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Chapter 7 : And Then James Witnesses A Tantrum Of Epic Proportions . . .
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James’ brain was not the most complex on the planet. Being a male he had three primary concerns; food, girls, and Quidditch. In that order. School came around eighth on the list, and painting somewhere around number five. It was rare that intellectual conversations played a on a constant loop in his head, and it was even rarer that he actually paid attention to them.
He was still absolutely shell-shocked by the mischievous minx that had prowled forth out of Lily Evans’ body yesterday. All the witticisms and sarcastic jabs had stunned him so deeply and thoroughly that the Lily Evans Question had replaced sleeping, number four, on his list of mental concerns.
Course that meant he was tired as hell when he dragged himself out of bed for art class.
“Potter!” Mrs. Briarwood had snapped, “Pull your head out of your bum and pay attention!”
She was explaining the younger students’ assignment for the day, now that they had finally trekked past pastels, and James failed to see how it applied to him. So, without another thought, he slipped back into yesterday’s conversation with Lily.
“Who says I’m not a terrifying bitch?” she had snipped off tartly, an impious little smirk playing on her lips. He still remembered how his stomach had constricted and his toes had curled inwards, struck by a sudden chill. It was not that he was afraid of Lily, it was that he had no idea she was capable of teasing, witty banter.
That was Remus’ forte.
He sighed and put his head in his arms, trying to tune out Mrs. Briarwood as she roared at a younger student for asking a ridiculously dim-witted question. He was trying to figure out whether Lily had been speaking of her own accord or if she had been possessed by some kind of playful, sinful little sprite.
“Potter,” the Lily he was familiar with hissed, “head up, or she’ll eviscerate you.”
With the kind of effort usually reserved for lifting automobiles or giving piggyback rides to overweight ten-year-olds, James agonizingly raised his head. He shot Lily a look of pure exasperated venom, and then glared at Mrs. Briarwood.
Cups of coffee, James’ only vice, danced tantalizingly before his eyes.
“. . . now, if you so much as break one pencil, you will spend the rest of your summer scrubbing the floor until every speck of paint and clay is gone. As I’m sure you can understand, that would take ages. I advise you be careful with the pencils and don’t take all bloody day drawing the still life. Its fruit. Not architecture or people, fruit. Don’t be imbecilic about it,” Mrs. Briarwood held their gazes, “do we understood each other?”
The younger students nodded furiously. She glared at them all one more time, for good measure, and then clapped her hands, “Go! Off to it!”
The familiar scramble of students leaping off their stools and stampeding towards the materials shelf forced James to wake up a little bit. He slid his glasses back onto his nose and sat up a bit straighter, watching blearily as Mrs. Briarwood stomped over to him and Lily.
“You two!” she snapped, “outside!”
Lily, looking faintly confused, stepped gracefully off her stool and began moving towards the employee’s exit. James, in almost humiliating juxtaposition, tripped off his stool, slammed his forehead into the table, and landed flat on his back on the ground.
“Er, Potter?” Lily looked questioningly down at him.
“’M good,” he slurred, “issan accistake.”
She waited until he had pushed himself off the floor, stood upright, and regained his balance until she resumed her path to the door. James followed, wincing slightly and cupping his forehead.
“Took you long enough!” Mrs. Briarwood grumbled as they stepped into the blinding sunlight, “come on then, follow me.”
She led them around the corner to the very back of the building. There, shaded by the trees, was a small corridor of grass and flowers, with a picnic table shoved into it. The back wall of the building, tall, wide, and white, faced the little scene.
“Right, this is your project,” Mrs. Briarwood gestured at the blank expanse of wall and colorful paint buckets that had been placed on the table, “make a beautiful, cohesive, colorful, abstract image on that wall. You’re only requirements is that both of you must work on it and it must be colorful. I don’t care what it’s of or about. Because you are my most advanced students, this wall will be part of our exhibition gala at the end of summer. I advise you do well.”
“Er – Mrs. Briarwood?” Lily stood akimbo, head tilted as she gazed at the wall, “how long do we have to do this?”
“Well just today, of course,” she rolled her eyes and sniffed, “tomorrow you have a whole new project. Must keep working along, you know, if you want to have a full portfolio by your graduation.”
She turned and tramped away, looking queerly analogous to an angry bulldog. The door slammed behind her.
“Bloody hell,” James groaned as he sank onto one of the benches, holding his head, “I feel like a troll went and bashed in my head for an hour or so.”
Lily looked at him with sympathetic eyes, “That was a nasty fall.”
“That, and I got no sleep,” James yawned and closed his eyes, “bollocks. How am I supposed to do art when I can’t walk in a straight line or keep a thought running in my head?”
