Saturday the first of May dawned bright and clear, but the sixth year girls didn’t see much of the sunshine.
“It’ll take hours of preparation to get ourselves looking presentable.” Louisa Castles had told Lily the day before “The hufflepuffs have got proper hairdressers in and everything – and I will not be outdone by Jenny Nightshade. It’s a big day you know.”
Lily had rolled her eyes.
“You’d think someone was getting married,” she complained to Elizabeth, as Mary dragged them out of bed at nine o clock on Saturday, to begin the pampering. Beth stayed quiet – she had been more subdued than normal since she had asked Remus Lupin to the ball, and he had turned her down. It was the bravest thing she had ever done, but apparently he was going home this weekend.
Rachel didn’t have a date either, as the only boys left were Slytherins and Peter Pettigrew, so at least Beth wouldn’t be on her own. It was while Lily was washing Mary’s hair for her, in a basin of sleakeasy’s hair potion, that the subject of James and Sirius was once again broached.
“So,” Mary began. “What’s the plan for tonight then? How are you going to deal with Sirius and James?”
“Very badly probably.”
“Lily, take this seriously.”
“I honestly don’t know. I’m going to be nice to James, but in a friendly way – no flirting.”
“No, definatley not. You’re not a natural flirt hun, you’ll just embarrass yourself.”
“Hey!” Lily laughed, and shot a jet of cold water from her wand over the top of Mary’s head. Mary screamed. “You’re done.” Said Lily. Mary flipped her head back, showering Lily with water.
“Cheers,” she said, as she towel dried her (now straight) hair. “But yeah - i’m only joking, just don’t go too mad with James. Sirius is going through a lot at the moment.”
“I wish me and Sirius were just going the ball together, it’d be so much less hassle.”
“Hmm.” said Mary.
Sirius meanwhile, was thinking of a completely different solution.
“I don’t think any of us should go.” He told the other Marauders, as they sat by the lake under their usual tree. “It’s not fair to Moony.”
James looked devastated.
“I can’t believe we forgot.” He said. “Moony I’m so sorry, I was just all wrapped up in the whole Lily thing. But, if you want -” he took a deep breath. “’Course we’ll stay with you. Marauders come first.”
Remus looked troubled. He was touched that James had offered to give up the ball, and a night with Lily to support him during his transformation as usual. He wanted to tell him it was okay, he should go, he’d be fine. But then there was the problem of Sirius and Lily. He knew why Sirius didn’t want to go to the ball – but then James looked so sad...
“No, it’s fine.” He said, finally. “It’s just one night – I managed okay before fifth year, and I can manage again this once. Go. Have a good time.”
James looked pleadingly at Sirius.
“Yes,” Sirius began, against his will – trying not to hate Remus for this betrayal. “You should go James, you can’t miss your chance with Lily. But I’ll stay with Moony.”
“But what about Rowan?” asked Pettigrew.
“You can take her.”
Peter began to stutter that he couldn’t, before James saved him.
“It’s okay wormy, - Sirius don’t you think...”
“You go too, Sirius.” Said Lupin. “You can’t leave Rowan, she’s looking forward to it.”
“You’re leaving that Bethany girl.” Sirius shot back.
“It’s Elizabeth. And she’s better off without me.”
“No.” Said Lupin. “You’re all going, and you’re all going to enjoy yourselves. I’ll be fine. End of story.”
And for once, everyone listened to him.
Lily had arranged to meet James in the entrance hall, rather than in the common room – the other girls would be meeting with their dates when they got there, and Lily didn’t want to make a big deal about the fact she was going with James. When she had finally told the other Gryffindor girls of course, it had seemed like a big deal (Alice was practically jumping up and down with excitement) but now she wanted to play it down as much as possible.
As she made her way down the grand staircase however, she felt strangely excited. She was wearing sleeveless dress robes, in a violent shade of red – a brave choice with her hair, but one that made her look (although she didn’t know it) like a film star. The robes had a draped neck, and a row of pearl buttons down the back. Matching pearl earrings hung from her lobes, and her hair was up in an elegant twist. She had to admit she’d made an effort. She had butterflies and her heart-beat was unsteady as she kept imagining what James would look like in dress robes. She knew Sirius would look amazing as usual, but for some reason it wasn’t towards Sirius that her thoughts tended. As they turned a corner of the staircase Lily spotted James. He was wearing navy blue dress robes and looking extremely smart – despite the fact that his hair was as messy as ever. He was talking excitedly to Mary’s date, Jack Davies of hufflepuff, and he didn’t have his glasses on. Lily felt a bit disappointed.
