Once upon a time, there was a boy.
Back when her sister still turned her way when she so much as grazed her knees, there was a boy—the boy—and they… they had something. They used to write each other’s names on inky-blue skies. Sometimes those summers don’t feel real, like she only read of them from somewhere. The grass tickled her bare skin, the wind ruffled her hair, and the creaking sound of an old, rusty swing set filled the silence when she ran out of questions to ask. She’d tell him about the constellations she knew when the quiet persisted—a meager exchange for his wands and owls and magical castles, I know, but he would still raise a pallid hand from the moonlit grounds to trace the stars with her.
She couldn’t fathom all of it then. Before the Hogwarts letter came, she doesn’t think she wholeheartedly believed him once. But she would sneak out of the house more than once still, just to hear him talk about that other world, this world, again and again. He didn’t mind. In fact, they were one of the few things that ever lit up his eyes, his stories about magic. His plans of getting out of ‘that godawful place’, his dreams of making a proper somebody out of who and what he had. He wasn’t much of a talker, or a smiler, or a storyteller, but somehow he found her worth the try.
Hogwarts was as magical as they made it to be.
But it was not as kind. It was not as easy. And after everything that happened, from those dreamy summer nights to that one summer day, she’s starting to think that maybe there are some things people simply can’t help but break in the end. Or maybe there are some things not meant for them to fix. Maybe they’re not even meant to be fixed at all.
Because once upon a time there was a boy, and there were beautiful summers that came with him—but now they seem to have worn out and crumpled and wrapped themselves up. And the worst part is, as much as she would like to blame others for this downfall, she can’t help but notice how it was almost like it was meant to be. She hates how it feels like everything happened because it’s only about time. Expecting something to end doesn’t make it hurt any less. And something as beautiful shouldn’t have had to end, should it?
But it did. And now his name comes with thoughts of letters in her bedside drawer, some unsent, some unread; of words that never should have been spoken, by him or by her; and of things that she (and he) wished she could undo but couldn’t.
The boy of once upon a time has made his choice.
She doesn’t think she has made hers, but that choice led her here now, her shoes squelching against the cobbled stoned streets, on her way back to the castle after an admittedly unsuccessful, first-time solitary Hogsmeade trip.
Ultimately, that choice also led her face to face now with the last person she wanted to see.
Now this boy, on the other hand… she’s not quite sure what to do with him. He stares at her with his glass-rimmed eyes and his face is devoid of his trademark smug smile for once, and all she can think of is how he should really stop being nice to her. She’s still mad. I suppose it’s unreasonable, holding grudges, but she can’t help it. He started it all, didn’t he? The person you least want to see you broken shouldn’t have to be the same person to bring you to your breaking point. But somehow James Potter managed to do just that with her.
She makes to sidestep him, but two steps away and he’s pulling her back by her arm.
“What do you want?” she asks, and she has to raise her voice over the sound of the rain pelting down the tin roofs of the shops lining the street. It’s unfortunate, really, that he of all people should find her here now, drenched and alone.
“You’re soaking wet,” he observes. She looks away and glares at the nearest shop window. His yellow umbrella and her red hair stand out against the reflected downcast backdrop.
“I forgot my umbrella,” she says. She wishes he would just go away.
“You’re with anyone?”
“No.” She would have been— She should have been—but no.
He seems to have run out of things to say, so she starts on her way once more. Three steps away, both of them, and he’s calling out for her again.
She turns around and shoves her hands in her pockets, raising an eyebrow at him.
He closes the distance between them and holds out his hand, as if he’s asking her for something. She stares blankly at his calloused fingers and blinks up at him. “What?”
He makes a sound somewhere between a sigh and a chuckle, then suddenly he’s taking her hand, and then her fingers are wrapped around his umbrella handle. He gets sodden quick, and Lily thinks his hair looks ridiculous in the rain.
“I don’t need—”
“I’m sorry, Lily.”
Somehow, she believes him. It sounded like he’s been meaning to say it for a long time. She believes him—but she doesn’t think she accepts it. She doesn’t think she can yet.
“I know it’s long due,” he continues, “but I didn’t think you’d open anything from me over the summer. ‘Sides, just a letter wouldn’t have covered it.” He rubs the back of his neck and shifts his weight. “You’ve been avoiding me since we got back, and I just… I wanted to let you know. I’m sorry.”
