Love is Here for a Visit

James knows better than to hope for impossible things, but he can’t stop himself from wanting Lily anyway.

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1. Love is Here for a Visit

Lily wakes to a ribbon-wrapped box of chocolates and a bouquet of sunshine yellow daisies. From an admirer, is all the note says, unsigned, but she has been James Potter’s classmate for years (and maybe she has paid more attention than she’d care to admit), so she recognizes his handwriting. Lily knows she ought to trash these presents, but instead she finds herself eating sinfully rich truffles for breakfast and conjuring a vase to put the flowers in.

 

It doesn’t mean anything.

 

When she sees Potter before Transfiguration, she catches him by the arm, tries not to notice the strength of the muscle beneath her hand, and says, “Thank you for the gifts, but please don’t do that again.”

 

He scratches the back of his head, ruffling his already untidy hair. “Fine,” Potter says, “but at least tell me you didn’t throw away that Honeydukes chocolate.”

 

Lily laughs. “I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in truffles this morning.”

 

His grin is lopsided, awakening a dimple in his left cheek, and she reminds herself that no matter how handsome he is, Potter is still an arrogant jackass. He hexes other students just for irritating him, struts around the castle like a damn rooster every time he wins a Quidditch match, brags about his detentions, and bullies Severus at every given opportunity—not that she cares about that, because she doesn’t.

 

So when he asks, for the second time, whether she might like to go on a date with him, Lily says, firmly if gently, “No.”

 

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He has tried everything he can think of to forget Lily Evans: focusing on school, on Quidditch, on other girls. Just last week James spent an hour snogging Meredith Valmont, the pretty Ravenclaw Seeker, in the changing rooms after a match. And still, at night he dreams of her, and during the day, when he’s not paying attention, he’ll find himself doodling L. E. across the margin of his parchment like some lovesick first-year.

 

Lily is not perfect—she’s temperamental, quick to judge, a little self-righteous—but she’s also beautiful and brave, kind and strong-willed, and James has been a little in awe of her since he was fourteen. There was a brief period in fifth year when he was convinced he was in love with her, and a week last summer when he thought he might actually hate her. Now he understands that the reality is somewhere not quite in the middle. He likes Lily, admires and respects her, but he barely knows this girl who has so captured his attention. And really, he has nobody to blame for that but himself.

 

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She finds herself looking at Potter more than she should. In class, in the common room, at mealtimes. Lily doesn’t even like Quidditch, but she goes to the first match of the season just to see him wipe the floor with his Slytherin competition. He breaks a school record, scoring over a hundred points on his own.

 

At the post-game celebratory party, James approaches her with two bottles of butterbeer and asks, “Have a drink with me, Evans?”

 

She takes the bottle, feels its coldness and the condensation gathered on the glass. “Sure,” Lily says. “Good game, by the way. I think you might have actually made that Keeper cry.”

 

His hazel eyes widen. “You went to the game? I thought you didn’t like Quidditch.”

 

“I don’t really, but I was in the mood to see somebody thrash Slytherin.” She takes a sip of her drink and savors the tastes of butterscotch and vanilla. “I can always depend on you for that.”

 

He smiles and says, “It’s my favorite pastime.”

 

They join the card table, where Remus is destroying everyone. James, whose poker face couldn’t be worse, loses spectacularly.

 

“You might as well be donating your money,” Sirius says, laughing.

 

James shrugs with the nonchalance of the obscenely wealthy, and Lily pokes him in the arm. “You could at least pretend you don’t have gold to throw away. And I raise you one Galleon.”

 

Remus is impossible to read, and he ends up with a large pile of coins by the end of the game. Sirius breaks out a bottle of firewhiskey, and they all indulge too much. James, it turns out, is a lightweight, and he gets stupendously drunk after only a handful of shots.

 

“The thing is,” he says, “the trick to seeing through the Dostoevsky Feint is to—”

 

“I think you mean Wronski Feint,” Remus corrects.

 

“Whatever,” James says, “you can always tell by—”

 

“You’re boring her to tears, Prongs,” Sirius says.

 

“Mind your own business, Padfoot.”

 

They’re sitting on the rug by the fire, still taking shots of amber liquor. Lily chases hers with butterbeer, and she’s just drunk enough to rest her head on James’s chest and bury her face in his shirt. He smells so good and feels so warm, and she could happily go to sleep right here.

 

“You’re beautiful,” he whispers.

 

“James…”

 

He kisses the top of her head. “It’s true. You are. And I know you don’t really want to hear it from me, but you should hear it from somebody.”  

 

“Thank you,” Lily says. She yawns, nuzzles closer, and passes out.

 

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James wakes up on the floor before the common room hearth, his head hurting like a sonofabitch, with Lily Evans asleep next to him. He doesn’t quite remember how this happened, but the empty bottle of firewhiskey at his side provides a clue.

 

Lily stirs, stretches, frowns. “My head is killing me,” she says.

 

“Mine too.” James pinches the bridge of his nose. “Remind me never to drink firewhiskey again.”

 

“If you’ll do the same for me.” Lily sits up and rubs her eyes. “Sorry I passed out on you,” she says, sounding a little sheepish.

 

James grins suggestively. “Fall asleep on me whenever you like, Evans.”

 

She snatches a pillow from the nearest chair and hits him with it. “You are such a Neanderthal,” she says.

 

James grabs his own pillow and smacks her back, if gently.

 

“I am not getting into a pillow fight with you,” Lily says loftily. She stands and straightens her wrinkled clothes, “See you later, Potter.”

 

“Later, Evans.”

 

Autumn turns to winter, the house elves decorate the halls of Hogwarts with holly and mistletoe, and Lily goes back to barely speaking to him. But he catches her watching him all the time: when he’s working on a new spell in class, joking around with his friends in the common room, or just eating breakfast. He knows she’s looking, because he’s always looking at her.

 

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Gossip spreads through Hogwarts like Fiendfyre, and so Lily knows a week before the end of term that Potter is going to Slughorn’s Christmas party. If she takes a little extra care with her appearance that night, straightening her sapphire blue dress robes and fussing with her hair for thirty minutes, she tells herself this effort is for no one in particular.

