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Chapter 3: Just A Name
Just A Name
Lily had thought that apologizing to James would lift a weight off her shoulders, but she still did not feel as though things were much friendlier between them. Try as she did to convince herself that they could simply move forward without issue, she still could not keep from slipping into her old assumptions about him: that he was still arrogant, unruly, and unwilling to do his part as Head Boy. Unfortunately, she turned out to be just as wrong about the last assumption as she had been about the effects of her apology.
Lily turned around in the chair she was studying in. It was only the first week of school, but she was already putting in hours of homework on Friday nights. She remembered the days when such unpleasant measures were unnecessary, but ever since fifth year, they had been a regular fixture. Lily loved learning new things in her classes, but all the tedious work that came with it held a less-than-special place in her heart. Of course, studying in the common room on a weekend guaranteed that she would only be able to concentrate half-heartedly, so perhaps it wasn't so bad as she made it out to be. She, Mary, and Anna had spent most of the time complaining about all the homework they had, rather than actually completing any of it.
And now James was standing behind her chair; his presence ensured that the rest of the evening would involve even less homework.
“What?” Lily asked.
“There’s something I want to show you. Do you have a few minutes?”
Lily glanced back at Mary and Anna, who were both giving her looks that pointedly said, “fresh start”. Well, Anna’s was more like, “fresh start or I will never let you live it down”.
“Erm...yeah, sure,” Lily said, putting her books in a stack on the ground for Anna and Mary to watch over. She followed James out of the portrait hole.
“You know, I share your sentiments about cheap thrills,” she said as they walked through the corridors. James grinned widely.
“Nothing cheap about me, so no worries,” he replied. Lily felt a smile tugging at her lips, but held it back. She had always found herself suppressing smiles around James. His brand of humour was usually fairly tasteless, which made Lily feel bad for having the urge to laugh at it.
“So, what are you showing me?”
“It’s a surprise,” he replied. Lily felt a small shiver of anxiety run through her body, whether from excitement or worry, she did not know. They walked in silence for a couple minutes; it was very difficult to come up with neutral conversation topics, one reason why Lily could not shake the feeling that they weren't really becoming friends at all.
“Just around this corner,” he said, looking excited. Lily could not believe that she had agreed to following him around like this, but he had looked so enthusiastic...
He stopped at a completely ordinary-looking door, his hand resting on the handle. She stopped and waited, putting a look of boredom on her face.
“Come on, Evans, I’m going to need more than that.”
“Can’t muster it, sorry.”
“I’m not opening this door without—”
“Fine,” Lily said, sighing. “Please open the door; I’m absolutely dying with anticipation. I’ve never been so excited in my life.”
“Good enough,” James said, shrugging.
He swung open the door to reveal a small room, somewhat larger than a broom cupboard but smaller than any of the teachers’ offices. She took one step inside and looked around. There was a filing cabinet standing against one of the walls with several books stacked on top of it, as well as a shabby-looking wooden desk and chair. A dusty tapestry of the Hogwarts crest hung on the wall, and two other chairs faced the desk.
“What is this?” she asked.
“Our office,” James said, and the grin on his face was almost endearing. “Recently reclaimed and refurbished.”
Lily paused and looked around the room again.
“How did you have time to do this?” she asked, because it was the first question that came to her mind. It must have taken hours to clean out the room, despite its small size. There had been years’ worth of confiscated objects inside it the last time Lily had seen this room.
“Barely took any time at all,” he said, rounding the desk and sitting down in the chair behind it. He leaned back with his arms behind his head, as if he were sitting in a very luxurious and spacious executive office. Lily guessed that he was downplaying the amount of effort it had taken for some inexplicable reason—probably to make himself look as self-sacrificing as possible.
“Why did you do this?” she asked. James stretched and let his arms fall back to his sides.
“Why are you so incredibly nonplussed?” he asked playfully. Lily bit her bottom lip.
