"You can go to hell, Potter! You might wear that Quidditch badge and those damn smirks around like your the world's gift to mankind and have funny little comments that keep you at the centre of attention but take those away and what are you? Answer me that," Lily yells and it hurts. The Common Room was buzzing not long ago, everyone in it so accustomed to the frequent rows that this one seems no different from any other, but now it is silent as everyone waits on tenterhooks. This is no normal row and you wish that it would be happening in any other place; in an empty classroom, on the pitch, in the Forbidden Forest. Anywhere but here, surrounded by all these people.
It isn't the volume of her shouts that hurts, that shatters your eardrums and reverberates in your head as the scorn intensifies and hatred burns. It is the words she flings at you like silver daggers that pierce your skin and leave you bleeding that hurt as they have never done before; rejection is painful, you know this from experience, but this is not rejection. For once, this wasn't caused by you asking her out. This is a hundred, a thousand times worse than rejection because she has cut you to the core and exposed you to the outside world, as naive and unaware of this as they are. They sit all around you, innocent little eyes looking up and mouths forming perfect 'o's; they know this row is something different and they are thirsty for gossip, thirsty for new information. In a moment that is as delicate as the ice crystals that form in winter, they realise that their golden boy might just fall down, might just crumble away into nothingness. And so the moment is suspended in mid-air as they wait for your response.
But you, so often quick off the mark and ready with a witty reply, have no words in your mouth. You have a dry tongue and a sharp pricking at the back of your eyes that you have only ever allowed to escalate in private. You realise, suddenly, that she has brought tears to your eyes and so she has weakened you. She has ravished you and shown you up, revealed you to be nothing more than a fraud; she has exposed the truth and there is a sense of relief that it is all over, a cathartic and poignant moment. The deception is finished, your cover blown open and that is as invigorating as it is frightening. She is still standing there, hands on hips and eyes blazing like her hair; this woman standing before you is undoubtedly the most powerful woman you know, even if she doesn't know it. But she is waiting for an answer, along with everyone else in the room, and you will come out fighting. As you always do. As you do everyday and with everyone.
"A brilliantly clever and fantastically good looking sixteen year old who, now that you mention it, really ought to go and check that the pitch is in good condition for tomorrow," you say smoothly, dying a little inside as the words spill out. Her glares are burning right through the centre of you but she snarls something you do not hear and walks out, taking a little piece of you with her, albeit unknowingly. The boys and girls around you in the Common Room laugh, happy that their golden boy is as strong and suave as ever, but the sound is hollow in your ears. Their laughter sounds like geese, who fly together in gaggles; or sheep, who follow a leader. You are beginning to resent being their elected leader, to resent the facade and the walls you have built.
There is a quiet cough from behind you and you turn a little, knowing already who it is. Sirius is behind you, a smile on his face to placate the crowds but his eyes are hard and he knows. You know that he knows.
"James," he says quietly, an abrupt departure from the nicknames you usually give each other, but you shake your head slightly. You do not trust your voice not to betray you in front of people who are still looking for a small sign that Lily won. You grin widely for everyone to see, despite the agony of keeping the mask on now that someone has had a look at who is behind it, and you walk out of the Common Room and into the darkened hallway that Lily escaped into only a few moments ago.
The darkness is refreshing, the coolness rejuvinating and as you hurry away from your audience, you take off the Quidditch badge with fingers that tremble and let it drop to the ground. Your armour is becoming too heavy to bear. It never leaves you; it is the one thing you always have. You always have the little smirk, the witty comments around to protect yourself; for so many years they have been impenetrable and now you know that they are no longer enough. Not now that someone has seen through them. And that scares you; they are not enough and you are not enough.
The school and grounds pass you by in grey and green blurs until you slow down and step onto the pitch, a place that has become home. A place where you can really excel. You are at one with the breeze and there is nothing claustrophobic about the towering stands, nothing frightening about the three tall hoops that face you. Everything overwhelms you and you sit down on the grass and let your finger sink into the mud. Lily's accusations echo in your mind and the pain that they inflicted, a pain that you feel physically and makes you want to retch, refuses to subside; the truth, despite your clever comment not ten minutes ago, is petrifying. The truth is that, without Quidditch and a smirk and your wit, you are nothing.
Without them, you are James Henry Potter, a modern day Atlas who bears the weight of the world on his shoulders; you struggle with the knowledge that people know your name, know your face and adore you for it because of your family. Because of your celebrated father who you have disappointed and failed. Because of your mother, who defied her family's expectations to marry the man she loved. You are loved because of who they are and what they have done and you cannot ever do the same, cannot ever replicate that. You will always be a failure, a boy with too much money who struggles to live up to reputations that he will never supercede. You are a failure but you are a Potter and a Black, and they are all fighters.
You are a fighter and that is why you wear a suit of armour. To hide yourself away from the world and make it seem as though everything is fine. Fine, just fine. You are fine, absolutely fine, and that is all you will ever be. Your smirks, your comments, your enamel badge are a suit of armour that had served you so well, that has allowed you to encase your many flaws in metal and bravado. Lily wanted to know what you are without the armour but she can never know the truth. The truth is that, inside the casing and behind the confidence, you are broken. You are no golden boy. You are a failure who relies on walls, a wink, a broomstick. You are a tarnished golden boy, no longer deserving of the title now that your armour has been pierced. You are a broken man.
Author's Note: this flew into my head one night and I hurried to get it written down. I'm such a big James/Lily shipper and he's my absolute favourite character, so drop me line and tell me what you think!