In hindsight, Lily really shouldn't have written up a list of all the boys she'd ever fancied and what she liked about each of them.
But in her defence, she had absolutely no reason to believe that any part of that list would ever see anywhere other than the inside of her nightstand drawer. That reasoning, however, completely ignored the existence of a vengeful older sister by the name of Petunia Evans.
In the aftermath of some massive fight between the two girls, Petunia had been looking for a missing tube of mascara in her sister's room and had instead happened upon the list: five names, each followed by a brief sets of bullets about what she liked most about each of them.
And so Petunia had cut the paper into five pieces, looked up the boys' addresses, and sent each of them off in little pink envelopes, signed 'Love, Lily Evans.'
Lily, of course, knew about absolutely none of this until it was entirely too late.
As such, she's completely thrown for a loop when a cryptic text message from Remus pops up on her phone.
Uhh, Lily, you know I'm gay, right?
Trust me, I've witnessed you and Sirius snogging enough to know that.
"Lily, James is here!" her mum's voice rings out from downstairs.
"Can you send him up?" Lily yells back. "I'm in the middle of something!"
She looks down at her phone right as the new message alert pops up.
Then what's this all about?
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Lily drops her phone as if it's burned her. And then she picks it back up again, staring at the image she just received from one of her closest friends, because no, it can't be.
But alas, it is. Looking right back at Lily is her own loopy handwriting:
Reasons I fancy Remus Lupin:
-Pretty brown eyes
-Smart, but not in an overbearing/know-it-all type of way
-Super informed and passionate about activism in politics
That's… her note. Remus has her note. How the hell did he get her note?
When she finally figures out how to breathe again, she taps out a reply.
Where'd you get that?
It came in the mail today.
Lily instantly scrambles to her nightstand, opening the top drawer and reaching towards the back. And of course, there's nothing back there anymore. The piece of paper is gone.
No, not gone. It has apparently been sent out into the world, which is objectively ten thousand times worse than just being 'gone.'
Holy shit. Holy shit. She's going to murder Petunia for this. They've done all sorts of petty, stupid things to each other over the years - but this... this is a whole new level of cruel.
She mentally ticks through the five boys who would've received one of those slips of paper.
First up was Benjy Fenwick, the sweet, slightly theatre-obsessed boy she had lunch period with in year 7. They'd bonded over a mutual love of Phantom of the Opera and Wicked, and the fact that Benjy's mum always threw a pack of Maltesers into his lunchbox even though he hated them. Luckily for Lily, she didn't share the same aversion.
Next up was Remus - Lily had developed a bit of a crush on him in year 9. He was bookish, soft-spoken, and cute in that slightly-nerdy way that worked really well for him. That crush was short-lived, however, because Remus came out to her a few months later and started dating Sirius not long after.
Third: Bertram Aubrey. He's a year older than them – so he's probably off at uni now, anyways. They'd both entered the science fair last year, and Lily was absolutely swooning at this blond, picture-perfect boy who loved talking about polymerase chain reactions and chromatography.
Fourth on that list was Dirk Cresswell. He's younger than Lily by a year, and it's probably a little questionable that she'd taken to fancying him anyways, because they'd first met while she was tutoring him in Biology. But she's pretty sure the sweet boy with chunky spectacles fancied her as well at the time, so maybe it's not that awkward.
But the fifth and final note is the one that makes Lily's skin crawl, because she's absolutely terrified of how the boy in question will react to it.
She hasn't spoken to Severus Snape in over a year, for a whole host of reasons. The boy's politics are repulsive – he'd made more than one comment in the past about immigrants that had made Lily want to slap him – and he'd gotten oddly possessive of her in the months leading up to the severance of their friendship. And then there was the final straw: he'd called her a slut when he overheard that she'd hooked up with a random boy at a party, as if somehow that one action was a reflection of her overall virtue as a person. Lily was so hurt and offended and righteously indignant that she swore up and down that she'd never speak to him again.
But the truth is that, at one point, long before she'd realized what an arse he was, she'd had an inkling of a crush on him. She'd admired how smart he was and how good he was at chemistry, and how he'd helped her stand up to Petunia when she was being mean. And they were such good friends, too. And so his name got added to the list.
"Er, are you okay, Lily?" She snaps her head up in the direction of James' voice. The boy in question is leaning against the doorway, watching her with an amused expression behind tortoiseshell glasses.
"You're staring at that phone like you've just found out the Queen died…" he trails off, suddenly looking concerned. "Oh God, the Queen didn't die, did she?"
"No, nope, it's not that," Lily answers.
It's a much bigger fucking deal than that.
"Care to explain then?"
Lily flops back onto her bed, staring up at the ceiling. "So I kind of… wrote a bunch of love notes."
James' eyebrows shoot up, disappearing into his messy fringe. "You what?"
"Most of them were years ago," Lily quickly amends. "And they weren't even love notes, really – it was just a list of boys I fancied and what I liked most about them. It was a scientific thing, really. I was trying to see if I had a type – you know, one common thread between all of them that would explain the type of person I'm attracted to."
