Chapter 23 : The May Day Ball (Part II)
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“You okay, Lily?” James asked, after spinning her under his arm. She laughed quietly.
“Yeah – yep, I’m fine.” She smiled up at him then, trying to maintain eye-contact despite her miss-givings. “What do you think of the ball?”
“I think it’s great.” He answered. “Especially the company.”
“The company is pretty great.” She agreed flippantly, hoping that James had meant to sound equally casual. He smiled at her. She smiled back. He dipped her, and she squealed.
“Okay, okay.” She sighed as the music slowed a little, and they turned together on the spot, James looking down upon her, his eyes alight with something like happiness, the amber that flecked them more prominent than usual.
“You know Lily,” he began. “I was thinking, about me and you...”
Oh no. Lily hoped the panic that gripped her was not clear on her face.
“I was thinking Lily – this has been great, but it’s like a school thing. Your friends and mine get on, don’t we?”
“Well I thought – we should all go out round Hogsmeade one time, how does that sound?”
Not too bad, Lily supposed.
“Yeah, James, that sounds -”
“And maybe after that, maybe just you and me could...”
Oh Merlin. Lily knew this was where she had to stop him.
“Wait – James?” she cut in. He looked at her. “I, erm... you see the thing is...”
His expression changed in an instant. Lily saw the flicker of realisation cross his face, as she struggled to form a coherent sentence, and for a moment she thought she saw disappointment, and hurt in his eyes. But then it was gone, and she wondered if she had imagined it.
“...it’s fine, I get it. Hogsmeade’s something you like to do with close friends, is that right?” James corrected himself smoothly.
“Er...” She wasn’t at her most eloquent tonight.
“That’s fine Lily, don’t worry.” He continued. “I just thought – that as we’re....as we’re , quite good friends now, that it’d be fun to get to know each other a bit more.” He laughed airily. “I mean, we’re good enough friends to come the ball together, without any awkwardness about whether we like each other – because you know now, of course,” (here he grinned down at her, though it didn’t quite reach to his eyes) “that I’ve grown out of my old crush, meaning I can talk to you like you’re a normal human being.”
He’d grown out of his crush? This was news to her. She grinned at his joke, though her mind had suddenly gone into overdrive, trying to figure out whether he was telling the truth.
“You’re actually fun to be with Lily, and I can say that now I know you a bit better. It’s ironic that it wasn’t until I stopped liking you like that, that I got to know you a little bit.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Ironic.”
James’s eyes grew watchful at her tone.
“You don’t mind me saying that do you?” he replied, quickly, scanning her face with a degree of intensity, although his voice remained perfectly casual. “You don’t mind that I don’t think of you in the way I used to, then? We’re just friends, right?”
“Yeah – yes of course! Just friends.”
James nodded, and his face returned to an un-readable composure. Lily bit her lip, as he looked away.
“My friend, Lily Evans.” He said, looking back at Lily. “I never thought I’d see the day.” and he smiled at her, almost sadly. She returned the smile.
“My friend James Potter – sounds wierd.”
“About as wierd as you acting civil.”
“Or you acting normal.”
James raised his eyebrows.
“I was crazy.” He said, with a laugh. “But I’ve come back to my senses, don’t worry.”
And before the conversation could take another turn, he dipped her again, suddenly, and as the music picked up all talking was lost in a whirl of colour and sound, as James let Lily a frantic turn of the dance floor, until she was completely out of breath.
While James had been dancing with Lily, Sirius returned to the table his friend had just vacated, Rowan trailing behind him. He still wasn’t paying her sufficient attention, and he didn’t care – it was Lily he cared about. Lily who was now practically slow -dancing with James, looking as if she was having the time of her life. Of course she was, of course she wasn’t thinking about him. He pulled his half empty firewhisky towards him sullenly.
“Sirius?” Rowan asked. “Is that your third glass?”
He turned his head towards her.
“Look,” he said sharply. “You’re not my wife, you’re not my girlfriend, So remind me again –why are you nagging me about how much whisky I’m consuming?”
Rowans jaw dropped slightly.
“Well sorry.” She replied, drawing the word out into two syllables. “It’s just I was planning on having a half decent evening, which, oddly enough, didn’t include you getting completely blotto.”
“Take it or leave it.” said Sirius. “I’ll still dance with you if you really want – let me get you another Ogden’s first though.”
