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19½ First Dates

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"Yes."

James blinked. Perhaps he hadn't heard her correctly. "What?"

"Yes," Evans repeated tartly. She rather looked like she wanted to swallow her tongue. "You may take me to Hogsmeade this weekend."

James blinked again. "Oh." There had to be something wrong with his hearing. Either that, or there was something wrong with the acoustics in the Charms corridor. All those mouldy tapestries on the walls, maybe. "Really?"

"Yes, Potter," she said, huffing softly. "Really."

"Right." His mouth suddenly felt dry, and he was fairly certain he was starting to sweat. "That, um... that's great."

"Try and sound a bit more excited." She tilted her head, favouring him with a slight frown. "I'd hate to think you've been having me on for the last four years."

"I'm just surprised, is all," James admitted quietly. His hand crept up toward his hair, his fingers itching to ruffle through his fringe, but he caught her watching him, like she was waiting for him to do it, and he quickly stuffed it in his pocket. "I mean, you always say no."

"I should say no now," she muttered, mostly to herself, and James suppressed a desperate and somewhat violent urge to kick himself in the arse. He should've kept his mouth shut while he was ahead of things. "But, I suppose one date won't kill me."

"Oh," James mumbled. From over her shoulder, a portrait of a small, cross-eyed man with curly hair and horribly obvious false teeth offered him a sympathetic smile. "Right."

"Besides," she continued, narrowing her eyes, "no one else has asked."

James perked up slightly. "No one?"

"Well, that shouldn't surprise you." She gave him a very pointed look. "Dating me has become a dangerous occupation. The last boy who took me to Hogsmeade came down with exploding spots the very next morning."

"Really?" James asked innocently. "Who was that?"

"Charles Wimpleton."

James bit down on the inside of his cheek. "How unfortunate."

"Tobias Stout was attacked by a hedgehog in Transfiguration, and Roger Hapkirk lost all his hair in a freak Potions accident," she said, ticking each off on her fingers. "Justin Leavesden fell into a Vanishing Cabinet and came up a cropper at the Tate Gallery, surrounded by Muggles. Ethan McClellan was found wandering the Quidditch pitch with his trousers on backward and a pumpkin on his head."

"Very strange," James murmured, doing his level best not to look her directly in the eye. It had been a summer squash, with McClellan, but now was probably not the time to mention it. "A curious set of coincidences."

Evans snorted loudly. "Coincidences? How about Halloween, then? When I--"

"Here, I had nothing to do with Gudgeon's eye," James insisted, waving his hands. He knew he caused his fair share of trouble, but it was ruddy unfair, the way he got blamed for every poxy thing that happened around here. "I was nowhere near that tree on Halloween."

"Of course not."

"I mean it, Evans. On Halloween, I was--"

"In the Owlery with Marlene McKinnon," she finished, with a smile that was a bit too arch for James' taste. Bloody women, couldn't be trusted to keep a secret at wandpoint. "She told me all about it."

James rather didn't like the sound of that. He also could've done without the crowd that was starting to gather; nosy buggers were probably hoping to see some fireworks. This was likely the longest conversation he and Evans had ever had, aside from the time she'd yelled at him about that unfortunate business with the Squid and the Horkalumps, but James tried not to think about that. It had taken Remus' eyebrows a full week to grow back, and Evans had literally hexed James' bollocks into a knot.

"Look," he began, pitching his voice low to spite the spectators. The first two rows were largely Hufflepuffs and younger Gryffindors; it wouldn't take much to introduce the lot to his special breed of throbbing boils. "I don't know what McKinnon said, but that wasn't my fault."

"No, I suppose it wasn't," Evans conceded slowly. She looked incredibly amused with herself. "I understand people in pirate costumes have trouble walking up the stairs all the time."

"They really do." James glanced at the crowded, taking particular interest in a small knot of students clustered near the end of the hall. Tobias Stout was smirking at him from behind a statue of Unbad the Unholy; James wondered if he could get his hands on another hedgehog before dinner. "So, Hogsmeade, then?"

"One date, Potter," she warned sharply. "I won't have you following me around the rest of term just because I let you buy me a cup of tea."

"What if it goes well?"

"It won't."

"Right. One date," James said, flashing her a bright smile. She ignored it flawlessly, but the portrait behind her made a few gestures James supposed were meant to be encouraging. "Shall I pick you up?"

She sighed and tossed her hair over her shoulder. "We'll meet. Puddifoots, at noon."

"Brilliant."

A suit of armour across the hall offered James a creaky salute, and James promptly began to panic."

