"Evans! Didn't expect to see your lovely face down here tonight!" James all but bounds over to her, that lopsided grin on his face Lily would never admit even on pain of death that she found attractive.

"Well, who could pass up the opportunity to celebrate the day James Harrison Potter graced the world with his presence?" Lily retorts sardonically, returning his grin with a wry smile of her own.

James frowns at her. "You know my middle name?"

"Why, don't you know mine?"

"I…er, well, yes, but—" James rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably.

With a quirk of her eyebrow, Lily crosses her arms and says with some amusement, "It's just a name, Potter, honestly."

"And a lily by any other would smell as sweet?" James offers, smirk back in place.

Lily—predictably—rolls her eyes. "I would point out that it's actually 'rose,' but I have a feeling you already knew that. Anyway, you know how well flattery usually works on me, Potter, even if it is from the great master of love himself."

With a falsely bashful expression, "Oh, Evans, I wouldn't call myself a master…"

"I was talking about Shakespeare, you prick."

"Right, of course," James says easily, still grinning. "Well, hard as it may be to believe, I didn't actually come over here to quote Shakespeare at you. I was actually wondering if you'd gotten me a present on this, the day of my birth." He crosses his arms with an expectant expression.

Lily raises her eyebrows. "Well, that's a bit presumptuous of you, don't you think?"

James, unfazed, leans against the table beside them, shoving his hands in his pockets. "No, you see I was only asking because if you haven't, I've got an excellent idea for one."

"But that's still assuming you're getting something from me today, Potter."

Waving a dismissive hand, James ignores her comment, pressing on, "So?"

Sighing, Lily relents, "Fine. What's your brilliant idea?"

"A kiss."

Lily's eyebrows shoot into her hairline again, and an incredulous laugh leaves her lips. "I'm sorry?"

"Come on, what d'you say, Evans? Just a friendly one, right here?" James juts his cheekbone towards her, tapping it with a forefinger.

Despite herself, Lily finds her lips twitching. Holding back a smile with difficulty, she asks, "And what, exactly, do you think could possibly tempt me to agree to that?"

"It's my birthday," James explains simply, as though this obviously entitled him to anything he wanted.

"Right, I'm aware of that. But if I were to kiss you, wouldn't you prefer it to be because I wanted to, and not because I felt obligated?"

That freezes any of James's usual quips in his throat. Clearing it, he manages in a slightly hoarse voice, "Er…so you're saying….no, hang on, what are you saying?"

Laughing again, though this time in genuine amusement, Lily clarifies, "I'm speaking entirely in hypotheticals here, Potter, no need to look so nervous."

James's brows snap together in a frown, and he pushes off from the table to take a step closer to Lily. She leans back in surprise, but before she can move away, James has placed a hand to her forehead. They stay like that for a moment, James narrowing his eyes critically at her, and Lily attempting to lift her brows again, though the movement is somewhat impeded by James's hand.

Finally, Lily prompts, "Potter? What are you doing?"

Dropping his hand at last, James explains, "Well, I'm certain you must be feeling ill. Because the Lily Evans I know would never talk about kissing me, even hypothetically. In fact, she'd hex anyone for even suggesting it."

"So, you want me to hex you, then?" Lily asks seriously.

Back to leaning casually against the table, James pretends to consider the offer. "Mmm, I'd much prefer it if you didn't," he says finally.

Lily nods, but a moment later takes her lip between her teeth, looking slightly uncertain. "So, I'm curious why you even brought up the subject of kissing, Potter, if you expected me to hex you for it."

Momentarily distracted as he wonders where she learned to bite her lip so attractively, James almost misses the question. "What? Oh, well, call me a masochist, I suppose." He grins at her, hoping to cover for the fact that his eyes, seemingly of their own accord, kept dropping to her captured lip.

Lily doesn't return the smile, however, but matches his earlier frown. "I wish you wouldn't," she says quietly.

"Wouldn't what?" James asks, taken aback by her abrupt change of tone.

Glancing away, Lily blows out a sigh, a strand of her dark red hair fluttering against her cheek as she does so. Meeting James's confused gaze again, she goes on in the same low voice, "Wouldn't try to deliberately annoy me every time we're together."

"I…don't," James stutters in surprise. "I mean, I don't try to, it just…."

