“If it’s a strap on, I might have to murder you.”
Lily says this with a smile, finishing off her bottle of butterbeer and prodding the massive red and gold box at James’ side.
“Hey, you were the one who was so fixated on that rag,” James points out. He’s got a lopsided grin to match the lopsided spliff resting behind his ear. “What was it called again?”
“East Bloc Bush,” Lily says. “Who would have known that a magazine full of Ukrainian vaginas could inspire so many gift ideas.”
“Sirius was joking when he said that,” James assures her. They’re in a cozy alcove hidden off a sixth floor corridor, legs brushing against each other—his smart, dark green trousers, her mustard yellow knee socks—as they eyeball each others presents. They’ve only been dating for two months, but Christmas and its obligations arrived with as much awkward significance as it could for the new couple.
“I swear,” James continues, noting Lily’s—healthy, she thinks—skepticism. He picks up the box and sets it in her lap. It weighs heavily on her skirt glad thighs. “Happy Christmas!”
Lily grins, fingers quickly working at the wrappings like a toddler on Christmas morning. Inside there are three additional boxes.
“Fuck’s sake, James,” Lily laughs, small and sightly hollow. This is already more than she bargained for. She picks up the medium-sized, violet colored box first. She breaks out into a grin as she spots a collection of five books, collections of essays from her favorite witches of the age, all activists, all actively pissing off the powers that be. “Blimey!”
“Knew you’d like it,” James nods, as if he was proving someone otherwise. “Open the others!”
Lily reluctantly sets the books aside and spots the largest of the interior boxes. She gives it a shake before opening the sleek black box. Her eyes widen as her fingertips graze the lip of the gold cauldron before her. The sturdy smoothness of its body almost sends chills down her spine and her heart leaps when she grazes the engraving along the cauldron’s heavy underside: Plumroses, the most renowned cauldron makers in the country. Plumroses, used by some of the best potion masters in the world. Plumroses, which must have cost a fucking fortune. “It’s—“
“Goblin forged gold,” James says, giving the cauldron a firm pat of inter-matter solidarity. “One of the toughest you can get. It’s got a high melting point, too, or something like that. You were complaining about yours getting old—“
“I can’t believe you got me a gold—I just, I don’t know what to say!” Lily says, turning it over in her hands in a daze of disbelief. This has to be well over 150 galleons…
“Oy, don’t forget, there’s another one in there!” James says, handing her a golden box.
The cauldron joins the company of Burke, Rosenberg, Smith, Ahmed and Nash before Lily grasps the small, cubed box. When she opens it, her stomach lurches and her heart seems to stop at the sight of them: Earrings…big, bold ones.
“Rubies,” James says, unnecessarily. “They, er, match your hair…and Gryffindor, obviously. But mostly your hair.”
“I…James, these are,” Lily’s tongue grasps for he right words. Expensive comes to mind first…then amazing, and excessive, and unnecessary, and really fucking unnecessary…if she were honest she’d say all of these things, but instead she smiles and says, “This is amazing.”
“S’nothing,” James says, lopsided smile returning in full force. His cheeks are tinge pink as he runs his hand through his hair.
A beat of silence passes between the two, and Lily forces her gaze away from the earrings.
“I’ve got a gift for you as well,” Lily says, handing over a cube shaped box wrapped in Muggle green and red wrapping paper with reindeers scattered throughout. She feels her cheeks burn as she watches him handle the small box with a smile far larger than warranted. Suddenly she’s struck by the idea of him being disappointed in the far less impressive gift. “It’s…it’s not much but…” He opens the wrappings. “I know that you were complaining about your broom handle so I made this salve that’ll help better your grip and it’ll also help keep the broom more in tune with your movements. See, since so much of the steering relies on the handle, the potion will, you know, penetrate the wood and help make your movements a little more seamless, you know? It’ll help make the broom feel like it was made for you. Oh, and, er, a bar of Cadbury’s. The Muggle chocolate you fancied?”
“Nice one!” James says, peering at the container of blue substance with interest. She was proud of that potion earlier, but now all she can think of is how much of her pocket money she blew on the premium ingredients…the Shrivelfig and the backorder of Red Myrrhe. How she nearly cried when she discovered that the price of African Sea Salt increased and was completely out of her budget, and how only some proper coaxing and charming convinced Slughorn to lend her some. It was a two week long labor of love—love?—that she was excited to churn and heat up every evening after classes and before patrols, and now…now it seems as interesting and thoughtful as a tube of toothpaste. How the fuck, she wonders, can she possibly compete with expensive books and cauldrons and jewelry?