"And this is causing you to panic because…?"
"Because Petunia sent them out. She cut them up and sent them out in little envelopes, and now they've all gotten them apparently, and… fuck."
James frowns, and sits on the bed next to her. "So who all got a letter?"
"That's the problem," Lily sighs, sitting up. "Remus got one and texted me about it – that one's fine, he's with Sirius and he totally gets that I wrote it ages ago. Then there's Benjy Fenwick, Bertram Aubrey, and Dirk Cresswell – and like, those are all super awkward, but they're not the ones I'm worried about."
"So who's the one you're worried about then?"
Lily can't even look him in the eye when she mumbles out the answer.
"You fancied Snape?"
That's actually a milder reaction than she'd expected from James. The two boys had never gotten along well – which was an absolute nightmare when Lily was still attempting to be friends with both.
Lily avoids James' eyes and instead focuses on playing with the ends of her hair. "Sort of? It was ages ago, before I realized what a terrible person he is. But I just know he's going to use this as an excuse to try to get close to me again, and I am so horrendously unprepared to deal with his manipulation tactics again."
James doesn't have an answer to that.
Lily opts to dramatically fall onto her back again. "God, this whole thing would be so much easier if I had a boyfriend or something – you know, make it very obvious that I'm not interested in any of them anymore."
And then she gets an idea.
"Unless," she says, propping herself up on her elbows. "James, can you be my boyfriend?"
His eyes almost pop out of his head and he just stares at her, slack-jawed. Lily quickly realizes that she's phrased this question terribly and that he's probably panicking and trying to come up with a way to turn her down gently because they're childhood friends for heaven's sake, and it sounds an awful lot like she just asked him out.
"Not, like, for real," she adds. "We'd just be pretending. Just for long enough to get Snape and the rest of them to leave me alone. I swear I'll make it up to you somehow. Plus, it'd be a chance for you to make that new girl you've been talking to – what's her name? Hestia, right? You'd get a chance to make her jealous, so really, it's a win for both of us."
Lily's a bit out of breath from how fast she said all that, and James is still staring at her, looking a bit stunned. He has, though, at least regained the ability to blink.
"Please?" she says, giving James her best attempt at puppy-dog eyes. "I'll – I'll go across town and find a pack of those deer-shaped lollies you like so much or something. I know it's kind of a really ridiculous means of handling this, but I think the ridiculousness of it is what'll make it work – I just really don't want to have to deal with Snape after all of this."
"Er, yeah," he answers eventually, a hand flying up to the back of his neck. "I guess I can do that."
Lily sits up and hugs him, before looking at him seriously. "Thank you James, you're literally saving my ass."
"Just don't go falling for me, Evans," he replies with a cheeky grin.
She laughs. "Oh, you don't have to worry about that."
Lily could very well be imagining it, but she swears his smile becomes a bit more forced at that.
They work on homework for a bit – James providing live commentary on his art history reading as Lily attempts to balance chemical reactions – until James gets a text from his mum reminding him that dinner's going to be ready soon.
He grabs all his papers off Lily's bed, careful not to grab any of hers, before stuffing them into his backpack.
"See you tomorrow, Lily," he says, swinging his bag onto one of his shoulders.
And then he does something entirely unexpected. He leans down and kisses her. It's nothing grand – just a little peck on the lips – but it's enough to make Lily stare at him, stunned and at a complete loss for words.
"I – what?" she eventually stutters.
James smirks at her. "If we're going to be pretending that we're a couple, you're going to have to get used to the concept of me kissing you. And I had a pretty good feeling you'd react like that the first time, so I figured we might as well get it out of the way when no one was watching."
She throws a pillow at him, but he dodges it, laughing on his way out of her room and all the way down the hall.
When she hears his footsteps start going down the stairs, she brings a finger to her lips, which are still tingling from the contact.
Well, that was an experience.
On Monday, James is waiting in her front lawn to walk to school with her.
They've always done this – so the concept of him walking with her to school shouldn't feel that foreign – but there's something different about it this time.
It's partly (okay, mostly) due to the fact that, before they round the corner to Hogwarts College, James grabs on to her hand, lacing his fingers in between her own.
Oh, right, Lily mentally berates herself. That's the sort of thing couples are supposed to do.
Why is James so much more of a natural at this fake-dating stuff than she is?
She squeezes his hand just before they walk through the doors to the school, as both a gesture of gratitude and a little way of saying 'okay, we've got this.'
It's not until they get to the café that anyone really notices this new development between Lily and James.
"Did I miss something?" Marlene McKinnon asks, grinning wolfishly at the two of them as they join her at the table.
"Oh, yeah, er," Lily stumbles through her words. As great an idea as this whole 'fake relationship' thing was at the time, Lily didn't really think through the fact that she'd end up lying to her friends about it as well.
