Chapter 2 : A Very Gryffie Holiday - All I Want for Christmas ...
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<i>A/N: Beta’ed by theelderwand. Thank you for lending a second pair of eyes ;) To all the Gryffies and everyone on the forums, it was a great year with all of you!
Happy Christmas, Happy Holidays, and I hope you enjoy!</i>
Lily had opted to stay over Christmas. First, although there were still a good six months left, she felt the end of her time at Hogwarts coming to a close and wanted to enjoy it while she could before the studying for NEWTS would consume all her time. Secondly, it was as good an excuse as any to avoid Petunia and Vernon, who wouldn’t have had her anyway, and with her parents off on some kind of second honeymoon .... They’d wanted to go in January, when she would be back at Hogwarts, but as soon as Lily heard of their plans, she encouraged them to just do it; she would be fine. And last but certainly not least, Christmas at Hogwarts was said to be something else, and she’d never actually stayed there to see what it was all about for herself.
Originally, the plan had been that she and her dorm mate Mary wanted to stay together. That plan had been foiled when Mary had been called home in the face of a family tragedy, which seemed to be happening all too often, lately. Lily had briefly considered cancelling her plans as well, but then told herself not to be ridiculous. She got along with others that chose to stay at Hogwarts for the holidays, even though she was the only Gryffindor. She didn’t think there was any need to be too reclusive. Correction, she might be the only Gryffindor girl left, but not the only Gryffindor. Lily peeked over her novel at a small group of boys huddled near the fireplace in the Common Room. She should have known that they would either all go home, spending the majority of the holidays at each others’ houses, or all stay behind. They’d chosen the latter. Although at that moment, each seemed off in their own little world.
The scene in front of her seemed suddenly a lot more fascinating and enthralling than the novel in her hands. Strangely enough, it was neither Potter nor Black who was too high-strung to sit calmly, but Remus, her fellow prefect for the last two years, who was fidgeting in his seat, casting his friends concerned looks every now and then.
Peter seemed rather anxious as well, though he kept looking at his watch every so often instead of at his friends.
Both dark-haired boys were unusually quiet, a rarity in itself since she knew them to possess seemingly boundless energy and enough outrageous ideas for the whole of Hogwarts. Black had sunken down in his armchair so his legs bent at the knees and stuck out over the seat, his head low on the chair’s back. His brow was furrowed deep in thought as he gazed into the blazing flames. Potter was sitting cross-legged on the couch, one hand propping up his chin, his eyes trained on the window, where the rain was still pattering against the glass ceaselessly.
A mystery. This was what this was, and in contrast to the book she’d already read once before, this one seemed much more intriguing. The second mystery was, why she was watching them in the first place, or rather why she was watching Potter. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way round? Yet another thing that was different this year. Although she had taken to calling him James whenever they worked together as Heads, the old name stuck from the six previous years.
His eyes were unfocused, pensive even. He’d only blink in rare intervals, his dark lashes brushing lightly against his skin, just about avoiding the lenses of his spectacles. His cheeks were slightly flushed due to the heat from the open fireplace, his lips slightly parted. If one leaned in for a kiss, would that longish nose or the glasses be in the way?
“Ouch!” Lily was staring ahead, mouth and eyes wide open, her book lying face-down on her stomach. She couldn’t have just ogled the boy she had sworn at on so many occasions. No, definitely not. And she had definitely not thrown her book up in panic with a yelp, getting caught by it just as she was about to jump up. No no, she was Lily Evans, and that would just be embarrassing. Not to mention simply hypocritical. She could now feel several pairs of eyes trained on herself. In a panic, she jumped up without another word and ran out the portrait hole. Outside, a few shaky steps were all she managed, before letting herself sag against the wall, breathless as if she had run a marathon.
“Oh Merlin!” she gasped. What had she been thinking? Or maybe that was the problem: she hadn’t been thinking. Maybe they’d put something in her pumpkin juice at dinner. Yes, of course, that must be it. It would be just so typical of the Marauders, trying to spice things up with a prank and staging the whole scene to peak her interest. But why hadn’t they been looking in her direction then, waiting for the effects to show?
