Chapter 32 : Chapter 32: Head To Head
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As the weeks passed and February dawned, little had changed within Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry unless you count the mounting stress levels that seemed to take a spike. Why is it that exams always seem that much more frighteningly closer on the new year side of Christmas?
“As you are all well aware by now, your N.E.W.T’s are coming up this year,” Professor McGonagall told her seventh years at the end of a particularly stressful lesson that had reduced almost half the class to tears.
“No kidding. How could we forget,” Amberle muttered to Lily on her left who nodded.
“As such, I’m hoping you are all putting your nose to the grindstone and studying hard. If not, I would definitely recommend starting if you want any hope of at least passing your exams,” McGonagall went on, staring at a few select students in particular.
“Come on, Professor, it’s only February. The exams aren’t ‘til June. Plenty of time,” Sirius called out, looking quite relaxed as he swung backwards on his chair. He seemed to be the only one who took the lesson in his stride, everyone else was either very near or gone past breaking-point.
“Well, Black, I’m glad to hear you feel you have plenty of time. So I’ll be expecting Outstanding across the board from you, shall I?” the Professor questioned sharply, fixing her stare on him.
“Sure thing,” Sirius replied with his usual cocky grin and winked. Professor McGonagall just sighed and went on to assigning homework, knowing from seven years of experience it was hopeless trying to argue with him.
“If he gets all Outstandings in his exams, I’ll eat my new shoes. And I love those shoes,” Amberle said to Lily and Gabriella when the bell went to signal the long awaited end of Transfiguration.
“I wouldn’t be so sure, Amb. I mean, it’s not like he’s really stupid, and he always does well in his exams even though he never, you know, actually studies,” Lily pointed out as she put her things back in her bag.
“Hate people like that,” Amberle grumbled.
“What people?” Sirius suddenly appeared at Amberle’s elbow, making her jump a foot in the air. She glared at him, he only grinned further. “Careful there, Amb, you’re a little jumpy. But seriously; people like who?”
“Overly persistent people who can’t take a hint,” Amberle told him calmly.
“Really, that’s just not on. You need me to take care of anyone for you? Get them off your case? Just say the word!”
“Now that you mention it, there is something. Why don’t you go and take a long walk off a short cliff into the lake? There, problem solved,” she said with a sweet smile.
Before anymore could be said on the matter, Professor McGonagall called to them from the front of the room; “Did you lot want to stay for an extended lesson? I’m sure I can have it arranged for you.”
“That won’t be necessary, Professor,” Sirius said.
“In that case, I suggest you all head down to dinner so you can get a good start on your homework. I’m expecting remarkable things from you, Mr. Black. Now hurry along all of you, except you, Potter and Evans. I’d like a word with you two.”
There was a collective gulp from the four other students standing around, Gabriella having already left the room as soon as Sirius had approached. She refused to spend any longer than absolutely necessary in the presence of the Marauders; particularly Remus who had followed Sirius to their desk.
Amberle shot Lily a worried glance, not sure how she would react. This was the first time the two of them would be alone in a room together without their friends since The Event, as Amberle now liked to call it. Quite a remarkable fear, she thought, since they shared a common room, but it seemed as though their movements were carefully orchestrated so that they only ran into each other in class.
So this should be interesting then.
“Alone,” Professor McGonagall amended firmly when nobody moved.
“Right-O, Professor; whatever you say. See you at dinner then, Prongs. May I escort you to the Great Hall, Ms. White?” Sirius asked gallantly, holding his arm out for her to take.
Amberle completely ignored him however and looked intently over at Lily. “Do you want me to wait for you, Lil?” Amberle didn’t miss the way Lily’s eyes flickered to James before a not all together believable smile was plastered on her face.
“No, I’m alright. I’ll meet you at dinner,” she said.
Lily tried to make her smile reassuring, to let Amberle see the assurance and confidence she didn’t feel. She didn’t think Amberle bought it either, she should give her friend more credit than that. But nonetheless, Amberle nodded her head one last time and turned to leave the classroom, Sirius at her heels, Peter behind him, and Remus trailing out after them looking as lost as he always did since his…confrontation with Gabriella. Lily winced just thinking about it.
But when they all finally left and she was left alone with the Professor and James, any other thoughts were driven firmly from her mind. Lily’s heart thudded wildly as she glanced sideways at the guy who used to use any and every excuse to look at her and who was now determinedly looking anywhere but in her direction. It stung, badly. It wasn’t like the first time she’d been around James and had to face the way he avoided her, it was worse. This time she couldn’t tell herself he was just occupied with other things because, well, there was no one else around. Professor McGonagall didn’t count.