 

At the party, Slughorn introduces her to a famous potioneer and a Gringotts curse-breaker, but to Lily’s dismay all she can pay attention to is Potter, dancing with Meredith Valmont. The punch smells and tastes like nothing besides citrus, but after two cups she feels slightly lightheaded, and she suspects that someone—probably James—spiked it with Uncle Spearman’s Untraceable Spirits.

 

When there’s a break between songs, she strides over to James and Meredith and says, “Care if I cut in?”

 

He looks from her to his irritated date and asks, “Do you mind if I dance with Evans?”

 

Meredith rolls her eyes, says, “Sure, why not?”

 

“Thanks for letting me borrow him,” Lily says with forced cheer.

 

They dance to a slow song, her arms around his neck, his hands on her waist. James smells like winter, cold wind and the peppermint candies he eats incessantly, but his body is warm against hers. She slides her fingers through his messy hair and finds that it’s even softer than it looks. Perhaps she’s being reckless, and she’s not drunk, so there’s no excuse for this behavior, but Lily doesn’t care.

 

When the song ends, she says, “Let’s get out of here.”

 

She can see him weighing the possibilities, guilt and want warring, because he isn’t the type of man to come to a party with one woman and leave with another. And Lily isn’t the kind of person who steals another girl’s date, but here they are.

 

Finally, James says, “Okay. Where do you want to go?”

 

“Aren’t you the one who knows this school inside and out?” she asks.

 

He grins, wide and white, and says, “Yeah, I am.”

 

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The place he takes her to is a little-known music room on the sixth floor, tucked away behind a tapestry of Euphemia Diggory playing a lute. The grate is dark and cold, but a quick spell brings a fire to life, and suddenly the space is bathed in a ruddy glow. There’s a harp, a cello, a glass case filled with woodwind instruments. To James’s surprise, Lily takes a seat before the piano and plays a soft melody he has never heard before. She stops halfway through and says, “Listening to me play Muggle music probably isn’t what you had in mind bringing me here.”

 

“It’s nice,” James says. “You should keep playing if you want.”

 

Lily shakes her head, stands, and puts her hands on his chest. She looks up at him with impossibly green eyes and says, “That’s not what I want.”

 

James has snogged a half-dozen girls and never felt the least bit anxious, but when Lily stands up on the tips of her toes and presses her lips to his, he’s almost too nervous to respond. Instinct takes over when she opens her mouth and tastes him, and he kisses back hungrily, pulls her flush against his body so that he can feel the softness of her.

 

“The couch,” Lily says, and they stumble to the soft, blue velvet loveseat. She ends up under him, kissing like she has wanted this as badly as he has. Tugging at the collar of his fancy black dress robes, then unbuttoning the shirt beneath. She touches his chest and stomach, but her hands still when they come to his belt.

 

He says, “We don’t have to go any further.”

 

“I know,” Lily says, but she unbuckles his belt just the same.

 

“Are you sure you want to—to do this? With me?” James asks, because part of him can barely believe that this is happening. “I mean you wouldn’t even go on a date with me before tonight—”

 

“This isn’t a date,” Lily says.

 

James isn’t sure what to make of that, but when she unbuttons the front of her own dress robes, he decides to worry about it later.

 

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Lily dresses herself with shaking hands. Somehow her panties ended up across the room, under the piano bench. How that happened, she isn’t sure. James is asleep on the couch, still half-naked, glasses askew. He breathes slowly and evenly, his sleep deep and undisturbed.

 

She might not believe what she’s done if not for the ache between her legs, evidence that she fucked James Potter. Lily can’t quite find it in herself to regret her choice, even if she should. She couldn’t have asked for a gentler or more attentive partner for her first time, and whether this was a mistake or not, she thinks she’ll never have anything but fond memories of tonight.

 

It seems wrong to sneak away without saying goodbye, after the intimacy they shared, so Lily kisses James awake, then says, “I should get back to Gryffindor Tower. My roommates will be worried if I never come to bed.”

 

“Okay,” he says around a wide yawn. “I think I’ll just stay here for the night.”

 

They part ways with one last kiss, and Lily returns to her dormitory with the taste of peppermint lingering on her tongue.

 

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James tries to catch Lily the next morning, but she seems to be doing her level best to ignore him. He finally corners her on the train back to London and pulls her into an empty compartment.

 

“I want to talk.”

 

“Why?” she asks. “There’s nothing to talk about.”

 

Nothing to—we had sex last night, Lily. How’s that for conversation material?”

 

“I remember,” she says, “but I don’t see why we need to discuss it.”

 

James rubs his temple, warding off a headache. “Because I have questions. I want to know how you’re doing, and whether or not I can tell my mates about this, and why you did that with me when you won’t even let me take you to Hogsmeade.”

 

Lily glances away from him and her cheeks pinken. “I’m fine, no you can’t tell your friends, and I won’t go on a date with you because I don’t want to be in a relationship. Satisfied?”

 

“Not even close,” he says. James catches her chin and tilts her face up. Lily is tall for a girl, but he’s still a good half-foot taller, and he has to bend down to kiss her.

 

She’s as eager and responsive as she was the night before, and when they finally break away from each other, they’re both breathless. “So,” he asks, grinning, “exactly how long have you wanted to snog me?”

 

Lily rolls her eyes. “Not as long as I’ve wanted to hit you upside the head. Be thankful I chose to fulfill the lesser of my desires.”

 

“Right, right, you hate me. That’s hard to remember when I keep thinking about the sounds you made when you—”

 

“You’re a prat,” Lily says, but she’s just barely holding back a smile. “And I don’t hate you, James. I’ve never hated you.”

 

“Never?” he asks, suspicious.

 

She pokes him in the ribs. “Well, maybe in first year when you hexed my owl to meow.”

 

“That was a good prank,” James says, wistful. “Did you ever get the hex off?”

 

“No,” she says flatly, arms crossed over her chest. “Athena still sounds like a damn cat, thanks to you.”