“It’s just so...unnecessary,” she said. It was irritating her that he was still acting like he even cared about being Head Boy.
“Okay, let’s get something straight,” James said, putting his elbows on the desk. “Are you at all excited about being Head Girl?”
“Truthfully?” Lily asked. “Not really.”
James looked at her like she had just been beamed down from another planet.
“I’m a bit shocked,” said James. Lily leaned up against the wall beside her.
“I thought...I don’t know, I thought it was something you’d be proud of,” James replied.
“Well,” Lily said, “I mean, I’m sort of proud, but I just don’t feel like it’s that big of a deal. We’re just figureheads, and not even glorified ones at that. Everybody hates the Head Boy and Girl. You should know that more than anyone else.”
“I guess so,” he said, standing up. “You shouldn’t be so negative all the time, you know.”
He moved to slide out of the room, but Lily blocked his way. James hardly ever dropped a subject without forcing the other person to agree with him, which was irritating enough, but the patronizing attitude he had adopted was insufferable.
“You still didn’t answer my question,” she said. “Why did you do this? And for that matter, why do you want to make me feel like I don’t deserve to be Head Girl?”
“I did this because I thought it might help us,” he said. “And I'm not trying to make you feel anything, though I don't see why you'd care either way.”
“I just think it’s a bit hypocritical, coming from you,” Lily stated.
James sighed wearily and shoved his hands in his pockets. It was odd, and very unlike him, Lily thought, to be so calm and non-confrontational. At the same time, she silently chastised herself for being so immature as to try and provoke him into arguing with her. So much for a fresh start.
“Unlike you, I don’t think we should have to accept things the way they are,” he said, staring at the ground. “We don’t have to be figureheads. People don’t have to hate us.”
“Potter, listen,” Lily said. “I understand where you’re coming from. I felt the same way two years ago, when I got my prefect badge. I had this idea that I could make a real difference, but it didn’t take that long before I realized that wasn't realistic. You’ll see it, too.”
“What if I don't?” he asked.
“Well, if you don't, then what is it you want to change? What are you going to do if you're not just a figurehead?”
“I don’t know!”
“I think I can guess: you want people to like you, so you’re going to disregard all the rules and be some sort of Head-Boy-on-the-edge,” Lily said. James threw himself back down in the chair and sighed.
“No,” he said. “I just feel like...we’re not exactly living in happy times here.”
Lily refrained from responding and sat down in one of the chairs facing the desk. With Mary as a best friend, she had developed an inherent sensitivity in situations where people brought up You-Know-Who, especially when they voiced their anxieties to her more than once. She had thought that James' comments that first night in the common room were just a way of talking to her, but perhaps it was more than that.
“It’s not like we can put You-Know-Who in detention,” she said, surprised by the tenderness in her own voice.
“I know that,” he said, “but people look to leaders. Maybe more than you realize.”
Lily could not immediately think of something to say, giving her the chance to think. She now realized that his attitude, which she had mistaken for some attempt to prove a point to her, was actually genuine. She did not completely agree with him, but what harm would it do to humour his ideas? Quite a lot, in fact, a small voice piped up, but she ignored it.
“Maybe you’re right,” she conceded. “Maybe the frustration of being a prefect has jaded me.”
“Are you just agreeing with me because I brought up the war?” James asked, looking across the desk at her. Lily shook her head.
“No,” she said. “I wasn’t agreeing with you, anyway. I only said maybe. You’re going to have to convince me a bit more.”
There was something about his smile that said he was up for the challenge. Lily smiled back, and this time she did not manage to suppress it until a few moments had passed.
“Well," he said, "I suppose we can agree to disagree on the Head Boy and Girl thing. Though I have to say that I'm shocked that you're the one being dismissive about it, and I'm the excited one."
Lily laughed. All of a sudden, the realization hit her that she was having a very normal and—dare she say it?—somewhat intimate conversation with James Potter. She felt the same shock jolt through her body as the other day, when she had accidentally been staring at him before Potions. This time, instead of turning around in her seat, she jumped up from it.
