In early November notices went up in the common room about the upcoming Yule Ball. This was held every two years, usually on the Saturday night before Christmas and the day before the Hogwarts Express took us back to London for the holidays, and students from fourth year and up were expected to attend. While those in third year and below could come if invited by an older student, since every student would get two balls in their last four years of school, most of the younger students weren’t too fussed if they missed it.
The ball was a source of great excitement among the girls in our year but less so among the boys, a tidy few of whom we suspected would rather ask Peeves to the dance than actually take a real girl. After all, maturity levels among fifteen and sixteen year olds fluctuate wildly. Some of us had dress robes that we had brought with us at the start of term, but those students with less organised parents, or who didn’t like their parents’ choices, had to make the most of the upcoming Hogsmeade visit to find appropriate clothing.
Lily, Martha and Charlotte were bursting with enthusiasm about the ball and made extensive plans to find the most glamorous dress robes they could at Gladrags in Hogsmeade. While any of them could have shown up in a hessian sack and still looked stunning, there was something charming about the extent of their preparation – even though as we neared the end of November, only Martha, who was going with Sirius, had a date.
This wasn’t for want of trying on the part of the Hogwarts male population, however. James had naturally asked Lily as soon as he could (or as soon as he could get up the guts), but as always his timing was slightly off. In this case, he tackled her as we finished a Care of Magical Creatures lesson, which had been marked by James and Sirius setting their Niffler on Elsie Baddock and Irving Mulciber from Slytherin, both of whom wore several rings and had neglected to remove them for the class; Elsie had been sent to the hospital wing as a result of the ensuing attack. The conversation, which we all overheard, went something like this.
“Evans?” This was said rather tentatively.
“What do you want, Potter?” Lily had her head in her bag, trying to jam her textbook back inside, and so was rather distracted and a little annoyed. I suspected that once he started talking to her she also kept her head there so he couldn’t see her face.
“Uh, I was wondering, would you go to the ball with me? Please?” I had to hand it to him, he sounded rather endearing, and I wondered whether this would be the day she decided to give him a chance. I mean, at least he said please.
“And why would I want to do that, Potter?” Lily asked shortly, her head emerging from her bag at last.
This took him aback somewhat. “Oh, er, well, you see …”
Lily glared at him. “And you, of course, being irresistible, can’t think how I might possibly not want to go with you? You’re an arrogant, pig-headed, bullying toerag who thinks that because he’s a pretty boy with money he can get away with anything. You know, if the Bloody Baron asked me to the ball, I think I’d take him over you.”
Well, it would seem Lily didn’t think that was the day to accept him, not if she’d prefer the company of the Slytherin ghost. James visibly slumped, his face pale and the swagger in his step definitely gone.
Lily, being beautiful, smart and gifted, was naturally swamped with other suitors, some of whom even managed not to be hexed by James in the process. In the end she said yes to Severus Snape, of all people, in what was obviously a testament to their long friendship. He went around for a couple of days looking like Christmas had come early, until James finally got wind of the situation and turned his ears into grapefruit at the breakfast table.
Charlotte was also beating them off with a big stick. Like James, her glasses made her even more attractive, and at sixteen she was just settling in to becoming a great beauty, a fact which was emphasised by the sheer weight of potential dates.
“Poor Charlotte,” Martha giggled in the dorm one night as Lily prepared to head off to one of Slughorn’s gatherings. “Tilden Toots just asked her to the ball.”
“Toots?” Lily asked, giggling herself. “Ooh, that’s unfortunate. What did she say?”
“What do you think?” Martha said archly. “She was very polite, of course, but she turned him down. Honestly, why he even thought he’d have a chance …”
Lily was clearly trying to be fair. “Well, I suppose it’s possible he might bathe between now and then, to get rid of the smell of dragon dung.” Tilden, while a nice enough boy, was mad about Herbology and would spend every spare moment in the school greenhouses with Professor Sprout. As a result, he carried a permanent odour of the various manures used, the most prominent scent being that of dragon dung, which had to be one of the least attractive smells known to man or beast.
