Chapter 26 : Many Happy Returns *
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Gorgeous image by lilscratchy at TDA!
Bubbly – Colbie Caillat
‘And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.
It’s the life in your years.’
‘So…you know what next week is, right?’
James and Stac were curled up comfortably on the sofa in the Heads’ common room, where late evening usually found them these days. Stac still found their very being on that sofa together miraculous. To think that less than a month ago, this was all just a distant dream, the best of imaginings, but unreal nonetheless. And now it was real.
‘Hmm…next week…let me see…’
She was trying to concentrate, she really was, but that was easier said than done.
‘James, stop it! Prat!’
Especially when she was being tickled…and quite mercilessly at that.
‘Birthday!’ she finally managed to gasp out, ‘It’s my birthday!’
Giving him a final swat for good measure, Stac half-clambered, half-fell off the sofa and dashed to the other side of the room.
‘It’s my birthday, I remember now, leave me alone!’
James hadn’t made a move from his comfortable position, so Stac felt safe enough to creep back over and hesitantly drop into one of the armchairs near the fire.
He didn’t reply, so Stac probed deeper.
‘Have we got anything planned? Should I start worrying about putting something together?’
‘I don’t think you need to worry about it at all,’ James replied, stretching luxuriously and running a hand through his hair, ‘I have a funny feeling it’s pretty much in hand already.’
Far from making Stac feel better, this only turned her worry meter up a notch. She loved her friends, of course she did…but the thought of them planning some big event without her restraint or calming influence? Only a fool wouldn’t be concerned.
‘Don’t stress so much,’ James said easily, reading it on her face, ‘Rose is in charge of most of it.’
Well, that made her feel better, at least. Rose was a fine substitute as a voice of reason.
‘So, do I get to know anything at all?’ Stac wheedled, moving back to the sofa and slowly sliding back into James’ open arms. But if she was hoping that her proximity would coerce James into telling her something, she was very much mistaken.
‘Jem, tell me, ple– stop that, tell me what they’re planning…Jem…stop it, that tick– James!’
The incorrigible boy looked up from where he was kissing her neck at the sound of her shriek.
‘That was a bit shrill, don’t you think?’ he asked mildly.
Anastacia humphed, her face flushed and her hair escaping wildly from its braid. She would have tried to regain her dignity by brushing the hair off her face at least, but both her hands were being held tightly in one of James’ significantly larger paws, so that wasn’t an option.
So she settled for a glare, levelling it squarely at the innocent looking boy who had somehow manoeuvred himself underneath her.
‘You’re not going to tell me anything, are you?’
Smiling like a cat next to an empty birdcage, James slowly shook his head. Stac let out a frustrated sigh.
‘Well, let me go, then. If you’re not going to tell me, I may as well go and get some study done. Then this weekend won’t be a complete waste.’
‘Study? Exams aren’t until July, Stac.’
Stac tried to tug her hands free, but James wasn’t giving in.
‘I have an idea of something else that we could do. Something that doesn’t involve study.’
Stac raised her gaze to James’ face once more, only to find that his smile had become rather more wolf than cat. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously as she caught his drift.
But in the end, she gave in and decided to follow his idea. He could be very persuasive when he wanted to.
It looked like the weekend was going to be a complete write-off, after all.
Birthdays were a big thing in James’ extended family. This had taken some getting used to for Stac. In her family, no one really cared about the day that she was born. It wasn’t as if she was a boy and could be called a real heir, after all. Her Father’s birthday, of course, was celebrated in great and grand style, with noble witches and wizards coming from all over the world to pay tribute to him in the hope that he wouldn’t try to take their land or wealth. But no one cared about the girl.
But James had grown up celebrating birthdays in quite a different way. In his family, such celebrations were almost an art form and followed a set of rather strict rules. The birthday person was to be woken in the morning with their favourite breakfast in bed. While eating, they were presented with the gifts from their immediate family and serenaded in loud, embarrassing, out-of-tune voices. At least, James claimed that this singing was part of the rules. An important part of the rules, according to him. Stac had her own reservations about the truth of that.
