Author's Notes: This was written for Maire (deepcrimison76) on tumblr for the Jily Secret Santa exchange. Enjoy!

A Proper Shot

It was called the Reginald Borage Grant for Innovative Brewing and Potionmaking, and Lily knew from the very start that she had absolutely no chance of winning it.

"It's highly politicized," was nearly the first thing Slughorn had said to her when he first brought the grant to her attention. "Just as much about who you have endorsing your application as what's inside it, my dear girl! I'm hosting another smashing get-together later this month. Come along and we'll see if we can't introduce you to the right people, eh?"

Lily had gone, to that party and several others like it, even though Slughorn's get-togethers had never been her idea of a "smashing" time. Her forthright wit had never meshed well with the types of people who often frequented the Slug Club, the sort who expected to be fawned over and were only interested in what you could do for them. But the grant had intrigued her from the very start, and she knew Slughorn had some strong connections within the world of elite brewers. Lily could play the game if it was required, so she had gone and mingled and done her very best to rub elbows with every person who might be able to give her the proper backing, but her attempts had never amounted to anything.

"There are too many bloody cards stacked against me!" she'd ranted to Mary after one such fruitless evening—her last, she'd decided in frustration. She kicked off her stately pumps and flung herself back onto her four-poster bed. "For one thing, I had the damned audacity to be born a witch in a field that is essentially an Old Boys' Club—as if tits and a few lady bits make me wildly incompetent! But even if I somehow passed that test, the next question is always about my sodding family and Merlin forgive us all, a Muggleborn as a Borage Scholar? Inconceivable!"

"You knew it was going to be like this from the start," Mary put in sympathetically. "Why keep putting yourself through it? There are other grants—"

"Not like this one. The Borage is in a class all its own." Lily sighed, closing her eyes. "It's a summer-long fellowship. I wouldn't have to go home to dodgy Cokesworth where my parents expect me to fall easily back in place and my sister continues to resent the fact that I exist. I'd be off working with the best brewers in the country—working on my research project with the best brewers in the country. And I'm good enough to earn the spot! That's what's so frustrating about it. Just because I had the poor misfortune to be born a female without a thousand generations of magical lineage, I don't even have a bloody chance. It's complete rubbish!"

"So what are you going to do?" Mary asked, cocking her head to the side. "Keep attending Slughorn's parties?"

"No." Merlin help her, she didn't know if she could stand another. "It's all futile, anyway. I think Slughorn's tapped out his best sources. But I am completing my application, and I don't care if the damn thing never even passes through the first round. My new goal is simply to make my project so bloody brilliant that the grant board feels nothing but shame as they pass on it. I think I can be content with that."

Mary had laughed at Lily's declaration, but the new goal was not made in jest. Did Lily still wish the grant could be hers? Naturally. But in light of the utterly unfair yet inevitably insurmountable obstacles facing her, she decided she'd simply have to settle for knowing in her heart that her project was such a blinding success that the governing board would need to feel genuinely ashamed over the way they conduct things. It was a consolation, if not a victory prize.

With the application due just after New Years', Lily immediately set to work. While most of her fellow 6th-years were relishing their free time, Lily buried herself in the dungeons and library, entirely devoted to her research. When Christmas hols rolled around and there was still far too much work to be done, Lily wrote home to say she'd be staying at Hogwarts for the holiday break, the first time she'd ever done so. Her parents were disappointed, but tried to understand. Lily reckoned her hastily scrawled notes probably weren't the best reassurances.

She was up bright and early on the first day of holidays, a bit unnerved by how quiet and empty the castle seemed. She made her way down to the dungeons, used the key Slughorn had given her to Classroom Four where she'd been keeping all her work and supplies. Her cauldrons and potions kit were still laid out on the back work table, but another table to the right was stacked high with what looked like boxes of new ingredients. Slughorn must have got a new shipment and hadn't yet restocked the cupboards.