“I should get back,” she said.
“No, no, just...it’s late, and I’m kind of tired,” she said, somewhat breathlessly. He got up as well and locked the door behind them when they left. “So, what sort of things would leaders like us do?”
“When did you start including yourself in that category?” James said, eying her uncertainly. Lily shoved him slightly. “I’m joking. Anyway, I don’t know. We could...”
“...lead study sessions for fifth-year students to help with their O.W.L.s?” Lily finished.
“Brilliant, Evans,” he said. “Now you’re getting in the spirit of things. Stuff like that. It doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering.”
“I see you’re taking a new philosophy on life,” Lily said. “For you, usually everything has to be earth-shattering or it’s not even worth it.”
“Or maybe you just think everything I do is earth-shattering.”
Lily let her hair fall out from behind her ear so James would not see her face turning red.
“It’s all about perception, Evans.”
James could not imagine a better feeling than standing on the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch, breathing in the smell of fall air. When Professor Slughorn had shown them Amortentia, the earthy scent of autumn was one of the smells James had inhaled.
This was the beginning of James’ second year as Quidditch captain, and he was sure that tryouts would go much smoother with a years’ experience under his belt. This year, he was looking to fill three positions on the team: Beater, Seeker, and Keeper.
Trevor Wright, James’ former dormitory-mate, had been the previous Keeper, but his early departure from school obviously meant that he could no longer play for the team. As for a new Beater, James had tried to convince Sirius to go out for the position. He would have been happy to have his best friend with him on the team, and James knew from the casual games they played together that he was quite good, but Sirius had never been interested in playing on the Quidditch team. Seeker was the opening James was least looking forward to filling, for it was the one that the most people thought they were qualified when almost none of them actually were.
In fact, that statement could apply to this year’s Quidditch tryouts in general. About two dozen people had shown up, apparently all certain that they deserved to be on the team—and that was in addition to all the people who had been members of the team last year. He decided to hold trials for the Keeper first, which turned out to be more of a headache than he had expected.
“Okay, everyone who’s here to try out for Keeper, come stand over here. The rest of you go wait on the sideline,” he called, and everyone started shuffling to their assigned places, except for a pretty blond girl with her hair in a ponytail, who strolled over to James.
“Want me to take the shots?” she asked. Her name was Ursula Zimmermann, and she had been a Chaser on the team for several years. “That way you can watch from down here.”
“Yeah, sure,” James said, tossing the Quaffle to her. “Are you sure you want to wear yourself out, though?”
“Who’s going to get worn out?” she asked, hopping on her broom and flying upwards. He turned toward the group of prospective Chasers.
“Who wants to start?” he asked. No one spoke. “Okay, fine, how about you?”
The blonde-haired boy that James had gestured to scuffed the ground with his shoe.
“Was I wrong in assuming that all of you came here for Quidditch tryouts?”
“It's a disadvantage to go first,” the boy muttered. James clenched his jaw impatiently.
“Well, based on this reaction, none of you have enough initiative to make it on the team, so you might as well clear off,” he said. This seemed to scare them into action. Though many of them were highly under-qualified, some of them were quite good as well. The best of the lot was a fifth-year girl named Seraphina Moore, who was surprisingly humble when James told her she had made the team.
Next came the Beaters. Devika Hathaway, a sixth-year, had been one of the previous year’s Beaters and earned a place on the team again. A few of the other prospective Beaters caused near-disasters when they accidentally sent the Bludger ricocheting off toward the waiting crowd. The only bit of luck in these mishaps was that James found another Beater purely by accident: none of the people who had shown up to try out for the position were very good, but a sixth-year named Oliver Keppleman who had been waiting to try out for Chaser showed considerable reflexes as he picked up an extra bat and hit an offending Bludger away in a fairly spectacular dive.