What now? She couldn’t exactly go strolling back in, after leaving in such a hurry. She hadn’t even taken her book, which would at least have provided some entertainment while she waited a bit to come back to her senses. “Stupid,” she admonished herself as she calmed down a little. It probably would have blown over unnoticed if she hadn’t drawn attention to herself with her move, given how absent-minded they had been.
Now what? She asked herself again. Where was a slightly hysterical Head Girl who had just ogled a boy she despised for the last six years, three months and twenty-four days to go on Christmas Eve, with curfew fast approaching? The library - closed. Her dorm - uh uh, that path was blocked by the boys she did <i>not</i> want to come across right now. The Head’s study? Probably not the best idea either, there was too much of <i>him</i> there for her comfort right now. Like his Quidditch books he left everywhere. And Quidditch jumpers.
“Argh!” Lily caught strands of her hair in her fists. He’d wormed his way into her good graces with those glimpses of maturity and responsibility he’d allowed her. Okay, maybe it hadn’t been six years, three months and twenty-four - how in the name of Dumbledore’s purple robes did she even know that number? Never mind, that was how long she’d known him, but it was a little less that she actually despised him. Six years and two months, maybe. Or was it five years and nine months?
“I am in so much trouble.” Lily stated, letting out a breath. Then, she looked around, wondering how she might have looked if anyone had happened to pass that particular spot just moments before. To her luck, it seemed she was the only one around.
Maybe something to eat would be a good idea. Remus must have chocolate, of course, but that would mean going back. Another option was the kitchens. She’d caught enough delinquents in her time as prefect and Head Girl to know where it was located.
Down and down she went, reaching her destination unnoticed. She was swarmed immediately by house-elves upon entering and meekly asked for a hot chocolate. Having grown up in a family where the two daughters had always been included with the household chores, the thought of having an army of servants was a foreign concept.
Thanking the tiny creature when it popped up beside her with her steaming mug, she bustled off out of the house-elves way, conjuring herself a comfortable armchair. Lily pulled her legs up, sighing contentedly. The domed ceiling seemed more suited to a church than the Hogwarts’ kitchens, torches providing the only light source just as in the Great Hall above her. The thought of returning to a life with the artificial glow of electric light seemed so mundane and disenchanting.
The house-elves were bustling about, a group of them already readying the tables for the next meal. She tried sinking down in her chair when the door opened, and admitted - none other than Remus Lupin. As he was waiting for his order, he caught sight of her despite her best efforts to blend into the scenery.
After a moment of silent contemplation, he moved toward her, a little smile on his face. “Lily! You seemed in a rush - to get something to drink?”
Lily glanced at him, seeing only curiosity and genuine interest. He had always been the Gryffindor boy she’d gotten along with best; Peter acting a bit shy around anyone besides his group of friends, whereas the other two would more than make up for that, and the shared prefect duties had certainly contributed too. “Hot chocolate,” she offered as way of explanation, showing him her empty mug.
Lily sent him a knowing look, interpreting the monosyllabic answer as his sign of understanding.
“I might ask one of the house-elves to bring up some mugs for us as well,” he mused, trying to sound casual.
“Uhuh.” Lily answered the comment with a raised eyebrow. “Of course you’d never think about that without me.” It was rare for her to let her cheeky side show, something she’d only do when she felt comfortable with people.
He contemplated her for a moment, before widening his eyes comically. “Are you insinuating I am addicted to chocolate?”
Lily chuckled, recalling why she enjoyed his company. Just as she didn’t show her more mischievous side to just anyone, he’d reveal a wicked sense of humour behind his quiet exterior if you really knew him. Well, she added for herself, he was a Marauder, after all. Couldn’t she just like <i>him</i>, he was much more similar to her than J... - and why was she even making that comparison?
As her smile was replaced by a frown, Remus narrowed his eyes in contemplation. “Hey Lily? Would you want to come up with me? Maybe we’ll get into the Christmas spirit yet.”
