Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world all belong to J. K. Rowling and I’m just grateful that she lets me play in them.
‘Potter!’ Sirius’s shout came just too late to warn James to duck the flying cauldron. The heavy iron bowl knocked against the side of his head and spilled a nasty looking yellow potion all over his dark, unruly hair and dripped onto his skin. Nervously, James waited for it to take effect.
‘Sorry,’ said Remus, who had let his potion get out of control. ‘It’s bubblewart.’
‘Great,’ retorted James who had already begun to feel the huge red boils swelling. ‘Anyone got an antidote yet?’
Peter and Remus shook their heads. James looked across to the group of girls on the other side of the Potions classroom. ‘Mary? Helen?’
The third girl, whom James had been hoping wouldn’t see him in this state, turned round. ‘In trouble again, Potter?’ she asked scornfully.
‘More fun being in trouble than spending every spare moment in the library,’ he responded with what he hoped was a winning smile.
‘Really? Spending every spare moment in detention is that good? I wonder why more people don’t try it then.’
‘It’s not what you’re doing, it’s who with,’ remarked Sirius. ‘Got caught with Angela last time, didn’t you Potter?’
‘No, that was two weeks ago. Last week it was Heather Dunn. You know, the blonde from Ravenclaw?’
Lily raised an eyebrow in contempt. ‘Playing with the children, these days, Potter?’ Heather was in the fourth year and, if James were brutally honest, her constant giggling and evident awe at his seventh-year Head Boy status made it hardly worth the effort.
‘Look, d’you know how to deal with this, Evans, or am I going to have to go to Madam Feverfew to get it fixed?’
Silently, she pushed a phial of clear green liquid across the desk.
‘Thanks,’ he muttered.
Lily was the last person in the library that night, as usual. She finished her scroll on the importance of strict regulations on the use of magic in Muggle areas and gathered her things together. The corridors were quiet and still and as she wandered slowly back towards the Gryffindor common room she found herself remembering how ridiculous that awful James Potter had looked earlier. She wondered if her antidote had worked properly. It was quite a complex recipe which she hadn’t had a chance to test.
‘Furry kittens,’ she told the Fat Lady who obligingly opened the door, stifling a yawn.
Lily wished the Fat Lady a peaceful sleep and went to her room. Helen and Caroline were already snoring, so Lily just lit one candle to undress by. A few minutes later she blew it out and pulled back her sheets.
‘Ow!’ She tried to stifle her squeal and reached for her wand.
‘Lumos!’ she muttered grimly.
It was a rose. Pale pink, tinged with apricot. And with very sharp thorns. Under the flower she saw a little note.
Lily held the flower to her nose, breathing in its delicate scent, wondering why she wasn’t more angry.
It was odd, she thought, that neither of the other girls mentioned the flower the next day. Obviously James had asked one of them to put it on her bed and she’d have expected them to tease her. Still, grateful for small mercies, she lodged the flower between the pages of ‘Hogwarts, A History’ and shoved it under a large pile of well-thumbed textbooks.
Most of the final-year pupils were feeling overwhelmed with work. The teachers were putting the pressure on for NEWT’s and muttering ominously about careers serving pints in the Hog’s Head. Mary, whose parents were sufficiently wealthy for her not to have to worry about a career, spent hours in the Art Room and merely dashed off all her other homework with the minimum of effort. ‘I’m going to fail them all anyway,’ she announced cheerily when Lily tried to make her do a few more inches on her Charms essay. ‘I’m off. I’ve almost got Nearly Headless Nick the way I want him. Only he keeps scratching his ear and then his head falls over again.’
Helen sighed, ‘Half her luck. My parents want me to get a job at Gringotts. Good, steady work, that’s what they say. But Gringotts want at least one Outstanding and three other good passes. Not a chance. My Arithmancy’s so hopeless, Professor Quirke suggested I might do better if I just guessed the answers next time.’
Lily smiled sympathetically but carried on with her work.
