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The Measure of a Man

Title: The Measure of a Man
Author: gilpin25
Summary: I’m sixteen years old and I’m in love with a girl who thinks I’m an arrogant, bullying toerag, and I don’t know how to change her mind as everything I do just makes it worse. James Potter, who usually has all the answers, has none for this... (James/Lily)
Rating: R
Warnings: Language; violence
Prompts: Knave and They say, best men are moulded out of their faults/ And, for the most, become much more the better/ For being a little bad. Measure for Measure, 5.1
Word Count: 7690
Author's Note: Inspired by a lot of canon lines about James, in particular: "She started going out with him in seventh year," said Lupin. "Once James had deflated his head a bit," said Sirius from OotP. Thanks to the mods for extending the deadline as otherwise I'd never have got this finished in time. Feedback is always much appreciated. :)



The Measure of a Man


It was dominating his nights now, as well as his days. The way things did when they took you over. When there were people you thought of telling, but couldn’t bring yourself to start the conversation with because you knew they’d laugh, or, worse, try far too hard not to, or say completely the wrong thing and then attempt to dig their way out of it. All the while looking at him in a baffled, uncomprehending way that clearly said he was beneath contempt.

That last scenario was almost guaranteed as he couldn’t imagine what the right thing to say could possibly be.

So there was only James Potter left to churn it over with, and he, for the first time ever, was well out of his depth with this one. James Potter was used to putting other people right, to getting some satisfaction out of solving their problems. Faced now with one of his own at last, he was seriously, humiliatingly unraveled.

I’m sixteen years old and I’m in love with a girl who thinks I’m an arrogant, bullying toerag, and I don’t know how to change her mind as everything I do just makes it worse.

And, oh yeah, to crown it all, I’m still a…


Feeling deeply isolated, even as voices he barely registered in the hallway called for his attention – “James! James Potter! Come and watch Maddock hanging from the ceiling!” Who was that plonker? – he walked numbly out of a Hogwarts which no longer felt like the familiar friend of old. Leaving behind the smell of books, leather and the acrid anxiety-smell that was always present around exam time when sweat, fear and shit seemed to combine and bake pungently in the summer heat. Walking straight into the sun-drenched quadrangle where Justin Penman and Elsie Longford were locked in a no holds barred embrace, with tongues entwined in frantic tonsil Quidditch, and Justin copping a good feel of Elsie’s disturbingly pert backside.

That was only part of what he wanted with Lily and, actually (yet more embarrassment for you here, Potter? What kind of man are you?), he knew he didn’t want it like that at all. Not a public display for everyone to gawp at and gossip over. It was common knowledge that Penman had been getting it on with Longford for the past couple of weeks, and it had enhanced both their reputations no end, but everyone also knew it wouldn’t last much beyond the summer. No one was talking long-term here. Or even deeply meaningful.

Or dreaming of recognizing a girl one day across a Divination classroom - and how utterly bloody ridiculous was that? - as your soul mate while holding a cup with soggy tea leaves in it from suddenly nerveless hands. When he’d realized, in the simple changing of one instant to another, that there was no other girl like her for him and never would be.

Soul mate was such a pathetically girly expression too. Used frequently in the drippy letters in the Agony Aunt column of Witch Weekly printed on the back page, next to a recipe for pot roast. Sirius always got Peter to read them out to him in a high-pitched trill, so that he could supply alternative answers to the ones from the all-knowing Aunt Tara (who’d outlived three husbands and was dating someone thirty years her junior), in his somewhat more forthright role as helpful Auntie Siri.

Perhaps James Potter should write in with his little problem. Auntie Siri would wet himself laughing.

Which left him confirmed and condemned as absolutely pathetic. Shortly, no doubt, to be writing sickly sonnets under the sheets at night about the russet, autumnal fall of hair that Lily Evans had taken lately to plaiting into one thick rope, threaded through with a piece of brown leather cord, which hung carelessly over one shoulder. The next day, when she wore it loose, it would be like a rippling wave in a burning sea. One he could imagine spreading out slowly with shaking fingers, a crimson fan over honey-gold, freckled shoulders that he would look at for a moment in wonder and then bury his face in to feel the living silk brush against his skin.

Less poetically, there was that white top she wore, seemingly unaware that at the right angle, in the blinding light of the midday sun, it was practically transparent, and he could almost see her…

Shit.

He pushed his glasses back up his nose, holding his finger there as they tried to slide down again in the heat, which only enabled him to see Penman and Longford a lot more clearly than he wanted to. They made him feel like part of some inferior species. One without knowledge of love or sex.

“So how was it for you, Potter?”

“Huh?”

He spun round, squinting into the sun. The short, ghostly shape shimmered at the edges before resolving itself into the familiar, stocky figure of Euan Maddock. Wiping sweat from his forehead and, presumably, having escaped unscathed from his one hundred and eighty degree look at the ceiling, apart from a slightly unfocused look in his eyes and his shirt-tail hanging out the back of his trousers.

