Author's Notes: Written for the lilyjames_fest on Livejournal. Many thanks go to Olivia for her quick betaing skills.
There was no worse feeling in the world than the one that came with the knowledge that you've royally fucked up. James knew that he'd somehow managed to do nothing but fuck up royally since he'd first woken that morning.
"Fuck," he'd murmured when he opened his eyes and the face of his alarm clock was flashing a blurry red. He swiped his glasses off the nightstand and shoved them clumsily onto his face. With his vision cleared, the blurred flashes of red slowly morphed into coherent words.
VERY LATE, TOSSER.
The timepiece didn't even have the decency to be polite about it.
Neither did James. This time, he yelled it. "Fuck!"
With a series of equally as impolite profanities, James rolled out of bed in nothing but his boxer shorts and proceeded to stumble about his dormitory, still more asleep than awake. He didn't have time for a shower, which made him regret his decision to opt out of one last night. He grappled blindly for any article of clothing scattered about his floor, lifting each to his nose to judge whether it could pass for clean before giving up on that idea all together and throwing on whatever he could find. The clock had finally decided to stop being such a bugger and do its proper job—8.25. Fuck—as James jabbed his feet into his trainers. He grabbed his wand and raked a quick hand through his hair before slamming out of the dormitory and tripping hastily down the stairs.
"Lil!" He paused in the Heads' common room only long enough to call her name and glance towards the staircase that led to her rooms. Her door was firmly shut. "Lily!"
James knew it was worthless even before he'd hollered the second time. Lily was an early riser and was undoubtedly strolling about the castle with her dim mates by now. He wasn't scheduled to meet her until noon. He had no idea where she'd be until then.
"Fuck." He stormed out of the dorms in an all-out sprint.
He knew he was in trouble the second he skidded into the Potions classroom and Filch was there instead of Slughorn. James would have groaned if he could have caught his breath enough to allow it. Over in the corner, Peter was already scrubbing cauldrons with a sad looking rag. The pile of dirty equipment next to him touched the low ceiling.
"So glad you decided to join us, Potter." Filch's yellowed smile was more delighted than James could recall seeing for quite some time. "Detention began at eight."
"Head business," James replied automatically, never so grateful for the on-hand excuse that curse of a badge provided for him. He was still breathing raggedly as he stepped slowly into the classroom. "Sorry about that. I'll just join Pete, yeah?"
James should have known when he saw Peter wince and then turned back to Filch to see that the caretaker's crooked grin had yet to diminish that this wasn't going to be good. Some part of his mind must have registered it, but the other bits were too focused on the fact that this was too perfect a day for anything to go wrong. Despite the waking up late, despite the morning detention, James was meeting Lily Evans in Hogsmeade at twelve o'clock and nothing but blue skies were filling his day.
"Leave Pettigrew to his own work," Filch said, staring at James with nothing less than elated evil. "I've got something else for you."
James then proceeded to clean every remaining piece of equipment in the Potions dungeons.
With a toothbrush.
"Are you mad, coming late?" Peter hissed at him when Filch originally allowed them to work alongside one another. James glared enviously at Peter's previously pathetic looking rag. "Filch practically wet himself with every going second you weren't here!"
"I didn't mean to." James scrubbed viciously at a cauldron with his small, bristled tool. "I thought Slughorn would be here! How was I supposed to know we'd be stuck with Filch?"
Peter grimaced. "We'll be here all afternoon."
"We can't! I've got to meet Lily at noon!"
Peter eyes went wide, but had only managed to open his mouth before Filch shushed them and sentenced James to another side of the room.