Lily took the few moments when they followed the Professor to her desk to get a real look at her former boyfriend who hadn’t so much as glanced at her yet. She hadn’t allowed herself the luxury of studying James up close since things had changed between them, knowing right well how painful it was just to catch a flicker of him from the corner of her eye. But she couldn’t hold back when the opportunity was placed so blatantly in front of her.
He didn’t look good was the immediate impression she got and didn’t feel the remotest spark of bitter satisfaction she almost expected. She just couldn’t take solace in the fact that someone looked as bad as she felt. It wasn’t that he looked bad in a non-attractive sense; hell no. Lily didn’t think there was a power in the universe that could take away the devastatingly handsome good looks James Potter possessed.
Devastating being the right word.
But although all his features were still the same, still beautiful even to her, they were different at the same time. His deep hazel eyes that Lily loved more than anything didn’t light up the way they used to, instead they looked cold, dead, distant. His usually soft face looked hard and tough, completed with shadows under his eyes that weren’t cast by his long eyelashes. Maybe to the untrained eye, James Potter looked perfectly normal, if a little stressed which was more than justifiable. But Lily was very well trained and she knew better.
He looked haunted, tormented by demons he couldn’t stop. Lily felt her heart break again just looking at him and tears gathered uncontrollably in her eyes, using all her might to resist throwing her arms around him in support and comfort.
She tried to shake herself out of it, telling herself it was ridiculous. She couldn’t let him maintain this amount of control over her. She couldn’t start weeping every time she so much as glanced his way, especially when he obviously couldn’t care less. She needed to grow up, toughen up and get over him.
Easier said than done, though. No magic wand could get rid of this particular wand with a simple wave.
“I need to take to you both about your Head duties.”
Lily was snapped out of her inner turmoil at Professor McGonagall’s words. She’d almost forgotten anyone else was in the room. Good thing she’d talked herself out of the plan to jump at James and kiss some sense into him. That would have been embarrassing.
Now was the time for business, Lily told herself as she discreetly wiped away the tears that had crept up on her. She could get back to her own drama and heartbreak later. Merlin knew she had little else to do.
“I understand you are both under a lot of stress and are busy with preparing for your upcoming exams, which is why we usually lighten the load of the Head Boy and Girl after Christmas,” Professor McGonagall explained as Lily focused in properly. “We usually only ask you to help in the organization of the Graduation so that you have more time to study, and at that we only ask for small things, but-”
“Excuse me, Professor,” Lily interrupted before McGonagall could drop whatever bomb was following that “but”. “What do you mean organize the graduation? What exactly do we have to do?” Nobody had told her that event coordinator was part of the job description.
“Well, traditionally the Head Boy and Girl help the teachers to put together the graduation for the seventh years at the end of term. Every pair usually adds something different to the occasion, bringing a personal touch to it for each group of students. I will be asking you and Mr. Potter here to come up with some sort of commemoration of your time at Hogwarts, so to speak. It doesn’t need to be anything specific or outrageous, though I’m sure, Mr. Potter, you and your friends will want to make it an occasion to remember,” McGonagall said, smiling her rare tight-lipped smile at James who returned it with one of his own.
“Absolutely, Professor. It’ll be a night you’ll never forget,” he promised with some of his usual arrogance and charm. Lily felt her heart skip a beat at his smile.
Only a minor blip, compared to the stampede her heart had done in her chest at the news she would be working with James. Again.
This was not good for her plan of not having a heart attack in her teen years. She’d be lucky if she lasted another year at this rate.
“I’ve no doubt about that, Potter,” McGonagall said. But her kind expression vanished as quickly as it had come, replaced instantly with her serious no-nonsense look. “As I was saying, you will be asked to help with the preparations and organizing, which is all we usually expect of the Head Boy and Girl this time of year. Usually we don’t ask you to continue with your other duties.”
“Usually, Professor?” James prompted, sensing a definite but coming here.
“Well, unfortunately the situation is a little different this year. Professor Dumbledore has asked that security be upped around the castle with all the…unpleasant activity we’ve been seeing lately. He would like you to expand your round duties to every night, and also to appoint more prefects to be on guard at night. I-”
“Every night?” Lily cut across again. “But, Professor, how are we meant to study if we’re out patrolling every night?”
“Surely we can take it in turns, right, Professor?” James asked logically. “That way we only lose every second night.”
Lily wanted to convince herself James’ objection was to losing study time, not to working together. It was possible, right?
“Unfortunately, Professor Dumbledore does not agree. He insists you patrol together. He doesn’t want anyone roaming the castle alone, even the Head Boy and Girl.”
