Updated A/N (1/24/17): So The Bet is a massive and finished story that I wrote in what seemed like a fever dream of discipline and fluff over the course of a single year + a couple of weeks. Upon finishing, I took the time to go back and spruce a few things up – editing typos and on rare occasion, making a content related edit – so if you're coming back to this story (though it's so long I can't imagine why you would haha) that's why things appear different now.
As an avid reader of fic myself, I know that such a behemoth of a story is intimidating, so I wanted to give an overview of what to expect here so that new readers can decide whether this story is worth the time investment.
This story primarily focuses on James & Lily's budding relationship, told over the course of a month in which a bet gives them the excuse to come together. For those of you that are only interested in reading about Jily, their interactions really begin to pick up in chapter 6 and from there on it's pretty Jily-centric. With a few exceptions, each day of October 1977 is given two chapters of coverage.
It also has a heavy focus on the rest of the Gryffindor 7th years, though the POV shifts only between Lily & James every other chapter, with no intruding POVs from the secondary characters. There's also no development of plot lines for the secondary characters that don't in some way enhance the growth of James & Lily, so it's not one of those stories that side-tracks itself in the name of an OC.
Usually when I'm deciding whether I want to read a fic, I flip through a couple of future chapters to see if it's something I can vibe with. As a shameless self-promoter, I want to recommend you look at chapter 33 (the first 700 words of which are the best prose in the whole story), but a more accurate picture may be to look at fun chapters like chapter 9, 14, or 21. Also, re-reading this chapter, Lily comes off way more goody-goody than she actually is for the rest of the story, so don't think this is one of those stories about a good-girl Lily getting corrupted. It's really not.
In this story, you can expect: a focus on friendship, lots of hijinks and banter, smut, an abundance of tropes (though I usually try to subvert them), and a lot of character growth. I can't emphasize that last one enough. None of the characters are starting this story as finished products, so there will be times they make poor choices and that's intentional.
All of that said, I hope you choose to read & enjoy because I had a lot of fun working on this.
Historical A/N: I own nothing.
October 2, 1977 – the beginning
Retire Your Leather Jacket; This Year It's All About Sweater Vests
Everyone loves a bad boy and nothing screams bad quite like a perfectly worn leather jacket. It allows the wearer to announce to the world that he is not a follower of convention - no he flouts wizarding society's standards and our dull school dress code. Further, you know our intrepid leather wearer has nothing but success with the ladies.
Yet we at the Hogwarts Daily Mail are entrapped by an enclosing sense of doom and gloom. What we yearn for is no longer the bad boy who is as likely to drag us into a broom closet for a snog as break our hearts into pieces, but rather the stability of a nice, strong man who would fight a dragon before seeing us shed a tear.
Enter: the sweater vest.
Now, hear us out dear reader. We know that your mind is drifting to your stuffy cousin at Yuletide, trussed up in a sweater vest and dress robes while he bores you with endless details about proposed goblin regulations. Yet, we can't help but feel that the sweater vest has been unfairly disparaged.
A muted sweater vest over a crisp, button-down, partially hidden by sweeping black robes? You can't convince us that doesn't scream boyfriend material. He's the kind of guy you won't be afraid to take home to mum.
James Potter certainly knows the appeal of the sweater vest. Since the start of term, he's been spotted wearing at least three different vests - in maroon, navy, and forest green - and we can assure you he's been looking quite delish.
Trust us ladues. There's only one thing better than a bad boy. And that's a reformed bad boy. (See Front Page for more on James Potter's transformation from truant to prince charming.)
Lily looked up slowly from the paper in front of her. She had to blink a few times as if the lights had just been turned on in a dark room. It certainly felt like she was only just now slipping back into reality. A reality in which fawning over Potter's outerwear was seen as perfectly normal.
"What did I just read?" she demanded hoarsely.
Marlene who had been waiting expectantly while Lily read, unmoving yet with a sense of great urgency about her, wilted in her chair.
They – the Gryffindor 7th year girls – were seated around the dining hall for breakfast. The day's Daily Prophet lay abandoned in favor of the far more titillating Hogwarts Daily Mail, which had conquered the student population's imaginations since its inception in September of that year. Now, barely October, it seemed an institution.
"You didn't like it?" Marlene asked mournfully.
Now, if Lily were a girl who never told a lie, she would have been forced to admit that she had not liked the article. Not one bit. Fortunately, although Lily Evans – Head Girl, loyal friend, and straight-O student – was the definition of a good girl, she was also a habitual liar.
"Of course I liked it. It was really very clever. What with all the comparisons…It really painted a picture," Lily said quickly.