It was a long, miserable morning. James no longer thought that his and Peter's exploding Vickers Serum was such a brilliant accomplishment. He reckoned Peter was regretting that particular stroke of genius somewhere about the middle of his tower of cauldrons, as well. But the two of them scoured and scrubbed until their joints ached. James worked furiously, determined that Filch wouldn't ruin his day. When this had only been a morning detention with Slughorn, James had figured he'd be out of there by ten-thirty the latest. He would have plenty of time to waste before he needed to be down in Hogsmeade to meet Lily. He hadn't factored in waking up late or Filch's mad rampage. Any time James saw it fit to complain that Filch was punishing them unfairly, the caretaker had only to point out that it was fair retribution for James's late arrival. There was very little James could do to argue with that. His only option was to do as much as Filch could throw at him and hope the arse depleted his list of tasks before Lily could miss him. James didn't even want to think about what the consequences would be if he were late to their first date.
Not for lack of trying, Filch finally ran out of things for them to clean at half past eleven. The moment that the crotchety caretaker grudgingly admitted that there was nothing left for James to scrub, he was out of there as fast as his legs could carry him. Conscious of the fact that he still had to make it up to the Heads' common room, spell away his body odor, change his clothes, and get to Hogsmeade by twelve, James didn't let his aching body parts or slightly morose disposition slow him down. He had waited years—years—for Lily to give him a shot. There was no way the fates would be so cruel as to make him late.
He realised now that that was probably his first true fuck-up. Who questioned the fates? Wasn't that just asking for it?
James had been too consumed with thoughts of the upcoming date to consider any of that. As he dashed back up to his room and plowed through his trunk and closet like a tornado on a warpath, he thought of Lily and a familiar burst of anticipation flipped inside his stomach. He hadn't quite believed his own luck when the two of them had been paired together as Heads at the beginning of the year. James had negotiated a sort of peace with the fiery redhead at the end of last term, but when Lily discovered they'd be working—and living—together, she'd been adamant about her need for a more functioning relationship.
"I won't have to hex you in your sleep if you don't give me reason to," she told him simply, giving him a good, stern look as they sat together in their common room the first night back. He'd dashed down to the kitchens and had one of the elves send up a few mugs of cocoa. Lily cradled hers between her palms and blew absently at the rising steam. "I'd appreciate not having to dread coming back to my own dormitory."
"Remus says that I was the best roommate he had," James replied, nodding sincerely. He didn't think it necessary to add that Remus only conceded that particular title to him because Sirius freely stole everyone's belongings and Peter's snoring was so atrocious that it broke through Silencing Charms. James only shot Lily a winning smile and watched as the smallest of returning grins twitched her lips.
It hadn't been all smooth sailing, of course—nothing ever was with Lily. The girl was positively barmy about her schedules and order and easily lost it whenever James would accidently blotch up some instruction she gave or forgetfully left his things lying about the common room. One evening after Quidditch practice, James had dumped his equipment on the couch before heading up to his room for a quick shower. He'd come back thirty minutes later to find that Lily had charmed his broomstick, gloves, pads, and bag to the ceiling. A note hug from his broom's bristles: "FIND A BETTER PLACE FOR THEM, OR I WILL." It had taken three days for the Sticking Charm to wear off.
But for all their friction, James couldn't deny that there was just something about Lily Evans that got his blood racing. She was sharp, opinionated, and could drive a bloke completely spare, but she was also smart as a whip, wickedly funny, and pretty enough to distract him from even the simplest of tasks. James had known all of this before, but working constantly alongside the girl had only managed to elevate his infatuation with her. He'd backed off at first, determined not to ruin the easy camaraderie that had sprung up between them. He liked being able to talk to her, tease her, coax her into the occasional Quidditch tutorial that she adamantly denied enjoying. He didn't have to curb his impulses around her anymore, even if he knew that she'd tell him off for them just as often as she laughed. It was a constant push and pull, but one that he looked forward to—and one he reckoned Lily looked forward to, as well.
But Lily wasn't like normal birds. She didn't blush, or giggle, or bat her eyelashes to let a bloke know she was game. She was all about the subtleties, and there was just something about their interactions that James knew wasn't strictly platonic. He'd been pondering the repercussions of bringing it up for days before he actually managed to bulk up the courage to say something.
"I have a hypothetical for you." It was an early November evening, slightly chilly even with a fire blazing in the hearth. The two of them were holed up inside the common room going over Prefect schedules. His stomach was jittering like mad, but he kept his voice light, steady.