James ended up keeping the same Chasers from last year: Ursula, who was a sixth-year, and whom James thought might even be able to beat him in a shootout, and Alison Partridge, a fourth-year who was quick enough to have been Seeker if she’d wanted.
And speaking of Seekers, James had turned to the task of their trials with more than some trepidation. After three people had failed miserably and one had been sent off to the Hospital Wing due to a very poorly-executed Wronski Feint, James was surprised to find that all his frustration disappeared with the last trial. Gareth Jones, another fourth year, was just as good as their former Seeker, perhaps even better, and caught the Snitch in under five minutes.
With Quidditch tryouts past him, James was consumed by thoughts of tactics and matches, all aimed at winning the Quidditch Cup. They had suffered a bitter defeat to Ravenclaw the previous year, and James was not about to let his entire career as Quidditch captain be marked as a failure. He was going to win this year, had to win, and it would have been much easier if he didn’t have a dozen other things on his mind besides Quidditch. Homework was only part of it.
He was clearing up his things after Transfiguration one afternoon, which was taking rather longer than usual because Sirius kept transforming his bag into a chicken.
“Enough,” he said, Transfiguring it back for the sixth time as a pile of parchment fell on the table in front of him with a heavy thump. He turned his head and saw Lily standing before him.
“What’s all this?” he asked. He was always pleased to see her, but it never seemed to happen without some sort of unpleasant-looking caveat.
“You wanted to know what the Head Boy does,” she said.
“I’ve got enough homework already, thanks,” James replied.
“It’s not homework! Remember how I told you we’re in charge of organising all of the school clubs? These are all of the applications people have submitted to form new ones,” Lily said.
“If we are in charge of them, why are you giving them to me?” James asked.
“I thought it would be good practice for you. Besides, you were the one who was all for making a difference,” she said, leafing through a few of the applications. “What is this?”
She pulled one of the applications out to examine it more closely.
“What?” James asked.
“The Sirius Black Fan Club?” she said, looking disdainfully at Sirius, who was lingering in the aisle with Remus and Peter, waiting for James. “Nice try.”
“It wasn’t me!” Sirius said.
“Then who was it?” She asked.
James could not help but laugh, even though Lily did not look the least bit amused.
“Hey, look,” Sirius said, reaching for another of the applications, “this one’s for the ‘I Love Lily Evans’ Club—and the applicant’s name says James Potter!”
“You git,” James said, snatching the parchment from his friend’s hand. He turned to Lily and gave her an apologetic look. “We’ll just throw that one out.”
“Yes, let’s,” Lily said firmly, “and in future, Black, don’t bother wasting your time with such an obvious joke.”
“Hey, don’t tell me, tell James,” Sirius said, holding up his hands. “He’s the one who asked me to write it for him.”
James reached over and cuffed Sirius on the back of the head.
“What am I supposed to do with these?” he asked Lily, gesturing to the stack of parchment.
“Talk to the applicants and make sure their clubs fit the requirements,” Lily stated, as if it were the simplest thing on earth. James could not understand why she insisted on making life so difficult for him at times.
“Listen, I’m just going to end up doing this wrong, and then you’ll yell at me,” James said. “Why don’t you just do it?”
He pushed the pile of parchment an inch towards her.
“You’ll never learn,” she replied, pushing the pile back, “if you don’t do it yourself.”
James stared at her and saw a face of determined stubbornness looking back at him. Obviously, she was going to make him do this, no matter how incompetent he might be. In fact, as she had said, she was making him do it because of his incompetence.
“Stalemate,” he heard Peter whisper, followed by Sirius snickering.
“Can you at least help me?” James asked. It was more than a little embarrassing to have to ask her for help in front of his friends, but the only other option was having her mad at him. He could suffer through jokes about castration later, but he hated when Lily was mad at him. To his surprise, Lily looked mollified.
“Yes, I suppose I can help you with the first one,” she said, “just so you can get the hang of it.”
