James realises—not for the first time—that he cannot possibly be Head Boy when it takes three attempts plus Remus's interceding just to get Lily to agree to have lunch with him.
If the whole situation weren't already a damned bloody mess, he might have been a bit more distraught over just how poorly the lunch arrangements come about. No, he and Lily aren't technically friends—it is exceedingly difficult to be friends with a witch that you're at least partially in love with, James has sadly discovered—but they're not not friends, either. Actually, sixth-year had been rather good for them. James had finally developed a semi-proper Lily Filter, learning just what moronic thoughts he could let slip out and which ones he ought to keep to his bloody self, and Lily had quit cringing whenever he came within a hundred paces. It wasn't perfect, but it was still good.
And then there was that night at the end of term, just before McGonagall's god-awful final exam. James had spent many-a-days pondering that night, but never with any definitive conclusion. The whole of Year Six had been up cramming and the Gryffindors had made a group misery circle of it, exchanging notes and quizzing one other into the early morning. Around three, Sirius wouldn't quit moaning about his empty stomach and Mary MacDonald had become dead enamoured with the idea of rewarding themselves with ice cream each time they got a question right. In the end, James had volunteered to go down to the kitchens to fetch it if only to give his pounding head a rest from all the whinging. But to his everlasting surprise, Lily had offered to come along.
"I've never been," was the reason she gave, rising slowly to her feet. A tantalizing sliver of skin appeared between her shirt and the waistband of her cotton trousers as she lifted her arms above her head to stretch her tightened limbs. James tried not to stare. "It can be my end-of-sixth-year rule break."
"Two rules," James corrected, eyes darting quickly from her waistline to her face. "The kitchens are off limits and you'll be out after curfew. Two."
Lily laughed. "Well, would you look at that? Two rules. What a rebel I've become. Six years of your rotten influence, I imagine. Something was bound to rub off."
"A bloke can dream," James grinned, and the two of them left the common room.
The walk down to the kitchens was actually fortunately uneventful considering the scant amount of attention he was paying to what was going on around them. He was far more interested in Lily, who seemed to have embraced their night-time lurking with full abandon. She kept babbling about some bloke called Charlie and his crime-fighting celestials as she lunged behind wall corners and brandished her wand with sweeping waves and jerky motions. When James openly laughed at her, she just muttered something about Muggle Studies clearly not teaching him anything lucrative and kept on with her game. When they'd reached the kitchens, James had let her tickle the pear and was rewarded with her delighted laugh. She'd also never seen a house elf before and proceeded to ask half-a-million questions about the little buggers (How did they cook so much? What did he mean, they liked it? Did he have any house elves?).
By the time they were leaving with their ice cream, Lily was far less concerned with being an angel and far more concerned about the other magical creatures she'd never chanced to meet. She was in the midst of quizzing him about just what kinds of animals one might stumble upon in the Forbidden Forest when James heard Filch's footsteps hurrying towards them.
That's when the footrace began.
James blamed himself. The Map had turned him sloppy, and adding that to the fact that he was paying far more attention to the way Lily's eyes seemed to sparkle in the dim torchlight than to the familiar tapping sounds of Hogwarts's patent night patrol, and they were lucky they'd gotten as far as they had. To avoid Filch that first time, James had shoved Lily behind a suit of armour, but that was only a temporary fix. Damn Mrs. Norris had spotted them as they were hightailing it in the opposite direction and the chase was on. It certainly didn't help matters that Lily couldn't stop laughing, which in turn caused him to laugh, creating a none-too-subtle ruckus. She was damn quick, though, he'd give her that. James was used to running from Filch—he and Sirius even indulged in the pastime on purpose occasionally—but the Two Rule Rebel was shockingly brilliant at shadowing his every step as he weaved in and out of corridors, up and down staircases, behind tapestries and into alcoves. It was this same Prefect who had grabbed the back of James's shirt and tugged him into the small broom cupboard that seemed to appear out of nowhere on the seventh floor after they'd run up and down that same corridor at least three times. For whatever reason, Filch hadn't bothered trying to follow them inside, hadn't even rattled the doorknob as he hollered at them to open up. They'd been sure to latch the door shut and weren't about to let it open even if he'd bothered, but it was still uncharacteristic. James wasn't about to worry about it, though. The two of them were too busy collapsing against the wooden door, wheezing and panting in a poor attempt to catch their breath amidst winded laughter.