 

[ later ]

 

"Padfoot, I'm doomed."

Sirius did not deign to reply. He was too busy working his way through a family-size box of Sugar Quills. He also couldn't be arsed to stop reading his copy of Quidditch Weekly.

It wasn't even a new copy.

"Sirius?"

James flopped onto his bed, frowning up at a series of splotches on the ceiling that vaguely resembled Cassiopeia. They hadn't appeared until the middle of James' third year, and he was fairly certain he didn't want to know how they got there.

"Sirius!"

"Doomed," Sirius murmured, turning a page in his magazine. "I'd probably agree, if you actually had a date with her."

"Wankstain," James snapped, lobbing a pillow at James' head. It caught Sirius just above the ear, but the useless git didn't even flinch. "I do have a date with her."

Sirius looked up and favoured James with a long, considering look, then shook his head with a snort. "Nope. Still don't believe you."

"Well, why not?"

"Because she hates you," Sirius said simply, grinning around the Sugar Quill hanging out of his mouth. "And the last time you said you had a date with her, you really didn't."

"That wasn't my fault," James insisted. He threw another pillow at Sirius, but Sirius deflected it with a spell that made it hover in the space between their beds, spinning like a top. "I really thought she'd said yes."

"She was unconscious when you asked."

"Peter said she was sleeping!"

Sirius barked out a short laugh. "In the middle of the Transfiguration corridor?"

"I was thirteen," James grumbled, picking at a loose thread on the duvet. Admittedly, it was a very poor defence, but it was all he had to work with. "Shall I bring up every daft thing you did when you were thirteen?"

"Please don't," Remus said, as the door swung open. He paused to hold it for Peter, who trundled through with two small books in one hand and a large sandwich in the other. "Sirius spent a good deal of thirteen running around naked."

"And most of fourteen," Peter offered, around a mouthful of what sounded like corned-beef on rye.

"There's nothing wrong with naked," Sirius said loftily. The suspended pillow quivered, then launched itself at Remus' face. "It's not my fault you lot are a bunch of prudes."

"Right," Remus muttered, beating the pillow to the ground with what looked like his Potions book. Once it was vanquished, he kicked it across the room and rounded on James with a smile. "So, what's this about you and Evans going to Hogsmeade tomorrow?"

Sirius snorted with all the delicacy of a dying Graphorn. "Prongs tell you that, then?"

"Sod you!"

"Meredith Vance, actually," Remus explained, dropping his rucksack on his bed. It was bulging with books, scrolls, quills, and what rather looked like a potted sneezewort. This struck James as odd, since Remus wasn't taking Herbology, but James had learned it was often better not to ask. "We ran into her on the stairs, and she happened to mention it."

"Apparently, the girls' side of the Tower is all in a riot over it," Peter added, in the deliriously excited tones he saved for juicy gossip. Peter insisted he wanted to take a Ministry job when he left school, but James suspected he'd end up writing the Society section of the Prophet. "They're giving her all sorts of rubbish advice, and trying to pick out her clothes and curl her hair, and that."

"Evans isn't having any of it, of course," Remus continued, setting the sneezewort on his bedside table. James rather thought it was watching him. "Vance was on her way to Pomfrey, because Evans hit her with a Bat-Bogey Hex."

"And a brilliant one, too," Peter said, flapping his hands in front of his face. "The bloody things were shrieking."

"Wait, what?" Sirius demanded, shoving his magazine aside. He narrowed his eyes at James, and James flipped him the two-fingered salute. "You weren't having me on?"

"No, I wasn't. I'm meeting her at Puddifoots, at noon." James sighed heavily. "And I'm doomed."

"Oh, Puddifoots isn't all that bad," Peter ventured, taking a long and thoughtful bite of his sandwich. "It's a little stuffy, and that, but the biscuits are all right, and there'll be mistletoe about the place, because it's Christmas."

James waved him off sharply. "That's not what I meant. Just, I've finally got a date with her, and I'll probably ruin it by... oh, I don't know. By saying something stupid, or spilling ruddy biscuits everywhere, or falling down."

"By being yourself, then?" Sirius offered.

"Yes," James said, throwing up his hands. "Exactly!"

Remus coughed like he was trying not to laugh. "You probably shouldn't wear the pirate costume."

"Fartparcel."

"Well," Peter began, digging his teeth into his lower lip, "whatever happens, you can't do worse than Edgar Meadows."

"A drunk mountain troll would've done better than Edgar Meadows," Sirius said flatly. "He tripped over his own feet and knocked them into a tree, then tripped again while trying to help her up and rolled them both down a hill. They ended up on the doorstep of the Hogs Head."