“So, how many has she turned down now?” Martha asked.
“Six. Or is it seven? I lose count,” said Lily, reaching under her bed for a stray shoe. “Anyway, I’ve got to go, she’s probably wondering where I am by now.” And, finding the shoe and putting it on swiftly, she hurried out the door and down the stairs.
Mary looked at Martha a little shyly. “So why does she keep sayin’ nae?” she asked. “I hear’ Max Whitby ask her, an’ he seems nice enough.”
I giggled – even I knew the answer to that. Martha confirmed it by rolling her eyes.
“She’s waiting for Remus to ask,” she said simply. “She’ll never admit it, of course, but that’s what she wants.”
“She’s fancied him for ages,” I added a little hesitantly. Martha looked at me quizzically. “Well, she’s not always that subtle,” I explained, feeling a little emboldened as she appeared interested in what I had to say. “I figured it out last year. Remember when she got all uptight when he got ill and Snape and Mulciber kept making those snide remarks?”
Martha smiled suddenly, sitting down on her bed. “That’s right,” she said. “I’d forgotten about that. She was a bit obvious, wasn’t she?”
“Well, does he know?” Mary asked. “Why doesna he ask her oot?”
Martha shrugged. “No idea if he knows or not. I certainly haven’t told Sirius, if that’s what you’re suggesting.” Her eyes flashed a little at the implication she might have betrayed a secret.
Mary shook her head. “Nae, I didna mean t’ sugges’ tha’,” she said hurriedly. Martha relaxed a little. “I jus’ wondered why he’d wait,” Mary went on. “Mos’ lads i’ this school’d kill t’ go oot wi’ her.”
“Well,” I said, thinking about it, “perhaps he doesn’t know. Boys are often really clueless about that sort of thing. Or, maybe he thinks she’s out of his league.”
“Who knows,” Martha said with a shrug, pulling out a lipstick and applying it distractedly. “Anyway, I’m out of here. Sirius was going to sneak out of Sluggy’s party and meet me by that big mirror on the fourth floor. See you!”
Whatever Remus’ reasoning, he didn’t ask Charlotte to the ball. Eventually, as November closed, she realised she couldn’t hold out waiting for him forever and agreed to go with Cadmus Branstone from Hufflepuff, a tall thin boy with dark blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, who I had dated early in fourth year.
Mary and I, naturally, weren’t nearly as sought-after. Near the end of the first week of December Hector Bole from Ravenclaw asked me to the ball when I was sitting in their common room with Bea, trying to dissuade her from playing practical jokes on the Hogwarts ghosts. (Definitely not a good idea, I argued, especially if Peeves works out who’s responsible.) Hector wasn’t handsome but wasn’t bad looking either, he seemed perfectly nice and it beat going without a date at all, so I agreed. Mary accepted a similar proposal from Gerry Stebbins, one of Hector’s dorm-mates, a day or so later.
For almost a week things were great in our dormitory – we all had dates and Mary and I were welcomed into the other girls’ conversations when they were planning hair and makeup styles for the ball, and swapping jewellery according to what would match each other’s dress robes. However, it wasn’t to last, and one night the cat was figuratively hurled in among the pixies.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, Martha came flouncing into the dorm at about eleven o’clock, looking decidedly bedraggled. The rest of us were getting ready for bed, but Martha was often out until midnight, choosing to spend that time with Sirius in a broom cupboard somewhere.
“That’s it, I’ve had enough,” she exclaimed, hurling herself onto her bed. “We’re breaking up.”
Lily spun around from her spot in the bathroom, toothbrush frozen mid-stroke. She hurriedly spat out the toothpaste and came back into the dorm.
“Martha! What happened?? You were going so well!!” She sat down on Martha’s bed and gave her a bear hug.
“‘Were’ is the key word,” Martha said bitterly. “Really, he’s fine. We don’t say much but that never really bothered me.”
Charlotte, who had been unbraiding her hair, joined Lily on Martha’s bed. “You want to talk about it?”