 

They laugh together, and then James says, “I hope you have a good holiday, Evans.”

 

“Yeah,” she says, smiling. “Same to you, Potter.”

 

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Christmas is excruciating. Petunia comes back home to Cokeworth with a rude, no-necked fiance in tow: Vernon Dursley, a walrus of a man who is as boring and normal as her sister could ever hope to catch. Which, Lily imagines, is exactly the point.

 

Worse, she finds herself wandering down Spinner’s End, tempted to knock on Sev’s door. She misses her best friend. Misses his sharp sense of humor and how he understood her better than anyone else ever could.

 

It’s on one of these walks down his street that Lily finally runs into him.

 

“What are you doing here?” Severus asks.

 

Thinking about you, she doesn’t say. “I dunno. Just taking a walk.”

 

“Oh.” Then, “Mind if I walk with you?”

 

God, it would be easy to forget what he’s said and done. That he broke her heart, piece by piece, over the years. It would be easy because she cares about him more than anyone else in this world. Still, six months after he called her that unforgivable name, she loves him.

 

“Yes,” Lily finally says, more sharply than necessary. “I do mind, and I don’t want to see you.”

 

She walks away, but Sev is like a dog with a bone when he wants something badly enough (and she knows that he wants her more than anything else). He follows her, keeping up with her quick stride, and says, “You don’t want to see me, but you’re walking down my street?”

 

Lily turns at the next corner, onto Weaver’s Lane, and says, “Now I’m walking down my street. Goodbye.”

 

“I saw you,” Severus says. “The other night at Slughorn’s party, I saw you leave with Potter.”  

 

There’s a vindictive part of her that wants to tell him she slept with James, just to hurt him, like he hurt her the day he called her a Mudblood, but she can’t bring herself to do it.

 

“That’s none of your business,” she says, and this time when she walks away, Sev doesn’t come after her.

 

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James has never been happier to see the end of the Christmas hols. The break was fun enough, and he racked up a record number of gifts from his parents, but all he could think of was Lily. He finds her in the corridor on the first day back, but she brushes him off and says she’ll talk to him later.

 

After she hurries to catch up with her friends, Snape hits him in the back with Sectumsempra. James throws a few hexes of his own, and the two of them end up in detention for the rest of the day, scrubbing old cauldrons in the dungeons until the early hours of the morning.

 

“You haven’t got a shot with her, you know,” Snape says nastily.

 

It’s three o’clock, and he has two more cauldrons to clean the Muggle way before he’s free to go. “Shut up, Snivellus.”

 

“It’s pathetic, the way you follow her around like some lost puppy. Trust me, I know her: she sees you for what you are and she’ll never give you the time of day. She hates you, Potter—”

 

“Hates me so much she fucked me,” James says, before he can think better of it.

 

“You’re a liar,” Snape hisses. “Lily would never.”

 

“I’m telling the truth,” James says, and now he glances at the other boy, whose sallow face is so red he looks like a tomato.

 

He half-expects to get attacked again, but instead Snape just shakes his head and says, under his breath, “Liar.”

 

The next afternoon, James is rudely awakened by Lily, who shakes him out of slumber and says, “I said not to tell anybody, and you told Severus, you arrogant bastard!”

 

He sits up, looks around the empty dorm blearily, and puts on his glasses. At least they’re alone.

 

“Actually, you said I couldn’t tell my friends,” James corrects. “And Snivellus is not my friend.”

 

“I don’t give a damn,” Lily says. “You had no right to use what happened between us to hurt him.”

 

“What do you care if he’s hurt? That sonofabitch is a Death Eater in training.” James stands, close enough to Lily that she takes a step backward.

 

“He used to be my friend and he—he loves me,” she says, looking down. “Telling him was cruel and you know it.”

 

“And do you love him?”

 

Lily’s, “No, of course not,” comes a little too slowly to be convincing, but there’s a hard truth there that James isn’t quite ready to accept, so he pretends to believe her.

 

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She barely speaks to James through the rest of winter, but one late night, as the snows melt into spring, Lily goes to the music room and finds him sitting on a blanket in front of the hearth, absentmindedly plucking the strings of a lute. He looks up, but doesn’t say anything. She sits next to him and asks, “How have you been?”

 

“Can’t complain,” James says. “You?”

 

“I’m well,” Lily says, even though it isn’t true. She still misses Severus like he’s a sickness that she can’t be cured of. Some illness of mind and body that runs rampant just under her skin. Petunia’s last letter was full of nothing but vitriol, and her parents want to pull her out of Hogwarts because of the war. They can’t, though, since she’s of age, and she refuses to leave, so she’s fighting with her mum and dad on top of everything else.

 

James sets the lute aside. “I’m sorry that I told Snape.”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Lily says, because Severus is the last thing she wants to think about right now.

 

She takes off her robes, unbuttons her shirt, and straddles James’s lap. “I’m tired of not talking to you, not kissing you.”

 

“Me too,” he says, and he looks at her with such open tenderness that it frightens her a little. Lily doesn’t want his affection, doesn’t want any man’s. Much as she hates to admit it, she’s still recovering from the blow Sev dealt her heart. Because she knows with a strange sort of certainty that he could have been so much more to her if he hadn’t been drawn to such hateful things. Maybe the love of her life, maybe a husband, who knows? She never will, because he made the wrong choices.

 

No, Lily can’t take James’s affection, but there’s plenty else she wants from him.

 

“Kiss me,” she says, and he does.

 

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Her breasts are white and full, streaked with pale silver marks, her nipples the same rosy pink as her lips. She’s lovely everywhere. Narrow hips and narrower waist, round bottom, long legs. This time James learns each inch of her, discovers the brown birthmark on her left hip, the constellation of freckles across her back. He kisses the dip where her collarbones meet, the valley between her breasts, the soft plane of her stomach, then lower. She whimpers his name when she comes, pulls him on top of her, and they fuck until he reaches his own release.

 

Afterward, James lies beside her, breathing hard, and tries not to think too much about what they’re doing. How she’s using him. How he’s letting her, because he’s too sick with love to do anything else.