"Right," Remus agreed, wincing slightly. "She was in the Hospital Wing a week with that broken arm."

"You're not helping," James mumbled. He sighed wearily and rubbed his hand over his face. "None of you are helping."

"Bloody Hell, mate. You need to stop worrying," Sirius said, sliding off his bed. He came around and patted James on the back. "Everything will be fine."

"Prongs," Remus said, in the tone he used when Prefecting around firsties. James rather wasn't interested. "It's not--"

"One date. Just one," James pressed. Sirius favoured him with a quick but disturbingly odd look, then kicked open his trunk. "If I foul it up, she'll never speak to me again."

"I'm telling you, it'll be fine," Sirius said, mostly to the inside of his trunk. James threw a shoe at Sirius' upturned arse, but he missed by a good two feet, because that was the kind of day he was having. "I have an idea."

"I'm not sure I like the sound of that," Remus muttered.

"Nope," Peter agreed, popping the last of his sandwich into his mouth.

"Arsenuts, that's what you two are," Sirius countered. "And big girl's blouses with no sense of adventure. The thing is," he went on, turning to James with a mischievous grin, "one date can be more than one date if you put your mind to it. All you have to do is change the facts a little." He tossed something at James that flashed gold and glittery as it sailed through the air. "You know, give yourself enough time to get things sorted."

"Padfoot," James said, blinking down at the Time-Turner in his hand. "Where they bloody Hell did you get this?"

Sirius shrugged. "Nicked it from my father over the summer holiday. Merlin only knows what he was using it for."

"Well, what have you been using it for?" Peter asked.

"Not much, really," Sirius admitted. He closed his trunk and perched on the edge of James' bed. "It's come in handy once or twice, when I had a date and detention on the same night."

"Sirius," Remus warned, his voice low and tight. The sneezewort really was watching them; James was just sure of it. "You can't go mucking around with things like that."

"Of course you can," Sirius argued. "You just have to be careful." He pointed at James. "As long as no one sees two of you in the same place, everything will be fine."

"You're barmy," Peter said.

"He's brilliant," James murmured, holding the Time-Turner up by its chain. It caught the light as it dangled, and its hourglass looked ridiculously delicate. "Absolutely brilliant. I can just -- wait. It won't work. I mean, if I'm having a lousy date, and I reset the clock, won't I just come back downstairs and have the same lousy date all over again?"

"He's right, you know," Remus said. He sounded extremely relieved. "When James goes back in time, he'll just be a visitor. The James that belongs there will do exactly what he did before."

"And you lads fancy yourselves clever," Sirius scoffed, shaking his head. "You're thinking about this all wrong. Now, you -- " he poked James in the knee " -- you are going to take the One-Eyed Witch to Hogsmeade tomorrow. That way, no one will see you coming or going."

"All right," James said cautiously.

"If you need to start things over, just hide in the passage and wait for yourself," Sirius continued. "Hit the other you with a Petrificus Totalus, and then the real you can go in his place."

"Now that is barmy," Remus said.

"All right, all right." James frowned at Remus, then handed the Time-Turner to Sirius. "Show me how to work this bloody thing."

 

[ date 1 ]

 

"Hello, Evans."

"Potter."

She paused at the edge of the table, her head tilted to avoid the lighted glass bauble dancing next to her ear. She studied him for a moment, eyeing him a little suspiciously, and he offered up his most innocent smile, the one that promised he hadn't put doxy eggs in the sugar bowl or doused her chair in Tentacula venom. He did his level best not to fidget, even though the silence was making him itch, and she eventually sat, but she didn't look ready to buy what he was selling.

Not yet, anyway.

"Would you like some tea?"

"Yes, thank you."

James had already ordered, a simple Darjeeling that seemed fairly safe. It smelled delicious as he poured it out, and his hands shook just enough that he managed to slop it over the sides of both cups. He handed her the neater of the two, the one with only a couple of drops spotting the saucer, and she accepted it carefully, her fingers just barely brushing over his. Her skin felt chilled, and she cradled the cup in both hands, holding it close to her face.

"Are you cold?" he asked. He briefly considered giving her his coat, but she was already wearing one, and his smelled a good deal like Quidditch and the Forbidden Forest, and also a little like wet dog, because it was Sirius' favourite place to sleep as Padfoot. "It's freezing outside."

"I'm a little cold," she admitted, taking a long sip of tea. She was beautiful, with her cheeks slightly pink and her hair curling over her shoulders. Her soft, green jumper was the exact colour of her eyes. "It will pass. It's quite warm in here."

