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part two: THAT UNREAL OBJECT IN YOUR HOUSE

 

James opened the door. It was Peter. “Fucking what.”

 

“Can I have the spare to my flat?” He looked nervous. “I’ve lost mine again.”

 

James turned around and lifted up a pot plant to reveal a pile of keys and a bizarrely placed cake fork. “It’s the fucking crack of dawn you know the door isn’t locked why wouldn’t you just come in and get it.”

 

“I didn’t know—I mean—I—“ Peter looked like he was waiting to be stabbed. James threw him the key.

 

“Christ Pete, she’s not scary.”

 

“She is.” Peter hissed, just as Lily came through the wall and said, “Yes, I am.”

 

Peter let out an odd noise and fell backwards onto the porch. James bent down to pick up the mail. “Hi, Peter,” Lily said cheerily. “I would’ve let you take the spare.”

 

James picked through a Spotify leaflet and the water bill. “See? Not scary. Just annoying.”

 

“Your fly is down,” Lily said to him.

 

“I’m wearing boxers.”

 

“Yet you looked.” James, who had looked, hit her with the mail. It passed right through her. She could’ve been air or light or any other intangible thing.

 

‘Right.” Peter squeaked, still spread on the porch. “I—I’m g-going to go. Have a goo-d-d one.” He inched backwards on his elbows before pushing himself up and sprinting down the driveway. It was a rather long run.

 

James glanced at Lily, who was watching Peter run down the driveway with mild interest. If he looked hard enough, he could see the wall through her. “I’m going to make coffee and have a biscuit,” he said.

 

She turned to him. “I’d love a biscuit.”

 

“Shame you’re dead then.”

 

“Yeah. A bit.”

 

//

 

Often when he ate she’d lie on the ground and ask him to describe the food.

 

“It tastes like a sandwich,” he said.

 

She rolled her eyes. “I mean really describe it, like the flavours and shit.”

 

“It has the flavour of a salami and cheese sandwich.”

 

“For a writer, you’re pretty shit at descriptions.”

 

“You know what’s crazy?” he gestured through a mouthful of sandwich, “I’ve also been told I’m a pretty shit writer, so maybe that’s where it comes from.”

 

Lily snorted, rolling her head to the ceiling. “A definite possibility.”

 

//

 

After his mum had died, he had, in this order: lost his mind, quit his job, moved onto Remus and Sirius’ couch, exclusively started to eat banana chips and marshmallows, and become pretty talented at wasting time. This now came in handy when writing.

 

“I think, genuinely, the whole thing should be written in papyrus.”

 

“Really,” Lily said, not sounding on-board.

 

//

 

In the late afternoon, James was lying next to the bin trying to avoid writing. After twenty minutes of this, he called Lily’s name. She did not respond. He investigated.

 

She was in the bathroom standing under the running shower with all her clothes on. “It’s fucking hot,” she said, by way of explanation.

 

“This is a waste of water.”

 

The right half of her—the half submerged in water, appeared completely soaked, her hair plastered to her face. The left could not have looked drier. “Well, buy a paddling pool.”

 

“Does it bother you at all, using me for money?” 

 

“Not at all.”

 

“You’re shameless. What if I didn’t live here?”

 

Lily looked at him. James suddenly remembered that there had been several years, maybe even decades, when he hadn’t lived here but she had.

 

“Probably go back to waiting for rain.” She joked. He couldn’t laugh.

 

//

 

Frequently she’d just drop through the ceiling to try and give him a heart attack.

 

Once, he’d spilt cold tomato soup all down his front. “Fucking asshole!” he’d spluttered, holding the soup can, shirt ruined forever. Lily was rolling on the floor like nothing had ever been as funny as this.

 

He’d stripped his shirt off and threw it in the sink. At the time, this seemed appropriate. He pulled out some noodles.

 

She’d grinned up at him, spread on the tiles. “Not my fault I’m scary.”

 

“You’re not scary,” James had informed her. Lily put her hand right through the dishwasher.

 

“I take it back. Spare my dishes,” he’d deadpanned. She’d laughed again.

 

//

 

Remus was always saying how James needed to hire a gardener because the garden “looked like shit on legs”. James ignored him when he did this, saying instead, “Tell Lily to shut the fridge.”

 

Remus, eating a muffin and having just been interrupted mid rant, half-glared. “Why don’t you?”

