Disclaimer: None of the people, places, or things surrounding Hogwarts and the wizarding world are my creation. They belong to J.K. Rowling. The only thing I own here is the plot.
Author's Note: This is completely AU. I just had an idea in my head, so don't yell at me for not getting things "correct" in terms of canon.
"A Well-Respected Man"
And he's oh, so good,
And he's oh, so fine,
And he's oh, so healthy,
In his body and his mind.
He's a well respected man about town,
Doing the best things so conservatively. – The Kinks
She knew it was silly. Beyond silly, actually, and moving into more dangerous, completely and utterly ridiculous territory. And if there was one trait that should never be associated with a Head Girl, it was "completely and utterly ridiculous." She would be the laughing stock of Gryffindor and eventually all of Hogwarts … especially if any Slytherins caught wind of it.
No, not "it." Him. The problem plaguing her was undeniably, most assuredly, without a doubt a HIM.
"Damn you, James Potter, damn you," Lily Evans muttered under her breath, clenching her hands into fists and mentally imagining the best possible way to slowly torture him to a slow, painful death. Perhaps hex after hex in increasingly painful increments, she thought, a satisfied smirk crossing her face.
No, mustn't do that. It would be messy to clean up … plus, I would undoubtedly lose my Head Girl privileges, what with being locked up in Azkaban and all.
Lily sighed, tossing her quill on top of her piece of parchment, which in turn rested on her open Potions textbook, the assignment on the Amortentia Potion completely forgotten in the wake of her current thoughts. She'd mistakenly thought that escaping from the common room, a place that he always had a nasty habit of occupying, and going to the library would actually allow her to accomplish something resembling work. Of course not. Even here, he still consumed her thoughts.
How in the name of Merlin had that cocky, self-righteous prick managed to make her – along with the rest of the female population at Hogwarts – fall in love with him? She was Lily Evans, after all, Potter's intellectual rival and sparring partner. Their rows and competitions, silly and pointless to everyone else, yet inordinately important to the two of them, had become legendary, and Gryffindors from all years had taken to settling down in the common room with late-night treats snatched from the kitchen whenever an argument took place.
She had never actually liked him before, had she? Of course not.
She'd merely learned to tolerate him over the years, right from the time he stepped on her long robes as she was stepping off of the Hogwarts Express first year, causing a small rip in the material and her eyes to fill with tears. She doubted he remembered that incidental meeting, but she sure did. James's eyes had widened with shock, as he clearly hadn't intended to actually damage her robes. But Lily had swiveled around angrily, only to find that her annoyance peaked when she took in the same boy who'd come round to the compartment in which she'd been sitting on the train, making inane conversation and trying to show off his less-than-impressive wand work. Lily's only consolation had been that while this boy was indeed quite good-looking, a fact which he'd mentioned once or twice – he really was arrogant for an eleven-year-old – he had also managed to set the curtains of the train compartment on fire while attempting a simple levitation spell. She'd put the fire out with an absent swish of her wand, drawing astonished gasps from her seatmates and a furious blush to race up the odd, annoying boy's neck. She'd thought that those incidents on the train would be the last of him … but of course, that had been back when she was young and naïve. People like James Potter didn't just happen to a person, once or twice. No, he somehow managed to spread out until he'd overtaken every part of one's life, so that no matter where one was or what one was thinking of, his name was never far from one's consciousness.
She should have known it when he was placed in Gryffindor. But she chalked it up to the Sorting Hat. Brave he was, James Potter, what with the antics that made up his character (pranks that, much to her dismay, he seemed to always get away with), and very loyal. Once he decided that you were supposed to be in his life, he made sure that nothing or no one could prevent that. Lily had tried time and again to make James understand that just because he'd chosen her personally to torment, that did not mean that it was all right for him to hex anyone else, especially the boys brave enough to talk to her, at random, usually in a deserted hallway or when a professor was not within earshot. James, however, with his cocky, backwards logic argued that his "willingness to defend the fair Lily" was "proof positive of his undying devotion" to her. Lily thought that it was proof positive of his insanity, but she couldn't seem to find anyone who agreed that James should be locked up and have his wand confiscated for the safety of himself and others.
She should have known it when in fifth year, they were both made prefects. But then again, Professor McGonagall had always blatantly shown a liking for Potter. And even Lily had to begrudgingly admit that he could be responsible, especially when it came to defending his House. He had a rather nasty loyal streak in him, and for that, Lily forgave him – just a bit, mind you, a tiny, microscopic bit – for his pigheadedness when it came to the methods he chose to use to punish the Slytherins who teased the young Gryffindors. Simply deducting house points or recommending detention was far too practical for James Potter.
