(Disclaimer: This story is based on the stories and characters created by J.K. Rowling and I am in no monetary way profiting from it.
A/N: Thanks to my SQ beta, Elanor Gamgee, who supports me despite our differing ‘points of view,’ and to Bring and Fly my PS Beta who laughs in all the right places!)
Finally, Halloween arrived.
Sirius and Peter left Gryffindor Tower early to meet their partners in the Great Hall. Moony, still slightly haggard from his transformation, was enjoying much TLC from Beatrice, who was concerned he wouldn’t be well enough to dance that night. James darted impatiently out of the seventh year boys’ dormitory ahead of them to pace in the common room. He gripped a box from the Little Shop of Flowers in Hogsmeade that had arrived by Owl Post at breakfast that morning, grumbling to himself that he hoped they were suitable. For no apparent reason, he stopped mid-pace to look up the girls’ dormitory stairway.
Lily was descending the stairs in the slow, stately way of royalty and women who knew they had their bloke’s complete attention.
To say she was beautiful that evening would have been an understatement. James, never at his smoothest in Lily’s presence, merely gaped as she descended. The bronze brocade of her robes brought out the richest tones in her red hair. The hair in question was swept up and back, but a series of tresses cascaded in wavy ringlets down her back. The effect emphasized the length of her neck and enhanced her regal air. There was something in particular about the way she looked just now, the colors, the hair, the posture, the tilt of her head and the gleam in her eyes all combined to make her appear as if she was Autumn personified.
When she reached him at the foot of the stairs, she smiled at him. It was similar to the encouraging smile she had given him when she had agreed to go with him at the beginning of term. He looked as if he were struggling to breathe, let alone get a few words out.
"You look… erm… wow," he finally managed to croak.
"Thank you," she responded sweetly, as if he had said something truly articulate. "You too."
Before James could protest that he was a far cry from ‘wow,’ they were interrupted from the boys’ dormitory stairs.
"We should really get a move on, James, unless you want Sirius and Peter to start the fun without us."
Remus and Beatrice were at the foot of the boys’ dorm stairway. He had his arm draped over her shoulder in a seemingly casual way, though he was actually using the girl for support.
"All right there, Remus?" James asked, trying to keep his tone good-natured, but the concern in his eyes made it clear he saw through Remus’s casual act.
"Never better, James," Remus assured, with a wink, "but let’s get down there before the feast part is over – I’m famished."
"Just one more minute, mate."
James turned back to Lily, who was looking at him with an odd assessing expression, as if she had somehow found him worthy. He squared his shoulders and fumbled hurriedly to open the box in his hands.
"Lily, I’m rubbish at this sort of thing, but when I described you and gave the material to the florist, she suggested these and I knew they were perfect."
Lily looked into the box he offered and smiled delightedly at the flowers nestled there.
"Tiger Lilies!" she exclaimed, she smiled up at James, green eyes dancing.
James let out a held breath in apparent relief and smiled back. "Would you like me to pin them on?" he offered.
"I have a better idea," she countered, beckoning to Beatrice. "Bea, could you help me a moment?"
The couples had moved to the divan in front of the fire, and after seeing Remus safely seated, the younger girl quite willingly joined the older one. Lily was using a large window as a mirror and instructing Beatrice on arranging the flowers in her hair. James took the opportunity to get the straight story on Remus’s health.
"Seriously, Moony, how are you holding up?"
"I’m fine, Prongs," he assured. "It’s almost five days past now. I’m not saying I’ll be dancing the night away or anything, but I’m not on my deathbed either. Half the leaning on Bea is because I’m enjoying the attention."
James grinned mischievously, obviously appreciating the ploy. The girls rejoined them, Lily now sporting a crown of flowers that made her look even more like the queen of the season. As the four descended to the Great Hall to join in the revelry, James kept eyeing her with an increasingly bemused expression on his face, which he tried unsuccessfully to hide whenever Lily looked his way.
