Bafflement

Lily had just finished with her first NEWT-level Potions class, and was somewhere between exhilarated and dismayed. There was going to be so much work to do, and she'd have to learn how to deal with Sev being there – oh, but it was going to be fascinating.

Just as she was deciding that exhilaration was probably what she was feeling, she was blindsided by a third emotion: bafflement.

Lying spread-eagled in front of the portrait hole, clothed only in a pair of Muggle swimming trunks and with a look of enormous, stupid pleasure on his face, was James Potter.

"What," she said as she stopped to avoid stepping on his head, "are you doing?"

Potter's eyes blinked open, and he grinned impishly up at her. "Sunburn," he said, and closed his eyes again.

"Pardon?"

With an air of extreme patience, Potter said, without opening his eyes, "Sunburn. When your skin goes all red and hurts."

"I know what it is, Potter," she said, trying not to use the same tone. "What I want to know is how that relates to you lying half-naked in the middle of the floor waiting to trip people up."

"We went to the seashore for a day, I got burnt, robes are scratchy, and the corridor is cool," Potter explained, and Lily laughed. "I knew I could count on you for some sympathy, Evans," Potter drawled.

"But why didn't you just ask Madam Pomfrey for some salve?" she asked.

"I am under strict orders not to bother her unless it's an emergency," Potter said. "We spiked people's pumpkin juice with Pepper-Up acquired from her one too many times."

"Wait here," Lily said. She gave the Fat Lady the password and hurried upstairs. She rummaged through her trunk and, after a minute or so, found a small stoneware jar. A minute later she was back outside the portrait hole and crouching next to Potter, trying not to seem quite so out of breath.

"Here's something for the sunburn," she said when he looked up at her questioningly. Potter sat up gingerly, and Lily winced when she saw his back. "You're like a lobster!"

"Why do you have a jar of this stuff?" Potter asked, uncorking the jar and poking a finger inside experimentally.

"I burn easily," Lily explained. "It's the curse of the redheads."

"I don't want to take this if you use it," Potter protested.

"No, it's fine. Just give it back when you're done with it." Lily shrugged and stood up.

"Hey, Evans – "

Lily cut him off. "No, I will not rub it on your back for you. And it's also not proof that I like you. I just don't want you scaring the first years." She turned back and gave the Fat Lady the password again.

But before she could climb inside the common room, Potter's voice stopped her. "That's not what I was going to say."

"What were you going to say, then?" she asked wearily, knowing what was coming. She'd been hoping he would wait a little longer before asking that question again.

"I just wanted to say thanks." James flashed his usual stupidly charming grin, and Lily sucked in a breath in surprise.

"Um. You're welcome, I guess," she said, and went into the common room, more confused than when she had first encountered him on the floor.

Since when did James Potter act like a decent, normal human being?