Title: Not So Vile A Sin
Summary: Midway through seventh year, Lily has come to accept many things about James Potter. The one thing she cannot seem to accept is his arrogance.
Warnings: Um...? I've got nothin'.
Word Count: 1557
Author's Note: I actually had 98% of this written since about the first week of the challenge. I had plans for a second scene and then it just was not cooperating and then I realized, hey, I can cut the second scene all together and finish it on time! ... Kind of! With 20 minutes to spare, EST! Also, yay for extensions. =)
Prompts: spine, and
Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin
-Henry V, 2. 4
“I don’t get how you can honestly be like this,” Lily announced, somewhat arbitrarily, as she looked up from her essay.
For two months now, she and James Potter had been Head Boy and Head Girl, roles that had forced Lily to reconsider her opinion of the boy. In that time, she had come to learn that he was not, perhaps, as intentionally cruel as she had once believed; he was probably only distantly related to Satan; he could even, to her great astonishment, hold an entire conversation without his eyes straying below her chin more than once. From what she had seen, he and his friends seemed to have graduated from the School of Terribly Cruel and Dangerous Practical Jokes (For Boys) and had gone on to become top scholars at the University of Surprisingly Clever and Amusing (Even Though You’d Rather Snog Dumbledore Than Admit It) Pranks. On the whole, she had come to realize, he was not so bad, and they were even – strange as it was to say – something like friends.
He was, however, and as she had always expected, undeniably, irrevocably, pathetically, hopelessly in love – with himself.
She would admit – albeit only after a severe dose of Veritaserum – that there might be some legitimate reasons behind the swelling of his ego. He was well-respected to the point of nauseating adoration by much of the school; he flew well enough that even Lily, disinterested in Quidditch as she was, would concede that it was impressive; his grades, through some miraculous act of divine intervention, were far too good for the amount of effort he put in.
She didn’t even think it would be completely out of line to place some of the blame on his parents. In her biannual glimpses of the Potters at King’s Cross, they proved to be kind, doting and – in the case of Mrs. Potter – embarrassingly affectionate, happily unawares of any confidence-overloading effect it might have on their only son.
The fruit of the Potter loins was, at the moment, across from her, doing absolutely nothing while she slaved over her Transfiguration essay. At her question he simply raised an eyebrow and grinned.
“This thrillingly handsome, you mean? I often wonder that myself.”
Lily rolled her eyes, only to narrow them again. “Like that. Do you really believe all these things or do you just say them because – I don’t know, you like to pretend to be all… manly and self-assured?”
He laughed. “Well, what d’you think?”
She looked him up and down once, appraising him like she might an exam question, before she nodded confidently. “I think you believe it. I think you might tell yourself you’re only kidding, so you don’t feel like such an arse, but deep down you really, honestly believe it.”
He laughed again, and Lily thought that it was really not so long ago that his carefree laugh had sent shivers of irritation up her spine. The funny thing was that her spine reacted the same even now, even since the irritation had disappeared.
“That hardly makes sense, Evans,” he announced. “If I really was so arrogant, why would I try to trick myself into thinking I wasn’t? Isn’t that sort of contradictory?”
She shrugged. “I’m not the expert, Potter. Anyway, regardless of whether or not it’s just an act you have dedicated your heart and soul to or if it is your heart and soul – you are an incredibly self-satisfied person.”
He reached across the table to take the stopper from her ink well and spin it around on the desk. Among the several hundred things she’d noticed about James in the last two months, she’d noticed that he was always playing with things. Sirius was much the same. It was as though all the energy they had simply couldn’t be expended in a mere twenty-four hours, and they had to try extra hard to use it all up. She was even beginning to think that the Snitch he had once fiddled with was only two parts showing off, and was in fact one part keeping himself busy.
His verbal reply was short, and he kept his eyes trained on the cork. “And?”
Lily opened her mouth, then faltered. And what, indeed? “And -- and – and nothing. I thought you should know.”
“Oh.” He looked up from the stopper and flashed her a smile. “Well then. Thank you.”
