Author's Note: This fic has been rewritten as of August 2011 - nothing major at all and no changes in plot, but I disliked the prose and some of the dialogue when I read over it recently and thought I'd freshen it up a little. I hope you all still enjoy it.
Lily Evans talks the biggest amount of shit sometimes, he thinks.
Actually, he doesn't think it. He knows it. What he can't understand is why he can't seem to find anybody else who agrees with him.
"Is there anything else you wanted to say, Evans?"
She doesn't reply – not that he thought she would. Her arms are folded across her chest, her head is cocked to one side and she's deliberately avoiding his eye, tapping her foot impatiently on the hard, stone floor. She's in a sulk with him – bully for her, he thinks. She thinks she owns the whole school, Evans does, with her self-righteousness and her do-gooder ways and her superiority complex, and in James Potter's humble opinion she needs to be taken down a peg or two. He's only too happy to shoulder the task if nobody else is up for it, and he shoulders it with relish.
"Evans?" He repeats. "Are you alive in there? Hello?"
He tosses a scrunched up piece of parchment at her to get her attention and feels mildly irritated when it hits her square on the nose but again, she fails to respond. He doesn't have time for this nonsense. He has things to do. There are a couple of hours left before he has to leave for the Willow with the others, during which time he has to complete all of his homework (not something one can do in an hour in seventh year) and draw up a patrol schedule, and he can't officially end the meeting, or even get up and walk away, without getting her permission first. He knows she's only doing it to needle him – payback for all the times he deliberately irritated her, he supposes – for only ten minutes ago she was moaning about how she was going to be late for an engagement of her own.
"There are people besides you who have things to be getting on with, you know."
She flicks her lengthy red hair - it shimmers rather prettily as it catches the light of the early evening sunset that streams through the open window – and makes a tiny noise of disinterest. Otherwise, she remains silent. Normally this would thrill him. Normally he prefers to drag this kind of thing out until a fully blown row ensues, but he's in a rush. He decides to cut it short, and use the ammunition that is almost always guaranteed to send her running in a hurry.
"I know you like me, Evans," he says slyly, leaning back in his chair and rocking it on its hind legs. "But really, keeping me here against my will when you-"
"Get over yourself!" she snaps, all pretences of deafness immediately dropped. Her cheeks turn a delicate shade of rosy pink almost immediately, and she has shoved her few belongings into her bag and jumped to her feet before James even has time to smirk in triumph. "The meeting is over, Potter, and I don't even know why you were sitting there pretending to need my permission to bugger off anyway, seeing as how you have no problem with other people doing it!"
Aha. Victory is sweet indeed. He supposes he can allow himself a few seconds to bask in it, since winning against Lily Evans is such a rare and unexpected treat. "You're not denying it, I've noticed."
"That you fancy me."
"I fancy you in a bonfire, perhaps," she retorts sharply, hoisting her bag over one shoulder. "Go jump in a lake or something, I have to go, I'm late."
"You wouldn't be late if you hadn't sat there for five minutes like an idiot," he points out, also rising from his seat and picking up his own bag. "Huffing and puffing to yourself because you couldn't get your own way."
"May I remind you that we're supposed to take five minutes after we dismiss the other Prefects to arrange our duties?" says Lily, who hasn't made any effort to leave the room in spite of her tragic lateness. "You, being useless as always, had nothing to say!"
"You didn't ask me!"
"I shouldn't have to ask!"
"Oh, oh right," says James, his voice rising ever so slightly. "I'm supposed to be a Legilimens now, am I? Another impossibly high standard of yours that people have to meet before you'll give them the time of day?"
"You know what, Potter?" she hisses, and unlike him, her voice lowers to a deadly tone. "You're just, you're just, just so…"
"Just so what?" he says, feeling heat rise in his chest. "Just so what, Lily?"
She stands in silence for maybe a fraction of a moment, staring at him, and James can almost see the cogs in hear head spinning frantically as she tries to come up with an inventive enough way to tell him just how much she wishes he had never been born, but she merely satisfies herself with a wild sounding snarl and a deeply menacing glare.