 

“We’re not speaking because she told me she liked my old glasses more than my new ones.”

 

Remus bit into his muffin. “To be honest, so did I.”

 

Lily materialised on top of the windowsill, having been there the entire time. “Thank you, Remus.” Remus dropped his muffin in surprise.

 

“Stop spying,” James said.

 

“I thought you weren’t speaking to me.”

 

“I was talking to Remus,” James lied. “Who I’m now also not talking too.”

 

“No one can pull off oval, James,” she told him. “No one.”

 

James stayed silent, on account of the not-speaking.

 

“I thought you were doing it for a laugh,” Remus mused, hurtfully.

 

“Didn’t we all,” Lily agreed.

 

“You’re shit mates,” James told them, having forgotten about the not-speaking thing. He then promptly remembered. “I was talking to myself when I said that.”

 

//

 

When it was sunny Lily would stretch across the porch, motionless, eyes shut. Her clothes were always the same. Jeans with a rip in the calf, striped shirt, stain on the collar that looked like orange juice. What she died in. When she lay with her arms up her shirt would ride higher to reveal slivers of hip, the jaunt of the bone.

 

She looked remarkably like a dead person. James told her so.

 

“You should be writing,” she mumbled as he lay down beside her.

 

“I’m researching procrastination,” he countered, and saw a grin. Her body almost glowed in the light, a faint shimmer, white light scattering from her. If he was still a journalist he could’ve written an article about this. Title it: Ghost Girl, Made of Light, Found in Yard. He did not say this aloud. He wasn’t sure why.

 

//

 

“So, you’re just, like, never gonna have sex again,” Sirius repeated, sat at the kitchen counter eating crisps that were not his.

 

Lily ignored him, lying flat across the top of the couch and trying to read the newspaper on James’ phone over his shoulder.  

 

Sirius continued. “Is it ‘cause you’re really a prude?”

 

“Yeah, that’s the problem,” Lily said, not looking up, “my sensibilities.”

 

“If you really wanted it, and I mean really,” Sirius said, sitting forward in his chair and wiggling his eyebrows, “I reckon you could.” James made a grab for the chip bag and Sirius sat back, smug.  

 

“I think you misunderstand my situation,” Lily replied.

 

“I think you’re holding back because you don’t believe in sex before marriage.”

 

She tried very hard not to smile. “God, am I that transparent?”

 

James looked at her. “Yeah, actually.” And Lily, in a misguided attempt to freak them out, dropped through the couch.

 

//

 

“What if,” James had been in the same position for over five hours, “instead of them being criminals, they’re all police officers.”

 

“Wouldn’t that change all your characters and the entire plot?” Lily was sitting with her feet in the sink.

 

“Sort of.”

 

“I’d avoid that then.”

 

“Yeah. Maybe.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

part one: ON PURPOSE I REALLY TRY NOT TO

 

James bought the house online with the money his mum left him because, to be perfectly honest, his life didn’t work without her. This was becoming even more readily apparent as he drove down the criminally long driveway and parked, only to have a near heart attack. There was a person standing in the front room, back to the driveway.

 

If James was smarter, he would’ve gone up the stairs and worried about being stabbed. He wasn’t smart. He went up the stairs thinking how awkward it was going to be on the phone telling the operator he’d been stabbed. 

 

“Ah, excuse me?” he remembered saying, sounding like a right asshole. She’d turned to face him, the image of calm.

 

He remembered thinking she was pretty. He left this out when he retold it.

 

“Do you—ah… ” He had no idea what to do. “Is there someone I can call to come get you?”

 

“No,” Lily had said. “Is there someone I can call to come get you?”

 

This was such a bizarre response that James just said, “No, I live here,” without thinking.

 

She’d shrugged. “So do I.”

 

He remembered seeing then, how her body did not look like bodies were supposed to. As if she’d been made by someone in the dark. Or maybe like he was seeing her through water. Because there was the middle of her, solid, and yet he couldn’t point where the curve of her elbow ended or the line of her neck stopped.

 

Oddly, this made him less afraid.

 

//

 

The things he knows about dead people now are staggering. He would write a book, but he’s already doing that.

 

Like how, she could be almost solid when she wanted to be, holding plates and cold flannels and then, out of nowhere, he’d throw her the remote and it would go right through her. She’d just laugh, tell him he should see his face.

