In the Way
Disclaimer: JK Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter novel series. I am just a fan who is writing a story about some of her characters for no profit. (I'm writing this only once for the whole story, not anymore in further chapters…I'll just expect that no one's going to sue me now that I've clarified that…)
"The desire of perfection is the worst disease that ever afflicted the human mind."
~Louis de Fontanes
Chapter 1: Perfection beyond the Pale
Lily Evans was a perfectionist. She wasn't exactly uptight, as some perfectionists tend to be. No, being uptight and too fussy didn't fit well with a perfect image of a sixteen-year-old witch, and for that reason, most people didn't really notice the effects of her way of thinking.
What they saw was a gorgeous redhead who had the nicest qualities and was the top student of the school. What they saw was a person who could handle pressure coolly, had a quick and sharp wit, and had yet to show them her bad side—because she didn't seem to have one. In short, she was perfect. The perfect daughter, the perfect student, the perfect friend, the perfect everything.
And everybody in school never bothered to know why she seemed so flawless, which was virtually impossible, because nobody, no human, could be perfect. For a full five years in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, nobody wondered why…until now. Because now, at the start of Lily's sixth year, it occurred to somebody that this mystery had to be solved. And that somebody's name was James Potter.
James's first thought on the matter was that Lily had to be bad at something, had to have a horrendous quality that she hid away from other people, like having athlete's foot or controlled obsessive-compulsive tendencies…wait, that last part didn't mix. And he thought of the mystery no more for the first day of class.
On the second day, however, he laid his eyes on the girl that had captured his interest (not in that way…yet) once again, and he resolved to be the one who would know what would make the girl crack her faultless exterior. In his opinion, though, she wasn't as perfect as she seemed in other's eyes. Like, she wasn't perfect at flying a broom, but she was a bit good at it, really. But then, wouldn't the perfect person have to have something that they weren't too good at for them to be perfect?
James shook his head. He was doing so much thinking, he was starting to confuse himself. He hadn't liked Lily very much, despite all her likeable qualities, because it seemed to him that all of it was a bit unreal. It was just that he hadn't paid much attention to it until now—
"A Knut for your thoughts," a voice spoke suddenly in his ear, and he looked to his left to glance at the source: his best friend, Sirius Black.
"Nothing that would interest you, I'm afraid," James answered. He had already perfected the art of not being caught off guard when he was thinking deeply and suddenly interrupted—Sirius used to make speculations of James fantasizing about some girl whenever he stuttered an answer. Just say the word "um" or "er" and his best friend would instantly translate it as "that hot Ravenclaw chick who sits two rows to your left during Arithmancy."
As was expected, Sirius looked rather disappointed, and they entered their Transfiguration classroom without undue teasing on Sirius's part. James saw a flash of vivid red hair at the corner of his eye and groaned inwardly—couldn't he forget about Miss Perfection's riddle for once?
Professor McGonagall, their teacher who was in her late-twenties, set them to work on a rather tricky spell where they had to transfigure a rabbit's different parts into separate and different things—at once. It was no easy task and she started calling off names so that the students could pair up. "Black and Aubrey, McDougal and Lupin, Evans and Potter…"
Fate seemed to want to push James into doing what he resolved to do, because it was handing him all the right opportunities. He figured that the easiest way to bring the worst out of Lily Evans was to annoy her…and as one of the school's resident mischief-makers, James was an expert at irritating the hell out of people. He had never thought of victimizing Lily before, though. She was so well-liked, other students would be scandalized if they witnessed him—or his other friends—pulling a "harmless" prank on her.
But a little aggravating couldn't hurt, right?
"Hey, Lily," James said, all smiles as he stood next to his partner at their assigned desk. Their rabbit was peacefully munching on some carrot sticks that Lily had given it. Of course. Sweet, kind, thoughtful Lily… She would never let an experimental animal starve itself…
Lily nodded at him and smiled back. "Hello, James. We need to turn each of the rabbit's feet into four matches, its ears into quills, its body into a loaf of bread, its head into a pincushion, and its tail into a small ball. Any questions?"
James rolled his eyes, unable to stop himself. Lily didn't seem to notice, though. Geez, how did she know that, when McGonagall hadn't even given them instructions yet? A second later the professor tapped her wand on the blackboard and the instructions appeared—exactly as Lily had told James. What! Did he have to add psychic abilities to her list of accomplishments now?
Lily must have noticed him looking quizzically at her and she explained, "I've got a copy of Professor McGonagall's lesson plan; she didn't seem to mind my being curious, she said that it was actually good for a student to be so enthusiastic in being ahead in the classes."