She shrugs. “Okay.”
He stares at her, the pained expression on his face poorly disguised by the grimace she supposed was aimed at the rivulets of water drenching his glasses. He licks his lips briefly before diving into speech again. “I’m not apologizing for hating him,” he explains defiantly. “But I’m sorry you got caught up. I didn’t mean to… I didn’t think it would play out like that.”
She doesn’t say anything. She feels the anger threatening to lace whatever would find its way tumbling out of her mouth, but at this point she’s not even sure if it’s directed at him anymore.
“I know you must find it hard to believe, but I’m—” he struggles, but she cuts him off.
“You’ve always been the smoothest liar, James.”
He is taken aback for a second, silenced. “No,” he answers, clearly and firmly. “Not with you.”
She looks away.
“Be careful on your way back,” he mutters, and then he’s gone.
Once upon a time, there was a girl.
She had red hair and green eyes and an annoying muggle priss for a sister. That sister hated him, and he thought she did, too, but then she would meet him in the evenings to catch the first star and would hang around him to listen anyway. She… well, he likes to think they had something. Sometimes those summers don’t feel real, like he only made them up in his head to keep him sane from what he would always have to go home to. She was surreal. Her laughter blended perfectly with the sounds of those endless summer nights, and when she talked about the stars, Severus liked to think she spoke of them so keenly only because she was one of them once. And then he would trace her name in the skies, pretending to bring her back up there in the only way he could, but really only to resist the urge to reach out and cover her hand with his.
He didn’t think she would be that kind. Before she came, he didn’t think something so glaringly different from the suffocating walls and booming voices in the house would exist and ever be meant for him. But he indulged himself with the impossibility that was her, this muggleborn witch with surprisingly so much magic, thinking if all this was bound to turn out a dream, he’d be able to say with every broken part of him that it was worth it.
It lasted longer than he thought, but it still didn’t last enough. It could never have been enough.
Hogwarts brought them together, but it broke them apart in the end, too. But after everything—after everything, Lily, damnit—he can’t just sit back and not try to win her back. Because once upon a time wasn’t supposed to be Lily’s definition, and the summers shouldn’t have to ever run out. She was his first. It’s been months, he knows that, but he can still fix this. He chooses to believe he can fix this. If she could teeter between two worlds insistent upon ostracizing her, then he can belong to hers and his own just as well. They couldn’t just have ended there.
And that’s all he convinces himself when she barges in the dungeons one Sunday, clearly not expecting to see him there. He’s been salvaging what free time he could from his schedule working on this project, and he wasn’t going to tell her until it’s done, but—
“I’m sorry, I’ll go find another place to work in…”
“No, Lily, wait.” He goes around his station, fingers drumming on the edge of the table. “Please stay. I was just… can you help me with this?”
Lily bites her lower lip and clutches the strap of her book bag. He didn’t think she’d agree, but then she’s muttering ‘right, okay’ and walking towards him. He lets out a breath he doesn’t know he’s been holding.
He goes back to his side of the table and she stands a safe distance away from him. She looks at everything but his eyes. “What are you… oh. You’re still doing this?”
He watches her eyebrows meet in the middle and her hand reach out for one of the stack of papers scattered on the scratched wooden surface. In a cauldron to the side simmers what looks like liquid light. Severus idly lowers the heat with a flick of his wand. “Yeah, I think it’s plausible now,” he mumbles, stirring the potion in progress. “I know you’ve given up on it, and I know I said it’s bonkers and pointless, but I thought if we incorporate McGonagall’s latest lecture on—”
Lily drops the parchment. “What’s this about, Sev?”
Severus turns to her, resolute. He ignores her tone and offers her a smile, its warmth dimmed by the sadness and regret in her eyes. “Waterworks. It was your idea, remember? Fireworks in the rain? Potions, Transfiguration, and Charms tricks all in one. You’ve always been so adamant about it, and I thought I’d…”
“That was before,” she says quietly, her eyes on a certain parchment peeking out from the bunch. It has her handwriting.
“I’m aware.” He goes back to stirring the potion, not meeting her eye. “You said it would be quite a sight. You said—”
“I said I wanted to see how it would look like with each raindrop reflecting the light,” she finished. “I do remember.”