“But, Professor!” James protested this time, but McGonagall cut him off sharply, putting her foot down firmly.
“No but about it, Potter. That is the way it is. Professor Dumbledore has every faith this will not impact your studies at all. You and Ms. Evans will patrol every night together, and you will assign new timetables to the other house prefects. You are to report any suspicious or unsettling activity you notice, no matter what it is or who is involved. That is the end of it. Now, you should both go down to dinner. Goodbye,” McGonagall said, dismissing them quite plainly.
James and Lily left the classroom and headed automatically towards the Great Hall together, fuming silently. Well, almost silently.
“You add this to that damn graduation party planning and we might as well just forget about exams,” James burst as they walked swiftly down an empty corridor leading to the Entrance Hall, their speed mirroring their frustration.
“This is ridiculous! How can they expect us to do all this and keep up in lessons? Not to mention even passing exams! We’d need a trunk-load of time-turners to have anywhere near enough time. “Dumbledore has every faith”; well of course it’s easy for him to be confident,” Lily raged, feeling her temper flow freely through her after her emotions being caged up for so long. “They’ll regret it when we both fail so badly they have to put up with us another year because we have to repeat. That would show them, serve them right thinking we can be their bloody servants,” she ranted, unable to hold back her pent up frustration any more.
Lily felt her heart miss several beats as the sound of James’ laughter rang softly through the empty hallway.
“Rebellious much, Lily? I love it when you rant.”
The whole world came to a shuddering halt at that moment. James and Lily stopped immediately mid-stride, totally frozen after a seemingly sub-conscious reflex movement on James’ part.
He’d reached over and taken Lily’s hand in his own, just like old times.
Lily’s heart completely stalled this time before kicking off again at a tempo a hundred times faster than normal so that it pounded painfully against her rib cage.
He’d touched her. He’d instinctively reached out to comfort and calm her the way he used to whenever she got worked up over something by taking her hand. She’d seen the old James, the real James, her James, come to life in his eyes for a moment and her heart soared.
But an instant later, it was gone. James dropped her hand like it burned him, leaving a buzzing sensation in her palm as though she’d been shocked.
“I…uh…I’m not very hungry. I’m gonna just…just head back,” James said in that same distant voice he used lately that made Lily want to scream with frustration. But she didn’t feel like screaming now. She just watched, unable to move, as he walked away from her without so much as a backward glance in her direction.
Her insides, which had flared back to life for a few glorious seconds, now felt like they’d been doused in ice that would never thaw. She felt shattered inside, more so than she’d felt even in the last weeks and she didn’t think that would have been possible. Lily had a physically sickening sensation in her stomach and her chest pained badly as though something hard had hit her with huge force as she watched, completely helpless, as James walked away from her for a second time.
Lily eventually found the will to move again and forced her body to continue her path to the Great Hall even though she didn’t feel remotely hungry in the aftermath of her first real confrontation with James.
And now, she had to work with him more than ever.
Food was definitely not a key idea at this moment.
Lily’s hurt and confusion however started to evolve over the following days and weeks to be replaced by anger and frustration at the new James Potter.
Back to square one is seemed.
The difference this time being that Lil was incredibly annoyed by the fact James was ignoring her, completely blanking her existence as opposed to stalking her every move.
It was kind of difficult to work with someone who 90% of the time pretended like any seat you occupied was empty, and the other 10% behaving like the coldest, most distant person on the planet who felt even looking at you was a chore below him.
Not fun, or easy, by any stretch of the imagination.
It also wasn’t helped by Lily’s own emotions getting in the way. No matter how frustrated or angry she got by James’ actions, the other half of her always felt gutted and painfully betrayed every time he ignored her or gave her the cold shoulder. It was a little difficult to concentrate when your energy was divided trying to stop you bursting into tears and punching the idio responsible in the face.
Needless to say, Lily Evans’ nerves were wearing thin. Warning; unstable, do not cross.
“What do you think of this, James?” Lily asked one evening, picking up the idea she’d been working on for the graduation from the desk to show him.
“James? James!” she called more insistently when no response came from the sofa he was sprawled across. “Oi, Potter!” she finally yelled, losing patience.
A handsome head topped with unruly black hair, which never failed to make Lily’s heart give a small lurch, emerged over the top of the couch. He gave one quick not-bothered look at the parchment in her hand and shrugged. “Whatever.”
Lily very nearly had to stuff her fist in her mouth to keep from screaming. This had been going on all evening. Any time she asked his opinion or requested his help all she got was some form of a shrug, if she got an answer at all. At least this time she got a word out of him. She supposed she should thank Merlin for small mercies, but she was too busy cursing him for sending this useless shell of a guy for her to work with to see that tiny silver lining.
