Every Monday, the sixth year Gryffindors had a free period between Transfiguration and Charms. Most of them spent it napping or gossiping or larking about at the lake, but Evans used it to study -- usually Arithmancy, occasionally Potions. She carried her rucksack out to the courtyard under the West Tower, spread her things out on a stone bench tucked against a flowering hedge. She tapped her foot as she read and she chewed her lip as she wrote, and on cold days she brought a cup of tea with her, Charming it to hover at her elbow.
James watched her for a moment, hidden in the shadows cast by a fountain shaped like a Venomous Tentacula in mid-writhe. It made James a little nervous -- mostly the shape of it, but also that unfortunate business last year with the Niffler dung and the apparently rabid Shrakes -- but it was the best vantage point in the whole courtyard, the closest he could get to Evans without being seen.
It was a bright and sunny day; Evans' cheeks were slightly pink and her hair flashed like copper as it spilled over her shoulder. She turned a page in her book, made a few quick notes on the parchment hanging over her knee. James took a slow, deep breath and tried to smooth out his hair, wiping his sweaty hands on his robe before he stepped out into the open.
Evans glanced up at him, a frown tugging the corners of her mouth. "Oh. Potter." There was an empty spot beside her on the bench, but James had learned in fourth year that that way lay both madness and ghastly hexes to the bollocks. "What do you want?"
"Well, it's Hogsmeade the Saturday after next," he said, offering her a hopeful smile. She narrowed her eyes a little, but didn't reach for her wand. "Will you go with me?"
"Why should I?"
James blinked. She normally told him to go stick his head in his cauldron straight off; he rather didn't know what to say to that.
"Because I want you to?" he said finally. It was the best he could do on such short notice.
"No, Potter," she said, turning back to her book. The flush on her cheeks seemed to deepen slightly. "Leave me alone, will you? I'm trying to study."
"Oh, there you are," Peter called out, peering around clusters of milling students as James approached the Charms classroom. "Did you ask Evans to Hogsmeade, then?"
"Louder, Wormtail," James grumbled. "I don't think the house-elves heard you in the kitchens."
Peter ducked his head a little, his nose twitching. They were a few minutes early; James could hear Flitwick on the other side of the door, boring a room full of first years with the virtues of a good swish and flick. A pair of Hufflepuff girls walked by, gigging as they passed the flirtatious portrait of Jonas Zonko on the opposite wall, and a shower of bluish sparks flashed at the mouth of the corridor -- a Trip Jinx, by the look of it.
"Well?" Peter asked, his tone still several miles from an inside voice. "Did you?"
"I did, yeah."
"She told him to piss off, of course," Sirius said, grinning as he pulled up beside Peter. His wand spun between his fingers; James suspected he'd cast that Trip Jinx. "She always tells him to piss off."
"Well, there was that one time," Peter said slowly, "when she told him to--"
"All right, all right." James flipped them both the bird, then frowned at Remus, who was slouching against the wall, his mouth tight and his face rather ashy and pale. "You look like hell, mate."
"I feel like hell," Remus admitted tiredly, heavy shadows under his eyes. "It comes as a set, you see."
"Full moon tonight," Peter murmured.
Remus snorted under his breath. "I had noticed that, yes."
The classroom doors sprang open, and a sudden wave of first years poured out into the corridor, parting around James and his friends like the tide. One particularly short and spotty specimen, who'd recently found himself on the wrong end of James' wand, nearly tripped over his own feet in his haste to give them a wide berth.
"Oi, Prongs," Sirius said, propping his elbow on Peter's shoulder. "Evans is headed this way. Time to put your game face on, and that."
James pushed his hand through his hair and smiled.
She spared him half a glance as she walked into the classroom, which was more than he usually got.
"I took a tumble down the North Tower stairs," Sirius said, gesturing awkwardly with the fork in his left hand. His right arm was in a sling, bandaged heavily from wrist to shoulder and Charmed to remain perfectly still. "I went arse over tea kettle. Came a cropper in front of the Divs classroom."
"Really?" Fenwick asked, a piece of bread halfway to his mouth.
Fenwick shrugged, wiping his fingers on a napkin. "Only, I never took you for the clumsy sort."
"Here, now. It wasn't my fault," Sirius insisted, frowning as a blob of mash slid off the end of his fork. "Those bloody stairs had a bag on. I hit that funny step and it sucked me in to the knees."