"Forget it. I don't have time for this. And don't you dare call me Lily." Discussion over. She pushes past him on her way to the door, making sure that her elbow makes contact with his stomach on the way out. She's not a violent person by nature, Lily Evans, but she can reach that point when she's pushed, and James sure likes to push her. He suspects she enjoys hitting him from time to time, and he knows she knows that it hurts, because she's uncommonly strong for such a diminutive, slender girl, but he always pretends it doesn't. He's a man, after all. Men don't let girls hurt them.
Truth be told, he rather likes it.
He follows her out of the tiny classroom where they meet for their regular Prefect meetings, making sure to lock the door behind him. She watches him closely and with narrowed eyes, as if locking a door is a Herculean task for a man of such simplicity, one that he might struggle to accomplish. She doesn't usually hang around like this after a meeting, especially when she's made plans, but she's probably waiting for some sort of an apology for his earlier behaviour, when he let his friend walk out of the meeting without asking her permission first, which was how all of the trouble started to begin with.
She's not going to get an apology, not from him. He was within his rights, Dumbledore won't care, she can kick and scream all she wants and nobody will listen. He feels a rather savage pleasure at the thought of her frustration, and shakes it roughly away, feeling immediately guilty. His occasional feelings of anger towards her are understandable, but that doesn't make them right.
"Can I help you?" he says, as he turns to face her. She spins on her heel and flounces away down the corridor, muttering to herself about how much of a dick he is.
She's a gigantic pain in the neck, that Lily Evans.
"Enjoy yourself, love!" he shouts happily, watching her stomp along the corridor with her nose lifted daintily in the air and her flaming red hair swishing along behind her, silken and glossy and altogether mesmerising. She doesn't look back at him and he drops his voice to a murmur. "You complete and utter psychopath."
He keeps his eyes fixed upon her retreating back until she disappears from view, at which point he sets off on his own way, jogging a little to make time. James generally likes to stroll around the school at his own pace, never caring for schedules, entirely of the opinion that time should endeavour to fit itself in around whatever plans he may have. He gets an awful scolding from his mother about it; she doesn't think he cares enough. She doesn't think he'll get anywhere in life if he doesn't try a little harder. She doesn't think he can take anything seriously. He doesn't agree with her, but he's passed the point of arguing. Women rarely listen to men when they're fighting with them, his Dad likes to say. Just keep your head down, James, and agree with everything they throw at you.
Lily Evans certainly doesn't listen to him when she's angry, he reminds himself. She shares his mother's opinion of him, too, and is always giving him lectures about Being Conscientious and Caring More and Taking Things Seriously. Ironically, even though Lily is never seen without her wristwatch, plans her days almost obsessively and rushes almost everywhere in a giant panic, she is constantly late for everything and James very rarely is. Sometimes he tries to tell her that if she calmed down a little and stopped rushing through the corridors, she wouldn't keep arriving behind time for everything, but she tells him that he's being illogical and dashes off to another crucial appointment, only to go flying into some poor student and drop her numerous possessions all over the floor. Then she wonders why she has arrived to Transfiguration a full three minutes after everyone else.
She's mentally unstable, that's what she is. How can anyone stand her for more than five minutes?
He reaches the portrait hole and winks at the Fat Lady before giving her the password. She shoots him a haughty glare – his second of the day – before letting him pass. She doesn't like him because he has interrupted her in the night too many times while she is trying to sleep, and she likes to bear grudges. It's not really very fair because Sirius is worse, and she loves Sirius, but then again, women are mad. If he tried to figure them out he'd burst a blood vessel in his brain.
Three more minutes sees James settled on his bed, bag beside him, with two days' worth of homework spread out before him like an oddly distorted fan. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the antique silver watch that his mother gave him on his seventeenth birthday, which he never carries save for days like these, when time is off the essence. He has Potions, Transfiguration, Herbology and Charms homework to complete in the space of an hour and a half, which is pushing it a bit, but he didn't get the Head Boy badge because he has a brain full of sawdust. Potions is undoubtedly what needs to be looked at first, as it's his weakest subject and he has a particularly important essay to complete on the topic of Veritaserum; the history of the potion, its importance in a modern society threatened by the increase of Dark Magic – it's difficult stuff. He needs to concentrate. Lily would know all of this, but forget her, he needs to knuckle down. It's her best subject. It's not his. He shouldn't be thinking about her when he's got work to do. Maybe he should copy from the textbook, but he doesn't really want to, he's supposed to be setting a good example, she'd be so mad at him, he really shouldn't.
