Lily Evans doesn’t normally have visitors, which is why she’s surprised when her doorbell rings on a Saturday morning
She opens the door to find the cutest little boy, with the chubbiest cheeks and the longest eyelashes she’s ever seen, holding out a tray of little white dumplings. He’s got bright green eyes which she could swear were familiar, but they practically disappear when he smiles, eyes scrunching up.
“Hello!” He says, sounding like this is the best thing that’s ever happened to him. He's practically bouncing on the balls of his feet. “App– err, my dad said I should bring some sweets over. ‘Cause we’re neighbors. I told him to make cookies, but these are good, I promise!”
“Hari, I told you not to–” There’s a tall, black haired man running up her driveway, who looks more or less exactly like the boy in front of her, and he smiles sheepishly when she gives him a once over. “Sorry about my son, he gets a little excited about meeting new people.” The man holds his hand out, and Lily shakes it. “I’m James Potter. And don’t worry, the food’s safe.”
“I’m Lily Evans.” She says, taking one of the dumplings off the tray and popping it in her mouth. They taste of coconut and sugar, and they’re really quite good. “Have you got a recipe for those?”
“Sure thing, neighbor.” James says, with a wink. “Sorry, still. Must’ve given you a scare. We’ll be off, now– little tyke’s got homework he’s avoiding. Thanks for the chat!”
“No problem. See you two around.” She says, and shuts the door once the boys have run across the driveway and into their yard.
Who knew? Having neighbors might actually be fun.
“Hari, evlo tharava solliruken…” James rubs his forehead. That was a disaster. He’s thankful the neighbor didn’t get mad at them. (Hari, how many times have I told you…)
“Sorry, Appa.” Harry says, looking quite repentant. James has had this child long enough to know that that’s utter crap, so he waits for something a little more sincere. “Inime pannamaatten, Appa.” (I won’t do it anymore, Daddy.)
“Good.” James nods sharply, reaching out to ruffle Harry’s hair. Harry comes to life, knowing that he’s forgiven, and launches himself at James, hugging his father’s leg as tightly as he can. “Ennadaa ithu…” (Don’t do me like that, bro.)
“Fine, fine.” Harry steps back, arms crossed and pouting, and James has to give in. He scoops his son up off the ground, hugging him as tightly as possible, and Harry squirms to get free.
“Appa, I’m gonna be in big kid school soon!” Harry complains, wiggling as hard as he can. He’s no match for James’ arms, though, so he eventually gives up, laying his head on his father’s shoulder. “Are you hugging me extra for Amma?”
“Yeah.” James says, nodding, before he plants a kiss on the top of Harry’s head and sets him down. Harry immediately runs for the still nearly full tray of kozhakattai, eagerly popping one into his mouth. James smiles, shaking his head. Harry’s always had a sweet tooth, and he should’ve known better to make his son’s favorite sweet and then tell him to give them to other people. The familiar ache in his heart starts up, though, at the mention of her, and it’s a little hard to set aside, even with his son’s smile lighting up the room. Harry doesn’t talk about her much, anymore, and James wonders if he’s forgetting.
“Appa?” Harry calls out, and James realizes his son is tugging on his hand. “Stop thinking. Your face gets all funny.”
“Okay.” James says, and ruffles Harry’s hair. “No more thinking. Promise.”
The familiar stream of five year olds hustle in, parents holding them by the straps of their backpacks and the collars of their shirts, and Lily Evans’ face brightens with each new face passing through the door. All of them will grow up into tiny little people, by the time they leave this class, and most of them will be reading and writing pretty well, not to mention sharing and coloring in lines and all sorts of fancy stuff. She notices a familiar face at the door and waves as the little boy from Saturday, Harry Potter, bounds up to her.
“Hi Miss Evans!” He says, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “I made you a drawing!”
“That’s so sweet of you, Harry.” She says, taking the piece of paper from his slightly sticky hands. There is a shark on it in blue highlighter, along with somewhere around twenty fish and a giant squid. A really, really, really large squid. “I’ll hang it up, maybe.”
“Cool!” Harry says, just as James walks in, a folder in hand and glasses already slipping halfway down his nose. He pushes them back up as he strides up to Lily’s desk, looking the very picture of confidence, and grins.
“Hello there.” He says, smiling brightly. He’s quite dressed up-- must have a fancy job, then, or at least be the type of guy who liked dressing up for work. It’s better than she can say for most of her male friends, who are still living out of laundry baskets. “Take good care of my boy, yeah?” James slaps Harry’s shoulder like they’re mates, and Harry grins. “He’s a smart one, but he’s a little trouble.”