Then, during the day, all the extended family would come over to help prepare for the evening. That night, the birthday person’s friends would also come over and there would be a massive party with heaps of food, presents, music, and games. Yes, games, whether it was a party for a 5-year-old or a 50-year-old. Again, this seemed to be a very important part of the whole deal, and Stac had learned long ago not to question it.
Birthdays at Hogwarts necessitated some changes, of course, but not many. Stac had still been woken on the 28th of January for the past five years by all her friends, male and female, crowding into her dormitory, bringing food and showering her with gifts. And food – Sam at an early age was easily excitable and had a tendency to throw whatever was closest to hand. It had taken all of a month in second year for him and James to figure out all they needed to get into the girls’ dormitories was a couple of broomsticks. And it only took them that long because they’d never needed to think about it before. After that realisation, literally nowhere was safe from them.
But this year was going to prove too much of a challenge, even for them. Boys being in the Head Girl’s bedroom was a physical and magical impossibility, and as much as they would have liked to continue the tradition themselves, the girls of the Potter-Weasley clan and Stac’s female friends decided it wouldn’t do for her guards to see a group of them filing in, free as you please.
So it was Celeste who woke Anastacia this year. As luck would have it, it was a Saturday, so she’d even been able to have a lie-in, and there’d be another one tomorrow, after the party. Celeste had brought freshly-baked rolls and proper hot chocolate, and the two girls talked comfortably as they ate.
Celeste was always wonderful, and Anastacia had been neglecting her shamefully in recent weeks, what with all the chaos surrounding the bracelet and her new relationship. It was surprisingly relaxing to be able to sit and talk with her, without any other interruptions.
Breakfast done, Stac dressed, allowed Celeste a brief moment to check her over, and then sped off to Gryffindor Tower. As far as she knew, none of her guards were even aware that today was different to any other day. If her luck held, it would stay that way.
Upon entering the Gryffindor common room, Stac expected…something. Something loud, certainly, and probably tinged with a touch of illegal activity, but definitely something.
What greeted her was…nothing.
No, wait – there was a sign!
Attached to the staircase that led up to the girls’ dormitories was a sign reading, UP HERE!
Bemused, Stac followed the stairs, encouraged onwards by further signs at intervals saying things like, THIS WAY!, KEEP GOING!, and HURRY UP!.
There was a final sign on the door of the seventh year girls’ dormitory, and Stac took a moment to brace herself and get her ‘surprised face’ in place before she entered. Although she didn’t know how they expected her to be surprised. They hadn’t exactly been subtle about what was going on. Briefly, she wondered about the other two girls in their year that weren’t part of their friendship group. Poor things, being woken up relatively early on a Saturday morning. Maybe they’d just decided to spend the previous night somewhere else.
So, as Stac opened the door, she was fully expecting everyone to jump out at her with loud yells and fireworks.
But, again, there was nothing.
Well, not quite nothing. In the middle of the room, with a big smile, was Nilla, one of the head Hogwarts house elves. Stac stopped in front of her, now quite sure of what to do.
‘Nilla…this is a…surprise…’
The house elf, all two and a half feet of her, beamed up at Stac.
‘Yes, miss, it is a surprise! A surprise for you!’ she squeaked happily.
‘Uh..If you say so…’ Stac ventured, not sure what to make of the situation.
‘If you would give Nilla your hand, miss.’
‘Your hand, miss,’ the house elf stressed, holding out her own little palm in invitation. Stac, after a brief moment of hesitation, took the hand offered to her, tensing slightly in anticipation.
There was a brief moment of nothing where she felt incredibly silly and nearly asked again what was going on. Then, suddenly, there was a wrenching sensation that started in her stomach and made its way outwards to the rest of her body. It felt like she was being torn in a dozen directions and the only stable thing that was anchoring her to reality was that tiny little hand in her own. So she held on to Nilla with all her strength.
Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the horrid sensation was over. She was no longer holding Nilla’s hand, but was clasped in a strong, warm and familiar set of arms, held tight against a strong, warm and very familiar chest.
‘Breathe, breathe, you’re alright,’ someone said against her hair.
Or at least, she thought they said that. The chest under her ear was rumbling with the words and she was having a hard time understanding what was going on.