"D'you...reckon we lost him?" Lily gasped.
James's stomach hurt from laughing. He quit gulping long enough to shush her. "Shhh...lemme listen."
Lily pressed her lips together in a bid to be silent, following his lead in plastering her ear against the door and straining to listen. James had spent years training his ears to recognise Filch's movements, and though the last fifteen minutes had proven that his senses were clearly not as keen as they used to be, they weren't entirely useless, either. Filch passed by their hiding spot at least twice before his footsteps petered out down the corridor.
When he was certain the caretaker was gone, James glanced down at Lily. She was still convulsing slightly against the doorframe, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. When they opened, James didn't need torchlight to see the green sparkle. For a moment, he forgot what they were doing. It wasn't until Lily pressed closer to the door again and whispered, "Can you hear him?" that James snapped out of his daze.
"Seven minutes," he told her, pushing away from the door and breathing only slightly laboriously. Lily followed suit.
"Seven minutes, what?" she asked.
James motioned to the door. "Until he gives up. After seven minutes, he moves on to the next potential victim. Like clockwork."
"Ah." Lily twisted around, her back still pressed up against the door. Her hand lifted to her chest. She was still giggling a bit. "G-god. My heart is pounding."
"Two rules and a dash from Filch. I'd say you're covered until graduation."
"Oh, at least," Lily agreed, and opened her mouth to say something further, but all that came out was a shriek. "Ah! Ick! Melting!"
James's eyes flashed to the plastic bag they'd stashed the cartons of ice cream in, spotting the chocolaty splotches staining the bottom of the sack immediately. Lily thrust the bag away from her, but a few of her fingers were already coated in the melted dessert. James took the bag and quickly set a Freezing Charm on it. That done, he glanced inside to assess the damage.
"Only one of them cracked open," he reported, reaching in to close the busted carton. The ice cream smeared his fingers, as well. "The double chocolate, I think."
"Definitely the double chocolate," Lily confirmed, and James glanced up to see her licking the evidence off her fingers. Her digits swirled about her lips, her tongue darting out playfully.
James groaned. Loudly.
"Don't do that!" he begged, squeezing his eyes shut. "Christ, Evans."
"Oh, control yourself," Lily scoffed, and if she wasn't slurping the rest of the chocolate off of her fingertips, James imagined she was, so the whole thing was a moot point. "It was all over the place. What else was I supposed to do?"
"Wipe it somewhere. Scourgify. Finger paint. Anything." James lifted a hand to cover his eyes—as if that would help. "For Merlin's sake, I'm just a wizard, Evans!"
"You're getting ice cream on your face."
"The cold is good for me."
But rather than being wholly apologetic for the torture she was putting him through, Lily merely continued to laugh, her same lovely, infectious chuckle that helped matters none at all. But with that merry sound, the fact that he was stuck in a broom closet with finger-licking, infectiously-giggling Lily Evans struck James or the first time.
So did the fact that Lily didn't seem to mind this.
"That was fun," she declared, finally pushing off the wooden door and moving the scant few steps that the tight closet allowed her. "I haven't the faintest where we even ran."
"Everywhere," James answered, dropping his hand down to his side and opening his eyes on a tentative sigh. Lily had hoisted herself up on the room's only piece of furniture—a rickety old desk covered with cleaning supplies—and rested the soggy sack of ice cream down next to her. James moved closer. "You're quick, you know—out there, I mean. Done this before, have you?"
Lily shrugged loftily. "Oh, you know. All in a day's work."
He leaned his hip against the old desk and poked around in the plastic bag to make certain the Freezing Charm was staying put. A brush of fingers suddenly swept over his cheek and James's head immediately jerked up.
"I told you. Ice cream," Lily said.
