Author's Notes: For Ben, three months late, for his awesome birthday. You are a fab guy and an amazing (and forgiving) beta. Enjoy. ;D


She was an affectionate drunk, James had realised quickly… though perhaps not so concretely until she'd scrambled over the coffee table and snogged Remus.

"Oh, no," she'd moaned just before it happened, staring forlornly down at the cards spread out across the table. The firelight played off her freckled skin, casting a soft glow against her furrowed brow as she wrinkled her nose in distaste. "This's not good."

"Happy Christmas Eve, Evans!" Sirius laughed, grabbing the second already half-emptied bottle of Firewhisky and pouring out a generous amount. He went to push the shot glass towards her, but then paused and cocked an eyebrow. "Unless of course you're planning on joining the rest of us in our bare-chested states?"

"Pft!" Lily huffed, grabbing a fistful of her button-down shirt and holding the fabric possessively together against her chest. Her eyes glared daggers. "No."

Sirius clicked his tongue in mock disappointment as the rest of them laughed. He slid the shot glass across the coffee table until it rested in front of Lily. She frowned down at the amber liquor.

"I can't do it," she said miserably, flicking the small glass with her fingernail. "S'not fair."

"You've gotta," piped up Peter with a slight slur. He had lost his trousers ages ago, but was surprisingly still in full possession of both his shirt and his two mismatched socks. "It's Dirty Drunken Poker, Evans. When you've got the worst hand, you've gotta off a bit of clothing or down a shot! Those are the rules!"

Lily glowered. "I know t'rules."

"Let's cut her a break," James tried to reason, reaching for the shot himself. "It's Christmas, and she's lost the past three rounds. She's going to topple over soon."

Lily's head snapped around as she switched her glare away from Peter and onto him. She grabbed the tie that James had knotted securely around his head and twisted it until the loose ends hung down in front of his face. James blew at the strands of striped fabric and grinned. Lily scowled as they fluttered.

"Idiot." She gave his hair a less-than-subtle yank. "I'm fine."

James caught her hand in his and threw her a dry look. "Fine? You stayed in with a ten high, Lil."

"I had an inside straight draw!"

James tilted his head and glanced down at her cards. He held back a smirk. "Yes, love, you would have—if that heart there was a nine instead of a six."

"A six—what?" Lily's eyes shot down to her cards. She picked up the aforementioned red and squinted at it in disbelief. Then she frowned. "Oh, hell."

And all the while, she hadn't pulled her hand from his.

"All right, enough of this. Let's make a decision." Sirius slapped an impatient hand down on the table. Cards shifted and the liquid inside the shot glass swayed until some sloshed over the side and onto the table. He stared at Lily. "What's it to be, Evans? Shirt or shot?"

Lily opened her mouth to reply, but no answer came forth. After a moment, she pressed her lips into a firm line, creating a pensive sort of frown. James was about to speak up again—for Merlin's sake, the girl would collapse if she kept downing shots so quickly, and as much as getting Lily Evans out of her shirt had been a goal of his since the randy age of thirteen, this wasn't quite how he'd envisioned it happening. He should put a stop to this. She was probably going to be cross enough with him in the morning as it was. Sighing, he went to reach for the shot glass again.

Lily sprang.

"Whoah!" James grabbed for the table, fisting the shot glass that now had more alcohol out of it than in and righting the table before too many cards could fall to the floor as Lily scrambled over it. But when James glanced up to snap out a, "What the bloody fuck?" to the mad girl, he instead found Lily squeezed into the single-person chair that Remus was occupying, her lips already smashed against his.

Inside his chest, James's heart froze.

"Ha!" Lily cried, releasing Remus with a loud smacking of her lips. She absently patted Remus's cheek as she giggled. Remus's stunned gaze skipped from Lily to James, then back to Lily again.

"Uh," he said, blinking. "Er."

"Christ, Evans," Sirius muttered.

Lily seemed oblivious to it all. She giggled some more as she stumbled to her feet. "There!" she declared.

"There?" James managed to choke out. "There?"

Lily teetered on back towards him, using his head as a balancing surface as she reclaimed her spot on the floor next to him. She began picking up the fallen cards from the floor as the beginning measures of "Winter Wonderland" began to play on the wireless. The familiar tune slipped from Lily's lips in a happy, off-key hum.

"Who deals next?" she asked.

They all gaped at her.

"B-but…" Peter's eyes were extra wide and watery as he sputtered in shock. "Y-you…you snogged Remus!"

Lily stopped collecting cards and cocked her head to the side in confusion, as if she didn't quite understand what Peter was saying. Soon she gave a careless shrug. "He won," she answered. Then, as if they'd all suggested she do otherwise, she snapped, "I'm not takin' off my shirt! Or downing 'nother shot. Right now."