“He’ll be no trouble at all, I bet.” She says, and James feigns sighing in relief, much to his son’s annoyance. “Go on and find your seat, Harry! I’m sure your classmates would love to meet you!”
Harry runs off to his seat, immediately chattering excitedly to the other kids at his table, and James stands there watching him, for a second. Lily knows the kind of pride that’s shining in James’ eyes right now, the type of pride that comes with watching something you’ve loved and waited and worked for come to life effortlessly, and she impulsively reaches out and pats his arm. James seems surprised, but rolls with the punch.
“You know, Mr. Potter, if you want your son to learn how to be without you, you’ll have to leave first.” Lily says and James mockingly salutes her before leaving the room. The bell rings not a second after, and Lily stands up, smiling as she looks around the class. “Hello there, kids! Who’s ready for the best year of your life?”
“Me!” Harry Potter hollers from the back of the room, loud enough to mask most of the whimpers and muttering, and Lily’s smile widens just a little.
“Appa!” Harry yells, as soon as he spots James coming into the room, and launches himself at his father. James picks him up and hugs him tight. “School was the best! Miss Evans is super cool, just like you said she would be!”
Lily stifles a laugh, just barely, and James looks inordinately embarrassed as he puts his son down, checking his folder for papers before rushing him out the door. He’s cute, she thinks, but files the thought away. She’s got thirty kids’ names to learn-- there’s no time to think about relationships, especially not with the father of one of them.
The next time she sees James, he’s alone.
There’s a knock on her door at eight in the morning, and James is standing on her doorstep, smiling just like his son does.
He’s fresh from a morning run, judging by how his hair is even more messy and windswept than usual, and the sleeves of his gray hooded sweatshirt have been pushed up to reveal forearms that Lily isn’t sure she can look at for long without serious health hazards. Making eye contact is an even bigger mistake-- his eyes look golden, thanks to the gray cast of the sky. He rolls his shoulders, obviously just meaning to stretch, and-- oh god, she’s staring.
“So. How’s it going?” He asks, tapping his fingers against his leg. He’s wearing basketball shorts. That alone should be a reason not to find him attractive. “Harry gotten in a fight yet?”
“He’s one of the sweetest kids I know.” Lily says, and she’s not lying. Harry Potter has been an absolute joy to have in class for the whole week she’s taught him, mainly because he has not cried once, yet. “You’re a lucky guy.”
“I am.” James nods, grinning, before his expression shifts just slightly. “You want to come over for lunch, sometime? It’s just that, uh, it doesn’t look like anyone’s showing up at your place often, and staying cooped up in the house too much can actually be bad for your health.”
“I’m free, as you’ve noticed.” Lily can’t help but be a little annoyed, but it’s mostly because James is, in fact, telling the truth. Her friends have all gotten busy with families and marriages these days, and she’s been left swinging in the aftermath, too invested in her current friends to look for new ones. Maybe this is her opportunity to find new ones. “When are you?”
“Harry’s with some of my mates today, and I doubt he’d forgive me if I had lunch with you alone.” James says, a mischievous glint playing in his hazel eyes for a second, as if he’s considering the idea. Lily wants him to, a little bit, but from what she’s heard from Harry, James isn’t likely to even lift a finger without his son’s opinion on it first.“Tomorrow afternoon good?”
“Perfect.” She says, nodding. “I’ll be looking forward to it.”
“You’ve got no problems with rice, right?” James asks, and seems relieved when she shakes her head. “Thank God. Right. Lunch tomorrow sounds great.” His tongue darts out of his mouth just a little to wet his drying lips, and Lily would be screaming at him to do that in his own damn house, were it not for her legendary self-control.
He waves, looking a little shy for a second, before walking across to his driveway and back up to his door, closing it quietly behind him. Lily watches the door for another couple seconds, as if he’ll come back out again, and then closes hers when he doesn’t.
And that’s when it hits her-- she’s got to get through lunch with him tomorrow. Oh no.
“Hi Miss Evans!” Harry yells, as soon as he opens the door. He’s clad in blue and white striped overalls that make him look like a little train conductor, and judging by the hat he’s wearing, that’s exactly what he’s been playing at. “Daddy’s cooking still, but he’ll be here real, real, real quick!”
