Author's Note at the end.
Third Year (1973-1974)
Minerva McGonagall prided herself on having taught at Hogwarts for seventeen years. She watched students come and go, growing up and changing more and more every year. When they left Hogwarts, they no longer were the timid, tiny eleven-year-olds they'd been when they first arrived. And that was why Professor McGonagall watched her students during her classes, comparing them to their parents or siblings or their younger selves.
James Potter and Lily Evans were quite an interesting duo to watch. She'd paired them together to separate Potter from Black, for the two never concentrated around each other. And McGonagall could see James striving to impress Lily, so she believed that having them work together would be beneficial for him.
She soon came to regret that decision. The two Gryffindor third-years were always either bickering and not focusing at all on their task, or Lily would be focusing too much on ignoring James and doing her work while he tried again and again to impress her. Now was one of the former occurrences. Twice she'd gone to reprimand the two for not working, and she wasn't looking forward to doing so again.
As she walked around the classroom, helping students with their spells or wand work, she saw Sirius Black approaching James out of the corner of her eye. It was quite unprofessional of her, but she pretended not to notice.
Lily was focused on her work, though her furrowed brow and pursed lips indicated displeasure due to something –or someone– else. She steadfastly ignored the whispers she could hear coming from behind her, where she knew James and Sirius were chatting instead of working.
"Oi, mate, quit staring at that Evans bird."
James spluttered for a second, shocked out of his trance-like state. "Wha– I wasn't staring! ...Shut up, Padfoot."
A scoff of disbelief. "Sure you weren't. Are you gonna ask her to Hogsmeade, then?"
Lily heard James sigh. "I dunno. I don't think she likes me much, to be honest."
"Prongs, don't be daft. Every girl at this school likes you."
James frowned, shrugging nonchalantly. "Not every bird, Padfoot. Not this one."
Professor McGonagall saw a look of guilt on Lily's face, but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared. The fiery-haired girl whom the two boys had been talking about spun around to frown at them. "Oi, Potter, Black! Get back to work, will you? And quit whispering, you're making me lose my focus."
Yes, McGonagall decided, it was quite unprofessional for her to be watching that particular group of students when she was supposed to be teaching. But the unknown possibilities surrounding them created an air of curious intrigue. Professor McGonagall looked at her students once again. Sirius had gone back to his seat, but was flirting with the girl next to him. James vied for Lily's attention as he displayed his efficacious wand work. And Lily, who was struggling slightly to transfigure her teapot into a tortoise, turned to James and offered him a hesitant smile.
The corridor was blazing. Vibrant flames danced along the floor, the walls, the ceiling. Teachers darted about, some keeping students at bay while others worked to extinguish the fire that had so abruptly begun in the first floor corridor. There had been very few students caught in the blaze, and all had been evacuated before the fire began to rage with increased strength. The orange red yellow shining glow of the fire would've lit up the entire corridor, but the acrid black smoke that poured forth from the stubborn flames diminished the light. The heat emanating from the flames was enough to make the students watching back away, and the teachers who struggled to put out the fire were sweating profusely. The chatter of the students could barely be heard over the roar of the flames, but the gist of the conversations was easy to get. Nobody knew how the fire had started, but some said that a candle placed on one of the tinsel garlands hung upon the walls hadn't been enchanted, so it had somehow lit the entire garland on fire, and the flames had spread from there. Others thought someone had set the fire intentionally, but not necessarily having wanted it to get so out of control. All in all, nobody could be sure.
James Potter stood to the side with his friends, watching their teachers fight the fire as best they could. Even Professor Dumbledore was there. James glanced around, recognising his classmates and students from other Houses. He scowled when he saw Snape standing there, watching just as avidly as the others, but that scowl soon twisted into a frown. Snape was alone. Snape looked worried. But he was alone. Where was Evans? Now a bit frantic, James cast his gaze around once more, but still didn't see even a tiny glimpse of the girl's vibrant crimson hair. He leaned over to Sirius to ask him if he'd seen Evans around, but that was when a shrill scream resounded through the hallway. The sound echoed, seemingly growing stronger as it did (but that was impossible, wasn't it?). The teachers started, and Professor Dumbledore was the first to run into the raging inferno that the corridor was quickly becoming.
Minutes (hours?) passed and the other teachers still fought the fire, but it was quickly becoming dimmer and dimmer. Students had gasped when Dumbledore had raced into the flames, and the anxious chatter was growing louder and louder. Finally, students cheered. The fire was gone, and out of the hazy smoke some could see the tall figure of Professor Dumbledore emerge. Students waited with bated breath until they could clearly see the limp figure Dumbledore held. Snape was one of the first to rush forward, followed by James (who was inevitably followed by the Marauders). James could feel his heart beating loudly in his chest, an unexplainable anxiety growing within him at the sight of an unconscious, soot-covered Lily Evans. Professor Dumbledore had managed to keep the flames at bay, James dimly heard the Headmaster begin to explain in his quiet, calm voice as he continued to stare at Lily, the shock not quite fading from his pounding heart. Madam Pomfrey arrived; she and Dumbledore took Lily away. James watched them, his heart still pounding worriedly.
