A/N - Hello, all. I'm pretty excited about this piece; it's my first L/J one-shot, and I'm interested in getting your input about it. Let me know what you think!
And as always:
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J. K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
'Sharp left, swerve right, downward feint, thrust forward and – augh –'
James swore loudly as the Quaffle spiraled to the ground in dizzying circles. He hovered in the air for a few seconds before making the slow descent to the ground, all the while muttering obscenities under his breath.
He was not a naturally foul-mouthed bloke, James Potter. No, rather it was his best mate, Sirius Black, who took pleasure in cursing and verbalizing innuendos, swearing at every occasion he had, his hands forming rude gestures as he spoke particularly of the Slytherins.
James, however, saved his obscenities for rare, significant moments. Take, for example, the moment earlier that week in which Lily Evans turned down his invitation to Hogsmeade. Now, on any other occasion (and there have indeed been many), James would have shrugged the rejection off with ease. But this year, James was certain he'd made progress in his relationship with the Head Girl. Lily no longer sneered at him in the hallways, nor did she engage in petty fights with him. In fact, there were occasions in which she talked to him voluntarily, starting conversations with him about Head duties without so much as an 'I can't believe I'm stuck with you, Potter.'
There were mornings in which she'd save him an omelette and slice of toast if he missed breakfast or when she'd wish him luck before a Quidditch match, and sure, to Sirius and Remus, these seemed to be very trivial and platonic acts of kindness, but it was a step up from how Lily used to treat him and wasn't that something?
In fact, James had been certain that Lily had been flirting with him the other day at dinner, when he'd offered her a ride on his broomstick (literally or metaphorically, even James wasn't sure). Instead of telling him off instantly as the fifth-year Lily would have and as the present James had expected, she had mused that she'd like to know what this Quidditch craze was about and perhaps he could teach her one day how to play. James, always the eager fool, had agreed instantly, and had left the encounter feeling very much as though he'd truly made a break-through.
But when James had asked Lily to Hogsmeade with him earlier that week, she'd rejected him, telling him that she had other plans (as if he hadn't heard that one before). Next he heard, Violet Summers was telling everyone at breakfast that Lily Evans was going to Hogsmeade with Ryan Jenkins. James didn't know who that was, and he'd long passed the phase in which he went round hexing Lily Evans' potential dates. Still,that didn't stop the presumably large and scaly monster in his gut, the creature that erupted to life whenever Lily went out with other blokes, from roaring in anger, and it was all James could do to storm off with his new Silver Arrow broomstick to fly a few laps around the Quidditch pitch.
It was during his rages (and certainly there have been many) that James invented his new plays. After all, it was never long before another match approached, and James, as the captain of the Gryffindor team, had quite a large responsibility to bring the Quidditch cup home that year, especially after their embarrassing defeat to Ravenclaw the season before.
And so, with the Quaffle secure in his hands once more, James attempted his play again.
'Sharp left, swerve right, downward feint, thrust – damn –'
This time, when the Quaffle slipped from his hands, James dove to catch it. It was a rather sharp dive, but then again, when James was in one of his moods, his dives were always sharp. He had just caught the Quaffle and was jerking upwards when he saw a red flash from the corner of his eyes, originating from the stands. He stopped abruptly in midair, his head whipping back round to the stands—they were empty.
James shook his head. It'd always been like this; the sight of red always turned his head—hallucinations, that's what they were. Besides, what would Evans be doing in the Quidditch pitch at a time like this?
James nearly dropped the Quaffle at the sudden sound. He glanced down instantly to find that Lily Evans was standing directly below him, thirty feet away. She was shielding her eyes from the sun with one hand, while the other rested lightly on her hip as she looked up at him. She was smiling brightly.
James froze, quite unsure what to make of the situation. What was Lily Evans doing at the Quidditch pitch on a Thursday morning when there was a Charms lesson to be attended? Had she followed him? James hoped not; after all, he was sure Lily knew by now that he could hardly pretend to be mates with her. Not when he'd—they'd—come so far. Still, it wasn't as though she was taking a casual stroll along the Quidditch pitch.
James slowly descended, his head spinning with questions. The creature in his chest stood very still, cautious. When James had flown within proximity, Lily spoke again.
'You scared me with that one. I thought for sure you were going to crash.'
James gave a noncommittal shrug, but the creature twitched. She was scared for him.
