Lynn Fritz did not seem to understand that I was in panic mode. She spent the entire last lesson of Care of Magical Creatures convincing me to go with her and Lily to Hogsmeade to try and find dresses for the Christmas Ball, which I'd finally agreed to, hoping it would get her to leave me alone. It didn't. She'd briskly moved on to dress styles and even more importantly, dates. I'd narrowly escaped.
The morning of the ball dawned with a notable lack of sun. When Lynn, Lily, and I left the castle to walk down to the village, the fierce wind of an impending snowstorm hit our faces like a thousand knives. When we finally got to the shelter of Gladrags, it took us a few moments to unfreeze and get enough of our winter gear off to speak properly.
"I say we look and get back to castle as quickly as possible," Lily gasped, finally freeing herself from her long scarlet scarf.
"Agreed," Lynn looked traumatized.
I walked around idly while they looked at the selection of fancier things. I hadn't been to Hogsmeade in ages, so I wandered over the window and peered out at the snow covered buildings. Everything looked almost exactly the same as I remembered it.
"Jane, aren't you getting anything?" Lily asked.
"No," I blushed. I already had a formal dress; it had never been worn and probably never would be.
"Aren't you going to the ball?" Lynn asked, wide-eyed, "I thought Alexander Derring asked you!"
"H-he did…" I admitted.
"Then why aren't you going?" Lily asked.
"I… told him no," I said it as quickly as I could.
"Really?" Lily frowned.
"Why?" Lynn asked.
"I just… don't really like him that way," I whispered. They would think it was a stupid reason.
"But at least you would have had a date to the ball!" Lynn protested.
I didn't answer. In truth, I couldn't get Sirius Black out of my head. The moment his lips touched mine, I was doomed. It had been absolutely breathtaking… until I freaked out and ran away. That was probably why Sirius apparently already had a date for the ball, and I'd lamely turned down the only person who had ever asked me to anything, aside from Octavius. Even he had a date, though he wouldn't tell me who it was.
"Well, maybe next time," Lily shrugged and pointedly glared at Lynn. Ever since Sirius' kiss, in fact, Lynn had been making even greater effort to get me back to normal while Lily tried to get her to leave me alone, insisting I just need some space and then I'd go back to the same old Jane.
I didn't think I'd go back to normal ever. I'd successfully avoided coming face to face with Sirius in a one-on-one setting ever since his birthday, and I didn't plan on that changing any time soon.
A half hour later, we wrapped ourselves back up and left the store, Lynn and Lily both tightly clutching bags. Lynn had found a dress in deep blue with little diamonds that slowly moved and twinkled, very much like the night sky. Lily's was emerald green with a high neck, long sleeves, and a flowing skirt. Their dates would be very happy, whomever those might be. Avoiding Sirius had often meant avoiding the two of them, and I hadn't asked them who they were going with.
Back in the castle, we parted ways, Lynn and Lily needing a few hours to defrost before they had to start getting ready for the feast and ball. I contemplated going back to the library--I was three books away from being exactly halfway through it's entire contents; Madam Pince was delighted to give me the exact count.
"Jane!" somebody called my name just as I decided, for once, I'd rather warm by the fire in the common room.
Sirius was walking towards me. I considered running, but thought it might be rude, considering I'd clearly seen and heard him. My legs probably wouldn't have carried me either, so I stayed rooted to the spot, slowly turning red.
"Hi," he stopped directly in front of me.
"H-hello," I could feel myself flushing.
"I'm glad I caught you," his eyes were blazing, "Do you have a moment to talk?"
I nodded. It had to happen eventually…
His hand was suddenly on the small of my back, leading me to an empty classroom. He physically propped me on a desk before crossing has arms and speaking without hesitation.
"You've been very hard to find lately--" I nodded ashamedly "--and I need to tell you I'm not sorry."
I opened my mouth, confused, but he held up a warning finger for silence.
"It was great being able to talk to you, and it was even better being able to kiss you," for the first time, he seemed hesitant, "What I really want to know is, would you please let me escort you to the ball this evening?"
Now glad that he had taken care that I was leaning against something solid, I searched his face for a sign that he was joking. My heart seemed to be trying to pound out of my chest.
"I know it's short notice," he hastened to say, "but, I had to ask."
He wasn't joking.
"I--I thought you had a date," I stammered.
"Oh," the corner of his mouth twitched, "Lynn just kind of spread that around to the general population," he ran a hand through his hair uncomfortably, "I don't actually have a date, yet…"
My vocal chords seemed to have stopped working.