Sirius clapped him on the back. "You all right there, mate?" Remus looked away from the throngs of students slowly walking away from the smouldering remains that had yet to be repaired, and Wormtail scurried over from where another student had been talking to him.
"Just fine." James smiled bleakly at his friends. "Come on. Let's go enjoy our last day of term before Christmas."
Valentine's Day 1974
James watched Lily sitting next to Marlene McKinnon, both girls chatting in muted voices as they worked on their Charms homework. Their soft voices were the only sounds in the otherwise quiet library, alongside the scratching of quills on parchment and the rustling of pages in ancient and dusty times. Remus sat next to the bespectacled student, busying himself with his own Charms work. The aforementioned student shifted anxiously in his seat, homework forgotten in favour of staring bemusedly at the back of Lily's head.
Remus glanced up at his restless friend and rolled his eyes. "Just go for it, mate. Go and ask her. What's the worst that could happen?" James nodded, agreeing – as he usually did – with his friend's wise advice. The dark-haired boy returned to his unfinished work, glancing every so often at the bright-haired girl who had had the gall to invade his thoughts. He recognised Marlene's standing and gathering her things as his cue to approach the girl whose head was still bent over her parchment, working diligently. As soon as the blonde girl walked away, James got to his feet and took a deep breath before taking a step towards the table where Lily now saw, quite alone after her friend's departure. James was careful to walk slowly, wanting to avoid seeming too eager.
As James sauntered toward Lily, having gone around so he could approach from the front, he muttered almost inaudibly to himself. He heard a cloak swish, and came to an abrupt halt, ducking behind a bookshelf and hoping Lily hadn't seen him. His restless anxiety was quickly replaced by an anger that boiled his blood as he caught sight of greasy black hair, a hooked nose, dark eyes, and a pale face as the Slytherin took the seat next to Lily's, the one Marlene had recently vacated and James had planned to take. He glared at Severus, and had just turned around with the intention of returning to his seat next to Remus when a soft voice stopped him.
"What d'you want now, Potter?"
James took a moment to school his expression into his usual smirk before turning to face Lily and Severus. "Whatever d'you mean, Evans?"
She raised an eyebrow at his question, pursing her lips. "You know exactly what I mean, so don't act stupid. Why were you walking over here?"
"I was only coming here to ask you a question about our Charms homework, actually. But then I detected some sort of foul stench in the air... Can you smell that, Evans? It seems to be coming from somewhere near you; aren't you uncomfortable with the source of it so close?"
His comment made Lily scowl, and she retorted before Severus could, wanting to avoid the quarrel she could see brewing between the two students. "That's rude and unnecessary, Potter. I —"
The rest of her reply was lost as Severus interrupted her, glaring daggers at James. "Why don't you just ask Lily your question and go away, Potter? She has better things to do than waste her time trying to help you struggle through your stupidity."
"Better things to do? Like what? Spend all her time with a slimy Slytherin git like you?" James sneered, rolling his eyes. "Whatever. I'll just ask Remus if he can help me instead. I wouldn't have come to ask her anything if I'd known her little guardian snake would lash out at me." With a scoff, James turned and began to walk away, but not before adding one last comment. "You're lucky we're in the library, Snivellus. I, unlike you, actually respect the peace and silence we're supposed to maintain in the library." James walked back to Remus, taking care not to allow his shoulders to slump in defeat until he was sure Lily couldn't see him at all.
"How'd it go?" Remus wanted to know when James dropped himself into the chair, a frown marring the sandy-haired boy's expression.
"Didn't even get to ask. Stupid git was hanging around her again." James sighed, and then straightened. "Doesn't matter. I can just ask some other bird to go to Hogsmeade with me, I'm sure anyone else would be happy to."
James smirked confidently, but his friend could see disappointment in the eyes of the boy with messy black hair.
Author's Note: Yay, I finally finished chapter three. Just so you all know, I've been posting these chapters as soon as I finish writing them. So if there's any delay in the updates (which I hope there won't be), it's because I'm struggling to finish writing.
Also have to mention this: ohmygod, this story so far has 114 visitors! That's amazing. Seeing that is encouraging me to keep writing. I am extremely grateful to you all. And I will quit rambling now, because I don't want to write an extremely long and annoying AN. :)
Can I ask one teensy tiny favour of you guys? If you have the time, please leave me a review. I'd love to know what you think of this story so far.