridor was silent and their footsteps made almost no noise on the flagstones. James veered off to poke his head into the small study-room next to St Marmaduke, smiling slightly as he returned to her side.

“No students - I’ll leave any Boggarts in their cupboards,” he said.

“Good”, she nodded, but for some reason further words escaped her, and they descended the stairs side by side in silence. I don’t know what to say to him, she realised uncomfortably. We’ve never really been together like this – just alone – he’s been asking me out for years – blast Sirius! - what do I say that won’t sound stupid?

“Saw you reading Summersbee,” remarked James as they reached the fifth floor. “What d’you think of his ideas on subconscious magic?”

“I’m not sure,” she admitted, startled that he’d managed to note what books she’d been working on. “Some of it’s interesting – seems to make sense for young children – but I’m not sure how you could use his dream techniques as a defensive strategy.”

“Me neither,” he admitted, frowning a little. “He seems to suggest you can plan dreams – but I don’t really see how you can do that.”

“No … I don’t often remember mine. But I think his stuff on visualisation of spells is fascinating.”

“Wonder if that’s how children …” And suddenly they were talking, tossing ideas around, discussing theories, arguing happily about this author versus that. All the while, they moved steadily through the upper floors of the school, looking into classrooms, checking that store-rooms were locked, peering behind statues and columns for students out of their dormitories after hours. James seemed oddly familiar with various hard-to-see corners, but she made no comment about nocturnal excursions with Sirius and his other friends.

Dream spells moved onto Charms in general, to other aspects of magic and their N.E.W.T.s subjects, then the Professors and their quirks. Lily found herself laughing as James mimicked each of their teachers in turn, and related the real story behind a prank they’d pulled on Professor McGonagall in fifth year. She glanced at her watch as she closed the door to the old Ancient Runes classroom and rejoined him on the spiral staircase leading to the third floor. Heavens – where had the time gone? It’s been half an hour - I’ve been talking to him for half an hour. Just normal talking - he’s really fun when he’s like this -

She fingered the carved banister as they waited for the staircase to move slowly to the left and align itself to the corridor under the enormous painting of monks treading grapes in front of a medieval abbey.

“Look!” James pointed up at the painting. “Too much sun and good wine.” There should have been six monks working, only three seemed to be lolling against the sunny wall, two seemed to have vanished entirely, and the remaining one was looking rather disgruntled at having to continue on his own.

“The Fat Lady likes a drop too,” agreed Lily, smiling as one of the monks leaning against the wall slid sideways and collapsed into a heap on the stone flagging. A pewter goblet rolled out of his hand and across the courtyard. “Did you see her last Monday? She was drinking sherry with Violet - changed the password four times in half an hour.”

The bottom of the staircase came to a halt, and James indicated he’d check the boys’ bathroom. Lily opened the door to the Charms classroom, muttering a Lumos spell as she took a few paces into its shadows. Rows of desks stretched away towards the blackboard, and the light reflected softly from brass lamp fittings and cupboard handles. A faint draught rustled some papers, and she saw that someone had left a copy of yesterday’s Daily Prophet on one of the desks.

The headlines leapt out at her. Three Muggles Dead in Bridge Accident. Ministry Inquiries Continue.

She stared at the paper. The picture underneath didn’t show any bodies, but the badly-damaged Muggle car was all too clear. A Ford Cortina – just like the one her parents owned. It was lying almost on its roof, the shattered glass from the windows littering the road underneath. “The victims were three elderly Muggles travelling to Manchester. Muggle police are said to be puzzled by reports of a strange green light in the sky following the accident. Ministry officials believe the accident was caused by followers of You-Know-Who and are making further inquiries.”

An icy blanket seemed to wrap her. She bit her lip, hugging her arms across her chest and trying not to shiver. That could’ve been Mum and Dad! And Petunia. They could all have been there, dead …killed by Death Eaters … Muggles were being killed ... there was no way to protect them …Mum and Dad …

She took a deep breath. Get hold of yourself, Lily. It wasn’t Mum and Dad – they’re at home, you know they’re all right … they never go to Manchester … anyway, you’d have heard if anything happened to them … like Aloysius Bagshot last week … he hasn’t come back to school, poor thing …

“Lily?” She hadn’t heard James come in, but now he was there beside her, dropping a hand onto her shoulder and looking concerned. “What’s the matter? You all right?” He raised his wand, conjuring more light, and looked at the paper. “That’s yesterday’s - awful thing to happen. Were they - did you know them?”