 

“Is something wrong?” Lily asks. “You look upset.”

 

“I’m fine, just tired,” James lies. He makes himself smile. “You wore me out, madam.”

 

She shrugs playfully and says, voice teasing, “I do apologize, good sir.”

 

James tickles her, and Lily starts giggling almost hysterically. It’s undignified and mildly ridiculous, but the sound of her laughter is the most beautiful thing he has ever heard.

 

“Stop, stop, stop…” she begs, and after another minute he finally lets her go.

 

Lily smacks his arm and says, hiccuping, “I—I hate you, James Potter.”

 

“No you don’t.” He kisses the tip of her nose and asks, “Will you sleep here with me?”

 

“I can’t.” She at least has the grace to look regretful. James tunes out her excuse, something about not wanting to worry her roommates, same as she said the last time they did this.

 

“Yeah, fine, whatever.”

 

Lily frowns at him, gathers up her clothes, dresses, and says, “Goodnight, Potter.”

 

“Night, Evans.”

 

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By some stroke of ill fortune, Slughorn pairs Lily with Severus to make Amortentia. “I need my star students working on this one,” he says jovially. “It’s the trickiest potion you’ll see all year.”

 

They don’t talk. Sev slices maidenhair roots while Lily pours vials of veela tears into the thickening brew, one excruciatingly slow drop at a time, because too much at once will upset the potion. Amortentia is fickle and demanding, and they have to meet at all hours of the day and night to check on it, add ingredients, or simply stir the damn thing. Clockwise for one minute, counter-clockwise for three, then clockwise again for five. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until the surface of the potion looks like mother-of-pearl.

 

Lily smells peppermint and crushed herbs in equal measure. One scent for the boy she lusts after and one for the friend she can’t seem to rid herself of.

 

She doesn’t have to ask Severus what he smells in the Amortentia. Not that it’s any of her business.

 

“I hate this,” she admits. It’s one o’clock in the morning and the castle is asleep, but here she is, brewing the world’s strongest love potion with the person she loves most. “I don’t think anybody should ever make it.”

 

“Maybe not,” Severus says, “but you have to admire it, don’t you? The power it has. One little drop and you could make your worst enemy worship you.”

 

Lily adds the last ingredient, demiguise blood. “You would see it that way.”

 

There’s nothing else they can do for the Amortentia except let it brew for another eleven hours, so Lily leaves Severus in the dungeons and returns to Gryffindor Tower. She half-hopes James will be there, but he’s not.

 

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He’s in love with Lily Evans, and it couldn’t be plainer that she doesn’t feel the same way.

 

James keeps away from her for one week before he breaks and agrees to meet her in the music room. It has become their rendezvous spot, the place where they meet to fuck and argue, to laugh and talk about small nothings.

 

“What are we doing, exactly?” he asks.

 

Lily shrugs. “I don’t think we need to define it. I just want to enjoy this, whatever it is.”

 

“Well I do want a definition,” James says. “What am I to you? Do you care about me? Do you even like me?”

 

Lily lies beside him, staring up at the ceiling as if she’ll find the right answers written there. “I don’t have anything to give you, James. I’m sorry.”

 

He runs a hand over his face. “Right then. Just forget I said anything.”

 

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The common room is empty except for James and Remus, who are playing chess. Lily pulls up a seat and watches the game, which turns out to be a slaughter. Remus’s queen rules the board, darting from unexpected corners to steal James’s pieces, until the black king finally falls to a white knight.

 

“You butchered him,” she says. “Well done, Remus.”

 

To her surprise, James takes the loss well. He even laughs about it and promises to return the ass-kicking he now owes his friend the next time they play.

 

As soon as Remus retires, James is on her, kissing her neck, tugging at her robes.

 

“I need you,” he says, and the sound of his voice, so full of hunger, makes warmth pool low in her belly.

 

The common room isn’t a smart place to do this. Any of their housemates could find them, but the thrill of eluding discovery only makes Lily want him more. So they fuck on the couch in the corner, the most private spot of this public place. This time she’s on her stomach, James pressed so close to her, rocking into her body with slow, deep thrusts that make her shout into the pillows, muffling her cries.

 

When they’re together like this, the world is simple, reduced to one dimension: his body and her body, meeting in a rhythm as old as time. And for a few sweet moments, Lily feels free.

 

Then it’s over, and reality comes crashing down. She’s naked and hard-used, pinned beneath a man whose love is laced into every word he speaks to her. Like now, when he says, “You’re perfect.” Lily can hear the devotion in his voice, and she knows she’s hurting him by not returning the same affection.

 

I should end it. I should.

 

But she won’t. She’s too selfish to let him go.

 

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James takes Thalia Martin to Hogsmeade and snogs her in Madam Puddifoot’s. Kissing Thalia does little to please him, but word of his adventures reaches Lily by nightfall, if the venomous looks she keeps shooting him are anything to go by. She’s angry and jealous, which only bolsters James’s good mood.

 

After dinner, Lily pulls him into a broom closet and says, “What the hell is this I heard about you and Martin? Is it true?”

 

“I snogged her,” James says, casual. “I didn’t think you’d much care, to be honest.”

 

“Well I do.”

 

“Why? We’re not a couple. According to you, we’re not anything at all,” he says.

 

Lily shakes her head. “I don’t care. I don’t want you kissing other girls.”

 

“Fine then.” He leaves before she can say anything else, goes to the Quidditch pitch, Summons his broom from Gryffindor Tower, and flies. James races over the pitch, then the Forbidden Forest. Tomorrow is full moon, so he and his friends will be exploring those woods again soon. James looks forward to the freedom that comes with changing into his Animagus form, the dependence upon instinct rather than thought. As a stag he has few cares.

 

But when he changes back into his human self, his worries are waiting for him. James wonders how much longer his father has to live, because the Healers keep saying he has only weeks, and then Dad pulls through and beats their expectations. It would be stupid to hope that he’ll just get better. James learned long ago the futility of wishing for impossible things, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting them.