"I would say you could let me know, but considering it starts in less than four hours," he grinned, trying to ease the tension. When I spoke, somebody else's voice seemed to issue from my mouth.
"You'll go with me, then?" his head was cocked slightly to one side, a crooked grin on his face.
"Great. I'll be waiting at the foot of the spiral staircase at eight," he actually leaned forward and briefly, lightly kissed my cheek. Then he turned and left me there to hyperventilate.
I'd miraculously pulled myself together by eight o'clock. All the other girls had already gone to meet their dates. I gave myself a last once over in the mirror and decided I didn't look bad considering my entire body was shaking like a leaf as I got ready.
My dress was black, extremely fitted on top with a full, flowing skirt. The high bateau neckline in front was not mirrored in the back, where a deep V exposed much of my bare skin. I'd added a long string of pearls, which I looped around my neck once before letting the excess drape down my back instead of my front. My hands were covered with delicate black lace gloves, and I'd even strapped on a pair of black high heels I would likely break my ankle in. My hair was pinned back into an elegant french twist adorned with a pearl and diamond comb my grandmother had given me.
When I could stall no more, I took a deep breath and descended the stairs. People stared as I crossed the common room, but I did my best to ignore them. I paused at the top of the spiral staircase and took another deep breath.
Sirius was leaning on a large vase halfway down the corridor. When he saw me, he stood upright and walked to meet me. He'd chosen to wear a traditional black and white Muggle tuxedo; though where he'd gotten such a perfectly tailored one escaped me. A deep blush crept up my face, and both of us stopped simultaneously two feet apart.
"Jane, you are simply stunning," he took one of my hands in his and bent slightly to graze his lips across it, his eyes on mine the entire time.
"T-thank you," I exhaled, "you look lovely too."
"Thank you," he grinned, "shall we?"
I nodded as he extended his arm, which I accepted, hoping he wouldn't feel me shaking.
"I thought we'd stop somewhere for a drink before going to the ball," he looked down at me, "does that sound good?"
"Where--" I wondered aloud, but he was quick to answer.
"I know I place," there was a mischievous glint in his eye.
I smiled, but didn't say anything.
"Are you cold?" he murmured a short while later.
"No," thankfully I sounded much calmer than I felt, cursing myself for not being able to keep my nervous shivering under control.
We descended the marble staircase into the entrance hall, but it seemed most students had already gone into the great hall. Through the open doors I could see part of the decorations and huge crowd of people, but Sirius led me in a different direction.
I wondered where we were going, but didn't ask. Only a few moments later, he stopped abruptly outside a door. He turned the handle and pushed it open.
"After you," he bowed me into the room, which was comprised of silk couches, a few small tables with chairs, and a blazing fire in the carved marble fireplace.
"But… isn't this a visitor's parlor?" my hands were clasped together with nerves. I wasn't sure we were supposed to be in here.
"Yes," he smiled and walked over to a small bar in the corner, "what would you like to drink?"
"Anything," I sank down onto the couch. He joined me briefly, a glass of firewhiskey for himself and a glass of elderflower wine for me.
"To a great evening," his glass clinked against mine.
"It hasn't even begun yet," I said quietly.
"I don't need to be in divination to know this is going to be great," he made a face, "once I stop cracking cheesy jokes."
I smiled more at his reaction to it than the joke itself, but it helped ease a small amount of my tension. Thankfully, he kept the conversation light as we sipped our beverages, moving from my friendship with Octavius to Battlestar Galactica to various pranks they'd pulled together since they met.
When both of us had emptied our glasses, he suggested we join the crowd in the great hall. My nerves, which had been steadily ebbing away, flared up again. People were going to be looking at me tonight, with a date like Sirius. What had I been thinking when I agreed to go to this with him?
He again offered me his arm and we walked the short distance to the huge double doors leading into the hall. Upon entering, the decorations I'd merely glimpsed earlier hit me full force. The usual twelve Christmas trees were towering over everyone, including Hagrid, who was standing in the far corner drinking deeply from a mug the size of my head. Every wall was draped with green, red, and gold while live fairies flitted around the ceiling, casting dazzling, flickering light on everything in the hall.
The gathering was the most colorful I'd seen at Hogwarts, most people choosing to wear a brighter color than the traditional black. Small, linen covered tables were placed around the edges of the hall, creating a large dance floor in the center of the room. Where the staff table usually stood was a raised platform with a full band.
I looked at Sirius, prepared to comment on the magnificence of the room, but when I saw that he'd been gazing at me the entire time I'd been gaping at the decorations, the words caught in my throat. Some of the people nearest us had already begun to stare.