She shook her head. “No. Just – just the car’s like Dad’s – we got one last summer – just reminded me …” She stared down at the paper again, imagining the green light and skull-shaped mark looming over the scene. “You-Know-Who – no one ever calls him Voldemort any more.”

His hand stayed resolutely on her shoulder, and she finally looked up. “I’m all right, James. Honestly – I’m OK now. Really – just being stupid.”

His look said clearly that he didn’t believe her, but he dropped his hand and turned back to the paper. A quick flick of his wand rolled it up and sent it shooting across the room to the waste paper basket in the corner, where it settled with thump.

“Pity it’s not as easy to get rid of Death Eaters,” he said mildly, and she managed a shaky smile. “Come on.” He held the door open and ushered her out into the corridor, where the high wall lamps shed a warmer light. She paused and took a deep breath, then started walking once more. She was oddly grateful for James’ presence at her side.

“Lily?”

“Mmm?”

“How much do your parents know about what’s going on? Have you told them about Voldemort?”

He doesn’t seem to have a problem using that name. “No. No – they don’t know.”

“You haven’t told them anything?”

“What could I tell them? They don’t really understand magic – they think it’s – fun, almost harmless. Death Eaters – killing curses – a maniac, power-hungry evil wizard. They’d be terrified.”

He was silent for a few strides. “But you’re worried they’re targets. Because they’re Muggles. Especially as you’re Head Girl.”

Trust James to go to the heart of the problem. “Yes.”

“Would they make you stay home if you told them?”

“I don’t know. They might try - they’d be terribly worried. Mum understands even less than Dad about magic – if she thought I was in any danger, she wouldn’t want me to come back.”

“What would you do? If they asked you to leave?” His voice was carefully neutral.

How many times have I asked myself that? Isn’t it one of the reasons I don’t tell them what’s going on? “I’d come back. I’d have to. I wouldn’t want to hurt them, but …” She sighed. “Sometimes I wonder …” She trailed off, frowning.

“Wonder what?”

"Oh, you know – home - where home is now.”

“What do you mean - where home is?” He sounded puzzled. She didn’t answer at once, pausing to look into the trophy room, with its shelves of gleaming silver and pewter ware. James moved past her to the archway into the armour gallery, shining his wand around the shadowy shapes and listening for sounds of movement.

“No secret passages out of here,” he remarked lightly. “That we’ve found, anyway,” he added, as Lily raised an eyebrow. They closed the door and continued down the corridor. “So – home?” He picked up the conversation again.

Lily took a deep breath. How do I say it? I’m not even sure what I meant myself. “It’s - hard to explain. It’s just that – well, I don’t know if - if I belong there any more. I mean – the house is still home. It’s where I grew up, it’s where Mum and Dad and Petunia live. I go there for holidays, and I sleep in my old room with all my books and things. I wear Muggle clothes, and I do everything the Muggle way - use electricity and catch buses and trains and go shopping and all that sort of thing … but it’s just not the same.”

It hasn’t been the same since you first walked into Hogwarts, said the little voice in her head.

"Because you’re magic, and they’re not?”

“Yes. Only it’s not just the magic – it’s – it’s not being able to – to share … I mean, I don’t even have friends there any more. Not like I used to.” She looked at him. “The kids I went to school with when I was ten – I hardly ever see them even in the summer, and there’s – there’s just nothing to talk about. I mean, they don’t even know where I go to school. Here I am, doing Advanced Transfiguration and Potions and Ancient Runes – they’re studying Maths and French and English Literature. They’re talking about A levels and going to University – I’m thinking about N.E.W.T.s and Death Eaters. We’re just in – in different worlds. Only I know something about theirs, but they can’t know anything about mine.”

“I hadn’t really thought about it like that,” he admitted. “It’s hard to imagine growing up without magic – it’s just always - been there.” He patted the statue of the hump-backed witch absently as they passed it and started down the next flight of stairs . “So – you’re saying you couldn’t go back – even if you wanted to? Even with this war?”

She paused on the little landing and faced him. It was suddenly important that he understood. “No, James, I can’t. My world is here – whatever happens, I can never go back. This is where I belong.”

There was a strange expression on his face. In the low light of the corridor, his eyes looked dark, and she realised they were standing very close to each other. She could almost feel his warmth, and remembered the comforting feel of his hand on her shoulder a few moments ago. He didn’t move. I’ve said too much – why have I been talking to him like this? I should’ve …

“Lily. I – I’m very glad you’re in our world.”

