Author's Notes: A little fun fluff in honor of James's birthday. Enjoy!
The Story of a Quill
For James's thirteenth birthday, his father presented him with a new, limited edition, Scrivenshaft's original, self-inking, fine-tipped, phoenix feather quill. A last-ditch effort on behalf of the elder Potter to coax the latent scholar out of his wayward son, the gift was an utter failure in most regards. Rather than devoting himself to learned pursuits and erudite scholarship, James continued with his reckless endeavors and carefree ways, with his new, limited edition, Scrivenshaft's original, self-inking, fine-tipped, phoenix feather quill going on to produce some of his very finest doodles.
Still, James admitted a certain fondness for the stodgy, old quill. It was the only writing implement that rendered his cramped scrawl even minimally legible, something he was rather certain his professors appreciated. It was impressive, but not ostentatious. And years later, he would always credit it as the thing that finally sparked his and Lily's relationship.
It happened one morning in late January of 6th-year, just as Transfiguration was starting. Call it fate or luck, but McGonagall had decided to begin winter term with a sterner hand, assigning seats for each student, sick of the inevitable disruptions that occurred when they were left to their own devices. James had tried not to show his irritation when Lily had quite obviously scowled at her new seat adjacent to him, but he wasn't quite sure he managed. He didn't know why she was still making such a show of her dislike for him—not when they both knew better. No, their dynamic wasn't perfect, but it was hardly what it once was. Once he quit asking her out as often and she stopped tossing her nose in the air the moment he walked in the room, they'd somehow managed a functioning sort of harmony. Truth be told, they had far more in common than they didn't. He knew and she knew it—so why did she insist on playing the shrew? James couldn't figure it out, but he reckoned sitting next to her for several hours per week was one way to solve the mystery.
But that morning, James didn't think he was going to have the opportunity to continue working on the puzzle because Lily hadn't bothered to show up. Five minutes into McGonagall's lecture, then ten, then fifteen, and still no Lily. It was only when the lesson had been going on twenty minutes that the back door swung open with a deafening creak, and a decidedly disheveled Lily entered through the recently opened portal.
"I'm so sorry, Professor," she'd sputtered, speeding toward their desk at the center of the room. She fell into her chair with an audible thump, her cheeks red and large clumps of her equally bright hair falling haphazardly against her face. Her shirt was untucked and one sock remained rolled down at her ankle, but James could only smile. People chuckled and McGonagall cleared her throat before continuing. Lily slumped in her seat, hiding her embarrassment behind a ducked head as she began to dig through her bag for her things. Even if James hadn't been watching her decidedly closely, he would have noticed something was amiss the moment her hunched shoulders seemed to freeze up and her already frenzied searching in her bag turned a bit more frantic.
He took a quick mental tally of the things already spread out across the desk in front of her: parchment, textbook, inkwell.
Almost without thinking, James dropped the limited edition, Scrivenshaft's original, self-inking, fine-tipped, phoenix feather quill down upon Lily's parchment.
Her head lifted from her bag at the movement, startled.
James reached into his own bag for another quill.
When he straightened back out, Lily was staring at him blankly. He nodded towards the quill, then down at her parchment. After a moment, she nodded as well, picking the quill up off the desk. But instead of tucking instantly into her own notes, James watched as she quickly leaned over to his side of the desk and set the quill against his own notes.
Thank you, she wrote.
The words flowed from her hands easily, the fine-tip of the quill allowing for an extra flourish at the final 'u'. Obviously not expecting such ease, Lily blinked down at the quill in surprise, then a small smile crept up along her lips.
Towards the end of the lesson, James was diligently trying to keep up with his notes as McGonagall continued to rapidly lecture, when he felt a gentle prodding at his right hand. Glancing down, he saw it was a piece of parchment, with only a single line of words written at the top.
What kind of quill is this?
James grinned, abandoning his notes for the more intriguing option. Quickly, he wrote:
A limited edition, Scrivenshaft's original, self-inking, fine-tipped, phoenix feather quill.
That's a mouthful.
It was a birthday present.
An old one. My thirteenth.
It's kept that long?
It's quite a quill.
Do you mind if I use it the rest of the morning?
Long as you give it back.
She ended the last note with a quick smiley face, one that seemed to smirk at James with gleeful possibility.
Despite her smiling reassurances, Lily did not give James his quill back after morning lessons were through, nor later that day, after afternoon classes had finished out. The next morning when they were once again side by side in Transfiguration, Lily presented him with a folded up bit of parchment before he could even get a word out.
"What's this?" he asked.
Lily shrugged, casually slipping down into her seat.
Unfolding the parchment, James beheld a rather startlingly thorough illustration of the History of Magic classroom, sketched out in thin, black ink strokes with sharp lines and clever shadowing. Though obviously a rough sketch, it was stunning in its detail and clarity.
"You drew this?" He held the drawing out to her. She nodded. "It's brilliant."
"I have another one, as well," she told him, smiling. "Of the Charms classroom. But it's not finished yet."
"Will you finish it?"
"Can I use your quill for another day?"
James's eyebrow lifted. "You trying to filch my quill, Evans?"
"Not filch. Borrow." She pulled the object in question out of her bag and began to twirl it between her fingers. "You can keep the drawing as collateral. Then tomorrow, we'll trade back."
"What the bloody hell am I going to do with a drawing?"
"I don't know. Hang it in your room or something. You can stare at it as you fall asleep tonight."
"I prefer nudes."
"Are you offering to model?"
James stared. "Are you flirting with me?"
As McGonagall made her way to the front of the room to begin class, Lily shrugged impishly. "Can I keep your quill for the day?"
James bit back a smile. "Only because you let me say the word 'nude' without smacking me."
Lily muffled a quiet snort against her hand before turning away.
But contrary to the set plan, Lily did not give James back his quill the next day, nor the next, or the next, or for more days than he could count after that. Instead, each day he got a new drawing and another paltry excuse, both things piling up until he very well could have drowned in them. The pictures ranged from elaborate, like the first had been, to simple symbols and shapes that even James reckoned he could've mustered. The excuses followed the same trajectory—some actually held a spot of logic, an actual argument as to her need, while others barely had the dignity to be called excuses, cavalier and senseless as they were. But every day, brilliant or useless, James ended his day adding yet another drawing to the growing collection hanging above his headboard, and the limited edition, Scrivenshaft's original, self-inking, fine-tipped, phoenix feather quill spent yet another day in Lily Evans's possession.
Until the day—his birthday, of all days—she suddenly presented it back to him.
"Here," she said, thrusting it at him before breakfast that morning. "Have it. It's failed me."
"Failed you?" James clutched at the quill now resting against his chest, his hands moving too slowly to catch hers before they withdrew. "What do you mean?"
"I keep trying to draw something, but I just can't get it right. I blame the quill."
"It's not the quill's fault!" James cried, indignant on his quill's behalf. "Perhaps something else is off! Maybe you just need more inspiration!"
"Hmm," was all Lily said, but before James could say anything else, she'd swiftly closed the distance between them, pressing her mouth firmly against his. Utterly dumbstruck, James could barely register what was happening before she'd already pulled away, her lips leaving his with a slick slide. Without a word, she nodded decisively, then grabbed the quill back from James's weak grip.
"I suppose you're right," she said. "I'm suddenly inspired."
Turning about, she began to walk down the corridor as if nothing had happened. At the last moment, she glanced over her shoulder and tossed him a smile.
"Happy birthday," she called.