She had become so good at lying that her voice was practically unchanged.
"Oh good!" Marlene sighed. "I wasn't sure if you would think it was silly."
Alice Williams snorted, "Bloody hell, Marlene. Of course, she didn't like it. Who would like that?"
Once the biggest romantic of them all, Alice Williams had adopted a rather ferocious opinion on love, boys, and anything she deemed obnoxiously girly. This transformation had come about at the end of term the prior year when Rory McIntyre had abruptly dumped Alice Williams for Alice Sprout - a girl so feminine that it wouldn't be surprising if flowers fell in her wake as she walked through the halls. That her first name was Alice as well was only one of the many sins for which Alice Williams held her accountable.
"Quite a few people judging by reader response data," Mary answered Alice dryly.
"Thank you, Mary," Marlene said. "That's right. My column has a number of fans, you know. Just because we have to wear these robes on top of everything doesn't mean that we can't keep up with the latest in fashion."
"And any news on James Potter is always welcome," said Shelia Marks, buttering her toast.
Lily shuddered. Actually full-body shuddered. That was how deeply her disgust ran for James Potter. The very name evoked a reaction.
"Oh relax, Lily," Mary said, noticing Lily's embarrassing bodily response. "He's not that bad. Have you heard that he's gone from truant to prince charming?"
"Now you're just poking fun," Marlene protested crossly.
"Only a little," Mary said.
As straight to the point as Mary frequently was, she was always willing to relax a little where Marlene was concerned. The best of friends since sharing a cauldron in first year Potions, the two girls struck those who met them as complete opposites. Marlene was flighty, boy-crazed, and devastatingly shy, while Mary was analytical, self-composed, and unafraid of everything and everyone.
When Elaine Prewett had sent Marlene an owl about starting a school paper, she had eagerly enlisted her best friend's help. All Marlene could write about to the girls that summer was her excitement over the prospect of having a project. The paper was to put her on the map, a space where she could air all of the thoughts that her shyness would not permit her to speak out loud.
Marlene wrote a fashion column that really served as an ode to the students she most admired. James Potter's sartorial choices were frequently referenced. Michael Sterns, Celia Vance, and Sirius Black were also common features.
In a seemingly personality-defying twist, Mary wrote the most successful column of the paper - a gossip column of all things. Mary herself was the anti-gossip. Before her turn as a reporter, she had never particularly cared about the dramas of her classmates. She was far more focused on the practical like her classes.
Lily had asked her why she chose to start such a column. Surely, she could have chosen more investigative stories if she was really committed to trying her hand as a reporter. Mary had answered, as coolly and self-assuredly as ever, that she had every intention of becoming the most successful businesswoman the wizarding world, excuse me, witching world, had ever seen and that the first step in doing so was learning how to give the people what they want. And what they wanted was gossip.
"What does this make Black? He's still wearing that leather jacket about when he's outside," Shelia said.
Of all the girls besides Mary, Shelia was the most interested in the froth that came from the Hogwarts Daily Mail. An excellent Quidditch player, Shelia loved anything that could be remotely viewed as a sport. She had taken to following the gossip dailies, picking her favorite students, evaluating who was winning which petty fight, and rooting for her chosen few to nab the boys of their dreams.
"Black is fine," Marlene was quick to assure everyone. "Some people are fashion setters, and they don't have to follow the crowd. My advice is more for the unfortunate masses that need a little…direction. Besides, he looks so good in that jacket, doesn't he?"
"Do you know you have a typo in the last paragraph? Or did you mean to address the 'ladues' of Hogwarts?" Alice asked.
Marlene snatched up the paper from Lily, eyes darting through the column. Upon finding the misspelled word, she let out a little wail, head dropping next to her oatmeal.
"It's not that bad," Lily said consolingly, patting her arm.
"Elaine really does let a lot of errors through. It's a good thing I check my copy a few times over before sending it to print," Mary remarked.
"She's a Ravenclaw for Merlin's sake! She shouldn't be missing things like this! What's the point of her being editor if she can't catch anything?" Marlene demanded. "She should be fired!"
"Wasn't the paper her idea to start with?" Lily asked, already knowing the answer.
"Oh, so she has one good idea and now it belongs to her forever?" Marlene griped.
"Yep, that's how that works," Alice said blithely.
Lily tuned out as Marlene continued to grumble about the falling standards of Ravenclaw house.
"Lily, are you even listening to me?" Marlene asked.
"Yes." Another lie. "I agree. You do deserve a better editor."