She's saved from her awkward moment, however, by the arrival of the most dramatic person she knows. "Well, well, well – what do we have here?" Sirius announces dramatically, falling into the seat on the other side of James. "Could it be? Are you two really, finally together?"
Lily's a bit jarred by how Sirius' use of the word 'finally,' as if her dating James was something he'd been expecting to happen, but she's got an answer for him this time. "Yeah, we are," she replies, hoping she sounds a bit more confident than she feels.
"Well, thank fuck." Sirius sighs dramatically. "I was beginning to think that James was never going to – oi, OUCH."
He stops mid-sentence to glare at James, who seems to be glaring right back. "As I was saying," Sirius starts again, "I was beginning to think James was never going to date anyone after that Amelia bird."
Lily thinks back to James' last girlfriend – was it two years ago? Amelia Bones was drop-dead gorgeous, with hair like sunshine and a personality to match. She and James had been rather happy together for a total of five months, before she found out that she was transferring to a school up north, and the prospect of long-distance was entirely too much to handle for a couple of sixteen-year-olds.
"Yeah, well that was two years ago," James says, releasing Lily's hand to run his hand through his hair.
She hadn't realized she was still holding it.
The bell rings, and they all get up to walk to their respective classes. James has English first period and she's got Biology, but he walks with her to her classroom anyways.
She tries to tell him that he doesn't have to, but in the end, she's really fucking grateful he insisted.
Because of course, as she rounded the corner to the science hall, who else would she see on the other end of the hallway but Severus Snape? And the look he gives her – oddly hopeful, full of questions – makes her stomach tie itself in knots.
"Shit," she says under her breath, looking away from the boy she's desperately trying to avoid. "It's Snape."
So she does what any totally rational person would do in this situation: she grabs James by the collar and starts kissing him.
He reacts to the surprise remarkably well – after the initial shock of it wears off, he starts to kiss her back, turning so that her back bumps softly against the wall. From this angle, there's absolutely no way that Snape can't see them.
Lily isn't entirely sure how long they stay like that, kissing against the wall in the middle of the hallway, but it's definitely long enough to make sure Snape gets the message. And then some.
"Mr. Potter! Miss Evans!" a sharp voice interrupts them. "No public displays of affection in the hallway!"
Lily breaks apart from James just in time to see McGonagall turn the corner down the next hallway. Yikes.
"Worth it," James grins. "That should get Snape off your back for a little bit, yeah?"
Lily doesn't get a chance to respond, because James is already halfway down the hallway before she catches her breath again.
So instead, she's stuck with an incredibly boring Biology lecture and a never-ending fluttering in her stomach whenever she thinks about how damn cheeky James looked after she kissed him.
After the initial awkwardness of that first day, fake-dating James becomes a lot easier.
Something about being friends for six years makes it easy to predict each other's moves, which helps to eliminate a lot of that early relationship awkwardness of 'is now a weird time to be holding hands?' and 'is he going in for a hug or a kiss?'
They just… know, somehow. It's kind of unnerving, just how well they're able to pull this whole thing off. It's almost to the point that Lily manages to forget that they're faking this thing every once in a while.
They end up on a double-date with Sirius and Remus, squished into a tiny booth at The Three Broomsticks Diner around the corner from the school. It's almost exactly like any other time they've all hung out, except James has his arm draped along the back of the booth behind Lily and her hand is resting on his left thigh.
"Binns had the most boring lecture on Much Ado About Nothing today," James says, waving a chip around as he talks. "And that's saying something, because that's my favourite Shakespeare play. And he just… ruined it!"
"At least you didn't have to sit through Slughorn talking about carbon bonds for an hour straight today," Lily replies, reaching for the plate of chips herself, "as if we haven't been talking about them since year 8."
"Can confirm," Remus adds. "It was miserable, and he spent at least half the lesson doting on Snape's 'absolutely smashing' essay from last week."
Sirius rolls his eyes. "Fuck, that's enough to ruin anyone's day. God knows Snivellus doesn't need any more of a reason to have his head up his own ass."
He pauses for a moment. "No offense, Lily."
They're all still occasionally sensitive about making comments about Snape around Lily, on account of the one time in year 10 where she'd yelled at them for being so unnecessarily rude to him.
Looking back, even Lily can admit that he'd probably deserved most of their scorn. And the fact that they'd filled his backpack with jelly just before their GCSEs was kind of funny, in a way.
"None taken. You lot know exactly how I feel about him nowadays." She looks over at James as she says this, locking eyes with him.
Out of nowhere, James reaches up to cup her face, his thumb gently swiping against the corner of her mouth and lingering on her bottom lip.
"You, er, had a bit of sauce there," he stammers.
There's a softness in his eyes that gives Lily pause; how had she never noticed the specks of gold in amongst the hazel before?
Lily isn't sure what kind of boldness manages to overtake her body, but she finds herself parting her lips slightly, taking James' thumb in her mouth and gently sucking the aforementioned sauce off of it. Her eyes don't leave his this entire time, and she doesn't miss the way his pupils dilate as his gaze drops from her eyes to her lips.