Lily lit her cauldron and soon lost herself in her work. It wasn't until the classroom door suddenly burst open that she finally lifted her head.

"Come along, m'boy. Right this way."

Slughorn's rotund belly protruded through the doorway first, followed quickly by the rest of the hefty professor, then the substantially more wiry frame of James Potter. When Slughorn saw Lily there, he let out a delighted laugh.

"Ah, Miss Evans! Hard at work already, I see?"

"Good morning, Professor." Lily's eyes flickered to the boy behind him. "Potter."

James grinned, lifting his hand in a wave. "Morning."

"You'll be having some company for the next few days," Slughorn told her. "Mr. Potter has graciously offered to sort through our new shipment of ingredients."

"It was either this or scrubbing toilets with Filch," Potter muttered. "This seemed in every way the more appealing option."

"You're given a choice of your preferred detention activity?" Lily asked.

Potter grinned again. "It's nearly Christmas, Evans. The season of giving."

Lily rolled her eyes, but as James and Slughorn moved farther into the room, she realised her scholastic haven was about to be infiltrated. She felt annoyed, and slightly panicked. The last thing she needed was James Potter hanging about at the very time she needed to concentrate most.

"Perhaps I should just move my things into Classroom Two," she said, already reaching out to grab her kit. "We can be out of each other's way—"

"Nonsense!" Slughorn cried, dropping a hand on Potter's shoulder. "The more the merrier! Besides, some of this may prove useful to you. You're still testing new ingredients, yes?"

Lily gritted her teeth, but nodded. "I'm close. I'll find the proper mix."

Slughorn hooted with laughter. "Such confidence! Perhaps you ought to be in Gryffindor after all, my dear!"

Lily gave a thin-lipped smile, but inside she couldn't help groaning. There was still so much to do. She would've resented any kind of distraction, but James Potter was a worst case scenario—Merlin knew the boy had never been known for his quiet demeanor. How was she supposed to concentrate with the stupid sod sitting there, attempting to strike up conversation after bothersome conversation? This was no time for jokes or innuendo.

But regardless of her reservations, Slughorn still left a few moments later, calling over his shoulder for Lily to keep an eye on her troublemaking companion.

"Just do whatever you need to do and leave, all right?" Lily said as soon as the classroom door closed, shooting Potter a pointed look. "This is really important—"

"Schoolwork over Christmas hols? Really, Evans?" Potter shot her a look of his own, dawdling over to the supplies table. "Swot much?"

"It's not schoolwork. It's research."

"Research for what?"

"A grant. The Reginald Borage grant."

Potter dropped into his seat, letting out a long whistle. "The Borage? Hell. You know that's—"

"Highly politicised and therefore entirely out of my reach?" Lily slammed her textbook closed harder than intended. "Yes, I'm aware, thanks. I'm submitting an application regardless, and damn all of you for your smug pretensions and narrow-minded, bloody prejudices anyway—"

"'Pretty brilliant and really spot on,'" Potter finished drily, popping open a box of supplies. "But please, do continue telling me all about my smug, narrow-minded prejudices and...pretensions, was it?"

Lily felt her face flush.

"Sorry." She fiddled with the flame strength beneath her cauldron, unable to quite meet his eyes. "It's been a long few weeks. I suppose I'm a bit sensitive about all of this."

"Really? Couldn't tell."

"It's just sort of a big deal for me, all right? And I haven't really got a proper shot, which has me a bit testy."

Potter pulled out his first ingredient—salamander legs. "Why not try to get a sponsor? Isn't that how these things are done?"

Lily shook her head. "I've tried. It's no use. wouldn't understand."

"But if you just—"

"Look, can you just sort through that stuff and leave me be? There's still so much to do and the application's due at month's end and I know you're just trying to be friendly but I really have to concentrate and I'll never manage it if I get all agitated talking to you. So let's just...let it be, all right?"