What irritated her the most, of course, was that despite the fact that she didn't want to, Lily Evans was probably the person, besides his fellow Marauders, that knew James Potter the best. Two years as Prefects together, and then this year as Head Boy and Head Girl, had placed them together for years, and over that time, Lily had realized that there many facets to James Potter's personality. Granted, the largest facet, and the one that he showed most frequently, was what Lily described as his "cocky bastardness" that made the girls swoon and the boys clamor to be just like him. Naturally, Lily became known as the school freak because rather than sighing and giggling whenever James and his friends pulled a prank while simultaneously speaking to each other with those silly names, she gagged. To each her own, though, right?
The problem was that despite his horrible outward appearance, the façade he showed to others, James Potter was inherently a decent guy.
"Damn him," Lily muttered once more, for good measure.
She'd seen over the years how he cared about his friends more than himself. And in spite of the fact that he was often a bit too lenient in giving punishments to students who weren't in Slytherin House, he was an honest person. In fact, Lily had seen multiple times with her own eyes just how caring James was.
Her mind whirled back to one memory in particular. It had been late one night when she and James had prefect duty and had been patrolling the corridors after curfew to make sure that no student was out of bed. Or, Lily thought wryly, at least, she viewed it as patrolling to make sure that no student was out of bed. James preferred to think of it as a protective measure, and that if he and Lily encountered a student out of bed, their only duty was to warn them off Filch and/or Mrs. Norris's imminent approach. Unless, of course, the student happened to be Slytherin, and then James often took away five House Points before Lily could blink.
Anyway, her brain tsked at her. Lily shook herself, cursing her mental digression. One late night in particular last year, she and James had decided to split up, as they had a Transfiguration exam the next day which neither one of them (okay, just James) had studied for, and which both of them (okay, just Lily) was worried about failing. To speed up their rounds, they'd each taken half of the castle, and when Lily had arrived at their prearranged meeting point, she'd been stopped short by the sight in front of her. James was kneeling in front of a young first-year girl named Beatrice who was sitting on one of the stone benches in the hallway outside Gryffindor tower. Lily gathered that Beatrice had been having trouble in trouble, and in adjusting to life at Hogwarts in general, which didn't surprise her. Beatrice, like Lily herself, was a Muggle-born, and hadn't known anything about the magical world until her Hogwarts letter suddenly appeared at her house. Unlike Lily, though, Beatrice hadn't caught on as quickly, and her parents were not as understanding as Lily's.
Lily could still remember the conversation as if it had only happened the day before.
"If—if my parents fin—find out that I failed ag—again, they're…well, they'll se—send me home!" she was sobbing.
"Now, why would they do a silly thing like that?" James asked in a comforting whisper. His tone of voice alone had made Lily choke, as it was one that she'd heard him use before.
"Be—because I—I don't belong here!" Beatrice wailed. "And those people…I mean, they—"
Though James hadn't been facing her, Lily could imagine the dark look that crossed his face. "Who?" he asked shortly, as if he already knew what was going on.
"I—I can't," she stuttered nervously. "If—if they find out that I told somebody…"
"I'm a prefect, Beatrice, you have to tell me." This time, an authoritative flair entered James's tone, and because he was serious this time, Lily's heart sped up just a bit.
"It's…the Slytherins," Beatrice had sighed in resignation. Her tears had stopped, but she continued to stare at the ground in defeat, her shoulders slumped. "They're always on about how it's no wonder I…" Here, her voice trembled, and even from her position behind a stone pillar, Lily could see another tear slowly make its way down her cheek. In a shocking yet touching move, James reached up and gently wiped it away. Now, in addition to her pounding heart, Lily's own eyes were watering, both in sadness for the little girl, and in awestruck wonder at this new side of James Potter.
"…They say it's—it's no wonder that I'm failing, being a—a Mudblood," Beatrice finished in a whisper. She finally looked at James, who upon hearing that last word, had gone stonily silent. His shoulders were tensed and the hand on Beatrice's cheek had fallen to the bench, where he clenched into a fist. Beatrice's eyes, following the movement of his hand, widened in shock.
"It's not so bad, though," she started to say, clearly wanting to bring James out of his obvious anger.
"Yes, it is," he replied gravely. Her took her hand, then, in one of his, and gently forced her chin up to look at him. "And I promise you, there will be consequences for those bast—bad people. But more importantly, you must know that just because your mum and dad aren't magical, that doesn't mean that you're any less than the rest of us."
Beatrice merely shrugged. "Hey, I mean it, you know," James added, and this time, there was a trace of his usual personality in his voice. "I happen to think that in a lot of ways, Muggle-born witches are…" Here, he trailed off as if embarrassed. Lily fought the urge to scream at him, instead stuffing a fist in her mouth to keep from making any noise.