It was incredibly warm, a dry and stuffy warmth that made James' throat hurt; he wanted to find whoever had set the Heating Charm and hex them into next week.

"So."

"So."

"Oh. I got us some biscuits."

"They're lovely, thank you."

He set the fanciest one on Evans' plate, a large Christmas tree done up in both frosting and coloured sugar. He took a slightly smaller one for himself, and spilled crumbs down the front of his jumper with his first bite.

"Well."

"Yes."

"So."

"Right."

 

[ date 2 ]

 

"Do you bring them on all your dates?" Evans asked suddenly.

"What?" James gave a jerk, his knee catching the leg of the table. His teacup clattered loudly against its saucer, and a biscuit slid from the plate.

"Your friends," she clarified, wrinkling her nose. "Do you bring them on all your dates?"

James quickly scanned the room. Remus and Peter were seated just across the way, sharing a large table with Stacy Witherspoon, Janet Mills, and a Gryffindor couple from a lower form. A little behind them, Sirius was badly hidden inside a group of students crowded around the Christmas tree, sipping Firewhiskey from a flask and chatting up two birds at once.

"I didn't bring them," James said weakly. That wasn't exactly true; he had told them he could use the moral support, but he'd also asked them to behave. Peter was staring openly, despite Janet Mills rather desperate attempts to distract him, and while Sirius had his arm around a short Ravenclaw with blonde curls, his position gave him a clear and obvious view of Evans. "They're just here."

"Of course."

"They have dates," James said hopefully.

"Indeed," Evans murmured, glancing at Sirius. As if on cue, Sirius' rough, bark-like laugh cut through the jingling sleigh bells and soppy music. "They do have dates." Sirius flashed James a broad grin, then turned his attention to a younger Gryffindor with good hips and long, brown hair. "Black appears to have several."

The sweet cart lumbered down the aisle, slowing as it neared their table. It was piled with cakes and tarts and the kind of trifle James knew Evans was mad for, but she waved it along before he could even offer. Her mouth looked pinched at the corners, and James searched desperately for something to say.

"So, tell me--"

A large noise erupted from the general vicinity of Remus and Peter, and James' stomach twisted itself into a knot. When he could finally bring himself to look, he found that the roaming, enchanted mistletoe had stopped over Remus' head; he was kissing Stacy Witherspoon while Peter clapped and cheered and Sirius offered rude suggestions in the furthest thing from his inside voice.

"Disgusting," Evans muttered. "They have no idea of how to act in public."

"Well, the mistletoe, you know--"

"I'm not talking about Lupin."

Peter was red-faced and gasping. Sirius was talking to the Ravenclaw again, his flask tucked in his pocket and his hand resting on her waist. When he noticed James and Evans looking, he winked and twirled his wand between his fingers. The mistletoe abandoned Remus and Stacy -- not that they bothered to stop kissing -- and began picking a jaunty and bobbing path toward James.

He started to apologise, but Evans was already gone.

 

[ date 3 ]

 

James stared down at his lap in mute horror.

He'd managed to save the table, which he supposed counted for something, but the biscuits were a total loss. A sad pile of crumbs rested next to his foot, mixed liberally with coloured sugar and delicate shards of china. The plate had cracked in to several pieces, the largest of which had skittered loudly under the table across the aisle.

There was also the tea to consider. Evans had escaped the worst of it, but at the moment, James couldn't really bring himself to care either way. The piping hot puddle of Darjeeling spreading across the front of his trousers was more than enough to be going on with.

 

[ dates 4 & 7 & 11 & 12 & 16 & 18 ]

 

"I hate you, James Potter."

"Sorry."

"You're arrogant and insufferable, and I never want to see you again!"

 

[ date 5 ]

 

James slumped over the table, sighing as he twirled a wilted sprig of holly between his fingers. His tea sat quietly as his elbow, delicate curls of steam rising from the cup and a half-eaten biscuit waiting patiently on the saucer. He frowned at the fairy lights twinkling in the corner of his eye, and did his level best to ignore the pair of Ravenclaws snogging directly to his left. On his other side, Charles Wimpleton and a Hufflepuff whose name James couldn't remember were giggling and feeding each other bits of cranberry tart.

He sat up as someone slid into the seat across from him, deflating slightly once he realised it was Sirius.

"Well?" Sirius demanded.

"Well, what?"

Sirius huffed and poked James in the arm. "Where's Evans run off to, then?"

"The loo," James replied quietly.

"Ah."

"Right."