Leave it to Lily Evans to memorize the lesson plan… "Yeah, so, do we have to turn the tail into a particular ball or something, like a Snitch or a golf ball?" James asked sarcastically, starting to become a little irritated at her, well, perfect ways…
"I don't think it matters, James, and will you please not utter your sardonic remarks in this activity, because if you haven't noticed, I'm not doing anything to ire you," she replied in a tone so polite that he couldn't find an excuse to give a snappy retort.
He sighed. Taking the mickey out of Lily Evans was going to be harder than he thought. "Okay, let's get to it."
"What's up with you, Prongs? You've been so uptight ever since Transfiguration—and usually you're so brilliant at it that you don't have anything to complain about…" Sirius prodded after the lesson. At the moment they were heading for the Great Hall for dinner.
James groaned silently; he couldn't tell his friends the reason why he was so frustrated. That Evans was a clever one, turning the tables and making James get annoyed instead of the other way around…
"Yeah, I've been wondering about that. Nothing bad could possibly come out of the lesson, since he was paired with Lily," Remus Lupin added.
"It's a crime to put two of the biggest Transfiguration brains together; would you believe that they got off doing a three-foot-long essay on Life-to-Non-life Dividing Spells, while all the rest of us have to sacrifice a night's worth of sleep for it?" Sirius remarked with a scowl.
"I'd believe it," Peter Pettigrew chirped in reply.
Sirius rolled his eyes. "It was a rhetorical question, Wormtail."
James sighed as Peter's face scrunched up in confusion at the word "rhetorical" and Remus mildly explained what it meant in simpler words. Sirius continued to grumble about unfairness and the like until they reached their usual seats at the Gryffindor table.
"Why would you have any problems with the activity, Padfoot? You're practically next to Lily and James at being the top student in Transfiguration," Remus pointed out, voicing the question that he should have asked five minutes ago to save him the annoyance of listening to Sirius whining about petty things.
"It's all McGonagall's fault; she said that it was supposed to be a team effort, and even though Christine Aubrey's a good snog, she's a complete dunce at Transfiguration," Sirius complained. "I would have done it all myself, but you know McGonagall, she's so into that cooperative-learning thing…"
James tuned out his friend's voice and dully reached for the bowl of mashed potatoes on his right. As he did so he caught sight of Lily talking to one of her friends, and Lily had this…serene look on her face that made him instantly irritated again. He didn't know what made him so annoyed with her being that way. Or maybe he did…
Her attitude seemed so fake to him, now that he thought about it. Maybe it was all in his imagination; else he was the only one in Hogwarts who wasn't oblivious. There was only one way to find out…
James got out of his seat right in the middle of Sirius's tirade, but none of the other marauders seemed to notice. He casually took a seat between Lily and her friend Chloe Tiernan. "Hiya, Lily," he greeted in his best false-sincere voice, flashing a grin.
"Hey, James," Chloe said flirtatiously, flipping her blonde hair back and giggling.
James raised his eyebrows. Ookay…so either she didn't hear him specifically say hi to Lily, or she was just fishing for a date. Well, at least that was something he could list down as one of Lily Evan's imperfect traits…"not being able to choose sensible and un-annoying friends." He didn't know that he was being a little biased, though, because after all the times he was being chased by squealing and swooning girls he had grown irritated with their seemingly universal laugh: the girlish giggle.
"James." Lily nodded in way of greeting, her expression neutral. "Have you come to try to tell me once again that being studious and serious about school is for losers with no life?"
Ugh! The tone she used with him was so infuriating…polite, patronizing, sarcastic but mild…all blended into one melodious voice. He didn't know how she could pull it off. "No, I believe I exhausted all the excerpts of that philosophy of mine already, thank you," James answered, forcing civility into his voice.
"I see. Then why are you here?" Lily inquired as she took a bite of roast beef.
"Well, in case you haven't noticed, this is the Gryffindor table, and I'm entitled to sit anywhere I want. Unless they changed the rules in the last ten minutes I checked. I suppose you would be able to tell me, since you always seem to be up-to-date with this kind of thing," he mocked.
Lily smiled. "James, I don't think you ever bothered to read the rule book. And I meant to ask you what you were doing on this side of the table since you're usually sitting with your friends."
James pretended to look hurt. "Is it a crime to want to talk to you?"
Lily opened her mouth, but Chloe didn't seem too keen with sending James away.
"Oh, don't mind Lily, she just doesn't want to talk much while she's eating. You can talk to me if you like," Chloe suggested, batting her eyelashes.