"…Are what?" Beatrice asked curiously, and Lily made a mental note to add five points to Gryffindor just for asking that question.
James lifted one shoulder in a sheepish manner, but looked Beatrice straight in the eye. "Well, I think that they're braver, smarter, and just on the whole, greater, than Pureblood witches, because they really have led two different lives, and more often not, they make the best of their situation. And often best us full-wizards in the process.
Beatrice smiled, finally. "I never thought of it like that," she said quietly.
James chuckled. "I do tend to shed a certain, special light on things." He gestured down the hall, toward the portrait hole, and watched as Beatrice shyly turned away from him and stepped into the common room. Lily remained in the shadows for a more moments, making sure to make some sort of sound as she approached James so that he would think she'd only just arrived.
And that had been that. Lily rubbed her eyes as she drew herself out of the memory that had plagued her for almost a full year. She'd never told James that she had seen him with Beatrice that night, and he, of course, had never volunteered the information. The only thing that had seemed to change was James's behavior. Perhaps he had been changing for awhile, and it had just taken something like watching him act sensitively toward someone besides his best friends for her to notice. In any case, James was suddenly not quite as loud and obnoxious as he once was. The pranks he, Sirius, Remus, and Peter played were no longer as mean, instead, they were simply funny. If they targeted any person in particular, it was always Slytherins. Not, Lily had noticed, Snape, though. It appeared that when she'd lectured James for weeks on end after that stunt in front of most of the student body, that he'd actually caught on. They had left poor Severus alone, thank god. On the whole, James just seemed nicer. It was such a bland word, but it was the truth. Perhaps he was finally growing up. It had to happen sometime, because honestly, what sort of job was a Hogwarts-graduate who still acted like an eleven-year-old supposed to get if he didn't …
Oh, sod it.
Lily Evans wasn't the type to beat around the bush. Yes, it was fine that Potter had appeared to have turned over a new leaf, but that wasn't what was bothering her and she knew it. No amount of insane mental conversations with herself was going to truly convince her otherwise.
The real reason that Potter's new personality bothered her so much was that, with his new mature persona, had come his very obvious lack of bothersome, inane attempts to get her to go out with him. Lily had come to expect them over the years, a couple of times a month, like clockwork, usually in the company of at least fifteen or so other students and/or professors. James staged some sort of ridiculous stunt with the help of his friends which often resulted in a screaming match between Lily and James, after which Lily fled to her dorm room in embarrassed tears. James would reluctantly apologize after his friends, specifically Remus, made him, but that pesky twinkle never seemed to leave his eye when he did so.
It was a vicious cycle, true, but it was a cycle just the same, and Lily liked cycles. They provided some much needed routine in her life.
But this year … something had changed. Here it was, nearly the Christmas holidays, and James had barely looked at her, let alone crafted a public "Evans, go out with me?" scheme. He quietly carried out his Head Boy duties beside her, but rarely allowed the two of them to be alone together for an extended period of time, something which he had openly rejoiced at only the year before. He was polite, courteous, even, and it was simply unsettling. Lily didn't like this James. Bloody hell, she'd only just realized that she liked – oh, Merlin, loved – the old James. And now he'd gone and changed. Again.
She thought again about that night with the young first year in the corridor. That hadn't been a "new" James, she was sure of it. It had just been a facet to the old one that he didn't let others see.
Lily slammed a hand down on the table, shaking it and spilling her ink well. "Shit!" she exclaimed loudly, then covered her mouth, remembering that she was in the library. She muttered a quick cleaning spell under her breath, cursing both herself and James Potter.
"Something the matter, Lily?"
She gasped, whirling around in her seat. The subject of her thoughts was standing directly behind her, his tell-tale smirk on his face. His eyes smiled at her, and Lily only just resisted the urge to sigh when she remembered that doing so would only prove that James's charms had worked on her as well as they did on every other female at Hogwarts.
"Lily?" he questioned again.
Lily shook her head, her eyebrows drawing together angrily. "Would you stop that?" she growled, inwardly pleased that she'd managed to maintain a rough exterior.
A frown replaced the carefree smile on his face. "Stop what?"
"Calling me that."
"Calling you what?"
Lily sighed. Now his ignorance was just plain rude. "Calling me Lily."
Potter's jaw dropped. He looked so truly baffled that Lily might have laughed, had it been anyone else. "But—but that's your name," he sputtered.
"Potter, when have you ever, in the seven years that we've known each other, called me by anything other than my last name?"