He won't. He doesn't need to. He takes pride in his work now. He just needs to focus, focus, focus…
She's crazy. She has to be. He's positive. Surely any sane person would realise after six years that the only reason she was always late is because she spends half the day falling over and knocking people down? Does she even notice where she is half the time? Unless Lily is in class, or doing her homework, or working in the library, or engaged in a conversation with someone, her mind seems to fly off somewhere that James is pretty sure isn't located anywhere near the castle.
"Bloody woman!" he barks, kicking at one of his bedposts in frustration. This always happens. It's her fault. The girl has a way of popping into his head and yelling, 'Here I am, dipshit!' whenever he really doesn't want or need her to be there, and then she stays firmly put, for hours on end, smiling or shouting or tossing her hair over her shoulder or rolling her eyes at him until he's so angry and annoyed that he wants to find the girl for real and strangle her. It's entirely her fault, it's just one of the many things she does to deliberately ruin his life on a daily basis. He'll be thinking about her all night.
He could pick up a book and force her out of his thoughts, but he can't, because he doesn't want to, and admitting this to himself does nothing to ease his temper.
She's mad, he tells himself again, throwing his Potions book on the floor and leaning back against his pillows, completely mad. She's been cracked ever since first year. If she isn't doing something completely ridiculous, she's off looking for something ridiculous to do. When she's in a bad mood, everybody knows it; she trudges and glares her way around the castle and refuses to leave any survivors in her wake. If she's happy she dances around like an angel and beams at people she doesn't even know, as if she loves the entire world, as if she doesn't know what anger is. She is bossy and hypocritical and she starts arguments with him at the most inconvenient of times, especially when she knows it's an inconvenient time. She's impossible. She's a nuisance. She drives him up the wall.
Oh, but he is crazy about her.
He doesn't understand why, out of all the girls in the school, all the girls in the world, even, he happened to fall completely and hopelessly in love with a girl who is just so irritating and so vicious and who hates him so very much. He can vaguely remember the time when his crush on her was just that, a little crush, and nothing of real significance. He liked her because she was pretty, very pretty, stunningly pretty. She has the most beautiful eyes he has ever seen, bright and sparkling and emerald green, and her hair is like molten lava, and her skin is like porcelain, but that's nothing, nothing, when compared to just how funny she is, or how clever she is, or just how sweet and kind and deeply, truly good she is at heart. She cares for people with a devotion surpassing anything he has ever witnessed in another human being. She feels actual pain for her loved ones when they're hurt or upset; he's seen her do it. He sees how her friends worship her like a goddess, and why would they not, when she would happily give her life to protect any one of them from harm?
He throws himself into his Potions essay for a meagre half hour, a painful half hour, before he finally admits defeat. Sighing, he banishes his books to the bedside table with a sweep of his wand and summons the Map with another. Under the lame pretence of scanning the corridors for teachers, he silently tells himself not to search for her name, but as always, this doesn't work, and does little to quell his desire for her.
She angers him because he just wants to hold her, or kiss her, or even hold her gaze for more than a fleeting second. She angers him because she is so utterly beautiful that it pains him to look at her, and pains him even more not to. She angers him because the depth and intensity of his love for her is surely some sign of weakness, something that people like Sirius and indeed, Lily herself would probably laugh at. She angers him because she is not his to love, and because if she was his, he would love her more than Collins ever could, would make her happier than Collins ever could, and she's too blind to see it. She angers him because she should be his and she's too stubborn to admit it. She angers him because there are so many things about her that irritate him greatly - her temper, her haughty attitude, her stubbornness, her pride, her complete and utter lack of awareness – that all conspire to form a woman that he could not find anywhere else if he searched for a million years and she angers him because he cannot, and will not, settle for anyone other than such a woman.