"Oh. Er, right." James coughed, hoping his voice only cracked in his head.
Had she ever touched him before?
If there indeed was such a moment, he couldn’t think of it. His cheek still burned from where her fingers had brushed and even though he was entirely willing to concede that this could all be in his head (Merlin knew it had been before), he could've sworn he'd seen a moment of something flicker over her face. Not a blush or anything even remotely that encouraging, but still...something...
"Nearly summer," she announced suddenly. James jolted, thrust out of his careful examination of her shifting face. He tried not to read too much into the higher timbre of her voice, the abrupt remark, because it was entirely possible that she was simply starting conversation and not searching for an out of their moment—if it could even be called a moment—but he'd never really mastered the art of not-jumping-to-conclusions with Lily. "Mad, isn't it? Year Seven. Last one."
"S'not so bad, really," he answered, actually grateful for the distraction. He lifted a hand to run through his hair. "Sometimes I think...I mean, I'll miss Hogwarts and all, but we're so...it's all a bit claustrophobic, isn't it?"
"Not real," James tried again, though he honestly hadn't intended to admit anything of the sort in the first place. But now that he’d started, he couldn't very well stop. "We're all just stashed up here in Scotland, cut off from what's actually going on—too young to do anything, but old enough to know there are things we ought to be doing. It's complete—"
"Rubbish," Lily finished, taking the word straight from his mouth. “It’s rubbish.”
"Yeah," he said, a bit unsettled. "Yeah, that's the word for it."
"Try being me," Lily muttered, giving her head a rueful shake. "Even Hogwarts isn't the haven it once was. The things some people say—" She stopped, shook her head again, then waved off the thought. "Never mind. But even so, I'm never supposed to do anything to defend myself. And every time I go home, my parents only blather on about when I'm applying to university—"
"University? Muggle university?"
Lily nodded. "They haven't really grasped the whole ‘Wizarding World’ as a concept yet. Sometimes I think they're under the impression that this is all some sort of whim of mine—like when I'm through with school, I'll go and take my proper spot at Cambridge or something."
"But you can't!" James didn't know why it suddenly felt like someone had hit the panic button. Alarm shot through him. Buggering hell. It wasn't that he knew much about Muggle university—Cambrook was one of those, wasn't it?—but he knew that Lily had no place taking any what-have-you at one. "I thought you were applying to Mungo's. That Potions thing. You were—"
"I am! I am!" The words came out on a spiel of laughter, and Lily cocked her head to the side questioningly. "How did you even know that?"
He hadn't the foggiest. He just did.
"Slughorn," he improvised, because it sounded like the sort of thing the old codger would brag about. Obviously he was right, because Lily hummed an agreement.
"Ah. Right." She gave her legs a little swing and smiled thinly. "I ought to not apply just to spite him, don't you think? It would serve him right for blustering about it every lesson."
James shrugged. "Probably, but you'd be brilliant at it. Why give that up?"
He smiled. "Fishing for compliments, Evans?"
"From you?" Lily nudged him playfully in the side. "Why waste the effort? You dole them out for free."
"Don't toy with a wizard's affections," James warned, crowding her on the desk. "You'll be sorry."
She shoved half-heartedly at his shoulders, but one of her legs was practically hooked round his waist now and he could feel her laughter blowing hot against his skin. He knew that this was the most contact they'd ever had. She'd never let him touch her like he was now. And the strangest bit about it was that he wasn't even really touching her—if anything, she was touching him. He felt her fingers curling into his forearm, and though he'd leaned as far over her as he dared, he could have sworn she was leaning, as well. Sirius would call him a pansy-arsed swot, but James waited for the moment when her eyes would lift, meet his. He thought he needed that moment, that connection, and then he might be able to close the space between them. As it was, her mouth wasn't very far from his. If he'd just tilted his chin down a bit farther, tucked his head to the side a tick more...
Lily murmured something.
"Seven minutes," she said, her voice short, tight. "He's gone, isn't he?"
And so, James realised, was their moment.
Bloody fucking seven minutes. He bloody well should have told her eight.