 

She was also hot all the time. In the weather sense. He’d walk in on her standing in front of the open fridge, eyes shut, hands around a milk carton.

 

He’d noticed all these things from basically spying on her every time she walked in a room. Other times he’d see her though the window. Mostly accidentally. It wasn’t that he was intimidated or anything. Except, it entirely was. She was dead. The fuck was he supposed to say.

 

A week in, while he was eating tortilla chips and sour cream (“Not dinner,” Remus would say, wrongly), she marched in and sat across from him. James choked.

 

“Listen.” She folded her hands together. “I would leave, but I can’t. As in if I try to go further than the garden I end up back in the living room feeling like I’ve been punched. So, seeing as I can’t leave and you evidently don’t want to—” She sighed, looked at her hands, back up at him, “I think we should try to be friends. Like roommates. So you don’t have to spy on me anymore.”

 

“I wasn’t spying,” James lied.

 

“What’d you call it then?”

 

“Observing.”

 

Lily cocked her head, “Funny, when I was alive we called it spying. It was also frowned upon.”

 

“Yeah, well.” James ate a chip. “Times have changed.”

 

“Apparently for the worse.”

 

He snorted. Lily smiled. “On another note, you’re not actually calling this dinner, are you?”

 

 

//

 

He spent a lot of time wondering how she had died and pointedly not asking her. She didn’t talk about her life ever. A part of him wondered if she’d forgotten.

 

Then, one day while he was googling synonyms for ‘growled’ and listening to Cher because he wasn’t in high school anymore and didn’t have to pretend not to be into his Mum’s music, Lily said, casually, “I hate this song.”

 

Embarrassingly, James was genuinely hurt. “You’ve got no fucking taste.”

 

“My sister played this at her wedding and, no joke—“ She raised a finger, “the second the chorus started a groomsman threw up on my shoes.”

 

This sentence provided more information about her than he’d learnt in the last two months. Hearing it all in one go was almost dizzying. She’d had a sister, and that sister was married, and her brother-in-law’s friends couldn’t hold their liquor.

 

While he was distracted Lily put on NSYNC, and then had the nerve to say out loud with her own god-given mouth that she did have taste. 

 

//

 

“So, your novel,” Lily asked, sitting with her back against the cool metal of the dishwasher, “is it any good?”

 

“Fucking hope so,” James replied, eating a peach, “I’ll be right pissed if it isn’t.”

 

//

 

He introduced her to the gang and Remus raised his eyebrows very high and Peter fainted, so they all ended up standing over him on the couch, debating whether to put ice on his head.

 

“We need to stop the swelling,” Lily said.

 

“Not until he’s woken up we don’t. It’ll freak him out when he tries to wake up.” Sirius, the most ambivalent of them all, had somehow ended up holding the ice pack. It should be noted that the ice pack was a packet of frozen oven chips.

 

“That is absolutely incorrect,” Lily declared.

 

“You’re dead. Don’t give medical advice,” Sirius retorted. Remus hit him. This was not going as James had envisioned.

 

“You’ve known me for seven minutes. You don’t get to make dead jokes,” Lily remarked.

 

“I don’t want to know you if I don’t get to make dead jokes,” Sirius said, truthfully.

 

“I think he’s waking up,” James cut in, despite not thinking so at all, he just wanted them both to shut up. Everyone looked at Peter. He continued to be unconscious.

 

“This is making me really fucking want oven chips,” Sirius said.

 

“Oven chips taste like ass,” Remus told him.

 

“Oven chips are great,” Lily argued. Sirius nodded.

 

“I’m going to make some.” Sirius took the bag into the kitchen. Lily followed, talking about salt. Peter started to wake up, mumbling something about a nightmare. Remus looked at James.

 

“You didn’t mention the dead bit when you talked about her,” he pointed out.

 

In the kitchen, there was the sound of the bag ripping and oven chips falling to the floor. Then Sirius swearing.

 

“Yeah,” James said. “Must’ve forgotten.”

 

//

 

Why would the bank window be open?” Lily asked, not calmly.

 

“Because someone wanted a breeze! It’s hot!” James was, he had to admit, equally as un-calm. They were talking about The Novel.

 

“You’d think a bank would be able to afford air-con,” Lily pointed out. James grinned, abruptly calmer than previously.