“He’s not wearing his glasses.” She said sadly to Mary.
“He looks good!”
“But he doesn’t look like James.”
Sirius was standing on James’s other side, and Lily felt a twinge of guilt at the fact that she hadn’t noticed him right away. His dress robes were dark red, and he looked more gorgeous than she had ever seen him. His arm was wrapped around Rowan Finnegan, but he looked mildly bored. Rowan looked stunning, in dress robes of apple green. Pettigrew was standing on Rowan’s other side, ogling her shamelessly – she looked slightly uncomfortable. Lily let the others go first as they neared the foot of the staircase, hoping for a few more moments to figure out how to greet Sirius and James. But then James looked up.
“Oh merlin.” whispered Alice. “look at the way he’s looking at you Lily.”
Lily didn’t need telling. She was blushing furiously as she stepped onto the floor of the entrance hall, and James came rushing over.
“Hi Evans.” He said, smiling. Lily grinned at the use of her surname, somehow it made her feel more at ease. “You look beautiful.”
“er, thanks.” She replied. “You look very nice too.”
Behind them, Sirius was determinedly averting his eyes. Lily smiled at him awkwardly over James’s shoulder.
“Oh,” said James. “You girls know Rowan, don’t you?” They all nodded and exchanged greetings. Alice’s date, (a ravenclaw boy she sat next to in charms) had appeared, who squeezed Alice’s hand nervously as he was introduced to the marauders.
“Pity Remus couldn’t be here,” said Rachel.
James glanced at Elizabeth.
“I know, he really wanted to come as well.”
She smiled, and James suggested that they move into the great hall. He took Lily’s hand, leading the way and the others fell into step behind them. The space between their two bodies suddenly felt incredibly small, and to Lily it was as if there was a frission of electricity between James’s side and her own. She felt herself drifting closer to him as they walked, constantly aware of whenever her hip came close to bumping against the hand that grasped hers. She was concentrating so much on this that she barely noticed the decorations that rendered the great hall almost unrecognizable. Gigantic flowered garlands hung from the ceiling, and were draped around every window. The house tables were gone, and in their place were several smaller, round tables covered with white table cloths, each with a large bunch of flowers for a centrepiece. Ribbons in pink, white and green were threaded around the table and chair legs, and at one end of the hall a large stage now stood, upon which a flurry of white petal blossom was falling.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” said James. Lily nodded.
“A bit OTT, but pretty.”
“I meant the sky.” He said. Lily looked up, registering for the first time the ceiling of the great hall, which was reflecting the glory of the sky outside. A bright spring evening, the sun was in the process of setting, casting a rosy pink glow across the horizon, and bathing the great hall in a luminous natural light. It was much more than pretty.
James steered Lily towards a nearby table, followed by the others. He held a chair out for her to sit down, and she did so, feeling slightly awkward. Sirius and Rowan, Elizabeth, Rachel and Peter joined them. The others seated themselves close by.
“Well,” said Sirius. “This is cosy.”
Lily shot him a look – was he going to be difficult all night? But he was smiling as he spoke, and she came to the conclusion that maybe he was just entering into the spirit of things. Wishful thinking maybe.
“Very cosy!” James agreed, looking jolly. He placed both his arms on the table, pointing his elbows outward and taking up as much space as possible. “We can all fit though, if none of us take up too much space.”
“Give over.” Lily said, knocking one elbow out of the way with pretended irritation. James turned to her in mock outrage.
“Well!” he exclaimed, and with a swift movement, he dipped his hand into the vase that held the flowers, and flicked water into Lily’s face.
“Watch her make-up!” Rachel objected. “I spent half an hour on that!”
The boys laughed loudly, and watching Sirius’s face, Lily had the sneaking suspicion that his laughter at least might have been malicious. He caught her eye, and with a quirk of his eyebrows, aped James’s gesture of flicking water. Peter joined in too, giggling idiotically.
“Hey, come on!” Lily laughed. “Stop bullying me!”
James put up a hand, trying to sound more responsible.
“Hey, that’s enough you two – sorry Lily, we’ll stop now. My fault.” He smiled at her, and them. Sirius’s smile faltered.
“Come on Prongs,” he said. “You’ve got a good game going here, why stop?”
“Quick, look innocent!” James muttered, and the girls (and Peter) began to giggle.
The hall was filling up now, slowly, and Lily noticed that there was some kind of discussion going on at the teacher’s table.