Confused, she could only stare at him. He really means it – he’s not joking – he’s … She swallowed, eyes never leaving his face. “Thank you.”

Their words hovered in soft stillness between them. Lily had the absurd, fleeting impression that perhaps he was going to kiss her, but even as she readied herself, he swallowed, gave a funny little half smile and nodded towards the stairs.

“We’d – we’d better keep going,” he muttered, turning away to start down once more.

“Or Sirius will come looking?” Her hand brushed his as she joined him; as if it was the most natural thing in the world, he linked his fingers in hers. Before she could react to his gesture, there was a gleeful shriek from overhead.

“Students! Out of their dormitories! Naughty, naughty!” Peeves swooped, pelting them with apple cores and orange peel. James swore, ducked and reached for his wand; Lily stumbled against him, her book bag hampering her movements as she too fumbled for her wand. Her foot slipped; she clutched at James, who staggered even as he fired off a Banishing hex, and then they were tumbling down the last few steps to the first floor, ending in a tangled heap. Peeves shrieked with glee as he soared over them, firing off a last barrage of peel before swooping off towards the armour gallery.

She’d landed mostly on top of James. She pushed herself up shakily, rolling away to sit up and rub her elbow while she regained her breath. “Ooh - sorry! James – James! You all right?” He was lying crumpled against the bottom step, but now stirred and sat up slowly, wincing as he straightened and pushed his glasses back into place.

“Think so … you hurt? Blasted poltergeist …”. He tried to stand, but collapsed back, grimacing in obvious pain. “Damn … think I’ve done my ankle.” He leant forward, peeling back his sock to examine his right ankle and prod it gently. “Must’ve done it as I fell.”

Lily knelt beside him. The flesh was already swelling, and he gave a tiny hiss as she put her hand on it.

“We’d better get you to Madam Pomfrey. It’s not far - we’re on the first floor.”

“Yeah.” He touched his wand to the ankle. “Ferula”. Bandages appeared, wrapping themselves tightly around his ankle, and she had the impression he was no stranger to such injuries. She gathered her book-bag, which luckily hadn’t come unfastened, scrambled to her feet and held out her hand to help him up. He tested the leg gingerly, but despite his air of unconcern, she knew he was in considerable pain.

“Here. Lean on me – can you make it? Or do you need a stretcher?”

“I’ll make it.” He smiled ruefully, gathered his own bag and slipped the other arm around her shoulders. “Thanks. Lead on, Head Girl.” It must be really hurting if he hasn’t joked about putting his arm around me.

Madam Pomfrey was still awake, bustling out of her office with a pink floral cardigan pulled over her robes.

“Goodness me, James! What have you been doing this time? Surely not Quidditch at this hour of night.”

”Peeves,” explained Lily, as the matron helped James onto a bed and started to examine him. “Swooped out as we were coming down the stairs – we tripped and fell.”

“Hmph! You’re the third this week. Threw bits of armour at a couple of first years – lucky one of them didn’t lose an eye,” grumbled Madam Pomfrey, moving her wand over the ankle and foot and muttering to herself. The wand tip glowed suddenly, and deep blue light flared briefly over the ankle and foot. “There. Good as new. Just as well you came straight here - you’d broken it, you know. And a bone in your foot. Sit there for a moment.”

She turned back to Lily and smiled kindly. “Now Lily, did you hurt yourself too?”

Lily laughed. “Don’t think so – just bruised my elbow.”

Madam Pomfrey frowned, pushing her to sit on the next bed and swishing her wand over her from head to toe in a businesslike manner. “Right – yes, yes – nothing broken – hmmm, bruises here and here.” The wand tip flared again, and Lily felt a faint tingling in her elbow and ribs. “There you are. Now, I’ll just get you both something for the bruises.” She bustled away to her office, returning with two small glasses of a green liquid. “Don’t know how many bottles of this you’ve been through since you started school, James – you and Sirius both.”

James laughed and tossed back the potion, which Lily discovered tasted slightly of mint. Judging by her expression, Madam Pomfrey had a soft spot for the boys, who were obviously no strangers to the hospital wing. Of course she’d know them well – she looks after Remus each month. That discovery last summer had certainly explained many things, and she’d found herself regarding James, Sirius and Peter in a new light when she’d realised they’d kept Remus’s secret since first year.

“Doing your prefect rounds, were you?” asked the matron, giving them a shrewd but affectionate look.