“That’s cool.” She says, easily falling into her teacher voice. She’s been around kids a lot, has always loved teaching, and she’s got a nephew Harry’s age. She doesn’t particularly care for her nephew, all things said, but five is one of the most fun ages, in Lily’s opinion. They’ve got so much to say, and so many things they want to talk about, that it’s rather fun to get them going and watch them skip from topic to topic, bright and happy. “What’s he making?”
“My favorite!” Harry says, running back to the door to lock it. “Urulakizhangu!” He notices Lily’s confusion and giggles. “Potatoes, sorry.”
“Liking veggies is really good, Harry.” Lily ruffles his hair, and Harry smiles wide. “So, where’s the table?”
Harry grabs her hand, suddenly, and drags her down the hallway. There are framed pictures on both walls, tons of them, and they’re practically like a second layer of wallpaper. There are pictures of James with friends, baby pictures that could only be Harry, and-- oh. James and Harry’s mum. Harry with his mother, as a baby. Lily suddenly feels like she’s getting involved in something she shouldn’t be, and has to crush the queasy feeling in her stomach as Harry drags her into the kitchen.
“Appa, she’s here!” Harry yells, letting go of Lily’s hand to attach himself to his father’s legs. “Done yet?”
“All done.” James says. “Move back, got to put this on the table.”
He turns around, pan full of potato chunks in hand, and smiles when he notices Lily. There’s no wedding ring, that she can see, so she relaxes slightly. “Hey.” He makes his way to the table, setting it down on a pot holder. The food smells amazing, and Lily takes her seat just as Harry sits down right opposite her. “Sorry I wasn’t free when you got in. Had a bit of a late start, today.”
“How late?” Lily asks, as James puts a couple pieces of potato on Harry’s plate before scooping rice out of the rice cooker with a wide, flat spoon. He pours something yellow on it next, from inside a pressure cooker. Some kind of lentils, she guesses, judging by the circular disks visible among the yellow, and James spoons something that looks like soup, then some melted butter on top before mixing it all together with his right hand.
Harry looks toward the cup full of spoons on the table, then Lily, looking quite guilty, and then proceeds to dig in with his hand the moment his father uses the edge of his plate to scrape any rice sticking to his hand off.
“Six?” James asks, looking to Harry, who nods. “Six.”
Lily stares at the assortment of vessels in front of her in confusion, and James, who had just sat back down, stands up again.
“Here.” He says with a smile, walking over to her side of the table before serving her some of the potatoes. “I’ll help.”
“Thanks.” She says, sure that she’s blushing as he puts the food on her plate, and he hands her a spoon from the cup instead of mixing it like he did for Harry. “Double thanks.”
“It’s family germs with him, but I’ll not be getting all up in your food.” James says, grinning. “Your first real introduction to South Indian food, huh?”
“Guess so.” She says, and digs in.
They settle into conversation easily, and it’s almost like Lily’s known them for ages. James laughs at all her jokes, and Harry is the sweetest about telling her what’s in everything. Lily, in turn, finds out way more about James than she ever thought possible-- he’s her age (two months younger, in fact), he works as a pediatrician at the local hospital, and he’s got two friends from uni who might be forming a gay motorcycle gang.
“They would be”, James says, looking entirely serious, “but for the fact that they can’t agree on a name. Now, Remus wants something sophisticated but edgy, and Sirius has got his heart set on Gayliens. They’re aliens, but… you get the gist.”
“It’s just the two of them in it?” Lily asks, genuinely curious, and James groans.
“I wish.” He says, shaking his head. Harry swallows a mouthful of rice before laughing. “They’ve got all of our friends in on it, but I, unfortunately, am disqualified from membership. There’s a rule that says I’m banned.”
“What did you do to get banned?” Lily asks, and Harry breaks into a fresh round of laughter, nearly falling out of his chair.
“I actually have a motorcycle license.” James says, chuckling. “That’s the bit that got them, I think. It’s legal, so they’re not up for it.”
“You’re a pediatrician with a motorcycle license.” Lily says, disbelieving, and James nods. “Parents must love you.”
“I don’t tell them about that bit.” James says, laughing. “If I did, I’d be a lot less popular.”
“Uncle Sirius says Appa was fun back in uni.” Harry pipes up. “But then he had me and I was cooler than his friends. He’ll tell stories, I bet!”
James immediately starts shoveling rice into his mouth to avoid any of Lily’s questions.