'What are you doing here?' he asked her, his voice rather monotonous (though he was trying for cold and aloof) as he walked towards the wooden crate that held the Quidditch balls. The last thing he wanted was to fake a cheery conversation with Lily, not when he'd left the castle with the sole reason of getting away from her. Not when he had to pretend to be pleased with the fact that she'd agreed to date some git in Ravenclaw.
But Lily could not be deterred. She maintained the bright expression on her face. 'Was that a new one? A new play, I mean?'
James snorted, giving her a dubious look. 'Not going to spy on us to Ravenclaw, are you?'
'Hm, you caught me,' she said loftily, playing along. 'Come on out, you lot!'
James' upper lip twitched when no one made an appearance. 'Come off it, Evans, you don't know nearly enough about Quidditch to spy on us.'
'Oh, is that so?' said lily, with the same lofty voice. 'Well then, if I told Ravenclaw to mind their defense because Gryffindor was going to devote one Beater to concentrate on their Keeper and subsequently throw off their balance, that'd be complete rubbish, would it?'
James turned to her, his mouth agape and his eyes agog in a ridiculously flabbergasted expression. 'How'd you know that?'
'Not a proper spy now, am I?' said Lily, laughing. 'I overheard Marlene Sanders talk about Quidditch at breakfast yesterday morning.'
James shook his head, chuckling. 'Well, you've got a brilliant mind for memorizing, I'll give you that.'
Lily shrugged and watched as James threw the wooden crate open and crouched down to fasten in the Quaffle.
Lily watched him for a few moments before speaking. 'When's my lesson, then?'
'I beg your pardon?'
Lily deposited her rucksack onto the ground next to the crate with a smile. 'I recall you once promised to teach me how to play Quidditch. I haven't forgotten, you know.'
James turned to her, appearing confused. 'You want one now?'
Lily gestured to her empty surroundings. 'I don't see why not.'
James sighed. 'Listen, Evans,' he said as he clipped the Quaffle down. 'It's—not a good time. I'm really not in a good—'
'—what's that one?' interrupted Lily. She crouched down next to James and tapped the bright red Quaffle with her forefinger.
'I—' James broke off with the sudden close proximity and reached to untie the bindings for the Quaffle, already resigning himself to the task. He held it up between them. 'You don't know what this?' he asked, his voice bordering on incredulity. 'How do you not know what it is?'
Lily shrugged. 'I suppose I'm a bit lacking in my knowledge of Quidditch.'
'But you came to every game!' insisted James, as he and Lily both stood up. 'Believe me, I've checked,' he added with a mutter, shaking away the warm red blush that was slowly creeping up his neck.
Lily smiled, shrugging again. 'Of course I came. I'm a Gryffindor, after all. I may be sceptical about Quidditch's barbarianism, but I do have the necessary house spirit.'
James chuckled. 'Fair enough. Well, this is a Quaffle, in any case. It's—hm.' He paused and appeared rather inspired a moment later, glancing over at the crate before looking at Lily again. 'It's like this—the balls used in Quidditch are much like—well, they're like birds.'
Lily raised an eyebrow. 'I'm sorry?'
'Girls,' said James sheepishly. 'They're like girls, so to say. A Quidditch game is a bloke's metaphoric dating game.'
Lily laughed. 'I wonder if I should feel insulted,' she said, tapping a forefinger to her chin. 'Comparing girls to Quidditch balls, are you?'
''Course not,' said James hastily. 'Well, yeah, but… Well, I reckon it works both ways. Quidditch is a bird's metaphoric dating game too, isn't it? Let me explain.'
'Go on, then,' said Lily, offering a hand of encouragement.
James shot her a grin before turning to glance at his Quaffle again. 'Well, the Quaffle—that's the every day catch. The bird you meet randomly in class, in Hogsmeade, in Diagon Alley, wherever. The level of difficulty in catching it, in dating her, I suppose, depends on the opponent, on the other bloke trying to chat her up. And if you're lucky,' he added with an impish grin, 'you might score—ow, Evans, it was a joke!'
Lily rolled her eyes, but James was certain she was holding back a grin, despite the reprimanding look on her face. He tossed her the Quaffle and she caught it deftly, rolling it around in her hands.
'Right, then,' she said. 'So the Quaffle is ball used to play the game, you say? I suppose that's the one that gets you points. Throwing it into one of those hoops there.'
James nodded. 'Exactly. The Chaser scores the Quaffle and the Keeper guards the hoops.'
'Alright then,' said Lily, tossing the Quaffle back to him. 'What about those?' She nodded her head towards the two smaller jet-black balls that seemed to be straining against the straps that held them.