"Erm…I was just going to tell Lily something about that Transfiguration essay we got out of. I can tell her later, so…see ya," he lied easily, slipping out of his seat and strolling back toward his friends. Ah, well…he could always try again…he should think of another tack to bring the bad side out of Lily Evans…
"Really, Chloe, do you have to act like that whenever he's around?" Lily asked, rolling her eyes at her friend, who was disappointedly watching James Potter's retreating back.
"Act like what?" Chloe demanded, turning her attention back to Lily.
"Well, don't take it the wrong way or anything, but you were acting a bit like a ditz, and I don't think James is too impressed by that," Lily said gently but honestly.
Nami Tzu, their other friend, snickered, her dark brown eyes dancing. "A bit? More like full blast," she scoffed. She tossed her jet-black hair over her shoulder exaggeratedly and batted her eyelashes. "Hey, James, do you mind fornicating with me later this evening?" she said in imitation of Chloe's higher-pitched voice.
"I did not say anything of the sort!" Chloe cried, looking scandalized. "You have a very dirty mind, Nami!"
"What? I was only drawing out the implications," Nami said innocently.
Chloe threw her hands up. "Implications? I'll give you implications. Care to tell me what my voice is implying right now?" she threatened in a dangerous voice, standing up to better reach the brunette across the table.
Nami shrugged. "Yep. 'Nami Tzu, I am going to strangle you for putting an R-rated word and my name in the same sentence.'" She smiled saccharinely. "Pray tell, am I wrong?"
Chloe sat back in her seat and turned to Lily. "Ooh, she's good."
Lily shrugged. "It's not like you were being subtle."
"Anyway, the point is, you should forget about your silly infatuation with James Potter, before I disown you as a friend for being such an embarrassment," Nami remarked, staring pointedly at Chloe.
"Half of Hogwarts' girl population have their eyes on him, and I don't see you calling them an embarrassment," Chloe complained, gesturing at the James Potter Fan Club: Ravenclaw Division, for emphasis.
Nami waved her hand dismissively. "Oh, they don't count. My friends are supposed to be well-respected, dignified people, and if you turn into a bimbo you would lose those two qualities. Right, Lil?" she said, looking to the redhead for agreement.
"I really don't know. Why are you so obsessed over James anyway? If you ask me, he's arrogant, overconfident and rather mean… You see those pranks he plays on innocent people; I suppose he only does it for fun…" Lily answered, glancing at James.
"Ooooh, Lily Evans just said something negative about somebody; that is definitely something worth writing down…" Nami teased, pretending to look for a spare parchment and a quill in her bag.
"…he's also hot, witty, intelligent, and a real slick Quidditch player, which means he has the perfect body…" Chloe rattled on, oblivious to Nami's keen observation.
Nami jumped up from her seat and pointed at her blonde friend. "Aha! So you are after him for the se—"
"Silencio!" Chloe hissed, her wand readily in her hand. "Are you crazy or something?! You wanna get caught yelling indecent language by one of the teachers?" she whispered fiercely.
Nami grinned sheepishly and shook her head, then pointed at her mouth to signal that Chloe could undo the curse already.
"Nuh-uh, you're not going to speak until we reach the safety and privacy of our dorm room," Chloe said resolutely, glaring at Nami. Nami looked pleadingly at Lily. Lily did the counter curse.
"Lil!" Chloe exclaimed. "You can't go easy on her just like that! We're supposed to punish her!"
"Don't you think she'll just embarrass you more afterwards if you don't do what she wants?" was Lily's simple reply.
"Oh yeah," Chloe said in startling realization. "Why don't we just leave now, before she does any more damage?" she suggested to the redhead, jerking a thumb at Nami.
The other two didn't object, and the trio made their way out of the Hall. Chloe, who was still sullen over Nami's teasing, had resorted to lecturing Lily.
"You know, Lil, you shouldn't have to be so nice all the time, it's bound to have negative consequences someday…"
"What was that all about?" Sirius asked James in the common room, where they were seated in plushy armchairs by the fire.
"What was what all about?" James answered automatically, although he already knew what Sirius was talking about.
Sirius rolled his eyes, knowing that James knew what he was saying and was pretending to be oblivious about it. "That thing with Lily Evans during dinner. It's not exactly your style to come up to a girl, especially one like Li—" He narrowed his eyes suddenly, looking at James with suspicion.
James knew exactly what his friend was thinking.
"Wait. Don't tell me you that you like her…" Sirius said warily. James mouthed his words along with him perfectly.
"No," James replied sarcastically, rolling his eyes. This eye-roll thing was starting to become a habit as of late… "I have never had any secret longings and desires to be Evans's soul mate, thank you very much."