Sirius helped himself to the rest of James' biscuit, drumming his fingers on the table as he chewed. "Been gone long?"

"Fifteen minutes. Twenty, maybe," James admitted. He let the holly slip from his hand. "She's not coming back, is she?"

"Probably not."

"Right."

 

[ date 6 ]

 

"You're late, Potter."

James was very late. He was also kind of dirty, because he'd dropped his glasses coming out of the passage, and then tripped while trying to find them, and the people at Honeydukes apparently hadn't cleaned the back room since Dumbledore was a student.

"Sorry."

"Forget it, Potter."

 

[ date 8 ]

 

"I like Quidditch just fine," Evans said, almost defensively. "A good match is rather enjoyable to watch, but I don't... well, some people are rather obsessed with it, and--"

"And by some people, you mean me and Sirius," James offered.

"Well, all right. You and Black, if you insist," she conceded, her mouth curving with a tiny smile. "That's what I don't understand."

"What?"

"The obsession."

"Oh," James said, wrinkling his nose as the sweet cart passed by. He'd give anything for a piece of chicken, or a good, solid sandwich. "That's because you don't play."

Evans laughed, a soft and tinkling sound James quite liked hearing. "Nonsense."

"No, I mean it," James insisted. "If you played, you'd understand."

"I wouldn't want to."

James choked on his tea. "Why not? Quidditch is brilliant."

"Honestly, I don't fly very well," she admitted quietly. She frowned at the teapot and fiddled with a frosted biscuit shaped like a gift. "I'm terrible, really."

"Well, you can't fly worse than Remus," James ventured. "Just watching him makes my eyes cross."

"Potter, that's a horrible thing to say."

James shrugged and poured himself more tea. "I suppose. Unfortunately, it's also true."

The sweet cart made a return trip, wheels creaking as it navigated between the closely set tables, and James took a bowl of trifle, even though he didn't think he could stomach any more sugar. Evans said he didn't need to, but her tone lacked any real conviction, and she tucked in as soon as he set it down, taking delicate bites and cleaning her spoon with careful licks.

"I could help you, if you like," James offered, once the trifle was half gone and he was fairly certain he was going to be sick. "With your flying, I mean."

Evans considered this for a moment, her mouth taking an odd line. "I said one date, Potter."

"I wasn't asking as a date," he said, but it was an obvious lie, and the look on her face said she saw right through it. "Just, you said you don't fly well. I could help you."

"Perhaps I don't want any help," she countered, her voice suddenly crisp. "And if I did, why should I ask you?"

"Why shouldn't you?"

"Oh, and you're the best flyer in the school, now?"

He really was, now that she mentioned it, but it didn't sound like she wanted his opinion just now. "Well, one of the best."

"I could always ask Hooch," Evans continued sharply. "She taught you, and you think you're so good."

James snorted. "My dad taught me. And Hooch is a girl."

"Really, Potter?"

"Bugger."

 

[ date 9]

 

The sad part was, James had always liked Christmas pudding. He would now be forced to hate it, fervently and for the rest of his life.

James had pudding on his hands. The biscuits were burnt beyond recognition, and the table was charred in several places. The smoking remains of the pudding lied in wait on what was left of its plate. He was fairly certain it was quivering.

He was also pretty sure Evans had pudding in her hair.

 

[ date 10 ]

 

"No, I don't believe it." Evans shook her head, causing her hair to fall into her eyes. "You can't tell me that wasn't you. Or your friends."

"It really wasn't," James insisted. Spreading his hands, he offered her an innocent smile. "The Augureys, yeah. But not the bubbles."

"Well, who made the bubbles, then?" Evans asked.

James sipped his tea. "That was Gudgeon and his lot. They were trying to get me and Sirius in trouble for that business with the Shrakes in the fountain."

"Now that," Evans said, pointing her spoon at James, "that was definitely you."

"That was Remus, actually. He never did tell me why." James shrugged and bit into his biscuit. "They're still there, you know. Those Shrakes. Remus feeds them every morning."

Evans studied him for a moment, her mouth curving just slightly. "What about the Yorkshire puddings?"

"Yeah, that was me."

"The singing suits of armour?"

"Yeah."

"The pink and purple Flobberworms."

James shook his head. "No. That was a nice bit of magic, but it wasn't me."

"Well," she began thoughtfully, her head tilting, "what about that day when all of Slytherin came down with hayfever?"

"No. That was Sirius," James replied. "I think he was naffed off at his brother."

"Right." Evans reached for a biscuit; it was shaped like a wreath and dusted with coloured sugar. "And the baby Acromantulas?"