"The rules—"

"New rules!" Lily announced, and plopped the now organized stack of cards on the coffee table. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Shirt, shot, or snog. 'Ts dirty enough."

"What's dirty enough?" James asked.

Lily rolled her eyes as if he were missing something entirely obvious. "Snogging," she answered. She pointed at Remus. "I stuck my tongue in 'is mouth. G'on. Ask him."

James did not want to ask.

"She did," Remus confirmed weakly anyway, looking more apologetic about the fact than pleased. Lily, however, nodded in satisfaction. She looked entirely smug about the whole thing.

"See? New rule! If you lose, you can snog t'winner."

"Wait a second," Sirius objected, his eyes narrowing. "You can't do that. And how exactly does that help the rest of us?"

Lily grinned. She gave her eyebrows a jaunty wiggle as she picked up the deck of cards from the table and began shuffling. Halfway through a bridge, however, she lost control of the deck and most of the cards fell back onto the floor. She seemed to find that utterly hilarious and broke into another fit of giggles, asking the cards, "Now what'd you go and do that for?"

Sirius snorted.

"You're mad," he told her. Then he looked at James. "She's mad."

"She's drunk," James replied flatly, his gaze turning warily towards the girl in question. As she snickered and picked up cards, her eyes twinkled in slightly dazed amusement. James wasn't certain whether he was equally as amused by it anymore. It had all started off entertaining enough—Lily Evans getting herself smashed was not an event that came along in any frequent pattern—but the sudden snogging turn of the night had put a damper on the amusing novelty. On the one hand, he'd rather be put in a room with a million rogue Bludgers for the rest of his life than sit around all night watching Lily Evans—his Lily, no matter what reservations she might be deluding herself with now—snog his best mates. However, on the other hand, if he won…

He glanced at Lily again. She had reorganized the cards and was presently dealing them out with far less finesse than she had begun the night with, but she didn't seem to mind that. She caught her lower lip with her teeth and let the ends of her lips quirk upwards as she counted to make sure they each had seven. Her eyes flashed to James as she lifted her hand of cards and then nodded towards him to do the same. When he complied, she gave him a bright smile that did mad things to his stomach.

James sighed.

Right, then.

When Lily had sauntered into the Heads' Common Room earlier that evening, James never would have guessed that the night would lead to this. He hadn't been sure why she'd stayed at Hogwarts over Christmas hols—as far as he knew, she'd never done so before, and he had actually been rather surprised when she'd casually mentioned it a few weeks earlier—but he found he didn't mind in the least. He liked the prospect of being able to spend time around her with the castle mostly empty, and got distinct pleasure out of the possibility of being the first one to wish her a happy Christmas on the morning of the twenty-fifth. Christmas Eve Poker Night was a Marauder tradition, but it hadn't occurred to James that Lily might stumble in on them just before it began. It had also seemed quite impossible that after he'd explained the semantics of Christmas Eve's Dirty Drunken Poker and had jokingly asked if she'd care to join them, that she would agree.

"What?" James had sputtered after she'd consented, staring at her in shock. He'd thought she was kidding.

"Sure," Lily'd said again, and he'd be damned if she hadn't walked right towards them and plopped herself down on the floor next to him. He'd exchanged looks with his mates, wondering if they had any better an idea about what she was doing than he did. He found three baffled looks mirrored back at him.

"This game can get quite vicious," Remus had begun uneasily, giving Lily a half-smile. "Are you sure you want to get involved? We promise not to take it personally if you run off now."

Lily had only shrugged. "I'm a decent enough poker player. Do you think I'm afraid of a little Firewhisky? A bit of nudity?"

"Not afraid—offended," Sirius replied bluntly. "Scandalized. Outraged. Appalled by our blatant immaturity."

Lily had smiled. Without a word, she reached for the deck of cards that was lying innocently on the coffee table and in a matter of moments seemed to bring the cards to life. She shuffled expertly, bridging and waterfalling the deck so swiftly that the cards blurred in her hands. She gave them a final snap, then placed the deck back on the table. She cocked an eyebrow at Sirius.

"You don't know me very well."

James had laughed.

"Apparently," Sirius said, impressed.

Lily glanced over at James then, a satisfied sort of gleam shining in her eyes. James hadn't been able to curve the impulse to grin back.

And now, hours later, here they were.