For a moment, Lily thought she might've been a bit too harsh. He looked a bit perturbed by her outburst, and perhaps rightfully so—he hadn't really been doing anything except making polite conversation. But all Lily could see now was that James Potter was the very epitome of the obstacles standing in her way—a charming, smarmy, carefree dilettante with more connections than he knows what to do with and a y-chromosome to boot. It wasn't fair to take her frustrations out on him, but she did it anyway because he was there and available and secure enough in himself to take it. She could perhaps admit that she was toeing the line between sensitive and petty, but the damage had already been done and it was not as if this was the first time she'd spoken before thinking where James Potter's concerned. They've always seemed to have that effect on one another.

The rest of the afternoon passed in relative silence. Lily refused to feel guilty about it.

"So what's your research project on anyway?"

Lily glanced up from where she'd been blankly watching her cauldron not boil, the quiet question the first thing said since their brief, murmured greetings exchanged earlier that morning. It was the second day of James's week-long detention project, thirteen until the Borage application was due. He'd been silently sorting through herbs all morning, and Lily still felt a bit shabby for lashing out at him the previous afternoon. It seemed in every way petty to ignore him now.

"It's complicated to explain," she said instead, adding a dash of salt to her cauldron, hoping that would help her base potion boil. "I'd probably bore you to death."

"Try me."

"Fine. It's a reconstruction of something called the Fowler Potion. A medical brew." It was a brief introduction, but Lily's eyes still flickered cautiously over to his study table, surprised to find he was actually listening rather than already nodding off as her mates were won't to do once she got started. Warily, she continued, "It's actually an incredible breakthrough, but it's barely used because it's so ineffectual. I'm trying to strengthen it, come up with a way to make the effects last longer."

"What does it do?"

"It's a treatment for people who are hit with slow-acting curses," she explained, giving her potion a few quick stirs. "They seem to be a favourite of Voldemort's followers. The spells cause pain and damage for hours rather than quickly and immediately. The Folwer Potion is supposed to freeze the enchantment, make it so the person who got hit can stop the effects long enough for someone to cast the countercurse or get them to a Healer. But as of now, the potion wears off after a scant minute. If I can improve it, change the ingredients to somehow make it last longer..."

"You give them more time. Probably save lives." At Lily's nod, James's eyebrows lifted, clearly impressed. "Merlin's beard, Evans. That's right brilliant. You've really fixed the potion?"

"Well, almost," Lily admitted, fighting off the urge to preen at his praise. She was proud of her work, as well she should be. It was right brilliant, and for all his faults, James Potter was a clever sod. His appreciation meant something. "In theory I've got it solved. I've isolated certain ingredients that I believe might be able to soak up the enchantment long enough to prolong the freezing period. Unfortunately, nothing's worked exactly as I need it yet. But I still have a little more than a week to find the right one."

"Is that what all these are for?" James asked, motioning towards the still sky-high pile of boxes resting in front of him. "Potential test ingredients?"

Lily smiled. "Slughorn has given me free reign of the school's supplies, but those are all for lessons. I'm afraid you can't blame your sorry task on me."

"Sorry task?" James snorted. "Did you not hear me yesterday? I could be scrubbing loos, Evans. With Filch. Probably with a toothbrush."

"What did you do, anyway?" Lily asked, watching him as he quickly deflowered another batch of calinder root, neatly storing them in a jar. His hands moved swiftly, deftly. "Must have been something bad. A week's worth of detention? Over holidays?"

"Minor mishap with a few fireworks in the Slytherin common room," Potter said, far more bashful than he could ever be repentant. "Who knew window drapes were so flammable?"

Lily found herself grinning at the image, even though she'd never found the type of childish antics he and his mates got up to particularly humourous. This particular prank wasn't any great exception, but there was something in the way he spoke of it, a kind of appealing mischief in his rueful charm. She'd always known there was more to him than the preening peacock he often presented. Even in his most inane moments, there was an underlining good humour and general decency about him. Better yet, he seemed to have developed some kind of filter over the past couple of months—a filter of maturity, perhaps?—that made him exceedingly more tolerable. It didn't make him any less a reckless prankster, but Lily found she didn't mind talking to him, could appreciate the balance of man and boy he was now toying with.