James snorted under his breath. The truth was, Moony had pitched Padfoot into a ravine during the full moon, and Sirius had come to with a knot on his head, a hole in his side the size of a Galleon, and his arm broken in five separate places. Pomfrey had given him enough Skele-Gro to float a barge, but she's still wanted him to rest his arm for a few days; evidently, she'd threatened to tie him to a bed if he so much as thought about taking off that sling.
"Balls," Sirius snapped, as another forkful of mash got away from him. "How do left-handed people eat?"
"Well, we try to aim for our mouths," Peter said mildly.
James looked over at Evans; she sat on the other side of Fenwick, chatting quietly with McKinnon and MacDonald. Her hair hung down the centre of her back in a long, thick braid, and James studied the line of her throat, the soft curve of her jaw. She glanced over at him -- quickly, turning back to her friends before he could smile at her -- and he watched her for another moment, taking a long swallow of pumpkin juice. Sirius stabbed at his ham, swearing sharply as it tried to slide into his lap.
"Oh, just give it here, will you?" Remus said. He grabbed Sirius' fork and knife and started cutting the ham into chunks. "I'd rather you didn't put someone's eye out."
"Oi, Lupin," Fenwick said, leaning around Sirius, his sleeve almost in the butter, "there's a Charm for that, you know."
Sirius waved Fenwick off with a sigh. "The Charm never gets the pieces even. Remus knows what he's about."
"I know where I'm about to put this fork."
Peter choked on his pumpkin juice, snorting it out through his nose with a loud sputter. He knocked over a salt shaker and a juice pitcher as he reached for a napkin; Remus managed to save the pitcher, but his elbow upended the bread basket, flinging rolls all over the table.
"All right down there, boys?" MacDonald asked, frowning slightly. "You lot seem a bit jumpy."
"Oh, we're fine," James said, fishing a soggy roll from his tea. "We're just teaching Sirius how to eat like a big boy."
Evans laughed. It was soft and sudden and hidden behind her hand, but James definitely heard it; when he glanced over and found her watching him, he winked and flashed her a wide smile.
She quickly looked away, spots of colour blooming in her cheeks, then dropped her napkin on her plate and quietly excused herself to MacDonald and McKinnon.
"Was it something I said?" Sirius asked.
Remus snorted. "Probably."
"Strange," Peter said, shaking his head. "It's usually something James said."
It was another warm and sunny day, the sky clear and a slight breeze stirring through the courtyard. James stretched his legs, tried to fit himself inside the cool patch of shade Sirius was mostly hogging. They had two whole hours of free time before Divs; James would've much rather spent it napping, but Remus had an Arithmancy essay that was three days late because of the full moon, and he had practically begged James to get Sirius out of the dormitory so he could write the bloody thing in peace.
"I asked Evans to Hogsmeade again," James said, digging at the soft grass with a stick. "Just after lunch."
Sirius was sprawled out beside James with his arms folded behind his head; he didn't bother opening his eyes. "And?"
"She said no."
"Of course she did."
James stabbed the stick into the grass hard enough to snap it in half; Sirius sighed heavily and rolled onto his side.
"Well?" he asked, batting his hair out of his face. "What are you going to do about it?"
James didn't really have an answer for that. He'd asked her four times this week; she'd said no every single time, and every single time it had hurt. Each new rejection stung more than the last, gnawing away at him. His chest ached whenever he saw her now, so sharp and hollow he could hardly stand it.
"Nothing," James said finally. "I guess I'll just... you know. Leave off."
"What?" Sirius sat up and smacked James in the shoulder. "Are you daft? Three years, and now you're just going to," he waved his hand in the air, "forget the whole thing?"
"She's not interested."
"Never stopped you before."
The breeze picked up, ruffling through James' fringe, and he glared at the Tentacula fountain, at the long shadow it cast across the courtyard. Lily's usual bench was empty; she often used her Friday free period to study in the library with McKinnon and MacDonald.
"You want my honest opinion?" Sirius asked, brushing grass from his trousers.
James sighed quietly. "Yeah, all right."
"I think Evans is shrieking mad. Completely hatstand," Sirius said flatly. "I also think she's starting to come around. I've caught her watching you a few times, and not just when you're making an arse of yourself."
"She's probably just thinking of a new way to hex me."
Sirius smacked James' shoulder again. "Leave it out, will you? You sound like Peter."
"Peter has a date for Hogsmeade," James pointed out.
"Peter's date is Octavia Wimple. She's go out with the squid if it asked nicely," Sirius said, barking out a rough laugh. "Come on, then. Let's go back upstairs." He tugged on James' arm as he got to his feet. "We've been gone an hour -- Remus must be asleep by now."