"Would you like to dance?" he leaned in close to ask me, one hand on my waist. He didn't seem to notice the few girls who were now gaping at this contact, filthy looks on most of their faces.
I nodded, hoping we'd blend in better with a crowd of people preoccupied with dancing. Luckily a slow song was playing.
He led me into the crowd of swaying bodies, and my heart beat so rapidly I thought it would burst when his fingers grazed my bare back. One hand clasping mine, the other resting at the small of my back, warmth spreading outward from the point of contact, he led me in a flawless waltz.
"You're a very good dancer," I said quietly after a few moments.
"Thank you. One of the few useful things I learned growing up with… well… you know," he shrugged, but I noticed his jaw tighten slightly, "you're quite the dancer yourself."
"Oh, thank you," I blushed, grateful he probably couldn't properly see my face.
We remained silent for the rest of song, but when the music ended, his hands stayed exactly where they were. A new, much more upbeat tune began blaring across the hall. Everyone around us began dancing exuberantly, but Sirius held me close to him. His intense eyes remained firmly locked onto mine, and though I normally would have, I couldn't seem to look away from him.
I jumped away from Sirius only to see Lynn charging towards us, pulling Octavius along behind her. She looked absolutely beautiful in her new dress, with deep blue eyeshadow, a diamond necklace, and softly curling hair falling down her back.
"I thought you weren't coming!" she went on, then seemed to notice Sirius standing next to me. He replaced his hand on the small of the back, which had dropped when I'd jumped.
"Lynn, you look gre--"
"Jane?" Octavius cut Sirius off and looked questioningly at me.
I noticed Lynn hadn't dropped his hand, and only raised an eyebrow at him in response.
"You look…wow…" he didn't seem to notice his wide eyed staring was making me uncomfortable.
"Thanks," I muttered.
"Sirius, I think James was looking for you. He may have seen Lily snogging Ian Montgomery," Lynn frowned.
"What?" Sirius sounded alarmed.
As Lynn explained, Octavius seemed to notice Sirius for the first time. His eyes travelled from his face down to his suit, and unmistakably came to rest on his arm that was around me. A pained expression crossed his face, but I wondered if I'd imagined it, as a moment later it was gone.
Lynn was finishing her hurried explanation of the situation when a dancing body struck me and threw me into Sirius.
"Sorry," I muttered, embarrassedly.
"Let's move off the dance floor," Sirius suggested, then led me to the edge of the room behind Tavi and Lynn. The thumb of the hand on my back began tracing soft, tingling circles on my flesh and my knees slightly gave out. HIs reflexes were quick; he grasped me tightly to keep me upright.
"Yes," I breathed.
The second we reached the edge of the crowd of dancers, Lily and her date, whom I recognized as a burly Gryffindor seventh year I hadn't known by name, rushed up to us.
"Jane you came!" Lily beamed at me. Lily was breathtaking; the green of her dress made her bright green eyes pop even more and her long red hair was piled elegantly on her head. "You look beautiful! Who did you come with?"
Sirius had disappeared the same moment Lily had come up to us, and the spot on my back where his hand had been resting was strangely cold in it's absence.
"Thank you, I--"
"She's here with Sirius!" Lynn whispered excitedly and Lily's eyes widened.
"Really? What happened?" she demanded of me.
"Oh, well, he--he asked me to come, and I accepted," I blushed furiously while Octavius stared at me, eyes wider than Lily's. Ian Montgomery looked annoyed.
"Jane, you need to learn how to tell stories properly. I want every detail," Lynn linked her arm in mine. My eyes snapped to Octavius, silently pleading with him to get me out of this, but he just shrugged.
Turned out he didn't even need to help, as the next second a loud bang echoed around the hall. The band abruptly stopped playing and everyone was craning their necks trying to see what had happened. The need to see was no longer a necessity when McGonagall's shrieks filled the hall.
"What were you thinking, attacking another student during the Christmas Ball? You are to go back to the common room immediately. Fifty points from Gryffindor and expect to hear from me about detention!"
A moment after the yelling had stopped, James Potter shoved roughly past, looking furious, McGonagall, thin lipped with nostrils flaring, close behind. Moments later a stretcher floated through the students, steered by Horace Slughorn, as his student, Severus Snape was apparently the one who had been attacked.
"I can't believe it," Lily immediately fumed, "the nerve of him, to attack in the middle of the ball. It's--"
"You don't want to finish that sentence," Sirius was back, and he looked almost as furious as James.
"Oh, and why is that, Mister Black?" she snapped back.
"He had every right. If you would've heard the things Snivellus was saying, I'd be shocked if you didn't attack him yourself," Sirius growled.