“History of Magic.” Euan looked at him, the Welsh accent becoming more pronounced in the next words. “You know, the exam.”

“Right.” Merlin, he’d forgotten the thing the minute he put his quill down, and started staring at Lily’s rigid back in the chair immediately in front of him. “Yeah, fine. Piece of cake. You?”

“Oh, yes, yes, fine. I just thought—“ Euan sighed. “It was a shame the Goblin Rebellion of 1798 didn’t come up when they sort of promised it would; I’ve spent quite a lot of nights on that one recently. You didn’t come unstuck though, with it not being there?”

“Nah, just winged it. Easy.” James shrugged, attention wandering. The staff room window was in shadow now, where some sick sod had taken advantage of the exams, and the absence of teachers, to put some interesting graffiti about the merits of a proper wizard education being only deserved by a select, pure-bred few. It was pity they couldn’t spell bourgeois to emphasise their point a bit more.

“Oh, well. Probably just me then.” Euan looked a bit crestfallen. “Still, you always think these things have gone badly, don’t you?”

“Not really. You got down from the ceiling then?”

“Oh … yes, they got a bit worried, see, when I hit my head.” Euan half turned, pointing to a long gash running up his neck and into his hairline. “Levicorpus again, you know.”

“You ought to get it looked at. I’ll have a word with them later. Did you want me for something?”

“Mmn? Well I was on my way to tell you that Snape’s out looking for you, and Avery and Mulciber are looking for him to join in, and—“ Euan’s big blue eyes widened dramatically as he added “—he says he’s going to teach you a lesson once and for all. He’s gone down to the lake because he thought you were going there. He’s mad as hell. You know,” he said helpfully as James obviously looked as blank as he felt, “after what happened at breakfast this morning.”

James nearly asked what did happen as it all seemed a lifetime ago, but then he remembered. It didn’t seem very important now.

“OK,” he said. “Ta.”

There was an awkward pause while he waited for Euan to clear off and Euan just stood there like a hopeful puppy not wanting to be dismissed.

“Thanks,” he said again, eventually, wondering if Euan had somehow missed it the first time around. “Don’t worry; he won’t stand a chance against me.”

“Us lesser mortals don’t.” Euan laughed, rather too brightly, not quite meeting his eyes, and James grinned automatically. “I’ll see you at dinner then, shall I?”

“Yeah, and I’ll buy you a drink sometime.” James had barely got the words out before Euan had nodded quickly and gone. Back into the cool of the shadowed entrance hall. Leaving him alone in the heat and the silence apart from the sound of squelching lips and moans – faked, surely? Or else Longford was having a tooth pulled out – emanating from behind him.

He found himself striding away across the fields, swishing at the long summer grass with his wand in anguish and swallowing hard against the sudden lump in his throat. Being pathetic again. James Potter brought to his knees by a girl. With not an idea in his head except to get away from those sounds, from that disquieting note in Euan’s voice he couldn’t identify, and to find the people he could always rely on, who were always there for him. He’d thought he needed time to himself, but that had been the worst decision ever.

What he needed were his friends. People who accepted him and liked him for what he was, and with whom he could forget all this.

Not like Lily who hated him for what she thought he was.

Not that he could blame her for that. His fault. Somehow, it all came across wrong, gave the wrong impression.

He pulled up short, suddenly hit by the realisation of what had bothered him about the conversation with Euan. That faint edge in his voice at the end there.

Dislike.

Euan had disliked him, just then. Little Euan, who was funny, and so brilliant at Astronomy, and who worried about his hair receding already, and who hated Dark magic and all it stood for. Who faced up to such as Avery and Mulciber, though he didn’t stand a chance, and let James and Sirius know what was going on.

Something he’d said or done again. Little Euan, who he’d thought admired him, probably thought he was an arrogant, bullying toerag too.

He stood for a moment, pausing to absorb the shock, the hurt – God, he liked Euan, liked him a lot – as a small breeze touched his face, the sun directly above him like one searing, judging eye from which there was no escape.

The judgement was he was still a child. A child who needed to open his eyes and see what he was doing.

He moved off as fast as he could; knowing what he needed now at last and who he needed to talk to.

The most likeable person he knew.



He found them where he expected to, in the old stable block which had been used to shelter some of the inhabitants of recent Care of Magical Creature classes, but which now lay empty due to the mysterious, unexplained flight and extremely rapid departure of the most recent ones.

It seemed they hadn’t cared much for a werewolf sniffing round their locked door at night. Remus still felt guilty about it.

It was his voice James could hear as he tapped the door with his wand, murmured the words up to no good, and pushed it open with a prolonged, painful creak. Remus good-naturedly responding to Sirius’ jibe about it being a bit late to start reading the bleeding text book now by saying that he just liked to worry himself sick. It was all right for the resident genius to only have to think about whether he’d got an Outstanding, or a paltry, mortal Exceeds Expectations that would ruin his day, and everyone else’s as they had to listen to him moan.