 

“It doesn’t make any sense, does it?” he said, letting his head drop onto his desk. Writing was impossible and slow and disappointing and yet he couldn’t keep himself away from it.

 

“Relax, git, it will,” Lily told him.

 

//

 

Lily kept leaving the fridge open to let in a ‘cool breeze’. As a result, the milk was always spoiled. James suspected he was developing calcium deficiency.

 

“You’ve given me calcium deficiency.”

 

“It’s impossible to give someone a calcium deficiency.” She’s making a tower of playing cards, hands shaking slightly.

 

“Well, you’ve managed it.” James turns his back to the fridge to get a yoghurt.

 

“Why don’t you have any friends?” came her voice from behind him. He whipped around, yogurt in hand.

 

“What—“

 

She interrupted him. “That sounded meaner than I thought it would. I just mean—you never go anywhere.” James opened his mouth, and Lily predicted exactly what he was about to say. “Yeah, I mean Sirius and the lot are your friends, but like, other mates. Acquaintances. People you just get beers with occasionally.”

 

James had never been the type to have friends just to get beers with occasionally. He didn’t think it was that weird until she’d brought it up at just his minute.

 

“Did you have friends like that?” he asked, because if she can ask questions like that about his life then surely, he can do that same.

 

Lily just blinked at him. Surprised. “Yeah. Most of my friends were like that.”

 

This seemed, abruptly, very fucking sad. How was this possible. “I don’t really have occasional friends,” James said.

 

“Yeah. I mean—“ She looked at him. “Yeah. Sorry.”

 

“For what?”

 

“For—I don’t—“ she stopped, looked at him. “For nothing I guess. Get fucked.”

 

James smirked and ripped the top off his yoghurt.

 

//

 

“Don’t fucking ask me how it’s going,” James snapped, slamming the dining room door and throwing himself on a chair. He hated The Novel and was, in fact, never going near it again. Writing was and would forever be, the pits. Lily didn’t look up from the TV.

 

“Say, how’s it going?” she asked, casually. James glared.

 

“Bitch.”

 

“Wow. Wonder if A. A. Milne was this much of a tosser while writing Winnie the Pooh.”

 

“A. A. Milne’s a punk bitch,” James said, for lack of a better phrase. Lily picked up the remote and flicked channels.

 

//

 

On his mum’s birthday, he woke up in the middle of the night to Lily lying next to him in bed, apparently staring at the ceiling. She never slept. Couldn’t.

 

“Did you have a boyfriend when you were alive?” he asked, before he could think about it. His room was entirely black, so much so that it was almost like it didn’t exist. The world reduced to the dark, his voice, her.

 

She started, her neck twisting to face him. He could only see the outline of her, eyes, cheeks, lips. “No,” she breathed.

 

“How?” he asked, meaning how was that possible when she could walk on her hands for ten seconds and play the Coronation Street theme song on recorder and do a great many things that could lead to love.

 

He could feel her eyes on him in the dark. “I am a great nuisance,” she whispered, voice barely there.

 

“True,” he agreed, just as quiet. Then, because it really was very dark, impossibly so, this could all be a dream, he reached out a finger, brushing along her knuckle. She stiffened, solid as she had ever been, and he felt the jut of bone through her skin. Or imagined it. There really was no way to tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

part three: NO ONE REALLY MINDS

 

James was really rather drunk. He couldn’t for the life of him remember where he lived.

 

“Here, tit!” Remus laughed, holding a beer. “We’re in your fucking garden.”

 

“Shite,” James sighed. He burped and looked hard at a tree that had blown over and was now leaning on another tree. “It looks… bad.”

 

Remus pointed at him repeatedly, eyes wide, mouth gapping. It should be noted he was also rather drunk. “I’ve been sayin’ that for fuckin months.”

 

Lily, who insisted she was babysitting but was really just sat in a tree pretending to do Sudoku, looked up. “Better not be saying shit about the garden,” she warned. Seemingly in response, Sirius appeared from behind a particularly overgrown bush and threw up.

 

“Fucking hell,” Lil grumbled, and James had never found anything so funny.

 

//

 

“This bit is crap.” Lily pointed at a paragraph onscreen.

 

“Crap like proper crap or crap that I could rewrite and make not-crap?”

 

“Crap like proper crap.”