Lily shoveled a rather ambitious spoonful of eggs and shredded bacon into her mouth. She was supposed to meet with the Headmaster in a quarter of an hour. She wasn't entirely sure what the meeting was all about, but it seemed related to her capacity as Head Girl.
It was Lily's great misfortune that James Potter happened to walk past the table right as a bit of egg dribbled out of her mouth, unable to fit as she was stuffed to the brim. There was no hope that he had missed it of course because, whenever he could, James Potter was looking at Lily Evans.
"Eating for two there, Evans?" he asked. He said it so cheerfully that there could be no mistaking his words for actual malice. It was all in good fun.
This had no effect on Lily's response.
"I'd say bugger off, but you seem to already be leaving. Thank goodness," Lily shot back.
"Shouldn't you be leaving too? Or do you have someone more important to meet with than the Headmaster?" James asked.
"I have plenty of time. I'll be there," Lily said.
"Well that's funny, because last I checked, I'm running five minutes late," James replied.
James's words echoed through Lily's mind as the insinuation made itself clear.
"Merlin!" she shouted, leaping out of her seat. "I'll see all of you later!"
With that rushed call to her housemates, Lily was off. She dashed out of the Great Hall at almost warp speed. Lily had never been a fan of tardiness and she shrank at the idea of disappointing the Headmaster who had been so kind and fair to her. But more than anything, her urgency was caused by the upcoming scene she could envision so clearly.
Lily did not think she would be able to stand it if she strolled in ten minutes late with James Potter beside her. It would look like he was rubbing off on her. That she was no longer taking her responsibilities seriously and was content to glide through life with no consideration for the needs of others. No, she couldn't stand it.
That James Potter had been named Head Boy was a point of great consternation for Lily. She could think of several better qualified students. Well, frankly, she could think of first years who were more capable. She had nearly collapsed when he had first entered the prefects' compartment, the heads' pin shiny and bright on his much-discussed sweater vest (navy that day).
James Potter was the enemy. While her friendship with Severus had dissolved under the near-constant battering it had sustained, she did not need to seek new reasons to loathe Potter. He was the worst - a bully, an entitled prick, a boy who had never even been introduced to a hairbrush!
His rather persistent fancying of Lily had not helped matters. He asked her out constantly, publicly, seeming to delight in her humiliation and the way it made Severus burn with ill-concealed fury. It still made her cringe in embarrassment to picture some of his more showy, romantic overtures like when he practically stalked her over Valentines' Day of fifth year, singing her love songs. He'd followed her for practically the entire day!
As a result of his outlandish proposals, the student body had come to connect Lily and James in their collective mind. It had taken many loud proclamations of dislike to temper even a little bit of the public opinion that they should be married immediately. To have anyone, even Dumbledore, associate them together once more would drive her mad.
Lily's sprint through the castle was so fast that when she turned to glance around her upon reaching the gargoyle that guarded the Headmaster's office, Potter was nowhere to be found. Now that she had evaded her worst fears, she was able to chuckle quietly at the spectacle she had just made of herself. She figured the incident wasn't worth any feelings of embarrassment. After all, enormous displays were part of what made a person a Gryffindor, and she had never once questioned her sorting.
Whispering the password – fizzing whizbees – Lily walked into a scene for which she had not been prepared.
Professor Dumbledore was seated behind his desk (nothing unusual there) with a cloak covering his upper body. The shaving cream covering his face and the house elf balancing on a stack of books wielding a straight razor were a little less conventional.
"Professor?" Lily asked.
"Miss Evans," Dumbledore said, opening his eyes to look at her. "You're early."
"No I'm not. I'm late."
"I distinctly remember the meeting to start in ten minutes or so, but no matter," Dumbledore said, waving his hand to dismiss the mix-up.
"Potter," the word was whispered, quiet and dark.
"You'll have to excuse me as I wasn't expecting you so soon, I'm not quite finished with my shave," Dumbledore said.
Lily noticed that long tufts of white hair had fallen to the floor, surrounding the professor on all sides. From the looks of the carnage, his beard had been almost completely removed.
"Your beard!" Lily said.
"Yes, I'm afraid my beard, which has served me so well, for so long, is no more," Dumbledore said. "Limpy here was so kind as to agree to help me in the removal process."
Limpy beamed at his words.
"But why?" Lily asked.
"Don't you ever just feel the need for a change, Miss Evans? I'm sure I've read somewhere that muggle psychology delves into our desire to transform our physical appearance to match that which we feel inside," Dumbledore said.
"Well yes sir, but what's changed?" Lily said, still somewhat taken aback.
"Everything and nothing, my dear."
Faced with that kind of evasion, Lily figured the man must prefer not to discuss it.