Ten minutes later, the four seventh-year boys erupted through the portrait hole, laughing and shouting and offering hot apple cider all round. Lily pressed her lips together and silently collected up her books.
‘Evans!’ She heard an all-too-familiar voice calling her name.
‘Goodnight, Potter,’ she said in a bored voice, not bothering to turn round.
‘Goodnight, Evans,’ she heard and a brief smile crossed her lips involuntarily.
Lily wasn’t smiling the next morning. As she’d passed the Slytherin table after breakfast she’d heard the unmistakable tones of Severus Snape, speaking loudly so that she couldn’t avoid hearing.
‘Of course, I’d never touch a Mudblood. “Can’t trust the stable, can’t trust the filly”, that’s what I say. There’s always something… shady, don’t you think?’
His friends sniggered, glancing up at Lily, who turned, cheeks burning.
‘I prefer to make my own decisions about who to trust. I wouldn’t trust you not to sell your own grandmother--wherever her blood comes from.’
Severus sneered. ‘You won’t be asked to, Mudblood.’ He spoke the last word quietly and deliberately. Lily spun round, hair flying behind her, and left the room as swiftly as she could, blindly fighting her way through the crowds.
Somehow, she got through Potions and Charms without letting her shame and rage show. Perhaps she didn’t answer as many questions as usual, but no-one commented. As soon as morning break came, she swiftly gathered her things together and went outside, ignoring her friends who were heading for the common room. Walking rapidly, she soon left the normal habitats of the breaktime Quidditch players and headed towards the lake.
Seeing a large oak tree ahead of her, Lily walked around its circumference until she was absolutely shielded from view. Then she sank down and put her head in her hands. Why, why had she allowed him to get to her like that? She’d always shrugged off taunts about her parents before now. And no-one paid any attention to that rat, Severus Snape. Snivellus, the boys called him, but she couldn’t bear that mocking, self-assured, arrogant tone and the way that he looked at her as if she were a lowly house elf, or worse. She longed to slap him or hit him with some particularly excruciating curse. Anything that would wipe that sneer from his face and show him that she was as good as he. No, better. She began pulling up grass aimlessly, replaying the morning’s encounter again and again.
Oh God, she could hear people coming. Someone was shouting, ‘Hey, Remus!’ That sounded like Sirius Black. Lily couldn’t bear to be seen in this state. She pressed back against the tree and held her breath, hoping they wouldn’t notice her. Remus shouted something back and there was the unmistakable sound of Marauder laughter.
Then James’s voice rose over the general hubbub, ‘Over here, Pete.’ It sounded like they were playing some game. Lily crouched, arms wrapped around her knees, trying to make herself smaller.
‘Whoops!’ She heard Sirius again, laughing wildly. His shout was followed up by a winged frisbee landing just feet away from Lily’s tree. Panicking, Lily fumbled in her bag for a book that she could hide her face in and hope her presence wouldn’t be worthy of any remark.
The footsteps of whichever Marauder was coming to look for the frisbee grew louder.
‘Hullo, Evans.’ It was James Potter. It would be.
Lily tried to smile at him, hoping he would just go away.
‘Hey, what’s up?’ He came closer, bending down to look at her. She shook her head, unable to speak for fear of the tears that were already stinging in her eyes.
He grimaced. ‘Look, I don’t want to pry, but if there’s anything I can do to help?’ His voice sounded quite different from usual, as if he were genuinely concerned, but Lily was incapable of working out what this meant so she simply shook her head again and reached for her handkerchief.
‘Okay, I’ll go.’ He reached out and squeezed her shoulder in a comforting gesture. ‘But you know there’s only a few minutes left before the bell goes.’
‘I’ve got a free period,’ she whispered.
‘Right.’ He smiled encouragingly at her. ‘See you later then, Evans.’
An hour later, Lily made her way back to school. Dumbledore himself was coming to teach the Defense Against the Dark Arts class and she’d been looking forward to it all week. But now she could only think about the fact that Severus was going to be there and she was going to have to ignore him. Whatever he said.