 

James sighed. “But I need to explain the aquarium bit so they can reference it later.”

 

“Don’t explain it. It’s funnier not knowing why the dog is there.”

 

James considered. It was funnier. “Why did you think of that and not me?”

 

Lily shrugged. “All the drugs I’ve been doing. They’ve really opened me up creatively.”

 

“Ah, of course. How silly of me.”

 

//

 

He had to go out because Sirius was having his birthday at a club, and there were a hundred and fifty people there, a majority of whom James has never seen before. After having said hello to at least twenty-two people he went to high school with, all of whom asked him how he was doing, he went to the bar where Sirius was attempting to procure yet more alcohol.

 

Sirius didn’t even need to look up. “Don’t tell me you’re going.”

 

“There’s a lot of people here, mate,” James said, which wasn’t really an explanation but felt like one all the same. He hadn’t been around so many people in year and a half. Not since his mum’s funeral.

 

Sirius did look at him then, hands drumming on the table next to an empty shot glass. “I would’ve invited her if she could’ve come,” he said at last.

 

“I know. It’s not about her.” Sirius raised an eyebrow. James got annoyed. “Jesus, it isn’t.

 

“It’s been about her for ages, mate,” Sirius’ head was tilted to the side, eyebrows up, his this-is-good-advice face. James rolled his eyes.

 

“You’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.”

 

“Tell her I said hi, yeah?” Sirius moved around him and started backing away, holding four shot glasses. James said nothing, left through the back, called an Uber.

 

When he opened the door, Lily was in the hallway, leaning against the wall, reading his copy of Love in a Cold Climate. She looked up when he came in.

 

“It’s half ten,” she said, flatly, like it was a question.

 

“Correct.” He threw his keys onto the table, walking past her. She followed.

 

“Was the club raided? Shut down? They can’t call noise control on clubs can th—“

 

“It’s all still going on.” He took off his coat and opened the fridge to get a glass of milk. His calcium levels and all.

 

“Why’d you leave?”

 

“Boring,” he grunted.

 

“Sirius was there.”

 

“So?”

 

“If Sirius was there then you definitely couldn’t have found it boring.”

 

James just wanted to eat a bit of toast and not talk about anything for a while. “I just left, okay, I just didn’t...” he sighed. When he looked up she was staring at him, arms folded, head cocked, confused. “It wasn’t boring, it was just boring to me.”

 

“Why?”

 

He thought of all the people there. He thought of how she was not one.

 

“Because a Blue Planet re-run was on and I missed it, so after that everything seemed a bit shit.”

 

Lily did the face she did when she was trying not to grin. “God, you’re sad,” she said. James shrugged, drank more milk, and pulled out the bread.

 

//

 

The Novel was kind-of almost done, which was fucking terrifying, because if it was almost done then he was inches closer to having to read it over, edit it, and then send it out for actual people to tear to shit.

 

(“What’re you talking about?” Lily protested. “I’ve read it. I’m an actual person.”

 

“Interesting that you count yourself as an ‘actual person’.”

 

“Git. Knew you’d bring up the dead thing. That’s a technicality.”)

 

He was reading a Marilyn Monroe interview from 1954 because he wanted to make a throwaway Monroe reference in the interest of realism and had gotten completely side-tracked. He’d read her whole Wikipedia page and was now going through the reference articles one by one.

 

“Did you know—“ Lily said behind him, leaning over his shoulder. James nearly jumped out of the chair.

 

Jesus.”

 

“I know you don’t know Jesus.” Lily looked pleased with herself. James rolled his eyes.

 

“Did I know what?” he prompted.

 

“Did you know that when Marilyn Monroe died, Arthur Miller—her third husband—“

 

“I know who Arthur Miller is.”

 

“You didn’t before you sat here and spent an hour wasting time on her Wikipedia page.”

 

“Have you been watching me?”  

 

Lily ignored this. “Did you know that when Marilyn Monroe died Arthur Miller—who you already know—was asked by a reporter why he wasn’t going to her funeral, and he said ‘because she won’t be there’.”

 

James starred at her. “Christ.”

 

“Yeah. A bit.”

 

“But they…. they divorced before she died, right?”

 

“Yeah.” Lily moved away from him, lying across the couch and looking at the TV that wasn’t on. “Makes it sort of sadder, doesn’t it?”

