Chapter 1 : Those Ten Things
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James sat next to Sirius under the lit tree holding a small golden box. It was wrapped in a thin red bow and had no markings of any kind aside from his name. Sirius had already torn the wrapping paper off his gift, revealing a glass orb the size of his fist that had different colored lights swirling in it. Instead of opening the package, James looked around at all the Gryffindors still in the Common Room. There were only seven. The Marauders and Lily had stayed behind over Christmas, along with Lily’s friend, Alice Fortescue, and her steady boyfriend Frank Longbottom.
As Alice and Lily talked, Lily had mentioned a Muggle tradition and Alice had made her explain more fully. She had then yelled at everyone in the common room at that point that they had to participate in something called “Secret Santa”. The basic plot was that they drew the names of someone else staying over break and had to give them twelve “heart-felt gifts” on the twelve days leading up to Christmas. It was sickening. The headmaster had somehow found out and made it a school-wide event.
Still James had hoped to draw Lily’s name, so he could give her a gift that would let her give him a chance. That hope had been shattered when he had Sirius’ name fly towards him from the collection of names. Oh well, at least it was someone he knew, better than Snape. Peter had picked some Hufflepuff and was going crazy trying to find things to give them.
Now, four days until the end of the gift exchange, James was slightly confused by the gifts he received via House-elves. At first they had been interesting trinkets, nicer than what some other people were getting, but nothing really special. Then the other gifts had started. As for who they were from, Peter had Alice, Sirius had confessed that he had Lily after apologizing endlessly, and Remus maintained that he did not have James. But it had to be one of them, the gifts were too personal to be from any one else, unless... but it was impossible. No one knew their secret. They were safe.
But James’ heart still constricted as he opened the lid and pulled out a small glass statue of a large, antlered stag. It fit in his palm perfectly as he took it to the mantlepiece and placed it there, in perfect relevance to the similarly styled glass dog, rat, and smiling wolf that already graced the dark wood of the shelf.
The only thing odder than the presents was the ongoing poem that came with them, a line or two delivered with each gift. The first days had left him with lines that only said how much his Secret Santa hated him. This unsettled James because if they hated him, why were they even giving him stuff? Was it hexed or cursed? So this time, when James reached in carefully for the slip of parchment he was ready to pull his hand back at the slightest provocation. His fingers pinched the cool paper and lifted it out. There, in the same cursive it had always been in were the fateful words.
“Hey, what’ve you got there, James?”
The parchment disappeared into the dark pocket of a pair of jeans. He would take it out later and place it next to the other eight parchments in the drawer of his bedstand. He looked around at the sleepy common room, Remus and Peter were playing Exploding Snap by the fire while Frank was nowhere to be seen. Lily and Alice were off talking in a corner. The red head made eye contact with him and his hand reflexively went to his hair, but he fought it down. He didn’t need her angrier at him than she already was.
But something felt wrong. Maybe it was just too quiet, too peaceful, but James felt that something big was coming. And his world would never be the same again.
It was the last day of the Secret Santa, and James was more excited and unnerved than usual. All the students participating would open their gifts in the Great Hall together. As there were only twenty three students staying over this year, they would all be sitting at the same table. James had no idea who could be his Secret Santa.
They hated him according to the poem: Snape and Slytherins. They gave him nice, thoughtful things: not Snape and Slytherins. They knew him pretty well, as testified by the photo album of the Marauders he had received yesterday: probably a Gryffindor or that stalker Hufflepuff who had followed him around since second year. What was his name? Creeve? Creepy? Creevey? That was it, Creevy. Ivan Creevey.
James shuddered, what if it was the Creevey kid giving him all this stuff? What if he knew about their secret? What if... He stopped himself before his imagination could go any farther. If it was the Creevey kid, he would deal with it when the time came.
But he hoped not, he really didn’t want to burn his Secret Santa gifts in the dead of night like he had done with the sweater the kid had given him last year.... and the earmuffs the year before...and the scarf before that. How did the kid even get his shirt size, anyway?
“Prongs, what’s wrong? That’s the second time you’ve shuddered in the last minute. You okay?”
“Yeah, Moony. I‘m just scared that my Santa’s gonna turn out to be that Creevey kid. I don’t know what I’d do if that happened.”
“I understand completely. He is a little odd isn’t he?”
James gave him a disbelieving look as they sat down in the Great Hall next to Peter who was unsuccessfully trying to chat up a pretty Ravenclaw. James placed the long white cylinder that was his gift next to his plate as he loaded it with food. There was a parchment wrapped around it, larger than normal, completely encircling the cylinder. His hand itched to touch it, to read what it said, just as it wanted to push it away and forget about it.
All too soon, breakfast was done and Dumbledore had asked everyone to pull out their gifts. Packages of all sizes came out from under the table and from robe pockets, taking their places on the magically cleaned golden plates in front of them. On the count of three, paper’s were pulled off, ribbons undone, gifts revealed.
Squeals of delight and groans of discomfort drifted down the table as the gift giver either took the opportunity to impress or embarrass with their gift. Sirius now sported a rather nice pair of long, pink bunny ears, courtesy of a hex James had placed on the wrapping paper.
James unwrapped the parchment and slowly unrolled it. On it was the entire poem he had already gotten, from start to finish, with two extra lines. He read through the entire thing, only stopping when he reached the bottom.
Numbly he reached for the gift itself, pulling it towards him. He turned it one way and started to open it before he was stopped by Remus.
“James, you may have missed something. Namely, a little golden sticker on the other end that says ‘open here’.”
He blushed slightly and turned the package around, pulling open the cap on the end. Inside it was... an empty stem? He pulled it out and saw that there was a white flower on the other end, a Lily’s Heart. A soft pink center faded out to perfect white on the sides of the heart shaped flower. James realized that it had been lightly covered in a perfume, the same one he smelled whenever Lily was nearby. He turned to her questioningly and she spoke the last lines of the poem.
“But mostly I hate the way I don't hate you.
Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.”
His hazel eyes grew big as she leaned over and gave him a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Merry Christmas James. Oh, and so you don't have to ask, will you go out with me?”