“Do you think they’re deciding whether to start the dancing yet?” Rowan asked Sirius. He shrugged half heartedly, and she looked slightly irritated. “Well I wish they’d get on with it.” She continued, tucking her long hair behind one ear. “Pretty much everyone’s here now.”
And sure enough, shortly after Rowan spoke Dumbledore got to his feet. He was wearing robes of spring green for the occasion, and there was a large daffodil tucked into the buttonhole of one lapel.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, and the hall grew quiet. “Welcome to this most joyous of occasions – a ball, and what’s more, a ball to celebrate the coming of spring! I won’t detain you long, as of course you don’t really want to listen to my old man’s ramblings, but first I must ask you to thank some of your own – the well renowned ‘Hogwarts Quidditch Society’, who have raised the funds necessary to make this event possible, and decorated our great hall so spectacularly! I dare say you will agree with me that they have done a splendid job!”
There was applause, and Rachel became the first to congratulate Rowan on her efforts.
“The ribbons were my idea.” She grinned, stealing a glance at Sirius to see if he looked impressed. He didn’t.
“The food will be along sometime soon,” Dumbledore continued, “courtesy of our very efficient house elves, and there will be drinks served at the bar to the left of the stage – those who are of age will of course be able to purchase alcohol, although we are trusting you all to drink responsibly.” Dumbledore’s eyes lingered at the table the marauders were sitting at, and his blue eyes twinkled. “And now, let the dancing begin!” He clapped his hands, and the musicians (who had begun crowding onto the stage as he spoke) struck up a lively folk tune.
“Positions, everyone!” cried Professor Sprout jovially, and people left and right began to get to their feet. The lines of the dance were forming, roughly one for each year group, and although it promised to be mayhem, Lily felt a strange excitement growing inside her.
“You ready?” asked James, holding his hand out to her.
“As I’ll ever be!”
She smiled around at the others, to make sure herself and James didn’t look too cosy, and then allowed herself to be led to the dance floor. They shuffled into line, Mary and Jack Davies on one side, Alice and her partner on the other. It was a slight relief to not be beside Sirius, yet she wanted to share this with him in a way – they were all supposed to be friends, she would have liked to see everyone enjoying themselves equally. But that wasn’t going to happen, and she realised that this was predominantly her fault. With this happy thought, Lily threw herself into the dancing with an air of false enjoyment, barely meeting James’s eyes, as she knew one look at them would cheer her up – and she didn’t deserve to be cheered up.
After a few minutes of set dancing, the crowd dispersed and the boys left to buy drinks, James touching Lily lightly on the arm as he left her. The Gryffindor girls gathered around a table together, and were joined by Rowan, and her friend Jenny Nightshade.
“Sooooo, how’s it going girls? You all look gorgeous by the way.” Jenny began. She was looking surprisingly elegant, in champagne coloured dress-robes, her hair a mass of curls. She’d slightly overdone it with her make-up though.
“So do you!” Lily replied. “Your robes are beautiful!”
They exchanged further comments on dress and hair before Jenny inevitably started on the subject of Sirius.
“So,” she said. “Come on Rowan, how’s it going? I was watching you from our table, you barely spoke to him! If I was in your position I’d have got his whole life story out of him by now.”
“I believe you.” Rowan answered darkly. “But you sound just like my ma, stop bossing me so much will you?”
“But do you like him?”
Lily held her breath.
“Not as much as I thought.” Rowan admitted, and Lily relaxed. “He’s not exactly very attentive, but he’s pretty to look at, so I think I can cope with him for one evening.”
Everyone laughed, (except Jenny, who was looking exasperated) and Lily felt a rush of liking for Rowan that jealousy had previously prevented. It wasn’t long before the boys were back, and Lily began to wonder whether she should have ordered something as strong as Ogdens and coke – she wasn’t the biggest fire-whisky drinker, and (for obvious reasons) she didn’t want to get too drunk.
“I hope you can handle your drink Lily,” James smiled at her, as she sipped gingerly from her glass.
“Of course she can.” Rowan interjected with a grin. “She’s got Irish blood, look at that hair! Of course she can handle her whisky!”
“Well you never know, she could be Scottish – or Welsh. Evans sounds more welsh I think. Are you Irish Lily?”
“I’m English as far as I know.”
“Patriotic! I like it.”
They exchanged a smile, and Lily thought (not for the first time) just how nice his smile was. It made his eyes sparkle.
“Well, I’m not patriotic. Give me an Irish girl any time – the English are boring.”