He had the decency to blush and look away in embarrassment. Once again, Lily might have thought it cute, had it been anyone else. "But that was before…" he muttered to the window beside her head.
"Before what? I swear, Potter, I never thought you one for confusing double talk."
"Why do you call me that? 'Potter,' I mean?"
Lily's mouth snapped shut, but she quickly opened it again to scream quietly in frustration. "Did you not hear me five seconds ago? You've called me Evans practically from the first time we met. On the train. Though you probably don't remember—"
"Of course I do."
The reply was soft, but serious. Once again, Lily found herself struggling for words. Speechless in the presence of James Potter. I never thought it could happen, she thought absently. A blush tinged her cheeks pink as a warm feeling rushed over her at the thought that James remembered their first meeting.
"There was this right annoying girl on the Hogwarts Express, you see," James continued, his old swagger back in place as he sauntered closer to her. "She had a group of people around her, and she was telling them all how she was the only witch in her family, a Muggleborn she was, but how that hadn't stopped her from learning about everything related to the wizarding world before she arrived at Hogwarts. She stopped just short of demonstrating these spells she claimed to know, but only, I suspect, because the train had arrived at the station. I was intrigued by this girl—"
"Intrigued, Potter. Really?" Lily couldn't help interjecting. "As an eleven-year-old, you were 'intrigued' by me?"
"—I was intrigued by this girl," James spoke over her interruption, "And thought that she needed to see that she had a rival in her midst, someone who had the stones to tell her that. And so began the legacy of Potter and Evans."
He finished his story with a self-satisfied wink in her direction, crossing his arms over his chest, his egotistical stance silently daring her to argue with him.
Lily's mind and heart were warring with each other, even as she managed to glare at him. Her mind was rejoicing at the fact that Potter had apparently been so "taken" with her that seven years later, he still remembered the first time they met. That thought was also terrifying; she'd always assumed that she only remembered that brief meeting because she was a girl, and everyone knew that girls' memories were more attached to emotions and whatnot, and also because Potter had started off as an annoying git and when said annoying git had later been placed in Gryffindor along with her, she'd had a feeling that she wasn't meant to be rid of him. As much as she wanted to be rid of. Most of the time, anyway. Yes, he was constantly in her presence, which Lily knew she could only expect, as they were classmates as well as fellow prefects, but Potter – James – had always been able to take what should have been a simply school companionship to the next level.
No, Lily, dear, her mind scolded, If the boy has consistently asked you out for the past four years, and you have consistently rejected his invitations for the past four years, that really takes the 'simple school companionship' to the next level.
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
Lily blushed. She hadn't realized she'd spoken that last thought out loud. "Excuse me?"
"What do you know?" James asked again, curiously.
Her blush deepened and she dropped eye contact. "No—nothing," she stammered.
Wait … stammered? Stammering in front of James Potter?! What is happening to me?
"Lily?" This time, James didn't seem amused or annoyed or confused. His voice was softer, kinder, and held a serious tone of concern. "Are you all right?"
Lily's heart was pounding and her palms had suddenly become sweaty. She felt as if a thousand butterflies were flitting around in her stomach, desperately trying to escape. She stared at James, who was peering back at her, his eyes focused completely on her face through his glasses, which he nervously pushed up the bridge of his nose.
She managed to nod. "Yes—yes, I'm fine," she said. "Why do you ask?"
James squirmed but didn't remove his gaze from her own. The hand he'd used to push his glasses up now moved to his hair, which was already mussed, of course, it always was, and mussed it even more. "Well, it's just that…er, you're, well, crying."
Lily's jaw dropped. "What?" she breathed, reaching up to her face. Indeed, it was wet. When had that happened?
You know when it happened, you twit, her traitorous brain admonished her yet again. It happened when the idiot standing in front of you stopped being Potter and started to become James.
Lily gasped at the ludicracy of it all. She wiped her cheeks, took a deep breath, and looked at James. He was staring at her, a mixture of concern and confusion on his face. He had one hand reached out towards her, as if he was debating with himself about whether or not he should try to comfort her. His movement, however slight, and Lily reluctantly guessed, unconscious, only reversed her attempt to act calm in a situation where she truly felt exactly the opposite. She took a hurried step backward, crashing into the table behind her which still held her abandoned homework. With a gulp against the tears threatening at the back of her throat, she turned around, furiously gathered her books and parchment, and whirled away without a glance back at James.
"Lily, wait!" he called after her, but she started running, flitting past Madame Pince, who'd only just noticed the lack of studying going on.
"Lily!" James's voice had nearly reached a shout, and Lily sent a silent prayer of thanks that the librarian cornered him as he tried in vain to catch up with her.