PART 1: THE BET
The night after the full moon finds one sixth-year James Potter alone in the Gryffindor common room surrounded by textbooks and half-full scrolls of parchment. He has three separate two-foot-long essays due the next day in Transfiguration, Potions, and Charms and a foot-long due in both Herbology and Arithmancy. Normally, he would be finished the bulk of his homework by now, but he was out all the previous night running around the Forbidden Forest as an enormous stag with his giant black dog of a best mate, Sirius Black, and their two other best friends, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew, as a werewolf and a rat respectively. As such, he slept most of his day away and, upon waking in the late afternoon, set to work immediately. Now, at nearly one o'clock in the morning, he is finally almost finished.
With a sigh, he sets his quill down and pushes his glasses up into his hair so he can rub his tired eyes with one hand and pulls his Arithmancy textbook closer with the other. He is blinking, exhausted, when the sound of the portrait hole swinging open has him snapping to attention. He starts to rise from the chair he's seated in at one of the common room study tables, half expecting to find Remus returning from the Hospital Wing, though why Madam Pomfrey would have sent him back in the middle of the night is beyond him.
It isn't until he's halfway across the room that he realizes it isn't Remus slipping into the common room. Rather, someone with red hair and nervous, worried green eyes is making their way towards him. James stops abruptly, staring in shock at the newcomer who has yet to notice him.
"Evans?" Lily comes to a sudden halt at the sound of his voice, her eyes focusing on him and hardening immediately. James's eyebrows furrow in confusion as he looks her over and notices that she's breathing hard. "What the hell are you doing out after curfew?"
"I… Rounds," Lily says, standing up straight and looking him in the eyes. "What are you still doing awake, Potter?"
"Homework." James gestures to the pile of books and papers at the table he just vacated, not turning away from her. "Don't you usually do rounds with Remus?"
"He's…" Lily falters, looking at him cautiously and then glancing out the window over his table. James isn't surprised to see that she's looking at the nearly-full, waning moon; Remus has voiced his suspicion that Lily is aware of his condition several times before. "…ill," she finally says, looking back at James, who nods.
"Yeah, he is. That's why I was heading over… I thought you would be him." James nods towards the portrait hole. "Why are you winded?"
"You're breathing heavy, like you've been running." James frowns and makes a move to touch her, to help her to a seat, anything, but Lily's eyes flash defensively and she steps aside. "Evans, did something happen on your rounds?"
"No, Potter. And it's none of your business," Lily says, her voice hard as she walks around him swiftly and heads for the girls' dormitory.
On a long sigh, James shakes his head and sits back down in his deserted chair. He has just picked up his quill again, his free hand burying itself in his hair as he stares blurrily down at his Arithmancy textbook, when Lily speaks, alerting him to the fact that she hasn't left yet.
"Forgetting something, Potter?"
James drops his quill again and turns in his chair to face her, seeing that she's got one foot on the bottommost step and is looking back at him. "Er, I don't think so, no." Still, he runs through the list of essays due tomorrow: Transfiguration, Charms, Potions, Arithmancy, and Herbology. "Merlin, please tell me we don't have anything due in Defense."
"No, I didn't mean…" Lily raises her eyebrows at him and shakes her head. "Are you not going to ask me out?"
"Wasn't planning on it," James says lightly, though his heart is beating quicker now. He's asked her out dozens of times –probably nearly a hundred, to be honest– and she's turned him down each and every time without a thought. Could it be that the one time he doesn't ask her out, she would say yes? "Did you want me to?"
"Heavens no!" Lily laughs at the mere thought. "I just can't remember the last time I saw you that you didn't ask me out. I had a rather brilliant insult planned."
James frowns at her, his eyebrows drawing together. Great, he didn't even ask her out and he's still being turned down. Suddenly, he is angry, but that could just be because he doesn't want to admit, even to himself, that he's so fucking hurt by her careless attitude towards him. He turns away from her and slams his Arithmancy book shut, his essay pressed flat between the pages. With a flick of his wand, all of his books arrange themselves in a neat stack which he gathers into his arms as he stands abruptly from his seat.