 

//

 

“So Lil,” Sirius was lying across the couch and generally being a shit, “What was Queen Victoria like?” Remus looked up with interest.

 

Lily heaved a sigh. “Sirius, I didn’t live in the eighteen-hundreds.”

 

Sirius pointed at her. “Prove it.”

 

“I can’t. You just have to trust me.”

 

“Well, I don’t. You could’ve been haunting this place for fucking years and just not be saying anything.”

 

Remus cut in with: “Sirius, you’re a tit.” Sirius ignored this.

 

James said, “I think if Lily was born in the 1800’s she would’ve been more surprised by my toaster.”

 

“The only thing that surprised me about your toaster was that it’s shit.”

 

“You shut up about my toaster.”

 

“Why does one person need four toast holes,” Lily asked, to the room at large.

 

“What if I had three mates over?” James argued.

 

“In what scenario do you have all of your mates over and all feel like toast.”

 

“Okay firstly, I have more than three friends—“

 

“Incorrect,” Sirius says, just as Remus says, “Not true.”

 

James accidentally argued with Lily about the toaster for another three minutes. While this was going on Remus had time to take the remote from Sirius, tell him that he’s reading Stephen Fry’s biography, and put on QI.

 

Sirius, remote-less, and having already seen this episode, said, “This toaster chat is piss-poor.”

 

James and Lily’s heads snapped over to him. “You’re piss-poor,” they said in unison.

 

//

 

On a Wednesday afternoon while eating a bacon-and-egg pie, he accidentally finishes The Novel. As in he sat down to write and then kept writing and suddenly it was done. This was so bizarre that he couldn’t really stand it, so he went to find Lily.

 

She was outside standing next to a rusting watering can and looking tense. When he walked over she grabbed his collar and hissed, “I think there’s a frog in there.” She pointed at the watering can. James looked at it.

 

“So?”

 

“It’s a frog. A frog in the garden.”

 

“Well, technically it’s in the watering can.”

 

Lily rolled her eyes. “The watering can is located in the garden.”

 

“I like specificity,” said James, who didn’t.

 

Lily ignored him. She was nudging the watering can with her foot like it might bite. “You should be writing. Go inside.”

 

“It’s finished.”

 

“What is?”

 

“The book. The first draft.”

 

Lily’s head snapped up, foot still outstretched to the watering can. She looked like he’d just confessed that he’d died. “Since when?”

 

“Now. Just now.” The grass came almost to his waist now, and he pulled at it. Remus was a fucker. The garden was objectively fine.

 

“Christ,” Lily said. James privately agreed.

 

//

 

He sent the manuscript off to this guy he knew in publishing that would definitely say if it was shit or not. Then he went to the kitchen and ate seven apricots in five minutes. He lined the seeds up on the counter.

 

“That,” Lily, who had been watching, said, and pointed to the line, “is too many apricots.”

 

James already felt rather ill. “I am beginning to feel the same,” he said, and then threw up in the sink.

 

“Oh my God.” Lily did not sound nearly as surprised as a normal person would’ve. She handed him a tea towel. “Do you… ah, want water?”

 

What James wanted was go back to five minutes ago and tell himself to ease up with the apricots. “Yeah,” he said instead, because water would have to do.

 

//

 

It got to him one night that he didn’t know. Not that he spent a lot of time thinking about it. It was just that one night. He walked around until he found her in the living room standing near the window. Looking over the pinpricks of light from the city.

 

“Lil,” he asked, “how did you die?”

 

She met his eyes through the glass before turning around. There, through her, he could see the frosted window. The house was so quiet he could hear his own breathing.

 

“Lil,” he repeated. It was starting to occur to him that maybe this was the worst idea he’d ever had, which would’ve been a feat. “You don’t have to tell me,” he amended. He hoped to God it wasn’t terrible. Because what if it was. What if it was something she couldn’t stand to remember and he’d just brought it up.

 

“No, it’s fine. It’s just not terribly exciting, is all.” She did not sound like herself.

 

“I doubt that,” he said. He really did.

 

“I was in the attic going through boxes and a pile slid into me so I went backwards off the step ladder and hit my head. I bled out. Then I died.”

 

She made it sound methodical. “Did it hurt?” he asked. He thought of the pick-up line, the one about falling from heaven.

 

“I don’t remember. I woke up and thought it’d only been, like, minutes.”