“Why not,” said Martha, still bitterly. “Everyone else will be.” She rolled over and looked at the canopy of her four-poster bed. “It’s because of the fan club,” she said after a pause. “Those bimbos who follow him around everywhere. Half of them aren’t even in his year, so that makes them hanging around his classrooms all the time all the more pathetic.”
We had all noticed them, of course, it was impossible not to: a bunch of twenty or so girls, from third to sixth year, who had their sights set on Sirius and made it their business to bump into him, sometimes literally, at every given opportunity, particularly now Christmas trimmings were up and mistletoe had been posted throughout the castle. While they were decidedly ridiculous, and most of the school joked about them behind their backs, their numbers had been swelling significantly over the past year or so, as he became taller and grew into his looks more, becoming even more good looking (if that was possible). Even people like Mary and me, who barely knew Sirius, knew that he found the fan club irritating and tedious, and would much prefer it if they disappeared entirely.
“They’ve been making my life hell,” Martha continued. “Jealous, of course. And I can handle that, but I’m getting sick of them Transfiguring my things or trying to pelt me with Dungbombs or Stinksap or whatever the fad is this week. So I asked him to talk to them.”
“You didn’t,” said Charlotte, respect clear in her voice. It was suspected that Sirius would rather dance with the giant squid that lived in the lake next to the castle than even acknowledge the fan club’s existence in public.
“I did,” said Martha. “I’m sick to death of it. And even if they don’t listen to McGonagall, or Dingle, or Slughorn, or any other of the teachers, they might listen to him.”
“And how did he take that?” Lily asked mischievously.
“Not particularly well,” Martha admitted. “He said it would be like opening Pandora’s box, once he started talking to them he’d never be rid of them. Not that his current approach seems to be working very well,” she added wryly.
“No, but he’s got a point,” said Charlotte. “I can just imagine how they’d be, they’d feel validated or something, that he was talking to them. They probably will disappear eventually if he ignores them for long enough.”
“I think Charlotte’s right,” I agreed with some hesitation, my confidence buoyed a little by the fact that I’d been included in their conversations more and more lately. “If he recognises them as a group they’ll never give up. They might as well apply to Dumbledore to become an official club.”
“I know, I know,” said Martha, clearly irritated. “But patience has never been one of my strengths. And, you know, they’re just infuriating! And the only way to stop it is to break up with him. So I told him that, I said it’s either you talk to the bloody fan club, or we’re over. And he chose the ‘we’re over’.”
Lily was looking serious now. “And you’re okay with that?” she asked softly.
Martha considered for a bit. “Actually, yeah, I am. It was never a deep relationship, it was just a bit of fun. And it definitely was fun,” she added wickedly, an almost maniacal grin crossing her face. “But if you can go out with someone for three months and hardly talk to them, well, that was us. It was all physical. I’ll miss it, but I’m not broken hearted or anything.”
Charlotte had made her way back to her own bed and pointed her wand at her head, making her braids finish undoing themselves. “So,” she said matter-of-factly, “do you want us to plot revenge on Sirius or on the fan club?”
Lily smiled mischievously. “Or we could do both, if you’d prefer.”
Martha grinned suddenly. “Oh, the fan club, definitely,” she said, her blue eyes sparkling. “What did you have in mind?”
The Sirius Black fan club was unofficially led by a fifth-year Ravenclaw named Elvira Vablatsky, who had been one of the first to latch onto Sirius – or attempt to – in about second year. She was a statuesque blonde girl with a pretty face and a keen mind, but her infatuation with Sirius made her a laughing stock with the rest of the school. Due to my spending a tidy amount of time in the Ravenclaw common room with Bea, I knew her reasonably well and as a result she tended to use me as a source of information for anything Gryffindor-related. I got along with her fine when she was focusing on things other than Sirius, but her one track mind generally made conversations with her rather difficult.