They'd left the broom cupboard soon after in far cooler spirits than when they'd arrived, silent for most of the short walk back to the common room. James kicked himself for pushing her too far, or perhaps not far enough, and he honestly hadn't the faintest what Lily was thinking. He couldn't get a proper read on her, though he could tell she was piqued, tense. Trouble was, he didn't know if it was angry tense or something else. She wasn't treating him particularly unfriendly—not for the rest of that night, nor over the next few days they had left at Hogwarts—but she certainly wasn't laughing with him anymore, and gone was the possibility of broaching Remus's latest plan with her—that James might write her over summer hols. He couldn't afford her refusal, another step backward. It just wasn't worth it.
Not until the Head Boy letter, that is.
His first thought when he gets it was that he’s got the wrong letter. The envelope is a bit heftier than usual, but perhaps that was just because McGonagall had decided to include another lengthy report for his mum on James's latest antics. She'd done that once before, after second-year and the business in the third floor girls' lavatory, but James didn’t think he’d done anything to warrant another such letter. When the heft turned out to be a badge, however, James was exasperated. Couldn’t the bloody school get anything right? What poor soul's drippy letter had he got? Part of him hoped it was Remus's, even though he knew that his self-deprecating mate had told Dumbledore at the end of last term that he didn't want the position. James and Peter had spent ages trying to talk Remus out of it, but the werewolf was resolute. Sirius didn't help matters much. James loved the ponce better than a brother, but sometimes he wondered if Sirius didn't just miss the point. Instead of seeing Remus's decision as a piss-poor example of their mate's attempts to sabotage himself, Sirius had embraced the choice as an opportunity for the lot of them to run wild in their final year. There was a happy medium in there somewhere and James was on the lookout for it. In the meantime, he could only hope that Dumbledore had chosen to ignore Remus's nonsense.
So he'd skimmed the letter for the proper addressee, all the while hoping to see Remus's name scrawled at the top. But the only name James saw was his own. All over the letter—even in the bits that directly referred to the misdirected badge—'Mr Potter's reigned. James had blinked down at the page in stunned silence—then he'd hollered for his mother.
That was a mistake, James could recognise now, the hollering. The second Mum had realised just what had come along with his usual post, the woman had burst into a wild wail of messy tears. Didn't James realise what he was holding? (Yes, actually, he did, though he was rather certain someone was taking the mickey.) Could he believe it? (No, he really couldn't.) His father had been Head Boy, did he know that? (Of course, he did.) How proud his father would've been to see this. Didn't James think so? (He didn't like to think about Dad much, actually, thanks.)
The second person to find out had been Sirius, who'd merely looked disgusted by the whole affair. James had tried to tell him that this was clearly some kind of gag, that obviously a mistake had been made and they were going to get to the bottom of it, but Sirius didn't want to listen. So as his best mate went off to sulk, James composed two hasty letters—one to McGonagall, demanding an explanation; the second to Remus, ordering him to Dover immediately. He got both replies later that afternoon
"What the fuck am I going to do?" James groaned later, repeatedly banging his head against the kitchen table where McGonagall's terse letter explaining that in fact, no, there was no mistake, James really was Head Boy, lay, wrinkled from excessive handling. Across the table, Remus nursed his tea in contemplative silence.
"Be Head Boy, I s'ppse," he answered, sounding far less perturbed by this prospect than he really ought've done. "It's not as mad as you might think."
James paused in his cranium assault only long enough to shoot Remus a baleful glare. "Oh, no?"
"You're top of our year, Prongs," Remus said, sipping absently at his tea. "That's something there. And you've been Quidditch Captain since fourth—leadership—and have a pretty good handle on at least three of the four houses. You're not perfect, no, but since you've quit hexing people for the fun of it and the Map has made us harder to catch, you haven't been the detention slug you once were, either. You even had that tutoring group winter term!"
"I had that tutoring group because Lily said she'd run it with me, then skived," James said.
Remus waved off his protest. "Lily only skived because she said it was a crime for someone so talented to hoard his knowledge to himself. She ditched you for your own good, Besides," he added, ignoring James's shocked expression, "you could have called the whole thing off after you found out she'd balked, but you didn't. How many weeks did you slave away with those third-years for?"