Sirius had a mad glint in his eye, as he always did when he was warming up to annoy the hell out of somebody. "Oh, but you don't have to hide it from me, Prongs. Although, I'm a bit surprised by your sudden change of taste, you usually pick girls who just want to snog until there's no tomorrow, and I don't think Lily's that type of girl—"
"Sirius." James glared at him, noticing that several people who were peacefully doing their homework had started to swing their heads in the direction of Sirius's loud voice. "Shut. Up." Not only had Lily fried his nerves with her oh-so-sweet but cleverly cunning mockeries, Sirius had to be in one of his juvenile moods and aggravate James about non-existent infatuations. To top it all off, he just had to pick Lily as James's supposed crush, and the only thoughts that James wanted to entertain about her were ways on how to make her lose her temper and crack her visibly calm and collected exterior, and it was no satisfaction to realize that he hadn't thought of a single thing yet.
"—more of the sweet and sensible kind. Guys always seem to want to ask her out, but they can't seem to get close to her. I don't know…she's just so…pure. Like an angel stuck on earth, you know what I mean? It's like she's too good to be true, and the poor fools who fall in love with her can't get close to her at all; they all probably feel that they don't deserve her because she's so perfect. I don't think she could even hurt a fly, but by the way she aces all the classes, I think she's capable of dishing out more than a few complex hexes…" Sirius continued to blather on about Lily's positive traits (there were no negative things he could think of), and James started to shut it all out, when…
Wait a minute. 'Guys can't get close to her…' "She doesn't have a boyfriend!" James exclaimed triumphantly, finally finding a flaw in Lily's image. She was sixteen years old; any normal girl that age would want to have a special someone. Any he knew that Lily Evans always went for perfection, although even with that in mind, her actions were still unpredictable at times. You'd think a perfectionist would be that obvious and monotonous that you'd be able to interpret his or her every move…but Lily was just…not. James couldn't see any reason why she couldn't have a boyfriend: she was well-liked, sociable, pretty, and intelligent… Any guy would fall for her. Well, any guy but him. He found it extremely irksome that a person could seem so unfaultable. She had to have flaws.
"That's what I'm telling you. No need to be that ecstatic about it…" Sirius said apprehensively, misinterpreting James's glee as relief that Lily Evans was available.
"This is great! Now I have some material to annoy her with! Thanks, Padfoot!" James said, before standing up and heading for the staircase that led to the boys' dormitories.
That was not the reply that Sirius was expecting. He followed at his friend's heels. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Why do you want to annoy her? What's she do to you?" he asked as they climbed up the steps.
"Because she can't be perfect and I'm going to prove it, and she infuriates me with her patronization and her well-concealed insults to my person that are so subtle that she can make sure that I'm the only one who notices, so that she can maintain her perfect little flower image," James responded as if this was the most obvious thing in the world.
"What! You must be overreacting, else somebody must have put a Confundus Charm on you… Nobody is perfect, everyone knows that… You'd be insulting the whole student body if you said they're stupid enough to think that a person could be so golden at everything… Besides, you're saying that Lily "Butter wouldn't melt in my mouth" Evans mocked you? Are you sure you're feeling okay?" Sirius said suspiciously.
James smiled cheerily. "Just fine. And Evans isn't as nice as you think she is, you know. Haven't you ever wondered how weird it is that you've never seen her lose her temper or blow up at somebody before? It's like she's forcing herself to be affable all the time, don't you think? I should do a prank on her and see how she reacts; imagine her just smiling and saying 'It's quite all right' if I turn her hair white and plant Dungbombs in her closet…"
"What I think is that someone must have addled your brains somehow in the last half hour. You can't torment Lily Evans, Prongs! That's like…like…" Sirius groped for an analogy that would best express his meaning. "Like slaying a unicorn!"
James burst out laughing at Sirius's chosen simile. "You see? This is what I'm trying to tell you! Everyone thinks she's some sort of saint who could do no wrong. Anyway, there's no harm in a little prank, it's not like I'm going to have her tortured or anything."
They reached the door to their room and Sirius shrugged, sighing in defeat. "It's your funeral, mate. I just want to ask you this. How can you even think of playing a prank on a person as nice, sweet, and harmless as Lily?"
James feigned thinking deeply. "Gee, I don't know. How could you have turned that sweet, nice, and harmless Hufflepuff first year's nose into a plump tomato yesterday when she was just trying to help you pick up the prank books that you dropped in the hallway?" he asked in pretended incredulity.
