Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was alive with the sights and sounds of springtime. There were birds singing in the trees, splashing the otherwise monochromatic skyline with patches of red and blue. The grass that had just a few weeks before been brown and bereft of life was now deep green and inviting, enticing students out of doors for any number of activities, from skipping rocks into the lake while the giant squid looked on to just sitting under a shady oak tree chatting idly about life's lesser cares. And of course, love was in the air. From the boys and girls shyly passing notes in class with coy glances and excited giggles, to the couples talking softly together while holding hands and exchanging soft kisses, Hogwarts was alight with the sights and sounds of ardent couples.
To James Potter, the air was charged, almost alive with that carefree feeling caused by the sun finally peeking from behind a cloud after countless grey and dreary days. As he approached his three best friends sitting in the sunshine near the Great Lake, he dropped his book bag, stretched his arms high above his head, and took a deep breath, almost as if drinking in the fresh air. "Don't you just love spring?" he asked cheerfully as he joined his friends on the grass. After the rigors of their O.W.L.s last year and in anticipation of the upcoming N.E.W.T.s, not to mention, impending adulthood, they had decided to make the most of this year, their last "carefree" year at school, and were therefore, sitting around doing nothing much.
All three of his companions wrinkled their noses at James's comment and Remus groaned, "Oh, no, he's at it again!"
James knitted his brows together. "What are you talking about , Remus?" he asked as his smile faltered a bit.
"Probably just that you do this every year, James," Sirius supplied with a smirk. "Every spring, you get so caught up in the 'feeling in the air,' as you like to call it, and, you pick one lucky girl and fall head-over-heels in love with her."
"'Oh, aren't the tress lovely,' and 'Do you think so-and-so would like these flowers?'" Peter mimicked, the look on his face complementing his words. "It's really very sickening."
"I do not!" James retorted.
"Yes, you do. And the poor girl too, having to deal with your 'in like a lion out like a lamb' adoration. There are five girls at Hogwarts who will never be the same, thanks to you," Remus said austerely, though his mouth was crooked with a teasing smile.
"That's not true! And besides, Padfoot there's left tons more than five girls in his wake," James said, pointing a finger dismissively at his best friend.
Sirius rolled his eyes. "I'll have you know, Prongs, that I've remained friends with all the girls I've ever dated."
"That's because you don't stay with anyone for longer than two weeks. That hardly give them time to start to dislike you," Remus pointed out.
"What can I say, I just haven't found the right girl yet."
"Not for lack of trying," James said flatly.
"Trying is the best part! But this isn't about me, Prongs, my friend, it's about you. Who's the lucky girl this year?" Sirius asked, changing the subject back to James.
"I told you, I don't do that," James said.
"Of course you don't," Remus said dismissively. "Going to try again with Lily this year?"
"Yeah, I remember she embarrassed you horribly last year, but..." Sirius began.
"Humiliated is more like it," Peter put in.
"Right, thank you, Wormtail, I remember she humiliated you horribly last year, but you've been working with her all year. And," he continued as an evil glint came into his eyes, "I bet you have to work pretty 'closely' at some of those prefects' meetings. Right, Moony?"
"Shut up, Sirius, that isn't funny," James said before Remus could answer, then added, "Besides, I'm not interested in Evans that way!"
"We know you're not," said Remus with a small laugh, and the four boys began to make their way back to the castle for their next class.
"I'm..." James started to protest, but was distracted by the flash of auburn hair that appeared ahead of them on the walkway leading to the building.
"You were saying?" Sirius asked in mock seriousness.
James recovered and rolled his eyes at his friends, but his cheeks held just the slightest hint of a blush.
Lily Evans stood alone in the hallway, waiting. She had tried to tell herself that she should be used to it by now, but her stance gave her irritation away. Arms crossed and foot tapping, all those who passed by her quickened their pace so as not to become unwitting victims of her wrath. Everyone knew that an angry Lily Evans was a scary Lily Evans.
And everyone also knew there was only one person who could upset Lily this much--James Potter.
James, however, seemed oblivious to this as he raced down the hall and skidded to a halt in front of Lily. "Good evening, Miss Evans. You're looking lovely tonight," he said cheerfully, a lopsided smile covering his features.
"You're late," she scowled.