Out of nowhere, Lily's hit with the sudden desire to kiss him. And not in the doing-this-for-show kind of way.
"Damn, you two, save the bedroom eyes for a less public place."
Thank heavens for Sirius – his words are what finally snap Lily out of her (very odd, completely unexpected) trance. She feels her cheeks heat up, although perhaps not for the reason that Sirius would expect.
What was she thinking? They're supposed to be putting on a show, yes, but what just happened between the two of them seemed a bit more dramatic than entirely necessary for this sort of thing.
"Sorry," James mutters, quickly pulling his hand away from Lily.
"Ah, young love," Sirius responds, sounding a bit more like he's eighty than eighteen. "Do you remember when we were like that, Remus?"
"You mean like a year ago?" Remus responds dryly, always the realist foil to Sirius's dramatics.
"Yes, that's exactly what I mean," is Sirius's resolute response.
They've done a near-perfect job of convincing everyone that they're a couple.
None of the other boys that Lily's notes got sent to – Benjy, Bertram, Dirk, or Snape – have even tried to approach her. Just a little longer, and her and James will be able to call off this whole ruse and let things go back to the way they used to be.
But for now, she's earned herself a spot in the girlfriends-plus-Remus club at school football games. It's nothing but a load of girls wearing their boyfriends' jerseys during the game and cheering extra loudly when their given boy's name is mentioned by the announcer, but it still has a note of exclusivity at Hogwarts.
She sits next to Remus, who spends approximately half the game reading and the other half complaining about the referees. When the game pauses for halftime, Remus unexpectedly puts his book down and turns to look at Lily.
"You know, it's awfully coincidental that you and James just happened to start dating the same weekend those notes of yours got sent out," he comments.
Lily tries to laugh, but it comes out incredibly forced. "Yeah, funny timing, that."
"It wasn't a coincidence, was it?" Remus' response sounds more like a statement than a question.
"I – it – " She gives up. "No, it wasn't."
Remus' expression changes, and his tone turns somewhat angry. "So this whole thing is just staged, then. You realize how fucked up that is for James, right? You stringing him along like this?"
"No!" Lily quickly defends. "James knows it isn't real – he's in on it."
The loudspeaker crackles back to life again and the players come back onto the field, signaling the upcoming start of the second half.
"His head may know that, but I'm not so sure about his heart," comes Remus' reply.
Lily finds James amongst the Hogwarts team, laughing with Sirius about something as they jog to their respective positions on the football field. Objectively, she can admit that he looks really good in a football uniform.
"I… I don't know what you mean by that," she responds.
"Just… don't go messing him around, yeah?"
Lily's a little stunned by that – is he having the same conversation with James, or does Remus think that she, in particular, is really just that cruel? She wouldn't intentionally hurt James – Remus should know that – and she's actually a bit offended by the accusation.
But instead of fighting him, she gives a simple answer. "I won't. But you can't tell anyone the truth, yeah? Not even Sirius."
"I'm not going tell your secret, Lily," he promises.
The referee throws a yellow flag at Sirius, and the conversation is essentially terminated by Remus's impassioned shouting of, "The other team did that two minutes ago, where's their fucking flag!?"
Lily can't stop thinking about what Remus said to her at the football game.
I'm not so sure about his heart.
James doesn't fancy her – that's ridiculous. If he fancied her, he'd be acting differently when they're alone, wouldn't they? James has always been an awfully blatant flirt with girls he thinks are fit, and thus far he's pulled none of those moves on Lily – at least, not when they're not intentionally doing it for the sake of an audience.
They're alone at the park down the street from their house, sitting on a ratty blanket and drinking tea out of thermoses. It's a bit of a tradition for them, this – as soon as it gets warm enough to spend time outside without losing feeling in their fingers, they relocate their study sessions to the park.
"Holy fuck," James murmurs in the middle of reading something.
"Yes?" Lily replies, fighting off a smile at how affronted James looks by whatever he's just read.
"So, like, you know how everyone always praises Sigmund Freud for being the father of modern psychology, right?" James says, looking up from his textbook.
Lily nods – she doesn't take psychology, but she's definitely heard quite a bit about Freud.
"Well apparently, a lot of his 'research,' " James makes air quotes at this, "was botched for the sake of the men who were paying him. He basically invented hysteria as a psychological disorder out of thin air instead of addressing the legitimacy of women's trauma. He literally fucked over the entire field of psychology for decades for the sake of not losing money from his clients' wealthy husbands and fathers."
James doesn't get like this – as in, incredibly passionate about obscure academic facts – with people other than Lily. He likes to give off an air of nonchalance when it comes to school, likes to pretend that he's not secretly a massive nerd about Elizabethan-era literature and psychological studies.
Lily's always liked that she gets these glimpses at his more intellectual side.
And maybe that's what does it – what causes her to close the gap between the two of them and press her lips to his.
