Disclaimer: The characters belong to J.K. Rowling.
She didn't understand what was wrong with her. The trees were as green as ever as their leaves swayed to the early morning breeze. The sun cast a warm glow over the castle grounds and its rays shone through the window beside her, sprinkling her skin with thousands of glittering colors. It was a perfectly fine day— better than the normally overcast days that were becoming too common in the grounds these days. But still, everything that surrounded Lily Evans just seemed to be lacking.
Everything except for the boy in front of her.
Everything about the Head boy was too striking— his strikingly disarrayed hair, his strikingly animated expressions, his strikingly broad shoulders and firm arms (firm body, more like), his strikingly hazel eyes, his strikingly luscious scent.
She wondered when James Potter evolved from the skinny, irritating, obnoxious little boy that kept chasing her around to this fine, young man sitting in front of her. Well, he could still be obnoxious and irritating, but that was beside the point. She wondered when she resolved that his cockiness was just a semblance of self-confidence, when his humor and wit started to become amusing rather than infuriating.
She wondered when the world became less interesting than James Potter.
When did James become a point of comparison? When did he become a standard? When exactly did he become so significant to Lily Evans that she would find his eyes warmer than the sun's golden glow? That he would become the center of her unnerving, frivolous, little thoughts?
He raised his eyes to meet hers and caught her studying him. He smiled slightly (and oh yes, that was striking too, heartbreakingly so).
"Careful, Lily. If you keep on staring I might get the wrong idea," he said softly, returning his gaze to the parchment in front of him.
"You've always had the wrong idea, Potter," she sighed.
She saw his lips twitch as he crossed something out, "Back to 'Potter' now are we, Evans?"
She didn't answer and instead continued to stare at him. She noted how relaxed he was in her presence now, compared to the start of term when everything between them tipped so precariously that they were both in danger of falling off.
"Merlin! Evans, we're going to be practically living together," he had said during their argument after the meeting with the prefects, "And as endearing as your incessant stream of insults tend to be, I take it that you'd rather wake up after a peaceful night's slumber and not after a week's worth of row gobbled up in one evening. So the least we could do to make this easier on the both of us is to try and get along. If not, at most, tolerate each other."
He hadn't shouted at her, but he didn't need to for Lily to know that James was on the brink of anger. She knew that James only spoke like that, used that low, dangerously calm tone, that particular steady cadence, when he was really upset— having been on the receiving end of his frustration one time, too many. Instead of calming her though, seeing James seemingly composed despite being anything but, sparked her irritation more.
"I'd actually rather wake up in a room full of boggarts than seeing your obnoxious face."
"Well, it's convenient that we're not sharing the exact same room then, isn't it?"
"Yes, but I'll still be seeing your face each morning," she laughed dryly, "As if sharing a common room with you isn't bad enough."
"Remind me to get up extra early in the morning then, to limit that inconvenience," he muttered, "and to go back when you're snoring so loud that even Peeves will be forced to leave Hogwarts."
"Oh, if only I can snore you out of my life, Potter," Lily all but growled, "And if you don't want to inconvenience me then I'd rather you didn't go back to the Heads' dorm at all."
James reeled back. Even for Lily, that was a low blow.
"You really can't stand me that much?" something flashed in his eyes then. He looked almost hurt.
But this was James Potter and that was impossible. The only thing that can hurt him was a bludger to the head, possibly. And even then he would just shrug it off while being brought to the hospital wing.
Lily shrugged it off. "I've actually much more patience for Hagrid's flobberworms than you."
"Evans, come on," James sighed in frustration, "I'm trying here."
"I didn't ask you to try!"
His eyes sparked, the anger almost threatening to erupt. "Yes, you did! You do. Every single day, that's all you ever ask of me— to try. Try to stop being a git. Try to be mature. Try to grow up. Try to be anything but James."
"Oh really Potter, that's just ridiculous," she rolled her eyes, "I never said those things."
"You didn't need to, Evans. Everything you do and say implies such," he let out an exasperated breath, "And I know it's ridiculous. I mean, how can a person stop being himself? I don't think any amount of polyjuice potion can do that."
Lily couldn't help but think then how frustrating it was that James could try to kid around even when he was deeply disconcerted. But then he was always like this.
"But you know, even if the idea is completely preposterous I do try, Evans. I've been trying for the past 5 years. But no matter what I do or don't do, I always end up looking like an idiot in front of you. No matter how I try to change what you think of me, it's never enough. I can never get round your idea of how conceited and cocky and bloody pathetic I am because that's all you've ever expected of me," he curled his hands into fists, the frustration now clearly evident on his face, his entire body, "In fact, I think it's safe to say that that's all you'll ever expect of me."
"That's..." She couldn't form a single coherent thought.
In front of her, James was slightly shaking. He was unraveling like he never did before and here she was, stunned into silence, rooted on the spot with her hands sweating like they always did when she was on the verge of panic.
Because James never exploded like this.
Yes, they argued and bickered and spat at each other's faces but they were angry with each other. Every row they had was because Lily was angry and irritated and annoyed and James was too proud to just let her insults slide. He would argue back and mock her and tease. Most of the times, he would end it by just chuckling and telling her how adorable she was when her face rivaled the redness of her hair. Sometimes he would get angry too but he never gave the impression that Lily's words hurt him. James Potter didn't get hurt by Lily Evans. He never hurt— no matter how many insults and unkind words Lily flung at him. At least that was what Lily always told herself. But clearly that wasn't the case now... maybe, she thought, it was never the case.
"Why?" James shook his head as he let out an unsteady breath, "Why do you despise me so much, Lily?"
She saw his jaw tighten as his he looked away from her, as if he couldn't stand the sight of her.