"Hm?" Lily didn't even glance up from the parchment she was diligently examining. Papers rustled as she consulted another schedule and compared it to the one already in her hand. She was lying back on the couch, her socked toes hanging over the armrest and bouncing around to their own internal beat. James sat on the floor, watching her carefully.
"So say there's this event thing, yeah? Very official. Very school-driven. And considering we're both those things—official and school-driven, I mean—do you reckon that hypothetically we might be required to go?"
"You don't mean that awful fete the Defense Club is trying to put together, do you?" Lily wrinkled her nose in distaste, finally turning her head towards him. "It's going to be a disaster. Eli Hobbes has no idea how to run a club, let alone plan a function for one. Who allowed that anyway? Can't we rescind his position?"
"Hobbes became president because he's a stodgy brownnoser who laps at Professor Milton's feet," James replied flatly, absently fiddling with a quill lying on the coffee table. His eyes didn't leave Lily's. "But I didn't mean that event. I meant a different one."
Lily's eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Is there something else scheduled?"
"Let's call it more of an outing than an event."
"More of an—oh." She froze, her body tensing as it dawned on her just what event he was referring to. James held his breath, waiting to see what she'd do. His mind conjured up any number of reactions, but Lily was nothing if not unpredictable. After a moment, she slowly shifted out of her lying position, propping herself up on her elbows. She didn't look cross, merely contemplative. "Hypothetically, are we speaking about Hogsmeade?" she asked.
His heart thrumming hard against his chest, James gave a short nod.
Lily didn't move. "And hypothetically, if we were required to go on such an outing, the assumption is that we might as well bear it together, yes?"
"Share the pain," James returned, trying to joke. "You know how it is. All for one."
"And one for all," Lily finished, but she didn't share James's teasing tone. She pursed her lips, her eyes narrowing slightly on him. Then, without preamble, "So this is you asking me out?"
James thought about that for a moment. "It's me asking if it's all right for me to be asking you out," he finally decided, figuring that was as good an answer as any.
"You're asking permission?" A ghost of a smile pulled at Lily's lips. "That's new."
"I figured I ought to go with something new, seeing as past attempts have proven so successful."
"It wasn't really the execution so much as the blighter who was doing the asking."
James's stomach sank. "Right."
"I never understood why someone who could do so much cared so little," Lily said, lifting herself up into a sitting position. "You've so much potential. So many times I wondered what in the hell goes through that head of yours. What makes you act like an arse when you could be so much better?"
So this was going to be one of those, James thought, feeling the familiar cloak of disappointment settle over him. One of the refusals with a tacked on lecture. How long had it been since he'd heard one of those? Funny how the blow didn't soften with age.
"Sometimes I think I hated you for that," Lily continued quietly, entirely ignoring his attempt at interrupting. She leaned against her bent knees, watching him with an unreadable expression. "More than anything else, that's what always got to me about you—all that presence and charm, and you chose to waste it away on vicious pranks and wisearse cracks. And you don't even care."
Flinching slightly, James felt his defenses start to bulk up. He started absently shuffling through papers, unable to look at her. "You know, I really don't need the sad story on what a git I am. A simple no would have done. You can quit it there."
"What if I wasn't going to say no?
James's head snapped up. "Sorry?"
"What if I wasn't going to say no?" For the first time that James could remember, a thread of pink stained Lily's pale cheeks. He sat up straighter, his pulse racing.
"Does that mean…?"
Lily quelled her embarrassment by shooting him a pseudo-agitated look. "Do you know how long I've been waiting for you to get around to this? If you'd made me say no to Benjy Fenwick and then didn't bother asking me, I'd probably have hexed you something fierce."
"Fenwick asked you to Hogsmeade?" James made a mental note to push the prat down a flight of steps.