“Come on, let’s go,” Sirius said to James. He, Remus, and Peter had already migrated over to the door.
“See you later,” James told Lily.
“Hold on!” she said as he turned to leave. “We have to go meet with the first applicant!”
“No time like the present,” Lily replied. James turned to his friends.
“You guys had better just go without me,” he said to them. When they had left, he faced Lily again. “You were planning on doing it yourself the whole time!”
“I wanted to see if you were up for the challenge,” Lily said, walking between the rows of desks toward the door. “I guess not.”
For someone as highly competitive as James, this remark was extremely irksome. He picked up his bag and stormed after her.
“You know, it’s exhausting, trying to be friends with you,” he said. Lily laughed.
“Well, we can stop whenever you want,” she said.
“You’re going to have to bother me a lot more than that, Evans,” James replied.
“I could, if I wanted to,” Lily said.
“But you don’t want to.”
“No, not particularly.” For the first time in the conversation, her voice lost all trace of censure. James felt immediately buoyed. This was the Lily he had talked to the other night.
“So, we’ll meet them in our office?” James said, trying to fill the silence.
“I would hardly call it our office. It’s just an office that we happen to share,” Lily corrected. James snorted with laughter.
“You make no sense sometimes, you know that?”
“Sorry,” Lily said. James was surprised to see that she was also laughing. “It’s just that the idea of joint ownership of anything with you seems irresponsible.”
Two floors and five minutes of rather pleasant conversation brought them to the small door of their office. James unlocked it, and they were joined a few minutes later by a girl with black curly hair.
“Clara Roper?” Lily asked, and the girl nodded. “I’m Lily, and this is James. You can have a seat.”
James’ mind had already started to drift to Quidditch tactics.
James snapped out of his reverie and saw both Lily and Clara staring at him.
“Er, pardon?” he asked.
“I was just saying that Clara’s applied to start a Witch Weekly discussion group,” Lily said.
“Brilliant. You should give pointers on how to woo girls, you’d have blokes lining up to join,” James said, hoping to sound friendly.
Clara smiled shyly at him.
“Yes, they could finally offer people some good advice, as opposed to the nonsense that you and Sirius spout off,” Lily said disparagingly. Without missing a beat, she continued, “The first thing you have to do is confirm that there are at least ten prospective members. Do you have a list of signatures with you, Clara?”
Clara shuffled around in her bag and handed a folded piece of parchment to Lily. James watched as she looked over the names and folded it back together, the picture of efficiency.
“Well, that’s all in order,” Lily continued, looking back up at James. “The next thing is to look over the application to check how often the club is going to be meeting and what sort of supplies they’ll need. Clara’s is fairly simple because all the members need is a copy of Witch Weekly.”
“And we already have subscriptions,” Clara interjected, looking at James rather than Lily as she spoke.
“Excellent,” Lily replied. “So, once everything seems in order, you just sign the bottom of the application”—she did so—“and give it back to the applicant. Then they take it to their Head of House for final approval.”
She handed the application back to Clara.
“Do I have to bring this back to you?” she asked, glancing at James rather eagerly.
“No, just give it to your Head of House,” Lily replied shortly. “Thanks for coming.”
When Clara had reluctantly departed, James folded his arms and looked upon Lily in amusement.
“What is it?” she asked, unnecessarily straightening the stack of applications.
“Oh, nothing,” James replied. He was thoroughly enjoying the sight of her so irritated by an eyelash-batting fourth year.
“Good,” Lily replied. “Now you can handle the rest of these.”
“Oh, come on,” James moaned. “That’s so unfair. You have to help me.”
“I most certainly do not have to help you,” Lily stated, picking up her bag and stepping towards the door.
“Lily, you can stop pretending that you hate having to spend time with me,” James said.
"Believe me, I don't have to pretend," Lily said.
"Well, that's a shame. And here I was, thinking that you started calling me by my first name because you wanted to be friends," James remarked.