James had to admit, she'd done pretty well for herself in the beginning. As if that initial display of cardsmanship hadn't been proof enough, Lily had established over the first few hands that she not only knew her flush from her straight, but that she was sly enough to play the altered game when, after her first lost hand, she'd carefully slipped off one of her earrings and declared that a witch's accessories were often her most important piece of clothing. They had all hemmed and hawed, but generally appreciated her cleverness. Nevertheless, for all her cunning and card skill, poker was also a game of luck, and Lily was clearly no drinker. When the cards had turned against her and she'd had run out of periphery clothing articles, Lily had turned instead to shots of Firewhisky and it'd all gone downhill from there. With her brain muddled and her most common form of communication reduced to a carefree giggle, she'd become more concerned with barraging the lot of them with silly questions about themselves and singing along with the wireless than she was with her cards. James had been amused by it at first—this was a side of Lily he rarely got to see, and he knew his mates had probably never encountered her so giddy (they didn't have the opportunity to come across her in their common room at four a.m. after an all-night study session)—but now he wasn't so sure. The image of Lily with her lips pressed against Remus's flashed through his head again. The heavy alcohol in his stomach suddenly began to feel distinctly unsettled.

Merlin, the fixes he found himself in. Weren't holidays supposed to be merry?

As James picked up his hand and considered the rubbish cards he'd been dealt, he admitted that at least one good thing would come out of this night. Sirius might think she was daft and Remus might still be recovering from the attack snog, but James was certain that his mates were having a good time with Lily there. He hadn't missed the "Brill. Fun's over," pointed look that Sirius had shot him after Lily had sat down, and the tacit "No Birds Allowed" agreement of Peter's that had had to be violated with her presence. James had gotten his fair share of shite from his mates over the years about his Lily addiction—none of them could see what he saw in her, and certainly not after so many years of less-than-cordial confrontations—but that was because they never really knew her. Before this year, he hadn't really either. But she wasn't all straight-laced stubbornness, just as he wasn't all carefree dilettante. He figured that somewhere between Lily's fourth shot and her, "If you could shag anywhere in this castle—anywhere at all —where would it be?" question to Peter, his mates had warmed up to the redheaded minx. So if all that James managed to procure after this night was a series of disturbing mental images and a minor hangover in the morning, at least he knew that the next time he chose to hang about doing rubbish Head work with Lily instead of going off gallivanting with the lads in the Forest, the answering eye rolls might be slightly more sympathetic.

"Hand over two, nutter," Sirius said, tossing his discards on the table and effectively pulling James out of his thoughts. James glanced down at his own cards again, but knew that he had more than enough time to think about what he wanted to do with them. When anyone else was dealing, the discard process was quick and fluid. With Lily, it was an interrogation.

Lily carefully dealt out two new cards from the deck, but placed her open palm firmly atop the pair, keeping Sirius from claiming them. "Sirius Black," she began with much unnecessary gravity. "What is your fav'rite Bertie Bott's?"

"Peppermint," Sirius answered quickly (they had all learned that the quicker the answer, the quicker the game could go on), but Lily's eyes sparkled and James held back a groan, already knowing what was coming.

She was practically clapping in delight. "Peppermint is my fav'rite!"

Sirius tapped his head. "Great minds."

"I like Peppermint," Remus said.

"Everyone likes peppermint," Peter scoffed.

"James doesn't."

James's head snapped towards Lily, similar words dying on his lips.

Peter blinked, flummoxed. "Truly, Prongs?"

James nodded, but Lily was already answering. Again.

"He doesn' ev'n like mint toothpaste," she said, giving her head a sad shake. "He's got this oth'r kind—whas'that other kind, James?—a red kind. It's like…cinnamon! Thasit. Right? Cinnamon. It's red. He ev'n chucks the Christmas candy canes. Can you believe that? Hates 'em! But every time he gets Bertie's, he always ke'ps the peppermint ones in t'bag even though he tosses out all t'other ones he hates cause he knows I like them. And then he puts t'bag right there on that side table! For me." Lily turned towards him, grinning winningly. She leaned over and gave his thigh an affectionate pat. "I love wh'n you do that."

"You know all that?" James asked, his voice taking on a sudden rasp. Lily blinked at the question, appearing slightly dazed and bewildered. After a moment, she gave a jerky shrug and quickly turned away from him, busying herself with lifting her palm off Sirius's cards and swiftly sliding them towards him. She immediately turned to Remus and asked how many cards he would like.

James didn't listen to Remus's answering number or Lily's toll question, nor the similar routine when it became Peter's turn. He was far too busy staring at Lily, watching as her face took on a slightly reddish hue that slowly began to fade as the question game continued. Merlin's beard, the girl drove him mad. And how the hell did she know all that rubbish about his toothpaste anyway? Was she snooping about in his loo? Not that he cared really, but he damn well hoped that she didn't expect him to ignore it—or any of the implications that came along with it, either. As far as he was concerned, they'd about run this whole I-don't-want-you-we'd-never-work business to its end. He'd freely admit that at first even he'd been a bit surprised by how well they functioned together, but it had been months now and James had lost count of how many times he'd nearly grabbed her or kissed her or any number of similar impulses. But he never did, because the only thing he knew better than the fact that Lily wanted him was the fact that she was utterly terrified of the prospect and would do just about anything to deny it. So he was patient—or he tried to be, anyway. Recently, however, his patience had been running thin. He didn't know how much longer he could take playing the same game.