“No thanks.” She answered. “I knew it was a bad idea coming with you.” And she sighed. “I’ll be over at Jenny’s table, if you want me.”
“Is that an offer?”
Rowan rolled her eyes, and left. Sirius watched her go, before casting his eyes back to the spot on the dance floor where James and Lily revolved. The music had slowed down now, and Sirius lifted his glass, steadily downing the remainder of his drink. They were smiling at each other, and looking into each others’ eyes. James dipped Lily, and she laughed. Sirius clenched his fist – why did she laugh? She shouldn’t be laughing for James’s benefit! Sirius was the person who made her laugh.
It was Mary Macdonald. She took in the empty glass in Sirius’s hand, and the couple on the dance floor, who had now begun a mad canter in and out of the other dancers. “You okay?” she asked. Sirius shrugged and didn’t look up.
“Can I sit down.”
“That’s what chairs are for.” He answered. She sat, and he turned to her finally, turning up the corner of his mouth in a humourless smile. “What do you want then?”
“Shut up, Sirius. I’m just checking you’re alright.”
“Right as rain.” He answered her. “Absolutely fucking spectactular. My little brother’s a psycho, I’ve got no-where to live, and to top it all off, Evans doesn’t want me anymore.”
“She said that?”
“Nope. But it’s not long now – look at them.” He muttered bitterly. “Considering she’s the nicest person I know, she isn’t half acting like a bitch right now.”
“Yeah, yeah. She’s your best friend and she’s got no faults. I know.”
“No.” answered Mary patiently. “She’s got plenty of faults, but her heart’s in the right place.”
Sirius rolled his eyes.
“Honestly.” She said. Sirius sighed.
“Yeah.” He said.
James and Lily had finished their dance by now, and were walking back over to the table. Lily smiled at Sirius as she approached, Sirius grimaced back.
“Right,” James began, looking at Sirius. “Bar?”
Sirius got to his feet with a grim nod, and getting the girls’ assurance that they didn’t want anything, they were gone. As soon as they were out of earshot, James let out a sigh.
“Padfoot it’s all over.”
“Lily – she just wants to be friends. It’s a death sentence.”
Sirius was silent. Hope was blossoming inside his chest, hope that he wished he could crush, for James’s sake.
“Yeah, - aw, Prongs. That’s not good. I’m sorry mate.”
James pushed back his hair.
“Thanks. And I thought I was making progress.” he sighed again, more heavily this time. “Right - two large firewhiskys?”
“I’ll get them.” supplied Sirius.
Dinner, at the May Day ball was a more subdued event than anticipated. James kept up a facade of cheerfulness, and most of the students were enjoying themselves immensely, but somehow (at Lily’s table at least) the atmosphere didn’t feel quite right. Lily found herself getting annoyed at little things, like the fact that the food was so light, all chicken pieces, and pasta salads, to fit in with the spring vibe. She wanted something more substantial! She cheered up, however, when they got to the dessert – no-one can be depressed eating strawberries and cream.
Sometime after everyone had eaten, Lily was made un-easy by the presence of another, excepting Sirius and James. Severus Snape, she had noticed earlier, had not been at the ball. It had made her sad to think of him sitting alone in the common room, but when he finally appeared, she didn’t feel much better. She was talking to Alice, when she spotted him, lurking near their table with a Slytherin or two, dressed in his ordinary school robes. She came to two conclusions about this: the first, that his parents could not or would not give him the money to pay for dress robes, and that he arrived at the ball late out of embarrassment due to this. The second was that he had been up to some sort of trouble with the other Slytherins, which would also explain his late entrance to the event. She caught his eye and smiled. He frowned back at her, and licked his lips – as if he was about to say something.
“What’s Snivellus hanging around here for?” James asked, on Lily’s left side. He had almost finished his firewhisky by now, and had forgotten that his treatment of Snape had never endeared him to Lily.
“Don’t call him that.” She snapped. “I think he wants to talk.”
“What, to you?”
“Yes, to me! He’s my friend – do you see any other Gryffindors rushing to be nice to him?”
“He doesn’t deserve it, that’s why.” James muttered, and Lily had to take a deep breath. He had been so sweet lately, she’d forgotten he could be a jerk.
“Shut up, Potter.”
James began rolling his empty glass between his fingers.
“Potter again.” He muttered. “Great.”