That gave James another sharp jolt in the ribs, but he found a grin as they all looked up at him.

“So you want us now then?” Sirius sounded jovial enough himself, but his grey eyes were sharp. Ready to take offence. Things were at an all time low with Regulus and the rest of his family, which was saying something, and it wasn’t that long time wise since he’d tried to give Snivellus the shock of his life by seeing what really was in the Shrieking Shack.

For a while, James had thought things would never be right between him and Remus again. Not that Remus had said much, but he hadn’t needed to. Sirius had blustered for a bit, but he didn’t shirk things when he knew he was at fault. One night they must have thrashed it all out because the next day Moony was Moony again, and Sirius was the quieter, thoughtful one, with slightly red-rimmed eyes, who looked relieved when spoken to. The quietness soon wore off, Moony was laughing at furry little problem jokes again, and James and Peter were grinning like demented idiots that it was all back to normal.

None of them would ever forget though. What if Snape had been bitten?

That should have taught him, shown him how easy it was to go too far without thinking through the consequences. How easy it was to become what you despised by taking it for granted you were on the side of good. But, no, he’d had to humiliate Snivellus that day by the beech tree, and many days after that. Not so much because Sirius was bored, and he was bored himself, but because of Lily, and because he was jealous and because…

Because he could. And then this morning, at breakfast, when he’d—

Shit.

“Sorry.” He looked at Sirius, but included them all in the apology. “Got depressed about my lack of love life and thought I’d mope on my own. Pathetic, I know.”

“Oh, Merlin.” Sirius rolled his eyes upwards. “For crying out loud she’s only a girl! Pretty enough, I grant you, but then a load of them are! Even more so if you drink enough. You ought to go out with someone else for a bit, take your mind off her. There are always girls just waiting to be asked on a hot date by anyone they can get their hands on.”

“There are for you,” Peter got in quickly, while Remus said wryly, “Yes, that queue of girls outside the dorm are all there for my charming personality.”

“Ah, well,” Sirius laid his head back against the wall, bottle of half-empty cider between his knees, and failed to look modest, if, indeed, he was trying to. “All you’ve got to do, when you’re in the mood for company, is to whisper a few sweet nothings. They all like that. Bet you can’t guess my new winning lines.”

He proceeded to tell them. James laughed, feeling a surge of affection at the sheer audacity, while Remus chuckled in apparent disbelief, and Peter’s eyes and mouth formed a perfect wide circle of awe.

“You don’t really—“

“I cannot believe that works.”

“You weren’t kidding when you said sweet nothing, were you?”

Sirius laughed. “You’re just jealous, Potter. All I ask is if they fancy a look at the old Black velvet sometime and they—“

No way. You must get hexed on the spot,” said Peter, firmly.

Sirius was nodding. “Yeah, I’ve been hexed, jinxed, even had my face slapped. That was rather fun,” he said, rubbing his jaw reminiscently. “But it works sometimes as well. Which is why you’re nuts, Prongs, to get this serious so soon. There’s loads of time to settle down later on, not in times like these, with trouble coming any time now.”

He had a point, James knew, but … he didn’t care. It just made him want to get more of a move on, a feeling that he was wasting time when he could be with Lily. He also thought that while he’d trust Padfoot’s opinion over anyone else’s on nearly everything he could think of, he wasn’t the best judge on this one subject.

He didn’t understand.

Whereas someone who might know exactly what it meant was close by.

He looked over at the slight figure with the thick, untidy hair, still clutching his text book to his chest. Nothing said ever seemed to offend him, he bent with it like a pliant willow tree in the breeze. Always so pleased to be included with the three of them, always so likeable and witty. Yet there was a core of steel underneath, of fierce, stubborn pride that you got a glimpse of sometimes.

James badly wanted to talk to him. To ask him what he thought about revealing who you really were.

How funny was that?

“Snivellus is looking for me after what happened this morning,” he said, and three heads snapped up at once. “It’s all right,” he added quickly as he saw Sirius reaching for his wand, “he’s gone back inside for now to get his partners in crime. I thought you two,” he nodded at Sirius and Peter, “could go round by the north way, and we’ll take the south, so we’ll either run into them in the middle or back in Hogwarts itself.”

“What we going to do?” Sirius was already on his feet, stuffing the cider bottle into his pocket.

“Nothing.”

Nothing?” Peter was looking at him as if he’d gone mad.

“I mean—“ What did he mean? He ran his hand through the back of his hair, spiking it up to reassure himself. “Wait until I get there, that’s all. It’s between him and me, after this morning.”

“Not if those bastards Avery and Mulciber are with him, it isn’t.” Sirius flung the door open, looked back and grinned. “Mind you, Potter, you did ask for it. Luckily,” the grin got bigger, “they’re the ones who are going to get it. Come on Wormtail, it’s fun time.” He shot a quick look at Remus, rising rather slowly to his feet. “All prefects will just have to avert their noble eyes and ears again, or abstain if necessary.”