"Potter?" Lily asks when he's nearly to the staircase leading up to the boys' dormitory. He can't blame her for being confused. This is usually the point where they would either be screaming at the top of their lungs or she would be stalking away from him, annoyed. It must be strange for her to see him stalking away; he has to admit it's strange for him to be the one stalking away.
"What, Evans?" he asks harshly. If it weren't so late, if he weren't so stressed out, if she hadn't just baited him into almost asking her out just to crush him all over again, he thinks he would just brush off the whole exchange. But it is late, and he is stressed, and he is humiliated and crushed, so he can't just brush himself off. "You think I like being shot down every damn day? You think this is a stupid game to me? Well, it's not; these are my damn feelings you're trampling on all the time, Evans. I know I laugh and I joke and I pretend I don't have them, but I do have feelings and you hurt them all the time and I'm tired of it!"
"No, I'm terribly sorry to disappoint you, but you won't get the chance to humiliate me any further because I'm just so done with allowing it," James says. He pauses when he reaches the boys' staircase and turns to look at her. "Although, I can't imagine you coming up with a more humiliating response than that you'd rather date the Giant Squid. That one really hurt."
Before she can form a response and goad him into an actual shouting match, James turns and hurries up the staircase to his dormitory, where he is careful not to wake Sirius who, he knows from experience, is awful to deal with when disgruntled from lack of sleep. Peter, on the other hand, is near impossible to wake up, so he sets himself up a study area on the floor next to Remus's bed, which is as far from Sirius's bed as he can manage to get. Still exhausted and stressed, but now frustrated and angry on top of that, he sets back to work.
Remus meets them at breakfast, looking tired and pale and weak. James studies the dark circles under his friend's eyes with disdain, which he knows is unfair; Remus's transformations are very rough on him and James knows that Remus has not been relaxing in the Hospital Wing, but he also knows that Remus probably enjoyed a full night of dreamless sleep thanks to Madam Pomfrey's potions. James, on the other hand, didn't get a single moment's sleep. But he did finish his homework, so he can at least feel accomplished about that.
"What are we doing all the way down here?" Remus asks, his voice rough and raw from a mixture of disuse the previous day and all the screaming and howling he did two nights ago.
"Followed Prongs," Sirius says with a mild shrug through a mouthful of food.
Remus turns to look at James curiously. Usually, the Marauders sit at the very center of Gryffindor table, but when James entered the Great Hall, Lily and her friends were seated across from the spot he and his friends usually occupy. Still hurt and angry with her from her callousness a few hours ago, James had taken the spot farthest from her, which just so happened to be near the Head Table.
"Felt like a change of scenery," James says lightly when he realizes that Remus is still waiting for his explanation. Eager to change the subject, James shoves a triangle of toast in his mouth. Disgusted at his lack of manners, Remus turns away from him to begin fixing his own plate.
He is about to ask Peter to pass him the Pumpkin Juice when, out of the corner of his eye, he catches sight of Professors McGonagall and Slughorn entering the Great Hall in a flurry of disappointed fury. Her gaze sweeps the table angrily and James feels a moment of pity for whoever she is searching for. James knows the look on her face; it means harsh punishment. He has never been so thankful to have had nothing to do with whatever's got her so angry. That could be because he has never had nothing to do with what's made her angry, though.
When Professor McGonagall's eyes meet his, the flash of victory in her eyes has his eyebrows drawing together. He is used to her looking at him in such a manner, but he is not used to being innocent under that gaze.
"Mr. Potter, Mr. Black." Professor McGonagall comes to a halt right in front of them. "I'll have a word with you."
James looks at Sirius who, to someone who knows Sirius as well as James does, looks just as confused as James feels, though he attempts to cover it with his characteristic laziness.
"Of course, Professor," James says, and turns to face her again. "What is it?"
"You boys," this time, she includes Peter and Remus in her critical glance, "wouldn't know anything about a reprehensible prank pulled in the Slytherin common room last night, would you?"
"What was done?" Remus asks curiously.
"All of the Slytherin decorations were turned into Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw paraphernalia and the dormitory staircases were removed," Professor Slughorn supplies, looking as if he's struggling to seem disapproving. James, however, suspects he's actually quite impressed by the perpetrator's antics.