But before he could focus on that game, he had a poker match to finish—one that could hopefully continue to lend some help to the bigger game.

"James? Are you staying in? How many?"

"Oh." James's eyes skipped away from Lily's inquisitive gaze and down to his cards before he grabbed a handful at random and chucked them her way. Lily carefully counted out five new cards. Before she could cover his new cards with her hand, however, James slipped his own hand on top of them. Lily gave him an annoyed look and slapped her hand atop his own, stopping it from moving. James very nearly laughed. He couldn't have planned that one better.

"What're you doing?" Lily demanded. "You haven' answered yet!"

"You haven't asked."

"I was going—" Lily stopped with another aggravated look, seeming to decide that arguing with him wasn't the least bit productive. Instead, she let out a loud puff of air, blowing a stray strand of red hair off her face, and seemed to be considering what his question would be. James wiggled his fingers beneath hers. Lily squeezed his squirming digits and suddenly burst out with, "Mistletoe!"

James cocked an eyebrow.

"Is that a question?" Peter asked.

"It's a word," Remus said.

"Perhaps it's the beginning of a question, except the Firewhisky has finally done its damage and now Evans can't talk," Sirius suggested.

"'Twas a prompt," Lily snapped irritably, shooting them all glowers. Her eyes switched back to James. She continued to play at exasperation, but the expression was undermined by the redness that had once again crept across her cheeks. James bit back a smile. "Mistletoe," she said again. "What're your feelings on it?"

"Highly in favour," James answered without thinking, giving a wide grin. He was far more concerned with Lily's red cheeks. "Any bloke with a bit of sense enjoys the holiday excuse to snog a lady fair—I've had some rather lovely memories beneath those jolly sprigs. Only gets awkward when birds get ideas, you know? Some will do anything to shove you under there and get a piece, even when we poor fellows aren't the least bit interested. They don't get the message, though."


"Hear, hear, mate."

"He's just scarred from that time he was caught underneath with Betsy Blitz."

"Wouldn't you be?"

"Oh, come on. She's not that—"

"She spit on me!"

"That was probably an accident—"

"Excuse me?" Lily's loud pronouncement cut off Remus's rather pained defense of Betsy Blitz's snogging techniques. Though they'd all been adding their two Sickles in on the subject, Lily focused her outrage upon James. "H-how…you've…stupid prat!" she cried.

James frowned. "Sorry?"

"You!" Lily shouted. "You're so…thasnot…pft!"

Her face had gone so red that her skin seemed to blend with her hair, though whether that was solely out of anger, or a mixture of crossness and embarrassment, James couldn't be sure. He didn't have the chance to delve into the matter. With little more than another put out scoff, Lily stuck her nose in the air, shoved the cards so forcefully towards him that a few of them fell to the floor, and then dealt herself two new cards before hiding her face behind her fanned out cards. She seethed in silence.

"Uh-oh," Sirius cackled. James shot him a glare. Tentatively, he nudged Lily's knee with his own.


"I have ace high," Lily announced, dropping her cards down on the coffee table, staring expectantly at each boy—except for James. She seemed to be deliberately determined to keep her eyes away from him, and hadn't even acknowledged his knee nudge. James lifted his own eyes towards the ceiling, wondering why he'd had to go and open his big mouth about the mistletoe. Merlin, he was a ponce. Why hadn't he just given the girlish answer? Some codswallop about mistletoe being fate at work? Lily would've eaten that shite up. It was no wonder why she was still out of his reach—why didn't he just give her another shove in the opposite direction?

"Pair of twos," James muttered bitterly, dropping his cards down, as well.

Sirius grinned and flashed a pair of queens. "Speaking of ladies fair."

Remus threw down his hand. "Threes."

"Pathetic," Peter announced, spreading his cards wide on the table with a triumphant flourish. "So pathetic. Take a look at this. How many diamonds would that be? Oh, yes. Five."

They all groaned as Peter laughed in smug victory—he really was the most rotten winner—but James found his disappointment escalading even greater when Lily—the loser—quickly rose to her feet with a slightly cross, "Lovely!" and was snogging Peter before James could even think up an objection.

That was getting old fast.

And from there on, it only got worse.

The next several rounds turned James's mood from sour to spoiled. If he didn't know any better, he would have thought that Lily was losing on purpose. Peter got a second snog while Sirius received his first. James received a brief reprieve when Peter was forced to hand over his left sock to Remus, then wrangled himself some liquid comfort when he found himself on the losing end and got to choose the burning comfort of Firewhisky over handing off a piece of clothing to Sirius. When it finally became Lily's turn to deal again, James was slightly drunker and a whole hell of a lot more sickened.