“I wondered. What’s up with that? It seemed you were unusually quiet?”
She noticed the slight hesitation, before he answered her, the words clearly were well chosen. “Family issues. We kind of have a tradition; if we spend Christmas together, we try to stay awake all night.. Childish, I know, but it started in first year. And Prongs - I mean James didn’t want us to cancel it. Said he wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway.”
“Oh.” Lily’s lips formed a concerned o-shape. Their head duties required them to interact a lot and she’d noticed James’ worrying about his father, who’d been labouring with some health issues for a while. It was just one of those little things she’d picked up about him lately. But that was normal, right, if one worked together with another so closely? “Is his father still not better? Why is he not home?”
“His parents say it’s nothing bad, just that he needs a lot of rest right now. Just be patient with James this year; every day we hope to hear that his father’s better. But don’t pity James; he really can’t stand that.”
Lily nodded in appreciation of the tip. “It affects Sirius too, doesn’t it?” she asked with a flash of clarity. It was no secret that Sirius had spent his breaks with the Potters; it would have been hard not to notice what with the constant Howlers sent by a furious Mrs Black that all was not well in that family.
Remus nodded hesitantly. “That, and he still worries about his brother. Don’t ask, it’s a sensitive topic with him.”
Lily didn’t understand what that was supposed to mean; only that the Black brothers were as different in attitude as they were similar in looks. She thought of her lost friendship with Severus Snape, thinking she could guess the gist of it, and that some relationships just couldn’t be salvaged.
But maybe others could. “What do you suggest we do? To bring about some Christmas cheer, I mean?” Lily had sat up, suddenly full of energy again.
Remus copied her, now on the edge of his magically-conjured chair as well as they put their heads together. She might curse James on a daily basis - which she hadn’t done so often this year - and generally disapprove of the pranks she couldn’t just leave him in misery. “The hot chocolate might be a good start. What did you have in mind?”
Dinner had been just like any other, but still the tall Christmas trees that lined the walls of the Great Hall with their decorations added a warmth to the room. Not many students had opted to remain behind, the house tables only partially set. Lily had nipped in briefly, grabbing a quick bite before ducking out again, shooting her fellow Gryffindors a grin which would have been construed as mischievous on anyone else’s face. Sirius had done a double take, she noticed, Remus pulling him towards the food quickly.
Lily hurried onwards; she didn’t have much time until everyone would head back to the common room after dinner.
The spells were cast quickly; then she stood with her hands on her hips, surveying her handiwork with satisfaction. She was now waiting for Remus to come back. He’d claimed to know the perfect spell to ensure passers-by wouldn’t be drawn by the noise this was bound to cause.
To James, it hadn’t been the best of Christmases. That had not been the way he’d imagined it. At the beginning, he and his friends had agreed to remain at Hogwarts this year, simply because Hogwarts was a safe haven under Dumbledore’s watch, and it would be the last time they even had that option. His parents had agreed, because apparently, his dad was confined to bed by the Healers and so they had encouraged it. Though it did make him uneasy; his dad had never been one prone to sickness. It worried him, especially since his parents had said <i>not</i> to worry; that it was most likely just a case of strong flu. During the last days, with classes adjourned for Christmas break, he’d often found himself in deep thought. Although it was never an issue, they had been rather old when they had him. He was only seventeen, and losing one of them now was unthinkable, although - he had to admit it - with the increasing number of attacks by those Death Eaters, as they called themselves, he supposed no one was really safe these days. He’d wanted some reassurance from his best friend when he brought it up some days ago, but that talk had only served to make Sirius worry as well. Too late he remembered that Sirius, even before that, had been preoccupied with his brother’s strange behaviour, even if he claimed he didn’t care about that anymore.
Peter had been unusually fidgety during dinner, which had served as some sort of amusement and distraction as they tried to make him confess whether it was about some girl and if so, which one. Remus had been cheery and wired, instigating an unexpectedly enjoyable conversation that lasted all through dinner. He’d forgotten his worries for the time being; maybe he really was reading too much into the situation.