Too many, James remembered grimly, but he shoved that thought away in lieu of a more attractive tidbit. "Lily really said that about me?"
Remus pulled a face. "Prongs. Focus, please. You can't give this up! Dumbledore picked you for a reason!"
"You gave it up," James shot back, scowling. "You were a Prefect, and a decent bloke, and forty-times the scholar I'll ever be, and you gave it up. So why the bloody hell should I?"
"Because you're not me. Our situations are completely different."
There's a moment of silence—one in which James was genuinely hoping Remus was reconsidering his own candidacy and would decide to take this ugly burden away from him—but he wasn't that lucky. Instead, Remus's eyes flashed and a strange expression marred his cool features.
"But if you won't listen to me"—he scrambled suddenly for something amidst all the parchment and rubble spread out across the Potters’ kitchen table—"then maybe you'll listen to someone's whose opinion you do care about."
"Padfoot is still sulking," James reported glumly.
"I don't mean Sirius. I'm talking about Lily, James." Remus thrust an empty piece of parchment and an inked quill across the table at him. "Write to Lily. Ask her if you should quit."
"Lily?" James hadn't seriously spoken to her since that night in the broom cupboard, since he'd thought they should have kissed and Lily had balked worse than with the tutoring group. But he'd thought about it—about her—thousands of times. Hundreds of thousands of times. "D'you reckon..."
"She's Head Girl," Remus confirmed with a nod. "I spoke with Dorcas yesterday. I suppose Lily had had her letter by then, because Dorcas knew. She asked me if I'd got Head Boy."
Head Girl. Merlin's wispy beard, Lily was Head Girl. Of course, she was. Who else would be? James was surprised he hadn't realised it before. Lily was Head Girl and he was—for now, at least—Head Boy.
James eyed Remus's proffered writing implements with an unsurprising amount of trepidation. The last time he'd attempted to write Lily a letter over the summer, he had been in fourth-year. She hadn't even deigned to pen a line of response. Part of him—a seriously significant part of him—wasn't about to expect anything more from her if he actually had another go at it. But a smaller part of him—the same part that had got him through those dark, disdain-filled days of fourth and fifth-year—wasn't willing to throw in the towel just yet.
Maybe...he wasn't mad, was he? He couldn't possibly have imagined that whole study night's affair. Maybe she hadn't been as inching to kiss him as he was her, but certainly she held enough regard for him to bother scrawling out a quick reply this time—even if it only said to bugger off, of course he should give up Head Boy.
Thinking of such a note, James cringed. Perhaps some things were best done in person. It was harder to be so brutally honest when the person was standing right there in front of you, wasn't it?
Well, a bloke could dream.
He snatched the parchment and quill out of Remus's hands. "Give me those."
Then he began to write.
He arrived at Fortescue's an hour early—a fortunate nervous reaction considering the ice cream shop was flooded with end-of-summer shoppers and it took nearly half-hour to secure a table. James was actually grateful for the waiting game. It distracted him from dwelling too much on what the bloody hell he was going to do once Lily got there, though that million Galleon question was never far from his mind. Following Florean to the recently opened outdoor table, the Head Boy badge and his Hogwarts letter seemed to be burning holes in his trouser pocket. The damn cruxes of all his problems.
He'd brought them along as evidence, reckoning Lily would need to see it to believe it. He hadn't said in his notes what he wanted to speak with her about and had sworn Remus to the same secrecy, so she hadn't time to adjust to the news. He couldn't imagine what she'd do when she did find out. She'd be surprised, that was a given. Cross, maybe, that Dumbledore had gone and tried to ruin her final year. She'd undoubtedly be relieved to hear that he'd be writing to the headmaster as soon as their lunch concluded to let him know that there was no way in hell he was accepting the position, but the order and intensity of all of these things were entirely up in the air. And in the meantime, the letter and badge rested heavy and uncomfortable against his thigh.
Bloody hell, he couldn't wait to be rid of the things.