"Some people are timelier than you," Lily replied, lying back down on the couch. She lifted the schedule up and began skimming it again, but this time, a true smile marred her face. James was on his feet in a second. He cleared the coffee table resting between them with an awkward hopping movement, but when he found himself towering over Lily next to the couch, he forgot what he'd meant to say. She quirked an eyebrow at him. James crouched down so that their faces were level.
"Go out with me?" he said.
Lily laughed. "Sure."
And that had been it, simple as that. After weeks, months, years, Lily had finally said yes. James had envisioned the moment a million times, and he'd figured that when—if — it finally happened, there'd be a lot of drama—cheering, applause, certainly a fair number of bombastic exclamations bursting out of his mouth. But he hadn't let out even a single delighted cry, hadn't even kissed her, though every fiber of his being had been aching to do so. He'd just flashed her a returning smile that had fairly cracked his face with its enthusiasm, then went back to going over schedules.
Things had been changing slowly since then. James knew that Lily had preferred to keep the knowledge of their upcoming date away from the general Hogwarts public, but it wasn't long before they found out anyway. James had received many congratulatory pats on the back and pointed comments about tenacity winning out in the end, but it surprised even him how much all that bothered him. He'd been hearing for years that he'd have to change in order to win Lily, but by his estimation, he hadn't done much of that. Something in him must have shifted at some point, however, because he knew that two years ago, he would have been reveling in the attention garnered by Lily's yes. Now he only wanted to shrug them off, tell all the wisearse commenters to bugger off and mind their own, then find Lily and make their plans in private. Lily had laughed when he'd confessed as much to her.
James hadn't been nervous about the date until he'd woken up this morning to see that bloody timepiece yelling at him. As he performed a Cleansing Charm on himself and hoped that was enough to at least mask the stench and grime off him, he accepted for the first time that he might not make it down to Lily in time. She would be livid. How long would she wait? Five minutes? Ten? James threw off his clothes and grabbed the first clean Oxford he found hanging in his closet. He shrugged on the pair of trousers that he and Remus had spent several painful minutes attempting to press properly the night before and it was only then that he caught sight of the window and saw that it was pouring outside. He groaned.
He was dashing out of the Heads' common room by 11:55, taking every shortcut he knew down to the Entrance Hall, knowing that any passageway he took into Hogsmeade would take just as long as the carriages would. He skidded into the mostly empty hall just as noon rolled around. All but sprinting for the doors, James was so blind to his surroundings that he didn't see the girl coming inside until he'd literally plowed into her.
The little blond head struck his chest and James grabbed her shoulders to keep from taking them both down. The girl was sopping wet, and James felt the moisture transferring over to him a second after he had the wits to pull away. Apologies were pouring out of him, his feet already looking to lunge, when he realised that he knew his wet victim.
"Fuck! Sorry. I—Olivia?"
The blond head lifted, revealing the familiar face of Lily's fourth-year tutoree, Olivia Thurson. The girl spent hours in the Heads' common room talking Charms with Lily, crossing paths with James often. At that moment, she didn't even remotely resemble the cheerful girl James had once helped with her Shield Charms. Besides the fact that she looked quite like a drowned cat, her face was blotched red and scrunched up unattractively.
"Oh. Sorry, James," she said in a small voice, sounding like she might be holding her breath. James heard the clock quit striking twelve. He glanced miserably outside, then down at the equally miserable looking Olivia. And because she was Lily's and because maybe he'd changed more than he'd accounted for, James forced his feet to stay put long enough to ask, "You all right there, Thurson?"
That's when the girl launched herself at him, wailing uncontrollably.
James had never wished so hard to be the son of a bitch who would have run.
Now soaked thoroughly, James listened as Olivia explained in garbled crying about how some tosser called Frank had asked her to Hogsmeade, only to embarrass her thoroughly by ditching her publically at the last second for some slag called Marta. It took quite awhile to get that much out of her and even then, the rest of the story was put on hold for another bout of hysterics. James patted her back and listened to her incoherent sobbing with as much patience as he could muster, all the while surreptitiously keeping an eye on his wristwatch. 12:05. 12:10. 12:15.