"I'm feeling awfully lucky," Peter preened, giving his cards an affectionate pat before picking them up off the table. If James was any judge, Peter's furrowed brow as he examined his hand proved a rather good sign that his "awfully lucky" feeling had probably just been gas.

As Lily finished dealing him his last card, James purposely grabbed for them before she could pull her hand away. Their fingers brushed. Lily froze, then retracted her fingers as if scalded. James's hazy mind considered that a victory. He was still giving himself a nice mental pat on the back when he finally lifted his cards and glanced at his hand.

Well, damn.

He shielded his face immediately, curving his surprise into a stoic facade. He glanced at his cards once more, just to make sure he hadn't been having a tipsy hallucination, but sure enough, there they were—a six, seven, eight, nine and ten of hearts. A straight flush.

James could barely hold back his excitement. Ruddy hell, this was it! He could finally stop watching Lily slobbering all over his mates and get her to slobber over him instead. He would surely win. The probability was on his side. He was counting on that, but the bigger problem was that the situation left no guarantee that Lily would be the one to lose the hand—not unless he did something to better the odds in that favour. Luckily, there was a signal for emergencies just like this one. James thanked the higher powers that he and his mates were such sly, cheating fellows.

"How many?" Lily asked Sirius, the deck of cards poised in her hand for dealing. Sirius opened his mouth to answer, but a series of not-so-subtle headshakes from James caught his attention. With deliberate movements that he hoped Lily would not pick up on, James lifted his hand to his ear and tugged.

Sirius grinned.

"Fold," he said, plopping his cards down on the table.

James grinned back.

"Me, as well," Peter said without prompting, but James had counted on that. He caught Lily frowning at the sudden folds—the game rarely encouraged such a thing unless you had truly rotten cards, seeing as only one person lost—but she didn't say anything. When she turned to Remus next, James went to give the signal again, but Remus beat him to it. Acknowledging the request with a subtle ear pull of his own, Remus shook his head sadly and shrugged.

"Looks like everyone's cards are rotten." He folded his own hand.

James's heart began to beat faster in his chest.

"I'm in," he said, trying to keep his voice even. He grabbed the two spare cards out of his pattern and tossed them down. "Two."

Lily dealt him out two new cards and pushed them towards him silently.

"What? No question?"


"I think she's cross with you, mate," Sirius said.

Lily only sniffed at the accusation, putting down the deck of cards so that she could give her own hand another glance. She scanned the cards, then lifted her eyes towards James—the first time he'd caught her doing so in quite some time, though he wasn't sure if he should be gladdened by that fact considering how suspiciously she was regarding him. Her doubts must not have been enough to crack her competitive streak, however, because instead of folding along with the rest of them, she selected three cards from her hand and swiftly replaced them with new ones.

James couldn't hold back his grin.

"Looks like it's just you and me, Evans. What've you got?"

No one could miss the haughty lift to Lily's chin and the smug smile that quirked up the ends of her lips as she dropped her cards face up upon the coffee table. James spotted a lot of black.

"Care for a co'ple of spades? I've got at leas' six."

"I'd say you've got seven there," James muttered. Lily's smile widened. She looked about ready to throw out another smart-arse comment, so James figured it was probably time to let the wind out of her sails. He dropped his own cards onto the table. "Pity your spades couldn't be in order," he smirked. "Then we could match."

Lily's mouth fell open.

The rest of them hooted and hollered in delight.

"That's…what…" Lily stared at his cards in disbelief. "You cheated!"

"You dealt!" James cried with a laugh.

But Lily was already on him, frisking his bare chest and the area around him with frantically searching fingers. James held back a groan as her hands skimmed across his body, her scent filtering through his nose.

"Wheresit?" Lily demanded. "Where's your wand?"

"With the rest of them!" James said, waving his hand towards the side table where all five of their wands presently lay untouched. He grabbed Lily's forearms to keep her from squirming, knowing that would only lead to more trouble that he wouldn't necessarily be able to hide. He held her away from him, watching her eyes continue to flicker around as her face turned a telling shade of crimson. She was shaking her head.

"Looks like it's Prongs's turn!" Peter snickered with much more bluntness than James would have preferred. He checked the urge to glare at Peter, settling instead for hoping that his other mates did the job for him while he continued to hold Lily's gaze. The girl looked positively stunned, as if the thought of snogging him had never occurred to her. James couldn't help but to feel a bit disappointed about that. But it was stupid to feel that way. Of course Lily thought about it. Perhaps even as often as he did. She was just…it was probably…

She was drunk, James decided. That was it. That was all.

He had just comforted himself with that conclusion when Lily tore herself away from him. Without her pressed against him, he suddenly felt cold.