He was up and scrambling from his chair in an instant. Whipping around, he found Lily standing uncertainly behind him, a slightly wavering smile playing at her lips. She carried a couple of Flourish & Blott’s bags tightly between her clenched fingers. His heart jumped straight to his throat.
"Hi—er, hullo." He feinted forward, thinking at first to hug her, then realised how awkward that would be and stopped abruptly. He substituted the hug for an equally awkward wave, then busied himself with pulling the old metal chair out for her across the table. Fucking hell, he was such a tosser. "Sorry. Right. Hullo. Sit."
"Thanks." She moved towards the chair slowly, looking bloody fantastic and undoubtedly entirely unaware of it. James was always delighted when he spotted her out of uniform, and today was no exception. Her flowered skirt moved like silk about her knees as she gingerly took her seat across from him, matching well with the simple white top and accompanying white ribbon pushing back the fiery strands of her hair. The summer sun had dusted a light slew of freckles across the bridge of her nose and her skin had a healthy glow to it. James didn't know much about cosmetics, but he liked the darkened hue staining her lips and reckoned that maybe her eyes looked a bit brighter than usual. All around, she was a sight to behold and he suddenly felt sloppy and shabby in his creased tan trousers and old Puddlemere shirt. "Were you waiting long?" she asked.
James shook his head. "A bit. Not really. Thanks for coming."
Lily nodded tentatively. "Yes, well—had to pick up the standard school rubbish anyway, so...yeah."
There were a few terse moments of silence then, and James wanted to kick himself for acting like such a blathering ponce. Florean fortunately chose that moment to bustle over and greet them with a couple of menus, giving James a bit of time to collect himself. He hadn't thought it would be so jarring to see her; that she would look so pretty, or that he would be so tongue-tied, or that that night in the broom cupboard would suddenly rush back to him with unnerving clarity. As she smiled up at Florean and exchanged friendly pleasantries with the older man, James's stomach clenched and unclenched uncomfortably.
Florean left with the promise to return soon to take their orders and Lily redirected her smile at him.
"I don't know what it is with us and ice cream," she joked. "Becoming a theme, isn't it?"
So she was thinking about that night, as well.
"Hopefully this one will be a bit less messy," James returned, smiling, too.
Lily leaned back in her chair and moved her hand in a fanning fashion. "I don't know. It is rather oppressing out here. It should not be this hot. It's practically September."
They played out the typical weather conversation then, something that normally would have grated on James's low tolerance for social niceties, but not when this was Lily and certainly not when the conversation that was meant to follow was so...well, rubbish.
They stretched the weather out until Florean had returned and they'd ordered—a chocolate sundae for him, two scoops of strawberry for her—at which point another heavy silence settled over the table, less awkward than the first, but still pronounced.
"Thanks for meeting me," James tried again.
Lily smiled. "You said that already."
Of course, he had. "Yes, well, it bears repeating. Possibly even a third time. And a fourth."
"Why don't we keep it at two for originality's sake?"
Bloody hell, how was he supposed to think properly when she was laughing like that?
Obviously not well, judging by the way he launched without preamble straight into the maelstrom, blurting, "You're probably wondering why exactly I've asked you here."
Lily's eyebrows flashed instantly up to her hairline, but there was a pointed pause before she spoke.
"Well, I don't know," she answered slowly. "I mean, I suppose after two years, I've just rather quit questioning why exactly you do it."
James's mouth snapped closed, hand freezing halfway to his trouser pocket.
"Sorry?" he asked.
Lily shrugged lightly. "I didn't know there were specific reasons each time. I just reckoned...you know. Opportunity arises, Potter asks. Like a formula."
"Er—what are you talking about?"
There was a pause, then, "What are you talking about?"
James went immediately for the badge, digging it out of his pocket and tossing it onto the table between them. He pointed at it. "That. I'm talking about that. Now what are you talking about?"
But if James was expecting an immediate answer, he was sorely disappointed. Instead, he got to see the play of emotions flash across Lily's face—confusion, trepidation, recognition, shock—and watched as she slowly picked the badge up off the table.