 

“How long had it been really?”

 

“Years.” And then—“Everyone was gone.”

 

She talked about it like it hadn’t happened to her. Like it was just a retelling of some other story she’d heard once, someplace. A different ghost story.

 

“I’m sorry,” James said, because he was and also because he didn’t know what else to say.  

 

“It’s fine.” She shrugged. “I don’t think about it that much anymore.”

 

He wanted to ask when did you think about it before and was I there, but he didn’t. It felt close to the things they did not touch.

 

“’Been waiting for you to ask me that for ages.” Lily lent her foot back against the window, and it did not go through.

 

“I didn’t want to… y’know, bring up bad shit, or whatever.”

 

Lily shrugged again. “Really doesn’t bother me anymore.” Her voice was wrong. This was a lie.

 

“It would bother me.”

 

“What, dying? Because I hate to be the one to tell you this, man, but that’s where you’re headed.”

 

She wanted to turn this into a joke but he wouldn’t let her. Just this once. It was too important.

 

“No. Waking up and realising everyone I loved was gone.”

 

She swallowed thickly. “Yeah,” she said, quieter. Voice barely there at all. “Yeah, that part was pretty shit.”

 

He didn’t say anything, and neither did she, and they sat in it. The silence. It was horrible. “I bet it was,” he said, purely for the noise.

 

She coughed. “It—it’s different now. Not that it, ah, matters less. But… just…” She looked at him. Took a deep breath. “You,” she said.

 

James couldn’t move. “Me?”

 

“Yeah. You.”

 

This is the part where he should say something a proper person would.

 

“Oh,” he said instead. “I mean… um… Yeah. It’s… yeah.”

 

Jesus Christ.

 

Yet even after that, she was still looking at him. Not even like she thought he was an idiot, just like she was looking. He considered that maybe love wasn’t the thing he thought it was: something you would notice fill a room, like a flood or bees. Maybe it was quieter than that. Maybe it was just someone who kept looking.

 

“You’re it for me too,” he said. Meaning it.

 

Lily’s hand twitched involuntarily. “Cheers.” Her voice sounded like it was being pulled out of her. She wasn’t staring at him anymore, but rather at the ceiling. Then—“The Chase is on.”

 

James coughed. “Great. Let’s, ah, yeah. Where’s the remote?”

 

//

 

The publishing guy liked it. He said it was weird and funny and good. Most of the lines he liked best were Lily’s. James made the mistake of telling her this.

 

“Finally, my brilliance recognised,” she said, flourishing one hand.

 

“Shame it was posthumously,” James observed. Lily grinned over her magazine.

 

“I better get a whopping fucking mention in the acknowledgements. I mean, pages long. Chapters. You should release the acknowledgements as a whole separate book just to accommodate all the nice shit you’re gonna have to say about me.”

 

“I don’t think I’ll be able to negotiate that into my contract.”

 

Lily sighed, turning a page. “You’re so ungrateful. I wrote your book.”

 

“You suggested a few lines.”

 

“The best lines, according to Mr. Publishing Man.”

 

//

 

Sirius was drunk. To be fair, so was James. “James Potter, self-confessed necrophiliac—“

 

“It is not self-confessed—”

 

“—lives in exile, seeing no-one—“

 

“—you’re in my house right now—“

 

“—wrote this best-seller, despite being, as established—“

 

“—don’t—”  

 

“A fucking raging necrophiliac.” Sirius slammed his drink on the bench. “There. Author bio written. Pay me.”

 

Remus was lying flat over the rather short coffee table. “Fucking ace.” He then attempted to drink his beer and spilt it all down his front. Remus, too, was rather drunk.

 

Sirius laughed. James, on the kitchen floor with his back against the fridge, looked up at Lily. She was on the bench, feet in the sink, grinning, and watching Remus cough.

 

“What d’you think?” His head lolled against the fridge. He probably looked a tit.

 

“About what?” Lily asked, turning to him.

 

James gestured with his beer bottle. “The author bio.”

 

Lily cocked her head, grinned wider. “It’s pretty alright.”

 

//

 

For the record, the publishing company doesn’t let him use it. It’s alright though. His new one’s better.

 

James Potter owns no animals and used to be a journalist but now isn’t. He lives very far away, in a haunted house that he likes very much. Mostly because of its bloody great garden.