"Happens," Lily finishes with a nod, though there is no accusation in her eyes or voice. "Right."

Silence, as James opens and closes his mouth several times, trying to find the right words to say, words that would hopefully bring back the easy conversation of mere minutes before and banish the suddenly sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. "I'm…sorry," he settles on eventually, but the inadequate emptiness of the phrase makes him wince. "I don't want to make you hate me, Evans, but—"

"I don't hate you, Potter," Lily interrupts, almost in frustration. Neither speaks again for a few minutes, until Lily allows a small smile, though her eyes still look sad. "Anyway, I'm sorry too. And…." She moves closer, rising up on her toes to press a quick kiss to James's cheek. "Happy birthday, James."

And with that, she moves away back into the crowd. James remains rooted to the spot, staring after her, hand reaching up as though to brush the place where she'd kissed him, before he gets a grip on himself and shoves it purposefully in his pocket again. Suddenly, he doesn't feel much like celebrating, although the pumping music and bright decorations around him are technically in his honor. But James is sure more than half of the people currently occupying the Gryffindor common room are far too intoxicated to remember whose birthday it is, or that they're even attending a birthday party at all. He's sure no one will notice if he just….slips away to his room…..

Frowning, James stands abruptly upright, hands springing out of his pockets once more to clench in determined fists at his sides. He was James Potter, for Merlin's sake—and James Potter did not just run away to sulk after watching Lily Evans walk away from him. And perhaps that is part of the problem, James thinks wryly as he pushes through the laughing, dancing throng to the last place he'd seen Lily's bright hair. Scanning over the heads nearest him, he tries to determine where she might have gone next. With a sinking feeling, he considers the possibility that she had gone back to her dormitory—not to sulk, of course, but to—well, do whatever she did after James had disappointed or angered her. Blast a record of those blokes she loved—the Beatles, he thinks they're called—rant to her roommates, hurl hexes at a picture of his face….he isn't sure he wants to know, really.

Finally catching sight of Lily near the fireplace, James dodges around one last drunkenly swaying couple to reach her. "Evans," he says to get her attention, but with nothing further planned, he ends up merely taking her arm and leading her from the common room.

"Potter, what—" Lily begins in confusion, but she lets him lead her into the relative quiet of the corridor beyond the portrait hole.

Taking a breath as he faces her, James blurts out in a rush, "I…I just wanted to—to apologize for everything, I mean the way things have been between us….I know a blanket apology doesn't really count for anything, but—"

Lily begins shaking her head from his first words. "No, you don't have to apologize. Really," she insists when James opens his mouth. "And I suppose some of it is my fault, anyway….I shouldn't take things so personally all the time." James again begins to say something, but Lily cuts him off with a small smile. "Honestly, you've been annoying me far less lately, so that's something, right?"

"Er…yes? Dunno, that doesn't sound like much of an improvement," James mutters, and Lily laughs.

"Sorry," she says, straightening her face when James frowns at her. Sighing, she adds, "I shouldn't have brought all this up today. It is your birthday, after all."

James shrugs. "Well, you did kiss me, so that's something, isn't it?" he points out, echoing her words with a small smirk.

Lily smiles in return. "True. And for the record, I did do it because I wanted to, not because I felt obligated." Heat flares in her cheeks at this confession, but her eyes never leave James's.

Not sure how to respond, James ruffles the hair at the back of his neck absently. "Oh. Well, er, that's good."

They stare at each other for a second more, until Lily emits a nervous laugh. "Um, anyway, happy birthday, you arrogant toerag." She aims an awkward little punch at James's shoulder, the old insult said with far more affection than James had ever heard it.

Still, he pretends to sigh dramatically. "Couldn't let us get too friendly, could you, Evans?"

"No, absolutely not," she agrees, seeming relieved that they had moved on from the tension of moments before.

With an evil glint in his eyes, James adds, "But I did at least get you to confess you want to kiss me, so I suppose the evening wasn't a complete waste."

Lily, who had already begun to back towards the common room again, halts momentarily, cheeks burning even redder as she mumbles something about James twisting her words. And with no further comment, she returns to the party, James remaining in the corridor for a minute with an idiotic grin on his face before following, once again exceptionally glad it is his birthday.


A/N: Ahhh, I feel like I over-do the 'you always annoy me why can't we get along' convo, but...hoped y'all liked it anyway!