James gave a wry grin. 'Those, I suppose, are Greta Catchloves.'
'I beg your pardon?'
James scratched the back of his head, searching for words. 'Hm… let me show you.' He crouched down again and reached for the straps before hesitating. 'Actually…' He turned to survey Lily for a moment before he picked up a small club lying adjacent to the crate. He held it up for her.
Lily took the club with a smile. 'Are we playing baseball?' she asked.
James grinned. 'That's for—well, just in case. Now here, watch.' James picked up a second bat from the ground and held it up in his left hand as his right undid the straps holding down the one of the struggling balls. As soon as the straps came loose, the black ball shot right into the air with the sound of a cannon ball being released. Lily jumped, brandishing the bat high in the air as it hurled towards her, but a mere few feet before it approached, James tackled it from the side, pinning it securely to the ground. Lily watched in a daze, the bat still held up in the air as James struggled to strap the black ball into the crate.
'Well—wow,' said Lily, releasing the bat when the ball was secure. 'Rather aggressive, isn't it?'
James grinned. 'Very Greta Catchlove, don't you think?'
Lily laughed. 'I see what you mean.'
Greta Catchlove was known amongst the seventh-years for her prowess with wizards. She was usually seen hanging off the arm of a different bloke every week, and when she took a fancy to someone, she'd been sure to secure a date with him before the week came to an end.
'The Bludger,' said James, 'is a classic Greta Catchlove. Bit dangerous. She may look well enough, and she'll even—er—throw herself at you, but very few blokes can handle them. Bit high maintenance, see.'
'I take it you've got quite a bit of personal experience, then?'
James shook his head immediately. 'Merlin, no. Sirius caught Catchlove's eye though, back in sixth year. A horror, that one. Sirius took her to Hogsmeade once, and he told us she made him sit in Madam Puddifoot's for three hours.'
Lily laughed. 'You know, that place isn't half as bad as blokes make it out to be,' she said reasonably.
'Have you ever been there?'
'Yes, Amos took me once.'
'Amos? Oh, okay. Wait, you mean Diggory? You went out with him?'
'What's so terrible about Puddifoot's?' interrupted Lily, ignoring his curiosity towards her previous prospects with a smirk.
James cleared his throat. 'Well, you know. It's stuffy.'
'It's lovely!' argued Lily.
When James gave her a meaningful look, she relented. 'Well, alright then, I suppose it'd be nicer if there was more room and less pink, but the staff is brilliant. They're real kind.'
'Yeah, sure, if you've got enough gold.'
Lily hid a smile, shrugging lightly as James bent down and carefully released the last ball, being quick to grasp it in his fingers before it escaped.
'Ah well, I know what that's called,' said Lily with a light smile. 'A Snitch, isn't it?'
James laughed. 'Every girl knows the Snitch,' he said, looking at it sideways. 'I expect it's because it's tiny and gold and shiny?'
'A girl's weakness,' said Lily sarcastically. 'Well, what does it do? What's it represent in your metaphoric dating game?'
James smiled, thrilled that she was taking his Quidditch analogy in stride. 'Well,' he said with a tone of finality. 'The Snitch would mean the end of the game. It's the last, most important catch. The Snitch is the ball you spend the whole game searching for. And once you find it, it's over—both Quidditch and the metaphoric dating game, I suppose,' he added with a chuckle.
He passed it to her carefully, and Lily held it between her thumb and forefinger, smiling as she gazed at it.
'Makes sense, I suppose. Pretty little thing like this?' she added jokingly.
James grinned, gesturing to the Snitch. 'Yeah, well, not just that. Rather special, don't you think? It stands out. It's elegant and it floats, it's got wings. And, as an added bonus, it's an elusive one. It avoids capture for as long as it can, as if it's waiting for the seeker to be ready.'
Lily nodded slowly, returning the Snitch. 'So catching the Snitch means you win?'
'Not necessarily,' replied James with a grin. 'While the game is over once you catch the Snitch, you don't always win. The Snitch is worth one hundred and fifty points, but the other team may already be winning by more than that much. It's a bit of a risk, see. You always have to make sure you catch the Snitch at the right time. For some people, that's after catching and scoring loads of Quaffles, but for others, it's a matter of getting to the Snitch as early in the game as possible.'
Lily gave a short laugh as James secured the Snitch into the crate and fastened the lid. 'The metaphoric dating game… I've got to admit, that's a pretty clever analogy.'