Over the past couple of years she had been joined by a few girls in our year – Carol Jones, a dark haired girl from Hufflepuff, and Greta Catchlove, a short, curvy and somewhat plump Ravenclaw, were the ones which most readily came to mind, though there were others. There were maybe eight girls from the year below us who had also joined in the throng – a couple or so from each of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, and even a Slytherin who was trying her hardest to be subtle about it. Another half dozen or so came from the year below that, obviously figuring that two years was an acceptable age gap for at-school relationships. And I was pretty sure that at least three or four of the fan club came from sixth or seventh year, clearly happy going for a younger man.
James Potter had a fan club of his own, but it was significantly smaller – not because he was that much uglier, but because everyone knew he wanted Lily. The half dozen girls who had set their sights on him saw him as a much more of a challenge and therefore worth spending some time on. He was tall, dark and handsome, just as Sirius was (though maybe not quite as handsome), and rich, just as Sirius was, but the Lily thing was either a significant deterrent or a significant turn-on, depending on the girl. James, of course, was even less interested in his following than Sirius was in his and paid them even less attention, if that was possible.
“Of course, it’ll be easy to get back at them,” Martha said the following morning as she pulled on her school robes. “They’re so obsessed with trying to get Sirius to notice them that you just have to attack their vanity. Make them ugly. They’ll hate it.”
“That won’t be difficult,” Lily mused. “With Greta and Carol, at least. They’re pretty ugly to start with, we don’t have to do much.”
“Harder with Elvira, though,” Charlotte pointed out, polishing her glasses on her robes. “She’s a bit of a stunner, really. If she didn’t keep throwing herself at him she might have even had a chance.”
“Yeah, well,” Martha said sourly, “don’t let that stop you. She’s going to have to be the main target, I think, considering she’s basically the leader. Turn her hair to Murtlap tentacles or something, that’d do the job.”
“Maybe not that,” Lily said slowly, giving her wand a bit of a twirl, “but certainly something along those lines . Leave it with me and I’ll see what I can come up with.”
Over the next twenty-four hours Lily, Charlotte and Martha decided on their course of action. They picked as their targets the most prominent members of the club, namely Elvira, Carol Jones, Leda Madley, Greta Catchlove and, from fourth year, Primrose McLeod. Leda and Carol were both Hufflepuffs and the rest were in Ravenclaw, so there needed to be a bit of a combined effort to make sure they were all affected.
The prank itself took place in the Great Hall and was carried out by Lily and Charlotte, so that Martha could be witnessed sitting innocently at the Gryffindor table talking to Mary and me (on Lily’s request) so everyone would think she had nothing to do with it. Lily and Charlotte positioned themselves on either side of the door before breakfast the next morning and simply waited for their targets to walk in. As each one arrived, they suddenly became royal blue from head to toe, except for their faces which were bright pink and developed an interesting texture, rather like coarse sandpaper. The prank necessitated absolute accuracy in spell casting, as they had to be sure not to miss their targets, but Lily and Charlotte were both fairly precise and managed to carry it off without mishap.
The victims, on the other hand, were less than impressed, especially as none of them could seem to work out how to reverse the spells. Even Greta, who was best in our year at Charms, couldn’t figure out how to do it. In the end they were all sent to the hospital wing for Madam Pomfrey to weave her magic and get them back to normal.
“Oh, that was brilliant,” Martha giggled as Lily and Charlotte eventually joined us at the Gryffindor table. “Did you see their faces? Magnificent.”
“Well cast, too,” I added with admiration. “I could never have hit them from that distance.”
Lily just smiled and shook her head a little. “Course you could have,” she said, going a little pink. “You’ve got great aim, Laura. But yes, it was a good shot, wasn’t it?”
“An’ they had nae idea where it came from,” Mary added, smiling. “Ye could see them lookin’ aroond everywhere fer who micht hae done it, an’ they couldna work it oot. Ye did well.”
“How long do you think they’ll be in the hospital wing?” Martha asked, her eyes sparkling. “Any chance it’ll be all day, do you think?”
Lily shook her head. “I doubt it. They might miss a couple of classes, but even Madam Pomfrey probably won’t keep them too long. Can you imagine having that lot all locked up in there for any length of time? She’ll probably let them go just to be rid of them.”