"Removed?" Peter repeats, blinking thoughtfully. "You mean turned into slides? Like the Gryffindor girls' stairs if a boy tries to go up?"
Unless, of course, said boy happens to know a way around that certain enchantment like all of the Marauders do.
"No, Mr. Pettigrew. Removed. Vanished. As in, there was no way for the Slytherin students to get from their dormitories to the common room." Professor McGonagall makes a sweeping gesture behind her and James realizes for the first time that the Slytherins are just now making their way into the Great Hall, looking quite disgruntled.
"That's brilliant," James mutters, laughing quietly at the Slytherins who give the Gryffindor table a harsh glare.
"Are you lot really pleading innocence?" Professor McGonagall looks between all four Marauders severely. When none of them says anything to the contrary, Professor McGonagall shakes her head. "We know it was a Gryffindor."
"What makes you think it was a Gryffindor?" Sirius asks, carelessly stuffing another sausage in his mouth. "Lots of people have problems with a ton of Slytherins."
"This, Mr. Black, is what tells us that a Gryffindor is responsible!" Professor McGonagall says, her voice sharp with unsuppressed fury, as she produces a scarlet and gold scarf from the pocket of her robe. "The perpetrator dropped this in the Slytherin common room."
"Rookie mistake," Peter says quietly, shaking his head. James chuckles at that.
"Did you three," Professor McGonagall brandishes the scarf at James, Sirius, and Peter, clearly omitting Remus because of his stay in the Hospital Wing, "have anything to do with this?"
"No," James says as Sirius wrinkles his nose when the offending material is passed in front of his face. James knows Sirius is more offended at the insinuation that the Marauders would be careless enough to accidentally leave evidence behind when they didn't want to be caught than the fact that they are being blamed for something they didn't do. Truthfully, James feels the same way.
"Unfortunately. Sounds like a brilliant prank," Sirius mumbles, glaring at the Slytherin table behind Professor McGonagall.
"You three expect me to believe that you had nothing to do with this immature prank on the Slytherins?" Professor McGonagall is shaking she is so upset by the dishonor this prank has caused Gryffindor.
"Professor, do you really think that they would be careless enough to drop a scarf at the scene of the crime? After all our years of experience?" Remus butts in logically, giving Professor McGonagall pause.
"Perhaps not," Professor McGonagall says, and then turns to face the whole table. "If the perpetrator does not step forward, I will be forced to discover them myself!"
James glances down the table; predictably, no one steps forward. Professor McGonagall draws her wand and points it at the scarf.
"Very well. I suppose I will have to perform a Revealing Spell on this scarf, at which time it will return to its owner." Professor McGonagall pauses, looking strictly at her pupils. "You have one more chance to come forward. If you choose not to, your punishment will be ever more severe."
Raising one curious eyebrow, James looks down the table once more as Professor McGonagall begins to mutter a spell.
He makes eye contact with Lily Evans and sees the pure terror in her eyes and remembers her returning to the common room, winded, looking a bit afraid. He had thought that someone had bothered her on her rounds, but could she have just been nervous after having acted out of character? Could she have pulled this prank on the Slytherins? He remembers her leaving the common room the night before, significantly earlier than she had returned. She had been wearing a scarf. He thinks back to when she had come crawling back through the portrait hole, trying to remember if she was wearing her scarf. He was exhausted and stressed and not as observant as he usually is, so he doesn't know for sure, but he would be willing to bet that she wasn't. He would put a hundred galleons down that when McGonagall finishes her spell, that scarf will go flying straight for Lily Evans. The look on her face confirms it for him.
He doesn't know why he does it; he's trying to get over her, isn't he? He's brassed off at her, and he's hurt by the way she treated him last night, the way she always treats him. But he still doesn't want her to get in trouble. He knows how much her perfect record means to her. He knows how badly she wants to be Head Girl next year.
He really shouldn't do it, doesn't even think of doing it. But, before he can register his own thought process, he is on his feet and leaning across the table, plucking the scarf from McGonagall's hands just as it starts to levitate and move away from her.
Idiot. He should have just let her deal with the consequences of her own stupid actions. But he's so bloody in love with her he can't do that to her.