Limpy wiped down the shaving clean thoroughly, while Lily watched in obvious discomfort. The face that was revealed was almost unrecognizable. She had never reflected upon how much Dumbledore's beard defined him. It was the first thing one noticed about him (other than the fact that he was really rather old). Students even used it as an exclamation of surprise and disgust. "Dumbledore's beard!" had experienced a short wave of popularity, during which time you could hardly walk through the halls without hearing it pass through the lips of some disgruntled second-year.
Without it, Dumbledore was, well…just an old man. His face was wrinkled and small. The nose was the same as ever. Yet it now seemed larger, becoming the prominent feature of his face. The only surprise was how shiny his face looked under the lights of his office. Lily figured she probably ought to ask him about his nightly skin routine because, in spite of the wrinkles, his face practically glowed.
Limpy passed Dumbledore a hand-mirror, which he used to inspect his face thoroughly.
"That is more like it," he pronounced.
"Yes, you look quite…different," Lily agreed.
James Potter entered the room at this point and stopped in absolute shock at the top of the stairs. His eyes danced back and forth between Dumbledore, the elf, and Lily.
"Sir, if I may say, you have never looked more marvelous," James pronounced joyfully.
There was not a trace of irony in his voice. Lily wished she had pulled off that level of sincerity with her congratulations. Dumbledore certainly seemed to appreciate James' approval, smiling brightly – his mouth stretched more noticeably wide now that his mustache was removed.
"I thought you were right behind me," Lily said accusingly to James.
James looked at her with his brow wrinkled over in mock-confusion. "Why would you think that, Evans? You rushed out of the Great Hall at least fifteen minutes before we were supposed to arrive. I figured I'd have another piece of toast and then meet you here."
If Dumbledore hadn't been watching, Lily might have tackled him.
Instead she settled for a forced, "Silly me." And turned her attention back to Dumbledore. Her mind was filled with all of the ways she might murder Potter with Dumbeldore's knick-knacks. He'd set her up to arrive early, for what? Lily thought it might have been to enjoy watching her run anxiously out of the Great Hall or maybe he simply liked to make her angry.
Dumbledore watched their interaction as if nothing was amiss. Lily had never understood how the headmaster missed the clearly brewing animosity between James and Lily. Whether it was an act or he was really that oblivious was unclear.
"Please, take a seat and I'll tell you why I summoned you here this morning," Dumbledore said.
After they were seated, Dumbledore turned to them with somber eyes. It was a signal that their talk was to be more serious than typical Head business.
"As you both know, times are very dangerous and there is a great deal of fear spreading throughout the castle. I know that you must be very busy with your various responsibilities and upcoming NEWTS, but I would ask you to take on another challenge. I would like you to brainstorm ideas for events or activities that could raise student morale. The sooner levity and joy return to Hogwarts, the sooner students will begin to feel safe again," Dumbledore explained.
The castle had been far more morose than was usual. The campaign of the so-called Lord Voldemort and his death eaters had slowly evolved into something of a national obsession, where their atrocities were always featured on the front page of the Daily Prophet. Maybe that was why the Hogwarts Daily Mail had become such a success. Students were desperate to escape the never-ending media frenzy of carnage and doom.
Lily wasn't sure there was any activity that she could put together, however, that would distract students from the realities outside. The barrage upon muggleborns was near constant, and purebloods waited each morning for news of who had died from their own ranks.
The students, isolated as they were inside Hogwarts's age-old walls, were sheltered from the worst of it. Everyone knew that Lord Voldemort feared to face off against Albus Dumbledore directly. Yet there was still the fear, especially for the 7th years, of what awaited them just outside.
"Quidditch!" Potter offered. "Everyone loves Quidditch. So let's increase our number of games or maybe let students not on teams play a few extra matches."
"The suggestions are supposed to be for the entire student body, Potter. Not just what would make you happiest," Lily said.
James made a face at her. "This isn't for me. In fact, it would probably be a pain for me to organize, but people really do like Quidditch, and it's hard to be scared when you're soaring at top-speeds on a broomstick with bludgers flying at you."
Actually, that sounded positively terrifying in Lily's opinion.
"We'll keep it as a suggestion," Lily conceded to avoid an argument in front of Dumbledore. "In fact, let's set a time later, and we'll meet up and go over ideas."
Code for: I'll make all the decisions at a later time and you can bugger off to wherever you disappear whenever there's work to be done.
James shrugged his agreement.
"Whatever you decide, just be sure to get approval from me or Professor McGonagall before moving forward. Don't be afraid to ask for help from any of the staff as you coordinate the event or events as well," Dumbledore said.