He doesn't react immediately, and Lily pulls back. What the hell was she thinking – they're fake dating, for fuck's sake. This isn't part of the deal.
But then he pulls her back to him again, and all boundaries between what's real and what's fake completely evaporate.
She threads her fingers through the mess of black hair atop his head – it's softer than usual, she swears – and tugs on it just a little, eliciting a groan from James as he turns the kiss to an open-mouthed one.
She's kissed boys before – hell, she's kissed James before – but this is somehow a totally different experience. Electricity zips through every last inch of her body, setting every nerve ending on fire.
James brings an arm around her waist, shifting their bodies so that she's laying on the flannel blanket and he's on top of her. Something's poking into her back – her chemistry textbook, in all likelihood – but everything else about this situation feels so damn good that a sharp corner is absolutely the last thing she's thinking about.
How did she never realize that her fake boyfriend was this good at snogging?
She puts her hands on James' shoulders, pushing him away and effectively breaking the kiss. The sudden space between them allows Lily to scramble out from underneath him.
She refuses to look at him – she knows he's going to look very freshly snogged, and she doesn't know what to do with that information. If she doesn't look at him, she can make herself ignore it. Instead, she quickly grabs all her stuff – it was her chemistry book that she was on top of, after all – and shoves it into her bag.
"I'm sorry," she blurts out, still refusing to look anywhere but the ground. "I shouldn't have done that."
And so she turns on her heel and runs home.
The next morning, James is waiting for her in front of her house, like always.
But instead of spending the walk chatting and laughing, they walk in stony silence, the distance between them palpable.
James finally breaks the silence, a few minutes before they get to school.
"Are we going to talk about this?" he asks, gesturing vaguely between the two of them.
"Nope," she answers simply.
She still has absolutely no idea where her own head is at – much less his – and she'd very much like to pretend that nothing happened until she reaches that point.
But she still grabs his hand when they turn the corner.
The show must go on, after all.
The rest of the week continues in much of the same fashion – pretending to be fine in public, not speaking at all when they're alone.
Lily would've thought that, by now, she'd have a better understanding of what all this meant. But instead, she's still just as confused, and has taken to blocking out the memory of that impromptu snogging session instead.
It's exhausting, all of this at once – keeping up the lie while trying to sort through where the hell her head is at. So much so, that she's on the verge of skipping Mary McDonald's party on Saturday night; she probably would've actually done so were it not for how affronted Marlene had been when Lily suggested she might bail.
And so she finds herself dressed in a short black skirt and lacy halter top, walking up the drive to the McDonald's residence with Marlene.
Marlene has spent most of the walk here talking about Mary's friend Dorcas from another school, who Marlene apparently met at a previous party, and Lily is doing her best to listen, even though her mind is completely occupied with the dread of pretending, again, that she and James are a happy couple.
The 'couple' part is easy enough to pull off, but the 'happy,' not so much.
"So I'm just hoping she shows up tonight," Marlene finishes.
"Yeah, I hope she does too," Lily responds. Someonedeserves to have a good time tonight, and Lily has a pretty good feeling it's not going to be her.
The party's only just started when Lily and Marlene walk in, but it's clear that there's plenty of alcohol to go around. Lily grabs a VK – she can't stand beer, so this will have to do – and looks around for her fake boyfriend.
"Hiya, Lily!" An overly eager voice reaches her ears, and an arm gets thrown around her shoulders.
"Hi Sirius," she answers.
It's obvious that he started drinking long before this party began.
"I don't know how I'm dating someone who gets drunk by the beginning of the party," Remus says, coming up beside his boyfriend.
"You loooooove me," comes Sirius' eloquent response.
"And do I need to remind you of last year's New Year's Eve party?" Lily adds, smirking at Remus. "You two are more alike than you like to think."
Remus flushes, muttering something about 'bloody pennies.'
"So, where's your boyfriend at?" Sirius asks, dropping his arm from around her shoulders. "I haven't seen him since we got here."
Lily shrugs. "I haven't seen him yet either. Have you, Remus?"
"Er, yeah," he answers. "I, uh, think he's over by the beer pong table."
Lily cranes her head to look in that direction, and suddenly understands why Remus sounded so hesitant to tell her where James was.
He's leaned up against a wall, beer in hand, chatting and laughing with Hestia Jones.
The girl in question flips her long black hair over her shoulder, laughing at something James has just said. Then, she reaches out and places her hand on his bicep. And James, it seems, is doing absolutely nothing to discourage this blatant flirting.
Lily feels like she's been punched in the gut. And then, the anger bubbles to the surface.
What the hell does he think he's doing?
She ditches her mostly empty drink on a nearby counter and marches across the room to where James and Hestia are standing.
"Hi, babe," Lily says, her voice overly saccharine as she wraps an arm around James' waist. "Can we talk? Alone?"
A mixture of emotions flashes across James' face, starting with surprise, followed by anger, and ending with resignation. "Sure. We'll chat later, Hestia, yeah?"