Remus smiled but didn’t reply as they left. He looked at James.

“Let’s set the charms again and get going,” James said.

“The south way?”

“The south way.”

“Only I could have sworn I saw Severus leave the Great Hall in front of me. He went out the side door and headed off that way. Not looking that happy with life at the time.”

“Must have been another greasy-haired, hook nosed bastard.” James felt for his wand in his back pocket.

“Must have,” Remus said agreeably, and drew his wand out too.



He couldn’t really begin to put much into words until they reached the intimacy of the sun-dappled woods. Even then it was hardly coherent, but Remus was always good at reading between the lines.

Or filling in the words James wasn’t saying. Of which there were plenty.

“This … isn’t like you.” Remus gave him a worried frown, momentarily interrupting the careful watch he was keeping.

“Yeah, it is. Or it could be. Should be, even. I think that’s what I’m trying to say. That she thinks – everyone thinks – I’m something I’m not. Not a total shit, not all the time, anyway.” James ran his hand through his hair in confused misery and thought he’d leave it to Moony to sort that one out.

Apparently Remus could as well. “There’s a world of difference between thinking someone’s a shit, and thinking someone’s an arrogant twerp, which is the sort of thing you say in the heat of the moment.”

“Arrogant, bullying toerag.”

“Right. Definitely heat of the moment stuff.” Remus looked round again. James thought he should spare him the bother by telling him that Snape was probably at least a half mile away, by the lake. But it never did do to underestimate Snivellus who, more and more lately, was coming up with new Dark magic which they were struggling to find counter hexes and jinxes for.

“She likes you,” James said, trying hard to keep all envy out of his voice.

Remus’ face became very still. “You wouldn’t settle for liking,” he said, finally, after a pause.

“More than likes you. She’s fond of you.”

“You wouldn’t settle for fond, either.”

“Yes, but everything I say to her comes out … wrong. Like, like—“

“Like you’re trying to get her into bed or something?” Remus grinned suddenly.

Yes! Because I can’t think of anything cleverer to say! So I do show off and I do end up looking arrogant, and—“ he caught Remus’ eye “—don’t say it, all right? Because I know I can be. But I simply can’t stand that she looks on Snivellus - on Snape - of all people, as a friend, while I’m the lowest of the low to her. Lily’s such a good person and he’s just absolute scum. You know what his pals did to Mary McDonald was beyond the pale.”

“That’s what they did. Not him.”

“He could have stopped them!”

Remus smiled slightly. “It’s not always that easy.”

“Yeah, it is. With something like that it is. They crossed a line.”

“We’re all near lines these days.” Remus looked at him sharply and James was surprised at the vehemence with which he spoke. “Snape and Lily have known each other since childhood and, if you believe in Lily’s judgement, then it follows there must be good in him. You and Padfoot and he have been enemies from the very first day and she’s been forced to take sides. It must be difficult for her.”

“She calls him Sev,” James said miserably, well aware that he sounded like a whining six year old.

“Well… If it’ll make you feel better we can call you Jamie.” Remus turned his head away very quickly, presumably to check for any approaching sounds again, and James decided not to kill him for the time being. “They’re not speaking at the moment, I don’t think. You must have noticed.”

You must have noticed I don’t really get chance to speak to her on my own without a lot of yelling and dire threats being involved. I’m not like you, able to have cosy little chats in the prefects’ corner.” James took a breath, aware he wasn’t being entirely fair. Besides… “That explains then why Snivellus is so cranky all the time now.”

Remus raised an eyebrow.

James held his hands up in irritation. “Yeah, I know. My fault too.”

“Well he does ask for it. And you have got the world’s most ineffectual prefect, who should probably be telling you to lay off him now and then.” Remus rubbed his eyes tiredly, frowning.

“Thank God you don’t, I’d have to jinx you too.” James said it as a joke, but stopped short hurriedly, with this painful new self-awareness. “The thing is,” he started, “and I know this is going to sound really bad, but I thought she might change her mind about me, just a bit, if she ever got to know—“

“That you’d saved Snape’s life?”

“That I haven’t always been a total bastard to him.” James forgot Snape staring at the pale face in front of him. “Moony, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to remind you like that.”

A faint smile. “Don’t worry.”

“No, I don’t want to…” He stopped, uncertainly. Not used to being uncertain, either, and it felt bloody awful.

The same smile again. “She does know about you and what you did. I think she probably knows about me too, though she’s never come out and said it. But I know she covers for me sometimes.” A shrug. “But you and her – you can’t expect her to see you in a different light when you keep hexing people for the fun of it. Snape and you on your own are one thing, but other people admire you and copy you while they dislike him. Gossip flies round here like a Nimbus 1000 and I expect after breakfast this morning—“

He had a sudden vision of Snape’s face high above him in the hall, spinning wildly round and round like some bloated white balloon, greasy hair flying. Everyone roaring with laughter.

“—people are already trying to modify Levicorpus to produce that spinning effect like you and Padfoot have got it to do—“

Oh shit. Euan.