He hates Stephen Collins for taking her for himself. Collins, he figures, is not the right match for Lily. He's a nice bloke, he's decent, but he's too quiet, too simple, too uncomplicated for Lily. He's seen them together and he doesn't like her when she's with him. She's not Lily when she's with him. She's a shadow of herself, less vivacious, less obnoxious. She doesn't sparkle with him, not the way he's seen her sparkle for the past six years. She can't be happy, not unless she can only be herself around that boy, not unless she's doing a great job at fooling the rest of the world. It's the only logical conclusion he can come to, and he clings to it with both hands.
He wants to seek her out and shake her, shake her until she sees sense, until she sees that she should be with James, that she can love him and that they can love each other. That they could be happy together, and all she needs to do is wake up and open her eyes.
He finds her on the map almost immediately.
He shouldn't get so excited; all he's found is a small, barely noticeable dot with her name above it, moving along the Entrance Hall in the direction of the staircase, but even the sight of her name on parchment is enough to make his heart thump wildly in his chest. In the very back of his mind, a voice reminds him that she had mentioned going on a date with Collins, but a quick scan of the map shows Collins in his own bed in his own dormitory. She's not with him. He feels triumphant, like he's just won some kind of epic battle. Maybe, just maybe, she was in such a terrible mood after the meeting that she dumped Collins in the meanest and coldest way possible and clattered her way out of the Astronomy with a view to finding James and shouting at him some more. Wouldn't that be fantastic? It's a very silly thought, but a sustaining one. He'll throw a party on the day she breaks it off Collins, and then he won't invite her, just to piss her off. Good plan.
Of course, he reminds himself, she'll stay with Collins forever. She does love him, after all. Any suspicions to the contrary are just the results of wishful thinking. He thinks that staying with Collins forever will ruin her, but that could be (and probably is) his overactive imagination, trying to mess with him. It's like James to be so desperate for her that he'll imagine things like this, like sometimes when he thinks he has caught her looking at him, or sometimes when he thinks that she might just be flirting with him. It's not real. She and Collins are real. James doesn't have anything real with Lily Evans.
He feels a stirring, consuming, absolutely horrible need to seek her out and see her. Does he have enough time, he wonders? He really shouldn't, she'll suspect something. He's supposed to stay put so he can leave with the others when they get back. No, it's probably best that he doesn't. He won't.
A moment later and he's tearing out of the common room like he's running for his life.
Sprinting along the dimly lit corridors, he berates himself for leaving to find her, and yet he doesn't turn back. Like a strange compulsion, the relief he will feel when he sees her will, even if only for a second, outweigh all the anguish and pain he will feel later when he has somehow said something to make her hate him even more and falls further still in her estimation of him. Mentally preparing for his death, he rounds one last corner and even though he already knew she was there, and her name remains on the map, seeing her still sends shockwaves through his body.
And he already regrets his decision
"What are you doing out here, Potter?" Her voice is cold and sharp and she doesn't look in the least bit happy, but she never looks happy to see him.
I'm here for you, Lily, he wants to say. He is here for her; sometimes it seems as if he exists for her. He wants to tell her that she's everything, absolutely everything. The only way he could possibly describe his feelings for her is to tell her that she is everything. She is the entire castle and all the magic found within it, she's the feeling he gets when he's soaring above a Quidditch pitch at several hundred feet, she's his classes, his friends, his books, his broomstick, his everything. She's everything. Lily is everything that makes him happy, who makes him feel like he is who he is. She, inarguably, inescapably and unendingly, is.
She wouldn't laugh at him and she wouldn't even be scornful, because she's sweet and kind and good and caring, but she would turn him down, and even though she turns him down at least once a week whenever he throws a casual invite at her, this really isn't the same thing. He'd be handing her his heart and his hopes and his dreams and she'd have to hand them all back. It's easier to pretend that she does love him, and that he was just too foolish to risk it, than to actually risk it and never have that one whisper of a hope to exist upon. He's a coward. He knows it. Some Gryffindor he's turned out to be.
He should answer her question, but everything he wants to say is everything he can't.
So he says nothing.