A/N: Realized I hadn't posted this one here! I have been posting writing more often, along with short drabbles, on my Tumblr at suchastart, but I'll still post the longer/completed works here. Zayz and I are also organizing a Jily Secret Santa over there (jilysecretsanta) as well, if you're interested! We'd love to have more people join in! :)
It doesn't surprise her at all that James Potter comes rushing into the Hospital Wing only an hour after she lands herself there. She's just swallowed down a foul-tasting Soothing Potion and found a comfortable position on the lumpy mattress when he arrives, making a big show about it—throwing the doors open, walking quickly toward her bed, asking, loudly, like it's some big emergency, "What happened?"
And for someone she doesn't even like all that much, she's still glad to see him. Maybe it's the effect of the potion already easing her annoyance away. "Would you go away if I said I fell down some stairs?"
"No, I won't go away," he says as he approaches her, hands in his pockets, slower than he'd been moving when he first arrived. Calm now that he's here; calm now that he's seen her in one piece. There's no mistaking the relief on his face and the curiosity in his eyes as his gaze skims her body. She's on top of the sheets, still dressed in her school uniform, so he can see the scrapes on her shins, her arm wrapped in bandages. "And no," he says, "I absolutely do not believe you."
He sits on her bed—ignoring, with experienced practice, her pointed eye-roll—and takes her chin in his hand. It's useless trying to pull away, useless to do anything when he's this determined, so she sits patiently, watching him examine her, watching his frown grow in severity.
What in the world is he looking for?
"Dorcas said you got hit in the face," he says softly, moving his hand to her cheek and tilting her head toward the light, leaning in, examining. Lily's breath hitches. There's no way he can see past the charm she used to hide the splotchy bruise under her eye, but she can't hide the pink dancing across her cheeks, and the way he's staring at her, hand held gently against her face—
Quickly she pulls herself back, looks away. "She doesn't know what she's talking about," she says, the words more biting than she intends. "I'm fine."
James pulls his hands into his lap but doesn't move from his seat next to her. The room is too empty, too quiet, and there's nothing to distract them from one another. It's hard to give in to her anxiety like she wants when the potion is already working its way through her.
"So what happened?" he asks finally. "It's not every day I hear Lily Evans almost killed someone."
And she wasn't going to say anything, was going to let him assume what he wanted and leave, but this is what's going around? This is what people are talking about? The Soothing Potion knocks her anger back—though she tells herself that, later, she has the right to be very angry, and very angry at everyone—and she can only sigh and sink back into the pillow. Better get it over with.
"Celeste Greengrass and I ran into each other outside the loo," she begins. "The one on fifth floor, kind of out of the way? She pushed me into the wall and called me a Mudblood."
James's whole body goes rigid. "What?"
"Yeah." She nods, then pauses, remembering the sting of the word dropping into her stomach. Mudblood. It made her feel ugly, all over; it shivers through her spine even as she thinks it now. "So I told her she was the product of an incestuous family, and that didn't go over well. Big surprise, right? She called me some names, tried to hex me, and so I punched her."
For a brief second, Lily thinks that a certain wicked pride flashes across his face, and then he shuts down, jaw tight. He motions to the rest of her, the broken arm, hidden black eye, scratches and bruises and all. "And this?"
She shrugs. It was a fight. What does he want her to say? Celeste Greengrass is a prejudiced pureblood who puts too much focus on her marks; everybody knows that. The only reason Lily can figure Celeste would come after her so directly would be their rivalry in Charms. For several months in a row, Lily took Celeste's top spot, and after a tough few exams and essays, Lily was rewarded a coveted internship with Flitwick and his colleagues for her efforts. It'd been her greatest academic accomplishment thus far.
And then she'd been attacked by someone who was supposed to be a respected peer. It'd made her angry, angry enough to punch Celeste in the face. Mudblood. Lily knows that she's a muggle-born witch, and yes, people like to remind her of it, and yes, she feels it every day. Magic isn't in her blood like it is everybody else's. She's not as inherently talented like James and Celeste, has to work twice as hard to understand half of what they already know, things they grew up with and were taught when they were children. They were picking up spells when she was still playing jump rope—she's had a lot to catch up on in a short amount of time.
And that's fine. She doesn't mind the extra studying—magic, she is actually learning magic!—but when people call her a goody-goody and make fun of her for spending hours in the library, it cuts. She'd worked her arse off for Flitwick's internship, cried with joy and relief when he'd said she'd earned it, and she'd be damned if she let Celeste take that away.