Examining him now, taking in the playful grin and the industrious fingers and that ever-familiar mop of hair that seemed to catch stray ingredients like a spider's web, Lily decided she might not completely abhor his company.

"Cloth does tend to do that," she said, nodding sympathetically. "Tragic, really."

James sighed heavily. "Pity about the cat, too."


"Bother. Did I forget to mention the cat?" His mouth thinned innocently, but his eyes twinkled with pure mischief. "Mrs. Norris may have been attached to the fireworks."

Fine, Lily conceded, snorting into her cauldron as it finally—finally!—began to boil. Perhaps still a bit more boy than man, but there was nothing truly wrong in that.

"What about this one?"


"This one?"


"Right. 'Course. Then it must be—"

"Do I have to send you back over to your own desk?"

James lifted his hands, fingers splayed wide. In his play at innocence, the sprig of clover he'd been holding dropped neatly into the box on his lap, joining the other sprigs just like it. Dumping the box to the ground, James leaned back on the rear legs of the chair he'd dragged over to her station after discovering he'd finally reached the boxes in the supply pile containing plant parts. Lily still wasn't exactly certain what ingredient would be the one to pull her project together, but her research seemed to support the theory that the chlorophyll in a plant might have the proper properties to prolong the freezing period. So far, all the plants she'd tested hadn't reacted the way she'd wanted, but James had devoted his entire morning to assisting her in finding the proper one.

Which would have been excellent, if James wasn't utterly shite at Potions.

"Are you certain it wasn't that springy leaf bit?" he asked, absently picking through the many boxes he had spread out across the tables and ground around him. "That looked promising."

"That did not look promising," Lily huffed, swiping at a bit of hair that lay plastered against her damp forehead. The steam from her cauldron had made the room stifling. "Unless of course your end goal is to blow up the dungeons?"

"Well, it's always an option," James replied, popping open the lid of another box. "Solid Plan B."

The teasing was easy, playful, but Lily could only give a weak laugh. They'd been at this for hours, slaving tirelessly over cauldrons and plant bits and Lily would be lying if she said she wasn't beginning to feel a bit frazzled. She was overheated, overtired, and the niggling doubts that whispered she'd never find the missing ingredients had definitely begun to settle in. She'd always imagined that this close to the deadline, she'd be fine-tuning her project, not still missing such vital links. Potter's joking might be silly and his help ultimately useless, but he might also be the only thing keeping her from entering complete panic mode. She was starting to drive herself mad.

"I know it has to be something here," she muttered, helplessly scanning the assortment of supplies they had scattered about the room. "I think we might have been close with the rose leaf. Maybe if I just cut it thinly rather than crushing it? Hand me more of those, would you?"

James reached back to grab a box off the desk behind him, presenting the rose leaf to her with overt flourish.

"Happy Christmas," he said, as if bestowing a grand gift.

Lily took it with an eye roll.

"Many thanks. Now get back to work." She jabbed a finger towards the boxes of ingredients still stacked three high on the back table. "If those supplies aren't sorted by the end of today, Slughorn's going to wonder what the hell you're doing. A flobberworm could sort ingredients faster than you."

"No need to get catty, Evans," James said, grabbing a few boxes and ambling back towards his worktable. "You said yourself my assistance is invaluable."

"I said that?"

"Implied it, then."

"Right. What was Plan B again?"

James sent her an impatient look, as if he couldn't quite believe that she would have the audacity to bring that up. He waved it off a few moments later.

"Never mind that. Admit it, Evans. You'd miss me terribly if I were gone."

Lily snorted as she began to cut. "Ha! I'm sure that's what you'd like to—ow! Oh, ow! Bloody hell."