Feeling a fool, he sighs and wraps Lily's scarf around his neck; it smells like her, like an odd mix of peppermint and lavender. He closes his eyes for the briefest moment, letting the scent wash over him, before he faces McGonagall and shrugs carelessly. "You've found me out."
"Mr. Potter. But…" Despite the fact that she was, seconds before, willing to blame this prank on the Marauders with no proof, Professor McGonagall looks surprised. It probably has something to do with the shocked and disbelieving looks on his friends' faces.
"James?" Peter whispers.
"No. You're not green enough to drop your scarf." Sirius shakes his head firmly. After a moment's consideration, he cocks his head thoughtfully. "Unless you did it on purpose." He glares accusingly at James. "You're playing dirty!"
"What on earth are you on about, Mr. Black?" Professor McGonagall demands. When Sirius doesn't answer, she looks to Remus for answers.
"You're trying to win the bet!" Peter exclaims, pointing wildly at James before Remus has the chance to explain.
The bet! James struggles to keep his face blank, knowing that the slightest movement will let his friends know that he had completely forgotten about their stupid bet until they brought it up. If they realize that this has nothing to do with their bet, they will demand answers from James and, as close as he is with these three boys, James is dreadful at lying to them. So he keeps his face blank and his mouth shut.
"What bet?" Professor McGonagall practically shouts.
"James and Sirius have a bet going." Remus sighs, casting his eyes to the enchanted ceiling, which promises a sunny day outside. "It's idiotic, really. Whoever manages to receive more detentions by the end of the year wins the bet."
"And fifty galleons." Sirius crosses his arms over his chest, still glaring at James. "This shouldn't count. You can't frame yourself. Honest detentions only!"
"That wasn't one of the original stipulations," Remus points out.
"Of course it wasn't! It seems obvious, doesn't it? I didn't think I'd need to tell my own best mate not to cheat!"
"It's not cheating if there's no rule against it. I know you're dead even now and, while this is sure to rocket James in the lead, I say it counts." Peter shrugs when Sirius glares at him, and both of them turn expectantly to Remus.
"I'm sorry, Sirius, but I have to agree with Peter." Remus holds up a hand before Sirius can complain. "If you wish to make an addendum to the rules, we can all convene at a later date to discuss and decide. As it is now, the ruling stands. Whatever number of detentions James is about to receive will count towards the bet."
Sirius gapes for a moment before slamming his hands down on the table. "Fine. Fine!" He stands quickly and faces James. "I'll not be proposing any rule changes, but rest assured, the game is on, Prongs."
With that said, Sirius turns on his heel and stalks rather dramatically out of the Great Hall, his robes billowing out behind him.
"Where is he going?" Professor McGonagall asks weakly.
"If I had to guess, I'd say he's off to plot something that will earn him more detentions than I'm about to receive," James says, finally speaking now that he's relatively sure his friends won't demand answers from him.
"I was afraid of that." Professor McGonagall sends a troubled look after Sirius.
"How many detentions am I about to get?" James asks. Now that he's over the shock of the knowledge that Evans pranked the Slytherins, he is eager to hear his punishment. As boring and awful as detention can be, he hopes however many she assigns him, it's enough to secure him victory in the bet.
"I've yet to decide. We'll discuss it in my office, Mr. Potter." Professor McGonagall gestures for him to follow her as she sweeps out of the Great Hall. He makes to follow her, carefully avoiding Lily's gaze, and swears he hears McGonagall murmur under her breath, "Gryffindor was such a delightful House to Head before you lot were sorted in."
It is still light out when he returns to the Gryffindor common room, but it feels like it should be the middle of the night. He plans to head straight for bed when he gets there, but is tackled immediately upon entry. All twelve stones of Sirius Black settles on James's back. With a grunt muffled by the floor, James jams his elbow in his best mate's side. Groaning, Sirius rolls off of him and James stands quickly, smoothing out his robes. He ignores the crowd that has gathered in the common room and holds down a hand to help Sirius to his feet as Remus and Peter make their way through the crowd toward them.
He hasn't gotten a chance to explain to his friends what happened after McGonagall led him out of the Great Hall. He arrived to his first class late after receiving his punishment, and they were all kept incredibly busy in all of their classes. James even had to miss lunch to get started on the first part of his punishment. This is really the only chance he's had to talk to anyone other than a professor since breakfast.