"Asleep? He said he had an essay to write," James said, his glasses slipping down his nose. "He asked me to get rid of you so he could do it without you banging on about Quidditch."
"Bugger that. He got his essay sorted last night," Sirius said, shaking his head. "He asked me to get rid of you so he could have a kip without you snoring in his ear like a dying Clabbert."
The crowd erupted with noise as Hornwall, the Ravenclaw Seeker, suddenly dove after the Snitch. Fenwick sped across the pitch to cut him off, his arm outstretched; Hornwall changed direction at the last second, and they collided loudly, the Snitch fluttering away as they both spun toward the grass. Fenwick straightened out just in time, narrowly missing a particularly violent Bludger. Hornwall hit the ground a moment later, but he managed to land on his feet, his broomstick unscathed.
"Evans is here," Sirius said, his bat slung over his shoulder. "Front row."
"Of course she is," James said, watching as the Quaffle changed hands at the other end of the pitch. "Gryffindor pride, and all that."
"Could be that," Sirius agreed. "Could be she's just here to see your pretty face."
"Shut it, will you?"
The Quaffle flew toward James, a direct pass from Gudgeon, coming in hard and fast. James raced out to meet it, reaching for it just as a Bludger whipped past his face. Sirius' bat whistled over his head, hit the Bludger with a solid, satisfying crack.
James arced around one of the Ravenclaw Chasers, swooping down to avoid another Bludger, then barrelled straight at the Ravenclaw Keeper. Atheron was roughly the size and shape of Greenhouse Three and had more body hair than the average Quintaped, but James wasn't scared of him; he moved slowly, was easily tricked with a feint. He blocked right just as James moved the Quaffle left, and James ducked under his huge arm, slamming the Quaffle through the hoop.
He swept past the Gryffindor stands as the goal was announced; Evans was smiling at him, her cheeks pink and her eyes wide.
The common room was packed with students, Gryffindors of all years talking and laughing and dancing as a Hobgoblins record pounded and wailed and Fenwick chatted up MacDonald in the corner. Curfew had already come and gone, but winning the Quidditch Cup had put McGonagall in unusually high spirits; James figured they had at least another hour before she came up and sent everyone to their beds. He spotted Evans at the snack table, her hair burnished a deep, dark red in the yellowish glow of the fire.
"Well, how badly did Sirius spike the punch?" Remus asked, peering suspiciously into his glass.
James took a quick sip, wincing as he swallowed; it tasted like the bottom of a Floo and burned all the way down. "It's pretty rough."
"What, this stuff?" Sirius asked, waving his glass as he squeezed through the crowd to stand beside James. "This is weak tea. I've still got a full bottle upstairs." He knocked back a long, smooth swallow, then frowned at Remus and James. "Where's Peter, then?"
"Last I saw him, he was on the stairs," Remus said, his mouth twitching slightly, "snogging Octavia Wimple."
"Well," James said, snorting and arching an eyebrow. "Bully for him, I guess."
Sirius nudged James' side, ducking his mouth close to James' ear. "Evans is watching you again."
James turned around slowly; she was still at the snack table, staring at him in a way that made his chest feel tight. He smiled at her, pushing his hand through his hair, and she nearly smiled back, her mouth just curling at the corners before she looked away.
"I told you," Sirius said quietly.
She was gone by the time James glanced over again, threading through the crowd as she headed for the stairs.
Remus sighed and handed Sirius his drink. "I'll go talk to her."
James cornered Remus after Sirius and Peter had gone back upstairs, his hand shaking a little as he tugged on Remus' sleeve. The common room was quiet and dark; they were alone, save for a pair of third years kipping on the couch, and Fenwick and MacDonald, who were snogging near the portrait hole. James tried not to dwell on that last bit -- from where he was standing, it rather looked like Fenwick had been taught to kiss by a Flobberworm.
"Well? What did Evans say?" James asked, chewing his lip.
Remus smiled in that slow, secretive way that said he was up to no good. "I'm not telling you."
"If I tell you," Remus continued, poking James in the side, "you'll only do something daft and mess things up."
"Mess things -- what?"
Remus laughed quietly. "Look, Prongs. She's hated you for years, and now she's... she's not so sure any more. Give her some time to get herself sorted."
"Moony, the term is almost over," James pointed out.
"You've waited this long, haven't you?"
"Yeah, all right."
"The first Hogsmeade weekend of next term, you ask her again," Remus said, slinging his arm around James' shoulder. "You might be surprised at what she says."