“Nou there’s a poin’,” Mary giggled.
“You’re telling me,” Charlotte agreed. “Now, what’s for breakfast? I’m starving.”
Even Sirius seemed to appreciate the prank on his admirers, though he appeared none the wiser as to who was responsible. As always, Lily got away with everything, and not even Dumbledore seemed to realise she had been involved – or, if he did realise, she and Charlotte escaped a detention for it. Not that anyone (aside from Dione) resented her for her ingenuity in escaping punishments (though occasionally she was caught), more we appreciated her talent for it.
Martha, of course, now had to look around for another date for the upcoming ball. Fortunately for her she was Martha Hornby, belle of Hogwarts, and there wasn’t a lack of potential suitors. Finally, with less than a week to go, she chose Nestor Hopkirk, a sixth-year Ravenclaw boy who, according to rumour, ditched his original date once Martha agreed. Tall, strong, blonde and handsome, Nestor was one of the few boys at Hogwarts who could give James and Sirius a run for their money.
Sirius, it appeared, wasn’t terribly fussed at being replaced by Nestor. He also found a date quickly, settling on Fortuna Robins, a fourth-year Gryffindor who was Peter’s cousin and therefore a safe option. No one expected them to spend much time together at the ball, but for the sake of appearances it was considered important to at least arrive with a date, even if you didn’t do much else with them.
On Saturday night the week before the Yule Ball, Professor Slughorn held a Christmas party for his favourite students. These parties were well known for being sumptuous affairs involving copious amounts of food and drink, as well as having guests from earlier generations of the Slug Club making an appearance. These guests had in previous years included Bertie Bott (from Every Flavour Beans fame), Quidditch player Karl Broadmoor and breeder of winged horses Laurentia Fletwock. Even trash journalist Rita Skeeter once got an invitation, according to Lily, though why she would have even been in the Slug Club in the first place was beyond me.
Lily and Charlotte got back to the dorm well past midnight but we were still awake, waiting for their report on the party. While generally we had little interest in Slughorn’s gatherings the Christmas party was an exception, most probably due to the guests and also the season which made people get a little more excitable than usual. This year the guests included Cornelius Fudge, who was making quite a name for himself in the Ministry and was touted by some as a possible future Minister, Hamish MacFarlan, who used to play Quidditch for the Montrose Magpies and was now also in the Ministry, and well-known nutcase Hambledon Quince, who had publicly spouted a theory that wizards come from Mars and Muggles from mushrooms.
“It was hilarious,” Lily said with a giggle, which I suspected was due more to the drink that was rumoured to flow freely at these parties than anything else. “Fudge was holding court in the middle of the room, raving on and on about whatever had his goat up –”
“It was the anti-troll campaign that Artemius Lawson keeps trying to set up,” Charlotte interrupted. “You know, the sort of thing that’s so important that the Ministry has to concentrate on that rather than, well, I don’t know, catching You-Know-Who?” She rolled her eyes in a bit of an exaggerated way.
“Yes, that was it,” Lily said, giggling again. “Well, he was droning on and on, so much that even Slughorn was getting bored by it, but then his robes kept changing colour on him. Every five or ten seconds, just a subtle change, but they went from blue to pink without him noticing!”
“James and Sirius, of course,” Charlotte explained, hiccoughing a little. “Bored witless, as you’d expect, so they were practicing their Colour Change Charms. By the time Fudge noticed he was wearing fairy pink. And the boys were rolling around on the floor laughing while Fudge went the same colour as his robes. It was a scream.”
“But then Hamish MacFarlan arrived, so that was the last we saw of James and Sirius,” Lily went on a little scornfully.
Charlotte nodded, taking up the narrative. She was far more interested in Quidditch than Lily was anyway. “Yep, MacFarlane had a group in the corner and started telling us exactly how the Magpies had won so many championships while he was Captain. You know, bending the rules and, well, cheating – all those things that we’d thought they were doing but couldn’t prove.”