“—and then you get someone who’s frightened of heights or something, and hanging upside down from miles up is not quite as amusing.”

“Or who brings his breakfast back up over most of the Slytherin table?” He swallowed, sounding hoarser than Remus did.

Remus looked about him again and said nothing.

James rested his head in his hands and groaned. “Oh … God. No wonder Lily thinks I’m about as likeable as your average troll.”

Because she doesn’t know you.” Remus being unexpectedly forceful again. “She doesn’t see everything. She doesn’t know about my friend who studied in the early hours of almost every night for well on three years to find a way to become an Animagus to help me. Who still has the scar marks on one leg from the night he nearly cut it in two and couldn’t go to the hospital wing. My friend who spent months helping Peter become an Animagus when he found it nearly impossible. Who doesn’t like people to see him being kind because he thinks it isn’t cool.” Remus paused and took a breath; for him this was a lot of talking. “She certainly doesn’t see the man who saved Snape’s life because every time she could do that he goes out and humiliates him again.”

He had to swallow again before he could say, “You weren’t meant to know how I hurt my leg.”

“I asked Peter. He always cracks under pressure if you find the right key.”

“Right.” James sat there, feeling slightly dazed. Still not knowing what to do next. Before it dawned on him that he’d better make his mind up quick because by now Padfoot would be back at the castle, and would be well on the way to finding out he needed to be somewhere else.

Padfoot would never willingly let him do this alone. Peter would want to help too. That’s why they were all always there for each other and why he prized their friendship so much; why he thought of them as the brothers he didn’t have. Why they didn’t let just any old person into their circle.

Well, having said that, they’d let Peter in …

He laughed suddenly and Remus looked at him in surprise. He couldn’t explain he was relieved; he’d thought he was cracked in the head for a bit there, but there were still some things it was okay to be cocky about and an arrogant sod about.

To know you were good at.

He didn’t think he was going to be at all good at this, but he did understand about honour and what that meant…

“You’ve got to go,” he said. “Leave me to face Snivellus – Snape (maturity, Potter!) on my own.”

The great thing about Moony was you never had to explain too much, though he was looking worried again.

“His mates are around somewhere.”

“Doesn’t matter.” James forced a grin. “Apologise to Padfoot for me, he won’t understand. And, if, afterwards…” He stopped, not exactly wanting to say if you could come by and pick up the bits, so the teachers don’t find out and we can keep this quiet, I’d be exceedingly grateful.

“Where will you be?” James started to raise an eyebrow and Remus added, impatiently, “You haven’t been checking anything around here so it’s obvious you knew he wasn’t near.”

“South.” He didn’t want to say more because Remus was every bit as loyal as Padfoot and he didn’t want him to see any of this. Merlin, he didn’t want to see it himself. “Now bugger off.”

“I don’t think—“

Now, Moony. I mean it. Go on. Clear off. And – thanks.” He smiled again and this one wasn’t forced. “You must think I’m nuts to do this for a girl who’s probably never going to hear about it.”

“I think I’d do anything for the right girl too. Especially to have her feel like that in return.” Remus had an odd, strangely wistful look on his face, but before James could even think about that, his mouth twitched at the corner and there was Moony again. A little wry, a little dry.

“Hope you’ve got your best underpants on,” he said.



Snape found him at the lake, though ‘found’ was not exactly the word. James made sure he sounded like a pregnant Hippogriff returning from a heavy night’s drinking on the town as he approached. It rather broke his professional heart to deliberately catch his foot on a pebble and push it downwards, creating a small fall that any nearby vicious plonkers were bound to hear.

Needs must. But, Merlin, this was positively embarrassing.

Normally before a duel his heart would be pounding and his hands trembling on his wand. Wanting to get on with things. Before a duel with Sniv -–Snape he’d be full of irrational and jealous anger. Wanting to show Lily how she had them both so completely wrong. But now he was calculating and cool, despite the heat causing sweat to prickle under his armpits. Working out that he was approximately fifty paces from the lakeside, that the boulder to his left was the only feasible option for cover, and he could be easily pinned down there. Provided, that is, that Snape came at him from the left—

He saw him rise from under the eaves of the trees from where he’d been keeping watch. On the left.

James pretended not to see for a second, long enough to give Snape chance to take aim (you really are out of your tiny mind here, Potter) then said, in his best sarky drawl: “Hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long when—“ He just had time to glimpse a white face, contorted with hatred, before diving ungracefully for the boulder as several curses were hurled at him in rapid succession.

Bit of a shame really. He sat up cautiously, rubbing his shoulder and hip where it had hit solid stone, and wished he’d got out the full, “when you probably want to change your clothes again as you keep puking on them.” Though, as he put his fingers gingerly up to a smarting forehead, he thought it might be as well he hadn’t delayed a second longer.

The bastard had singed his hair. Now that really pissed him off.