"Yeah, that was me," James admitted. Evans' mouth twitched, and James pointed his finger at her. "That was funny. Don't try to tell me it wasn't."

"Oh, all right," she conceded, waving him off. "It was funny. Inconvenient, but funny."

James brightened, smiling widely. "What about the Stinkpellets and the Flitterblooms?"

"That was not funny."

"Why not."

"Because," Evans said sharply, "I lost my favourite pair of knickers in that nonsense."

 

[ date 12 ]

 

James took a long, slow sip of his tea. He'd ordered a good, solid Assam this time; it was just this side of tepid now, and it had been sitting long enough to taste slightly bitter. He sighed and yanked on the collar of his shirt. The stifling warmth of the Heating Charm combined with the fairy lights made him feel like he was sitting inside an oven, and he was tired in a way that pinched and pulled at his neck and shoulders.

He didn't notice Remus until Remus was halfway to his table, hand in hand with Stacey Witherspoon as he picked a careful path around sweet carts and floating Christmas baubles. Stacey left Remus with James, pausing long enough to press a quick kiss to his cheek; Remus smiled at her, then directed a sharp frown at Evans''s empty chair.

"Loo," James explained shortly.

"Has she been gone long?" Remus asked.

James shrugged. "Long enough."

"Figures," Remus muttered, running his hand over his face. "I'm actually having a good time. You headed back soon?"

"In a minute." James sighed again and drained his teacup. "I paid for this ruddy tea. I might as well drink it."

 

[ date 13 ]

 

James forgot about the enchanted mistletoe until it was hanging over his head. Then it was too late; there wasn't much he could do but let it have its way and hope Evans didn't hex him bow-legged afterwards.

He rose out of his chair slowly, palms flat against the table, his heart hammering as he leaned toward her. Her face was perfectly blank, and she didn't move to meet him, but her eyes widened and her lips parted just slightly, and she didn't look like she was about to go for her wand. He leaned in a bit closer, shifting until their mouths were almost touching.

He didn't hear the table collapse, but he certainly felt it.

 

[ date 14]

 

"What do you think is your best subject?" James asked.

"Oh." Evans looked at him curiously, her green eyes wide and her tea paused halfway to her mouth. "I don't know, really. Definitely not Potions."

James waved that off with a soft laugh. "Potions is fiddly and ridiculous, and you do well enough. Give me a real subject, then."

"Well," she said slowly, tapping her finger against the rim of her cup. "Charms, I suppose. What about you?"

"Transfiguration."

"Really." She tilted her head, her mouth curving with a slight smile. "You keep McGonagall on her toes, I'll give you that. Have you finished the essay she set?"

James frowned around a mouthful of biscuit. "Which essay?"

"Animagus transformations," she replied, as she reached for the teapot. "It's due this Monday."

"Oh, right."

Evans sniffed. "You haven't started it yet, have you?"

"No," James admitted, shrugging. "That's all right, though. I'll get it done."

"Twenty-six inches," she said, arching an eyebrow. "And you're just going to -- " she waved her hand in the air " -- get it done."

James nodded and poured himself more tea. "It's Animagus transformations. That's easy stuff."

"Easy?" Evans asked incredulously. "It's one of the most difficult spells to perform. It takes patience and practise and a good deal of skill."

"Right."

"It took McGonagall five years," she continued, pointing a half-eaten biscuit at James. "Most people need closer to seven."

"I only needed three," James countered, without realising what was coming out of his mouth. Once it settled in, he wanted to cut out his tongue. "Oh."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Potter," Evans began sharply, her eyes ridiculously wide, "are you--"

"No," James grumbled. "Absolutely not."

 

[ date 15 ]

 

Her mouth slid against his, warm and wet and perfect, her breath catching as her hand came up to his neck, her thumb tracing the line of his jaw and her fingers tangling in his hair. She fisted the other hand in his collar, pulling him closer, drawing him in as she fell back against the wall. His fingers were clumsy and frozen stiff, fumbling with her scarf and tripping over the buttons of her coat. When he finally found her jumper, his hands slipped over the feverish skin underneath, but he didn't know what to do, what he was and wasn't allowed to touch.

He shivered slightly, and only partially with the chill. They were in the alley behind the Three Broomsticks, shoe frosting the tops of their shoes and a brick wall at Evans' back, and was cold except for where Evans was touching him. Her hand strayed down his coat and under his jumper, her palm hot as it paused at his waist, and she hid her mouth behind his ear, her lips soft and wet against his skin.

"James."