“I can’t wait to see the look on Hopkirk’s mug when I show him,” James continues, opening the container and sniffing it.
Lily blinks as the inadequacy claws at her stomach. “Sorry, what?”
“Why would Hopkirk care?”
“He’s been a right pain in the arse, always going on about how special that broom of his is. You’d think they were lovers, the way he goes on about it. Well, now I’ve got one better.” James says, breaking off a piece of the chocolate and handing her some. “Also, he’s proper jealous of us.”
“Yeah, he’s been a right cunt ever since we started going together,” James says, shrugging with as much nonchalance as he could muster. But James is never one for nonchalance. She reckons she has more nonchalance in her left tit than he does in his entire body. “He fancied you, you know.”
“I never noticed.”
“You never do.”
He smiles and leans into her, planting a kiss square on her lips. It’s a familiar dance by now, but it it doesn’t make her toes curl any less in her Mary Janes, especially as he deepens it. He’s always been a smooth kisser, but his hands are never as tame. They brush her sides, tickling her, and she laughs against his lips until it dissolves into a gasp as his fingers dip into the hem of her skirt, tracing the waistband of her knickers.
Lily pulls away slightly, trying hard to look admonishing and failing miserably. “You’re a right randy bastard, you know that, yeah?”
“Don’t suddenly pretend to be so modest,” James mutters, moving his lips down her jaw until they brush against her pulse point. “I still remember what you said in truth or dare last term.”
“And what was that?”
“That bit about how you’ve fantasized about getting shagged in a corridor.”
Lily scoffs. “You still remember that rubbish?”
“I don’t think I could forget it if I tried,” James says, tickling her sides again. “I was hard for a bloody week after that.”
She slaps his chest and laughs again, loud and heavy. Her left hand runs through his messy hair as he continues to work on that spot right under her jaw. And she almost forgets that sinking feeling, almost forgets what she was upset about as warmth fills her stomach with each brush of James’ bold hands against her arse. But right as his hand creeps up her inner thigh, and as his lips mouth filth against her neck, her eyes catch a glimpse of the earrings. They’re still secure in her left palm, bright red facets catching the nearby torch lights, illuminating her hand like stage lights. And just like that his kisses and wandering hands don’t matter; just like that she remembers to feel numb.
“You’ve been weird.”
James says this during their rounds of the seventh floor corridor, the night before they’re set to head home for hols.
It’s not an unfair observation, Lily notes, biting her bottom lip. The cauldron never made an appearance in Potions class that week. She wondered if James was shooting questioning stares at her back, if he was getting antsy with the expectation that each day will the debut of the new cauldron that he, James Potter, certified best boyfriend on the fucking planet, gave her. She wondered if he’s noticed her continue to use her crummy pewter model that she’s had for five years. Apparently, he did.
“I’ve always been a little weird.”
“No, I mean you’ve been acting weird. Quiet like. What gives?”
“I don’t know what you’re going on about.”
“It’s freaking me out.”
“You’re imagining things, I’m fine.”
“And you’re a shit liar.”
He stops walking and crosses his arms, a move that would have been intimidating in other men men of his height. But James is all sharp elbows and skinny chest. He pushes his glasses more securely on the bridge of his long, pointy nose and this, more than anything, confirms that he certainly isn’t an imposing figure. It’s his imploring glare with those hazel eyes behind those massive frames that do it, that make her stop and feel compelled to fess up.
“It’s your presents.”
James body visibly relaxes. “The broom stuff? I just used it today, it…what’s it that Muggles say? Worked like a charm? It’s fucking brill.”
“No, no…I meant the ones you gave to me,” Lily explains.
James frowns. “What’s wrong with them?”
“Nothing, I just—“
“Is it platinum with the higher boiling point?” James asks, looking slightly pained.
Lily blinks. “Well, yeah, it does but—“
“Shit. Thought so. Look, I can get you the platinum cauldron if that one—“
Lily groans. “James, just shut up for five fucking seconds, yeah?”
James’ eyes widen, but he definitely shuts up. His lips twist like a pretzel.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—“ Lily shakes her head. “Look, I love the cauldron and the earrings and the books. They’re all really lovely.”
“Then what are you going on about?” James asks quietly.