He’d also noticed Lily’s absence. Which was completely normal, he assured himself, since they’d gotten along rather well this past term and had shared classes for six years, three months and twenty-four days. Her staying at Hogwarts over break had been the deciding factor for him. This was his last year, and who knew what would happen when they stepped foot into the real world? He’d hoped backing off a bit would do the trick, though he’d have to make his move soon, and make it perfect.
“That’s completely unacceptable, Moony!” Sirius was saying to their friend, waving his finger in Remus’s face with exaggerated vigour. James tuned in on their banter, glad that at least his friend was back to his usual self for the time being. With the corners of his mouth inching suspiciously upwards, he threw his arms around their necks from behind.
“What is completely unacceptable, eh?”
“Sirius harassing me, for one.” Remus deadpanned, turning his head to look at James.
“Well, Moony, you failed to say what I am harassing you about. I’m guessing that was intentional.” Sirius’s smirk was comfortingly familiar. James raised an eyebrow in question to indicate the boy on his right to go on.
“I simply wanted to know why exactly Miss Lily Evans was winking when passing us on the stairs earlier, and why you, Remus John Lupin a.k.a. Moony, smirked right back. It took me a bit to connect the dots. So, spill!”
James whipped his head around like he had whiplash. Of course Lily could talk to and flirt with other boys - at least he was trying not to scare them away openly these days - but his friend knew how he felt about the matter. Lily was off limits to the other Marauders.
Remus cast a quick look ahead, noticing the portrait of the Fat Lady was only a few feet away. “Oh, you know us prefects, the usual,” he began slowly, ducking out of James’s hold, “just plotting mayhem and general pandemonium. But it seems like you don’t need the cheering up anymore, so all was in vain.”
Losing no more time, he sprinted off, shouting the password at the pink-clad lady and lunging through the gap when the portrait started swinging open.
James could just hear Remus’s call for someone to get ready, before he jumped into action himself. Sirius close on his heels, he ran through the portrait hole, and was nearly blinded by the snowball that hit him right between the eyes. He threw a hand up to shield his face, on reflex. , Then, he felt the cold trickle down his face. . He heard someone gasp, and someone else guffaw from behind - which sounded suspiciously like Sirius. Slowly, James lowered his hand, opening his eyes in sync with his hand whipping away the icy wetness.
The whole Common Room had been transformed into a winter wonderland. Snow was covering the couches to make them look like hills, the fire-places still lit but enclosed behind a grate of icicles. Frost patterns covered the window panes, and bells and decorations had been put in all available places. Three or four younger students were already standing inside, looking with wide eyes for his reaction, while the rest of the Gryffindor students who had opted to stay trickled in behind him. Sirius was doubled over next to him. He briefly wondered where Peter was, but at seeing Lily blinking at him in anticipation from a perfect vantage point with two perfect snowballs just within her reach, he narrowed his own eyes at her. Love of his life or not, that girl was going down.
“Oh no. You didn’t.” With that, he scooped up handfuls of snow, running full-tilt at the red-head. She pelted him with more snowballs, which he expertly dodged - he wasn’t a chaser for nothing, after all - and she took off with a squeal that was a mixture of fright and delight.
That seemed to be the signal for everyone else, too. Soon, snowballs were flying left and right, and James was right in the middle of it, a huge grin spreading across his face.. It felt liberatingly silly to pelt snowballs at whoever was moving, and he almost didn’t mind being hit himself. The snow must have had some enchantment on it, or maybe it was the room, because it dried off by itself a little while after it made contact. At some point, he had grabbed one of the brightly coloured bobble hats and ridiculously patterned scarves hanging on a line in front of the stairs to the dormitories. He drew the line at the mittens, though, which Sirius seemed to find hilarious, claiming they held more snow as he chased by James after Moony.
“What in Godric’s name ...” James swivelled his head to the portrait hole. There, with a flabbergasted expression on her face, stood their Head of House. McGonagall’s eyebrows had climbed up on her forehead as she let her eyes take in the scene in front of her. One of the little first-years had been mid-throw, and James already saw the snow in the witch’s face, but it missed her by inches, making a nice white splash on the red and gold tapestry.
