A/N: Just a short one-shot I started a while back and just got round to finishing.
Disclaimer: Not JKR. All characters belong to her. Title belongs to The Beatles.
Lily Evans laughs and under the gold Christmas lights that adorn the hall, James Potter swears it is the loveliest sight he has ever seen. She laughs again at something one of her friends says and although he is seated so far away that he cannot hear her, he knows exactly what her laughter sounds like, or how it is immediately followed by a content sigh.
He is aware that watching her is dangerous. By watching, he only learns to memorize her, etching the fine details of her loveliness to his mind- details he has noticed many times before but is never hesitant to admire.
Yes, it is dangerous. If being in love with Lily Evans for over a year has taught him anything is that pursuing her always resulted in his getting hurt.
Sirius grins at him from a corner of the room where he is chatting up a pretty blond he met a few minutes ago. James rolls his eyes and mindlessly twiddles with the empty wineglass before him. Minutes later, the hostess of the party, Dorcas Meadowes, stops by his table and thanks him for attending. He assures her it is no problem at all but she is still grateful. "After all," she says, "You have to be mental to throw a party amidst a bloody war like this one."
"Or to attend one," James adds.
"Yes, well," she begins with a laugh, "I thought we needed a bit of cheering up before we go back to wrap up our last year. And it's my birthday, dammit!" She thanks him once again and moves on to the next table.
When he is alone again, he steals another glance at Lily and his heart picks up when he realizes she is looking at him-not at the décor that surrounds him or at the people in his general direction but right at him. In scanning the room and admiring the lavishness, she has found him. He forgets his previous train of thought because her eyes are alight with recognition which quickly shifts to genuine delight at seeing him there.
She sends him a small but enthusiastic wave and he is so lost in her that he has to remind himself to wave back. Lily smiles in a way that lights her whole face up.
Their eye contact breaks only because soft music rings out and several couples saunter to the dance floor. Lily watches them with wonder at first but he sees her smile fade a bit and he recognizes the longing that soon replaces it. Once more, her eyes meet his but this time she does not smile. If anything she looks at him all too seriously.
For a wild second, James considers the idea that she wants him to ask her to dance, but he is not too sure. Perhaps his wishful thinking is getting the best of him. Or maybe he is giving it too much thought and he should just ask her.
But what if she says no.
He shakes his head.
James Potter had never been one to second guess himself or hesitate when it came to girls. If it was any other bird, then he would have asked her to dance, neither considering nor caring about the possibility of rejection. But she was Lily Evans (wonderful, brilliant, kind, witty, talented and not just any other bird) and Lily Evans really messed him up.
Her eyes fall on him for the third time that night. He almost feels his body moving toward her but it takes another internal battle to finally discourage him. Several songs elapse in this manner with Lily looking at him less and less.
James scolds himself for being such a coward.
"Fuck it," he finally mutters to no one in particular and stands from his seat, determined. Almost immediately, however, he stops on his tracks when he sees Benjy Fenwick talking to her and gesturing towards the dance floor, no doubt asking her to dance. Lily seems unsure. She looks over at her friends, who are all nodding their encouragement. Without waiting for her reply, Benjy takes her hand and leads her to join the multitude of dancers.
Yes, chasing after Lily Evans always resulted in his getting hurt.
"Sorry we're late," says a breathless Remus as he drapes his cloak neatly over a chair across James. "We got lost. Twice."
"My fault, sorry," Peter adds sheepishly.
But James is not listening.
"You all right?" Remus asks.
When James remains quiet, Remus and Peter both follow his line of vision and upon seeing Benjy and Lily on the dance floor, they inquire nothing more.
It is then that Sirius bids his pretty companion goodbye and dances his way across the dance floor, holding up a bottle of dark liquor in the air for them to see. He is still grinning by the time he reaches them. "Knew that Dorcas would serve this bland rubbish," he says eying the champagne bottles and making a face. "Firewhiskey?"
He pours the dark liquid into a clear glass and offers it to Remus who refuses. James, however, takes the glass from his best friend's hand and just as eagerly drains it empty, the burning in his throat a welcomed sensation. He sets the glass down on the table with more force than necessary and Sirius raises an eyebrow.
"What-" he begins to inquire but Remus nudges him and with a glance, directs him toward Lily and Benjy on the dance floor.
"Ah," says Sirius, nodding. "She looks downright miserable though. Knowing Evans, she just agreed because she was too nice to-"
"She can do whatever she wants," James replies curtly.
His three friends exchanged looks.
