Gamble

She's done something to her lips.

Nine days ago (exactly), they'd been nice enough lips; pale and pink and just the slightest bit chapped (not that he'd looked), and he'd teased her about them, telling her she had fish lips and she crossed her arms (he hadn't looked then, either), an eyebrow raised in query. "If that's what you think, then, I'm sure you won't have a problem staying away from them then, yes?"

He'd laughed at her and told her that he wouldn't dare go near her or her lips. He had plenty of self-control, especially when it came to redheads and their mouths. "If you can refrain from kissing me for a fortnight, Potter, I'll do your homework for…for a week," she challenged, a shrug in her shoulders.

"A month," he suggested, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. The tone of her voice and the jut to her hip suggested that she thought she could win it and it was delicious to know that not only would she lose, she'd embarrass herself so fantastically.

"The rest of term," she spat back, cheeks flushed. "But if I win, you'll – you'll – "

"I'll do your homework for the rest of term?" he offered. The gathered crowd chuckled as Evans sputtered, her flush diving down underneath the collar of her school shirt (maybe he looked).

"Hardly. I'd like to pass a class, if it's okay with you," she finally snapped (her voice almost cracked), a fisted hand landing on her hip. "You'll have to wear a skirt to classes for a week."

The crowd murmured appreciatively, whispers swelling behind books and palms, eyes roving from the redhead to him and back again. He let himself smirk. "How old are we, Evans?"

She shrugged, clearly pleased with what she'd come up with. "Old enough to know your knees would look simply dashing in plaid."

James had frowned to himself before holding out a hand. "Done." Her hand slipped off her hip to meet his and he tightened his hold on it for a moment before releasing it. "And Evans? Make sure you transfigure your handwriting this time, yea?"

And that was that; all he had to do was not kiss Evans for two weeks. Nothing all that difficult, seeing as he'd managed years of it already.

But now she's clearly done something to her lips (yes, he'd looked).

Her hair is pinned out of her eyes just like always, still vibrantly red. And her nose is powdered to hide the freckles she'd picked up from lying around the lake with her books. And her eyes are still the same cat-eye green that makes him a little stir-crazy when she looks at him for too long.

But her lips are – are -

Whatever they are, it's cheating and it isn't fair. He's only got five days to go before the fortnight is up and she can't suddenly change things on him; keeping his eyes away from her mouth had been easy enough until now. He wonders if he can get her disqualified but then he realizes that he'd have to admit he'd noticed that she'd done something to her lips. He can't have the rest of Hogwarts knowing he notices things like that.

Down the table, she smirks around a spoon and he has to drop a napkin in his lap to hide his newest fantasy – Lily's pretty new lips wrapped around something else.

His eyes slip to the toast still on his plate and he drags it through the remainder of his eggs, hoping he can manage the rest of the week.

- - -

James doesn't see her again until lunch, when she slides into the seat across from him while he's waiting for the rest of the Marauders; leaning on one hand as she looks at him (his eyes meet hers).

"Can I help you with something?" he snaps. He's waspish from having to walk out of the Great Hall with a hand in his pocket, Peter and Sirius elbowing one another as they followed him, snorting into their hands like a hard-on was the funniest thing they'd ever seen.

It takes him a moment before he realizes that he's staring, slack-jawed at her mouth as she tugs her bottom lip into her mouth, nibbling on it distractedly. She releases it and then there's a flash of pink tongue as she wets her lips before she grins. "How was class?"

Her words – and her smirk – rip him out of his reverie and he jolts upright, hands white-knuckled on the bench. "What?" he snaps back and her grin grows.

"I asked how class was," she repeats and he tugs his hands through his hair before returning them to the bench (he tries not to hesitate).

"Fine. It was fine."

The rest of the Marauders decide to take that moment to appear, jostling into one another as they scramble to sit next to Lily. Sirius manages to make it to her left, while Peter gets her right side. Remus sighs good-naturedly and sits next to him, leaving him facing Lily Evans (of all people).

He scrapes a nail over the enamel on his plate as she settles down to eat, starting up a conversation with Remus about some silly obscure point that bores James mindless. It's obvious what she's doing and it bothers him that it's working so well.

He realizes two bites into dinner that whatever she'd done to her lips makes watching her eat a hell of a lot more interesting than anything else in the room. She takes her time, mouth moving in distracting little circles as she chews and it's becoming (painfully, awkwardly) obvious that he may not make it through the rest of the day.