Lily and James murmured their assent.
"Now, Miss Evans, I understand that you had some reservations about Mr. Potter's appointment as Head Boy," Dumbledore said solemnly.
Lily gaped. Beside her, James was frowning.
"I believe Mr. Potter has all of the capabilities necessary for the position and all of the potential as a man to thrive beyond that. If, however, you find that you are carrying this burden alone, you may tell me," Dumbledore continued. "Has Mr. Potter been helpful thus far?"
During her time at Hogwarts, Lily had not directly interacted with Dumbledore often. He was the kind of larger-than-life figure that made everyone feel as if they knew so much about him, but an objective analysis would reveal that he was really an enigma. Most of what she knew of him was from reading the papers and her own good opinion born from the fact that he'd made her Head Girl in spite of her blood status and the risk that the pureblood students wouldn't obey her. Still, Lily thought it was out of character for him to ask her to nark on Potter. He seemed like the type to tolerate endless shenanigans and only become involved if the infraction was serious.
Now, Lily bore James Potter no good will. Judge all you like, but she could hold a grudge, and she didn't feel the slightest bit ashamed of her loathing. She did, however, hesitate at the prospect of blatantly selling James out to Dumbledore while he sat not three feet away from her. Had he been helpful in their head duties thus far? Of course not. He had hardly bothered to show up to their prefect meetings. That Lily had delegated all of the work to herself and not even considered collaborating with him was irrelevant. He had been decidedly unhelpful.
What she told Dumbledore, however, was, "Professor, I've had no problems, and I'm sure we won't."
"Marvelous," Dumbledore said, his joviality returning. "That would be all then."
Dismissed, Lily and James left the headmaster's office. There was an embarrassing shuffle where they both tried to exit at the same time and then both insisted the other go instead and repeat. The type of scene you'd see in a muggle flick where the two characters were destined for love. HA!
It just annoyed Lily who figured it was typical of James to make even leaving a room an ordeal. To his credit, he looked pretty red-faced himself.
She intended to walk away without a word, but was stopped by his hesitant call of her name.
"Thanks," James muttered.
"For what?" Lily gawked.
It wasn't so much that he was being nice. Peppered throughout years of torment, ridicule, and teasing there had been plenty of moments where James Potter had acted tolerably towards her. Sometimes he was civil. Sometimes he tried to be charming - a ruse she never truly bought. Sometimes he was just indifferent.
Never before, however, had he been sheepish. It just did not fit on the face Lily had become so familiar with over six years. The same face that was so frequently twisted by an arrogant leer. Yet there he stood, rubbing a hand along his neck, eyes cast to the floor. He even looked like he might be blushing.
"You could have told Dumbledore the truth. That I'm a shite Head Boy and that he made a terrible mistake believing in me. I wouldn't have blamed you if you had…at least not much," James said, eyes still glued to the stone floor.
Lily honestly didn't see what the big deal was. She was a liar who desperately feared that everyone would someday learn the truth about her and how she was a fraud. It wouldn't do to let Dumbledore know she was failing as Head Girl – couldn't even keep the Head Boy in line let alone the rest of the students. No, the lie was for herself.
"It's fine. I've never wanted your help with Head business. Honestly, you'd just be in the way. In fact, not being a bother might be the nicest thing you've done for me in years," Lily said.
Her statement was the strangest mix of comfort, dismissal, and sneering condescension. Potter seemed to only notice the condescension.
"Oh come off it, Evans." His head had shot up so that he could sneer at her. "You make such a bloody big deal about being Head Girl. The title means nothing."
Lily blinked dumbly as he strode past. What did he mean the title was meaningless? It had better not be, since it was all she really had at the moment. Being head girl was the only thing she had been looking forward to in her final year at Hogwarts.
Never had a Hogwarts student had such a mixed relationship with magic. Lily was a brilliant witch. She was a gifted student surely, only having to truly study in her weakest subjects – Transfiguration, Arithmancy. But more than anything, it was her natural affinity for bending magic to her purposes that made her something special. Before she had even known magic existed, she had keyed into her power and started to manipulate it.
There were the normal displays of accidental magic that every young witch was expected to perform. There were also the covert experiments with Severus, where they flouted the statute of underage magic, assured that they could rely on the excuse that it was accidental if they were ever caught. Through these experiments, Lily had fostered an understanding of magic that few children born into wizarding families could boast. She was quite good at creating her own spells, able to intuitively sense what the magic required of her. It was why she suffered so much in Transfiguration where the class demanded careful examination of the principles of the object to be transfigured. She worked in loftier concepts and the manipulation of magic directly.