She slipped into the classroom, slightly later than she would have liked, to find that all the seats at the front of the class had been taken. She looked around for Angela and Caroline, who would surely have saved a place for her. Determinedly, she didn’t let her eyes focus on Snape or his cronies. Then she spotted someone waving discreetly at her.
‘Over here, Evans.’ For the first time in her life, Lily was grateful for James Potter’s cheerful, teasing face. It made her feel like herself again. She smiled shyly at him and sank gratefully onto the hard chair.
Dumbledore had decided that the class needed to learn about the three Unforgivable Curses. Lily began taking copious notes, not allowing herself to dwell on the horrifying tales Dumbledore was recounting of incidents when the curses had been used. Potter wasn’t writing anything down, she noticed. He winked at her and nodded towards Snape.
Severus had begun to bounce in his chair. Just rising half an inch, no more, he was being lifted and dropped as if he were a rubber ball. Lily looked sharply back at James but he shook his head, denying all responsibility.
As Dumbledore went on, Snape’s bounce grew larger and larger.
‘Severus Snape. Will you please sit on your chair and stop bouncing like an excited first year?’ snapped the Headmaster.
Severus went bright red and tried to hold onto the desk. By this stage, his bounces were so high and powerful that this simply resulted in the whole desk being lifted two feet off the ground and then dropped with a loud clatter.
Dumbledore paused, surveying the still bouncing Severus.
‘Mmm. The Rebound Charm. I don’t think I’ve seen that for, now let me see, was it four years ago or five that we had Tom Dunn in the seventh year?’ Lily could have sworn Dumbledore’s lips were twitching as if he were trying not to smile. ‘Perfect, really, for that fat little boy. What was his name? Yes, Marcus Crabbe, I think. Yes, that’s right.’
‘Please sir,’ asked Severus through gritted teeth, ‘will you stop it?’
‘Oh but Severus, I thought you understood.’ Dumbledore’s face was the picture of innocent concern. ‘It’s an Exclusive Charm. Only the person who hexed you can remove it. I thought you covered Exclusive Charms last year?’
They had, of course, and everyone else giggled.
‘Does anyone know who hexed Severus?’
Everybody shook their heads, although Lily was fairly sure James knew the answer.
‘Then I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for it to work itself out. It shouldn’t take more than an hour or two. Perhaps you’d better remain in here, though. I wouldn’t care for you to get lost up in the rafters of the building, or the moving staircases. Oh no, that wouldn’t do at all. Well, then.’ Dumbledore turned to the rest of the class and, with a ghost of a smile, announced that they were dismissed. ‘We’ll continue this next week.’
Lily caught up with Angela and Caroline on the way to the Great Hall for lunch.
‘Wasn’t that fabulous?’ She couldn’t stop the grin spreading across her face every time she remembered how Snape had looked and what Dumbledore had said. It was wonderful and she didn’t much care how it had happened.
‘I wonder who did hex Severus.’ Caroline was evidently more curious than Lily.
‘And why didn’t he just tell Dumbledore?’ pondered Angela.
Lily, who had been wondering this herself, shrugged. ‘Perhaps he knew he had it coming,’ she said, rather more viciously than she had intended.
‘Has he been annoying you again?’
Lily nodded briefly as she helped herself to chicken and mushroom pie.
‘You didn’t hex him, Lily?’ asked Caro, slyly. ‘Or someone else on your behalf?’
‘Of course not. I wouldn’t stoop so low,’ responded Lily instantly. She didn’t tell them that she fully intended to confront James Potter as soon as she could get him on his own.
Author’s note: For those who are interested, the title of this fic comes from Andrew Marvell’s beautiful poem, ‘To His Coy Mistress’. He acknowledges that love deserves to take a long time to develop and be enjoyed:
‘Had we but world enough and time, this coyness, lady, were no crime’.
It goes on to point out the nearness of death and the urgency that brings.
‘The grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace.’
Which seemed particularly appropriate for James and Lily