 

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There’s a war outside of Hogwarts. Sometimes it’s easy to forget, but then the Daily Prophet brings news of more deaths and disappearances, and Lily can no longer ignore that outside of these safe walls the world is burning.

 

There’s a smaller battle inside the castle. A reflection of its larger counterpart, students split along ancestral lines. Pure-bloods and blood-traitors and Muggleborns tangled up in an ugly, many-sided fight. She sees Severus running around with Mulciber and Avery, helping them torment their opposition, and she remembers quite vividly why she gave up on her best friend. He hurts people. And he called her Mudblood in front of half the school. He used that filthy, awful word that sums up every inadequacy Lily has felt about her place in the magical world.

 

Today she had to dock points from a Slytherin pure-blood seventh year and a half-blood Hufflepuff fifth-year who were dueling in the damn hallway outside McGonagall’s classroom, of all places. They were lucky it was Lily who caught them and not the Transfiguration professor.

 

She’s late to Defense Against the Dark Arts because of it. Professor McKinnon waves away her excuses and just tells her to start working on her Patronus.

 

Lily has been toiling over this assignment for weeks. Half the class already has silver animals hopping and swimming and running around the classroom. Happiness made corporeal, and therein lies the problem. Lily has plenty of good memories, but the issue is that they’re all tainted. Her parents are furious with her for staying at Hogwarts despite the attitude against Muggleborns, the sister she was once so close to hates her, and her best friend is a Death Eater to be. And then there’s Potter. Sweet, conceited, gentle, bullying, intoxicating James.

 

She closes her eyes and summons a memory from her childhood. She and Tuney playing at the park, her sister swinging her higher and higher, how joyous and elating and simple it was. “Expecto Patronum!” Lily says, but all that comes from her wand is an ethereal mist.

 

Nothing substantial. Nothing good enough.

 

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 “I can’t quit you,” James admits. Lily has fallen asleep in his arms, so there’s no chance she’ll hear his confession. “I love you, and I know I shouldn’t keep doing this, but I don’t know how to give you up.”

 

The next morning, Professor Dumbledore calls James to his office. He thinks the headmaster may have discovered that the Marauders were responsible for flooding the Slytherin common room with lakewater, but it turns out that this isn’t about his misdeeds at all.

 

Mum is there, puffy-eyed and dressed all in dark clothes, and James knows before she opens her mouth that his dad is dead.

 

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James is gone for a week, burying and mourning his father. Working in the library, studying for their upcoming exams, Lily didn’t hear about what happened until after he’d already left Hogwarts. He comes back thinner and hollow-cheeked, tawny skin pale, with dark shadows beneath his large, hazel eyes. When she tries to hug him, he pushes past her like she isn’t even there.

 

Lily gives him space, room to grieve without her intruding, and waits for him to approach her. Exams come and go, and it’s the night before they leave for the summer holiday when James finally catches her in the hall. He leads her to the music room, and without a word, he starts undressing.

 

“How are you?” Lily asks.

 

“Fine,” he says, but he doesn’t look well at all. Handsome as ever, but there’s a brightness to his eyes that’s missing, and he’s downright skinny. Once he’s naked she can see that he’s dropped a good stone that he didn’t need to lose.

 

But it doesn’t curb her desire for him. She’s starting to think there’s nothing in this world that could make her want him less.

 

It’s quick and rough this time. He fucks her like he’s trying to lose himself inside her body, and he comes before she can finish. Afterward, James keeps himself supported over her, trembling. Tears slide down his face and fall onto her, wet and cool against her skin. She hugs him as fiercely as she can, and he weeps in her arms.

 

“It’s okay,” Lily soothes, running her fingers up and down his back. “You’re going to be okay, James.”

 

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Summer stretches on in an endless series of perfect, sunny days. He Seeks against Sirius (and wins most of their matches), meets his other friends in Diagon Alley, and spends time with Mum whenever he can. She hasn’t been quite right since Dad passed, and if he’s honest with himself, James knows he hasn’t either.

 

He breaks down in the middle of August and sends Lily a letter, inviting her to have lunch with him at the Leaky Cauldron. Not as a date, he writes, just so she doesn’t feel threatened by the invitation.

 

She meets him two days later wearing a butter yellow sundress and sandals. Summer sun has brought a smattering of freckles to her nose and cheeks, and her dark red hair is pulled up in a ponytail. She smiles when she sees him, and James can’t help but think that Lily has never looked more beautiful.

 

“How’s your summer going?” he asks.

 

“Good,” she says. “Yours?”

 

James shrugs. “Well enough.”

 

He orders shepherd’s pie while she gets fish and chips. Then James pulls from his pocket the badge he received in the mail the morning before. “I don’t know what Dumbledore’s been drinking,” he says, “but it must be strong stuff.”

 

Lily looks at the badge, then at him, green eyes wide. “You’re Head Boy?” she asks, clearly incredulous.

 

“It seems so.” James shrugs. “You’re the first person I’ve told.”

 

“Why?” Lily asks. “I mean, your friends are going to take the mickey out of you, but your mum will be so happy for you.”

 

“I dunno, I just wanted to share it with you first. Maybe because I thought you might be… impressed, or something stupid like that.”

 

“It’s not stupid,” Lily says, “and for the record, I am impressed.” She reaches across the table, like she means to touch him, but pulls away at the last moment. “You should be proud of yourself.”

 

“Thanks. Did you get Head Girl?”

 

She grins brightly. “I did. So I guess we’ll be working together come September.”

 

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Petunia comes home with an obnoxiously big—yet utterly ordinary—diamond ring on her left hand. She fawns over it anyway, and her sister smiles at her for the first time in ages. Lily doesn’t like Vernon Dursley, but it isn’t her place to tell Petunia who to marry, and the last thing she wants is another row.

 

When she isn’t visiting friends, Lily stays inside. She’s nervous to walk around the neighborhood, afraid that she might run into Severus. Somehow it’s easier to avoid him at Hogwarts, the place where she lost him. But Cokeworth is the site of their first meeting, of innocent childhood days full of exploration and magic and love. Here, it’s almost easy to forget the things he’s said and done. So she keeps to her house, writing letters and reading spellbooks, as the last days of summer slip by.

