Disclaimer: Not Rowling, not exempt from wondering 'How did James and Lily's relationship go from Snape's Worst Memory to falling in love?' That memory in OotP, and the PS2 game Quidditch World Cup inspired this story.
James Potter leaned with studied casualness against a common room wall, pretending to listen to yet another conversation about the upcoming Quidditch season. While his fellow Gryffindors speculated on the other houses' new players and strategies, he covertly studied a girl across the room. Lily Evans was chatting with friends on a sofa, but from time to time, she glanced his way. Each time their eyes met and held fueled James' hope that this year, things would be different.
Back in fifth year, Lily had called him a bullying toerag and refused to go out with him. She'd even implied that the giant squid was more appealing. Strangely, her dislike hadn't lessened the attraction he felt. Instead, Lily's antipathy spurred James to increase his efforts to gain her attention.
It didn't work the way he'd hoped.
James still winced to remember last January, and her incredulity that he had returned from holiday instead of being expelled for his escapades. Sirius had laughingly tried to console him.
"Evans may wish you were dead, mate, but at least she knows you're alive."
The cavalier words had deeply affected James. He continued to pull pranks, but for the rest of sixth year, James no longer harassed Snape or went out of his way and over the line to draw Lily's notice. From time to time, he would still ask, "Go out with me, Evans?"
She never accepted.
Ironically, the less interested he appeared in the answer, the longer it took her to say no.
Trying unsuccessfully to smooth down his unruly black hair, James gathered the courage to ask one more time.
Surrounded by a circle of friends, Lily pretended to listen to the discussion that was as engrossing to females as Quidditch was to males: romance. It was the beginning of their final year at Hogwarts, and speculation was rife. Everyone in the chattering group agreed that Sirius Black would make the most girls pine with unrequited love, and Peter Pettigrew the least. The girls with boyfriends boasted or complained, while the girls without did likewise. Unable to help herself, Lily glanced at James Potter.
He was looking her way. She didn't have to be in close proximity to picture intense hazel eyes. Over the years, she had got used to seeing them laughing, teasing, and provoking her. When Potter stopped making the effort to coincidentally show up in the library or stroll by the lake at the precise times she regularly did, Lily had felt something unexpected: disappointment.
The second half of sixth year, Potter only asked her out a handful of times. When he did, it seemed to be from habit rather than desire. Instead of being relieved, she had begun wondering if he no longer admired red hair and green eyes.
At the beginning of summer holiday, their paths intersected during the train ride back to London. He had smiled and opened his mouth to speak, causing Lily's heart to pound while she waited for him to ask her out.
She swallowed hard, attempting to appear cool and composed. "Hello, Potter."
His smile lit lean features, making them strikingly handsome. Lily was preparing to let him down gently when he said, "Go—have a good holiday."
Stunned, she forced herself to say, "You too," before they parted.
After that, thoughts of James Potter dominated her entire summer. She puzzled over his change of attitude and the way he no longer followed her, harassed and annoyed her with his pranks—or secretly amused and flattered her with his determined pursuit in the face of constant rejection. On many nights, she'd stared at the ceiling, grappling with her own feelings of loss and regret.
Once Lily received notice that she and Potter were selected as Head Girl and Head Boy, she had shocked her friends by her lack of protest. Looking at him now, she wondered if he would ever ask her out again. If he did, was she bold enough to say yes?
James returned Lily's searching gaze, feeling a surge of adrenaline similar to the one he experienced during a Quidditch match. His body tightened the way it did anticipating a teammates' pass. When Lily stood and threw him a look over her shoulder before leaving the common room, he didn't hesitate to follow. Ignoring his mates' questions and good-natured laughter, James did what came naturally. He chased, smiling slightly at the parallel between a redhead and a red Quaffle.
Out in the Gryffindor corridor, he called, "Lily!"
She froze for an instant before darting into the nearest room.
James strolled over and knocked on the door. He strained to hear Lily's soft, "Yes?"
Controlling an urge to laugh, he asked, "May I enter?"
The handle turned in answer. James stepped into the cosy space to find Lily standing against the back wall. Her eyes were wide, her arms folded. Shelves of linens spanned floor to ceiling on either side of the narrow aisle. He leaned back against the door. "I've never had a chat in a linen cupboard before. Come here often?"
"No. This is a first." She took down a towel, shook it out and briskly refolded it.
James grinned. "Did you lure me here to demonstrate your domestic skills, Evans?" He half expected a sharp retort.
Instead, she returned the towel to the shelf and said, "No—and you can call me Lily."
"I will if you call me James."
The silence that fell was charged with unspoken words and emotions. As it lengthened, Lily acknowledged to herself that she'd hoped he would charge in and sweep her off her feet. Reach for her with the same skill he had once used to catch a swiped Snitch. When he didn't, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and blurted, "Why did you stop asking me to go out with you...James?"
Her stomach somersaulted when hazel eyes lowered to her mouth. James took a step forward. His smile was self-mocking. "I'm no Ravenclaw, but I finally learnt to take no for an answer."
Lily's brows drew together in dismay. "What kind of attitude is that for a Chaser to have?" James looked taken aback. She moved closer, feeling her temper rise. "If the other team has the Quaffle, you don't just give up. You chase after them, for as long as it takes."
His slow smile made her pulse race. James said, "I've never thought of it in Quidditch terms, as a Chaser, but I'm willing to try." He held his chin in his hand for a moment before shaking his head abruptly. "No, can't pulverize like a Slytherin." At her round-eyed look, he explained helpfully, "They'd kill to get their hands on the Quaffle." His gaze turned mischievous. Bumping his shoulder playfully against hers, James said, "The Gryffindor smash tactic is a bit too rough also."
Cheeks heating, she asked, "Isn't there an approach you could use?"
He nodded, moving so close that his body brushed and loomed over hers. James bent to whisper, his mouth tantalizingly close to hers, "Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw Chasers always get up on their opponent."
Noticing the intensifying blush that rivalled Lily's hair, James figured that he'd get the stick for being too bold. Instead of catching hell, he was boldly asked, "Are you trying to get off with me?"
He floundered mentally and verbally. "Well, yeah, if you mean am I trying to get close to you, get you to give me—us—a chance." Raking a hand through his hair, he said simply, "Yes, I want to kiss you." Looking away, James confessed, "I've wanted to kiss you forever, and thought that, maybe, you finally wanted to kiss me."
No goal ever scored thrilled him half as much as feeling soft lips brushing his and hearing Lily say with a smile in her eyes and voice, "Then get on with it."