"Go cut in, Prongs," Remus says quietly. "You two are friends. She's not going to mind."
But James is shaking his head. "Nah, this is a waste," he says and he drowns another glass of Firewhiskey. "I'm going outside for a drag." With that, he stands from his seat, and takes his own cloak from where he had cast it aside earlier, already searching the pockets for his cigarette pack. The other three know better than to follow or stop him.
Outside, the night is cold enough to keep Dorcas' patio empty of guests. James lights up, takes a long drag, and reclines against a stone pillar. Absently, he looks at the dancing figures through the French doors until he sees her, still dancing with him. Scowling, he turns his back on the dance hall and runs a hand through his hair.
He had to give her up or he was going to go mad. He couldn't just spend his days pining: he either had to go for it or get over her. With a pang, he realizes it would have to be the latter. Lily wasn't interested and after years of chasing, he was already too tired to keep trying.
"Fuck," he mutters in resignation when he makes up his mind.
He would go back to Hogwarts and finish the last half of the year. After that, they would part ways and he would never again get that pang in his chest when seeing her in the corridors or accidentally meeting her eyes at the breakfast table. He would truly never see her again.
Only five months of ignoring her- he could do that.
"James?" said a familiar voice.
Lily is closing the door behind her, drowning out the sound of music and chatter coming from inside. He hadn't noticed it before, lost in his reverie. As she hesitantly walks closer to him, he can't help but take in how much lovelier she looks up close. Even in the dim lighting of the night, he can appreciate how her gold dress brings out the redness of her hair and the glow of her pale skin.
Merlin, he thinks in admiration.
A cold breeze brushes past them and she hugs her own body, shivering slightly and rubbing her hands against her bare shoulders. "Why aren't you inside?" she asks curiously.
He simply shows her his lit cigarette and she nods in understanding. He still feels irritated, and although he realizes that it is irrational and stupid, he is angry with her.
"Is there something that you need?" he asks after a small silence, and realizing it sounded a tad bit rude, he amends, "Shouldn't you be inside?"
"I was actually looking for you."
He raises an eyebrow.
"I… I wanted to know if," she pauses, "you wanted to dance," she mutters, a faint pink glow growing in her cheeks, even in the cold. "With me."
He tries to ignore the jolt those two last words stir in his chest. But aside from being angry, irrational, and stupid, he is also stubborn.
"I don't dance, Evans."
"Right," she says, and averts her eyes to her hands, which, he notes, she is fidgeting with. "I'll just go then."
As she begins to turn, it dawns on him that if he was going to get over her- really, really try- then that was the last time he was going to be that close to her. There is a frenetic tug at his chest that overpowers him. Before he can stop himself, his arm reaches out to stop her. She looks down at his hold around her small wrist then up at him, puzzled.
"Teach me?" He asks quietly.
Lily's expression softens. She simply smiles and allows him to gently pull her closer to him.
"Here?" she says, looking around the empty patio. When he nods, she shakes her head and says, "You're crazy. It's freezing."
Without another word, James removes his cloak and drapes it gently over her shoulders.
Lily pokes her arms through the sleeves, which are several inches too long. He chuckles when she struggles to push them up her arms. When her hands are finally free, she looks up at him expectantly. They stand there in an embarrassed silence until James, feeling rather brave, places a hand on her waist and draws her closer to him. At the same time, Lily throws her arms around his neck, making him gulp.
They can hear the faint sound of the music from inside and they begin to dance- James swaying awkwardly more than dancing. Lily notices and laughs to herself.
"Finally something James Potter is absolutely rubbish at," she says airily.
"Ouch, Evans," he says in mock indignation. "That really hurt my pride."
"You pride is a colossus, Potter. Nothing can hurt it."
"Colossi have feelings too, you know."
"Is it 'colossi' or 'colossuses?'"
"No, I'm sure it's 'colossuses.'"
"'Colossuses' is too hard to pronounce to be a word."
"You just pronounced it fine," she points out.
But he is shaking his head, smirking. "It's 'colossi.' I would know. My pride is one, remember?"
He is rewarded by a string of her laughter. "Shut up," she says, giving up.
They continue to move together along with the music. At one point, Sirius catches his attention from inside and he gives him a thumbs up. Remus and Peter see him too and grin, raising their glasses to him. James shakes his head but he is grinning as well. He doesn't know how much time elapses, but it is enough for him accept what he already knew: the indisputable reality that he cannot-would not- give Lily Evans up.
A/N: Thank you for reading!