"Well?" Peter asks.
"Well what?" James knows what he's asking; it's what the entire common room is wondering. But he doesn't feel like talking about it.
"How many detentions did you score?" Sirius demands. James could roll his eyes at the eager silence in the overcrowded room.
"None." Sighing heavily, James starts to shoulder his way through the crowd towards the boys' dormitory.
"None?" Beside him, Remus raises his eyebrows thoughtfully as everyone around them begins to chatter, all the Gryffindors just as surprised as James was that he wasn't given detention. "You didn't receive a single detention?"
"No, I didn't," James says.
"Oh, blimey, mate. You weren't… expelled?" Peter breathes. The sudden hush in the room is comical and James actually cracks a smile as he shakes his head. Peter frowns when Sirius shoulders his way between him and James. The smaller boy cranes his head around Sirius to look at James. "Then what happened? You must have received some sort of punishment."
"I had to put the Slytherin common room right." James shrugs. "That was pretty awful. Putting things right is much less fun than wrecking them." Never mind the fact that he didn't wreck the Slytherin common room, anyway.
"That's it?" Sirius asks disbelievingly. "You just had to fix it all up for them and then McGonagall let you go with no other punishment?"
"Not exactly." James frowns and drags a hand through his hair, wishing the interested crowd around him would disappear so he could go upstairs and go to sleep. "I have to tutor anyone who needs it in Transfiguration."
"Interesting. She's punished you by giving you more responsibility." One corner of Remus's mouth turns up and he lifts a shoulder. "Unorthodox, but not unheard of."
"More responsibility?" Sirius groans. "You're already Quidditch captain! And we're going into our seventh year! Our workload's been insane lately, and now you're meant to help the school with theirs? That's no fun."
"It's a punishment, Sirius. It's not meant to be fun." James sighs in both exasperation with his best mate and relief when he finally reaches the staircase to the boys' dormitory. Before he can head up, however, Sirius blocks his way.
"But, mate, how are you going to keep up with your workload and captain the Quidditch team, and tutor everyone in Transfiguration while still managing to keep pranking with us?"
"I'm not," James says.
"You can't quit pranking!" Peter exclaims, his voice full of the horror that is showcased on Sirius's face. Even Remus looks shocked, James notes with a glance over his shoulder.
"Not what I meant." With a sigh, James reaches into his pocket and pulls out his Quidditch Captain badge. Wordlessly, he presses the badge to Sirius's chest, who stares at him, wide-eyed, his hands coming up to catch the badge before it can fall when James pulls away. "I was suspended from the team."
"But you're captain!" Sirius says hoarsely, his eyes still wide.
"No." James shakes his head. "You are. Now that I'm off the team, you're the senior member."
At once, the crowd at his back begins to protest.
"But the only match left is the final!"
"We're up against Slytherin!"
"We'll be slaughtered without you, Potter!"
"McGonagall wouldn't do this to her own House!"
"I can't be captain," Sirius whispers. "I don't want the badge."
"Don't be stupid. You wouldn't shut up with your jealousy when it came in the post last summer," James says. "You wanted it badly all last year."
"Yeah, of course I wanted it when I didn't have it!" Sirius exclaims, shaking his head and trying to hand the badge back to James, who brushes his hand away. "Now I've got it I don't want it! You're captain! Take it back!"
"I can't." James shoves his way past Sirius, stopping a few steps past him. He sighs, shoulders slumping forward, and turns to face his fellow Gryffindors. "I'm really sorry to let you all down. I didn't… I didn't mean for this to happen. But I know we can win the tournament even if I can't play."
For the second time that day, his eyes unexpectedly meet Evans's, and he is not at all shocked to see the horror in them. She looks guilty and incredibly apologetic and, James is loath to admit, like she might just start crying. Unable to stand the guilt in her eyes, James turns back to Sirius, who is white as a ghost and still staring at the Captain badge as if it is about to kill him.
"You'll be fine, mate. You're a bang-up player and you know the team and the sport as well as I do." He walks back down to clap Sirius on the shoulder bracingly. "If I may, I'll suggest moving Marlene off Seeker and making her a Chaser because we already know she's brilliant in any position, then finding a younger, smaller, faster player with a good eye to be Seeker. That is, if you can't find a Chaser to fit in with the team, of course. But you'll do brilliant, I know you will."