It was time for their weekly patrol of the halls of Hogwarts. As prefects, it was their duty to keep an eye out for any aberrant students for two hours on Thursday nights. James seemed to think catching misbehaving students was enjoyable and he was unusually sanguine during this time, while Lily viewed the time as another just two hours wasted with the most annoying boy in the school, and thus she was, of course, grumpy.
"Sorry. Quidditch practice," James said, sobering up a bit.
"That's always your excuse!"
"That's because we have practice at the same time every week," James said matter-of-factly, trying and failing to hide his slight amusement.
She gave him a withering look and mumbled, "Let's just get this over with. This is the most pointless waste of time anyway."
"What's this I hear? Lily Evans, prefect extraordinaire, doesn't enjoy fulfilling her obligations to house and school? I must say, this is a most shocking turn of events!" James said dramatically.
Lily made a disgusted noise. "Stop talking like that!"
"Like what? This is the way I always talk!" he said with an air of formality.
"You always talk like one of those stupid reporters on the WWN? I've known you for almost six years and this new personality is annoying, even for you."
"Oh, right. Sorry. I didn't mean to upset you," James said and ran a hand through his hair. "I was just being silly."
"Well, I wish you'd stop. Now's not the time."
"I'm sorry; you're right."
There wasn't much conversation between the pair after that, just a few quick words when they caught three first years trying to sneak a book from the restricted section out of the library. It was an uneventful night.
In awkward silence they finished their rounds of the school and headed back to the tower. Just as they were about to round the last corner, James finally decided to voice the question that had been in the back of his mind for almost as long as he'd known Lily.
"Why don't you like me?"
Lily stopped walking and turned to look at him. "When did I ever say I didn't like you?" she asked.
"It's a bit obvious," James said apprehensively. He lifted his hand as if to run it through his hair, but quickly caught himself and dropped it back to his side.
Lily sighed. "Do you really want me to list all the reasons you annoy me again?"
James hesitated a moment as though considering. "No, I guess it doesn't matter anyway," James said dully and moved to walk past her.
"James..." The softness of her voice caused him to turn to face her, even though he had fully intended to keep walking away from her. "I just...well, we've never..." Lily paused to try to collect her thoughts. Finally, she stammered out, "It's not...it's not that I don't like you, but you do make me...well...uncomfortable."
James looked confused (and indeed, like he was trying not to find that information enjoyable).
"You're always flirting and acting silly around me, but you don't have the decency to ask me out when there aren't a hundred people watching. And, you've never even tried to actually have a real conversation with me."
James at least had the good manners to look ashamed. "You're right again. I've been horrible. Maybe we can start all over?"
Lily appeared to be mulling over the possibility in her mind. "Maybe," she said at last.
It wasn't much, but it made James smile slightly.
And they turned the corner and walked the remaining length of the hallway to the Fat Lady's portrait that guarded Gryffindor Tower.
Just as Lily was about to say the password, James got an evil glint in his eye, and turning to Lily he said, "Evans, we're all alone in the hallway now. If I asked you out right here, would you say yes?"
"Sorry," he said, quickly trying to school his features into an apologetic expression.
"Besides, I wouldn't want to be this year's 'spring fling,'" Lily teased back then gave the password to the Fat Lady.
"I don't do that!" James protested and followed Lily into the common room.
"Sure, you don't, Potter!" Lily said, laughing as she headed across the common room to sit with her friends.
"I don't," he mumbled to himself.
"What was that about?" Lily's best friend Natalie asked as she took her place in the small group of girls.
"Nothing," Lily said dismissively. "James just asked me out again."
"When?" asked Olivia, another of Lily's friends. "I didn't hear."
"Just now in the hall."
"You were alone?"
"Yeah, it's nothing to be concerned about. He's just up to his usual stunts."
Natalie quirked an eyebrow but was otherwise speechless.
"What Natalie is trying to say is...well...has he ever asked you out when you were alone with him?"
"No but..." Lily started, but was interrupted by her two best friends.
"Spring fling!" they yelled, giggling.
"I don't do that!" called James from across the room where he had apparently been listening to their conversation.
"Yes, you do," chorused James's three best friends.
The two girls on either side of Lily were by giggling uncontrollably, and from across the common room, James Potter finally managed to catch Lily Evans's eye.
He'd only been trying for five years.
A/N: Thanks to Anne for the beta. I really gave her betaing skills a workout this time. And thanks to Carrie, Kat, and Liz for answering my countless questions about characterization. :)