“Yes. Callisto Jewkes was supposed to be with James, so I took her place. How is she, Madam Pomfrey?” Lily decided the matron’s look was just a little too knowing.

“She’ll be fine by morning. Stomach upset. Have you finished your rounds?”

“Almost,” said James, swinging himself off the bed. “Just have to check the Great Hall and the rest of this floor.”

“Don’t worry about that, James. I have to take some papers along to Professor McGonagall shortly, so I’ll check this floor. And Professor Flitwick’s gone in to Hogsmeade this evening – he always looks around when he comes back. You two get back to Gryffindor.”

They thanked the matron and left the hospital wing, making their way to Gryffindor Tower in silence. James made no attempt to take her hand again, but politely held the portrait hole door open for her as she climbed through. The few people scattered around the room paid them no attention as they appeared; Lily was relieved that there was no sign of Sirius as they paused at the entrance to the boys’ stairway.

“Good night, James,” she said, smiling. “Glad you’re all right.”

”Night, Lily. Thanks.” He leant in closer. “Only next time you want to throw yourself into my arms, you don’t have to break my ankle!”

* * *

Lily found the next two weeks to be extremely unsettling. She was aware of James as she’d never been before, conscious of his physical presence around the school in a way that was entirely disconcerting. Yet he gave no sign of being similarly aware of her: it was as though those moments they had shared whilst doing their rounds had not occurred.

And that was what was most disturbing. He didn’t attempt to hold her hand again; he managed to say polite ‘good nights’ without blowing her a kiss or making any other gesture; he worked pleasantly beside her in several classes without once winking or asking her out; he talked and laughed about day to day activities without any particular signs of affection. He was serious and responsible in his duties as Head Boy; he spent an evening helping two second years who were having trouble with their Transfiguration homework; he managed to play the fool with Sirius occasionally without once incurring a detention. He was James – and yet he wasn’t.

Lily resolutely tried to ignore the Saturday afternoon sunlight, and bent again over her Transfiguration text. If she finished McGonagall’s assignment now, she could relax after dinner and sleep in tomorrow. The common room was almost deserted, with only a couple of fifth years working in the far corner. The words danced on the page, but somehow kept rearranging themselves into one word. Or two. James. James Potter.

Maybe – maybe he really doesn’t want to go out with me any more? Maybe I really have driven him away. But – but why would he say he was glad I was part of this world? Why would he make that joke about flinging myself into his arms? But what if he’s had second thoughts? What if he’s decided I’m not interested in him? The little doubts emerged again. They often surfaced at night, nagging, niggling, eating away at the edges of her confidence, no matter how many times she told herself that she had plenty of other friends, and that James Potter was not the only boy in the world.

She propped her head into her hand and doodled pointlessly with her quill. It was hard not to think about him. The quill drew a circle, then another, then a line between them. Glasses. Round tortoiseshell glasses. The quill moved as if of its own accord to sketch in a face and spiky hair. Bother! That’s not getting the essay done! She drew several heavy lines through the sketch and focused once more on the textbook. “Mottram’s theory states that …”

“Lily?” She jumped at the touch on her shoulder. That face was smiling down at her. “It’s too nice to be in here working.”

“I have to get this finished,” she sighed, hastily putting a hand over her parchment and hoping he hadn’t noticed the sketch. “I had Charms Club this morning, so didn’t get much other work done. I’ve been putting it off, and it’s due on Tuesday.”

James perched on the arm of a chair opposite. “You work too hard. It’s a beautiful afternoon. Much too nice to be inside.”

“So why are you still in here?” she asked dryly.

“Finishing my Potions essay,” he assured her cheerfully. “I can’t just flutter my eyelashes at Sluggy like you and get away with late assignments.”

“I do not! Well, no more than you and Sirius play up to McGonagall.”

“She never lets us get away with anything though,” he grumbled, trying to look affronted. “Don’t know where you get those ideas.”

Lily snorted, and he smiled. “I’ve been watching you. You’ve been sitting there staring at that book and not writing anything properly. You need a break. Come on – a walk would do you good.”

He’d been watching her, had he? How long had he been there? She laid down her quill very deliberately. “James Potter, are you asking me OUT?”

He seemed to consider the matter carefully. “Hmmm – I did say I wouldn’t pester you, didn’t I. Well - let’s say I’m asking you outSIDE. Does that count?” There was a challenging gleam in his eyes.

And I’ve spent the last two weeks worrying and wondering! She frowned, pretending to give his request proper thought. “Well, I suppose it would be appropriate for the Head Boy and Girl to stroll around and keep an eye on things generally.”