- - -

Class is easy because she's three desks to his left and one back, and James doesn't dare glance over his shoulder because he's at the front of the room and most of the people behind him witnessed his little confrontation with Evans a week ago.

When there's a break in lecture, students rummage through their bags for new quills, chattering in low voices as they compare notes.

"Is it a new flavor?" he hears Amelia-Something ask to his left.

"Yes, Mint Chocolate Cream," Lily answers and he suddenly needs a new quill, reaching around the back of his chair to find his sack, rifling through candy wrappers and parchment scraps. He glances through his fringe at Evans (not because he wants to) to see what in the name of Merlin she's plotting.

She's holding out a tube of something to a blond girl to her left. "Try it," she offers, and Amelia-Something takes it and there's a complicated motion before her lips are looking almost as good as Lily's.

The tube disappears back into Evans' bag and Amelia-Something runs her tongue over her lips (not like Lily) and then grins. "That's really good; where'd you say you got it again?"

Well, then.

It's not magic, but it's close enough.

He's going to make it a month and then some, just to show her.

- - -

He catches up to her in one of the deserted hallways she likes to frequent, catching her arm and tugging her away, into a niche just three steps forward. She ends up with her back against the wall, his arm blocking the way out.

"Can I help you?" she asks, annoyed, arms crossed (this time, he looks).

"Yes." He pauses, letting her eyes darken in frustration, waiting until she's tossing her hair over her shoulders before he speaks again. "You can."

She huffs. "Great. With what, exactly?"

"You can stop cheating."

For a moment she looks like she's confused but as his glance drops to her lips, she regains her composure and cocks her head to the side. "It's not cheating. It's strategy."

He snorts, taking a step back as she drops her hands to her hips, glaring at him.

When he doesn't speak, she steps forward, following him across the width of the niche. "Besides, I think you rather like it, don't you?" Her voice is purposely low, her finger tracing the knot on his (loosened, crooked) tie.

"I don't like cheaters, Evans. I think you know that, don't you?" His voice cracks on her last name and her grin is feral and dangerous.

"I do," she agrees, and her hand drops from his tie right as his back hits the wall. He's trapped between her and stone (he thinks he likes it); his hand reaching for the now-lonely tie as he straightens it.

"If you're not going to bother with following the rules, then you'll have to forfeit, you know," he offers, shrugging slightly. Now she's the one retreating as he herds her backwards, their dance elaborate.

"There's no such rule."

"You're right," he concedes when she's pressed against the far wall again. He nods to her and ducks out of the niche, head bowed (he can't look back).

He'll have her before the week is out.

- - -

She still seems stunned the next time he sees her and he can't help but feel proud. He did that to her – not any spell or potion. Just words and looks and tension in the back corners of the castle.

Her friends chatter around her like birds and she gives them tight grins which he knows are false because when she really smiles, she's a dimple in her left cheek. There's no dimple today (he's memorized it).

Peter's trying to distract him by asking about the notes he didn't take in Charms, but James watches her when he's not insulting Peter or mocking Remus. He's rewarded when she drags her sleeve through mashed potatoes and doesn't notice, not until the girl to her left points it out. There's a fumble for a napkin and then Remus is tugging on his sleeve.

When he finally glances back up, her eyes are on him, bottom lip once again caught between her teeth. There's a moment where he fumbles his fork with her electric eyes on him. None of the Marauders seem to notice, their attention split between Sirius and the gaggle of girls he is flirting with. Even as Peter says something completely inappropriate, James can't look away from the redhead.

She glances down and then up, as if daring him to do something (he wants to do something).

Sirius does it instead, upending a goblet of pumpkin juice into his lap, distracted by the blonde two seats down.

Two minutes later and Lily pushes away her plate and stands, excusing herself with downcast eyes, hurrying from the Great Hall.

Remus looks concerned, following Lily with his eyes as she leaves before turning to James to indirectly accuse him of being a heartless sod. He tries to explain that the whole thing is part of his plan but manages to make it sound like he is, in fact, a heartless sod.

Sirius just grins at the blonde, telling James to hurry up and grow a pair.

He thinks he will. In a week.

- - -

The next morning, her mouth looks the same as it always has; pale pink and full but nothing like yesterday and that hell. Even so, James finds himself absently licking his own lips. It's almost as through things are back to normal. Almost.