Yes, Lily was a talent. She also, however, loathed the day she became aware of her magic. In many ways, Lily had been robbed of everything by the wizarding world. She spent the year separated from the family that she adored because it wouldn't be safe for them unless she "learned to control her powers." She had lost the affection of the sister she would have killed for, their bond being drained by the separation and resentment magic had bred. She had lost any chance of following her dream of becoming Prime Minister as she would hardly have the qualifications to enter a good muggle university. She had lost her safety and dignity at her introduction to blood supremacy. And she had ultimately lost Severus.
Faced with so much loss, Lily had become rather obsessed with control. The change had crept up on her rather slowly, but it was hard to ignore the reality that she was a full-on control freak at this point in her life. Head Girl was a symbol of everything she had striven for, and she did not take kindly to anyone denouncing it.
"Face it, Evans. There are a dozen students who could do your job just as well as you. It doesn't take a genius to send a few first years off to bed. But there's only one James Potter," he said.
"I'll face nothing of the sort," Lily growled.
She, of course, would have defended that the rumbling noise at the back of her throat that made her statement sound so threatening was hardly a growl at all. She was coming done with a cold.
"First," Lily began.
"I love it when you list things," Potter said.
"First," Lily stated more firmly this time. "I beat out those dozens of students fair and square for this position. I'm good at being Head Girl. It's not as easy as you think, striking the right balance between formidable and approachable. It took a lot of practice as a prefect to get to where I am now."
"I don't know if anyone would call you formidable," James teased.
"Second, I think it's a little arrogant to assume no one else could fill your shoes. What do you even do in this school? Walk around, talking loudly about how great you are? Anyone could do the same? In fact, I believe Sirius already manages exactly that," Lily continued on, ignoring his interruption.
"I do a great many things," James defended. "I keep the student morale up. People would collapse to the mid-year doldrums if it weren't for me. I keep things exciting."
"You're a distraction. How impressive."
"I'm an institution. And you didn't beat everyone out for the Head position by the way. I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm Head Boy. So, you didn't exactly beat me, did you?" James said.
"I actually hadn't noticed," Lily countered coolly. "What with how I've been managing the schedules and all of the work by myself since the start of term. The Heads aren't meant to be just figureheads, Potter."
It was perhaps a bit unfair to hold this above Potter's head. Lily after all had insisted that she did not require his help with anything from the planning of student events to the conduction of the prefects' meetings. Being Head Girl had meant too much to her to risk having him ruin it. And he would. She knew it as surely as she knew that McGonagall would be out of place at a rock and roll concert. James Potter did not have what it took to be a competent Head student.
"This is starting to sound like a challenge, Evans," James said quietly. His voice had taken on a more threatening note. The quiet unnerved her more than yelling ever could.
If Lily were as smart and sensible as she always claimed to be, she would have listened to her humming nerves and backed down. Rolled her eyes and walked away as she had so many times in the past after deciding that James Potter was wasting her time. But a line had been crossed within Lily too.
The realization that he really thought her so ordinary, nothing special about her, had slammed into her like a tidal wave. It hurt to have everything she worked for devalued. Treated as nothing. She knew that good grades and rule-following weren't the only things that mattered in life. Honestly, she did. But they were her things. And they mattered to her. Deeply and dearly.
And by Agrippa she would show him.
"If it sounds like a challenge, it's because it is one. You couldn't be me. You couldn't come close," Lily said.
James reeled back a little bit, pivoting so that he faced the wall. His hands rubbed together briskly. Lily was a bit taken aback. It was strange even by Potter's standards to just spin about in the middle of a conversation. It was only a few short seconds later that he spun back around just as abruptly. But now there was a fire in his eyes. Something burning to match Lily's own conviction.
Pointing his finger at her, he announced, "A bet then. You try out being me for a month, and I'll do the same."
"You'll try to be yourself?" Lily asked stupidly.
"Don't be cute, Evans. You do your best James Potter, and I'll show you just how prissy I can be when I have to," James said.
Lily mused that she had never heard someone announce that they could be prissy with such pride.
She could still walk away. Call him a fool and march off. It was too important a year what with NEWTs to be jagging off on some foolish bet with James Potter. No one would blame her for refusing. Yes, James' friends would surely have something to say once behind closed doors. She could actually picture Black laughing at her for being such a square and how Remus would kindly say that Potter couldn't expect anything different from Lily. She was too sensible for that kind of nonsense. But Lily didn't like the clarity of this imagining. How sure everyone would be that she would never go for something like this. That she would never do anything unexpected. Well, they just didn't know her well enough.