“It isn’t a compliment, Potter.”
“Sounded like one.” His eyes were focused on the bloody cork again, pinching it between his middle finger and his thumb and trying to make it spin like a top.
She frowned. “Arrogance isn’t a good thing.”
He shrugged, snatching the cork up off the table and tossing it back and forth from hand to hand. “Confidence is. Everyone’s always harping on about how no one’s confident enough.”
Inexplicably, it irritated her that he didn’t understand. He had to. “You can be confident without being arrogant.”
“I suppose.” The cork flashed back and forth before her rapidly, the tosses becoming gradually more daring – higher, quicker, around behind his head, behind his back. He lifted his eyes to look at her, the cork still going in its path. “Better than the alternative, though.”
Thoroughly distracted from the essay, now, she set down her quill, propped her elbow up on the desk and rested her chin in her hand. “Better than modesty? Really?”
James snickered. “Please. Modesty is just arrogant people pretending not to be arrogant; it’s stupid. Anyway, I was talking about insecurity. Far worse than arrogance of any sort, that is.”
Lily pulled a face of mock concentration. “Hmm… no, no, I’d have to say that arrogance is worse. It’s more showy, you see. People flaunt it.”
“So? What’s it matter? I’m good at Quidditch, I know that; pretending I don’t know it doesn’t change anything, and denying it – that’s just dumb. I would much rather take pride in myself than be completely blind to my own undeniable brilliance.” His quick grin was back, and he reached over to return the stopper to its place on her inkbottle.
“Take, for instance, Snape –“
Even now – over a year later – the effect of the name was like nails on the chalkboard that was Lily’s soul. She tensed, dropping the smile.
“No. There is no way a conversation between you and I can include Severus without something going horribly wrong.”
He slid around the subject simply, something she was thankful for.
“Fair enough,” he said. “Didn’t particularly want to compliment him, anyway. All right, let’s take…” He trailed off, looking around the room for a target. “…Hm. Remus. Take Remus, for example.”
He jerked his head in the direction of the boy in question and Lily shifted her gaze across the room. Remus was scrawling away at a piece of parchment, likely the same essay Lily herself had abandoned, completely oblivious to the example that was about to be made of him.
“Now, see, Remus is, as you may have noticed, a fairly smart bloke - relatively competent, capable of decent magic, uses big words, dresses himself, cuts his own meat, et cetera, et cetera. If asked to rate his own self-worth on a scale of one to ten, it is my expert estimation that Remus would probably give himself approximately negative thirty-five. If asked to compare himself to other living things, I reckon he’d put himself just above the slimy creature of the deep that Snape calls hair and just below Peter’s pet Puffskein.”
Lily raised her eyebrows. “You have quite a knack for hyperbole.”
“Sadly, my dear Evans, I’m not exaggerating.” James had taken now to rolling the cork around and around in his fingers, a thoughtful frown creasing his mouth. “Remus really is quite deluded, and it’s frustrating - more frustrating than you might realize, and certainly more frustrating than any amount of arrogance could be. Do you have any idea how infuriating it is to be unable to convince someone that they are, in fact, a valuable member of society?”
He looked over at Remus, narrowing his eyes in thought, spinning the cork with two fingers. “There are lots of things I could dwell on, Lily. I could, for instance, dwell on the fact that I am easily the worst cook to ever exist - that I am entirely and completely tone-deaf and rhythmically challenged - that my hair, despite the best efforts of professionals, absolutely refuses to resemble anything other than a deluxe resort for tiny rodents – that I am almost entirely incapable of making a decent potion without immense aide - that I am, as one critic has claimed –“ He paused here long enough to catch her eye. “ – an ‘arrogant, bullying toe-rag’ … but I choose not to focus on those things.”
Abruptly he clamped his hand around the cork, the smile returning the smile to his face. “In any case, I’d much rather be an arrogant bullying toe-rag than an insecure one.” He reached over to pop the cork back into the top of her ink jar, and then stood. “In any case, I’m going to go fly for a bit. Those skills don’t hone themselves, you know. Enjoy your tedious academia!”