That said, he turns on his heel and marches up the stairs. He is standing in the door to his dormitory when he remembers. "Oh, and Sirius?" he shouts down the stairs.
"Yeah?" Sirius's voice is loud and clear and James presumes that his friend has shaken off the debilitating shock and is projecting his old confidence.
"Whatever prank you came up with today to keep up with me, you might want to reconsider." He sighs and shakes his head. "McGonagall said neither of us will be receiving another detention for the rest of the year and that if we pull another prank, it's expulsion."
Looks like the bet is off.
He isn't surprised when she finds him; he has been expecting her to come to him and demand answers, maybe accuse him of being arrogant and proud and inappropriate like she usually does. No, he's not surprised that she seeks him out, but he is shocked when she grabs his hand and yanks him into an empty Charms classroom and wordlessly locks the door.
"Well, if this isn't just like my wildest dreams." Smirking when Lily raises her eyebrows at him, James jumps up on top of the professor's desk and leans back, spreading his arms out to his sides and maintaining careful eye contact with her. "Take me, Evans!"
"Oh, sod off, James."
Now it's his turn to raise his eyebrows. "You called me James. Does that mean you won't hex me if I start calling you Lily?"
"You were the one who started with the last names." Still standing right in front of the door, Lily crosses her arms over her chest and narrows her eyes at him as he shakes his head.
"I absolutely was not." Not thinking, James lifts a hand to ruffle his hair, dropping it abruptly when he realizes Lily is watching his movement critically. "It's Sirius who has only ever called you Evans. There was a full month first year when I called you 'Lily.' Then you decided you hated me… perhaps rightfully so… and started calling me 'Potter.'"
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. It stuck with me because I tried continuing to call you Lily, but you tried to hex me and said that first names were reserved for friends and we would never be friends." James frowns, and then shrugs, trying to downplay the pain that had caused him at eleven years old. He sighs. "Look. Lily…" Merlin, it feels wonderful to call her that. "I've got places to be, so if you could just say whatever you've got to say to me and let me go, that would be really great."
Lily tucks one of her feet behind the other and clasps her hands together in front of her, her fingers moving nervously against each other. She bites her lip and looks at the floor instead of him. "Thank you."
James frowns. That is honestly the last thing he has ever expected Lily Evans to say to him. "Come again?"
"I just wanted to thank you. For taking the blame…" Lily trails off awkwardly, forcing herself to look up at him.
James can't help but notice that she seems somewhat reluctant to end the conversation. He raises an eyebrow as he shifts his weight on top of the desk. "You're welcome, Lily. I can't say I'm not surprised. I was expecting you to drag me in here to berate me or at least interrogate me."
"No. I… I'm really grateful to you… I know I've never been very kind to you."
"I've never exactly deserved your kindness," James points out.
"And I've never deserved your sacrifice." Lily tilts her head in acknowledgement of his actions. James blinks and exhales loudly, standing and preparing to brush off her thanks so he can get to his appointment. Lily's voice stops him. "Why did you take the blame? Was it just because of that bet Remus talked about? You wanted more detentions than Sirius?"
James is silent for a moment, watching her closely and trying to gauge what she wants him to say. He suspects it will be easier for her to stomach if he says he wanted the detentions. That way, she could just go on thinking he's irresponsible and arrogant and just overall stupid. If he tells her the truth, however… she may be forced to admit that that may not be the case.
"No. I actually had completely forgotten about that stupid bet." He sighs and shakes his head. "Lily, you've never gotten in trouble before… Except for when McGonagall asked you not to shout at me so much at the beginning of the year. But you've never had detention or anything before. I know how important your immaculate record is to you. And, as you well know, detention is nothing to me."
And she had looked so damn terrified when McGonagall had explained the spell that would reveal the owner of the scarf. He thinks if she hadn't looked so small and scared, he might have let her deal with the consequences on her own. Perhaps. But probably not.
"I feel awful that you can't play Quidditch anymore," Lily says in a small voice. "If we don't win the championship, I'll never forgive myself."