Lily doesn't even let Hestia answer him before she grabs James' hand and leads him into the first empty room she can find.
As soon as the door clicks behind her, she rounds on James. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she hisses. "You're my boyfriend, you're not supposed to be flirting with other girls."
"Fake boyfriend, you mean," James corrects, an unfamiliar coldness to his tone. "And this whole thing between us is going to be ending soon anyways, and as you said yourself, the whole point of this for me was supposed to be to make Hestia a little jealous. So excuse me for trying to get some sort of benefit from this situation."
Lily scoffs. "Yeah, well you don't make a girl jealous by openly flirting with her. So really, I'm just helping your cause."
"Or," James replies, stepping closer to her, "you're jealous."
"I am not jealous. This is a fake relationship, James. I have no reason to be jealous."
He raises an eyebrow at her. "So why'd you kiss me then? Because you and I both know you initiated that, and it definitely wasn't part of this whole act you forced me into."
How dare he act like he didn't enter into this willingly – like he didn't go along with the idea almost as soon as she'd proposed it.
"I didn't force you into anything, James," she snaps. "You agreed to it. And as for the kiss, I don't know, okay? It was a moment of weakness, nothing more."
Saying it like that, out loud, makes it feel more true.
"You mean to say that kiss meant absolutely nothing to you?"
They're so close that, if Lily really wanted to, she could kiss him again if only she got up on her tiptoes. But the anger in her veins is keeping her grounded to the last shred of rationality she has left, so she stays glued in place.
"Yes? Maybe?" she replies.
James steps back, throwing his hands in the air in frustration. "Then why the fuck did you do it? You just thought it'd be fun to fuck around with me and just run away?"
"That's not what I was doing!" she cries. She's reminded of her conversation with Remus again – the one where she swore she wasn't going to do anything like that.
"Then what were you doing?" he asks accusingly.
Now it's Lily's turn to throw her hands in the air. "I don't fucking know!"
James crosses his arms. "Well, you should probably figure that out."
"You don't think I've been trying to?" she says, her tone changing from anger to exasperation. "I – fuck, James, this has made things so bloody complicated. I shouldn't have asked you to do this. I should've handled the aftermath of those notes like an adult instead of using you as a cover."
He scoffs at her. "It's too fucking late for that now."
"Yeah, thanks for that," Lily replies, rolling her eyes, "I hadn't figured that one out yet."
There's a moment of silence between the two of them – stiff and distinctly uncomfortable.
When James opens his mouth again, his voice is softer and full of something that, if Lily had to name it, sounds an awful lot like hurt. "Why didn't I get one?"
She just blinks at him, unable to find any words.
His voice gets louder. "Am I really that repulsive to you? That you've never once in the six years we've known each other even thought…? I mean, for fuck's sake, you included Snape on that list, and you and I both know he's a misogynistic piece of shit who you don't even talk to anymore!"
"James, I – "
He cuts her off. "And I get it that you don't, like, owe it to me to be attracted to me or anything, but I just... I guess I thought after all these years that you'd feel at least a fraction of the feelings I have for you."
And before Lily has a chance to reply, or to even begin to process the significance of what James has just said, he's got his back to her and he's walking away.
Lily should chase after him, call his name, something – but instead she's frozen in place, paralysed by some mixture of confusion and fear. She doesn't even know what she'd say to him anyways.
Lily spends most of Sunday deep in thought – which is awfully counterproductive given how much reading she has set for Physics.
Has James really fancied her for years? It seems so unlikely – he's dated a few other girls in that time, kissed loads, and flirted with even more. And in all that time, he'd never once tried to pull any moves on Lily.
It just doesn't add up.
But at the same time, it does. It makes perfect sense. Why James so willingly agreed to something as ludicrous as pretending to date her. Why Remus was so concerned that she was stringing him along.
And in a way, she supposes that's what she'd been doing. She didn't mean to do it – didn't mean to mess him about in the way that she did – but the truth of the matter was that she had.
And for that, she feels overwhemingly guilty.
On Monday morning, James isn't waiting in front of her house. For the first time in six years, she walks to school alone.
She feels his absence acutely – there's no one there to make dumb comments and obscure literary references that make her laugh. And there's no one to grab her hand as they walk into school.
Lily's a bit surprised by how much she misses that one in particular.
She intentionally avoids James, Remus, Sirius, and Marlene at their usual table, opting instead to go straight to her first period class.
She's busying herself with organizing her notes when her phone buzzes. It's Marlene.
Did you and James break up? I ask bc you're MIA and he looks like shite.
Sort of? I think so.
Typing it out like that has a sort of finality to it, making it so much more real than when the words were just bouncing around in her head.
And it hurts. Even though the relationship wasn't real, its ending feels like genuine heartbreak. Maybe because, in the process, she might've destroyed her friendship with James as well.
And he's her best friend – one of the single most important people in her entire life.
As the bell rings and the rest of her class starts filing into the classroom, Lily finds herself biting her lip and focusing all of her energy on trying not to cry.