Sirius. Lily turned her head to face him, trying not to look hurt. He had his most unpleasant expression on and his eyes seemed to dare her to object to his words. After all, she had just been gazing into James’s eyes.
“Charming!” Rachel laughed. “Insult our whole country why don’t you?”
“Ah,” James replied. “Don’t take offence girls, Sirius is only trying to charm the lovely Rowan.”
“And he’ll need the luck of the Irish for that!” Rowan added, “As so far all he’s done is ignore me – he’s got a lot of catching up to do.” She raised an eyebrow at Sirius meaningfully.
“Oh, is that so?” Sirius replied, smouldering at Rowan in a way that Lily usually thought of as just for her.
“Get a room.” Elizabeth muttered, and the rest of the table laughed.
“Anyone coming up to dance?”Mary, who had just returned from the dance floor with Jack, hung over the back of Lily’s chair as she asked the question. “I think Jack’s had enough. Lightweight.” She grinned at her partner fondly.
“Er,” he replied in his defence. “be fair, while i’ve been dancing, this lot haven’t got off their backsides! We haven’t even stopped for drinks yet – and there is a large gillywater calling my name.”
The students around the table laughed.
“You might as well stick to pumpkin juice mate,” Sirius advised. “Gillywater’s like 2%.”
“It’s refreshing.” was Jack’s answer, “And Ogden’s doesn’t agree with me – you two have seen the results!”
“Lets go.” Mary muttered pulling Lily to her feet. “This is where they get started on all their drunk stories, I’m guessing – long-winded ones with not much basis in fact.”
“You going to dance?” James asked, as the girls got to their feet.
“Yep,” Lily replied, patting him on the shoulder lightly. “You stay and talk, I don’t mind – i’ll save you a dance for later.”
He grinned at her, but in a less self-assured way than usual, pleasantly unsettled by the casual way she had touched him. Mary muttered into her ear as they walked away.
“Lily, Merlin he is smitten. Be careful.”
“Nevermind. Just, maybe you should...”
“Hey, wait for us!” Rachel’s voice drifted from behind. She and Elizabeth had caught them up, wanting to dance too, and the conversation had to be dropped. They danced for a while, and Lily tried to forget Sirius and James for the moment, and concentrate on enjoying herself, with her friends. Louisa Castles, dancing nearby with the Ravenclaws soon joined them, dressed in short-sleeved purple robes with a low neck and lots of embellishments.
“Charity shop buy!” she informed Lily conspiritorily, before going on to congratulate her about finally accepting James.
“It’s what the wholeschool has been waiting for, for years you know! I actually screamed when I heard!”
“We’re just here as friends!”
Louisa raised her eyebrows un-believingly.
“Save it for the judge Lily. I don’t know why you’re so embarrassed!”
Lily laughed this off, as she had similar speeches from the Gryffindor girls. This encounter however, made her realise that the whole school was probably thinking along the same lines. In fact, It was possible James was too – had she ever actually spelled it out to him that this wasn’t the start of a relationship, that she just saw this as a friends date? No, she hadn’t. And now she would have to say something. She couldn’t let him think...
Sirius Black’s voice startled her out of her stupor, and she spun to face him. He was dancing with Rowan, and only glanced over his shoulder as he said “James is sat on his own – well, with Peter, but he might as well be on his own. Go and ask him to dance. You’re his partner aren’t you?”
He was almost growling at her. Lily looked over, and sure enough, James was sitting staring into space, determinedly not watching the dance floor, while Pettigrew sat beside him guzzling his drink with great concentration. Lily bit her lip – Sirius really cared about James, it was clear. He wanted him to be happy, he didn’t want James to be on his own, despite his jealousy. Or maybe he wasn’t jealous - maybe he was genuinely falling for Rowan now? Either way it didn’t matter, Lily still had to tell James that they could only be friends, Sirius or no Sirius. First however, she wanted to have one last dance with him, to have him look at her the way he always did for a few minutes longer, before he realised what a thoughtless cow she really was.
Lily nodded at Sirius and excused herself from her friends. She walked over to James’s table, arriving just as Pettigrew left it, heading back to the bar.
“Hey,” she said. He looked up at her, and suddenly it was much more difficult to speak.
“Want to dance?”
James’s grin stretched wide across his face, and he got to his feet, taking Lily’s hand in his.
“Lily Evans,” he told her, arranging his grin into a mock solemn expression. His eyes twinkled. “I thought you’d never ask.”
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