A/N: A one-shot in honor of my good friend's birthday. Happy birthday, Blackbird :)
"Okay," the redhead announced as she strode into the room, dropping a stack of books onto one of the desks and turning to face the bespectacled boy lounging in an adjacent chair, "neither of us wants to be here, so just g—"
"What, you can't think of any advantages to spending an hour alone with me, Evans?" The boy, whose name was James Potter, leaned his chair back on two legs and crossed his hands behind his head.
His classmate, Lily Evans, glared at him. "Just go through these books to find the missing pages, and once you're finished we can get out of here," she went on firmly, acting as though James had never interrupted.
"Fine," James muttered, surprising Lily by his easy accession. His chair slammed back onto all fours, making Lily jump. She bit her lip as James hunched over the desk, frowning as he started in on the first book.
"Sorry," Lily said softly. It wasn't the first time she'd felt guilty for something she'd said to James. Lately, it seemed she couldn't have a conversation with him that didn't end in an unintentional outburst on her part. She knew the reason, knew why anger always seemed the easier course—she'd been agonizing over it just that night, in fact. And now, faced with an hour in close contact with James, her nerves were on edge, easily snapped by the casual teasing that had accompanied his words.
It was only as she came out of her reverie that Lily realized James hadn't replied to her apology. Stomach twisting uncomfortably, she took a seat across from him, pulling her own books towards her and resuming the Charms essay she'd been working on in the common room.
"The Patronus Charm is one of the most complicated to study, as it assumes a unique form for each witch or wizard," Lily muttered to herself twenty minutes later, unconsciously reading over her essay aloud. "It is thought to be an external representation of a person's inner essence, though unfortunately direct evidence for this theory is greatly lacking in the current literature."
"You could include the bit about Animagi." James's voice cut into her concentration, and Lily's head snapped up at his words.
"What?" she asked distractedly, frowning, even as her cheeks reddened at the realization that she'd been speaking audibly.
"The bit about Animagi," James repeated, and when Lily continued to stare at him blankly, he elaborated. "Most Animagi have Patronus forms that are identical to their animal ones, which supports that inner essence rubbish you're going on about. It's in one of the later chapters Flitwick assigned for next week," he added when Lily only narrowed her eyes suspiciously. Nodding at her book, James went on, "Look it up if you don't believe me."
With one last cautious glance, as though sure he was only having her on, Lily flipped through her Charms text, eyes flicking quickly over the pages James had mentioned. Her eyes were wide with disbelief when they next met James's hazel ones. "How did you know that? You never read the book." This last sentence was uttered with an accusatory note that made James grin.
"I knew you watched me in class, Evans."
"Answer the question, Potter."
Shrugging, James turned back to the book before him. "You don't know everything about me."
"I suppose not," Lily said slowly, settling back in her chair and fixing James with a calculating gaze, one that made him feel uncomfortably warm.
Clearing his throat and loosening his tie in what he hoped was a subtle gesture, James teased lightly, "You might not be top in Charms after all, eh?"
Rolling her eyes at that, Lily said, "I don't think knowing one fact I didn't counts, Potter."
"It's an important fact, though," James argued, encouraged when Lily merely raised an eyebrow in return. "Probably would make the difference between an E and an O on your essay."
"Stop it, Potter," Lily said shortly, aware that he had a point and all the more annoyed because of it.
A smug grin pulled at James's mouth as he realized the same. "I'd have thought a studious bird like yourself would have read ahead," he continued, disregarding Lily's demand.
"Potter," Lily gritted out between clenched teeth, and the tension in her voice should have been a warning, but it was one James failed to heed.
"I know it's your aim to be Head Girl next year, but I'm not sure you deserve the title if you can't even keep up with—"
"I said stop!" The last word rose to a shout, leaving a ringing silence in its wake.
"Merlin," James said at last, eyes sliding away from Lily's smoldering gaze. "Just relax, Evans, I was only messing you about."
"Oh, if that's all," Lily snapped sarcastically. "It shouldn't surprise me, actually, since you do that all the time."
"Well, you always overreact about everything—am I mad to hope you might eventually grow out of it and—"
But he'd gone too far, a fact which was apparent in the way Lily's posture stiffened, eyes flashing dangerously. "'Grow out of it'?" she repeated, words somewhat impeded by the way her lips had compressed into a thin, angry line. "I'm not the one who needs to grow out of anything, Potter."
"That argument's getting old, Evans," James hurled back, eyes tightening. The two stared fiercely at each other for a long moment, neither speaking.
"Right, I think you can finish detention on your own," Lily said finally, voice trembling with rage. Gathering her things, she yanked the door open and hurried from the room.
James scrambled up from his chair. "Evans!" he called, stumbling into the corridor in his haste to catch up to her.
"Don't follow me, Potter," Lily shot curtly over her shoulder.
"Will you just stop?" James demanded, equally terse.
"You always do this—you always turn everything into an argument!" Lily shouted in frustration, whipping around to face him.
"No, I think you'll find that you're the one who's constantly picking a fight, Evans!" James countered, running a hand through his hair distractedly, the dark strands standing up even more wildly as a result. "That's just how it is with you and I, we fight—all the time, over every single bloody thi—"
"I never wanted us to fight," Lily admitted in a rush, and the words froze James's momentarily. Not expecting silence from him, Lily fumbled for something else to say, eyes flicking around the corridor as though the dark stone walls would provide inspiration. "I—it's—it just makes every day so…so…long, and frustrating…"
She knew it had been the wrong thing to say as disappointment and something close to pain flashed through James's eyes, and Lily bit her lip. Before she could try to explain herself, however, James found his voice.
"So you hate our arguments because they're inconvenient?" he asked bitterly, hands shoved in his pockets as his eyes dropped to the floor, where his foot scuffed at one of the loose flagstones. "That's comforting."