“Mr Potter. Miss Evans. Explain.”
He could picture how she would gulp, and heard her reply meekly, “Furthering the Christmas spirit?”
“Yes, exactly.” James improvised wildly. “And promoting house unity by getting different years to do something together. And seeing as there hasn’t been any snow yet this year, we had to remedy that.” To prove his point, he waved his hands towards the windows, where soft pattering could be heard, which was unmistakably caused by rain, as had been the case all day.
“Nice try,” the professor commented drily. “Nevertheless, the whole lot of you will join me in detention. On the twenty-sixth. Fifty points from Gryffindor for transfiguring school property. Head students and prefects will make sure there is no trace of this by morning, and the house-elves will have no extra work with your shenanigans.”
Almost at the portrait hole, McGonagall turned around again. “As for the reason I came, I wanted to suggest a game for tomorrow afternoon, seeing the dreadful weather conditions. Let’s see about the state of the Common Room tomorrow, and I might not change my mind about what I was going to suggest. And nice charm work. Fifty points to the student who came up with the manipulated snow and the noise containment.”
“Awesome!” Sirius exclaimed as soon as the portrait had swung shut again. “Who’s up for another round?”
Almost everyone was, although James tried to stay out of it this time. He caught Lily looking at him, and beamed back at her.
Some time later, about fifteen exhausted students were sprawled on couches and chairs, after the snow had been siphoned off of them. On the ring of a bell, two tiny house-elves appeared holding trays of steaming mugs.
“Sorry, they were already preparing it,” Remus answered James’s look sheepishly. “And we will be cleaning without their help, as intended from the beginning.”
Chattering and laughter grew around him, the hot chocolate warming them up. He joined in with his friends, though he constantly had his eyes on Lily, who was moving around the room, exchanging words with everyone. He would have been content sitting there forever, watching as she gave her full attention to her respective conversation partner, and glints of the fire catching in her red hair. He wished he could run his fingers through it, feeling whether it was as soft as he had always imagined. What if she really did not give him a chance? It did not bear thinking about, he just couldn’t fathom that possibility. Especially not now, after seeing her mischievous and caring side up close.
As the evening wrapped up, only himself, Lily, Remus - who hadn’t been stripped of his status of prefect when James had been made Head Boy - and Logan from sixth year and Winters from fifth year stayed to clean up. Sirius did too, smirking obnoxiously as he claimed that he was not a prefect and thus did not have to clean anything, at the same time insisting he would of course wait for his friends.
The four seventh year students did not feel ready to go to bed, and found themselves in front of the fire-place again, just whiling away the time with idle chatter. James did his best to keep up his friends-only attitude when he talked to her, as hard as he found it, but he would have hated to destroy the peaceful atmosphere.
She was just telling him about her parent’s letter and enclosed postcards from the Fijis - really, she could have talked about History dates Binns had rambled on about, and he wouldn’t have cared - when Sirius started dragging Remus off to their dormitory for a short night’s rest, and most likely to give Lily and him some alone-time.
Lily was feeling drowsy, but still didn’t want the evening to end. But really, it was morning; Christmas morning to be exact. And did it feel wrong spending it with James Potter, of all people? The flames in the fire-place were burning low, but still gave a comfortable enough warmth. He hadn’t asked her out all day, she pondered. In fact, he hadn’t asked her out all year. “Why haven’t you?” she wondered aloud, her voice soft but louder than she had intended, and he surely must have heard her.
When no answer came, Lily peeked at him through her hair, not trusting her cheeks not to show the blush. But James’s head had rolled to the side a bit, resting against the chair-back. She thought that he looked content and innocent in his sleep. She was staring again, and she knew it.
Lily got up, not sure whether she should wake him, but then decided against it. She conjured a blanket instead and spread it over him.
“Merry Christmas, James,” she whispered, placing her lips against his for the briefest of seconds before sprinting up the stairs to her dorm.
The nose was not in the way, she thought vaguely. And her curiosity would one day be the death of her.
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