Before We Begin by ficexchange
A gift for Beedaily;
Before We Begin
A/N: "Under My Skin" is the property of the great Frank Sinatra. No infringement is intended.
I've got you under my skin.
I've got you deep in the heart of me.
For James, it had happened fast. One day in fifth year Charms he was staring at the back of Remus' head and daydreaming idly as Flitwick expounded on the importance of Colour Changing Charms for their O.W.L.s. Lily Evans had raised her hand to clarify a point on the Latin incantation, Coloratus, which required changing depending on what colour you wanted a thing to become, and was in earnest conversation with Professor Flitwick, apparently oblivious to the fact that the rest of her classmates were bored to the point of stupefication. James even spotted some drool falling from Sirius' mouth onto his book.
Still, just so she didn't think she was in there alone, he'd raised his hand and asked a counter-point question, one implying that Lily's own question might not even be necessary if one modified the charm a bit. It could be done, surely, he argued. And James was fairly sure he could do it. After all, if the Colour Changing Charm required a different incantation for each change of colour, it was fairly inelegant magic, and shouldn't be too difficult to adapt with the right arithmantic formula. It wasn't as if Engorgio required you to specify size at the outset – you just kept going until you were done. Couldn't, he asked Professor Flitwick, as earnestly as Lily herself had done, Coloratus be adapted in the same way, so that the charm would cycle through the spectrum of colours with a single incantation?
Flitwick had indulged him for a few moments, but Lily had come back swinging, arguing that the variables for colour change were so numerous, accounting for shade and hue, as to be infinite, and that such a cycling charm was highly impractical. One could stand there for days waiting for nail varnish to turn precisely the right shade of purple.
And James had retorted that the great wizards and witches who'd made the biggest magical innovations had never let practicality get in the way of their genius.
And Lily had parried saying that genius wasn't opposed to practicality, it went hand in hand with it.
And on they had gone until most of their classmates had woken up and finally the bell had chimed the end of class. The argument had been so quick-paced that Flitwick hadn't even gotten a word in edgewise to give the night's homework. Lily and James were both roundly thanked in the Common Room that evening.
It was funny that the argument had been about Colour Changing Charms, because what James remembered most about that day was how Lily had looked – pieces of her fiery hair escaping its tie and hanging round her face, her fair cheeks flushed with emotion, and her vivid green eyes alight with energy as they sparred.
And as quick as that – one Charms lesson was all it took. Ever since that afternoon, James had been unable to get Lily out of his mind.
So deep in my heart that you're really a part of me.
I've got you under my skin.
For Lily, it started slowly, sneaking in on the edges of her consciousness, barely noticeable in the hustle and bustle that was her first term of seventh year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
On September first she'd boarded the Hogwarts Express, feeling perhaps a little too jaded with her Head Girl badge pinned to her jumper. She should have known that a new year at Hogwarts would always have surprises in store.
She had arrived in the prefects' carriage and received the first of many surprises to come: James Potter had been made Head Boy, over a cohort of well-qualified prefects. Privately, Lily wondered if Dumbledore had taken leave of his senses.
By the middle of the month she'd been even more surprised to find that he hadn't.
Potter brought the same enthusiasm and dedication to leading the student body that he always had to pranking it. It was evident from the start that he was a natural leader and had an easy way with people. Lily had known that for years, really. But she was pleased to see that he seemed to be using his powers of charm and persuasion for good for a change.
By October Lily's surprise had given way to respect, and she found herself impressed at how adept he was with their peers and with the younger students. She saw him diffuse a hallway scuffle between Kieran Pascoe and Eliot Davies with a few words and pointed looks. She also saw him, though he didn't know it, comfort a sniffling first year girl in the Charms section of the library.
So although that first term of her final year held many abrupt shocks and surprises, the biggest one of all crept up on her slowly: She liked James Potter. Really liked him. She enjoyed his company and sought him out for advice on her Arithmancy homework. She watched him play chess with Sirius in front of the fire, and cheered silently when he won. She didn't worry about head duties when she was down with a cold in the hospital wing for three days. On Guy Fawkes Day, though she knew the Marauders had to be plotting something, she didn't worry that it might inflict bodily injury on anyone. By the time Christmas rolled around she thought she might like to go to Hogsmeade with him.
There was just one problem. James had stopped asking her.
I've tried so not give in.
I said to myself: This affair never will go so well.
Oh, James had asked her to Hogsmeade, that was true. Tens, maybe even a hundred times. All through fifth and sixth years he'd asked, and each time she'd said no. She'd said it gently, she'd said it firmly, she'd said it kindly, she'd said it cruelly. She'd even written it out in Runes once! And for ages it didn't seem to make any difference. It became a sort of a game between them – how cleverly did he ask, and how quickly did she shoot him down? It was another form of one-upsmanship, and they were certainly keeping score.
But then it stopped. It was sometime in sixth year, though Lily couldn't have pinpointed the day. After what she'd been considering a sustained offensive, he'd missed a day, and then another. On the third day he'd asked again, and she'd declined, and things had gone this way for awhile. But eventually James stopped asking entirely, and Lily, if she was secretly a little disappointed, knew it was better this way.
