Throughout the week preceding the dance, James had practically cut himself from socialization. He spoke to no one except his professors (though once or twice he "hadn't heard" Slughorn call his name down the hall), the marauders (his fellow 'ball planners'), and his dearest Lily Evans (for how could he ever avoid her?). Besides that, he had denied any social endeavours of his, even
when Sirius suggested that a good prank on the Slytherins would loosen him up. James Potter's mind was intent on one thing and one thing only this week: Give Lily the perfect masquerade ball.
The first problem he encountered though was that, erm, he still didn't quite know what a masquerade ball was, let alone what a perfect one would require. So after Sirius' dramatic announcement of the ball, Lily's captivating smile to James, James' embarrassing dribble of his soup on his chin (er, Prongs? The soup stays in your mouth, yeah?), and a rather quick dinner, James had signalled to Remus and Peter to follow him out, and dragged Sirius out by the ear into the still empty Great Hall.
"Ow, Ooooooow, Prongs!" Sirius yelled from the tough grip of James' hand. James released his clutch, as Sirius rubbed his tender ear, whining like a right annoying baby.
"What was that for, you git?"
"The soup stays in your mouth, Prongs," James huffed out, "Can you possibly make me sound even more like a ruddy idiot in front of Lily, Padfoot?"
"We've been friends since first year, James," Sirius said, looking dramatically solemn," OF COURSE I CAN!"
"Why you bl-"
"Oi," Remus yelled, surely sounding louder than he intended to. He turned to Sirius, "You. Stop making him look bad in front of Evans, or else he'll be crying in his pillow for the rest of the week," James was surely about to yell at Remus, but he turned onto James now, "Ah bup bup! You know it's true, you lovesick dope. And was that the only reason why you brought us out here? To scold Sirius?"
James face contorted from one of anger to one of recognition, "Oh yeah! Er, sorry Padfoot," he mumbled the last part, but Sirius' smirk proved that he had heard it perfectly.
"No trouble, I've known you long enough to get used to your manly mood swings," he stated cheekily.
"Okay, ignoring that. Well, I also brought you here to ask, umm.. do any of you know what a masquerade ball is?"
Sirius raised his hands up and shrugged his shoulders, clearly saying, "Well, I don't". Peter shuffled his feet, looking to the floor and mumbled to himself. Remus, on the other hand gave a comforting smile.
"Well, I'm not an expert, but I kind of have an idea what a masquerade ball might entail. My mom loves to watch Phantom of the Opera, and the masquerade ball is her favorite part."
James thanked Merlin-all-magical for giving him a brilliant half blood friend.
"Wait, what would a ghost be doing in an opera? Does he want to die of boredom... or, well, die again?"
Remus sighed, "Not that type of phantom Wormtail-"
"Okay!" James interrupted, "So what can you tell us?"
"Well, I don't know that much about masquerade balls, but from what my mom says, everyone wears fancy, formal clothing, and decorated masks. In a way, with those masks, no one could quite be identified. It's all quite mysterious."
"So you're saying that with a mask, I could snog ten different birds, and none would be the wiser?" Sirius asked, his eyes widening at the prospect.
"Padfoot, you lustful git, I hope you realize that a masquerade ball is supposed to be classy," drawled Remus.
"So... no snogging?"
"Go snog your mirror, Padfoot. So, Moony, anything else you can tell us?"
"Unfortunately that's about all I know. But we can go to the library if you'd like. I'm sure they'd have some good visual examples of masks and decorations in the muggle studies section."
"Excellent idea! Let's go now," James practically sprinted off in search of more information.
"Never thought I'd see the day that James would be eager to go to the library," muttered Remus, as the remaining three marauders casually followed their anxious mate.
"Have any of you blokes found anything?" James whisper-yelled from the 'Muggle History' section.
"None here," bellowed Sirius from the 'Muggle Attire' section, earning a harsh shushing from Madam Pince, "Though I have grown a great appreciation for the muggle invention of the bikini."
"Padfoot, stay on task," Remus hissed.
"Guys? I think I've found something," announced Peter from "Muggle Musicals".