The dazed look did not abate during the feast. Lily didn’t even bother suggesting sitting with her friends and practically led the group to where Sirius and Peter had saved them seats. As they approached, Sirius eyed her a moment then cracked, "Hey, Evans, your hair looks like an Herbology experiment gone wrong."
James bristled out of his stupor, but Lily put a restraining hand on his arm and turned to smile sweetly at Irene Doyle. "Irene, you’re certainly lucky to be here with Sirius. He’s the only boy in Gryffindor out of first year who has a smooth cheek after a week without a shave."
Sirius gaped at her while Irene raised an eyebrow, pursed her lips in amusement and ran the back of her hand over his cheek in silent speculation. She made a purring sound of approval while the others at the table laughed. Even Sirius’s shock at being one-upped relaxed into a grin.
Sirius continued to tease Lily throughout the meal. She good-naturedly gave back as good as she got, much to everyone’s amusement, even Sirius’s. By the time the younger students were dismissed and the tables cleared for the dance, it seemed as if Lily had been a part of their group forever.
While Lily and Irene discussed N.E.W.T. level charms and Bea was teasing Agatha about the horrors of O.W.L. year, Sirius took the opportunity to pull James aside along with the other two Marauders.
"Prongs, mate, I’m sorry I ever doubted you. She’s fantastic. The perfect woman was sitting in our house all this time. Who knew?"
James grinned and his eyes drifted to Lily, "I did."
"Yes, well, best not screw this up, mate, or friendship be damned. I’ll steal her right out from under you!"
Sirius’s teasing had even more than the desired effect. James turned a pale green shade, making Sirius let out a bark of laughter.
"Relax, mate, I’m clearly not her type. She likes serious, responsible blokes."
James’s took a deep breath that helped his colour returning to normal. He was beginning to smile when Sirius added almost as an afterthought, "Moony’s your real threat."
James’s face fell, but he was saved from further teasing as the girls drew close.
"…Honestly, it’s really not that bad if you can find a decent study partner," Beatrice said, putting an arm through Remus’s and smiling up at him appreciatively.
Lily nudged James in the ribs, pulling his attention to her. He turned with a grin, which froze when he was confronted with Lily’s sparkling green eyes.
"Music’s started," she said simply.
He stared at her stupidly for a moment before shaking himself and responding, "Oi, right! Dance?" He offered his arm and led her to the dance floor looking a bit overwhelmed, as if he was a gawky fourth year at his first ball.
Sirius and Irene were already gliding smoothly across the dance floor, looking for the entire world like Hogwarts royalty. Peter was acquitting himself admirably, though his lips moved as he counted the steps to himself. Remus was assuring Beatrice that he did feel well enough for a dance or two. Then James and Lily joined the dancers on the floor.
They looked a perfect fit, though James continued to wear a bewildered expression. As they danced, his gaze drifted over her shoulder and became unfocused. He seemed deep in thought. When Lily became aware of his distraction, she bobbed her head and tilted it in front of him so their eyes met. He started and his hands convulsed to grip her to him more tightly. Then he stumbled.
She frowned up at him with concern. "All right there, Potter?"
"Erm… yeah," he said stopping and pulling away a bit, "look, can we get some air?"
She smiled at the suggestion. "Of course," she agreed serenely.
He led her out of the Great Hall, not noticing his friends exchanging glances and gestures behind him. It was early enough in the dance that other couples were not crowding the balconies. James paused when they were far enough from the revelry to talk privately, but still within the radius of the warming charms Professor Flitwick placed around the castle grounds. When she turned and raised her eyebrows at him inquiringly, he opened his mouth a couple of times before closing it again as if thinking better of it.
"Evans… erm… Lily, why are you here?" he finally asked.
"To get some air," she responded teasingly, "it was your idea."
He closed his eyes and gave a sigh expressive of his clear frustration at not making his meaning more explicit. "No, I mean why are you out with me? Why did you say yes this time?"
"I thought it was one of my duties as Head Girl: ‘provide escort to Head Boy.’"
He frowned at her. "You’re out with me because I’m Head Boy?" he asked.