He leant forward, letting his eyes adjust to the difference between the harsh, unforgiving light hitting the pebble beach, and that of the shadows in the trees by the water’s edge. Sorting out which one he thought was Snape’s, and then waiting till it was confirmed by the arm movement as the wand was angled towards him. Getting ready to strike.

He fired off a succession of blocking moves for whatever Snape had planned, culminating in a Flagrante Curse, which hit the tree, causing sparks to fly as it caught light. Followed swiftly by a Trip Jinx aimed at both ankles as Snape was forced to move out from his cover.

Direct hit.

He heard the howl of outrage as Snape stumbled, tried desperately to right himself for a minute, and more or less went arse over face in a totally uncontrolled forward roll.

Hard not to roar with laughter as he normally would have. Hard not to relish this; to know they were evenly matched and he’d have to be at his best to beat him. Except Snape was probably not at his after this morning, otherwise he’d never have fallen for that so easily. But, even so, it was wonderful to feel the wand in his hand - ready to swish and flick and say the magic words, as Professor Flitwick had told him, so long ago when he’d realised for the first time that he could do this, and do it well.

What was it Remus had said about getting near lines? He should have realised; he’d let hatred blind him.

He saw Snape getting slowly and painfully to his feet, holding his side.

It was now or never, before he changed his mind. He could slap a full body-bind on him right now, it would all be over in seconds, and he could sit back and relish the acclaim all night long.

Or he could do something completely stupid for the sake of a girl who wouldn’t even give him a second glance, and probably never would. To try and prove he was a better person than she thought.

To prove it to himself as well?

James stood up and walked towards Snape, wand hanging down at his side. Forcing himself to hold steady, forcing his feet to take each step.

He saw the look of absolute disbelief on the white face (you probably look as surprised yourself, Potter, you damn fool) before Snape’s eyes narrowed suspiciously and he looked from side to side. As though expecting a trap.

Of course, he probably was.

Snape seemed ready to explode. Certainly ready to scream at him in a shower of spittle and fury.

“Do you think I’m daft, Potter? Do you think I’m insane?”

“Well, now you mention it…” he started, before what must have been a wordless curse hit him straight in the stomach, and he was on his knees, clutching his hands to his ribs. Slowly toppling over onto his side as the wind whistled painfully out of his lungs and he started to wheeze like a very old man who was fighting for his last breath.

Only now did he remember that Snape wasn’t part of this great, impulsive plan; didn’t realise he was supposed to play nicely once he’d got his own back. That look of almost insane hatred when he’d pulled him away at the Shrieking Shack was still there and Moony was right about lines being crossed. Things had gone way beyond having your boxers exposed in public for a laugh and he, arrogant toerag that he was, had completely failed to notice.

Severus Snape looked as though he wanted to … kill him.

He could certainly cut him to ribbons if he used that favourite spell of his, the one they’d never found a counter for yet.

Oh shit.

James tried a wordless jinx himself, which was hard when you couldn’t breathe and seemed to be spitting out a mouthful of blood. What the hell had he hit him with? It felt like a giant’s fist. But the spell must have worked, somehow, as he saw Snape through the wobbly haze that was currently his vision hopping frantically from one side of a burning foot to the other, still hurling abuse.

Now if he could just get his breath, and think of something else, he might get out of this with all limbs more or less intact.

“Severus!” A familiar voice. Then another. “Hold on! We’re coming!”

Oh fuck.

James thought that if he had enough breath, he’d be able to say, “Welcome to the party, boys” to Avery and Mulciber. Unfortunately, it was out of the question at this moment in time.

“Don’t let the bastard go, Severus! Bind him tight!”

He wanted to either laugh or scream. They were so completely stupid as well as evil. A deadly combination.

He remembered what they’d done to Mary McDonald and shuddered.

A foot appeared in his vision. Then another. He didn’t know what spell this was either, but it felt like he’d been kicked in the head just before the world went black.



Roaring in his ears. No breath again. Glasses gone, as well as hope.

Didn’t they say drowning was easy?

He felt a hand, no, hands hauling him upwards. He emerged like some giant fish out of the lake, gasping, flapping, reaching for air, and realising that some people in his absence seemed to have reverted to old fashioned means with a foot on the back holding him down.

Whatever happened to good old magic?

He dimly became aware that some kind of argument was going on while he was lying there retching his guts up. Snape wasn’t happy about something. Probably thought he wasn’t suffering enough.

“I’m telling you there’s something very wrong here. He just walked up to me and let me curse him.

“So what?”

“Yeah, who cares? He’s had this coming for years and there’s no one around to see.”

No! This is a trap of some kind! It’s far too easy!”

You had to hand it to Snape; two options available and he picks completely the wrong one. Couldn’t really blame him. James closed his eyes against the sun which seemed to be trying to blind him. Saw it now as a pulsing orange light hovering on his eyelids as he lay there listening to his heaving chest and feeling the water lap gently against his head.

“Look, Severus, you can do anything you like to him here. Slice him, dice him. No one will know and we’ll never tell.” More urgently. “But you’ve got to do it quick!”