 

She meets James at the Leaky Cauldron three days before term starts to plan their first meeting with the prefects, which will take place on the train. Lily has to lead this discussion, as James was never a prefect and he doesn’t have the faintest idea of what goes on in such a meeting.

 

Once business is taken care of, he reaches across the table and takes her hand. His touch is warm and welcome, and Lily wishes she could feel his hands everywhere. Something of this must show on her face, because James whispers, “Wanna get a room?”

 

Of course she wants to. All summer, she’s only been able to come by thinking of him, touching herself in the private darkness of her bedroom, James’s name on her lips. But lust is the least of it now. She’s missed so much more than his body.

 

“I can’t,” she lies. “I really need to be getting back home. But I’ll see you on the train, yeah?”

 

James nods, his handsome features even and unreadable, and says, “See you later, Evans.”

 

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.

.

 

James decides not to pursue Lily any further. If she wants to fuck, she can damn well come to him. And if she doesn’t—well, he needs to move on anyway.

 

She’s kind but professional whenever they meet to discuss Head duties, and although she talks to him outside of these responsibilities and class now, she remains as much of an enigma as ever. But lately James is tired of trying to puzzle out the riddle that is Lily Evans. He doesn’t want secrets and guessing games and a relationship without a definition anymore. He wants something real, or nothing at all.

 

This is what he tells her on a pleasant Saturday in September. It’s one of the last warm days they’re like to get, and they’re sitting by the lake when he says this.

 

Lily looks at him with widened eyes and asks, “So you’re giving me an ultimatum? Date you, or we stop… whatever it is we’re doing.”

 

James smiles, even though he doesn’t find anything about this funny. “Let me guess which one you’re choosing.”

 

She blushes, then says, “I don’t want to lose you.”

 

This surprises him, but James keeps his voice cool when he says, “Careful there, Lily. You almost sound like you give a damn about me.”

 

“I do care about you, James. I just—” She cuts herself off, but he isn’t going to let her talk her way around him, not this time.

 

“You just what?” he asks.

 

“I loved Severus,” she says, and he’s as shocked by her honesty as he is angry that she wasted her affection on a bastard like Snape. “Not like he loved me, but when I cut him out of my life—it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It broke my heart.”

 

Lily takes a deep, shuddering breath, and it sounds like she’s trying to keep from crying. Like there are tears just waiting to fall the moment she loses her composure.

 

“So you’ve been afraid I’d hurt you the way he hurt you?” James asks.

 

“Something like that,” she says.

 

“Lily, I would never do that to you. Do you understand me? Never.” He takes her hands in his and says, “Because I love you.”

 

It’s nothing she doesn’t already know, he’s sure, so it isn’t much of a confession. Still, it makes his heart race, to say it out loud for the first time.

 

“I don’t know if I can say that yet,” Lily tells him, “but I do want to be with you, James.”

 

It’s more than he expected, and he can’t stop himself from kissing her. She kisses him back, in the light of day, where anyone could see them.

 

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.

 

Word that she and James are dating gets around the castle fast. Her friends demand details, which she doesn’t divulge, and even Nearly Headless Nick wishes them well.

 

Severus must hear too. He won’t look at her at all throughout their classes, and whenever their eyes accidentally meet, he seems so wounded that it’s hard for her to stand.

 

It doesn’t matter, Lily tells herself. He made his choices.

 

Dating James is quite different from having an affair with him. He’s very publicly affectionate, always holding her hand or wrapping a possessive arm around her shoulders, and he gives her little gifts all the time. A silver bracelet, Honeydukes sweets, books, and potions supplies, all in the month of October alone.

 

On their first Hogsmeade weekend, James takes her to an ice cream shop, where they try a half-dozen different flavors. Lily orders a hot fudge sundae, while James settles on a mint flavor (predictable) and gets three scoops of it on a spindly-looking cone. While they eat, they talk about their families. Lily tells James about Petunia’s no-necked fiance, and he tells her that he’s worried about his mum, who’s been quiet and withdrawn every since his father died.

 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when it happened,” Lily says.

 

James shrugs. “It’s all right. You’re here now.”

 

On the walk back to Hogwarts, she realizes that she’s happy. Truly, honestly happy for the first time in a long time. So when Lily finally reaches the castle, she goes to an unused classroom and practices her Patronus. On her third attempt, while thinking of her date with James, she makes a corporeal Patronus for the first time.

 

It’s a doe, silver and beautiful. A mate for a stag.

 

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.

 

Lily is half-determined to live in the library, preparing for their N.E.W.T.s, but James manages to drag her outside to enjoy the snow. They skate on the frozen lake and kiss and have a snowball fight (he clobbers her; Lily’s aim is nothing short of awful).

 

Afterward, they go to the kitchens and ask the elves to make them hot cocoa, which they drink from steaming mugs by the hearth.

 

“I told my parents and my sister that we’re dating,” she says. “Mum and Dad really want to meet you, and I said that, if you were all right with it, maybe you could come by for dinner over the Christmas holiday?”

 

“Sure,” James says. “I’d love to meet your family. Although your sister sounds like she could benefit from a good prank or two,” he teases.

 

“Oh God, please don’t,” Lily says, laughing. “Petunia would hate you forever.”

 

And so this is how James ends up in a Muggle milltown on the night before Christmas. Mr. and Mrs. Evans turn out to be lovely people—interested in magic, if ignorant of its mechanics—but he can’t say the same for Petunia. She spends the meal with her lips pursed, shooting sharp looks in Lily’s direction every time she opens her mouth. Petunia is so obviously jealous of her little sister, and James can’t help but dislike her for it.

 

“It’s too bad Vernon couldn’t make it,” Mrs. Evans says. “It would have been nice for you to meet each other.”

 

“Maybe we can go on a double date?” Lily asks, and it takes all of James’s self-control not to groan out loud.

 

Petunia sniffs. “Perhaps,” she says. “Vernon is very busy you know. He’s such a hard worker.”