“If you’d like, I can nip over to that café the block over. Coffee should help,” Lily offered, “and I’m fairly good at healing charms, if you’ll let me.”
He cracked one eye open, “Healing charms?”
“Yes,” she nodded, “but you’ll need some water first. Here, take a nap for a few minutes, and I’ll be right back. Don’t tell Mrs. Briarwood that I left. If anything else, I went to the loo, alright?”
James nodded, tremendously grateful, “I’m a marauder. Lying to get out of trouble is my specialty.”
She flashed him a grin, and then slipped lightly around the opposite corner of the building.
James slid out of consciousness quickly. His senses, honed and perfected after six years of being a marauder, were still on high alert, but his body and mind were resting. Random images flitted across his throbbing brain, but he suppressed them best he could and allowed the brief bit of rest to soothe his aching limbs.
He heard Lily’s almost inaudible footsteps before she rounded the corner. He lifted his head – another monumental achievement – and saw what was quite possibly the best image that could have presented itself to him at the time.
Lily, red hair gleaming and emerald eyes twinkling, with a steaming Styrofoam cup of coffee in one hand, and a bag of what was undoubtedly food in the other. Her summery skirt swished around her knees and the sunlight made a halo around her head.
Or that could have been him hallucinating.
Either way, she reached the table, handed him the coffee, and pulled a pastry and a bottle of water out of the bag. “Drink the water,” she ordered.
Obedient as ever, he unscrewed the lid off the clear plastic bottle and chugged the entire thing. When he lowered his arm he saw Lily, her face torn between being repulsed and impressed.
“All gone,” he showed her childishly.
She rolled her eyes, shoved the pastry in his hand, and pulled her wand out of somewhere in her flowy dress. “Stay still,” she instructed. Then, before he could protest or take a bite out of the pastry, she was leaning close to him, her wand pressed to his temple. Her lips moved quickly as she murmured a stream of unintelligible words.
He sat, awkwardly, feeling disoriented and discombobulated. Lily was so close to him that he could smell the lilies-of-the-valley fragrances rising off her skin, as if a cloud of scent was delicately floating away from her freckled shoulders. He felt vaguely threatened, because any other time in his life, had he been in this precise situation, he would have believed Lily was trying to kill him. Finally, he was completely overwhelmed by the cool relief that seeped from Lily’s wand into his aching brain. It was like a direct drug to the head.
“There,” Lily announced, drawing back slightly and tucking her wand back into the folds of her short dress, “that should do it. If you don’t feel fine in the next five minutes, it will only have been proven that you have an abnormally thick skull.”
He chuckled, his eyes closed and his head woozy.
“Eat the pastry,” she commanded.
Dutifully, he crammed the entire thing into his mouth at once and swallowed without batting an eye.
James, with his head still slightly dizzy and his eyes firmly closed, mumbled almost unintelligibly, “Call me James.”
“Call me James,” he repeated, a little more clearly. He cracked open his eyes and squinted up at her.
She folded her arms, “Why?”
“’Cause it’s m’name,” he replied groggily.
“Well yes,” she sighed impatiently, “but are you trying to say that you’d like to be on first name terms now?”
James shrugged. He suddenly felt as if a cool, pleasant wind had just gently blown through the blazing hot, throbbing deserts of his brain. The pounding ceased to a dull thumping, and his usual energy began creeping back.
“I think we should be,” he took a sip of coffee, “besides, every time you say Potter it makes me feel like I should be in trouble. You sound an awful lot like McGonagall when you want to.”
Lily pursed her lips, “James?”
“James,” he confirmed, “and I’ll refer to you as Lily.”
She considered this. The thumping in his head faded into an almost indistinguishable twinge, and his naturally buoyant, marauder energy crackled through his veins.
“Fine,” Lily uncrossed her arms and reached for one of the thick paintbrushes on the table, “you ready to start, James?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be, Lily,” he replied cheerfully, purposefully over-enunciating her name to mock her own exaggerated diction.
And, in true Lily Evans fashion, she responded to his little jab by hurling the paintbrush at his face.
The smock she had borrowed from Potter – James – hung to her knees. Lily found herself constantly staring down at the expanse of smeared, discolored, faded yellow cotton. She was faintly irritated by the pastel color of the smock, and even more aggravated that it had bypassed the hem of her own dress and had the nerve to hide her kneecaps. Since when was Potter’s – James’ – torso longer than that of the average Hagrid?
“It looks good on you,” he had promised, after gleefully handing her one from his stockpile in one of the corners of the art studio. Lily had one smock, which she kept firmly tucked in the back of her least favorite drawer in her bedroom. James seemed to collect the stupid things as if they were trophies of his perseverance and artistic talent.