"W-what am I s-supposed to do?" Olivia wailed, still fisting the back of James's cloak like a bloody lifeline. He was fairly certain she was mopping up her tears and wiping her nose with the front of his white shirt. He reminded himself that he was a kind, caring bloke and gave her sopping curls a few pats.
"You carry on, love. Frank sounds like scum. And he'll ditch this Marta soon enough because that's what scum does. You're better than both put together. Truly."
He didn't know where the words came from or why they stuck that particular time, but Olivia's face quit burrowing into his chest and she looked up at him with shining eyes.
"You think so?" she sniffed, finally unclenching one of her death grips on his cloak in order to wipe at her eyes. James took the moment to put some space between them, but he couldn't quite make himself ditch her when she was still looking so sad.
"Absolutely," he said, and drudged up a nice smile for her. She managed a wobbly something back, and James repressed the loud cheer when her final vice grip on him eased. She used two hands to bat at her cheeks now.
"Oh, Merlin. Look at me, sobbing all over you. How mortifying."
Mortifying for him, James thought, but outwardly, he just gave Olivia another few pats. He was a good patter.
"No harm done," he said, but glanced down at his previously clean shirt and the painstakingly pressed trousers and maybe wanted to scream a little. He checked his wristwatch again—12:19. Fuck.
"Lily's so lucky," Olivia went on, twirling a bit of her hair with her finger. "You're so nice. You'd never ditch a girl like that prat Frank's done."
James let out an unsteady laugh. "Not purposely. But I was supposed to meet Lily at noon, so—"
Olivia's hand flew over her mouth. "Oh, no! I've kept you! And look, I've got you all sopping, as well! Oh no, oh no, oh no. Lily's going to be so cross—"
"I'll find a way to cool her heels," James cut in quickly, lest the girl burst into tears for another twenty minutes over his ruined date. Besides, if anyone got to sob, it was him. "But I'd better dash." He hooked a thumb towards the front doors. The tiniest niggling sense of honor left in him had the decency to ask, "You sure you'll be all right?"
Olivia's blond head bobbled wildly. "Oh, yes, I'll be fine. You go! Tell Lily it was all my fault! I'm sorry!"
James left the hall and dove into the rain with the sounds of her apologies still echoing behind him. His cloak provided little protection from the pounding rain, even in the slight distance it took to get to a carriage. Drenched students rushed past him on their way back to the castle, but James weaved through them with ease. He was soaked by the time he managed to hole himself inside a carriage, jumping into the first available vehicle he found. It seemed to fit right along with his spectacular day that the carriage he selected would be impossibly slow and filled to the brim with Slytherin girls.
He decided that another one of his fuck-ups was probably not turning around right then and there.
Instead, he spent the fifteen minutes it took to get to Hogsmeade ignoring disdainful glares from Hattie Cross and Cate Avery and swiping away Meagy Harper's friendly hands as she slid up next to him and not-so-secretly attempted to fondle his thigh with her pointy fingernails.
James stared resolutely at the carriage ceiling and prayed for it all to end.
When it finally did and the carriage jolted to a stop, James threw open the carriage door and was out of there like a shot. He slipped and slid his way towards the Three Broomsticks, not caring what state he was in any longer as long as it was semi-whole and near Lily within the next two minutes. He barged past people and rounded corners on hydroplaning trainers, but the door of the Three Broomsticks was up ahead and he was only forty minutes late. Lily would still be there. She had to still be there. This was their date. She'd be there.
His entrance into the quaint pub was anything but graceful. He skidded more than stepped, brought more wetness in than he kept out. Standing in the doorway like a sopping fool, he squinted through his rain-laden glasses and searched blindly for any flash of red. He found one, but couldn't be sure it was her—wildly thought it couldn't be her, because who was that hulk of black sitting across from her? James grabbed his glasses off his face and gave them a quick swipe with his shirt. Through the smeared glass, his eyes focused.
Everything went cold.
James strode over to the table, suddenly furious—furious that the two hadn't even bothered to look up when he entered, furious that she would do this to him, furious that he'd done this to her, furious about it all and everything and what the bloody hell did she think she was doing?