"Don't worry about it." James lifts one shoulder in a halfhearted shrug. "Sirius will figure everything out. I'm sure we'll still win."
He really is confident in his team's talent. Besides, there's got to be a reason McGonagall chose Sirius to replace him. Aside from the fact that, with James suspended, Sirius is the senior player, he suspects that she purposely made the replacement captain someone who could easily and would willingly seek counsel with James if he needed advice. McGonagall may want to punish him, but she is still very proud of the fact that the Quidditch Cup has belonged to Gryffindor for the past three years.
Still, it does kill him to know that his team is out there flying, practicing right now and he's stuck inside the castle heading down to the library. He misses Quidditch more than he thought he would, and that is admitting a lot. He misses the freedom, the weightlessness, the knowledge that he is totally in control of everything that happens to him up there.
"It's just one game, really, if you think about it," he says after a moment of silence. "I'll have to try out again next year for the first time since second year, but McGonagall said she might give me back captain. Sirius will probably nag her into it. I never would have guessed from his reaction to me getting captain last year, but he really doesn't want it."
James doesn't know how many times Sirius has asked him if he is absolutely certain that this is what McGonagall meant when she gave him his punishment, how many times Sirius has gone to McGonagall and begged her to reconsider in the five days since he was suspended from the team. He does, however, know that if he has to listen to Sirius talk about how unfair this suspension is one more time, James will glue his best mate's mouth shut.
"When you realized that your punishment was going to be worse than detention, why didn't you tell the truth?" Lily takes a step forward, her face pointed toward her feet, but her eyes looking up at him from under her lashes.
His heart skips a beat and he licks his lips nervously. "Lily, you know why."
"Say it." Her voice is barely a whisper, but he hears her as if she has spoken quite clearly directly into his ear.
He exhales unevenly and shakes his head. "I can't."
Lily draws closer to him, so close that James could count every freckle decorating her milky white skin if he wanted to (which he does, so desperately), so close that he can see that her eyelashes are actually the same color as her hair and they are so long that they brush the apples of her cheeks when she blinks. Her green eyes, blanketed by red and smooth milky white, would surely make him think of Christmas if he could think anything at all.
He watches her as her face moves ever closer, so slowly he isn't entirely certain that's what's happening until he can feel her warm breath on his lips. All he can think is Oh Merlin, yes, please.
"What are you doing?"
He hears the words, but isn't aware that he's the one who spoke them until Lily smiles at him and tentatively buries a hand in his hair and oh Circe, Merlin, Morgana, and anyone else, it feels so much better than he imagined it would.
"Thanking you," she whispers.
Go right ahead, he wants to say. But something doesn't sit right within him. He has only the briefest split second to think about it, but it comes to him. If she does this, if she kisses him, he will never be able to get over her. He isn't entirely sure he'll be able to get over her even if he never feels her lips on his, but he knows without a doubt that he will be lost forever if she kisses him. It is one of the only things he has wanted consistently since he became aware that girls were more than just fun targets for immature pranks. However, what he has wanted even more than to kiss her for just as long is for her to be his girlfriend, to kiss him on a regular basis because she wants to feel his lips on hers and not just once in an abandoned classroom because she feels like she owes him some sort of payment for keeping her record clean.
"Don't," he says firmly, jerking away when her lips are mere centimetres from his and he can taste her breath on the air between them. His eyes are wide and his chest is heaving and Lily is looking at him like he's mad, but he feels as though he might explode at any moment now and he doesn't want her to be caught in the blast, so he scurries away from her, his back coming up flush against the cold stone wall. His heart feels caught in his throat and his voice cracks when he finds it again. "You'll break me."
Lily looks completely flabbergasted. "James…" She begins to move towards him, but James clears his throat, suddenly feeling like a fool, and brushes past her to grab his discarded rucksack from the floor.
"I'm meant to be in the library helping a third-year Hufflepuff boy manage a Switching Spell." Without turning to look at her, he flicks his wand at the door, unlocks it, and pulls it open. "I'll see you around."
So, that's the beginning of that!
I'm not sure if this is going to be in two or three parts, but I do know that I should have part two up relatively soon.
I hope you guys liked this and are interested in reading more.
Feel free to leave a review, if you feel so inclined! :)