"You know what? I think Lily wouldn't mind you doing a prank on her… I mean, as long as it doesn't cause any lasting damage, it should be okay," Sirius said hurriedly, eliciting a smirk from the unruly-haired boy.
"Ow!" Lily said, clapping a hand to her mouth after accidentally biting her tongue.
"What happened?" Nami asked in concern as she came out of the bathroom in her pajamas.
"Nothing, I just bit my tongue, is all…" Lily assured, wincing as the pain grew as she spoke.
"Somebody must have been thinking or talking about you at that moment, then! Quick, ask for a number," Nami commanded.
"Ten!" Chloe shouted, before turning confusedly to Nami. "What for?"
"A, B, C, D…" Nami recited, counting the letters off on her fingers. "Letter J? Think of somebody whose name starts with a J."
"Er…" Lily said, trying to rack her name for a suitable person.
Chloe bounced up and down. "James Potter! Oh, Lily, I bet he was thinking about you just now!" she concluded jealously.
"Yeah, I bet. He must be thinking romantic thoughts about me after the way he attempted to insult me during Transfiguration class," Lily said sardonically. She raised her eyebrows at Nami in way of asking about the weird logic.
"Just an old Japanese belief. I have no idea if it's true; I don't think anybody would be able to prove it anyway," Nami explained.
"James wouldn't insult you Lil! How could you think that of him?" Chloe exclaimed.
Lily shook her head. Whenever Chloe had a crush on someone, it always made her blind to that person's faults.
"Are you blind, Chloe? Where have you been these five years? James Potter and his friends have been terrorizing the Hogwarts population with their 'amusing' pranks ever since they first stepped foot into the school train in our first year," Nami pointed out in a tone mixed with disbelief and exasperation.
Chloe pouted. "Boys are like that. Besides, that just makes him more interesting!"
"Yes, I'm sure the way he and Black charmed my books to shout 'I am in love with Severus Snape!' in my voice is very interesting," Nami said crisply. She had never liked the marauders, particularly Sirius Black. Sirius had turned her hair into worms during their first day in first year for no apparent reason except to say that he was told by McGonagall to think about what he did (which was doing the exact same prank on a Slytherin first year, earning him a detention), and he decided that he had to do it again to better comprehend his act, because it was his way of understanding things. Nami's worst phobia was worms. But since she was a Japanese transferee then and didn't know any hexes yet in the English language (one of Hogwarts' ancient protection charms was that no old magic originating from another country could be cast within its walls), she was powerless to get back at him. She had loathed him ever since.
That was why she constantly nettled Chloe by mocking her friend's infatuation on James, "to get it out of her system," as she put it. She disliked the marauders mainly because they were Sirius's close friends, and Remus was the only exception. He was always nice to her.
"That was all Sirius! James had no part in that," Chloe protested, glancing at Lily for support. "You're just putting in James's name in it 'cause you've got a grudge against Sirius. You're making him guilty by association!"
Lily shrugged, slightly inclined to laugh at Chloe's dramatic way of putting it. "She's right, you know."
Nami rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Don't think you can't count the numerous other times he hexed innocuous people in the corridors, just because he thinks he has the right to. He's just as arrogant and pompous as his prat of a best friend."
Chloe threw up her hands in exasperation. "You are hopeless! I'm going to bed." She climbed onto her four-poster bed and pulled the maroon covers above her head.
"I am not hopeless. I am being honest," Nami corrected, but followed her friend's lead into the journey to sleep.
Lily took a shower first and followed soon after, lying down on her bed and trying to make herself comfortable. She sat up to draw the hangings and bit her tongue again. "Ow…"
"Ten…" Nami mumbled in her sleep. Lily glanced at her, startled. As soon as she started thinking that her friend was just pulling her leg by pretending to be asleep, the sleep-talking girl continued, "…points to Slytherin for that superb goal…"
Lily chuckled, shaking her head. Nami was the commentator for all the inter-House Quidditch matches. She was always trying to polish her "commentating skills" by learning not to be biased, as was usual of commentators of certain Houses when their team was playing. She had said that McGonagall was always watching the commentator like a hawk and perfection wasn't exactly a sin if it would help her avoid a telling-off.
She remembered the way James had suddenly called her attention by going out of his way to bother her, hoping to rile her somehow. Nobody ever did that before, because they never questioned or doubted her behavior. But he did.
And she didn't like that. Not at all.
~ A/N ~
Lily is not going to be a Mary Sue kind of person. That's why James doesn't like her, because he thinks she is. I would appreciate feedback just to know if there are people who are interested in my story or not…that way I'll update faster.