“Just doing our duty,” he agreed, reaching across to close her textbook. “Miss Evans, will you accompany me on a patrol of the Hogwarts grounds?”

“Mr Potter, I think I can agree to your request.” She rolled up her parchment and gathered her things. “I’ll just take these upstairs – back in a minute.” Her stomach was doing the oddest little squirming dance as she reached her dormitory, dumped the books on her bed, and ran a brush hastily through her hair. Must wash it tonight – looks all right though … She gave it a final swipe, tossed the brush next to the books and hurried out the door, remembering just in time to slow her pace before reaching the common room.

It really is a beautiful afternoon, she thought, as they passed through the main doors and went down the steps. After a week of grey skies, summer seemed to be making one last attempt to restrain the world from the chilly clutches of autumn; the air was crisp and the sun shone golden across the grounds, glinting off the lake and enriching the deep greens of the trees in the forbidden forest.

Most of the other students had been drawn outside as well. A group of first years was noisily playing Magic Hopscotch on a wide stretch of flagging beyond the rose gardens. Further away, other students were sprawled in little groups on the lawns near the lake, or strolling around its shores.

Too many people, thought Lily, feeling a little self-conscious as they paused at the foot of the steps. I really don’t want to go over and join them – I’d rather just walk with James – I don’t want everyone staring at us …

He glanced at her in wordless inquiry: she smiled and, as if reading her mind, he led her around the north side of the castle, away from the lake and towards the Quidditch pitch. She could see the small figures of people swooping and soaring in practice, whilst beyond the pitch itself was the wilderness area where still more figures on broomsticks darted and flashed through the obstacles.

They wandered slowly towards the pitch, the grass soft underfoot and the faintest hint of smoke from Hagrid’s hut hanging in the air. They paused near one of the stands to watch the fliers – mostly Hufflepuffs, it seemed. James regarded them critically for a moment, then turned to her.

“Reserves,” he remarked. “And no, I’m not going to watch them.”

They wandered on towards the wilderness area. Lily was a competent enough flier, but had seen no need to master more advanced flying skills: clearly, others were more enthusiastic. She and James leant on a sunny stretch of low wall, watching as figures sped past them, swooping between old statues, diving through holes in hedges and zigzagging above overgrown pathways. The air echoed to shrill squeals and yells.

“They’ll kill themselves!” she protested laughingly, as two boys pursued each other at alarming speed. “They’re all mad!”

James laughed. “No deaths yet,” he assured her. “A few broken bones and stuff – but Madam Pomfrey always puts the pieces back together.”

Lily shook her head, watching in fascination as James pointed out the various obstacles and the courses being flown. “The easiest one goes along here,” he gestured, “and the really hard one goes up through those trees and down the hill on the other side.”

One of the fliers looped around hastily when he recognised James, but James shook his head and waved him on with a smile. Lily was surprised – James normally had to be prised away from anyone seeking Quidditch advice.

“I asked you for a walk,” he said, “not a Quidditch lesson.”

“You really do love it, don’t you,” she said gently, as he guided her to a path that meandered through the grounds roughly parallel to the edge of the Forest. Few people ventured this far, even in daytime, but James seemed perfectly confident.

“Yes.” He smiled wistfully. “S’pose I get a bit carried away at times – but I just can’t imagine not being able to fly. Dad gave me a broomstick for my first birthday – or so he says - think I was flying almost as soon as I could walk.” And he started to talk about his life in Oxfordshire, growing up in an old pure-blood family as an only child and a much-wanted son.

They strolled leisurely along the narrow path, picking their way over the rough spots and stopping occasionally to admire the views of the castle and the lake. They talked of their childhoods and their families: Lily found herself confiding in him about Petunia and her dislike of anything magical. She spoke of her own delight in visiting the London Zoo with her grandfather, who knew all the animals and told her wonderful stories of faraway places; she described summer holidays near Torbay when they would play on the beach and her father would help them build enormous castles, with walls, moats and turrets. “Though we never imagined anything like Hogwarts!”

James made her laugh with his tales of learning to ride horses and hippogriffs on his uncle’s farm, and of youthful escapades and magical mishaps. Lily confessed she’d only ridden donkeys at the beach: James joked that he’d never ridden a donkey, just a few stubborn ponies. Somewhere – she was never exactly sure when it happened – her hand found its way into his. She felt lazily contented.