"That still doesn't mean--"
"Snape wouldn't've hesitated to attack them," Lynn snapped, cutting her off. I'd never witnessed Lynn looking as annoyed as she did then. "Stop feeling guilty about not being friends with Severus Snape."
"Lynn, he was my best friend for--"
"Was," she pointed out, "not after what he called you at the end of last year. You told me yourself he fell into the wrong crowd and there was no coming back."
She sighed, muttering something about how James and lost all the points she'd earned during Slughorn's final class of the term.
"Do you want to go dance or something?" Ian asked her, clearly wanting to get away from everyone in the small group.
"No," Lily snapped.
"Fine," Montgomery stalked off and disappeared in the crowd.
"Sorry about that," Sirius' hand found it's way back to it's former resting place, and he sounded much less upset when he addressed me.
"It's okay," I gave him a small smile.
"Hey maybe we should all go back to Gryffindor Tower," Lynn suggested to the whole group.
There was a general murmur of agreement, so we all made our way out of the hall. As we were leaving I glanced into the crowd and saw Fifi LaFolle, arms crossed, eyes narrowed at Sirius and I. The look she was giving made goosebumps prickle across my skin.
Back In Gryffindor Tower, James was nowhere to be seen. Remus, who had apparently decided to skip the ball, was sitting in an armchair by the fire reading a book. He looked up when Lily plopped into the seat across from him and heaved a huge sigh. He looked slightly alarmed when Lynn, Octavius, Sirius, and I all took seats around him as well.
"What are all of you doing back here?" he looked around at all of us, and quickly looked away when his eyes met mine.
"Lily snogged Ian Montgomery and Prongs got angry. So did Severus, I mean, Snivellus. Anyway, Prongs was easily provoked, so he shot that curse, you know the one that makes--"
"Enough Peter!" Lily screeched.
"Sorry," he squeaked. Peter had seemed to just suddenly appear. He was wearing black dress robes, so I assumed he'd gone to the ball, but I hadn't seen him at all before he sat on arm of the couch and answered Remus' question.
"Right," Remus seemed keen to get back to his book.
Lily's bad mood persisted, but everyone ignored her huffing and talked amongst themselves. Sirius summoned some butterbeers for us, and we eventually got Remus to put his book down and join in. By and by, Lily's arms uncrossed. A short while after that, she joined in the conversation. Someone had brought out a deck of cards, and Sirius, Remus, and Octavius each took charge of teaching me a wizarding card game called Merlin's Beard, the loser of which, sprouted a long white beard that didn't go away for hours. James came down the stairs in time to see Octavius groan in defeat, long white whiskers growing at a rapid pace until they were long enough to tuck into a belt.
Though the contact between James and Lily remained icy for the remainder of the night, we all managed to enjoy ourselves. The seemingly bottomless supply of butterbeers, and eventually firewhiskey for some, ensured that I talked at least slightly more than I normally would have. Sirius stayed next to me the entire evening, and even though I couldn't help blushing every time I spoke to him, I at least spoke to him.
Octavius and I decided to go back to Ravenclaw Tower only when we realized it was three o'clock in the morning. Sirius offered to walk us back, and we waited in silence while Tavi and Lynn said goodnight. Sirius muttered something I couldn't quite catch as he tapped his wand on a piece of parchment right before we left through the portrait hole. After studying it for a few moments, he began leading us through the castle. I was barefoot so the clicking of my heels against the floor would not attract attention.
We reached the spiral staircase safely, and Sirius followed us halfway up, then grabbed my hand to stop me going any further.
"Right, I'll just…" Octavius didn't finish his sentence and hurried the rest of the way up the stairs.
Sirius stepped up onto the same step as me so our bodies were pressed together in the small space.
"Thank you," he wrapped his arms around me, and my heart instantly quickened, "I had a wonderful time. Did you enjoy yourself?"
"Very much," I smiled up at him. He leaned towards me, and my eyes closed automatically. He hesitated just before our lips met, our breaths mingling, then he lightly brushed his lips across mine. My entire body shivered, making him hug me tighter, and one hand slid up my back until it cradled my head. His lips were on mine and I was swooning. I almost moaned aloud when his tongue gently grazed my top lip, but then he pulled away.
"Jane, I know it's a bit soon to ask, but I think I have to--" my heart thundered in my chest, "--Will you be my girlfriend?"
"What?" my voice sounded like I'd just been punched in the stomach. I reeled and knew no more.
A/N: Yes, it's a very long chapter, I hope you don't mind! Poor Jane is just too shy for her own good...
Thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed so far!
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