She laughs, because it’s so cute. James is practically a child himself, for all that he looks like an adult. Harry seems to be studying her, now that she’s laughed, and she stops suddenly. He looks guilty, all of a sudden, like he’s been found out, and she frowns.
“What’s going on, Harry?” She asks gently, and he shrugs.
“Stop thinking. Your face goes all funny.” She says, pointing the end of her spoon at Harry before going back to her lunch, and she misses Harry and James trading a look, Harry proud and James puzzled.
The landline Lily regularly forgets she still has rings loudly, at around six thirty in the morning, and she picks up groggily. “What?”
“Oh, sorry.” A familiar voice comes on the line, followed by the quiet, sheepish laughter that’s been haunting her dreams since that lunch a month ago. That lunch was followed by more lunches, all of which were equally entertaining (Harry is quite a good singer and will perform at the drop of a hat) and frustrating (James Potter, unfortunately, seemed to only be getting hotter) by turns. “Bad timing?”
“No, not at all.” Lily says, trying to stifle a yawn. “I’m not going to ask where you got my phone number, because I don’t think you want me to. So what’s going on?”
“Harry won’t be in to school today.” James says, slowly, as if he is picking and choosing his words as he speaks. “There’s a religious thing, for his mum, and we’ll need to be there for the day.”
“That’s nice.” Lily says. She’s got no idea why she's this bothered by the thought of them leaving, even for just a short while. "Tell his mum hello for me, then, and that his handwriting is excellent."
“I can't, actually.” James says, the tone of his voice shifting. “She’s dead.”
“Oh.” Lily snaps to wakefulness with the abruptness of the remark. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“It’s been a few years. I’m alright.” He says, and Lily can tell it’s more something he wants her to believe than the truth. “Just wanted to let you know so you wouldn’t worry, yeah? He might be a little difficult tomorrow, just warning ahead. He’ll be fine, though, no worries.”
“Thanks, James.” She says softly. “I’m glad you let me know. You be fine too, alright?”
“Can’t make any promises, but it’d be wrong to lie to a pretty girl.” James says, sounding a little happier. “I’ll do my best.”
“See you soon, then.” Lily says, with a smile. He’s called her pretty. What a nerd. “You can come to me with anything. Really. We’re friends and all, right?”
She can hear James breathing on the line, imagines the frown on his face, the way his eyebrows draw together when he is thinking and the way he worries his bottom lip between his teeth, and she is so lost in the image in her head that she nearly misses his answer.
“Yeah, Evans. We’re friends.” He says, and then ends the call after a quick goodbye.
The words buzz in her chest, keeping her awake, and half an hour later, she hears a car start next door and pull out of the driveway.
Her boys, she thinks, before frowning. When did they become her boys?
They’re both back on her doorstep two days later (she can tell by the way they’re ringing the doorbell-- both Harry and James are competing to press it, judging by the shuffling feet and whimpers outside), and she couldn’t believe how much she’d missed them. She’d seen them when James dropped Harry off, of course, and during pickup, but that wasn’t really seeing a person, as far as Lily was concerned.
She opens the door, smiling at the sight of Harry, and is about to say hello when he cuts her off.
“Appa thinks you’re cute and you should totally go to dinner with him and just him! Uncle Sirius’ll watch me and it’ll totally be cool! I promise!” Harry blurts out, before looking to James. “Oh. I was supposed to say hi first. Hi.”
“That’s quite the proposition.” She says, looking at James, who looks like someone’s punched him in the gut. “I quite prefer a guy who doesn’t need a five year old’s help to ask me out, though.”
“Ooh.” Harry giggles. “Appa got burned. Maybe that’s why he said you were hot.”
“Hari.” James hisses, rubbing his forehead. “Stop!”
“Any last words, Mr. Potter?” Lily asks, solemnly, and James seems to get his confidence back at that.
“Yeah. Tomorrow night. My place. Just us.” James says, trying to school his face into something neutral. He’s failing miserably, and Lily can tell he’s the rip the bandaid off type by the way he keeps pushing forward. “We’ll talk.”
“Sounds good.” Lily says, and then something occurs to her. “Do you want to come in?”
Harry shucks off his shoes before running through the gap between Lily’s side and the door, and James pulls his off carefully, leaving them beside Harry’s, before stepping into the house.
“Nice place, you’ve got.” He says, smiling at Lily, and she nods. Harry is around the corner, probably up to his ears in trouble, but he is out of sight, so James capitalizes on the opportunity and plants a kiss on Lily’s lips before running to find his son. Lily stands in the doorway, completely and utterly confused, but closes and locks the door before going after them.