They finally glanced up when he was standing next to the table, excess rain from his drowned body dripping onto the wooden table. Lily was silent. Snape almost smiled.
"That's my seat," James said coldly, glaring. Snape didn't budge. James was about to say something more when Lily's voice cut through the air like a whiplash.
"Don't move," she said to Snape, holding up a stilling hand in his direction. She turned to James, an eerily stony expression freezing her face. Her eyes were like ice chips. "It was your seat forty minutes ago. It's not anymore."
James felt something inside him sink, but his indignation won out over his depression. "Are you shitting me with this, Lily? It's a fucking monsoon out there! I was late! I had detention, and Filch was a cockpot, and Olivia wouldn't stop crying, and Meagy Harper kept trying to feel me up—"
"What?" Lily snapped.
"Oh, that's a lovely story, Potter," Snape said, his voice an amused monotone. James watched him shoot a pointed look at Lily. "Such a winner you've picked. So glad he's changed."
"Shut your mouth, Snivellus, before I shut it for you," James snapped.
Snape's eyes glinted. "Is that a threat, Head Boy? And in front of all these witnesses, too. Go on and hex me. It's nothing she hasn't seen before."
"Bloody bastard—" James's hand went automatically for his wand. Snape's did the same, the Slytherin already rising partially to his feet. Lily jumped up instantly, slamming her way between them. James pressed up against her, feeling her hand plow into his chest.
"Stop!" she cried, emitting a rather large burst of strength for someone so little as she successfully pushed Snape back into the chair and held James at bay. She whirled on Snape first, sticking an accusatory finger in his face. "You, keep out of this! It's none of your bloody concern! And you—" Lily turned on him slowly, and James didn't know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that she looked somewhat contained despite the splotchy redness of her face. When her finger jabbed him painfully in the chest, he figured it was a bad thing. "You have some nerve," she finally said, her voice barely above a whisper.
James stared, knowing her well enough to see the flash of hurt behind the quiet anger. The fight quickly slipped out of him as he realised just how profoundly he'd fucked up this time.
"I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I didn't—"
"I don't care." Lily dropped her hand from his chest, turning swiftly to grab her cloak off her vacated chair. "I don't bloody care. About either of you. So go blast each other's heads off. Go drown one another in the lake. See if I give a damn."
"Bugger off." She shook off his half-hearted grip, shoving past him in her clicking heels and her short black dress and whipping her cloak around her shoulders. James made another lame attempt to stop her, but Lily was having none of it. She stormed past him and out the door without looking back.
Fuck, was all James could think. Fuck.
"Sometimes you make it too easy, Potter. I didn't even have to do the work. You did it all for me."
James felt the words prickle at the back of his neck like a cold wind. His fingers clenched at his sides, his restraint tenuous at best. He stared unblinking at the door Lily had just disappeared out of, some part of him finding it necessary to keep that focus, remember her—Lily. Lily.
"Do you think she'll give you the time of day again after this? You've fucked up royally, Potter. Knew you would."
Holding onto his control with every bit of will he had—Lily, Lily—James glanced over his shoulder at Snape.
"Not all of us have blotched up as many times as you have," he said. "I'm not stupid enough to let her go."
And with those parting words, despite the wealth of unresolved fury pitted deep in his stomach, begging him to grab the tosser by his throat and never stop squeezing, James clenched his fists at his sides, let out a short breath, and strode towards the door.
Oh, he'd fucked up royally, all right. But he could still fix it. He could.
He found her in their common room, sitting in the window seat on the far side of the room, staring blankly out the rain-splattered window. She was smoking a cigarette. He remembered the first time he'd caught her doing that—one evening after a particularly vicious first Prefects meeting—and the delighted surprise he'd felt that perfect Lily Evans had her vices, as well. He'd teased her about it for ages, hemmed and hawed as she insisted she only did it in dire situations. She hadn't been lying about that. He could recall barely a handful of moments after that first one where he'd seen her even contemplating the small, white pack. Apparently, this situation was dire enough to have warranted the release of the hated nicotine aids. James registered that fact with a certain amount of dread. He'd given her some time to cool off before he'd sought her out, but perhaps he hadn't waited quite long enough.