Lily looked back at him, noticing his general air of depression. She bit her lip.
“I’m sorry James.” She said, putting her hand on his to encourage him to look at her. “But I hate it when you’re mean to Severus. You’re so nice, it’s horrible to see you acting like an idiot. Why do it?”
James opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, Sirius had cut in.
“Why do you think, Lily?” he sneered, contemptibly. “And what gives you the right to lecture him? It’s not like you’re the saint you pretend to be, is it?”
“You know exactly what I’m saying, don’t act like you don’t. You go round on your high horse telling people how to live their lives -”
“Padfoot... don’t talk to her like that, mate.” James interrupted, sounding bewildered, but Sirius was not deterred by this.
“...Snivelly can do what he likes,” he continued, “and she’ll always protect him, but as soon as we say anything remotely harsh, it’s ‘oh you disgust me.’”
Lily’s heart was in her mouth. Sirius was drunk, and angry – what were the chances he was going to let the whole school in on just what had been happening between them? Mary grabbed hold of Sirius’s arm, and leant forward to whisper something to him. “Get off.” He snapped, before turning back to James.
“You don’t have to listen to her Prongs, she’s just a hypocrite.”
“Padfoot, calm down.” James urged. “Thanks for sticking up for me, but Lily never did anything wrong, she was just being nice.” He smiled at her, apologetically, before laying a hand on Sirius’s arm and muttering –“I’m fine. I can cope.”
Severus Snape was still hovering further down the table, his frown deepening, as he recognized the growing anxiety on Lily’s face. He wondered whether to approach them.
“Sirius,” Lily began.
“What? What can you possibly have to say to me?”
Lily hesitated, distracted by the daggers that shot from Sirius’s eyes. James spoke.
“Don’t worry about him Lily – he’s had a bit too much to drink, he doesn’t mean it.”
“Mean what exactly?” Sirius sneered. “I haven’t said half of what I could yet - you make me sick, Lily Evans.”
“Oh yeah?” Lily retorted, finally snapping. “Well aren’t you just lovely. Stop trying to take the moral high-ground, when you’ve never done the right thing in your life! For the life of me I don’t know why the sorting hat didn’t put you in Slytherin with the rest of your lot– you would have fitted right in!”
There was a stunned silence around the table, and everyone close enough to have overheard the argument was staring at Lily. Someone passing their table whispered “ouch” very audibly to their friend. Lily fought a sudden compulsion to laugh – though of course, the situation wasn’t at all funny. Sirius was looking murderous.
“Padfoot...” James began, shooting horrified looks at Lily.
As Sirius got to his feet, the entire table seemed to hold their breath, yet his rage was displayed only by a sudden feral movement which sent his chair crashing to the floor, as he stormed towards the exit. James, (who had moved, instinctively, in front of Lily) let out his breath.
“Are you going to go after him?” Rowan asked? She was seated at the opposite side of the table next to Elizabeth and Rachel.
“No, no not yet.” James answered, looking distressed. “I’ll let him cool down first. You really shouldn’t have said that, Lily.”
Lily looked down at the table. It was the first time James had ever openly disapproved of something she had said or done – and she didn’t like it, it wasn’t a nice feeling.
“I know.” She muttered, looking back up at him. “But I’ve got a temper – I couldn’t help it.”
The band had struck up a new song, and the food was beginning to disappear from the plates of the guests, when the conversation at Lily’s table finally began to normalise again. James was holding a slightly forced discourse with Elizabeth about Remus, explaining about his monthly visits to his mother, with a look on his face that revealed he was thinking only of whether he should go and talk to Sirius yet. Lily and Mary were discussing Quidditch with Rowan, and Severus Snape was cautiously approaching their table.
“Lily,” He spoke suddenly, causing her head to snap upwards. He looked solemn, and she smiled at him. “Would you like to dance?” he asked. Lily looked to James, conscious of his feelings, and James – conscious of hers, as well as her opinion of him, grinned at her and said
“You don’t need my permission, to dance with your best friend.”
Lily’s face lit up – it was so unlike him to be so reasonable – and she turned back to Severus, who was of course, not exhibiting the same spirit. He looked at James with as much loathing as he had ever done, which, she supposed, was reasonable too.