There’s no telling what they’ll do, and, thankfully, she’s here to stop it.
Seeing him at school on Monday is odd, after that, because all she can think of is the fact that he’d kissed her in her doorway, and James seems to be thinking along the same lines, not making eye contact for too long, and dropping Harry off during the busiest part of the morning drop off so they wouldn’t have to talk.
He waits a little longer to show up that evening, though, just long enough for Lily to deliver the kids with a longer wait for their parents to the after school program teachers, and Harry picks an abandoned section of playground to climb while James pretends holding Lily’s hand doesn’t make him nervous, and Lily pretends she isn’t worried that someone will see them. They feel oddly like a family already, and Lily realizes why Harry’s eyes looked so familiar to her that first day when she looks in the mirror that night, by accident, while brushing her teeth.
Harry’s eyes look just like hers.
Harry, according to James, has spent the last week telling all of James’ friends that he’s “gotten his Appa a girlfriend and she’s the bestest in the world”. Lily laughs, when she hears the news, and asks if his friends are interested in meeting the bestest in the world.
She stops in her tracks afterward, worried that she’s being too forward, and relaxes when she hears him laugh, soft and easy.
“They’ll love you for that.” He says, smiling wider than she ever thought possible. “I’ll figure out a day.”
“Oh, but do you?” She asks, teasingly, poking him in the chest, and James clears his throat awkwardly, muttering something in a language she can’t understand, before saying the one word she wasn’t expecting.
“Well, damn.” She says, after a long pause. “That’s big.”
“I’m sorry, I know I get too forward like this, I mean, this is always why people break up with me, ‘cause I get way too ahead of myself and--” James is wringing his hands, and she just wants to kiss this frustrating, weird man and she has no idea why.
“James. Shut up. I love you too.” She says, and does.
“I love you three!” Harry yells, from the bathroom, and James pulls away to tell him to “finish pissing, thanks”, and everything is perfect.
“So, where’s the lucky lady?” Sirius asks, the minute he steps into the house, and then sniffs the air. “Radish sambar, nice!”
“That’d be me.” Lily says, looking up from the reading homework she’s helping Harry with. He’s been mixing up letter sounds, lately, but she’s more inclined to believe it’s just the product of switching between languages so much. The boys don’t speak English much, if at all, when she’s not around, from what she understands, and it’s tough for Harry to switch back and forth, especially when it comes to things like reading and writing. “Try that bit again. I’ll go talk to your Uncle Sirius.”
“Not me?” A brown haired man in a ragged looking cardigan asks, and Lily laughs.
“Definitely not you, Remus. Definitely not you.”
“I love her.” Sirius says, awestruck. “Can we all share her? Or is she yours or something?”
“Mine.” James says, looking to Lily for confirmation. She shrugs, and his expression brightens. “I don’t have to share, ‘cause I’m good looking.”
“I look like Appa, so I don’t need to share!” Harry says, looking quite delighted, and Lily slaps a hand over her eyes. Remus seems to share her opinion, and by the end of the night, they’re all talking like they’re old friends.
It’s a nice feeling, Lily thinks, as she goes back to her house after dinner. Warm, and comforting. Her house feels empty now, when the boys aren’t in it. It’s almost foreign, not having people around, and she doesn’t know why.
So she calls up James, after she’s sure Harry’s fallen asleep, and they talk until Lily is yawning and James says “babe, just stay over next time” and she says “sure, if you’re okay”. James jokes about how Harry would want to sleep wherever she is, if she stayed the night, and Lily says that might not be such a bad thing, because then James would have to come along, and she falls asleep to him telling her she better enjoy cuddling, because that’s practically a Potter family Olympic level sport.
"Love you", he says softly, after he knows she's asleep. "I mean it."
Lily Evans snores.
The last day of school is a too warm day in July, and nearly all the kids are sweaty messes by the time the day ends. She hugs them all in turn, tells all their parents what splendid kids they are and how well they’re going to do in first grade, and then it comes time for the last parent.
“So, I hear you’re not his teacher anymore.” James Potter says, picking up Harry’s backpack. “That’s fun.”
Harry grins, hanging tightly onto Lily’s hand. “You’re much better than a teacher now.”
“I guess I am.” Lily says, with a laugh, and the next time an old lady at the supermarket tells them they’re such a cute family, not one of them corrects her.