Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world all belong to J. K. Rowling and I’m just grateful that she lets me play in them.
The next morning, before Lily had any opportunity to confront James, all desire that she had ever had to talk to him again was effectively ended. Coming out of the main doors, she and Angela saw a small group of Gryffindor students standing in a circle, laughing at something. As they came nearer, they heard someone whimpering and Lily felt her stomach contract.
James was standing in the centre of the circle, his wand fixed on Severus Snape who was suspended in midair and appeared to be in some pain. Every now and then, James flicked his wand and Snape convulsed into a new position.
Lily turned her gaze from the pitiful sight of Snape to confront the perpetrator. Her green eyes flashed when she saw the cool, supercilious expression on James’s face and without stopping to consider, she rushed forward. ‘Stop it! Just stop it!’she ordered, hands on her hips and cheeks flushed angrily. ‘That’s cruel and illegal and if you don’t stop this instant I’ll fetch Professor McGonagall.’
‘But…’ James dropped his wand and turned an uncomprehending face to Lily. ‘You hate him too.’
‘I wouldn’t do that,’ she pointed to Snape, now curled up on the floor crying with pain, ‘to a cockroach I hated.’ She spun on her heel and stalked off.
James looked scornfully down at Snape. ‘Get up.’ He aimed an impatient kick at the struggling boy. ‘Just get out of my sight.’
The crowd dispersed and James looked round at his friends. ‘Oh go away, all of you,’ he snapped and turned to kick a nearby pillar, hard.
When Lily returned to the Gryffindor common room from the library late that night, she found James waiting. He stood up when she came in and blocked her way to the girls’ staircase.
‘Please let me explain.’
She kept her eyes fixed on the floor. ‘No. I just want to go to bed.’
‘It won’t take a minute, Evans. Please.’ He was too big and she was too tired to resist.
‘Oh, all right.’
‘Come here. Sit down.’ He pulled out a comfortable red and gold chair and sat opposite her.
‘Connor McCracken, you know, from Slytherin.’ She nodded. ‘I overheard him last night, telling some of his mates what Snape had said to you yesterday morning.’
‘So?’ snapped Lily.
‘So, that was why you were crying yesterday, wasn’t it?’ His voice was low and gentle and she wanted to cry again. Instead, she nodded, keeping her lips tight shut.
‘I… I can’t bear the thought of you being unhappy, Lily.’ He paused, and began again, in something more like his usual cocky tone. ‘Anyway, I challenged Snape about it this morning. He didn’t deny it. He was bragging about it. I just snapped and pulled my wand out before I could think. You saw the rest.’
‘It was horrible,’ she protested. ‘Besides…,’ she looked down again, not wanting to catch his eye, ‘I thought you’d given up all that.’
‘I know it was horrible. I’m really sorry, Lily. I wouldn’t have… only… well, you know.’ He ran a hand through his already spiky hair.
‘I don’t need you to fight my battles. I don’t need anyone. I can deal with Snape myself.’ Lily wondered whether if she said it often enough it would be true.
‘Like you dealt with him yesterday?’ James raised a quizzical eyebrow at her. He obviously saw straight through her show of confidence.
‘Better than the way you dealt with him today,’ she retorted.
He slumped back. ‘I know. But honestly, how do you bear it?’
She shrugged. ‘No choice.’
After a moment, she asked him. ‘Yesterday--the Rebound Charm. Was it you?’
James grinned. ‘Not exactly, darling. Let’s say I… engineered it.’ She waited. ‘Oh, all right. I knew McGonagall was teaching the sixth years. I just opened the window at the right moment. It seemed too good a chance to miss.’
She wanted to tell him how irresponsible he was but found herself smiling back at his dancing hazel eyes.
‘I’m going to bed.’ She stood up and walked towards the girls’ staircase.
‘Watch the match with me on Saturday?’ James called after her, hopefully.
‘Goodnight, Potter.’ Lily ran up the stairs, happier than she cared to admit, even to herself.
‘Have you seen my Care of Magical Creatures textbook?’ wailed Angela. ‘I’ve got three feet on Bowtruckles to write by tomorrow and then all those potions to learn.’
‘Borrow mine.’ Lily pushed her copy across the table and rolled her scroll neatly.
‘How on earth do you manage to get all your work done? You’re taking twice as many NEWT’s as anyone I know and yet you’re always handing things in early.’ Helen sighed loudly.
‘Easy. I don’t spend three hours wrapped around Paddy every night.’ Lily winked at her friend, who was the easiest person she knew to bring out in a blush.
‘Or go to Hogsmeade, or play Quidditch, or have any kind of fun, ever…’ listed Mary, counting them off on her fingers.
Lily blushed. ‘I do have fun,’ she protested. ‘I came to watch the Quidditch match last week.’
‘Only because you-know-who was playing,’ remarked Helen, feeling she had a score to settle.
Lily blushed even more, her glowing red cheeks clashing furiously with her auburn hair.
‘Look,’ said Mary, nodding towards the staircase, ‘he’s coming over.’
Lily threw her book at the three laughing girls. ‘For goodness sake, shut up!’
‘Hallo girls,’ said James, taking in the scene in one easy glance and grinning at Lily. ‘Can I have a word, Evans?’
She nodded helplessly. He indicated the door and she followed him out, casting an anguished look back at her friends.
‘What was that all about?’ inquired Angela slyly when, just a few minutes later, Lily returned to the desk.
‘As if we couldn’t guess,’ giggled Mary.
‘He asked me to the Yule Ball,’ Lily informed them, retrieving her book and settling down to work again.
‘I told him I have to go home early.’ She carried on reading.
‘What did he say?’ Helen wasn’t giving up.
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake. He said, “That’s a shame,” and I didn’t say anything and he said “See you around, then,” and then I came back. All right?’
‘Hmm,’ Helen considered. ‘He didn’t ask why?’
‘No. It was a three sentence conversation and I’ve told you every one of them. Now can I please get on with some work?’
The others bent their heads and held their tongues obediently, recognising the finality in Lily’s voice. She had her Arithmancy textbook open and was supposed to be working a tricky problem for the next class. Ten minutes later, Lily found that her book had fallen shut and she was no further along in finding a solution. She had, however, drawn a detailed mental picture of a boy in dress robes, with warm hazel eyes behind round glasses and hair that wouldn’t lie flat, who smiled and winked at her and who held his hand out to her, inviting her to dance. Irritated, Lily shook her head and applied herself strictly to matters of spell formation.