He pauses, choosing his words carefully. “I’m not… I haven’t given up on it, Lily.”
She is quiet. At length she takes a deep breath, and musters up an equally marred smile for him. “I have,” she says softly. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re lying.” Somewhere within him something is falling, fast and hard but never ending, and Severus closes his fingers to a fist as an instinctive attempt to hold on to whatever it is. “You can’t have,” he tells her. “Not so easily.”
She laughs, and it’s so different from that summer laughter, so different from the summer Lily. “Who said it was easy?” She blinks twice, her eyes glistening bright and green in the dim lighting of the dungeons. She starts to walk away. “I can’t help you, Sev. Let it go.”
“Never,” he says without a beat.
“Maybe, but I’m going to keep at it for you anyway.”
She nods, but a part of him acknowledges what he’s lost then. He watches her leave, and his fingers grip the ladle so hard his knuckles turn as drained as he was before he met Lily all those years ago. She pauses by the door and turns around halfway. “If you want to occupy yourself with something difficult, you might as well work on quitting being so close to your so-called mates for now,” she tells him. “Do it for yourself, not for me.”
“You know that’s impossible at this point,” he says imploringly.
“Well, weren’t you just about to do something impossible for me?”
“Do that, Sev,” she says, and her green eyes bore on his like an insistent plea. He has always known, but he is especially reminded at times like this that he will never, not even long after she’s gone, forget the precise color of her eyes. “I don’t think I can save you now, but I believe you still can.”
His expression turns hard. “I don’t need saving.”
She shrugs. She hasn’t gone out of the room yet, but he hasn’t felt her so out of his reach more than ever. “If you’re going to do one last thing for me,” she says, stepping backwards and out. “I’d rather you choose that.”
Once upon a time, there was a jerk.
He was brilliant and all, but he was nothing short of a sodding blighter all the same.
There was also a girl, mad and impossible and brilliant; a boy, despised and misunderstood and offended; and a castle too intrusive with all three’s personal affairs. But mostly there was that jerk. He was loud and cocky and all over the place. He and the impossible girl had… something. And whatever it is has caused far too much trouble to far more people than any of them could ever have helped. Still, it didn’t sink in to him until later that he wasn’t helping his case in any way by being a downright unbelievable git. But when he was forced to finally turn things around and get himself together—with the help of unexpectedly entrusted responsibilities and the steady plummeting of the wizarding world to Death Eater-generated hell—he was disheartened to find that he had driven her too far away from him for her to even notice anything. Or so he thought he had.
He doesn’t think he even understands the entirety of what he feels for her. Sometimes it doesn’t seem real, like he’s only after her because he likes the challenge. Everyone seems to think that anyway, don’t they? But then he riles her up and he finds that he’s high off her flushed cheeks and her sharp tongue and her obstinacy, and although each refusal from her singed a good portion of of his soul and brought his esteem down quite a notch, at the end of the day he didn’t seem to mind very much. In fact, for some reason, it just egged him on. There were so many birds easily prettier, so many others just as smart and witty and even willing, but somehow he never really, properly saw any of them.
There was just Lily Evans.
It was bloody ridiculous… and unfortunate.
But he tried to forget. He kept working on things he could fix, because really, that’s all there is left for him to do. Maybe some things are meant to break. Maybe some people are meant to stay, but never quite the way you’d prefer them to. A considerable amount of damage in your life you probably will find irredeemable at some point, and James thinks Lily may perpetually be the stinging epic love of his life, but not everything has to remain broken. Never everything.
He dated this fifth year girl from Ravenclaw. He willed a considerable amount of passion towards Quidditch. He watched Sirius get drunk in victory parties, grinned knowingly at Remus’s subtle advances towards a prefect one year down, taught Peter a few tricks. He kept his demeanor cool and his gait sure as ever, and although he still blew up the occasional broom closet or two, he had laid off going after students and had reacquainted himself with recognition of authority. He set aside the slight pangs of guilt when he saw Lily alone in the library, he thought nothing more about the way their eyes would accidentally meet in the Great Hall at breakfast. He didn’t linger on the way she would look at him funny sometimes. He ignored the way his heart sped up when her fingers brushed his the other week, when they were unwittingly partnered up by Slughorn in Potions, the old chap undoubtedly hoping her influence would stop him from making something explode again.