"No." Her sparkling eyes turned serious and she paused before continuing in a hushed tone, "Remus told me what happened last spring."
"What happened…?" James started to ask, then paused and frowned. Involuntarily, his eyes drifted across the grounds to where the Whomping Willow stood. Lily reached up a hand and guided his face back to look at her.
"Yes," she said quietly, dropping her hand from his face. "He told me how you kept Sirius’s ill-advised prank on Snivellus from turning deadly."
"But… I don’t… what exactly did he tell you?" James asked, unable to comprehend what she was trying to tell him.
"I know about Remus, James," she said softly. "I figured it out in third year because of an Astronomy project and some extra Defense against the Dark Arts reading. I forced him to confess – and we got to be friends, especially after we were Prefects together. I overheard Severus lording it over him on the Express this year…"
"Where was I?" James demanded, rousing up angrily.
"You and the others were off charming the trolley witch to get some food for him – it had only been what, three days since the full moon? Don’t worry," she said, seeing his face darken, "I dispatched the greasy git – that’s when Remus told me about last spring."
James looked as if he had been hit by a stunner and might fall over.
Lily placed a steadying hand on his upper arm. "You saved the life of your worst enemy," she said, her voice and eyes shone with admiration.
"I still hate him," James told her petulantly.
"That’s why saving him is so significant," she replied.
"It had nothing to do with him!" he burst out in protest. "I didn’t do it for him. I did it because Remus doesn’t deserve to be a murderer, and because -- even though it was a stupid prank and he’s a thoughtless prat sometimes -- Sirius is my best mate and I didn’t want him expelled. I did it for them."
Her expression didn’t waver. "I understand, James," she assured calmly. "Finally, I understand. I thought that Remus was the caretaker of the group, because he was the sober one, the Prefect – Now I see that it’s been you the whole time."
"I don’t understand what you’re talking about." James’s tone was defensive. "You were right the first time, Remus is the one who keeps us in line…"
"No, James, I’m not talking about a bunch of silly pranks," she countered. "I’m talking about family and acceptance."
His puzzled frown urged her to explain further.
"Peter always struggles so much in class, Sirius has his Slytherin family prejudices to deal with, and Remus… Well, they all have reason to be outcasts. You accepted them all and turned the four of you into a unit – brothers."
"It isn’t really like that," he disagreed lamely. "I need them, too."
"If you say so," she agreed politely in a way that indicated she was just humoring him.
"Now, I have a question for you."
"Um…ok," James agreed, apparently relieved she was dropping the subject of his misinterpreted heroism.
"Why, after all those times I summarily rejected you, did you even ask me here?"
"You know why." He spoke as if the fact astonished him.
"I want to hear you say it," she pressed.
He took a deep breath before practically bursting out, "Because I love you, Lily Evans. Ever since we met on the Hogwarts Express. The problem, I guess, for a bloke who falls in love at age eleven is what to do about it. I courted you for six years like an eleven-year-old boy – even when I got to be old enough where I should have known better. I was a show off and a prat and you were right not to…"
He had to stop talking because her arms flung around him and her mouth covered his. He caught her up around the waist. After a moment of surprise, he closed his eyes and deepened the kiss. Her response was positive, as she stretched up on her toes and let one of her hands drift up from his shoulders to run through the back of his hair. The action must have coincided with the need for oxygen, since the kiss broke almost the instant her fingers touched his hair. Then, James uttered the most absurd words in response to kissing the girl of your dreams that any bloke had the misfortune to speak.
"Sleekeazy’s makes my hair turn purple."
"What?" she asked pulling from his arms with a start. She looked for all the world like she couldn’t decide whether to hex him or laugh at him.
"Sorry," he said sheepishly, "it’s just… I know you don’t like how my hair sticks up and I would have flattened it out for you but…"
"Sleekeazy’s turns your hair purple," she finished smiling with understanding for a moment before furrowing her brow and asking, "Who said I don’t like your hair?"