When she spoke, her voice was stilted, quiet.
"Is this...where did you get this?"
"In the post," James answered, fishing again in his pocket for the accompanying letter. He thrust that at her, too, and watched her eyes dart between him, the badge, and the sheet of parchment. "I didn't filch it, if that's what you're thinking. And I already owled McGonagall. It wasn't a trick."
"You're Head Boy? You."
James tried not to wince at her disbelieving tone. "It's mad, I know. I haven't the faintest what Dumbledore was sampling, but—"
"Oh, god." Lily's hand lifted suddenly to her mouth, her eyes closing for a brief moment. They fluttered back open. "You actually wanted to talk to me, didn't you? That wasn't just a line. You actually wanted to talk to me! Bloody hell, is that what Remus was rambling about? Then why was he being so ruddy vague?"
"Because I told him not to tell you," James explained, staring at her with an equal amount of astonishment. "But wait a damn second, Evans! If you didn't come here to talk to me, why did you come?"
The question hung heavy in the air between them, and for the first time that he could remember, a deep and telling flush stole over Lily's cheeks. Something in James's chest tugged, pulled. He replayed the last few minutes over in his head, listened again to her answers, judged them accordingly. Had she thought...did she mean...
"Did you agree to go out with me?" He choked the words out, strangled. "Did you agree to go out with me and I didn't even know it?"
"I did not agree!" Lily cried shrilly, jabbing an unsteady finger in his direction. "I said no—I said no twice! But then Remus said...and so I thought—"
"You did! You agreed!"
"Shut up, I did not! This is not a date! This is a—well, I suppose it's a business meeting now. Dear Merlin, I can't believe you're actually Head Boy!"
Right about then, getting Head Boy seemed for the first time like the probable occurrence. Fucking hell, Lily had thought this was a date. She had thought this was a date, and she had still come! He couldn't believe it. All those years, all those elaborate schemes and intricately-planned proposals, and she'd gone and said yes when he hadn't even realised he was asking. The irony of it was horrific.
Suddenly, James was regarding her in an entirely new light. The grin practically cracked his face. He leaned forward eagerly, shoving his badge and letter hastily aside.
"Never mind that now. I'm giving it up, anyway. Now what—"
"'Giving it up'? What do you mean ‘giving it up’? Giving what up?"
"I can't be Head Boy," James said quickly, shaking his head. "I'm writing Dumbledore straight after this to tell him I'm off. I wanted to talk to you about it first, but I'm still giving it up. Now can we please—"
"You'll do no such thing!" Lily's cried in outrage, the embarrassed red in her cheeks beginning to fade into something entirely different. She sat up straighter and stuck him with a furious stare. "How could you even say that? You're not giving anything up!"
James sighed loudly. "Of course, I am. Merlin, Lil, just think about it for a second—me, Head Boy? For fuck's sake, I wasn't even Prefect! The only rules I know are the ones I've got detention for breaking! You'll be much better off—"
"You're an arse," Lily snapped, crossing her arms over a chest. "A giant, idiotic arse."
James reckoned someone ought to brush her up on her date etiquette. "Well, yeah," he muttered dolefully. "I s'ppse there's that, too."
"Dumbledore wasn't sampling anything, you git," Lily ranted, narrowing her eyes on him. "He knew exactly what he was doing when he chose you and the simple fact that you're even considering giving the position up proves him right! I hate to break this to you, but you're not the degenerate you once were. You may not be the conventional pick, but you'd actually make a rather brilliant Head Boy." She huffed irritably. "Though honestly, now I'm beginning to wonder whether I've given you more credit than you deserve. Of all the moronic—"
James cut her off with a lift of his hand. "Wait a second. Are you saying...do you want me to be Head Boy?"
Lily scoffed loudly at the question. "Forget about what I want. Do you want to be Head Boy?—no, stop. Not do you think you ought to be—do you want to be?"