“It’s just…” Lily stops, almost regretting bringing any of this up at all. “It’s just fucked when you can give me all these things—these really expensive things—”
“That’s what you’re so stroppy about?” There’s laughter in James voice because it’s inconceivable, it’s a bad joke. “The fact that I bought you something?”
For a moment she second guesses herself, her doubts, her late nights laying in bed, staring at the ruby earrings sitting on her bedside table, keeping her distance like a scorned lover. But she can’t shake the weirdness. She can’t.
“No, James,” she starts, voice strong and steady. “It’s the fact that you can spend so much on me and I can’t do the same. All I’ve got to give is a potion and some sweets.“
“I don’t care about that,” James insists, his words spilling out through a frustrated snicker. His lips are curled into an easy smile but it doesn’t reach his eyes. He runs a hand through his messy hair more aggressively than usual. “It doesn’t matter to me!”
“But it does to me!” Lily cries, sounding more petulant than she intended.
“So what are you saying? We can’t go together because of money?”
“That’s not what I’m saying at all.”
“Then what’s the problem? You’re not making any sense.”
“It’s just…” Lily stares at James’ slightly wrinkled, crisp white oxford shirt, his shiny gold watch that he loses every other day, the dragonhide shoes. With a sigh, she braces herself against a nearby wall and slides to the floor. She crosses her legs and tugs on James’ trouser leg, urging him to do the same. “I feel weird.”
“You’re a lot of things, you know,” James says, settling next to her. “Never reckoned insecure was one of them.”
Lily rolls her eyes. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“Is it, though?” James asks.
“Trust me, I don’t think you’re too good for me,” Lily says, features softening as a small smile tugs at her lips. “And definitely not because you’ve got galleons pouring out of your arse.”
“You shouldn’t take the piss out of my medical conditions. I’m a sensitive lad…with a sensitive arse,” James says, nudging Lily with his shoulder. He finds her hand and plays with her fingers, spreading them apart and curling them against his. She can feel the calluses of his palm, contrasting with the smoothness of her own. And that’s what they are, a contrast, trying to fit into place in a mad jigsaw puzzle, the pieces never quite fitting. So what should be done about this puzzle of theirs, Lily wonders, as she considers his money and his blood, his birth. She can either throw it against the wall in fury, sending the mismatch pieces flying, or accept that the puzzle will never be solved.
“I guess it was just a shock,” Lily says, fingering the calluses of his palm. “Honestly, I usually just get a record for Christmas, maybe a jumper. Not…solid gold and book sets and jewelry that costs more than my house.”
“Suppose I was a little over the top,” James admits slowly, offering a humble shrug as his olive branch.
“A bit…but I know you didn’t mean to come off like a dickhead.” Lily runs a hand through his hair before resting it against his cheek. “For once.”
He lets out a breathy chuckle and leans in to her touch. His hazel eyes bore into her green ones, imploring her before he even opens his mouth to speak. “I just wanted to make you happy.”
“I didn’t mean to—“
“Remind me of how poor I am?”
James winces. “Lily…”
She leans in and gives him a quick peck on his lips. “You’re a good bloke, James. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make me happy.”
His pale cheeks flush and that carefree, boyish smile returns. For now it whisks away the weirdness, the verbal tip toeing, the resentment. Will he ever really get it? Will he ever truly understand how it feels to watch him carelessly drop galleons while a fiver at the bottom of her purse is enough to make her sing? No, she decides, probably not. But he’ll try, and that’s what matters. But she doesn’t expect him to understand everything overnight, and she can’t hold it against him. Because no matter what he’ll always be that spoiled, rich, golden boy, pureblood, who fell for a working class Muggle-born lass. And she fell for him, despite the money and the power and the differences. It’s those differences, she knows, that make them this fucking mess of a jigsaw puzzle that never quite fits into place, and it’s glorious. It’s defiant. It’s them.
The weight in Lily’s chest dissolves, and the night is suddenly brighter, full of possibilities—they’re full of possibilities. With a surge of something she can’t place—like, admiration, adoration, love—she kneels and wraps her arms around him, her spoiled, rich golden boy with his messy hair, posh shoes and devilish smiles. He returns her embrace and smiles in her hair.
“Just one problem,” James says, voice muffled by a sea of blood red.
“What?” Lily replies, tensing.
“I guess I can’t get you that ruby encrusted, platinum cauldron for you birthday now.”