His artistic talent, unfortunately, had yet to recover from his ungraceful face-plant into the table. The white expanse of wall glowered obnoxiously down at the pair of them, infuriatingly blank and uninspiring. Lily was uncomfortable with a ruddy paintbrush in her hand. She did not know how to make the stupid wall look anything like a gala-worthy piece of art. Potter – James – was just as stumped.
“Well,” he had began, his lips pursed, arms akimbo, and head tilted slightly to the right, “we could paint it.”
“Or,” Lily countered, “we could stand here like idiots holding paintbrushes and just stare at the bloody thing.”
“Works for me,” he had shrugged.
Lily had ground her teeth and rolled her eyes until she was dizzy and her mouth was faintly sore. Nothing, not even the fuzziest, stupidest glimmer of an idea, had come to her. There was no scene big enough or dramatic enough for such a large, intimidating vacancy of color.
James was lounging in the shade. After a good fifteen minutes of contemplating the wall, and growing increasingly maddened by each unproductive minute that skipped merrily by, Lily stomped over and threw herself on the grass next to him.
“This is ludicrous,” she declared.
“That it is,” he nodded in agreement.
“Come on, you great, arrogant, obnoxiously talented git – where’s your inner painter? Aren’t you supposed to be good at things like this?” Lily tossed a twig at him, “help us out. Come up with something.”
James made a rather unpleasant facial expression, “I can’t. I’ve been trying. The wall’s just too bloody big.”
Lily threw her hands up in exasperation, “We have to have it done by today! We best come up with something, or we might as well just report failure to Mrs. Briarwood and go home for the rest of the bloody day!”
“Brilliant,” he flashed her a maddening grin, “you break the news to her, I’ll go ahead and start walking home.”
“No,” she snapped, thoroughly annoyed, “brainstorm.”
A glimmer of something Marauder-esque flickered behind James’ glasses, deep in his hazel eyes, and he sat up minutely straighter. “No.”
“Excuse me?” Lily spat. Her temper, both infamous and incredibly volatile, began slowly building in the pit of her stomach.
He tossed a well-crafted, cheeky smirk on his face, “You brainstorm.”
“You have to as well!” she almost screeched, “this is not my job. I’m sick of always having to do everything with every bloody group of people I have to work with! You’re going to help. Brainstorm, now.”
“Nah,” he lounged back, the very picture of casual messiness and nonchalance, “I think I’ll just lay here for a bit. Maybe take a kip.”
Lily’s rage began bubbling over, choking her throat and making her vision fuzzy. She leaped up and curled her hands into fists, “You bigheaded, narcissistic, infuriating, ridiculous bastard!”
Smiling in vague, nearly aloof amusement, James winked at her, “Knew you’d understand, sweetheart.”
That did it. Before Lily even knew what was happening or which wicked spirits had seized her body, she found herself picking up the bucket of red paint and hurling it at the wall.
Chest heaving, eyes flashing, and body shocked into stillness, Lily stared at the wall, mouth agape. A wave of red paint splattered the entire center of the white surface. It oozed downwards, drizzling into puddles on the tarp. The bucket hit with a sickening clang, then fell to the ground and rolled away. She froze, staring, as their previously blank canvas trickled red.
Dimly, she heard James leap up behind her. Her eyes followed dribbles of paint as they escaped the giant meteor of red and raced towards the ground. The splash of blood-red paint dominated the wall. Speckles had even hit the far right and left ends.
James appeared beside her. She did not look at him, and paid no attention to her peripheral view of his face. She could do nothing but stare.
How ironic that she had picked the red paint to hurl at the wall in her fit of rage. It was almost as if her anger, her effervescent, seeping, expanding anger, had clung to the paint as she had thrown it, and transmitted its energy onto the wall. The wall writhed and dribbled and exploded with red fury. Anger clawed its way out of the center of the red pit that had formed, silently screaming with frustration and ire.
“Nice,” James remarked appreciatively.
The spell broke. She whirled on him, fury returning with vengeance, “You did this!”
“Er,” he rubbed the back of his neck and took a step backwards, “no I didn’t. You did.”
“Yes, but you caused it!” Lily shrieked, “you made me so angry that I just completely snapped and went mental on our bloody art project!”
James coughed slightly, shoving his hand in his pocket and using the other to move his glasses back up his nose, “That might, have possibly, could have been the last item on my extremely long and virtuous list of intentions.”
“Excuse me?” she snarled.
“Er,” he twisted the hem of his t-shirt, looking both abashed and somewhat frightened, “nothing?”