"Leave," she told him without looking, the single word a cold slap in the face. James took it in stride, but took a step further into the room.
"Are you even going to let me explain? Apologise?" he asked.
"Will it matter?" Lily shot back. She took a drag of her cigarette, released the smoke into the air in a single, wispy stream.
James took another step closer to her. "I don't know. You tell me."
Lily didn't answer straight away, seemingly content to just sit and smoke her cigarette in silence. James eyed her carefully as he moved further into the room, shedding his still sopping cloak as he went. She was sitting with her legs crossed, one elbow resting across her bent knee, the other propped upwards for easy access to the cigarette. Her hair had been pulled back into some coiled thing at the back of her neck earlier, but now the slightly damp locks lay free over her shoulders, hanging partially over her face. She didn't react as he drew closer, so James pressed his luck and continued walking until he'd reached the window seat. He dragged over a chair and dropped himself into it, careful not to brush her. After a moment, Lily turned to look at him. She stuck the cigarette into her mouth.
"What sort of shambles did you and Sev leave the Three Broomsticks in?" she asked flatly, exhaling again. "Did you leave his bloodied body to litter the floor?"
"I don't know where Snape is," James answered honestly, waving away the cigarette smoke with his hand. When Lily merely lifted her eyebrow, James went on. "I left. Almost straight after you. I didn't touch him."
Lily snorted indelicately. "Right."
"You don't believe me?"
"Why should I?"
That stung. James held back the flinch. "You're angry. I get it. But if you'd just listen—"
Lily sprung to her feet. "Listen? Listen? I don't want to listen. Do you have any idea how much of a prize idiot I felt like today? Waiting around for an hour for you to show up, everyone coming in and out of that stupid pub knowing exactly who I was waiting for and whispering about why you weren't there? Sev coming along and rightfully throwing it in my face?"
"It wasn't my fault!" James cried, rising to his feet, as well. "For Merlin's sake, Lil, don't you think I would have been there if I could?"
"I don't know!" Lily cried, throwing her hands up in defeat. "That's the thing, isn't it? I have no bloody idea what you're doing. I have no bloody idea whether this is all just some stupid game to you—whether I'm just some stupid game to you and have finally gone mad enough to let you play. Merlin knows it seems like something you would have done."
"Is that what Snape said?" James asked, feeling his temper start to boil. "Is that what all this is about? That prat?"
Lily glared at him. "No, that's not what this is about. But for all his bull, the idiot does have a point. How the hell do I know you've changed? Still getting detention, still strolling into places when you feel like it, still picking stupid, insignificant fights with Sev—"
"You don't, all right?" James was now glaring back at her, the words that he'd kept in for some time somehow finding themselves pouring out of him at a rapid speed. "You don't know if I've changed—hell, I don't know if I've changed! But like it or not, Lily, this is what I am. This is what you get. Me. Take it or leave it. I'm messy and I'm late and I get a laugh out of blowing up my potions in class and I don't mind getting detention—unless it keeps me from going to Hogsmeade with you, like it did this morning. That was my fault. But I didn't know that Filch would be the one there and I didn't know he'd make me scrub the dungeons from top to bottom and I didn't know that I'd wake up late and make it all worse!"
Lily crossed her arms over her chest. "That's not—"
"No. Let me finish." James raked a hand through his hair, suddenly feeling hot, compressed. The words kept coming, anyway. "I was sprinting through the bloody castle to get there at noon, but then I ran into Olivia and the girl is bloody crying all over me about some ponce called Frank and what was I supposed to do? Leave her there sobbing in the Entrance Hall? Politely inform her I had places to be? No. I thought, 'Well, that's not what Lily would do, is it?' and I stuck around to pat the girl's shoulders a bit. So then when she's finished, I dash out into the Great Flood and am shoved into the slowest moving carriage in all of existence with a bunch of Slytherin bints who are set on murdering or fondling me—and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure which one I would have preferred!"