So Lily punched her, right in the nose. Cocked her arm back and swung, just as her father had taught her. Celeste's nose crunched underneath Lily's knuckles and the pain—and satisfaction—was sharp and hot and instant.
Celeste had called her many foul names, held her hand up to catch the blood running from her nose. They pulled wands. By the time they'd nearly incapacitated one another and blown out a classroom wall and some of the floor tiles, McGonagall and the Head Boy had pulled them apart. In the aftermath, Lily liked to think she did more damage to Celeste, especially considering all the blood, but a broken arm seems more severe than a sprained ankle and some burnt hair. McGonagall had easily countered the jinxes they'd thrown at one another and escorted them both to beds in the Hospital Wing.
When Lily finishes telling James the story, she takes her Prefect's badge off her sweater, runs her finger along its smooth edges. James doesn't respond, only looks off to where Celeste rests on the other side of the room, behind a curtain. He's quiet. Lily can hear her breath, in through her nose and lungs and her veins, out through her nose, and James continues to rub his hand back and forth across Lily's knee. She doesn't know when he put it there, but it feels nice, a physical reassurance that he's there.
"Since I didn't instigate the fight," Lily says, pressing the cold badge against her palm, "McGonagall didn't take my Prefecture away, but she gave me two weeks' detention with her."
James clears his throat, squeezes her knee. "McGonagall gave me four weeks, once, after I accidentally blew up the boy's loo near Slytherin." When Lily laughs, he turns to her, eyes bright. "So it could be worse. You could be scrubbing floors in the Potions wing."
"Eugh. No thanks."
He smiles. It tickles Lily's heart.
For the next half hour, he sits with her, just talking. He tells her about his mother's manic Christmas decorating, Sirius's new infatuation with Aphra Behn, what happened in the last Quidditch game he watched. He keeps going, on and on about everything he's been thinking about lately, until the bell sounds and he has to go to class, and even then he's reluctant to leave. He asks if she needs anything, if maybe he should bring her some lunch, since she missed, or if she needs anything to read.
"I'm fine," she tells him one last time, meaning it. She's fine, and she's fine when he leaves and she's left with her thoughts, and she's fine, even though she misses the sound of his voice. It's not crazy, she tells herself as she places her hand over the ghost of his, warm on her knee. It's not.
It surprises her—only a little—when James Potter sidles into McGonagall's detention room the next day and takes the seat next to her. He smells faintly of smoke and something foul and doesn't look at her when he sits down, only nods his head at McGonagall, who seems entirely too unsurprised to see him.
"What are we studying?" James asks, pulling Lily's notes towards himself. One side of his face is covered in black soot, and she swears some of his hair is smoking. "Ah, Transfiguration. Of course."
She tugs her notes back, whispers, "What are you doing here?"
"Might've accidentally left a pile of dungbombs outside Ravenclaw," he says. He tips his chair back on two legs and looks at the dirty grime on his hands, runs his thumbnail along the long line on his palm. "Might've accidentally caught some random Ravenclaw girl on fire."
Lily covers her mouth. He didn't. There's no way—but he won't look at her, has his shoulders hunched as if expecting her to tell him off, as if bracing himself. He leans backward without care, almost at the precipice of falling, and she feels her eyes sting with tears.
The stupid idiot. And now look at her, crying in detention because he found some stupid way he thought would make her feel better; because instead of saying I'm sorry that harpy called you a Mudblood, he went and nearly gave the girl second-degree burns. Lily shouldn't be crying—and she shouldn't be laughing, either, God, what kind of a sadistic freak is she—but he is just so stupid, and now she gets to sit with him in detention for two weeks and listen to him prattle on about nothing.
He turns, and upon seeing her hiccupping through crying-laughter, grins.
"I'm sorry," she says, waving at herself, wiping at her eyes. "God, sorry, this is idiotic, I don't know what's wrong with me."
"Well, you're crazy, and you recently punched someone in the face." He takes her waving hand in his own, folds her fingers between his, rests the pair of them on his leg. He doesn't make it a big deal, which is nice of him, but there's a weird kind of wriggle in her breath that betrays her interest.
Holding hands with James Potter. Huh.
"Now, come on, crazy. Let's get on with this studying before McGoogles glares me into an early death."
So they study, their hands intertwined between them. It's surprising, how she feels about it, which is basically okay, and content, and she catches herself, more than once, simply staring at him when he reads aloud. She watches the way his mouth moves around words, watches the way his eyes scrunch at the corners when he tries to explain something.
James Potter and Lily Evans—imagine that. Maybe she should punch people more often.