She kissed him again, a little harder, her mouth restless under his, and something wasn't quite right, James could feel it, something strange in the uneven hitch in her breath and heat coming off her skin. Her tongue darted between his lips, hot and slick, and he didn't want to stop kissing her, didn't ever want to stop kissing her, but he could taste it now, almonds and aniseed and rose hips, the kind of nonsense Zonkos put in their love potions.

He was going to murder Sirius.

"Hey, Evans." His stomach hurt and his chest felt tight and his hands were still in her hair. He loved her hair. "I think we should go back inside."

 

[ date 17 ]

 

"Prongs?"

James was hunched over with his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand. He looked up at Peter and sighed. "Evans is in the loo."

"Oh," Peter said, sitting down in Evans' empty chair. "Is she coming back?"

"Probably not."

"How long have you been at this?" Peter asked. "You've got to be tired."

"Yeah, I'm tired," James admitted sourly. Exhaustion prickled at his skin; his hands felt numb and a dull ache was spreading behind his eyes. "But I'm not giving up."

"I don't think you Stunned yourself right this time." Peter poured fresh tea into Evans' cup and took a long, noisy sip. "Moony and Padfoot just chased the other you into Gladrags."

"Bugger."

They sat in silence for a moment, just Peter drinking the bright, cinnamon Oolong that James had hoped Evans would like, and James poking the biscuit crumbs on his plate. That pair of Ravenclaws were snogging again, at a different table than before. Across the aisle, Charles Wimpleton and his Hufflepuff were shared cake instead of cranberry tart.

"I'm going to give it one more go," James said finally. He sat up straight and tried to roll the stiffness out of his neck and shoulders. "It can't hurt, the way things have been going."

Peter cocked his head to the side and chewed at his lip. "That bad, then?"

"Well, she yelled at me the last time," James explained. "And the time before that, she was... I don't know. I think Sirius dosed her with something."

"Sorry," Peter mumbled, choking on his tea. "That might've been me."

"What?"

"I don't know, really. It's not like I remember," Peter said, his nose twitching anxiously. "You can't be mad if I don't know if I actually did it."

"Wanker," James snapped. "I ought to hex you black and blue."

"Maybe I thought you needed the help."

"I don't want that kind of help."

 

[ date 19 ]

 

"Sorry."

He'd been late again. He'd dropped his glasses in the middle of the passage, which wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't also dropped his wand. Once that happened, the whole situation had turned into a farce rather quickly. In the end, he'd left Evans waiting for fifteen minutes, and all the tables at Puddifoots had been taken.

"Forget it, Potter."

Presently, they were huddled under the low sweep of Scrivenshafts roof, their teeth chattering and their hands frozen inside their pockets.

"I really am sorry."

She frowned at him for a long moment, then sighed and adjusted her scarf.

"We could try again in a minute," he offered. "Maybe a table will open up."

Evans sighed. "Maybe you should kiss me."

"What?"

"The mistletoe, Potter," she said, pointing her finger just above his head.

He looked up and there is was, lying in wait. "It must have escaped."

"Black left the door open," Evans said flatly. "I told you he has no manners."

The mistletoe twitched, then poked James on the top of the head.

"Oh, right. Sorry," he said, though he didn't know if he was apologising to Evans or the bloody plant.

He leaned in carefully, sliding his hand up to her cheek, and their mouths just brushed, their lips soft. It was enough to satisfy the mistletoe, but she hesitated after he started to pull away, lingering just long enough that James decided to kiss her again. She'd probably hex him later, and he'd probably be lucky if bow-legged was the worst that he got, but he wasn't sure it mattered any more. This try already looked to be headed straight down the pipes, and if he ended up starting things over, she wouldn't remember it, anyway.

She had her hand twisted in his collar, and she didn't move it when he shifted away.

"You look tired," she said.

"I'm exhausted, really," he mumbled, without realising what was coming out of his mouth.

"And you've gone to a lot of trouble."

"Well, I -- what?"

Evans sneaked her finger inside the collar of his shirt, catching her finger on the chain of the Time-Turner.

"Oh. Um."

"Lupin warned me this morning," Evans explained, her mouth twitching. It was almost a smile. "Very early this morning. He sent a house-elf up the girl's stairs, and the silly thing all but dragged me out of bed."

James was going to kill Remus. Right after Evans killed him, and maybe after he'd found time for a quick kip.

"I was furious, of course. It was just like you, to do something dangerous without regard, and to break the rules just because it suited you." Her tone was slightly sharp, but she hadn't stepped away from him, and her hands were curled in his scarf. "I almost told McGonagall -- and believe me, she would've peeled you like a shrivelfig -- but then I figured it would serve you right if I went along with it, and you had to keep doing it over and over and over."