“Yeah, we can make it look like an accident. Hit his head on a stone and fell in the water. Make it look good.”

“No.” Snape sounded really pissed now. “Not like this. It should be just him and me—“

“This is no time to start getting principles—“

James wanted to argue that, yes, actually, it really was an excellent time, but those large hands were grasping him again, and then the icy cold water was taking away what little breath he’d regained.

Keep fighting, he thought, above the roaring noise and the red mist in front of his eyes. Don’t give up, you soft bastard. He kicked back feebly and felt his foot connect with something. Tried for a leg-locker curse as well, but couldn’t even remember the words to say in his mind…

A firm hand hauled him up again and, hideously, it was Snape’s.

“No,” he said, some way above James’ head and sounding as though he was clenching his teeth. “I told you not like this.”

“I’ll do it if you haven’t got the balls—“

“I owe him and that bastard Black for more than you—“

No!

Even James thought he might have taken note of that one from Snape. If he’d been capable of caring about anything ever again. Not least that the world seemed to be fading away.

He shut his eyes to help it along and thought of Lily. That fan of red hair spreading out slowly in the water…

When he opened them again, the world had changed a little. There were more people in it now, at least he supposed those blurs on the edge of his vision, shimmering in the sun, were people. They all seemed to be talking at once.

He couldn’t recognise anyone. Thought about lying there for ever more as he never wanted to move again.

Mooney! What the hell are you doing, I’ve got to—“ Oh he knew that one. Poor Padfoot. From the sudden, furious silence, and then another voice chiming in and protesting loudly, which was Wormtail’s, it seemed that Moony had for once taken action. Sirius wasn’t coming to the rescue.

“Here.” An arm under him, helping him sit up. Pushing something which felt like his glasses into his hand. “See, now that’s better.”

James took two goes at putting them on his face, but at the second go the hazy outline resolved itself into Euan Maddock. Looking at him anxiously.

“You all right?” Euan said. “What do you want us to do with Snape?”

James looked around. There was a small ring of people, all of whom he knew. Friends, idiots and those who were sometimes entertaining. Snape looking down his nose and totally contemptuous in the middle with several wands pointed at him. Mulciber and Avery nowhere to be seen, which was typical of scum who would always run first.

“When Sirius and Peter came back to school, we thought you might be in trouble. So we all came to help look for you.”

James looked round the little crowd again. Even those he’d hexed for a laugh now and then had come.

People admire you and copy you, Moony had said.

“What do you want us to do?” Euan said again, looking ever more anxious.

He looked to the right and saw Remus with his hand still firm on Peter’s arm. Padfoot in frozen, unnatural immobility; mouth open in a yell of despair and fury.

He looked at Snape, who sneered at him. Daring him. Egging him on. Saying silently that nothing was changed between them.

James thought it was probably even worse after this. Which suited him fine. Except he was going to try and keep other people out of it from now on.

“Let him go,” he said, and then realised his voice was so faint he’d hardly made a sound. He coughed, wondering if he’d swallowed half the damn lake. “Let him go,” he said again. “He just got his own back on me for this morning. That’s all.”

“But…” Euan trailed off, looking shocked. “He got the better of you?” There was disbelief in his voice that some part of James enjoyed immensely. “We saw Mulciber and Avery running away—“

“Yeah.” James, with difficulty, rolled onto his knees and wondered if he was going to be sick. Mulciber and Avery would have to be watched every second now. “Let him go,” he repeated. “He beat me fairly.”

Snape pushed his way roughly out of the circle, which broke up into bewildered little clusters of twos and threes, and strode up to James.

He had what looked like the beginnings of a black eye. James remembered kicking back with his foot. Typical he’d have got Sniv -–Snape, instead of one of the other two.

Next time, Potter. Next time it’ll be just you and me.” Snape’s face, still furious, still humiliated, was right in front of him. “I don’t know what you were up to there, but you don’t fool me.”

The old James would have said the average Squib could have fooled him with a find-the-rabbit-in-the-hat trick. The new one hung his head down silently and concentrated on not being sick. Insults could wait for another day.

People were wandering off slowly. Doubtfully looking back at him, probably a bit bewildered that there wasn’t going to be some great drama after all. Probably thinking he was a right let down as far as the day’s entertainment went.

He heard a voice he knew saying something to Remus.

Shooting his head up that fast was a big mistake but there she was. Looking at him and then at Snape, who was walking past. They were too far away for him to see their expressions, but he didn’t think they spoke. Then she was nodding at Remus and making her way over the uneven pebbles.

Towards him.

“If there’s nothing you want then…” Euan still doubtful about the wisdom of James Potter. Which made two of them. “You don’t look that good, you know.”

“I’m fine. And Euan—“ As he started to turn away.

“Yes?”

“Thanks. I mean it.”

The round face lit up for a moment, reminding him of Peter. Who was helping Remus with what looked like a dazed and unsteady Sirius – this was all going to take some explaining and there was so much he couldn’t say – back up the path.