 

Lily has told him just enough about Dursley that James sincerely hopes the man is too preoccupied to make a double date.

 

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The evening is disastrous. When Vernon brags about his fancy new car for five full minutes, James interrupts him to describe his racing broom. Lily is certain that he only did this to irritate Petunia’s fiance, who hates anything magical.

 

“You don’t have a car?” Vernon asks. “What are you living off of? Unemployment benefits?”

 

James laughs. “No, actually, my family’s filthy rich. I’ve got a fortune in gold Galleons buried underneath London.”

 

Vernon’s little eyes narrow and his mustache bristles. “And what sort of bank would allow that?”

 

Lily kicks James lightly underneath the table, but he ignores her. “One run by goblins,” he says cheerfully.

 

Vernon, clearly trying to determine whether or not he’s being had, turns a hideous shade of purple. He hisses, “Just because you’re proud of your—your unnaturalness—doesn’t mean the rest of us care to hear all about it. This dinner is over. Come on, Petunia.”

 

Her sister hurries from the restaurant with her fiance, leaving Lily and James behind, still seated at the table. When their server returns with four drinks, asking whether or not they’d like to wait for their companions to come back before they order, Lily starts crying.

 

James asks for the check, and the waiter leaves.

 

Lily sniffs, wipes her face with her unused napkin, and asks, “Why did you have to egg him on? I told you he doesn’t like magic.”

 

“He was just so bloody obnoxious,” James says. “I have a hard time being respectful to people who don’t respect me, and that windbag was too rude to ignore.”

 

“That windbag is going to be my sister’s husband in a few days,” she says. “You should have made some effort to be nice to him instead of irritating him on purpose.”

 

James has the grace to look sheepish, at least. “I’m sorry, Lily.”

 

She sighs, then says, “I was hoping you’d come to the wedding with me, but if you hate Vernon that much, maybe it’s not a good idea.”

 

“No,” James says quickly, taking her hand. “I want to go with you. I promise I’ll be on better behavior, all right?”

 

Lily nods, and a small smile tugs at her lips. “Okay.”

 

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Lily wears what must be the drabbest dress in her closet: a conservative navy blue number guaranteed not to outshine the bride’s simple white gown. And that’s exactly the point, James imagines. Still, she looks beautiful, if nervous. She stays close to him, her small hand clasping his own, looking almost as out of place as he feels. Lily may have Muggles for parents, but she’s spent most of the last seven years among witches and wizards, and she must be as uncomfortable surrounded by the mundane with wands hidden away as he does.

 

At the reception, James hears Vernon call him “some magician,” but he manages not to do anything foolish. The last thing he wants is to cause a scene and hurt Lily, who’s already upset. Petty and envious, Petunia didn’t invite her little sister to be a bridesmaid, and although she hasn’t said as much, James knows Lily well enough to tell that her feelings are bruised.

 

But once he gets her on the dance floor, she starts smiling again. It reminds him of their first dance, over a year ago at Slughorn’s Christmas party, and he says as much.

 

“That was a fun night,” Lily says, a pretty pink blush coloring her cheeks.

 

“Only fun?” James asks. “Not spectacular? Or earth-shattering?”

 

“You’re good, but you’re not that good, Potter,” Lily says, grinning.

 

“Right,” James says. “Spend the night with me and we’ll see if I can adjust that opinion.”

 

“Why wait till then?” Lily whispers. “This is a hotel, isn’t it?”

 

They’re in the middle of a song, but James doesn’t care. He leads her away from the dance floor, out of the hall, to the front desk. Lily pays for a room, as he doesn’t understand the paper Muggle money, and then they go to the lift. Once the metal doors close them in, James pushes her against the wall and kisses her, tastes the champagne Lily had been drinking at the reception. She makes a needy sound in the back of her throat, and he slips a hand beneath her dress, cups the curve of her bottom and pulls her against him. When the lift doors open again, they hurry to room 607, lock themselves in, and undress each other with greedy, impatient hands.

 

James presses her to the queen sized bed, kissing her throat, the valley between her breasts, her stomach, the dark curls shielding her sex. Lily opens her legs to his searching mouth, grips his hair, and when he teases her with his tongue, she cries out. Once he makes her climax, she pushes him onto his back and sucks his cock so passionately that he can barely remember his own name. When he’s on edge, too close to stand it, Lily pulls away, straddles his hips, and rides him until he comes inside of her. Afterward, they lie in a tangled mess of sweaty limbs.

 

I love you, James thinks, but doesn’t say.

 

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The night before the new term starts, Lily sneaks out of her room and makes the long walk from Weaver’s Lane to the woods. The frost-bitten air stings her lungs every time she breathes, but she doesn’t stop until she’s found the place—a grove she and Severus once haunted, half a lifetime ago. Old snow crunches beneath her boots, but the sky is clear tonight, cloudless and bright with a full moon and an array of constellations. Stars wink at her from the heavens, white and vivid, as beautiful as they are distant.

 

Lily sits beneath a familiar tree and traces Sev’s initials in the snow, before wiping them away with her gloved hand. This is a goodbye of sorts. She’s decided not to hang on to old hurts any longer, to stop torturing herself with what-could-have-beens. It doesn’t matter, the things she might have had; what matters is what’s right in front of her, a future she’s been hesitant to embrace because she’s been clinging to the past. A future with James.

 

She spends hours outside, letting go of fear and anger, bitterness and resentment. And love too, because there’s no use in leaving pieces of her heart in the hands of someone it doesn’t belong to.

 

When the sun finally starts to rise, and the woods fade into day through twilight, Lily stands, brushes snow and dirt off of her clothes, and goes back home. She feels lighter than when she snuck out, freer. As if she left something behind in the grove, a burden that had been weighing her down.

 

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She says it for the first time on a cold January day, cuddled up with him in his bed. They’re naked, sated, but still kissing, and Lily whispers three small words against his lips, monumental for all their brevity: “I love you.”

 

James smiles, maybe wider than he’s ever smiled in his life, and says, “About time.”