The knife clattered against the work table as Lily grabbed hold of her now bleeding ring finger. She searched blindly for some kind of makeshift cloth, but plant parts and textbooks filled every corner.

"Let me see."

Lily hadn't realised James had even moved towards her until he was already at her side, reaching for her hands and pushing aside the now heavily bloodied extremity. The cut on her finger began to gush more freely with the lack of pressure, but James still pulled the sliced digit closer to him, apparently unfazed by the gore.

"Hell, Evans. You got yourself good." He pulled his wand from his back pocket, muttered something Lily couldn't catch and her hands instantly cleared of the mess. The cut continued to bleed steadily.

"Oh, fucking hell. D'you think it'll need stitches?" Lily tried to get a better look, but James's bent head blocked her view.

"No, it's not quite that deep. You were lucky." He waved his wand again, and the stinging throb slowly began to ebb.

Lily let out a long breath. "Good. I'm not too keen on needles."

They were standing close together, their bodies nearly touching as James continued to examine her healing finger. The top of his wild hair nearly brushed against her face as she leaned closer to get a better look. He smelled like plants and peppermint, an unlikely combination unless one knew that he'd spent most of his morning sorting through greenery and sipping at peppermint cocoa, a treat he'd nicked from the kitchens before arriving to detention. The heat from his body mixed with the already heady heat of the classroom and Lily felt a bit as if her breathing had roughened.

Strange, she couldn't remember the last time he'd asked her out.

"That should hold," he said, finally lifting his head until they were standing face to face, mere centimeters of space resting between them. "Could've been a lot worse."

"How did you know to do that?" she asked, her voice strangely raspy. "Where did you learn those spells?"

James grinned. "I've had my fair share of cuts and scrapes. Seemed damn negligent after a while not to have at least a few of them up your sleeve."

Her heart was hammering and she didn't know why. James was still holding her hand and it seemed at that moment entirely inappropriate to remove it from his grasp.

Lily was no fool. She knew what her body was trying to tell her. But she reminded herself that she was overheated, overtired, and had little to no human interaction with anyone other than this boy for the better part of a week. Her body was in every way off its kilter and that in no way meant it was the least bit reliable at this point in time.

Still, James Potter had very pretty eyes.

"Er, Evans?"

The very pretty eyes were now staring at her in confusion, and Lily immediately jerked her hand out of his grasp and began to cough loudly.


"Sorry. Sorry." She swiped a hand through her hair, left it resting on her forehead where she felt her grim and sweat. "Blood loss. Sort of woozy. Sorry."

"All right now?" James asked, stepping towards her in concern. His hand reached out. "Maybe you should go see Pomfrey—"

"No, no, no. I'm fine. Really I'm fine." She easily dodged his hand, tilted wildly for a moment before catching her balance. James followed behind her. "But do you know what? I think this is a sign. I should probably take the afternoon off and get a bit of rest before I really maim myself, yeah? So I'll just clean up here and be off."

James frowned. "Sure? I might have botched the charm or something. Pomfrey—"

"I'm fine. Really. You're lovely—I mean, your charm was lovely. No need to worry."


But she'd already doused her fires and was bumbling out the door before he'd even finished.

Lily slept for twenty-four hours.

She woke up the morning of the 22nd feeling groggy and disoriented, but less frazzled than she'd felt in weeks. With her mind clear and her body replenished, she felt whole for the first time in ages. And perhaps more importantly, sleep and space had made her realise what a complete henwit she'd been the other afternoon in the dungeons, and how mad she'd been to overreact. It was obviously nothing, but to keep her own peace of mind, she'd decided to devote her entire day to research in the library rather than practicals in the dungeons. By the next day, James's detentions would be over and Lily wouldn't have to worry about her overtired body and overwrought emotions making any mad decisions. It seemed in every way a perfect choice.

Lily reentered the dungeons on the morning of the 23rd to find Classroom Four far tidier than when she'd left it. Her books and materials were stacked neatly next to her cauldrons and brewing kit, and the mountains of boxes that had previously littered every available surface were now entirely absent, the only proof that they'd ever been there the newly restocked supply cupboards.