"We'll need rules," Lily said.
The emotions that ran across James's face were too quick to catch. Though she thought she saw surprise and maybe a little pride on his face before it morphed back into that cocky smirk she knew so well.
"First step to being me, Evans: no rules," James said.
"All the same. How will we know who's won if we don't set some ground rules," Lily said reasonably.
"How indeed?" James repeated. Lily noticed that he was rubbing his hands together feverishly again. "As Lily Evans, I will attend all of my classes and be the absolute apple of my teachers' eyes. My homework will be turned in on time."
"And you'll do it yourself," Lily challenged. "No bribing some 6th year Hufflepuff with moon eyes for you. You'll have to complete your own work."
James nodded. "That's only fair. As much as I loathe creating rules, let's just agree to keep it all above board, yeah. No trying to game the system or sneak around our obligations. I'll do things the way you would and vice versa."
"I can agree to that, but there's more to me than just being a good student. You'll need to follow through on your responsibilities as a Head. And as I'll be busy being you, you'll be completely on your own," Lily warned.
"I won't even break a sweat," James said all arrogant swagger.
Lily frowned and her forehead tightened infinitesimally at her thoughts. "We still need a way to measure your success."
"It won't be hard to tell if I'm keeping up my end when it comes to grades. But as Head Boy…why don't we poll the prefects at the end of the month? Let them decide who they preferred as acting Head?"
This seemed like a very bad idea to Lily. She was well-liked. Never had she had to ward off bullies in the school halls or suffer mean taunts from her housemates at the breakfast table. How much she owed this to Potter's influence as he used to have an annoyingly public crush on her was indeterminable. But all the same, she always received the impression that people enjoyed her company and thought her an okay girl.
James Potter, however, was another matter. Even the prim and proper prefects were completely taken in by him. He was a legend at the school. Had there ever been a student who commanded attention everywhere he went quite like Potter? He had the money, the Potter surname, a brain when he bothered, and a sense of humor that seemed to dazzle the student populace.
If it came down to a popularity contest, Lily wasn't sure she would come out victorious.
Shaking her head, Lily argued, "That's no good. You'll just let the prefects slack off so that they'll vote for you."
He didn't need to know Lily's real reservations.
"You would never do such a thing. And therefore, neither would I," James said affronted. "But to be fair, why don't we poll the professors as well? Let them evaluate how efficiently the work has been done in the last month."
"I don't see any problem with that, except for one rather glaring issue. We can't tell them about our bet. I actually value what they think of me," Lily said.
Nodding, James amended, "Well how about we ask them to evaluate the quality of the work, but don't tell them why. We can say that you want a monthly evaluation to benchmark against yourself. It's the kind of nonsense they'd believe of you."
Lily wasn't sure she'd call it nonsense, but he had a point. The professors wouldn't find it hard to believe that Lily wanted to improve upon her current work. And most of them would be happy to help. She imagined a few professors would resent the extra work, but for the most part, it was a workable solution.
"Now we arrive at the little question of how exactly you can attempt," and he stressed the word, "to be me."
"I'll need to be the cause of general chaos and mayhem, disrupt students hard at work for my selfish pleasure, and torment the professors," Lily said caustically.
"Well, you're on the right path. Let's say you need to pull off ten pranks a week. And they can't all be little larks pulled on your mates in your dormitory. They need to be public and attention-grabbing," James said.
"More like attention-seeking," Lily muttered uncharitably.
James ignored her. "And you can't get caught."
At this Lily couldn't help but protest. "You get caught all the time! How long has it been since you made it a month without a detention?"
"I don't think you realize just how often I get away with it, Evans. My apprehension-to-success ratio is actually rather impressive. But you're right to a degree. You can get caught once a week. Really give the professors a shake up when their golden girl starts living in detention," he laughed.
James seemed surprised by how quickly she had conceded. It was a little out of character for Lily not to take the opportunity to drive home just how frequently he was to be found in detention, to take a little from his pride. But there were more pressing matters, and as Lily would soon enough discover what it felt like to be on the other side of the rules, she had decided not to press the issue.
"And we'll need a way to measure your pranking success as well," James said.
"Not a vote," Lily warned.
"Not quite," James agreed. "No, the judges of your pranking efforts should be experts in their fields. A panel of experts who have completed their practicums and graduated with honors from the University of Mischief."
"Am I supposed to have any idea what you're talking about when you go on like that?"
James rolled his eyes, "The Marauders. I'm talking about the other Marauders."
"I know you surround yourself with idiots who will be impressed that you know how to count to twenty, Potter, but I'm not that thick. If I didn't want the prefects judging us, why on earth would you think I'd go for your best friends?" Lily snorted.