"Lil—what are you…"

The words died in James's throat as he watched Lily stumble to her feet, grabbing the mantle above the fireplace for balance when she teetered away. She stood with her back towards them, gripping the mantle with one hand while the other seemed to be fiddling with something in front of her. It wasn't until James saw the flaps of her shirt flutter open from behind that he realised what she was doing.

She might as well have slapped him.

Merlin's beard, the girl would rather toss aside her dignity and disrobe than kiss him. She'd gone around the circle and had a damn ball snogging his mates, but when it came to him

James's gaze fell to the floor. The Firewhisky must be catching up with him. He suddenly wasn't feeling so well.

He didn't watch as Lily continued fumbling with her clothes, disregarded the bra that soon came flying his way, and grabbed the Firewhisky to pour himself another shot as Lily began buttoning her shirt back up. He was just slamming the shot down when Lily returned to her seat next to him, her shirt buttoned securely again and her arms crossed firmly over her chest, though James was relatively certain that you probably couldn't see anything. He couldn't bring himself to look, which was perhaps the most telling thing of all.

"Er." Remus scratched at the back of his head, reaching for the bottle of Firewhisky James had just all but emptied. He shook the bottle, the small amount of alcohol left inside making a faint swishing noise. "I suppose we're out."

Peter shook his head in disappointment. "I told you we should've brought the third bottle."

"Two's the cut off," James heard himself say, though hoarsely. "We're alcoholics enough as is."

"Sometimes we need a third," Sirius said, with a pointed look sent towards Lily.

James was not going to argue.

"'S late anyway," Lily put in quietly, glancing up at the clock they kept on the mantle. "Nearly midnight."

There were murmured agreements all around as they all rose to their feet and began collecting clothes. James was grateful that the alcohol was gone—he couldn't think of any other excuse that would've gotten him out of there otherwise, and he couldn't imagine sitting there next to Lily for any further extended amount of time. He told himself that he shouldn't care—tonight was no different than any other blatant rejection she'd handed him over the years—but the churning pit in his stomach wouldn't listen to that logic.

Why did he bother? Truly, what the bloody hell did he think he was going to gain from this? Because if he thought it was Lily, she'd proven time and time again that she wasn't about to let that happen. So perhaps that made him the idiot for continuing to hope, for assuming he was getting somewhere. A giant, delusional idiot.

He couldn't find his shirt, but he couldn't bring himself to care as he walked towards the bookcase that served as the entrance to the Heads' common room with his mates. Peter and Remus were arguing over which one of them had outplayed the other, while Sirius tarried along behind with James. Sirius was doffing his own shirt as they reached the bookcase, but he paused before exiting, dropping a hand onto James's shoulder.

"Stay in the dorm tonight," he said quietly, trying to sound casual about it. "It's Christmas. We'll take bets on whether my parents actually sent me something—I'm thinking it'll be a nice Dark Arts book, but then again, I'm an optimist."

"I…" James stopped. Merlin knew that he'd probably be less miserable in the company of his mates than alone in his own dorm with Lily only meters away. But he was probably double the idiot for letting that image of being the first one to wish her a happy Christmas drift back into his head again, triple the idiot for taking it seriously. In the end, he just shrugged. "Maybe."

Sirius nodded. And then there it was—the slightly more sympathetic eye roll.

Funny how unsatisfying it suddenly was to see that.

With one last wave, Sirius stepped out into the corridor, calling down the echoing hallway for the wankers down the way to hold it a tic. James sighed and closed the bookcase behind him. The room was silent now, but he still had a headache. Running a hand through his hair, he took stock of his body and reckoned he might just have a stomachache, as well. He thought he might have a some-other-bit-of-body-in-the-chest-area-ache, too, but he didn't want to think about that. He was just going to go to bed.

He turned away from the bookcase, and very nearly ran Lily over.

"Merlin—for fuck's sake, Evans, sneak up on a bloke, why don't you?"

His annoyance lasted only as long as Lily remained motionless. After that, he was far too busy trying to fend off the girl's flailing limbs to bother indulging in his own aggravation. She'd dropped her arms from over her chest in order to shove him with far more power than any tipsy girl should have been able to wield. He stumbled back, thankfully managing to catch himself on the bookcase behind him. Lily didn't let that stop her, however. With flashing eyes glaring daggers at him, she hit him again and again. James lifted his own hands in defense. That didn't stop her, either.

"What the bloody fuck are you doing?"

"D'you know"—She pounded at his chest, his shoulder—"how embarr'ssing"—and again—"in fron' of your stupid mates"—She was reaching for his face this time, but James managed to catch her wayward arms, restraining the violent limbs and holding her heaving body at bay.

"Can you—ow! For Merlin's sake, Evans, stop. I don't even know what you're yelling about!"