"No, that's not what I meant," Lily assured him hurriedly, but James's eyes remained fixed on his shoes. A short sigh escaped her, fingers pulling through her hair before she had time to wonder how she'd picked up James's own frustrated habit. "It just would be easier if we could…." But she trailed off with a wince, realizing that 'easier' hardly sounded better.
"Why can't you just admit it, Evans?" James asked abruptly, eyes locking suddenly with Lily's. She felt heat flare into her cheeks at the unexpected intensity of his gaze.
"Admit what?" she asked shakily, wishing he didn't have that particular talent for asking the questions she didn't want to answer, for demanding so frankly what he always seemed to know before she did.
"Admit you like me," James clarified, and Lily just barely caught the humorless smile that tilted his lips as her eyes dropped away from his. "I'm not saying you fancy me—I'm not that delusional—" Lily tried to ignore the brief flash of relief she felt—"but would it really be so terrible for us to be friends?" His voice took on a more teasing tone as he spoke, as though he couldn't manage being serious for too long. "It can be quite advantageous, being mates with me. I'll stop throwing broken quills at you during class, for one. And I'll let you have the last bit of treacle tart at dinner, when it comes down to it. I may, on occasion, even be convinced to carry your books back to Gryffindor Tower for you when you've got a prefects' meeting directly after Charms."
Lily regarded him silently for a moment, face unreadable. Finally, she began slowly and somewhat skeptically, "So….the pros of being your friend are the freedom to pay attention for an entire lesson and marginally better posture which could possibly be offset anyway by the excess dessert I'll be consuming?"
James sighed, ruffling his hair again. "Merlin, you're a difficult woman to please, Evans."
"I have very refined taste, Potter, and I don't think I should be faulted for that," Lily retorted, inwardly glad they'd returned to the mocking banter of before.
James grinned, though it was lacking somewhat in its usual easiness, and Lily knew he was disappointed that she'd failed to answer his question. But friendship with James Potter wasn't something to be entered into lightly. For a moment, Lily considered whether she was merely being overdramatic about it, taking things too seriously—a trait for which her friend Marlene never hesitated to reprimand her. She quickly dismissed the thought, however, because she and James did have a past, and a tumultuous one at that. There wasn't a single person in Hogwarts who could deny it, not least because their rows were always heated and usually public. Even most of the teachers probably had a clue that Lily, for most of her school career, had absolutely detested James Potter.
Or at least, she'd put on a good show of it. But she meant what she'd said—she always hated when they argued. And it wasn't because it was tiring, or bothersome, or any other pathetic excuse for the truth she might have offered James to keep from answering the very question he'd posed. It was because she did like him. Despite the front of arrogance he so often donned, despite the way he seemed to enjoy irking her, and despite his unfortunate habit for blurting out unintentionally hurtful comments whenever he was nervous or uncomfortable, she couldn't help liking him for the person he became when all that was stripped away. And it was this that had occupied her mind of late, leaving her guilty over every short word and biting insult.
"I want to be friends with you," she found herself blurting out after her long silence, and James's characteristic smirk made a rare late appearance.
"I know," he said simply, and Lily stared at him.
"I just asked you to admit it, didn't I? Why would I do that if I didn't already know the answer?"
"You asked if I liked you. Not if I wanted us to be friends," Lily countered instantly, and James laughed.
"See, that's why I like you, Evans—you never let me get away with anything."
"But you love getting away with things. It's practically your life's mantra."
"I do," James agreed, taking a step closer so that Lily had to tilt her head slightly to maintain eye contact. "But I also like a challenge."
Lily, unsure exactly how to respond to that, asked instead, "But how did you know? That I wanted to be friends with you, I mean." With a small smirk of her own, "I don't exactly keep a diary that might have somehow accidentally—or through your own arrangement, which is more likely—come into your possession."
"So you're saying you would write about me in your diary if you did, in fact, keep one."
Lily glared up at him, crossing her arms and waiting for him to answer her original question.
Crooked smile lifting one corner of his lips, James complied with her unspoken request. "I'm a keen observer of the human condition, Evans, and have spent many long hours studying the precise ways people think, interact, and—"
"All right, I get your point—you're not actually going to tell me," Lily interrupted with a roll of her eyes. "How is it that you always manage to get a straight answer out of me when I'm left floundering to pull one from you?"
A mischievous glint in his hazel eyes, James repeated, "Like I said, I'm a keen observer of the—"
"You're impossible, is what you are," Lily grumbled.
"Impossible not to like, evidently."
Silence fell between them again, during which Lily contemplated how strange it was to have James standing so close to her with no urge to increase the distance between them. In fact, as she met his eyes once more, she felt a rush of heat that was familiar in feeling, though not in source. Usually her face flushed with anger whenever she interacted with the tall, messy-haired boy, but now…
Swallowing hard and clutching her books more firmly to her chest to hide her suddenly trembling hands, Lily took a small step backwards. This time when she glanced up, she found James smirking again. She didn't like the knowing look about it, not one bit.
"It's almost curfew," she announced hastily, tone harsher than she intended in her flustered state.
But James no longer looked disappointed that she appeared once again cross with him. "I know," he said, amusement coloring his words.
"So—so, you'd better go back to the common room before I'm forced to give you another detention," Lily explained, face growing still warmer as James continued to grin at her.
"Looking out for me, are you?" Lily didn't reply, but James nodded as though he'd made up his mind about something. "We're going to be great friends, Lily Evans."
"If you say so, James Potter," she mimicked, causing the other boy to laugh.
"See you tomorrow, Evans," he said, and with a wink that made Lily's stomach swoop, he turned away, setting off down the corridor with a slight swagger in his step and a softly whistled tune issuing from his lips.