If you want to talk about it, I'm here.
Lily looks at Marlene's text, and realizes that maybe, just maybe, talking about it with someone is just what she needs to finally process all of this.
You're a doll. Go off-campus for lunch and chat then?
Sounds like a plan xx
Apparently, rumours of her and James' 'break-up' have spread much farther than just Marlene.
Lily's gathering up her books from her desk when a familiar figure walks up in front of her.
"Is it true you and Potter broke up?" Snape asks, watching her intently.
"That's none of your business," Lily replies coldly. Her morning has already been rough enough without having to deal with him as well.
Snape apparently takes her response as a confirmation. "I knew you two weren't going to last. You're too good for the likes of him."
Lily finds herself suddenly jumping to James' defense. "If anything, he's too good for me."
Snape scoffs. "Unlikely."
"What, because you think you're so much better? Because you're wrong about that."
Lily starts to walk away, but unfortunately, Snape falls into step with her. "You didn't seem to think so a few weeks ago," he says, pulling a pink envelope out of his pocket.
She's somewhat surprised that he's held onto the letter for so long – and carries it around in his pocket, for heaven's sake – but also, she really shouldn't be surprised by that fact. That sort of obsessive behaviour had always been par for the course with him.
She turns to face him – if they're going to have this conversation, they're going to do it face-to-face so that there's no doubt that she means exactly what she says.
"Severus, I wrote that over a year ago. My sister found it and sent it to you as revenge. So while I might have had an inkling of a crush on you then, I feel absolutely nothing even remotely close to that about you now. I mean, honestly, I fancy that rubbish bin over there more than I fancy you."
She takes a deep breath before continuing. "Not to mention, James is ten thousand times the man you are; and for the record, I'm the one that fucked up our relationship, not him. So please, for the love of God, leave me alone."
This. This was the thing she should've done all along, instead of forcing James to go along with some stupid plan. She should've walked up to Snape and made it clear just how dead her feelings for him really were, and saved everyone a whole lot of trouble.
She turns on her heel and walks down the hall, but not before she notices James out of the corner of her eye, stopped in his tracks, having clearly overheard their entire conversation.
She and Marlene are sitting in a booth at The Three Broomsticks when Lily finally tells the truth about what happened between her and James.
"So you're telling me… everything between you two was entirely staged?" Marlene's staring at her in disbelief.
Lily takes a sip of her extra-large chocolate milkshake. "Yes? In a sense? But I think some lines got blurred on both sides and we both kind of forgot what was real and what wasn't."
"So what's the issue then? Why don't you just turn it into a real relationship instead of a fake one?"
Lily sighs. "Because I don't know how I feel about him. I mean, he's definitely one of my best friends, and he's definitely one of the best snogs I've ever had, but I don't know if that means we'd be good in a relationship."
"Bullshit," Marlene replies immediately. "A best friend who you've also got great sexual chemistry with? You literally just described everyone's dream, Lily. And fucking hell, I know you two were faking the relationship, but I refuse to believe the way you two would look at each other wasn't real – no one is that good at acting, much less you and James."
She stuffs a chip in her mouth before continuing. "Also, you said you wrote that list of boys to see if you've got a type? Well, good news for you, I can confirm that you most definitely have a type. It's James."
Lily cocks her head at her friend, wanting an explanation for this.
"James is literally a mashup of all the things you liked best about all those boys. He's got Benjy's sweetness, Remus' passion about things, Bertram's whole hot-body-and-great-brain combo, Dirk's sense of humour, and the close friendship you had with Snape. Face it, Lily, he's basically what would happen if Build-a-Bear had a boyfriend option."
Lily abruptly stops slurping her milkshake. She can't deny that Marlene makes a really good point. "You really think so?"
"I do," she replies. "And here's another hot take, while we're at it: you've fancied James for years, even if you yourself didn't realize it. And you didn't realize it because what you feel for James is different than what you've felt for any of those boys you wrote on your stupid list – those were fleeting little crushes that were never actually destined to turn into anything. But James… that's so much bigger than a flimsy little fling."
When Marlene says it, it makes a lot of sense. James has always felt like comfort, like the best part of her day, like coming home. And kissing him may have given her butterflies, but it also just felt right.
But admitting that to herself, admitting that she has feelings for him that extend way beyond friendship, and that those feelings have been there for a while – that's terrifying.
Especially because it means she may have hurt James for absolutely no reason other than her own denial and stubbornness.
"So, say you're right," Lily answers, not wanting to give Marlene the satisfaction of letting her know that she's read Lily like a book, "what do I do?"
Marlene considers this for a moment. "As fun as playing therapist is, this is something you've got to figure out on your own."
It only takes until the end of the school day for Lily to confirm that Marlene was, somehow, one hundred percent correct in her assessment of Lily's feelings.
This is partially due to the fact that she sits exactly two seats behind James in Further Mathematics, and so she's basically given a free pass to spend the entire class period watching him.