Before Lily could think of an answer, James turned around and left the carriage, his body taut with exhaustion. His slumped shoulders, his suddenly defeated expression— these shook Lily that day much more than if he had slammed the door at her face instead.
Lily was lost in the memory.
If someone told her at that moment that this friendship was possible, that she would one day be enjoying the company of James Potter, planning patrol schedules with him without the deep desire to hex every inch of him so that he could be shipped off to the hospital wing in a match box, that James could finally stand to be in the same room with her for more than a few minutes without freezing up like he'd been petrified, she would have told them to jump off the North tower. Or she would have jumped off the North tower herself for even considering the suggestion.
But here they were.
Her, still staring at the head boy as his quill scratched and skidded across the parchment and him, unfazed by her incessant gaze. He even seemed to be enjoying it— that she was watching him, studying his movements.
In fact, that's all she ever found herself doing these days when there wasn't anything better to do or when they were alone— looking at him, watching him. A few weeks after their fight, their worst row ever in fact, she sought him out to apologize. They never apologized to each other after their rows so she wondered why she was doing so at the time. But even she knew that this time was different. She knew somehow, that if she didn't reach out, he would stay away. If she didn't make the first step, he would keep avoiding her like she was covered in bubotuber pus topped with Professor Slughorn's Friday surprise casserole.
And a part of her questioned why she didn't just let him. This was what she always wanted, wasn't it?
For 6 years all she wanted was for James Potter to leave her alone. But now that he was finally doing that, Lily found that maybe that wasn't what she really wanted at all— that she didn't really want James to completely cut himself off from her. Only then did she realize how unfair she had been to James, how selfish she was. And that made it all the more difficult to apologize to him properly.
"So now that James finally stopped chasing you, you chase after him. Merlin, I love you both," Marlene was practically in tears after Lily told her everything.
Lily waited up for James that night. And when she finally gathered enough nerve to explain herself, she didn't expect him to forgive her so easily.
"What happened on the train... You see... I- I just... What I'm trying to say is that..." she took a deep breath to steady herself, "Er, James..."
His eyes snapped to hers as she said his name, the hazel suddenly looked brighter and she realized that it was the first time she called him by his first name, without any contempt. Her face became impossibly redder than her fiery mane.
"It's fine, Lily," His lips twitched as she stuttered in front of him, "And I'm sorry, too."
He smiled at her then— not the usual lazy, cocky grin that he normally wore. He smiled at her like she just made him the happiest person alive. James' smile warmed up the room and made Lily's stomach churn. It warmed Lily up too.
And ever since then, she started to look at him. Really look at him. Lily's eyes would follow James as he paced around their common room with an old bit of parchment in one hand and his wand being twirled by the other. But this was quite alright because James looked at Lily too. He looked at Lily when he thought no one was watching. Sometimes Lily would catch him staring, and his eyes would glide away from hers, pretending that he wasn't staring at her in the first place. And on those times that he didn't look away, Lily would smile at him and his eyes would soften, the hazel becoming brighter, as he smiled that warm smile of his.
So it was perfectly fine to look at James, Lily thought. But then, Lily didn't just look at him. She started to watch him.
She watched him so much that she knew his mannerisms like the back of her hand— that she could read him as easily as she could charm a teapot to tap dance.
She knew that his brow furrowed when he was reading something he couldn't understand. She knew that he would blink excessively when he said something that he wasn't sure of. She knew that, when he was getting restless, he tapped the fingers of his right hand, from the smallest to his pointer finger, in perfect synchrony with the tapping of his left foot. She knew that he dipped his head when he was embarrassed and that his hands always messed up his hair when he was feeling even remotely nervous. She knew that he dips his quill three times, always three times, before writing on his parchment.
And knowing all of this scared her sometimes. Lily was never this attuned to anyone. She found herself already knowing what he was about to do even before he did it— it was already a scene playing out in her head, looping until he became conscious of her eyes on him.
Like how he was completely conscious of her steady stare now, as they sat on the floor of their common room, facing each other.
"Really, Lils, if you have something to say just spit it out."
The sound of James' voice brought Lily back to the present. She raised an eyebrow. "Why would you think I have something to say to you?"
"You've been staring for the past two hours. I know I'm devastatingly good looking but..." He chuckled. The sound made Lily's heart race.
"But?" she was a little breathless. Lily felt her cheeks flood with color.
It didn't help that James' tongue darted out to quickly lick his bottom lip, and he tilted his head to one side. It was what James always did when he was thinking— when he was trying to figure something out. Lily knew that in a few seconds James would nibble on his bottom lip, first on the left side and then on the right. And when he finally released it, his lip would be pink and a little swollen from all the biting. It was enough to drive anybody crazy, even Lily.
"Oh, bother," she swore under her breath.
She pushed herself off the floor and grabbed James by the collar, making his eyes go wide as her lips attacked his without warning. She moaned in frustration as James kissed her back hesitantly, almost like he was unsure of what he was doing, of what was actually happening. Lily nibbled on his lower lip like how she's always wanted to, making James gasp in surprise. She pulled back and saw James' astonished expression.
James blinked down at her, his eyes too bright and unfocused.
"After all those years of asking me out, I finally think to say yes and you can't even kiss me properly," Lily raised an eyebrow.
"You're..." James' eyes widened, the disbelief openly showing in his face, "Yes?"
"It's a good thing you're 'devastatingly good looking', otherwise I wouldn't know what to do with your level of stupidity, Potter," Lily smirked.
James finally seemed to snap back to himself. His arm encircled her waist while the other cupped her cheek. He smiled his lazy grin and a wicked glint sparked in his warm, hazel eyes.
"Don't worry, Lily. I'll try to grow out of it."
"I didn't ask you to try," Lily laughed and James brought their lips together again, giving her a proper kiss.
His arms tightened around her as James brought his forehead to rest against Lily's. "But I will."