Moony looked round, hesitating for a second, but by then she was there in front of him. Hair like fire. The sun shining through her white top. James thought he should probably close his eyes. Couldn’t quite manage it though.

“What the hell have you been doing?” she demanded, hands on hips.

He started to laugh. Felt very sick. Merlin, she was beautiful.

“Not much,” he croaked out. “Got beaten in a fight. Got wet. Stupid, really.”

“You’re telling me, you great idiot. Look at the state of you!” She bent down and put her arm under his, trying to help him up.

No–-” He turned his head away hurriedly and was suddenly, horribly sick at her feet. At least it was mostly water, but, oh shit, not in front of Lily. He didn’t want her to see him like this…

He spat. Wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Heaved again. Felt something soft pressed into his other hand.

Her white handkerchief.

“Sorry,” he said, feeling worse than he’d ever done for doing that to her.

Her face looking at him, an expression of concern he’d never seen before in those green eyes.

“I don’t know what’s been going on here,” she said. “I only saw the end. But I saw you let Sev go when they were all ready to gang up on him. I do know it’s not worth you ending up like this. What on earth possessed you?”

“Oh, you know…” Somehow she’d helped him back on his feet and seemed to want him to lean on her. Which was just as well.

“I was trying to impress a beautiful girl with my swimming ability, in order to win her affection.” He made an airy gesture with his free hand, still clutching her hankie, which was a mistake as it made him sway. She held onto him tighter.

A snort. “I hope she was worth it, to end up in the mess you’re in.”

A hundred, no, a thousand smart answers ran through his head to that one. All the ones an arrogant toerag, who didn’t think that much about other people, would give. Which would sound like he just wanted something cheap and casual with her.

He thought about it.

“I think you’re more than worth it,” he said, very quietly.

She said nothing, but as he turned his head he saw the flush on her cheeks.

He leant on her a little harder as they went back up the path and her arm was tight round his waist.




Comments

gilpin25
Apr. 3rd, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much - not least, for keeping me company in the running late stakes!

I'm very pleased you liked this as it gave me a fair few headaches. Not actually writing it, which was hugely enjoyable, but trying to sort out in my head beforehand (and during) where I was going with it, and how I saw James from all those well scattered canon clues. Some seem to contradict the others, but then that made it interesting to try and come up with a way his 'growing-up' could have started, and what prompted it. I like to imagine it was a conscious decision on his part to take responsibility for his actions, and the affect they had on others, and that Lily provided the motivation. Which left me with a still arrogant James in some ways, but one who was very uncertain when it came to romance and things he'd never had to consider before, such as being disliked.

I felt so bad for Remus during that whole conversation, and sort of glad that James never cottoned on

I know. :( I was trying to write it to sound half as if Remus had a crush on Lily, but knew it wasn't reciprocated/ wasn't going to do anything about it, and half that he just envied James for feeling like that and thought it would never happen to him because of the obvious problem. I think I prefer the latter thinking, as we all know he's wrong!

this fits well with the rather cavalier attitude the Marauders seem to have about it in canon -- but at the same time it's still there under the surface, ready to pop out if they aren't careful.

I've come to the conclusion that it would be a boy thing to put it behind them, almost laugh at it in retrospect (though I'm sure Remus wouldn't) as though it's not cool to make a fuss and keep harping on about it. But underneath, none of them would forget...

Glad you liked the Agony Aunt column; I might write the Marauders acting that out one day, lol.

Many thanks again. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. :) And am looking forward to reading yours!





hrymfaxe
Apr. 3rd, 2008 09:07 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked the Agony Aunt column; I might write the Marauders acting that out one day, lol.

Oh you should!! I would love to hear Auntie Siri's advice to the lovelorn!
gilpin25
Apr. 5th, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC)
If I get a mad, I-feel-like-being-disowned-by-all-sane-people moment, I solemnly swear I'll give it a go. ;)
gilpin25
Apr. 14th, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
I got an idea about this the other day (while sat in the hairdressers, reading the problem page, lol) - would you like me to write it for your Birthday? I was going to do you one so there's no pressure if you'd prefer something else...
hrymfaxe
Apr. 15th, 2008 04:20 am (UTC)
Really?!? I would love that! Wow - that's so nice of you. :D:D:D:D
gilpin25
Apr. 15th, 2008 07:48 am (UTC)
OK, it's a deal.:D As long as I've got the date right, and I've got till the end of May, because if it's next week it might be a very, very short birthday present, lol.
hrymfaxe
Apr. 15th, 2008 07:52 am (UTC)
LOL - it is indeed a month and a half till the happy occurrence! :D Which is good for you, and a long, long wait for me! ;)
gilpin25
Apr. 15th, 2008 08:12 am (UTC)
All part of my cunning plan - you'll have forgotten all about it so I'll be able to say, "Surprise!", and I get plenty of time to think of more appalling questions at the hairdressers for Auntie Siri and Co. ;)