"And just when that's finally through, I finally get to the Three Broomsticks, only to find that you've secluded yourself in the corner with Snape of all people, undoubtedly sharing a lunch and discussing what a horrible git I am! So you're going to have to forgive me if the drowned cat effect had me slightly ornery!"
"Are you finished?" Lily asked.
"No," James said, but the way his breathing was going kind of raggedy and the best of his fight seemed to be slowly seeping out of him, it appeared as if maybe he was close. He pushed on, anyway. "You want the truth, Lil? The honest truth? I have no bloody idea if I've changed. Probably haven't. I'm a royal fuck-up and that's probably never going to change. But I'm a royal fuck-up who thinks you're perfect and wants to take you out and who didn't punch Snape because I reckoned that would give me the best chance at having another go at that. And a bloke has to hope that that counts for something."
James dropped himself down on a nearby couch in defeat. He felt tired, deflated, but also a bit accomplished. He was a fuck-up. Of course, he was. But he was a fuck-up who could occasionally make things right and that's what he hoped to do here, now. Make it right. If Lily would only let him.
James lifted his head and took a moment to examine the girl in question, see if she might be looking cross, or stunned, or disgusted, or maybe a bit of all three. By his estimation, she didn't fit any of the above. He just wasn't so sure what she did fit.
He watched as she slowly made her way towards him, stopping for a moment to put out her cigarette in the ashtray she'd set on the coffee table. Smoke rose from the extinguished stick, and James watched that for a moment. It seemed less exhausting than watching Lily. But soon he didn't have a choice because she was standing right in front of him, blocking his vision of anything else.
"Finished now?" she asked.
James fell against the cushions, lolling his head back against the sofa. He closed his eyes and gave a short nod.
"Good," Lily said, a moment before she straddled him.
James's eyes flew open.
"If we're going for the honest truth here," she started slowly, her knees pushing against his hipbones, her already short dress riding up impossibly high, "I suppose it's only fair to admit that I'm a royal fuck-up, too."
James murmured something dazedly, only partially paying attention to her words as her fingers made a casual trail up his chest. Oh, hell, he thought. Oh, fuck.
"I have an impossible temper, and I can't take it when things are out of order." Her fingers drifted higher, to his shoulders. "I hold grudges. And I assume too much. Sometimes I lie. I let you believe that Sev had been waiting with me all along instead of having just sat down moments before you came in. And I spent the whole time defending you."
James gulped visibly. "You did?"
Lily nodded. Her arms weaved around his neck. "I smoke. And I steal food from the Great Hall. And sometimes, I sneak in your room, just to see what you've got in there."
James lifted an eyebrow at that admission, but Lily only smiled.
"I don't want you to change, but I reckon you've done a bit of it anyway. I'm hoping you don't want me to change either, because this is what you're going to get. This is what I am. Me. Take it or leave it."
James paused for a moment as he processed the familiar words shot back at him, the feel of Lily warm body against him, her face so close he could feel her breath against his cheek.
"I suppose I'll take it," he said.
Lily smiled. "Good answer."
He wasn't sure who moved first, or how much distance had actually been left to cover, or anything at all really as their mouths finally connected. His fingers gripped at her sides, then slowly moved up to cradle her face as their lips pushed hard against one another's, more frenzied then he'd intended. Her skin was soft, but her mouth was sweeter, and then James stopped thinking of body parts and just let it be. He felt or heard her sigh into his mouth, tasted her—the smoke, the Butterbeer she'd been drinking earlier—and relished in the feel of it. She gripped his hair, lifted herself up as she pushed his head back further and created a new angle. He kissed her harder, then softer, playing with the friction of their mouths.
"Haven't fucked up this," Lily giggled, the vibrations against his mouth an interesting sensation.
"Let's keep going. It's bound to happen eventually," James said.