No relationship with James Potter could go anywhere but downhill fast.
But why should I try to resist when, baby, I know so well
I've got you under my skin.
That was then, though. And this was now. And now, miraculously, James Potter had transformed himself into a respectable student and model Head Boy.
And did it hurt anything if he still made her blood pulse in her veins like when they had argued to bursting point?
Was it her fault if she finally, finally understood the appeal of that mop of unkempt hair?
Could it be helped that she never felt so alive as when she was challenging him on a particular Transfiguration theorem, or when he was bickering with her over prefect assignments?
Lily really didn't think so.
I'd sacrifice anything come what might
For the sake of having you near
It had been nearly a year since he'd asked her out, and though Lily mightn't remember the exact circumstances, James did perfectly.
Sixth year had picked up where fifth left off. Lily might have been incensed after the incident after their O.W.L.s by the lake, but even James could tell that she was more hurt than angry, and that it all had less to do with him than he might like to think. He'd left her alone for several days, and one day, a week after their Defence O.W.L. he'd plopped into the seat across from her in the Great Hall while she was staring at the Slytherin table. James had filled a glass with pumpkin juice and slid it over, forcing Lily to look up at him. She looked a bit wan, but took the juice and had a sip.
He smiled winningly. "Go out with me, Evans?"
She arched an eyebrow. "Not for all the pumpkin juice on the planet, Potter."
But there was no malice in her voice, and she drank the juice. James considered it a success.
And so the first months of sixth year went – James would ask and Lily would say no. The announcement of Hogsmeade weekends, always popular, now took on a theatrical air in Gryffindor Tower – with each trip announcement James' gestures became more outlandish, until finally everyone from the seventh year prefects to the smallest first years was discussing what he'd do next.
But no matter how ostentatious (the swans had made a terrible mess in the common room) or how preposterous (what had he been thinking with the dancing elves?), Lily always said no.
In spite of a warning voice that comes in the night
And repeats, repeats in my ear:
"Don't you know little fool, you never can win?
Use your mentality. Wake up to reality."
Finally, after a particularly unfortunate incident with a troupe of clowns, Sirius had taken James aside:
"Look mate, I know you like her." He began, "And Evans is an alright bird, I'll grant you that. And you've absolutely given it the old Marauder try. I mean, the clowns were proof of your dedication – how were you to know she had a childhood fear of them? Muggles are strange. But the point is that she just isn't going for it. Any of it. Don't you think its time you refocused your energies? The way I see it this is the perfect opportunity for a bit of Marauding."
And James had listened. He'd nodded once or twice, and he'd thought about his friend's words. Over the next several days he'd focused his energies on sneaking out to the Hogsmeade pubs with his mates, and repotting the fanged germaniums in greenhouse four with dozing daisies that sent an entire fourth year class and Professor Sprout into a deep slumber that lasted for two days.
He still asked Lily out a few times – just in the corridor between classes, and once over lunch, but he didn't put on any more shows, didn't mime his broken heart when she turned him down. The last time he asked she said, exasperated, "You'll never stop asking will you? And I'll never say yes, so I think we're at an impasse Potter."
Strangely, it was Peter who really convinced him to stop.
"Prongs," he ventured, one afternoon in their dormitory. "Do you really want to go out with Evans?"
James, taken aback by the plainness of the question, didn't know what to say. Peter plowed ahead.
"Because if you do, I don't think this is the way to do it. I mean, it's always a laugh, but planning your invitations takes as much effort as a top-notch prank, and they're really not getting you anywhere. Lily likes to argue with you, but she doesn't seem to want to date you. If you're interested in more than just taking the mickey, I reckon you'd better reconsider your approach."
And with that, Peter had clapped James on the shoulder and left the room.
It was surprising when Peter came out with such pronouncements – when the four of them were together he was always thinking of the next prank, always ready with a joke when Sirius was in a sullen mood – but occasionally he would make a point so acute that it seemed to James that Peter must be paying far closer attention to things than he let on.
This business with Lily was no exception.
And so, James thought, back to the drawing board.
But each time that I do just the thought of you makes me stop before I begin
'Cause I've got you under my skin
It was nearing the end of the first term of seventh year, and Lily was fed up with waiting. She saw James daily in classes, prefect meetings, collaborating on head duties, and in the common room. He was always friendly, occasionally teasing her and smiling at her, but there was no mistaking that this year was different from the others. The announcement of the first Hogsmeade trip in October was met with the usual flurry of excitement, but those students who might have hoped for one of James Potter's grand displays were disappointed. He didn't ask Lily, and in fact didn't ask anyone. The four Marauders had gone into the village together, where they'd apparently had a grand time. Lily, who had gone down with her roommates, spotted Peter stocking up on fanged fancies (the sweet that bites you back!) at Honeydukes and Sirius chatting up Madam Rosmerta at the Three Broomsticks while the other three laughed.