And everything he does is somehow incredibly endearing, from sticking his pencil behind his ear in between writing notes, to the times he ruffles up his hair while he's deep in thought about something, and the one time he somehow tries to do both things at once and his pencil gets knocked to the floor as a result and he has to scramble to grab it.
This also comes with the realization that she has fucked things up. A lot.
And she's not entirely sure how to fix them. How to fix the way James looked at her when he brought out years of emotion all at once, in one, painful little question.
Why didn't I get one?
That one sentence rings in her head, all throughout her afternoon classes and throughout most of her walk home. Which is incredibly emotionally frustrating for Lily, as guilt-ridden as she already is, but it also eventually works out in her favour, because it gives her an idea.
Halfway home, she starts running. And she's not an athlete by any means, so she's winded as hell when she gets home, but that doesn't stop her from flying up the stairs to her bedroom, getting out a piece of paper and a bright red ballpoint pen.
Reasons I Fancy James Potter:
She writes the title on the page, but this time, instead of writing bullet points, she writes paragraphs. She writes about the way he always knows how to make her laugh, his impassioned rants about the most minutiae details of academia, how fit he looks in his football uniform, that he's one of the most important people in her life.
And once she's taken up almost the entire page with her ramblings, she adds a note at the bottom.
You didn't get a note. I reality, you deserved a whole damn page (and probably more, but my hand's tired). I'm sorry. I'll be at the park tonight if you're willing to let me apologise in person too.
Love, Lily Evans
She leaves the letter in a pink envelope on James' front porch, so that hopefully he'll see it when he gets home from practise, and she takes her biology notes with her to the park up the street.
James is the owner of the blanket they always use, and Lily doesn't fancy sitting in the damp grass without it, so she sits on the swingset instead. There aren't any children on the little community playground today, so she doesn't feel guilty for occupying a space not meant for her.
She's rereading a section about ATP synthesis and straining her eyes against the fading sunlight when someone else enters the playground area.
"Aren't you a little old for swingsets, Evans?" James asks. He's got one hand in the pocket of his joggers, and the other is holding a pink square that is definitely Lily's letter.
"On the contrary, there's no such thing as being too old for swingsets," she answers solemnly.
"In that case," he replies, gesturing to the swing next to her, "is this one taken?"
He sits in it, and it's almost comical how long his legs are in comparison to the height of the swing. He pushes off with his heels, moving slowly back and forth. "I heard your conversation with Snape today."
"So I saw," she says. "It's what I should've done from the beginning."
James lets out a soft hum, twiddling the pink envelope between his fingers. "So, this letter. You meant it?"
Lily looks over at him. "Every word."
James' eyes stay trained on his feet. "Then why'd you do it? Why'd you push me away after you kissed me?"
"Because I was scared," she replies. "Because it's one thing to have flimsy crushes on people that won't ever turn into anything, and it's a totally different thing to feel what I feel for you. And denial was just… easier. Safer."
"You know I'd never do anything to hurt you."
Lily laughs, a bit bitterly. "And you know, I said that to Remus a few weeks ago, and I ended up hurting you anyways."
"So what does that mean for us, then?" James asks.
"It means I'm still a little scared," Lily answers truthfully. "But it also means that I think I'm a little bit in love with you, and that this… thing between us is so much bigger than fear."
Lily suddenly feels herself being yanked sideways, and it takes her a moment to realize that James has grabbed onto the chain of her swing and pulled it towards him so that they're face-to-face.
"Say that middle part again."
"That I'm still a little scared?" she says, teasingly.
He rolls his eyes at her. "You know the one I'm talking about."
"That I'm a little bit in love with you?"
And then he kisses her.
They don't stay like that for long, because swings aren't exactly conducive to proper kissing, so Lily soon finds herself on James' lap, running her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck as his grip against her hips tightens.
And it's just as wonderful as before, except now it's even more wonderful, because this time, it's all real.
"I'm a little bit in love with you too, Lily Evans," James murmurs against her skin, and Lily's skin burns as he presses kisses along her jawline.
She tilts her head back to allow James better access to her neck, but apparently, this weight shift, combined with the fact that there are two fully-grown teenagers on a swing designed for children, causes the swingset to creak loudly.
Lily jumps up, slightly terrified that the structure is about to collapse on the both of them. She extends a hand to James. "Let's take this somewhere where we aren't at risk of breaking a public playground."
He grabs her hand and pushes himself up to standing. "Probably a safe decision."
"I do have a question for you though," she adds.
She steps closer to him. "James Potter, will you be my boyfriend? For real, this time?"
He grins at her, and his delight is contagious. "Only if there's a pack of deer-shaped lollies thrown in."
She laughs, wrapping an arm around his middle and leaning in to him. "You've got yourself a deal."
"Good, the lollies were a deal-breaker," he replies cheekily, wrapping his arm around her shoulders as they make their way out of the playground.
Lily rolls her eyes. "I figured as much."