James, Sirius and Remus all joined Peter, who was hunched over the wall, examining a certain page on his book. James noticed the title of the book, Notable Musicals in Muggle History. They all peered over Peter's shoulder. At the top of the page was the title 'Chapter 5: The Phantom of the Opera'. As James' eyes looked at the images, he was amazed. The pictures didn't move (They must be old muggle images), and yet, he was still left speechless at what he saw. He now understood why Lily would dream of masquerade balls, for the pictures looked like something from a dream themselves. The setting looked similar to that of the Great Hall (which meant not much adjustment would be needed there), but each person stood out, each one uniquely decorated. All men and women wore elegant suits and dresses, but the masks themselves were more impressive. There were dark masks, sparkling masks, masks with feathers, masks that covered your whole face, masks only surrounding your eyes. James watched the man who wore a mask covering half his face. He was staring longingly at a pretty lady who was dancing with another man, as he brooded in a corner of the room.
"Who's that?" asked James pointing at the half-masked man.
"That's the Phantom," replied Remus.
"That's the Phantom? But, he isn't see-through!" Peter questioned, bewildered.
"Yes, Wormtail, good observation."
"So why's he staring at that girl?"
"Well, if I recall correctly, that's Christine, and the Phantom is... in love with her."
"If he's so in love with her, then why doesn't he tear her from that bloke and just snog her?" Sirius snorted, thinking the Phantom was incredibly stupid.
"Actually, I'm quite sure he tried afterwards. He kidnapped her and her fiance, and told Christine to marry him instead or he would kill her fiance."
"Well, isn't he bloody persistent?" James chuckled.
"Remind you of someone?" Remus looked straight at him, a glint in his eye, a smile curling up. James blushed the slightest bit, recalling perfectly well the many years of his own persistence in asking out Lily, and felt a pang at the many years of having been rejected.
"So, what happened after that?" James asked, even more curious now that he shared the slightest connection with this Phantom bloke.
"She kissed him," James' face brightened, "But the Phantom knew that she was not doing this out of love for him. He knew that Christine was sacrificing her freedom for the love of her fiance. So, he set them both free."
James stood, mouth agape, "Really? But- But why? He had her, and he just let her go."
"Because he truly loved Christine, James. He loved her so much that he gave up his own happiness for Christine's, much like Christine was willing to give up her freedom for her fiance."
At first, James was taken aback by the sheer stupidity of the Phantom. But a few seconds after Remus' explanation, he understood. He knew that he would much rather have Lily be happily in love with someone else (Even Snape) than have her settle sadly for him. Though that would never happen in the first place, anyway. And that didn't mean he loved the girl. I'm just a passionate soul, is all.
"Right," Sirius said, snapping James out of his reverie, "If we're done all this mushy stuff, I would very much like to show you all the miracle that is the biki-"
The four boys turned around, to see who had called James' name. His breath caught at the sight of her. She was clutching her Charms textbook to her chest, strands of her red locks falling over the cover. Her emerald eyes - once again - did not quite meet his hazel ones, but were still filled with questions which he knew were meant for him.
"Lily!" He said, trying not to seem like a complete idiot, "What are you doing here?"
Lily gave her melodic giggle, "It's the library. I'm here all the time." Right. Well, good job with the 'not being an idiot' thing, James. "What are you doing here?"
Peter started to respond, "We came here cause James wanted to learn all about mas-"
"MASTIFFS!" James blurted out. His fellow marauders gave him confused stares, "I, er, wanted to learn about Mastiffs. Bullmastiffs, to be more specific. Remus here told me about an old neighbour of his who owned one years ago. And the idea of such a companion seemed really intriguing to me, so we came here just to find some information concerning mastiffs, like how to care for them, train them.. y'know, if I ever decide on getting one. Getting a mastiff."
When James finished his rambling, it took everything in his power not to wipe away the puddle of sweat which he felt accumulating on his forehead. Lily stared at him, well not at him, really, it was almost like she was peering into his subconscious or something, trying to find out what it was that he was really doing here. She analyzed the rest of the marauders. James' paranoid, self-conscious self could have sworn she was checking out Peter!
When Lily turned back to James, he averted his gaze from her to some imaginary interesting object on the ceiling.
"So, you're a dog person? Personally, I like terriers. They're a right rambunctious lot, but their mischievous selves is part of why I like them so much. Have you found anything interesting yet?"
James resisted opening his mouth at first, in fear that his lie (I've just lied to Lily Evans!) would end right there. She believes me? Was I really that convincing?