“And he actually admitted to it?” I asked, spellbound.
“That surprised me, too,” Charlotte admitted. “But I think it had a lot to do with the Firewhisky on offer – the more he drank, the more he told us. I almost wish I’d taken a quill so I could have taken notes, Dad would love to know some of that stuff.”
“Good thing Rita Skeeter wasn’t there this year, then, wasn’t it?” Martha said archly.
Charlotte nodded. “Well, if she was, I doubt he would have been nearly so talkative,” she said. “It certainly was interesting, though.”
“This was the best bit, though,” Lily said, starting to laugh again. “Hambledon Quince. I think he was getting annoyed that people weren’t paying him enough attention, so he cast Sonorus on himself …” She trailed off, laughing so hard she was having trouble talking. Eventually she recovered enough to go on. “Yes, so he made his voice loud and then announced to the whole party that centaurs were the result of a breeding program of Abraxans and Doxys gone haywire!”
This was very definitely the funniest thing we’d heard all night, and it took a while for the giggles to subside. “No wonder you’re so drunk,” Martha said after a while. “I’d be drinking, too, if I had to sit through speeches like that.”
Lily giggled again. “Clarrie had to walk us back to the common room,” she admitted. “We were having trouble getting our feet to go the right way.”
“Clarrie?” Martha asked, frowning. “Why him? I would have thought you’d have had plenty of other offers.”
“We chose Clarrie,” Charlotte said pointedly. “I thought that my brother would be a better chaperone than anyone else there.”
“Not even James?” Martha asked, smiling wickedly. She was always trying to get Lily to admit that she fancied him, a bit of a lost cause in my opinion.
“Hamish MacFarlan,” Lily explained, rolling her eyes. “We couldn’t have dragged James away from him if we’d tried.”
“Of course,” said Martha. “Well, how about Snivellus?” Of course, I thought, he was in the Slug Club too, probably due to his skill at Potions.
Lily glared at her. “Severus, you mean,” she snapped – she hated it when her friends used Snape’s nickname. “Good point. Charlotte, why didn’t Sev walk us back upstairs?”
“He was talking to Hambledon Quince,” Charlotte said. “I didn’t see any reason to interrupt, not when Clarrie was available.” Or, I thought, you didn’t see any reason to rescue someone you can’t stand from a torturous conversation with a nutter.
Fortunately the party was on a Saturday night, so Lily and Charlotte had Sunday to recover. Mary and I helped Martha look for some Sobering Solution when we went downstairs at breakfast time in an attempt to help them get over their evening, but we weren’t able to find any and didn’t know how to get into the kitchens to ask for some. And Slughorn, who was often quite happy to dole it out, wasn’t at breakfast either, most probably also feeling the effects of the night before. So unfortunately Lily and Charlotte had to deal with their aching heads in the traditional Muggle way, and there was nothing we could do to help them aside from staying out of the dorm and keeping the curtains closed.
By Sunday afternoon both girls were their usual selves again, both swearing off alcohol for life, or at least until they were required to get through another of Slughorn’s Christmas parties. Even this close to Christmas there was still a tidy bit of homework to get done, and after lunch Mary and I spied them in the library, looking a little tired but otherwise determined to finish their Charms essays. By supper they even had their appetites back and were at the Gryffindor table with Martha, joking away as they usually were and entertaining everyone within earshot of the various theories of Hambledon Quince. The party, it seemed, would live on as a key part of Hogwarts folklore.
Author's note: Yes, I know, the Yule Ball. It's my only departure from canon for this story (or at least, the only one I'm aware of). And my reasoning? Well, from the way it was discussed in GoF it sounded like it wasn't the first time it had been held, so I just extrapolated that to say that 20 years earlier it had been a regular occurrence. Maybe something happened later that stopped this practice, I'm not sure. Anyway, as far as I'm aware canon doesn't specifically EXCLUDE it, and I just couldn't get Slughorn's Christmas party to fit my storyline the same way. By all means argue against me, but that's why I did it.
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