"There is probably nothing my friends would love more than to take the piss and have you beat me. They live for that shite," James said. "You'll have the advantage, not me. Besides, who else in this school do you think can accurately judge a prank? Everyone else will be awed by a little flash, but the blokes will be able to tell how much creativity, how much effort went into whatever you do. They're the obvious choice, and you'd see that if you only quit being stubborn!"
Lily thought it was extremely rich that he was calling her the stubborn one. It was not lost on her that he was the one making most of the demands and brow-beating her with his silly little thing called logic until she agreed. Some people were far too accustomed to getting their own way.
That he had a point was something she would never admit under pain of the Cruciatus curse. The git.
"Whatever, I'm not going to waste my time arguing with you." Lily was aware of the irony of that statement. "I'll make a fool of myself and your friends can be the judges. Are you satisfied?"
"There's more to me than just getting into trouble. You're not the only one who's layered," James said. "I'm sure you've noticed by now that I'm a bit of an institution at this school. People look to me to set the mood and make things interesting. I'm more symbol than boy at this point."
"How do you walk around with that head on your shoulders?" Lily asked in disgust.
"Come off it, Evans. You know it's true. People watch my every move here, and I'm the one who takes responsibility for improving school spirits when things get dull. If you want to prove you can outdo me, then you'll have to unify the students a bit," James said.
"Most of that comes from you flying about on your broomstick. You're ninety percent Quidditch victories."
"I won't lie. The Quidditch victories don't hurt," James conceded. "But, I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm rather popular with the Ravenclaws and Puffs too. And that's hardly something you can ignore. No. You need to find a way to make the students adore you."
"I can think of any number of students who don't find you nearly as charming as you think you are, Potter," Lily pointed out not exactly unkindly.
"Slytherins like your old, greasy mate don't count, Evans," Potter said dismissively.
Lily tamped down the momentary pang in her gut that urged her to defend Severus. Her old friend was like a phantom limb; she felt his presence even though he was long gone.
"Unify the students and make them love me. A few good pranks and I'll be halfway there," Lily said confidently.
And she was confident. As much as Potter had always considered her a priss, the rest of the student body liked her. She was…pretty. And she didn't mean that in simply the physical sense.
Severus had filmed her one summer, experimenting with a camcorder she'd bought him. At first he'd appeared somewhat alarmed by the gift, but it wasn't in Sev's nature to reject anything Lily gave him, so soon he was a budding documentarian.
The quality was terrible. All of the images were grainy and dark. But still, she had been able to study herself, a budding woman at fourteen, for the first time. There was a loveliness to her that she hadn't been expecting. The way she moved was gentle. The way she spoke had a clarity and charm. Even sobbing her eyes out, she didn't look nearly as gross as she'd expected from watching her dormmates' breakdowns.
She was nice to her classmates as well – always willing to help someone struggling in class, supportive of girls going through bad breakups, happy to share the chocolates she received from home.
James was never on the receiving end of this kindness, however, so it made sense that he wouldn't realize that the student body already loved Lily. He saw the prig. The girl who was always opening her mouth to say no. She would show him and everyone else that there was no task too daunting for Lily Evans.
"How about we poll the students on how they'd rate their happiness on a scale of one to ten? We'll poll them now and then again at the end of the month. If their mood's gone up, we'll call that a success on my part," Lily suggested, glad to have finally set one of their methods herself.
"You're in way over your head," James said grinning.
Lily chose to focus on the explicit challenge rather than how affectionate his voice sounded or how fondly he was gazing at her. It was hardly new information that James had a sweet spot where she was concerned. If you asked Lily, which no one ever did, she'd say it was his vanity. He couldn't stand that there was one person – a Gryffindor no less – who didn't believe the sun shone out of his arse. This opinion was always met with eye rolls and scoffs from her dorm mates. Traitors every one of them.
"Bring it on, Potter," Lily said.
"What a grand start to the new school year!" James crowed. "We're going to make history!"
"You're going to make a fool of yourself! But yes, I suppose this is going to go down in the books, isn't it?" Lily said.
And that Head Boy and Girl wore matching expressions of delighted anticipation was noted by no one.
Updated A/N (1/24/17): A final note, I've seen people wonder on tumblr before about how to leave reviews on stories that have already finished without bothering the author. I don't speak for everyone, but for myself: people who leave regular reviews so that I can experience the story alongside them all over again are the pinnacle of humanity and people who leave one review at the end are lovely. Reviews even years from now, will always be appreciated.
Thank you for reading!