 

Things are different after that. Simpler, easier. They still argue, because James remains arrogant and spoiled, and Lily is as judgmental as ever, but now there’s an understanding between them. That no matter how angry they make one another, they’ll forgive and move on, because this is it. They’re in it for the long haul.

 

Despite her disinterest in Quidditch, Lily comes to his match against Ravenclaw and cheers with the best of them. He fumbles the Quaffle once because he’s paying more attention to her than his opponents, but Gryffindor still wins, and after it’s over, Lily hugs him and kisses him in front of everyone.

 

Later, at the party, James says, “You don’t have to come to my games. I’d get it. Quidditch isn’t really your thing.”

 

Lily sits beside him in front of the hearth, drinking butterbeer. She sets her bottle down, leans her head on his shoulder. “I may not care for sports, but watching you in your element is a beautiful thing,” she says, “and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

 

James wraps his arm around her, hand settling on the round of her hip, and says, “You’re really incredible, you know that?”

 

Lily grins. “Oh I know. But you can say it again.”

 

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.

.

 

Mulciber calls James a blood-traitor and asks what it’s like to fuck a Mudblood, right in front of Lily; the Slytherin boy ends up in the hospital wing, and James goes to their Head of House’s office. McGonagall gives him a week’s worth of detention, which he skives off until Dumbledore threatens him with suspension.

 

“You’re Head Boy,” Lily says. “Hexing Slytherins into the hospital wing does not set a good example for the younger students to follow.”

 

“You heard what Mulciber called you,” James says.

 

Lily smiles sadly. She brushes his messy hair out of his face and says, “A lot of people call me that.”

 

“Doesn’t make it right,” James grumbles, “or mean that they should get away with it.”

 

“Maybe not, but it is what it is.”

 

Mulciber might be the most vocal about his disapproval, but he’s far from the only one who thinks James is slumming it. Plenty of the pure-bloods (not all of them Slytherin) whisper that he should know better than to date a Muggle-born during such a turbulent political time, and Meredith Valmont tells anyone who’ll listen that Lily is a slut who doesn’t deserve James. Some people say it’s unfair to their hypothetical children, who wouldn’t fully belong to either the Muggle or wizarding worlds. Others speculate that she’s using James for his money, and there are a few who simply say “it just isn’t right.”

 

There are days when this bothers Lily. She knows there’s nothing wrong with her love for James, nothing dirty or unnatural about it. But sometimes she worries that their relationship brings him more grief than joy. She finally admits this on the first warm day of spring, while they’re picnicking by the lake.

 

“Are you crazy?” James asks. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

 

Lily feels surprised and a little unworthy. Mostly because it’s hard to believe something like this about herself when she’s constantly been told she’s not good enough.

 

“I mean it,” James says, fiercely, like he can see the doubt on her face. “You are.”

 

“I believe you,” she says, because even if his words are hard to accept, Lily knows James would never lie to her.

 

.

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.

 

There’s a jewelry shop in Hogsmeade. Nothing as fancy as the sort you’d find in London, but it sells all sorts of fine necklaces and bracelets and brooches. Rings, too, and on the second-to-last Hogsmeade weekend of the year, James finds himself looking through diamonds and gemstones, trying to find the one Lily would like most. There are rings aplenty in his family, beautiful antiques that are nearly priceless, but he knows that Lily would rather have something all her own. So he asks the shopkeeper half a hundred questions before settling on an oval green amethyst set in platinum. It isn’t a traditional sort of engagement ring, but then, Lily is not a traditional sort of girl, and he’s certain she’ll love it.

 

What he’s less sure of is whether or not she’ll think he’s crazy for asking her to be his wife. They’re just eighteen, she only admitted to loving him two months ago, their world is in the middle of a war, and getting married would paint a target on their backs. James doesn’t care about any of these things. He knows Lily is the girl for him, has known this for a long time, but there’s no guarantee that she wants the same things he does.

 

The only way he’ll ever find out is to ask, but he doesn’t quite have the courage to voice the question just yet. So the platinum ring stays its box, which goes into his bedside table, and that’s where it stays for weeks.

 

.

.

.

 

Lily finds it while looking for a quill. James is sleeping, and the other three boys are gone (Remus is in the hospital wing, Peter left to study for exams, and Sirius never came back to the dormitory last night). She opens the box without even thinking about it, and when she sees what’s inside—a beautiful ring, some sort of pale green gemstone haloed by tiny diamonds—Lily asks, “What’s this?”

 

James stirs, blinks at her blearily, puts on his glasses, then stares at her and the open box with wide eyes. He runs a jittery hand through his untidy hair. “It’s um—a present. For you, for our anniversary.”

 

This is an obvious lie. Their anniversary is months away, and besides, there’s only one reason a man ever buys a woman a ring that expensive. “James, were you—were you going to ask me to marry you?”

 

He says nothing for a long moment, then, “Yeah. I was. Or I guess, I am, now. Shit, this isn’t how this was supposed to go.”

 

Lily can’t help but laugh. “Beautiful proposal, Potter. How could a girl refuse?”

 

“Are you turning me down?” James asks, sounding nervous.

 

“No!” Although she’s sure it makes her a lovesick idiot, ignoring all the good, sound reasons that they shouldn’t get married—they’re too young and too different, for starters—Lily says, “I love you, and I want to say yes. I want to be your wife.”

 

James stands, picks her up, and swings her around, laughing. She’s never seen him look so ecstatically happy, and despite the reservations she thinks she should have, Lily has rarely felt so sure of herself.

 

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.

 

They graduate on a beautiful summer day, and their class leaves Hogwarts the same way they arrived, by boat. James holds Lily’s hand through the whole trip across the lake, and he can feel the cool metal of her engagement ring against his skin. A symbol of their promise to spend the rest of their days together. He hopes they’ll have years and years. That he’ll be able to watch her belly grow big with their children, that he’ll have the privilege of seeing her beautiful red hair turn white. But if he doesn’t—if their story is a short-lived thing, a fragile casualty that doesn’t survive the war—James is still thankful. Because even if their love is only here for a moment, it’s worth it. It’s worth everything.

 

 


 

 

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