"Um, not yet, but we're gonna keep looking."
"Well, good luck on your search," she smiled, and gave another giggle, "Though, might I suggest you go look in the 'Muggle Companions' section, as I doubt you'll find much about mastiffs in the 'Muggle Musicals' section.
James froze for a mere second, until he pretended to look around him in surprise, "Oh, this is 'Muggle Musicals' ?" he asked, trying to act surprised, "Sirius, you tricked us!" He looked at Sirius, silently pleading him to play along.
"Sorry, Prongs, my masculine urges couldn't help but gape at the gorgeous talented women in these books," Sirius said convincingly. Phew. Thanks, mate.
"No harm done," James said, though he didn't feel as convincing as his friend, "Well, Lily we'll just be heading along to the proper section, if you don't mind."
"Oh, not at all, I was just about finished with my charms essay anyway. Bye Remus, Peter, Sirius, and hope you find some good stuff on mastiffs, James!"
"Toodle-oo, Evans!" Sirius waved as Lily slowly disappeared out of ear range. As soon as he did, Sirius burst out in laughter, closely followed by Remus and Peter.
"A--Mastiff--James?" Sirius choked out between fits of laughter.
"Shut up! I didn't know what else to say!"
"Well, how about, oh I don't know... the truth?" Remus stated, as though it were so plainly obvious.
"What? And admit that I have no ruddy idea what I'm doing? No thanks!"
"Honestly, Prongs, you're such a girl."
"I said SHUT IT. Okay, so I think we all know what we need to know about masquerade balls, so let's get on to planning it!"
"Um, can we do that tomorrow, Prongs?" Peter yawned, "We're all kinda tired."
Sirius and Remus yawned in agreement.
"Fine, you ninnnies, but tomorrow, after class, we get to planning!"
"Okay, miss. Now let's get to bed." James scowled but did not protest as they walked out of the library. He still couldn't believe Lily believed his lie. I thought Lily Evans was a bit more clever than that.
As Lily finished the chapter of her book, she bookmarked the page. As she remembered this evening's events, a smirk appeared on her face. Did they really think they could fool Lily? Saying that James had developed a sudden infatuation for mastiffs? Psh. Lily Evans was much more clever than that.
She knew something wasn't right as soon as she heard Sirius' voice bellow in the library, along with James' poor excuse for whispers. When James fed her the lie, she already knew it was just that. But Lily didn't just leave things at that. She wanted the real story. She had expected the marauders to make this at least slightly difficult for her, but the truth was right there. Resting in Peter's hands.
Notable Musicals in Muggle History
She had read the book twice herself. Once for a Muggle Studies project, and the other just for enjoyment. And when she noticed where Peter's finger was bookmarking the page, she saw it. The picture of the Phantom's mask.
James, honestly, you could have just told me you didn't know about masquerades. I could've helped you with this. In fact, I could still help you. But, it seems like you and the marauders make such a good team. And I'm curious as to how it'll turn out. Well, thank you for going through all this just for a silly ball. For better or for worse, all the students will definitely remember this.
James Potter lied in his bed not thinking about the masquerade ball, or mastiffs, but of the Phantom.
We are pretty alike aren't we? Both pretty persistent. Both slightly mad. Both crazy for some girl who won't even look at us (Remus told me you were an ugly bloke, apparently. It's okay, I don't judge).
This notion scared James, though. He didn't want to end up without Lily like the Phantom went without Christine. But, if it was for Lily's good...
But, unlike the Phantom, James would never think of hurting the ones Lily loved. Sure, he bullied Snape in the past, but he never went too far with his pranks. And he wouldn't force her into anything with him. He always asked her out so that she could get to know him, and maybe change her mind about him. And there was one more difference between them.
After coming to peace with that, he was able to sleep soundly, his final thought bringing a grin.
I'm not like the Phantom, James repeated, I'm never giving up on Lily.
A/N: Well, I hope you liked it! I think I'm going to have one or two (maximum) more chapters before the ball. So, bear with me, and I'll try to make these chapters just as interesting. Also, if any of you are fans of 'Phantom of the Opera', I'm sorry if anything I said in there was inaccurate to the story. I've never watched the musical or film, or read the book, but I knew that the Masquerade Ball was a big part of this, and when I read more about the plot, I got pretty interested :) So, thanks for reading!