Two hours later, they returned to the lowest of the castle terraces, where rose bushes sported the last of the summer blooms. The castle loomed above them, its higher towers and windows glinting gold and bronze in the westering sun. Lily was pleasantly tired: it would be good to have a wash and go in to dinner. There was a sudden chorus of yells, and feet pounded up the path behind them. James pulled her aside into a corner sheltered by giant stone urn on a plinth, and they watched from the shadows as a dozen first years hurtled past, apparently in pursuit of one fleet-footed boy who was clutching something as he bounded up the stairs.

The voices faded, and Lily became aware that she and James were standing very close together. He was still holding her hand, just as he had been for much of the afternoon. Now he looked down at it, as if conscious of their contact for the first time. The relaxed and easy-chatting James of the previous few hours became suddenly awkward.

“Lily? I’ve – um – enjoyed the afternoon. Thanks for coming.”

“I’ve enjoyed it too, James. Thanks for rescuing me from my essay.”

He smiled, almost shyly. “Could we – ah – do it again?”

“Mmm. Maybe we could revise the weekend prefects’ roster,” she suggested innocently.

“Good idea.” He paused, and then very slowly leant forward to kiss her gently on the cheek. He drew back swiftly, uncertainly, as though expecting a rebuke or even a hex.

On the cheek? An afternoon like this, and you kiss me on the cheek? Oh James, you idiot! She reached up to link her hands behind his neck, her lips barely inches from his. “You know James Potter, I thought the best Chaser in the school would have better aim than that. The goalposts are HERE!”

* * *

Lily glanced surreptitiously at James as they climbed the steps to the castle doors. Not surprisingly, his hair was more tousled than ever: he looked almost bewildered, she thought, suppressing a sudden urge to laugh at him. It wouldn’t be right to laugh at a boy who had just kissed her so thoroughly – at least, not if she wanted him to kiss her again, and again, and … She recalled that first hesitant touch of their lips, then the way he’d responded with such delighted enthusiasm. The feel of his hair, the funny little half sigh, half groan he’d made as she’d pulled him against her, their breathlessness as they’d drawn apart briefly, only to come together with renewed eagerness. Just as well it was a very large urn, she thought, and snorted in amusement.

“Mmm?” He looked at her inquiringly.

“Just glad that someone at Hogwarts once had a taste for giant garden pottery,” she said. For a second he looked puzzled, then burst out laughing.

“Quidditch goalposts wouldn’t have been nearly as useful,” he admitted, and they were both laughing like idiots as they passed into the entrance hall.

They were still laughing as they reached the upper corridor leading to the Fat Lady’s portrait. James glanced around quickly, then tapped his wand on a unicorn tapestry and pulled her aside into a small alcove that was revealed behind it.

“Lily.” He put his hands on her shoulders and held her gently, studying her as though he couldn’t quite believe what was happening, as though she were some rare and beautiful treasure he’d discovered after a long and often disappointing search. And then he smiled.

It wasn’t his smirking Insufferable Know-it-all James smile. It wasn’t the devious I Am about to Pull Yet Another Prank with Sirius smile. It wasn’t his superior I Told You So smile. Or the See - That’s Really Easy smile which had featured in most lessons since first year. It wasn’t even his triumphant We Won, and I Was the Star smile.

It was just plain, simple happiness.

And it didn’t so much light up his face as soften it. The slightly crooked upturned lips, the crinkles at the corner of his eyes, the hint of a dimple in one cheek – they were all the same, and yet they weren’t. It was just – James.

Lily loved that smile.

“James.”

He kissed her again, gently, then stood with his forehead resting against hers. “Is my aim getting any better?” he murmured.

“A bit. Could still do with some practice.” She brushed her lips lightly against his.

“Lots of practice?”

“I think so. Best way to improve performance, isn’t it?”

“We’d better make arrangements.”

She chuckled and hugged him, then pulled back and pushed at the tapestry. “Come on – it’s nearly dinner time. And I’m starving.”

“Me too.” The Fat Lady smiled at them as they climbed through the portrait hole, emerging into the noise of the common room before dinner.

Sirius was sprawled in a nearby armchair, doing the Sunday Prophet crossword. He looked up and waved.

“Where’ve you two been?”

James reached across to cuff him lightly. Quidditch practice, of course. What else d’you think we’d be doing?”

_____________

Author’s Note: My thanks to those who have helped in various ways with this – St Margarets and Fellow Fluffers, Eir de Scania, and TDU. And to all those who’ve suggested I needed to write a sequel to ‘Silver Badge’!

//
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