"Cou'dn't you've at leas'—" Lily let out a strangled sound, wrenching herself out of his grip. She stood there fuming in front of him in only her white button down and a pair of far too small shorts (James figured he must be a special sort of perverted to be noticing that when she was so clearly livid). He watched as she agitatedly shoved an errant strand of hair behind her ear, then crossed her arms over her chest and pivoted on her heel, giving him her back. "Such an arse, d'you know that? You're…ugh."

James felt his temper pique. She was the one who…and he was the arse?

He could have—perhaps should have—left it at that. Lily was obviously giving him the dismissive sniff and nose lift, but something inside of him objected to the routine, protested against the same illogical anger he'd always laughed off and ignored before. Because this time, he was cross. Maybe it was because he was still smarting from her latest snub, or maybe it was because that extra liquid courage had inspired in him a bit of impulsive stupidity, but either way, James somehow found himself striding over towards her, grabbing hold of her stiff shoulders and jerking her around to face him.

"I'm what?" he snapped, staring at her as she blinked at him in surprise. He gripped her shoulders tighter. "Go on, say it. What am I? Might as well get it all out now—Merlin knows you haven't held back your obvious disgust for me before!"

Lily bristled in indignation. "My…oh, you…" She stomped her foot petulantly. "This's all your fault!"

"My fault?"

"I shouldn' ev'n have stayed," she muttered angrily, though James thought she might be bemoaning the fact more to herself than to him. She stared at the fireplace, a deep scowl etched across her face. "I hate poker. I hate poker and I hate Fir'whiskey and I hate seeing Peter wit'out his pants…but you don't and it's Chris'mas Eve and you were with your mates and I only w-wanted…I thought maybe if you saw that they liked me, then you'd—"

Her mouth suddenly snapped shut and her eyes flickered over towards his in surprise, as if just realising what had come out of her mouth and knowing that she hadn't meant for it to.

James's hands dropped from her shoulders. His heart skipped a beat inside of his chest.

Wait a second. What had she just…

Lily spun and sped off towards her room. James was right on her heels.

"Wait a damn second, Evans! What did you just—"

"Leave me alone!"

"No, I'm not going to leave you alone! Why'd you even bother playing if you hate it all so much? Why do you care whether or not my mates like you? What were you going to say? You thought I'd what?"

His questions seemed to set Lily off, or at least enough to cause her to stop marching off towards her room and round on him when they'd just reached the area in front of her door. He nearly ran into her, she turned so abruptly. Her cheeks were flooded with an angry—or perhaps an embarrassed, James dared to hope—shade of dark crimson.

"Doesn' matter anymore, now does it?" she snapped bitterly. Then, hysterically, "I can take a message! Seeing how much you love your mistletoe, you obviously don't care much about what I was doing!"

James stared.

Mistletoe? This was about the bloody mistletoe?

"I'm sorry?" James struggled to wrap his mind around the fact that a sprig of holiday codswallop seemed to be behind all this madness. Lily didn't seem to be suffering the same plight, however. She appeared genuinely distressed over the whole thing.

"There're nicer ways to let a girl down, y'know!" she cried, and now James was certain that the red flush was out of embarrassment as Lily pulled at her lower lip with her teeth in that way she did when she was anxious. He watched as the blush crept from her cheeks slowly down along her neck, vividly vibrant compared to the white of her shirt. "The other day when I put it up…you said…so I thought…but you never did. So I got the message, arse!"

James could hardly believe what he was hearing. The other day when she put it up? What was she…

But the memory came back to him in a sudden rush. It'd been the same morning that Lily had told him that she'd be staying at Hogwarts over hols. He'd stopped off in the dorm to grab a book out of his room between classes and had found Lily in their common room hanging some holly and a batch of mistletoe over her door. He'd stopped just inside the bookcase entrance, taking in the picture. She wasn't tall enough to reach the top of the doorframe on her own, so the always partially Muggle Lily had dragged over a footstool to stand upon rather than simply levitating the decorations into place. Standing on her tiptoes, her slender body extended, she reached up to tie the sprig of mistletoe over the center of her door. James coughed. Her head turned at the sound. She gave him a bright smile.

"Sprucing up the place?" he'd drawled, cocking an eyebrow at her.

She finished tying the mistletoe in place and leaned back to examine her work. Obviously satisfied, she nodded and hopped off the footstool. "I'm here over holidays this year," she told him. "Just thought the place could use some Christmas cheer."

"Really? You're staying?" James had hoped that he didn't sound as eager as he felt.

Lily nodded again. She returned the footstool to its proper spot by the sofa.

"Me, as well," he'd said, even though he was relatively certain that she already knew that. He was still hoping for some sort of happy reaction to the news. She did smile, but that was all he got. Left with nothing much else to say on the topic without sounding like more of a pathetic panting puppy, James shifted his gaze over towards the newly hung decorations again. The mistletoe stood out amidst the rest of the holly.