The question threw James off, especially when Lily so immediately shut down the denial he'd been ready to give. Did he...want to be Head Boy? Want? Well, no. No, of course, he didn't. Blokes like him weren't Head Boys. Blokes like him were Marauders, troublemakers. He hadn't the patience, the character, the dedication, to be Head Boy. He just didn't.
And, all right, he had spent a rather significant part of his childhood listening to his father lecture on about his beloved tenure in the position. And yes, he might not be the dullest quill in the inkpot, or the most hated Hogwarts student. But it took more than a bit of wit and popularity to be Head Boy. Wasn't he always being told by everyone from McGonagall to his own mother that he was too shallow and lackadaisical for his own good? And he could count the number of times he'd almost been expelled on multiple fingers—multiple fingers! So he couldn't be Head Boy. He couldn't.
"It would help, being Head Boy," Lily said softly, snapping James out of his thoughts and back into the moment. He gazed at her questioningly, confused. "With the claustrophobia," she explained. "You might still be stashed away in Scotland, but being Head Boy is more than just following rules. You'd have a sort of power, James. You'd be able to do things, change things. People listen to you, you know. If you wanted to...well, whatever you wanted to do, you'd have a better chance of it as Head Boy than you would otherwise. You know you would."
"And you want it," Lily asserted, leaning further over the table. Her eyes were bright, imploring. "You know you do. If you didn't, you would have already sent that badge back to Dumbledore. But you haven't done. You've kept it. Because you want to keep it. For good."
"I wanted to talk to you," James refuted, frowning. "That's why I kept it. I wanted to tell you—"
"Well, now you have," Lily interrupted, crossing her arms over her chest. "But if you're expecting me to just accept this little martyr game you have planned and let you throw it all away, then you're sorely mistaken. I will be furious with you if you're actually stupid enough to go through with this. You're not the only one feeling claustrophobic, you know!" Her voice was so vehement, James actually reeled back. "I told you that. You're not the only one who wants to make a difference. But you are the only one who has a proper shot of it, and I will hate you forever if you take that away from me, too!"
As far as threats go, it was a tad too overdramatic to really be taken seriously, but it still did its job on James's peace of mind. He fidgeted restlessly under Lily's burning stare, fisting an agitated hand through his hair and trying not to crack under her mutinous gaze.
Was she right? Did he really want to be Head Boy? The thought set his insides squirming, but he wasn't certain yet whether it was unpleasantly. Yes, he could have sent the badge back to Dumbledore by now, but he really had wanted to speak to Lily first. He certainly hadn't expected her to be playing his advocate, though. That had thrown him off. She was just full of surprises this afternoon, wasn't she?
But maybe...maybe she was right. No, he wasn't the conventional choice, but he wasn't the worst choice either. And he would be able to do a damn sight more as Head Boy than he ever could have done as just James Potter, resident troublemaker. Maybe it wouldn't entirely erase the feeling of claustrophobia, the helplessness in the face of Hogwarts the Cloister, but it would certainly ease it. Maybe, he realised, he could be Head Boy. And Lily...
He'd work at it with Lily. The two of them. Together.
His gaze stuck on her, narrowed.
"Do you really think I could do it?" he asked, voice hoarse. "That I won't fuck it all up?"
"I won't let you," she told him, placing her hand over his on the table. The warmth of her fingers seeped through his skin as she softly stroked. "I'm not saying you'll be perfect, but what fun is that, right?"
James snorted, ducking his head in agreement. His eyes remained fastened on where Lily's fingers still covered his. When he glanced back up, Lily was holding the badge—his badge?—in her other hand. She held it out to him.
"Take it," she said. "Go on."
The debate played out in his head for a few more terse seconds. But in the end, he slowly reached out and took the badge back from her.
"Don't let me ever see you talking such nonsense again, you hear?" She gave his hand a few firm pats. "I mean, for Merlin's sake, if even James Potter's having moments of self-doubt, the rest of us are in a lot of bloody trouble."
She went to lift her hand off his, but James moved more quickly. He flipped over his hand and grabbed hers before she could escape. Her sunny smile dimmed some.
"I wouldn't worry too much about it. Moment's over.” He thread his fingers through hers, then grinned. "Now about this date..."