The second trip of the year was scheduled for the last weekend of term before the Christmas holidays. It was time, Lily thought, to take matters into her own hands.
After careful reflection, she decided that if she were to do this, she should put as much thought and preparation into it as James always had. Upon first consideration it was an intimidating task. Not only was the asking itself nerve-wracking, but Lily had no idea where to come by a bevy of swans or – heaven forbid – a clown troupe. She'd finally turned to Remus for help. It was common knowledge in the castle that the Marauders had knowledge and tricks of a less than common variety, and Lily realized that to pull this off, she'd need their help. Remus had been the most sensible option by far; though Lily had considered briefly asking Sirius (for he and James sometimes seemed to share a brain) she wasn't certain she could trust him with the secret.
And Remus had come through spectacularly. As Lily told him what she was planning, he raised an eyebrow, though otherwise his face betrayed very little. She finished talking and there was a long moment of silence. Finally Remus' face broke into a decidedly un-Remus-like smirk.
"That's brilliant. He'll never see it coming. He won't know what to do."
"Well, I know what I want him to do," Lily said anxiously. "I don't want to do this if you don't think it will work, Remus. It's not just a gag. I do care about the results, you know."
The smirk softened into a smile, and Remus held up a hand. "I know, Lily. And it will work. It's perfect." She let out a breath she'd been holding, and he continued. "I can help you with the planning. You want to do it on Tuesday, right? Well, we'd best get started."
And so they'd planned – it had taken nearly a week to come together. There were decorations and outfits to procure. Remus had made some sort of deal with the house elves, and they'd agreed to help. All that was left to Lily was to come up with the right words.
She sat up in her bed late on Monday night, scratching her quill over parchment and then crossing out what she'd written. Finally she rolled up the scroll and stowed it under her pillow before laying back. She hoped this was going to work.
The girls' dormitories were chilly on the morning of Tuesday, December 13, but the cold flag stones under her feet had little to do with the shivers running down Lily's spine. Getting through the day promised to be a Herculean task.
After careful consideration, she'd decided to stage her attempt after the last lesson of the day, Transfiguration. It meant they wouldn't be late for anything after it, and that, if James said no, at least they wouldn't have to endure an afternoon of awkwardness in lessons together.
Lily was quite worried that he would say no. She didn't know why he had stopped asking her last year, though she worried he just might not be interested any longer. Still, they were friends now, they got along well, and she'd never forgive herself if she didn't try.
Mary McDonald had just climbed out of her own bed. She gave Lily a bracing smile and said, "You'll be fine! You're a Gryffindor, aren't you?" So Lily summoned her courage and made her way to the Great Hall.
By the time they were sitting in Transfiguration that afternoon, Lily was second guessing herself. She didn't feel particularly brave, and her Gryffindor guts were in knots. She wondered if she looked as ill as she felt, because Professor McGonagall was shooting her concerned looks. She had never thought before how it felt to be on the opposite side of this equation. Every time she'd turned James down, she hadn't thought what it might have taken for him to ask.
Well, it was her turn to go out on a limb, now. The bell chimed the end of class, and students began to pack their things. Lily made quick eye-contact with Remus, who nodded, and then she hurried out the door. There they were; everything was ready. Now she just had to wait a few more seconds.
James was one of the last students out of the Transfiguration classroom. Peter had dropped his books, and then Remus had tripped, so by the time he made it to the doorway, the corridor was full with students moving back to their common rooms and meeting their friends. In all the hustle and bustle he almost didn't notice the small group of house elves in funny outfits standing in the middle of the hall.
But they certainly spotted him. One let out a hum, as though testing the note, and then they began to chorus:
"God rest ye James Potter
A Hogsmeade visit's near.
Visiting the village
Will bring some Christmas cheer."
James gaped, taking in the little scarves and hats the caroling elves wore. A few were even holding candles aloft. Sirius dodged around him to share a song-sheet with a kitchen elf named Tibby, and his baritone joined their pipey little voices in the next verse.
"At Three Broomsticks and Honeydukes
There's fudge and butterbeer.
Good company will make your visit bright, Visit bright!
Oh, good company will make your visit bright."
There was a crowd of students gathered round now, some were giggling and pointing, others humming along.
"The Shrieking Shack is worth a look
And if you have a need
Of quill or ink or parchment
It's Scrivenshaft's indeed.
Don't go to Madam Puddifoot's
Unless you've had some mead.
Good company will make your visit bright, Visit bright!
Oh, good company will make your visit bright."
The elves finished their singing, and the gathered students burst into laughter and applause. Sirius took a deep bow, and accidentally knocked the top hat off a tiny elf's head.
But James wasn't paying attention to any of this. His eyes were fixed on the girl who'd been standing next to the elf chorus for the whole song. As Lily stepped forward the people nearest grew quiet.
"Potter, will you go to Hogsmeade with me?"
James looked down at her, and then back up. She'd stepped under a bit of mistletoe. And he grinned.
This was the beginning.