James grinned up at her, waggling his eyebrows. 'Isn't it?'
He stood up and searched his surroundings for his broomstick, which he found discarded a few feet away. He began to gather his things in silence as Lily watched.
'So…' she said a few moments later, her voice oddly anxious. 'Sirius told me you come down here when you're upset. D'you… want to talk about it?'
'No,' said James shortly, and when Lily appeared startled by the sudden hostility, he sighed. 'Sorry,' he apologized. 'No, don't worry about it. I'm fine.'
Lily nodded, surveying the broom in his hand. 'Well, you're certainly fine for the next Quidditch game. That was a brilliant play.'
James gave a half-hearted smile, shrugging. 'Was nothing.' He turned to look at her sideways. 'That wasn't even the play—I botched it. Anyway, some problems aren't necessarily as simple as Quidditch, no matter how similar to it they are.'
'The metaphoric dating game, you mean?'
James smiled reluctantly. 'Yeah. That.'
A rather awkward silence followed as he shuffled his feet and stared at the ground. Lily was examining the goal hoops behind him, biting her lip as she gazed off into the distance.
'You left before I could explain.'
'Sorry?' James' head snapped up to look at Lily, whose eyes were still fixed past his shoulder.
She shot him a reprimanding look. 'On Tuesday. When you—when you asked me to Hogsmeade?'
James scratched the back of his head uncomfortably. 'Oh—well, you know, I suppose I reckoned there was no use in hanging round. I'd already gotten my answer, and I didn't need—'
'You didn't,' interrupted Lily.
'You didn't,' repeated Lily. 'Get your answer, I mean.'
'"I have other plans"', recited James. His heart thumped wildly and the creature inside him raised its head hopefully. 'That's what you said, wasn't it?'
'I did,' agreed Lily. James slumped and the creature retreated dejectedly. 'I'm—' She shot him an exasperated look. 'Ryan Jenkins—do you know who that is?'
James shrugged bitterly. 'Some Ravenclaw wanker, I expect. You like those, don't you?' The humiliation was setting in again, his mood worse now than it had been when he'd arrived at the pitch.
'No, you prat.'
'Ryan Jenkins is a third year, James. I tutor him.'
It was the use of his first name more than anything that caught James' attention.
'He's—well,' continued Lily, 'he asked Jane Forrester, a girl in his year, to Hogsmeade with him and she's, well, she said no. I reckoned he was feeling rather horrid, so I agreed to go with him. I figured it'd give him an edge, see, to be seen with a—a seventh-year,' she added with a roll of her eyes.
James snorted. 'That'd do it, alright. Blokes love the older woman.'
Lily gave a reluctant smile. 'Besides, his mates haven't been very supportive. Blokes.'
'I know the feeling,' agreed James, though he was more sympathetic towards Jenkins' girl troubles than the lack of support he gets from his mates.
Lily smiled and nodded, and for a moment, James thought she was going to say something more. Instead, she became suddenly business-like.
'Right, so now that's clear,' she said, picking up her rucksack from next to the crate and slinging it over her shoulder. 'I've got to get going if I don't want to be late for Charms. See you.'
James watched her walk away numbly before something inside him kicked in. 'Wait—so what does that mean? Does it mean—would you have gone to Hogsmeade with me?'
Lily stopped walking and turned to face him, ten meters away now. Her face was expressionless. 'What are you asking?'
James didn't skip a beat. 'I—will you got to Hogsmeade with me? Next time, I mean?'
Lily surveyed him with a tilted head and an amused smile playing on her face. 'Yeah, okay. I'd like that.'
The answer was so foreign to James that he didn't quite know how to react. But it was only half a second before his natural instincts kicked in and he flashed her a magnificent grin. 'That's brilliant. Wonderful. Smashing.'
Lily's eyes twinkled merrily as she grinned at him. 'Good.'
And she turned and continued on her way to the castle. She was twenty meters away when she turned suddenly. James was still fixed to the same spot, appearing both delighted and dumbfounded.
'Wait,' she said, tilting her head as she surveyed him. 'I am curious, though. What kind of bloke are you? The kind that spends the game chasing the Quaffle or the kind that waits for the Snitch? Just so I know what I'm working with.'
James snapped out of his reverie, reaching into his robes and pulling out an object he'd been carrying for the better part of two years. Lily had to squint to see a small, golden Snitch fluttering between his thumb and forefinger.
James flashed her a lop-sided grin. 'What do you think?'