“Come on then,,” she said. “for old time’s sake.” And smiling, she let him lead her to the dance floor. When they reached it, he grasped her hands stiffly, but as soon as she endeavoured to begin swaying to the music, she became aware that to dance was not his main intention.
“Come on Sev,” she laughed. “Work with me here – I know you’ve got some rhythm!”
He frowned at her, and when he spoke his voice was low, and urgent.
“Listen to me, Lily.” He said. “I’ve come to warn you – you’ve got to get out of here.”
“The Death Eaters are coming. They’re coming now. You’ve got to go – not into the grounds, they’re not safe either, in fact they’re much less safe – but up to your dormitory, they’re here to cause panic only, and they know the whole school’s in here. They won’t go looking for students.”
“Sev, I – I don’t understand. How can the Death Eater’s be here, you can’t apparate inside the school grounds. There’s enchantments and - ”
“Yet they are here. Believe me Lily, they’ll be here any moment. I have to go, but get yourself out.” He turned to go, but Lily grabbed at his robes in a panic, stopping him.
“Severus,” she muttered, her voice cracking. “You can’t just land this on me – you’ve got to tell Dumbledore!”
“Well, why not?”
Severus looked at her, his face determined.
“Because I let them in.”
Before she could get anything else out of him, Snape was gone, and Lily was left in a wild panic. ‘Tell Dumbledore, or one of the teachers’ – the sensible voice at the back of her head repeated. But her first glance was towards the table where her friends sat. Sirius had still not returned, and James was gone too, obviously to talk to him. She looked over at the exit, a door that opened out onto the grounds.... The grounds – what had Severus said? They weren’t safe either, “much less safe”. In a panic, she headed towards the table.
“Mary,” she panted, grabbing her friend by the shoulder. “Severus just told me – death eaters, in the school, you need to tell Dumbledore!”
“Tell him to shut the doors, the grounds aren’t safe – tell him they’re coming. I’ve got to go.”
But she was gone, headed to where she knew Sirius and James must be, frantic to warn them of the danger. As she fled past the teacher’s table Mcgonagall called out to her, registering her panicked manner, yet Lily didn’t stop. She burst through the large oak doors and out into the darkness. The sun had finally set, and apart from the small circle of light projected by the live fairies that resided in the ivy around the front doors, the surrounding area was pitch black and unfathomable.
“James? Sirius?” Lily called out into the night. There was no reply. “Hey! Hello? James Potter? Sirius Black?”
Still no answer. She ran forward to the very edge of the light, and strained her eyes through the gloom. “For Merlin’s sake, answer me!” she practically screamed, stamping her foot in her frustration. The wind whistled and a wolf howled in the distance, but no human voice answered her call. She was getting desperate now, wishing that she’d brought someone outside with her – but she couldn’t go back in just yet, not until she was sure the boys were safe. “Sirius?” she croaked. “James?”
Now for it, she thought. And she lit her wand, edging forward into the darkness. She had not gone far before she heard footsteps, and her blood froze. Would it be the marauders, or was it something much worse? Her fears were quickly extinguished however as the figures of Sirius and James came into view, sprinting towards her, a piece of paper clasped in Sirius’s fist.
“Lily? What are you doing here?”
“You need to get inside now –no questions, just get back inside.”
Lily was startled.
“I came to tell you the same thing, what – what have you seen?”
“We’re not coming in.” Sirius panted. “There’s something we have to do.”
“You what? Don’t be stupid. I came to tell you – there’s death-eaters...”
“Lily,” James amended, “We know – which is why you have to get inside, warn Dumbled-”
“I have already! And it’s just as dangerous for you two – please, come back inside, I’ve told them to shut the doors already...”
“But they know I’m out here, they won’t shut them until I’m back, surely?”
James and Sirius exchanged a look, and turned back to the castle, which was lit up like a beacon in the darkness. The doors were being pulled shut. With a yelp, Sirius grabbed hold of Lily’s wrist, and together the three of them fled back towards their only sanctuary.
“I cannot believe this.” Sirius muttered as they ran. “Bloody Regulus,”
“Regulus?” Lily replied, shouting back at him as she stumbled over her own feet. “What has he got to do with anything?”
“Explain later!” James shouted to Sirius, “We’re nearly there!”
But they arrived too late. The doors had ground shut and the noise from within was so deafening, that they knew their shouts would not be heard. Lily put her face in her hands, as -for the second time that evening- a wolf howled in the distance.
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