Lily's eyebrows contracted in confusion, and James felt a sense of small victory for having stopped her from leaving the room.
"Did I really?" she asked.
James nodded. "Twice, I think."
She crossed her arms, looking a little anxious, but then shrugged. "I guess it just slipped out." James just grinned at her until she finally sighed. "All right, fine, if you really need help so badly..."
She crossed over to the desk and took half the stack of applications.
“I’ll do these ones, and you can do the rest,” she said. James was slightly disappointed. He had been hoping to force her into spending more time with him, but he had been outsmarted.
“You know,” James said, “we really should just call each other by our first names.”
Lily seemed to struggle for a moment, which in itself was a better reaction than James had been expecting.
"Sure,” she said, shrugging. “It’s just a name.”
“Good,” James said, feeling as though he had just won the battle of a century. Lily turned to walk out the door, but before she had gone, he said, “Hey, Lily.”
“You’re a really great Head Girl,” he said, wishing he had gone with something simpler like complimenting her hair. But then again, she probably had a million people praising her hair, anyway.
“Thank you, James,” she said. It was charity, he knew, but the sound of her voice saying his name was heaven.
“You know, if you keep ditching us for James, we’re going to start to get jealous,” Anna said as Lily joined them in the Great Hall for lunch.
“Very funny,” Lily said, pouring herself a glass of pumpkin juice. “Did either of you finish the Defence essay yet?”
“I’ve only gotten about two sentences written so far,” Mary said. “I’m not even sure it’s on the right subject. This new professor hasn’t exactly gotten the hang of things yet, has he?”
“Not quite,” Lily said. “I suppose he’s trying his best.”
“He’s a personal friend of Dumbledore’s; that’s why he got the job,” Anna said.
“How do you know that?” Mary asked.
“Dess wrote some article on him a couple years ago,” Anna explained. “He used to work in the Department of Internation Magical Cooperation.”
“What was she writing about him?” Lily asked.
“Well, he’d just resigned because his proposal for reaching out to the giants as allies against Voldemort had been so strongly opposed. Apparently he was half an inch from being sacked anyway, but he quit before they could do it. I remember Dess mentioned that Dumbledore had been one of his only supporters on the issue,” Anna said, with the coolness in her voice that always accompanied conversations about her siblings. “I believe she called Dearborn a ‘pigheaded, pretentious partisan of Albus Dumbledore.’”
“She never really minces words, does she?” Lily asked. “Catchy alliteration, though.”
“He really isn't a very good teacher,” Anna said. “He seems like he knows what he’s talking about, but he’s terrible at explaining it. And Mary’s right about the essay: did he ask us to compare Disillusionment Charms and Invisibility Cloaks in general, or just in a combat situation?”
Lily thought for a moment and frowned. “I’ve no idea, actually. I suppose I’ll just write about both?”
“You haven’t even started yet?” Mary asked, her eyes wide. “It’s due in two days!”
“I know. I was going to start it last week but then I just kept putting it off,” Lily said miserably.
“Essays tonight, then?” Anna asked. Lily and Mary nodded. “So, what's this I hear Slughorn’s throwing you and James some big party?”
Lily groaned. “You got an invitation?”
“Oh, yes. Now that I’ve got successful siblings it suddenly makes me interesting,” Anna said.
“It’s going to be so embarrassing,” Lily said.
“Yes, it probably will be,” Anna replied. Lily glared at her.
“I expect Potter will love all the attention,” Lily said.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Lily, but just about the only kind of attention he cares about is the kind he gets from you,” Mary said.
“Funny, because the only kind of attention I could care less about is the kind I get from him,” Lily replied.
“Protest much?” Anna asked, and Lily kept her mouth shut for fear of proving her friend right.
Author’s Note: For the whole Head Girl/Boy thing, I have to confess I have little idea what they really do in the British schooling system, but from what I’ve read online, I’ve tried to piece together a realistic portrait of what it might be.
Please review and tell me what you think!