James didn't know what to say to that.

"I'd planned on giving you a hard time until you gave up," she continued, her voice softening. "But... well, you really were trying."

"Yeah, I guess I was," James admitted. "At least you don't remember it. Some of it was embarrassing."

Evans pulled a strange face, then burst out laughing, her shoulders shaking and her face turning pink, and James just watched her, unsure of what it was she found so bloody funny. She was gasping before she finished, one hand over her mouth and the other still twisted in his scarf. The wind whipped up just as she started to catch her breath, blowing her hair across her face, and James reached out and tucked it behind her ear.

"Sorry," she said quietly.

He wrapped his arm around her, smiling when she didn't shrug him off. "Well? What's so funny, then?"

"You," she said, shaking her head. "You really thought that if you did something daft, you could just go back in time and start over. It doesn't work like that." She paused for a moment, pursing her lips. "I mean, it does, but it doesn't. You reset the clock, but everything we did or said still happened. I can still remember it, I just have to sit down and think about it."

"Think?" James asked. "When did you have time?"

"In the loo."

"Oh, right. The loo." He was suddenly very embarrassed. "So... the tea?"

"Yes."

"And the pudding?"

"Yes."

"And the--"

"Yes, Potter. That, too."

"Sorry," James said, letting his arm slip from her shoulders. "I'm sorry about... well, you know. Everything."

He started to walk away, but she caught him by the wrist and pulled him back. "I'm not angry."

"Oh." He grinned. "In that case, do I get another date?"

"You've had about twenty, I think." She studied him for a moment, then reached up and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "I also think we should get out of here."

James blinked. "What?"

"I think we should go some place warm," she said quietly. "And I think you should finish what you started behind the Broomsticks."

"Here, I think you started that."

Evans smiled. "Well, that doesn't mean you can't finish it."

 

[ & ]

 

He certainly hadn't expected this.

The Shack was better than being outside, but it was covered in dust and it wasn't exactly warm. James had started a fire in the hearth, but it seemed to smoke more than it heated, and the old house complained with every change in the wind, shutters clattering and floorboards creaking. The bed was huge, piled with ancient pillows and soft, worn blankets, and James couldn't quite believe that he had Evans stretched out in the middle of it, her bright hair everywhere and her knickers twisted around her ankles.

"Potter."

He huffed quietly. "You'll have to stop calling me that."

"Maybe."

She smiled at him, slow and secretive, her head tilted and a faint blush creeping over her cheeks. He held her gaze for a moment, listening to the even pull of her breaths and the wind rattling outside the Shack, then laughed and tugged one of the blankets up over his hip, because she was looking at him -- at his knobbly knees, and the wisps of hair leading away from his navel, and the scar on his thigh from when Sirius accidentally hit him with a Sneakoscope. She tried to kick it away, but her cold foot brushed James' side instead, and he fell forward as he twisted away, sliding half on top of her, his hand at her hip and his mouth pressed to her skin.

"Potter."

He was nervous now, his fingers tracing anxious patterns on her skin, his hands shaking slightly as they moved up her thighs. He hid a kiss in the crease of her hip, tasting salt and skin, and she made a low, restless noise in the back of her throat, her lips parted and her eyes green and wide. The hair between her legs is lighter than the hair on top of her head, fiery and bright, and it tickled his nose as he first leaned in, as she let him push her open and she curved up to meet his mouth.

His tongue drew up, careful at first and a little bit clumsy, slipping up through her folds and circling over her clit. She sighed and arched her back, her hips just lifting off the bed, and she caught her hands in his hair, her fingers twisting through the messy strands. He licked her long and slow, his tongue gliding up as he slid two fingers inside her, trying to learn the flicks and curls and touches that would make her thighs shake and her breath hitch. She guided him with soft mumurs and the angle of her body, her hands angling his head until his mouth was exactly where she wanted it, and when his lower lip brushed up over her clit she gasped softly, her voice breaking and her legs shifting under his hands.

She sounded beautiful, thin and sharp and desperate, and he was fairly certain he could come just like this, with his tongue and fingers inside her and her low, breathy noises echoing in his ears.

He pressed a wet kiss to her clit, teasing it with slow circles and delicate licks until her body began to tense and shake, until she came apart with a low moan.

"James."

"That's better," he said, sliding his hand over her belly.

"Oh." She laughed tiredly. "You're still insufferable."

James smiled against the soft skin of her thigh. "I probably always will be."