But things really aren't because he's looking at her more than he should and sometimes he catches her looking back. And every time their eyes meet, his stomach twists and he feels like he should sit down. Especially when she sucks her lower lip into her mouth, chewing on it distractedly as she watches him (and he looks).

When they pass in the hallways, it feels like there's lightning in the air. He stumbles around her, forcing laughter at the Marauders, skirting her and her friends like they have the plague and he's afraid of catching it.

The rest of the school seems to know that something's going on because the whispers start up just as soon as they pass, heads ducking to murmur about Potter and Evans and that stupid bet.

If it wasn't Evans, he'd call it off and let them stew in it; he'd snog her and be done with it. But he doesn't think he could handle being belittled in front of her and that smug smile and those ungodly eyes. Instead, he has to survive the week.

She makes it difficult.

He thinks it's because she's getting bolder. She's keeping her distance, but she makes sure he's aware of her moving along the edges of the crowd like some sort of phantom (why can't he stop looking?).

No matter where he looks, she seems to be there and he has to force himself to stare coolly at her, like he's upset to see her and not secretly wishing he could ease her out of the clutch of people she's immersed in and take her someplace a little less rowdy.

Someplace a little more deserted.

He knows that if he does, he'll lose the bet. That's the only thought that can root him to his spot anymore – he refuses to see his pride crushed under Lily Evans' knowing heel. If she realizes this, she doesn't let on, tugging at her skirt absently whenever he passes her; it's just as much of a reason to keep walking as it is to stop and press her against the stone wall.

Sirius has reckoned it a silent duel and starts taking bets on the bet, while Remus and Peter split hairs over who will win. Peter's sure he'll cave, citing Evans' looks, while Remus is certain that James will manage it, claiming stubbornness as mightier than just about everything.

James, meanwhile, is just afraid that he's going to go barmy.

Soon, the entire school is divided over their little bet and guys pat him on the shoulder as he goes by, offering silent support. Their girlfriends, meanwhile, gather around Lily and trade tips on lip-gloss. Most of them pucker their lips whenever they see him, giggling behind their hands as he passes.

It's Evans, though, who is strangely silent, offering him almost-apologetic looks that are tinged with confidence, a study in contrasts. She still bites her lip when she looks at him, gnawing on it as though she's forgotten where she is, eyes heavy and hot.

When she looks at him like that is when he wants to kiss her the most (so he tries to look away).

Just three more days, he tells himself.

- - -

He decides that letting her drive him to madness isn't accomplishing anything and he takes matters into his own hands. Now, whenever she glances towards him, he's watching her, hoping his gaze is just as dark and steady as hers had been.

It starts to work two days before the bet is up; she looks as though she's just run a gauntlet, hurrying through the corridors like she's being hunted. Which she is, in a way, but he doesn't admit it (because she can't know).

When they pass in the hallways, he makes sure to slide past her as closely as possible, cutting through the protective layer of friends she guards himself with like a hot knife through butter. They scatter, giggling and chattering like angered hens and he ignores them, eyes hot on hers.

Even when there is no one else in the corridor, he is sure to pass as close to her as possible, just to hear her suck in a breath and hold it. He passes, waiting for the short gasp she makes as she relaxes, smiling to himself.

Once, he nearly knocks into her and she stumbles. His hand closes about her upper arm without thought, reflexively, his other jumping to her waist. For a moment, they stand chest to chest in the empty hallway. Both of her hands are pressed against his chest, her fingers twisted in his shirt (he likes this, too).

She smells like cinnamon and vanilla. When he looks down at her, her eyes are dark green ivy, mouth open in a surprised 'oh' that makes him want to nibble at her lower lip, just to see if it tastes as good as it looks.

It takes a moment for them both to register where they are and who they're tangled up with, but even then, they don't step away. Evans' eyes flick down to his jaw and then back up, searching his face, measuring him (his eyes flick down, maybe).

"Tempted, Potter?" she asks after licking her lips, one hand snaking around his tie.

He pauses, leaning towards her minutely. She rocks forward in his arms, her free hand sliding up to press against his shoulder, making him bend down, bringing him closer to her height.

When he can feel her breath ghosting across his lips, he freezes, hands locked in place around her waist (firm, demanding). She sighs, a breathy moan that hits him hard, making his fingers tighten reflexively, the sound thrumming along his lips as though he'd kissed her when he is really still a breath away, waiting.

"Hardly," he finally says, voice low and hard.