But the tidiness of the classroom only added to the overall eeriness of returning, the room suddenly seeming entirely too empty and jarringly quiet. Lily resumed her work, but it was not with her usual single-minded determination.

Miss him terribly if he were gone, indeed.

But there was still work to do, and Lily's day in the library had spawned a few new ingredients she wanted to test out, including the trial with slicing rose leaves she'd never got to finish—

The classroom door flew open, smacking against the stone wall with a resounding clap.

James strode into the room and immediately jabbed a finger at her.

"Mistletoe!" he shouted.

Lily's heart jumped into her throat. "P-pardon?"

He grinned wildly, rushing forward. "I've figured it out! The missing ingredient! Mistletoe, Evans! It's mistletoe."

"Can you stop bloody saying that word?" Lily groaned, refusing to move when a sturdy worktable rested reassuringly between them. "And why in the name of all things magical would you think the proper ingredient is mistletoe?"

"Research!" James cried, and completely spoiled her master plan by rounding the worktable himself and coming to stand right beside her. His eyes were bright behind the narrow frames of his glasses. "I was in the library with the lads, trying to figure out why we couldn't bloody get the damned mistletoe that barmy Bev Blints charmed to hang over Sirius's head to fade off when we found this book about holiday flora and fauna."

"Holiday flora and fauna? That's a thing?"

James waved off her question. "I don't know. I didn't write it. So anyway, we're flipping through this book, trying to fix our poor mate's plight, when there it is, right there in the very first chapter. The answer to all our problems."

"Your problems or my problems?" Lily asked.

"Both!" His voice was suddenly heightened in volume, filled with anticipation. He began jittering about as he moved even closer, leaning forward until their faces aligned. Lily could feel the warmth of his breath against her skin. "Because the reason sodding Bev's enchantment was so hard to break and the reason why mistletoe is the answer to all your problems is because mistletoe is a natural conductor for enchantments. It's why you can get charmed mistletoe for a Knut a dozen! The plant soaks up the enchantment and is a damn bitch to break. It's perfect!"

The more James talked, the less Lily thought about all her stupid mind's assumptions and the proximity between them and damn near any other mad, stupid thing because dear Merlin above, could this be it? She knew next to nothing about the brewing properties of mistletoe, but she'd seen firsthand how long it took for the stupid charms on the things to wear off, and that had to mean something, right? If it really did soak up the enchantment...

With a raucous laugh, Lily threw her arms about James's shoulders, and without even thinking, dropped a huge, smacking kiss straight on his lips.

"You. Are. Brilliant," she cried, leaping away from him in a joyous frenzy, grabbing his hand as she immediately began tugging him towards the classroom door. "You are amazing and brilliant and wonderful and you need to find me that book."

"You kissed me," James murmured, plodding along behind her as if he were in a daze. "You kissed me."

"Yes, and I undoubtedly will again if you find me that book!"

James found her the book.

With the missing link in her project's chain finally found, Lily decided to celebrate by taking off for the holidays. Regardless of the breakthrough, there was still so much to do—yes, her initial testing had seemed to confirm that the mistletoe would provide that freezing element she'd been endlessly searching for, but there were still questions of proportions and consistency and corresponding amounts and chemical reactions...

She caved and sneaked some brewing in on Christmas Eve, but Mary had Slughorn confiscate her key for Christmas Day.

The holiday went by quickly, in any case. After presents in her dormitory and a hearty holiday breakfast with a group of Gryffindor girls who had also stayed at school over break, Lily curled up in the common room with a mug of cocoa and the book Marlene had got her for Christmas. She was only just getting started when someone plopped down on the sofa beside her.

"Here" James thrust a thin, flat package with a bright red bow at her. "For you."