“Do you mean to say,” Lily enunciated each word deliberately and slowly, “that your intention in being a complete and utter prick was to make me so angry that I would maim our project?”
James’ hazel eyes widened. He took another step back.
“Did you?” she screeched maniacally.
“Look, Lily,” he pleaded with her, “I just know that you do some of your best artwork when you’re pissed. I figured if I made you angry enough, you’d snap and do something artistic. And it worked! Look – the wall is amazing.”
Unable to calm down quite enough to look at the wall or stare at him with anything but piercing, insane rage, Lily curled her lips into a sneer, “You git.”
“Well, yes, I am a git,” James shrugged, “but I’m also a git with a knack for critiquing art, and I’m very impressed with your aim.”
Lily’s hands balled immediately back into fists. She rose to her toes, ready to beat him to a pulp, when he hastily raised his hands, “No, no, I meant that in a good way! Your throw was really remarkable. Look at how amazing it splattered.”
When she continued to glare at him murderously, he moved forward and grasped her shoulders. Like a parent gently showing a toddler the mess she had made, he turned her around until her back was to him and she was directly facing the wall.
“See?” the vibrations from his words trembled through his chest, into his arms, and transmitted to her bare shoulders, “its amazing. Quite lovely, to be honest.”
Lily was uncomfortably aware of his hot, calloused hands holding her shoulders, but she did her best to ignore it and try to pay attention to the wall. It did not take her long to realize it was nearly impossible not to concentrate on the vibrant, brilliant, explosion of color before her.
Again, rage simmered before her. It scrabbled out of the wall with vicious claws and homicidal screams. Every speck of red was a reminder of how unjustly furious she had been. Emotion coated the paint so thickly that it was impossible to see the simple splatter underneath.
“A bit angry, isn’t it?” James observed. He dropped his hands and moved to stand beside her, once he was sure she would not try to whirl around and stab his throat with a paintbrush.
“Er, yes,” her throat was constricted, “it is a bit angry.”
“And artistically splattered,” he added.
“And artistically splattered,” she agreed.
“And vivid,” he noted.
“And vivid,” she repeated.
“And wrought with pure unadulterated hatred for cocky gits that irritate hot-tempered redheads,” James smiled.
She cracked a grin, “That too.”
They stood, side-by-side, watching it for a moment longer. Then James nodded in satisfaction, “I like it.”
“Me too,” Lily admitted heavily.
“I say we leave it just the way it is,” James glanced at her, “and I am not saying that because I want to get out of doing work. I am honestly saying that because I don’t think we should touch this wall with this on it. Its already perfect.”
“True, anything else would just ruin it. We leave it, yeah?”
“We leave it,” James concurred decisively, “I’ll clean up, if you’d like. That can be my contribution.”
She waved him off, her anger seeping off her like dirt in a hot shower, “I’ll help.”
“No, really,” James flashed her a mischievous grin, and craned his neck to glance around the corner, “I’ll do it.”
Before Lily could say a word, or even step to pick up the paint bucket that lay only a couple meters from her, James pulled his wand out of his pocket and muttered a couple spells.
The lids on the paint buckets screwed themselves on, the paintbrushes were wiped clean of paint, the tarp was rendered paint-free and folded itself neatly on the ground, the empty red bucket disappeared, and the remnants of James’ impromptu snack earlier vanished into a rubbish bin. Lily folded her arms, amused, as everything righted itself behind the art studio.
“Truly talented,” she observed dryly.
“Ah no,” he winked at her, “that would you, my hot-tempered, rage-filled, combustible little friend.”
She scowled, “Shut up, you prat.”
His eyes laughed so merrily, she was nearly tempted to break her stubborn scowl and flash him a genuine smile. But she had committed to anger, and so angry she would be.
“You know, Lily,” James reflected happily, “I am so glad we decided to quit judging each other. You’re hysterical.”
“Glad I can amuse you,” she said wryly, “it was my goal for the summer, you know. To entertain you as much as bloody possible. God forbid a marauder becomes bored and loses his mind from the sheer monotony of life.”
He stuck his wand back in his pocket, “Yes, that would be tragic. Course Sirius did that ages ago. And Remus gave up his masculinity and began knitting for entertainment. You know your friend has reached a darker place when he knits a sweater with gamboling kittens on it, you know?”
“Gamboling kittens?” Lily questioned distastefully.
“Gamboling kittens,” James nodded solemnly, “we never speak of it, understand?”
“Understood,” Lily nodded. And although on the exterior she was as collected as ever, inwardly she felt a small place inside her heat up. She had a marauder secret. Sometime, somehow, James had begun to trust her.
Course she would never trust him again after his little antagonistic stunt.
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