They were supposed to be working on their ideas for the graduation celebration to tell Professor McGonagall tomorrow. Needless to say it wasn’t exactly going smoothly.
“Alright then,” Lily said, throwing down her quill in defeat. “I give up. Since none of my ideas seem good enough for you, what does the wonderful James Potter have in mind?”
Bitter sarcasm seemed the best approach right now.
James shrugged. Lily wanted to snap those damn shoulder joint so he couldn’t give that bloody movement as a pathetic response again.
“Ok, so do you want to tell McGonagall we’ve got nothing done because you aren’t bothered to lift a finger, then? Or should I?” she snapped, holding her head in her hands, physically drained by the level of tension that had settled in the room for the last few hours. It was giving her a headache just to sit here.
James didn’t answer and Lily had to hold back another scream, with a lot more effort than before. For the first time ever she was seriously considering resigning as Head Girl. Or killing James. Anything to stop this maddening game they had going.
“So that’s it, is it?” Lily asked, trying to keep the quiver of anger and sadness out of her voice. “That’s how it’s going to be from now on? I’m going to do all the work and let you share in the credit? I’m going to exhaust myself, bleed myself dry trying so hard to pretend like nothing’s wrong, that everything’s hunky-dorey, and you’ll just sit by and do nothing? Is that what we’ve become? Tell me, James, because if that’s so I really need to know.”
No answer. He didn’t even lift his head to look at her.
Lily felt her temper steadily rising and her heart slowly breaking.
“What happened to us, James? What happened to you?” Lily asked in despair. “What did I do? Tell me, because really, I’m at a loss. I don’t understand. If you don’t want to be with me, if you don’t…don’t…love me anymore, ok. I can accept that. But why are you shutting me out like this? Why are you shutting everyone out? Help me to understand, James. Please.” Lily’s voice was almost pleading as she said it, her eyes filling and overflowing with the tears that never seemed far away.
James said nothing, only bowed his head.
Lily’s temper suddenly flared. Well, when all else fails, go for anger. Philosophy of the redhead.
“You know what, I don’ deserve this. I don’t deserve to be treated like this, James, and I’m sure as hell not going to put up with it. You can dump me, you can play the tragic wounded soldier and act like the ice prince to your friends, you can even break my heart. I can take all that. But I will not allowed you to play with me like this, to use me and make me feel like I’m nothing just because you feel bad. I damn well deserve better than this, Potter. You only care about yourself, it’s all you’ve ever cared about, you self-centred, pathetic jerk! And I was foolish enough to think different. My mistake. But it’s sure as hell not one I’ll ever make again, you arrogant bastard. You don’t even have the decency to look at me! Are you that much of a wimp that you can’t even man-up and face the consequences of what you did? Damn it, Potter, look at me!”
Lily was breathing heavily as tears cascaded down her face in anger and heartbreak so deep it seemed to reach the centre of the earth. But slowly the anger ebbed away and she was left once more with the empty hollow sorrow that seemed inescapable. She stared at James, willing him to turn around, to prove to her there was enough of the real him left to make it all worth something. She wasn’t sure what would happen if she lost that last shred that resembled hope.
Slowly, James raised his head, turning in her direction so she could see him face but not looking her in the eye.
“Look at me, James. Really look at me,” Lily whispered, sounding like she was trying to convince herself as well as him.
He did. At long last James raised his eyes and stared into the watery depths of Lily’s emerald ones. Lily stood there, her breath coming in unsteady gasps as she gazed at him, taking him in, all of him, as though unsure if she would ever see him again and unwilling to take the risk.
His eyes glittered as though threatening tears, but that was all Lily could read from his face. He stared back at her, returning her open, pained and wishful look with cold, blank, emotionless eyes.
Lily felt that last shred sliding through her fingertips as she struggled desperately to hang on to it.
“You’re not the James I fell in love with,” Lily said softly, feeling like a sharp razor edge of a knife the truth in her words. And that scared her. “What happened to him? He was so strong, so kind. I loved him more than anything, and I was so proud of him because he never gave in. Where is he, James? I miss him, I miss the real you. I want him back, James. Please, bring him back to me.”
“He’s not coming back,” James said quietly and Lily was stunned by the firmness in his words. Her eyes hardened once more, the cutting angry side of her rearing up again in the whirlwind of emotions that swirled inside her.