And Merlin damn it all, he was doing okay—he was doing bloody well with the whole forgetting Lily Evans thing—and for a moment it seemed like he could keep the resolution on the roll until the year comes to a close. He even thinks he and Lily have developed some sort of… companionship, over the course of the year, and he has decided he’s fairly okay with that. He can live with it. But he doesn’t know if he could maintain his restraint on his repressed affections if the universe keeps testing him like this, keeps telling him that hey, sorry, I’m not quite done with you yet.
It’s a joke, really, for them to meet here in the same place as that first Hogsmeade trip. So much has changed, and yet…
“Hi,” he says.
“Hello.” She stops in front of him, eyeing him curiously.
It’s getting dark, and James thinks it might rain. “You really shouldn’t be out here alone,” he tells her. “There’s been an attack around here just last week.”
“I’m with you,” she says with a shrug. She looks at the window across the street. “I’m surprised they still even let us have these Hogsmeade weekends, though.”
“I suppose it’s the last of the year anyway.”
She turns to him again, and James waits for her to say something, but she just… looks at him. “Erm, what?” he asks, making a face at her.
“Where are your mates?”
“Back at the castle.” They’re tending to Remus, who’s dealing with the usual lycanthropy aftershocks, or so Peter liked to term it. James was tasked to get them some Honeydukes products, and he raises the brown paper bags for Lily to see. “It was my turn to run errands.”
He wasn’t expecting it, but he recovered rather quickly. “We all have, I think.”
She opens her mouth to reply, but is interrupted by the sudden downpour. They both run to the nearest shop terrace. It isn’t raining very hard, just a soft, tinkling drizzle, but they both watch it in silence for a few minutes. James steals a glance at Lily. She smells like summer. He looks at her and he sees stars and grass and inky-blue skies, he watches her eyes dance in the light of the flickering streetlamp and he thinks he’s never felt so much for anyone.
“Do you have an umbrella?” she asks him.
She sighs and starts rummaging through her bag. She pulls out a yellow umbrella and opens it. She finds him smiling at her when she looks up expectantly at him.
“What are you so chuffed about?”
He scratches the back of his ear and bites his lip to stop grinning like an idiot. Very funny, universe. “You kept it.”
Lily’s eyes slowly travel to her hand enclosed around the black handle, and she frowns. “No, I didn’t,” she says, and James almost misses the faint color rising up to her cheeks in the scant amount of light. “This is a new one.”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“Oh, shut it,” she chastises him. “So what if I had? I like yellow. It would’ve been a shame to just throw it away.”
He gets under the umbrella and finds that he’s too tall for her to hold it for them, so he gently pries it away from her. “Here, let me…”
Not long after, they start walking back to the castle.
“You think there’d still be village trips next school year?”
“Will you go out with me next Hogsmeade weekend?”
It takes four and a half steps before she answers. “That’s an entire summer away, Potter.”
She stops and faces him, regarding him from under her lashes. James stares back.
Somewhere in the distance, back in the village, a fireworks display starts and disrupts the momentum of his wait. They both look up and watch the spectacular show of lights in the rain, which is just soft enough for every raindrop to perfectly capture each spark. James doesn’t know how they somehow ended up here. He doesn’t know if it’s a joke like he initially assumed. He isn’t sure if it meant something to her at all. But he’s convinced, more than ever, right here with her this close and with each faint explosion echoing his heartbeats, and the fact that he would have held her hand had it not for the umbrella and the bags: that once upon a time, there was a girl, and he was in love with her… and apparently it hasn’t moved on to the next page yet. He may never live to see a next page.
The sky is a canvas of a million falling stars, each one impossibly echoed in equal brilliance by a million more times.
Some things are meant to be broken. Some things can never be fixed. But some things are meant to be together too, and maybe, just maybe, if James could make a wish on every single one of these goddamn makeshift stars, if he had to relive every painful summer and live with every decision he has ever fucked up…
“Fireworks in the rain,” Lily says softly, almost in a trance. “My turn, I guess.”
“Yes,” she says, her eyes still ahead, her lips upturning slowly and slightly.
She turns to him with a grin, the most genuine he’s ever received from her, and his heart gets caught somewhere in his throat. “I’ll go out with you next Hogsmeade weekend, yeah.”