And then he pulls away and pushes past her, leaving and her keening sighs alone (not that he wants to).

He can survive just a few more days.

- - -

They have just a day left until all bets were null and void. The both of them are thin-lipped and tense, hurrying to their respective classes like they're being chased.

James manages to avoid most of the cracks from the Marauders at breakfast, keeping his eyes locked on his plate and not at the redhead sitting seven seats down (he doesn't look). When Remus nudges him, though, he glances up over his toast to find her scorching gaze on him.

He shivers.

But he doesn't look away.

It isn't until someone shifts forward that the contact snaps and he throws his things together and stands, laughing at something Sirius has said, clapping him on the back appreciatively (he won't look back).

After three classes and lunch, he thinks he's gotten the hang of things. If he avoids looking at her, he can handle just about everything else, hands fisted deep in his pockets as he maneuvers the corridors. She seems to be stalking him, though he can't be sure.

He's three steps down a deserted hallway on his way to the library when he hears footsteps in the hall behind him (and he knows it's her).

For a moment, his hands tighten in his pockets, trying to find something to hold onto. But then her hand is fisting in his robes and he spins to face her, trying to look angry or upset or anyone of the many things he isn't feeling.

On her face is a blazing look that she levels at him for a moment, mouth twisted into a little knot of fury, eyes glowing with green fire.

"I've had enough, James," she says, and he can nearly taste her anger.

He swallows, throat catching. "Is that so?"

"I can't do this." She sounds frantic and wild and one of her hands has found its way to the tie around her neck and she twists it absently. "It's too much."

His eyes are locked on her hands but he can hear the desperation in her voice. He opens his mouth to agree, because he does and the tension is draining on him, but nothing comes out (his voice isn't working).

She makes a frustrated sound in the back of her throat and steps forward, a hand fisting in his tie, pulling him flush against her. His hands fall naturally to her waist, his fingers digging into her hips as she hooks an elbow around his neck, pulling him down so his mouth falls across hers.

Their kiss is strangely chaste; his mind is in a million places that isn't that particular corridor and even the heat of her tongue against his lips isn't enough to jolt him back to the present. It isn't until she backs him into the wall, his head cracking on the stone rather painfully, that he's fully conscious of her and her mouth and his mouth.

One hand finds its way into her hair, twining the red strands around his fingers, and he tilts her mouth under his, tongue sweeping against hers. It's (hot, passionate) sudden enough that her knees fail her and she sags against him.

He steps around her, mouth still moving against hers, turning her so that he can press her back against the stones, a knee sliding high between hers, leaving her balanced on her tiptoes, pressing down against his thigh. She groans against his lips, her hands sliding across his shoulders and into his hair.

When his lungs feel like they're on fire (like the rest of him is), he eases back, leaving her panting against the wall, still wantonly straddling his thigh. She shifts, impatient, and gasps again, mouth dropping open, swollen and red (and his).

"James," she hisses, her grip tightening on him, pulling him closer. Her complies, mouth sealing over hers again, this time moving (carefully, gently) slowly, taking the time to taste her, to discover what, exactly, it is that makes her sag against the knee still pinioned between her thighs.

Again, he releases her mouth and she hums happily to herself for a moment, eyes closed. When her lashes flutter and she looks up at him (and his smug look) her expression immediately changes, her hands dropping to his shoulders, bracing herself and he almost wishes she'd just not speak and ruin things.

She struggles with her words for a moment, and he watches her try to think of something to say, amused by the fact that he's still got her up against the wall and she's not noticed.

"You lose!" she says, finally, a finger stabbing him in the chest.

He catches it, raising an eyebrow at her. "Is that what you really think?" It's all she can do to watch as he lifts her captured hand to his mouth, eyes never leaving hers as he kisses the pad of her finger.

Entranced, she shakes her head, strands of red, red hair falling into her eyes.

"So I win?" he prompts, mouth still moving over her hand.

She sputters at that, trying and failing reclaim her fingers. "The bet was – was that there was going to be no kissing – and I – and that was – that was kissing – "

"Yes, it was," he agrees pleasantly, releasing her hand. She blinks at him as she absently rubs her palm as though it burns and he grins wickedly, hands braced on either side of her.

"So I win. And you lose," she tries again, but when he slides his thigh higher, her words end on a breathy groan, eyes slitting shut again and he knows that he's really won.

Finally.

- - -