“That’s too bad. Because at least he wasn’t someone I was ashamed to be with. At least he could hold his head up high because he knew he fought with everything he had, that he tried. That James made his parents proud of him and was looked up to and adored by his baby sister. If they could see you now, James, see the shameful wreck they left behind to carry their name, they would-”
“Don’t,” James growled and his eyes flashed dangerously. Lily felt a mixture of fear at his tone and relief that he wasn’t as lifeless as he appeared. “Don’t you dare say what my parents would have done or thought. You have no idea what they would say, you don’t even know them so don’t you dare and try tell me anything about them.”
“Ok then, you tell me. You know them, they raised you, loved you. You tell me what they would say if they were here right now. Would they be proud? Would they be happy, tell you “Well done, son, keep it up” if they saw the way you’ve been acting, if they knew the way you’ve been treating the people who only ever cared about you and wanted to help you? Oh yeah, I’m sure they’d be proud as punch if they knew the glorious hero their son turned into. Just what they always wanted,” Lily said spitefully, letting her anger and hurt with James speak for her.
“Shut up, Lily. I mean it, drop it,” James said menacingly.
“Why? Did I hit a nerve? Are you afraid to face the truth that you’re not half the man your father told me you were? That you’re not really as brave and kind as Lauren always said, that you don’t deserve the way she believed you were the best brother she could have ever had? Or maybe you know I’m not the luckiest girl on earth to have you, like your mother repeatedly assured me I was because how could I be anything else when I had her perfect son at my side, a son she prouder of than any other thing she’d done in her life. You know she told me she knew she didn’t need to worry about what would happen to you? She said she knew you’d always do the right thing so there was no need. She trusted you. They all did. Your friends did. I did. Are you just going to throw that all away because you’re too afraid to admit you aren’t ok, that you aren’t invincible, that maybe you need someone to look after you for a change?”
“You don’t know what you’re saying, Lily. Leave it,” James said, his voice soft and seemingly more fragile than before. He looked down again, breaking the eye contact they’d been maintaining with one movement of his head. It was like the trigger to Lily’s temper was linked to that gaze and it dissolved once more when it was broken.
After a moment’s silence as she took in the breakable, defeated form of James Potter on the sofa, Lily said; “I know that James, the real you, is still inside you. I just hope that when you realise that and you find him again, that you haven’t driven everyone away from you. I still want to love you, James, despite everything, because I believe in that other version of you, the one that show me how much more there was to life than just good grades and a perfect record. I don’t want to lose him. But I can’t wait for him forever, James.”
Lily waited, her breathing ragged and tears streaming once more, hoping he would come around, praying she had gotten something through the wall he’d built so carefully around himself. She wanted him so much, needed him so badly, despite everything he’d done and said to her. He didn’t meant it, she tried to convince herself. He’s just not himself.
But there was only so long you could hold out for something before doubts and cracks began to appear in the most stubborn of armours. There was only so much Lily Evans could take before she too would reach the point where all hope was lost.
It was only a matter of if, or when.
One minute passed she stared at him from across the room. Two; he didn’t say a word and she felt her frustration rising from her crumbling heart. Three; he didn’t even look up from the ground and her temper leapt to life once again from the seemingly irreparable damage in her heart.
Talk about an emotional rollercoaster. Lily was dizzy thinking of how many times her anger had ebbed and flowed in the last hour.
“Fine then, be like that. I’m done trying to get through that thick head of yours,” she snapped, wiping away the tears that were still wet on her cheeks and walked towards the portrait hole. “I’m out of here. I’ve got rounds to do.”
She had one foot out the hole when the sound of his voice made her falter in her dramatic, rage-induced exit.
“Lily, wait,” he called and stood up slowly, moving towards her while looking straight at her with those beautiful hazel eyes that made her melt.
Lily froze and her heart stopped mid-beat in her chest. She couldn’t breath in properly as she looked into his eyes, feeling like there was something caught in her throat.
She was going to need a serious medical check-up after tonight. All this couldn’t be good for her.
But that didn’t matter now. What mattered was James and the way he was looking at her, focused and vulnerable. Maybe he’d let his walls down, maybe...
“I’ve got to come with you, remember?”
Lily couldn’t control the growl that escaped as her body started up again at a slightly faster pace than normal (quicker than was probably healthy, she imagined), earning her a startled glance from James at the noise. Oh well, she wasn’t going to apologise.
He should just count his lucky stars that she hadn’t hit him.
A/N: Hi there! Well, there you have it; another update. As you can see it's totally focused on James and Lily...
Eh, I'm not really sure what's going on with me and this story right now. It doesn't seem to be flowing like it did before. It seems just like a long chapter filled with nothing but waffle, I can't seem to get my point across properly. Does it seem like that to anyone when they're reading?
Anyway, I'll work on it. Thanks for reading and please review =)