Lily stared at him in surprise, setting her book down on the arm rest and gingerly reaching for the package. It was paper thin and extremely light. Only the hefty bow seemed to be giving it some weight.

She frowned. "But I didn't get anything for you."

"I know. But I consider this as much a gift for humanity as a gift for you personally, so I really wouldn't worry overly much about it. Go on. Open it."

"A gift for all of humanity?" Lily ran her hands around the flat edges of the package, stopping when she found the tab that popped it open. It was essentially a big envelope, and when Lily reached in, she drew out a single piece of parchment. "That seems a tall order. Are you certain—"

Dear Governing Board,

I'm writing you this letter in order to formally document my endorsement for Hogwarts student Lily Evans for this year's Reginald Borage Grant for Innovative Brewing and Potionmaking...

Lily froze.

"James...what is this?"

"An endorsement letter for your application," he answered, casual as ever. Lily blinked, hardly even beginning to process what exactly she was holding in her hands—an endorsement letter? An endorsement letter?—when James started up again. "Look, before you say anything, just hear me out, all right? Let me explain."

"Explain?" Lily's hands were shaking. "Explain?"

"My mum is on a million committees," James said, talking quickly. "It's practically what she does. It's her only profession. And on these committees, she has a million committee friends. One of them's called Cora. I've known her since I was in nappies. Cora works for the PBA."

Lily could hardly breathe. "The Potionmaking and Brewing Association?"

James nodded. "Right. So when you went off that first morning about not even having a shot at the Borage because of some stupid endorsement...well, I didn't see the harm in writing her. I didn't even know if anything would come of it. Cora can be a bit flighty and she's getting on in years. It was a shot in the dark."


"You don't have to include it," he said, surprising Lily by how forceful his tone was, by how he grabbed her still shaking hand and squeezed. "Perhaps it wasn't my place to get involved and maybe now you've got your heart set on the whole 'shaming them while they reject you' plan, but I've seen how hard you worked on this. Your project is brilliant and you deserve that stupid grant, and if you didn't even have the chance because some bloody bigoted governing board is so lost up their own arses that they can't see how clever you are...well, it seemed like utter shite. So all I'm giving you is the option. Include it or burn it, I really don't care. But you deserve your shot."

Deserve a shot.

Bloody hell, she had a shot.

He was giving her a shot.

Truthfully, Lily didn't know quite what to think. Her head was spinning and no matter how many times she attempted to read the words on the page, they inevitably ended up blurring. Part of her did want to stick James with a good Bat-Bogey Hex for going behind her back and playing the very same political games in her name that Lily had been so furious over from the start, but Lily was starting to wonder whether or not the end would justify the means.

After all, he was right about some things. She had worked hard on this project and she knew it was good. And while she wasn't quite certain she'd be helping all of humanity just yet, her research might certainly help someone, someday.

Was she really going to throw that away in order to save her pride? Could she live with herself either way?

"You don't have to decide now," James said, seeming to read the indecision on her face. "You still have a week until the deadline, yeah?"

"About a week, yes." Sick of even making the attempt, Lily slipped the letter back into the envelope to read in full later. She closed the flap and sealed the package up tight. She took a moment to pull herself together before finally glancing over at James.

"Thank you," she said, lifting up to brush a quick kiss against his cheek. "It was a bit highhanded and I'm not quite certain what I'm going to do about it yet, but I think I'm grateful to have a choice. And you did that. So thank you."

"You're welcome," James said, but he was looking at her strangely now, and Lily didn't quite understand the odd gleam in his eyes.

"What?" she asked.

"You know, Evans," he murmured, rubbing absently at his cheek, "with all these kisses you've been giving, you may just start to give a bloke ideas."

Lily laughed, grabbing her book and her cocoa and rising with both to her feet. "Is that so? Interesting."

James followed her up from the couch. "Interesting?"

She grinned as she headed towards the girls' staircase, reckoning "interesting" was about as much as she was willing to offer just now. But maybe one day.

"Happy Christmas, James," she called.