James is waiting for me in the disused classroom when I get there just after ten thirty, the dark navy of his trousers and the red of his jacket contrasting against the stone wall he's leaning against. He looks up when I shut the door behind me, and I catch the nerves behind his dazzling smile, but don't say anything as I make may way over to him. As last night proved, he is genuinely nervous about the dancing aspect of the ball, and I don't want to antagonise him just when we're seeming to get along.
"You're early," I say with a smile.
"You're late," he corrects, but it doesn't really sound like he minds.
"Quinn woke me up before dawn this morning, can you believe that?" I wrinkle my nose in distaste. "I swear she just likes to test our friendship sometimes. I was so exhausted I had to go back to bed and ended up sleeping in, sorry."
James looks genuinely appalled. "I think I'd kill my mates if they woke me up that early."
I shake my head. "Oh, trust me, I came close. Oh, that reminds me – We ran into Sirius. Or rather, he ran into us; He was sneaking out of the girl's dorm." James laughs at that, and I raise an eyebrow. "Does he do that often, sleep in girls' beds?"
James shrugs a shoulder. "Sometimes. Not exceedingly often, but every now and again, yeah."
"Don't you worry about what trouble he'll get in if he's caught?"
"Padfoot's a big boy, he can take care of himself. Besides, I try not to dwell on the sex lives of my mates."
I gag at that. "Ew. Alright, I see your point."
He steps away from the wall, shoving his hands into his pockets self consciously. "So, we should probably practice, huh? Only one more day to go…"
"Yes!" I nod, rolling forward onto the balls of my feet and clapping my hands together in front of me. "Yes, we should. I've got the music." I dash over to the gramophone in the corner of the room and fumble through my bag for the record I brought with me. Than Merlin for undetectable extension charms. Once I've got it correctly placed, I lower the needle and a song with an easy waltz beat starts playing.
When I turn around I see that James has stepped into the centre of the room, but his hands are still in his pockets. I've never seen him nervous about anything besides Quidditch before, not in my entire life. Seeing him get self conscious, especially in front of me, makes my stomach flip. I try to treat this like a platonic dance lesson, ignoring the anticipation I can feel tingling at the tips of my fingers to touch him, and slide my jacket of my shoulders. I can see James's eyes lingering on my exposed collarbones, though, and suddenly my mouth feels dry.
I carefully slip my feet into the pair of heels I brought with me, kneeling down to clasp the buckles. I can feel James' eyes on the back of my neck, and I try to stop my fingers from shaking. I smooth my hands over the material of my baby blue dress as I straighten up, closing my eyes, and taking a deep breath before turning around.
"Right," I say, trying to project as much confidence into my voice as possible as I stride over to him. "So, you need to put your right hand on my waist and hold mine in your left, remember?"
I take his right hand and place it on my waist, just above my hip. I watch his Adam's apple bob as he gulps, and try to smile encouragingly as I take his hand and lift our arms, our palms pressed together. He gives me a small smile in return, and I look down at our feet to disguise the blush flooding across my cheeks.
"So now it's just steps in a square, basically. You put this foot back -" I tap my toes against the tip of his shoe, "and I put mine forward. And then you do it with the other one, and then we step side ways. Like so." I push him gently backwards, and he stumbles the wrong foot back first, then over corrects and steps too far back with the other. I try not to laugh, and tug him sideways. "So, that's half of it done. Now you step forwards and I step back; so it's just the opposite." I pull him towards me now, stepping lightly back on the balls of my feet. He trods on my left foot, and I yelp.
"Sorry!" He exclaims quickly, moving to let go of my hand.
"It's okay," I say reassuringly, looking into his eyes and keeping my fingers curled around the back of his palm. "You can step on my feet now, just not when everyone's watching."
James laughs at that, and the next time he steps on my foot he apologises profusely, but doesn't try to let go of my hand.
"Am I doing okay?" he asks nervously.
I chuckle and say honestly, "You'd be doing great if you'd stop waiting for me to lead you. You lead me."
"Oh," he says, and I feel the tension in his muscles shift as he takes control of the dance.
Only a few repetitions later he seems to be getting the hang of it, but his eyes are still glued to his feet.
"Try looking at me instead of the ground," I suggest. "Trust your feet. They'll guide you just as well as any broomstick."
He quickly lifts his head, but I catch his eyes still darting downwards occasionally. I clear my throat pointedly and he makes a self-conscious effort to meet my gaze.
"That, uh, that dress looks really good on you," he says, and it's the first time he's ever given me a compliment that sounded sweet and nervous and utterly unrehearsed.
I feel myself blushing slightly, but if holding a conversation will help him keep his eyes off the floor then I'm going to push through any nerves of my own. "Do you think so?"
"Yeah. I mean, you look nice in anything, but you look really nice in this… Y-you, you should wear it!" He stutters awkwardly.
I widen my eyes at him, surprised by how vulnerable the previously infallible James Potter seems right now. "I am wearing it."
"Oh, oh yes," he says quickly, "I was just, um, trying to give you a - a…" He trails off, swallowing thickly.
"Compliment?" I offer.
He nods, "Yeah."
He's finally got the pattern down, and we're moving in an easy waltz step now, our eyes locked onto each other. The music continues playing, and he reaches out to spin me around. My dress swirls around my knees and I laugh, which makes him smile. We fall back into the traditional step for a few beats, and then he spins me again, and suddenly it's like he's got his confidence back. He twirls me out and turns to the side, guiding me as I twirl back in so that my back is to him. He lifts me off the ground, his lips brushing the back of my neck, as he spins in a circle before placing me back down again. Momentum means than we twirl out in opposite directions, but his left hand never stops touching my right, and then we spin back to our original position.
The weight of his hand on the dip of my spine is both reassuring and terrifying, and when I hear myself speak it sounds as though my voice is coming from somewhere far away.
"I'm feeling a little… dizzy."
James's voice is equally low when he replies, "Kind of… lightheaded?"
"Me too," he agrees. "Probably from all the spinning." We slowly stop moving, but neither of us remove our hands. We stand, frozen in an intimate waltz position, everything except for each other entirely forgotten. He says softly, "Maybe we should stop."
I breathe a reply, "We have stopped."
"Lily, I -" he pauses.
I prompt him, "Yes?"
He doesn't continue speaking, instead leaning down and tilting his head towards mine. My eyelids drift shut, and he's so close I can feel his exhale of breath hit my lips… And I can smell his cologne and roses, roses because he knows how much I love the smell of them, roses like the ones he gave me a week ago –
A week ago. All this only started a week ago.
The music stops playing and I pull back suddenly. James still has his eyes closed, and I look down as I carefully step out of his arms.
"You're doing fine," I say awkwardly, continuing to distance myself from him.
He blinks at me, confusion etched into the lines of his face, and goes to reach out for me. "Lily -" he starts to say something, but I don't want to hear it.
I cut him off, mumbling, "I have to go. You're doing really well though." I practically run for the door, but I hesitate with my hand on the doorknob. I glance back over my shoulder and tell him, "I'll see you tomorrow."
I don't look back to see his expression as I run out of the room and away from my feelings.
a.n. I owe you guys the biggest apology in the world. There's really no excuse except for I have really poor time management and terrible writer's block. But here you go, a nice fluffy chapter packed with one giant Anastasia reference.