"You did," James responded instantly. "In fifth year you said I was as bad as Snape, messing up my hair because I think it looks cool to look like I just got off a broom…though at least I do wash it…"
Lily was gaping at him. "That was almost two years ago…"
"Less than a year and a half, really. The summer holiday just makes it seem longer…"
"And you remember exactly what I said?" she pressed.
He took her by the shoulders and stared directly into her eyes before replying seriously, "I remember everything you ever said to me."
Her breath caught and she looked as if she might kiss him again. Instead, she set her jaw and shook his hands off her shoulders.
"Then you might recall that I never actually said I didn’t like your hair," she said haughtily.
"Well, not in so many words, no, but you implied…"
She cut him off again, this time by reaching up and running her fingers through his hair in much the same way as he often did for himself.
"It’s bad enough that half the female population at Hogwarts, professors included, want nothing more than to rifle their fingers through this hair – which you obviously know or you wouldn’t do it yourself so much. There was no way I would let you know that I numbered among them. How could I let you know the power you had over me when you were such an arrogant pillock?" She continued to finger his hair, bringing her other hand up to join its companion. His eyes drift closed with a savoring expression.
"I love your stupid messy mop of hair James." Her voice was an emotional and husky whisper. "I love you, James."
His eyes snapped open and looked into hers. Hazel questioned green, which responded boldly in the positive.
"When?" he croaked.
"From the beginning, same as you." She smiled, her hands still in his hair. "As soon as I saw this spiky fringe through the window of your compartment on the Express. Even after I found out what an awful bigheaded prat you were."
He groaned and dropped his head.
"I was on the brink of giving up on you when I worked out the truth about Remus. I realized that you knew too and were his friend in spite of it. That’s when I knew there was hope for you yet and I just needed to wait for you to grow up."
"You think I’m grown up?" he asked with a cheeky grin.
She smiled teasingly. "Well, no, not completely -- but you’ve made enough progress in the right direction that I knew I could come in and help you complete the process."
His smile broadened. "I might need quite a lot of help."
His arms returned to her waist, drawing her closer as her hands left his hair to rest on her shoulders. She grinned back up at him, rising up on her toes.
"Don’t worry, I’ve cleared my schedule for the year."
The last word was barely out of her mouth before James kissed her.
Much later, a very tousle-haired Head Boy and a beautifully flushed Head Girl reentered the Great Hall. Marauders were grinning and waving from the dance floor and refreshment table. Sirius’s grinned and waggled his eyebrows, making it clear he knew exactly where they were and what they were doing.
"Drink or dance?" James asked Lily.
"Hmm," she said, consideringly, "we never really finished our first dance."
Smiling, James took her elbow and guided her towards the dance floor with much more confidence than he had earlier that evening.
"So," Lily ventured, "I obviously realized why you call Remus ‘Moony’, but why do they call you ‘Prongs?’"
"Horn-rimmed glasses?" he croaked unconvincingly.
"Never wore them in your life," she contradicted.
"Look, Lily, I want to tell you, I do… I just… I can’t…"
"Sh," she put her fingers to his lips to halt his stammering, "I understand. All those nicknames are part of a trust between you and your friends. You don’t have to tell me."
"Yes, I do," he answered, "I will. They won’t mind – after tonight, Sirius is half in love with you himself… I just… let me ask them first, okay?"
She smiled sweetly, "Okay, James. Whenever you’re ready."
Then she reached up and kissed him. It was quick and chaste compared to their moonlight snogging session, but it was in the middle of the Great Hall. Many people saw and by tomorrow the whole school would be aware that James Potter and Lily Evans were officially a couple. There was no turning back now.
"I love you, Lily Evans," he said.
"I love you too, James Potter," she replied. "So are we dancing, or are we going to clutter up the floor?"
James laughed and all too readily complied.
(AN –I cannot take credit for "Little Shop of Flowers." I’m pretty sure at one point in its existence, the flower shop that did my wedding went by that name.
Lily’s insult of Sirius was partially inspired by Skin Deep by Jack Ichijouji)