"You're staring at Potter again," Alice told me, dropping into the vacant seat at my side. I jumped guiltily, feeling my face flush. Curse my stupid pale skin.
The rest of the Herbology greenhouses were filling up slowly, and Ravenclaws and Gryffindors alike were milling around, trying to find seats. Potter was reclined in a chair two benches away, chatting amiably to Sirius Black, who was perched on top of the table beside him, kicking one leg dangerously close to a stray venomous tentacula.
"I'm not staring," I muttered defensively. She smirked.
"No, now you're blushing."
"Shut up. I'm just… I still don't understand how he managed to become Head Boy." This was a question with which I had been wrestling for a good fortnight now, and I still could not come up with a reasonable answer.
"Well… he's super-smart, cocky, a strong leader, thoroughly fanciable, and you can't deny he's got charisma," Mary arrived at my side, collapsing onto the chair on my left. "I say, why not?"
A small frown appeared between my eyebrows as I watched Potter give a shout of laughter at something Sirius had just said. Remus, I noticed, was smiling too, albeit absently. He was looking peaky, I noticed. Must be that time of the month.
Something Mary had just said suddenly registered with me. "James Potter is not fanciable."
"Tell that to every other girl in our year, then," Mary replied coolly.
"There's nothing attractive about being a show-off," I said loftily, flicking open my textbook and rifling through the pages as though I didn't have a care in the world.
"Sure there is, Evans."
I turned around to see Sirius Black standing at my shoulder. He looked, as always, annoyingly handsome. It was effortless for him, just like everything else in life. Him and James, they had it so easy.
"Hi, Sirius," Mary muttered, blushing slightly.
He shot her a crooked grin, raising his eyebrows suggestively. "Alright, Mary?"
I turned to my friend, busy playing with a strand of her long dark hair, and gave her a reproachful look. "What's up, Sirius?"
"Does something have to be up for me to come over to speak to you?" he asked faux-innocently. Alice and I exchanged a glance.
"Usually," we chorused.
He laughed, a gruff bark that sounded like a dog. "Well, mainly, I wanted to ask you a favour, Lily," he began, slowly, as though trying not to poke a sleeping bear.
"No, you can't copy my essay," I said flatly.
"Not what I was going to ask," he responded, grinning. Clearly, whatever he was about to ask, it was amusing to him. I was suddenly sure that I didn't want to know whatever it was.
"Go on, then," I sighed, feeling it would be best to get it over with quickly.
"James asked me why you sat next to him in Potions yesterday," Sirius said seriously, though there was no mistaking the wicked glint in his chocolate eyes. "And it got me thinking… dear old Prongs isn't growing on you, is he?"
"No," I replied shortly. "I just…"
But I couldn't finish the sentence. Lord knows why.
He smirked. "'S what I thought." He nodded to my friends. "Ladies."
Without another word, he spun on his heel and swaggered back to the table where his friends sat, pushing Peter Pettigrew aside slightly so as to whisper something to Potter. The look on his face when Sirius straightened up so that I could fully see Potter… it was like all his Christmases had come at once. I watched him mouth 'Really?' to his best friend, who in turn, nodded.
Herbology passed in a blur. I wasn't sure why, but I was distinctly paranoid that Sirius had told James something about me. I abandoned Mary and Alice at the end of the lesson, muttering something under my breath about visiting Hagrid.
The cool air seemed to rid me of some of my nerves. By the time I reached the pumpkin patch in the corner of Hagrid's garden, I had all but forgotten about Potter and his cronies. That is, until I reached Hagrid's door.
Just my luck. Hammering against the wood with one fist, shirt untucked and scruffy as ever, was none other than James Potter.
"Hagrid, open up!" James bellowed, smacking his fist against the door so hard that it must have hurt. "I know you're in there!"
"Potter!" I yelled, affronted that he would speak to a member of staff like that. Affronted, but not altogether surprised, mind you.
"Oh," he responded, dropping his arm so that it swung like a metronome at his side. "Hey, Lily."
"Why are you trying to break down Hagrid's door?" I demanded, putting my hands on my hips in a gesture that reminded me unpleasantly of something Petunia often did.
"He's not speaking to me," James said glumly.
"And… I hate it when that happens."
The sudden vulnerability in his hazel eyes caused me to soften slightly. "What did you do?"
"I… nothing," he said evasively.
I raised my eyebrows at him.
"Nothing intentional," he allowed. I bit back a laugh, and then suddenly wondered what the hell was wrong with me. I'd never wanted to laugh at something James Potter said before.
"Of course, because you're never intentionally hurtful, are you, Potter?"
There was a heartbeat where neither of us so much as breathed. His hazel eyes flashed with some unfathomable emotion.
"That's not fair," he levelled at me.
"It's true, though," I replied, not backing down.
"Really? When was the last time you saw me hex anyone? Go on, give me a date. Hell, a month!" James's eyes were suddenly blazing in furious challenge.
"I can't just extract a particular instance! Go through the detention records, there's bound to be a date or two in there!"
"Yeah, but maybe I've changed!" he shot back.
"And why would you do that?" I challenged.
"Because maybe I've realised that hurting people isn't so funny anymore after what happened this summer!"
The silence that rang out then was even more pregnant than the first.
"Are you talking about the Prewetts?"
"Fabian was my friend," he whispered, his gaze dropping. In a very familiar gesture, he reached up one hand to rumple the back of his hair. "I… it's all getting serious, now. I figure it's time to grow up."
For the first time in my life, James Potter had rendered me speechless.
"I'm sorry, Prongs," I whispered, and I meant it.
He jumped, and regarded me with a searching look. It took me a while to work out what I could possibly have said to make him look so suspicious, and then I realised.
I'd called him Prongs.
He knew that I knew.
"Remus told you," he surmised, the calculating look melting away. "He told you what he is."
"I figured it out," I admitted. "But it took me longer to figure out the rest. Padfoot? Prongs? Wormtail? It was obvious once I'd clicked."
Potter's face broke into a genuine smile. "You're too smart for your own good, Evans."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I demanded. He gave a sigh that suddenly made him sound about twice as wise as I did. It was a strange and unsettling feeling.
"Just that you're smarter than anyone gives you credit for. And I give you credit for a lot."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"No," he decided, catching and holding my gaze. I felt a peculiar sensation in the pit of my stomach as he stared at me intently, as though my insides had dropped out. "It's amazing."
With that, he turned back to Hagrid's door and resumed banging heartily on it, issuing a long stream of dire threats as he knocked. Unable to explain the sudden expansion of my chest, I backed away slowly, and let my legs carry me back to the Gryffindor tower without even realising how I got there.
I pulled on my pyjamas and slid into bed, despite the earliness of the hour. As I lay looking up at my red and gold canopy, I futilely tried to make sense of the confusing mishmash of thoughts swirling in my brain. Feeling my eyelids getting heavy, I allowed myself to succumb to sleep.
That was the first time I ever dreamed about Potter.