"Interesting choice in decorations," he'd commented, idly shoving his hands inside his trouser pockets. Lily had merely glanced at him with mild curiosity.

"Is it?"

James nodded, stepping further into the room. "Mistletoe over your door, Evans? Is that a suggestion?"

"Do you even need a suggestion?" she'd laughed, shaking her head at him.

James shrugged and grinned. "We'll see."

That had been the end of the encounter, seeing as he'd had minutes before he had to be in class and Lily had walked off into her room soon after. James had considered a few times attempting to catch her beneath her own sprig of superstition, but had hesitated at the cliché nature of it. He was being honest earlier—he didn't usually mind the novelty of the free snog, but when he finally did shove Lily against the nearest wall and snog her senseless, he didn't want her having any excuse about why she'd snogged him back. He hadn't much thought about the mistletoe since.

Judging by the way Lily was staring at him then, however, with her green eyes angry but just a little bit vulnerable and the red tint of her skin fading ever so slightly with the progressing seconds, Lily had. And considering he'd had to go and mouth off about his mistletoe snogging earlier, she must have been wondering why he hadn't bothered to try and do the same with her. Clearly, she didn't get the message at all.

Slowly, James glanced up the sprig still hanging above her door. Then his gaze shifted back down to her.

"You…you put that up for me?" he asked.

"No," Lily snapped instantly, crossing her arms over her chest and staring moodily off to her left. The anger was forced. "I don' bloody care about you."

"You wanted me to snog you?"

"No!" Lily cried again, but it didn't sound as if she meant it in the least. Suddenly, everything in the room seemed to grow brighter, fresher. James grinned, feeling his heart soar inside his chest. She'd put up the mistletoe for him! But then why hadn't she…

"If you wanted me to kiss you so badly, why the bloody hell didn't you do it during the game?" he asked, baffled.

Lily shot him a disdainful look. "Right there in front of everyone?"

"You didn't seem to have a problem kissing anyone else!"

"You're different."

James's grin widened. "I am?"

Lily grumbled something under her breath, but she didn't contradict the statement. Her eyes shifted from the left, down to the floor, anywhere but at him, but James didn't care. He took a step closer to her, forced his feet into her range of sight. He heard her sharp intake of breath.

"Go 'way," she muttered, still refusing to look at him. "I don' want to talk to you."

"I wasn't thinking when I said that rubbish about the mistletoe earlier," James told her softly. "I didn't snog you beneath the mistletoe, but that doesn't mean that I don't want to snog you, Lily. Honestly. Are you daft?"

"Then why didn't you?" Lily snapped, her eyes finally lifting to meet his. She was blushing again. "All these days it's been there—and you said—I practic'ly told you—but you didn'."

James lifted his hand to cup her cheek, brushing his fingertips over the warm silk of her skin. "Because you're different, Lil," he whispered.

Lily eyes widened. She opened her mouth to reply, but before she could get any of the words out, James leaned down and kissed her.

The kiss was hot, drugging. She tasted like Firewhisky and chocolate, a logical tang considering the game and the sweets they'd been munching on earlier, but James found the bitter-sweet combination entirely intoxicating—or maybe that was just Lily, who let a small noise escape from her lips when he'd surprised her with the kiss, but didn't let that stop her from quickly raising herself up on her toes to press her mouth more snuggly against his, her arms instantly lifting to lock around his neck. James couldn't think, could barely breathe, considered the fact that this might be a drunken hallucination before Lily's tongue slipped into his mouth and the time for considering was over. He pushed her back against her door, further deepening the kiss. His fingers drifted from her face down to her shirt, clenching the soft material in his closed fists. Lily sighed into his mouth.

When she finally moved her mouth off his (Merlin knew James was not the one to do it), the two of them stared at one another, and James wondered what she was thinking. Thankfully, he didn't have to wait too long to find out.

"Finally," I said, pressing another quick kiss against his mouth. She was smirking. "You take forever."

"Me?" James snorted. "I'm sorry, can we think about that one for a moment?"

"Oh, pft. You're missing t'point."

"No, I think—"

But Lily didn't let him finish, kissing him again instead. He didn't complain about the interruption. In fact, he'd let her have her way with things for quite however long she'd like. It was really the least he could do, gentleman that he was. He happily ravished her mouth.

"James?" she whispered against his lips a few seconds later. James hummed an absent reply, nibbling at her lower lip. Lily giggled. "James, guess what?"

James tried not to groan. "What?" he asked.

Lily giggled again. She lifted herself onto her toes so that she could whisper in his ear.

"I'm not wearing a bra."

James thought this was going to be a very happy Christmas, after all.