When her head had stopped spinning enough that she felt it was safe to take stock of her surroundings, Stac hesitantly opened her eyes.
James’ warm hazel peered down at her concernedly.
‘Feeling better?’ he murmured, not yet letting her go.
‘Did…did I just side-along apparate with a…a house elf?’ Stac choked out disbelievingly. She’d never heard of such a thing, not ever! Trust James to come up with such a bizarre way of getting around the whole ‘no apparating or disapparating in Hogwarts’ thing. Because it would have been him, surely – no one else would have ever dreamed up, let alone considered such an insane idea.
Sure enough, when he was sure she was okay, James’ face broke into a grin.
‘Brilliant idea, hey? Getting the house elves to do the apparating for us.’
Brilliant might not have been the word she used for it. Painful, yes, insane, definitely, but brilliant? She was going to have to think about that one.
Shaking it off, Stac stepped out of the circle of his arms to look around her.
And nearly ran back into his arms again.
‘Is…is that the…sea?’
As far as she could see, there was water, shining and sparkling under the early morning sun. They were standing on grass at the moment, but just ahead of them, Stac could see glistening white sand. The water was a clear blue and foamed white where it met the shore. A large open-sided tent had been set up on the grass off to their right a few metres, and Stac could see her friends, already in summer clothes and bathing suits, splashing through the water and lying on towels on the sand.
‘James…where are we?’
‘Australia! Isn’t it brilliant?’
There was that word again. But Stac almost didn’t hear, so busy was she focusing on the other word that he’d said.
‘Australia! Are you out of your mind?’
‘Lord Howe Island, to be exact,’ came a voice from behind them.
Stac spun around and came face to face with a grinning Owen.
‘Owen! I can’t believe you would let them get away with this! How could you?’
‘Of course he could! It was all his idea in the first place, wasn’t it, mate?’ said James easily, slinging an arm over Stac’s shoulders.
The other boy didn’t look ashamed in the slightest.
‘And it was his idea to use the house elves, but I’m sure he told you that. I’ve just got to say, mate,’ Owen continued, a look of deep respect coming over his face, ‘that really was a brilliant idea.’
James nudged Stac.
‘Okay, you two, that’s enough. Why don’t you go get us something to drink and let the poor girl get changed?’
Jaya and Margie spent a moment or two shooing the boys away, especially James, who was somewhat reluctant to leave but was persuaded with the prospect of Stac in a bathing suit. Then her friends took Stac off to a secluded corner of the beach and another, smaller, tent which, thankfully, had sides.
‘But I don’t even own a bathing suit,’ Stac protested as they bustled her inside the tent.
‘We brought one for you!’ Margie announced happily, tossing a few scraps of material in the opening. Then, she waited, holding up fingers for Jaya to see as she counted the seconds.
One – two – three –
There was a muffled shriek from inside the little tent, followed immediately by Stac’s head poking out of the opening, an incredulous expression on her face.
‘You can not seriously expect me to wear this! There’s hardly anything to it!’
‘Hmm, do you think that’s why James picked it out?’ Jaya asked with mock seriousness.
Margie had her hand in front of her mouth and was trying desperately to stave off one of her giggling fits. Taking another look at Stac’s face, she lost the fight completely and collapsed into a twitching pile on the sand.
Jaya, meanwhile, took pity on her poor friend and held out a slightly more substantial two-piece.
‘Here. This is the one we really brought for you. We just weren’t going to say anything if you didn’t mention it first. Margie owes me two sickles. She said you’d be brave enough to go out in the other one.’
‘Yeah, thanks for nothing,’ the other girl sat up, suddenly serious, ‘you could have at least tried it on.’
‘Enough!’ came a wail from inside the tent, ‘It’s my birthday! Leave me alone!’
Once she was properly attired, although she still felt horribly naked and exposed having been in winter-bound Scotland less than an hour before, Stac was allowed out of the tent. Now, however, she was blindfolded and led along the path by Margie and Jaya, presumably back to the spot where she’d arrived.
When they drew closer to the sound of the waves, Stac could hear whispering, muffled giggles and lots of shushing. But nothing could have prepared her for when the blindfold came off.
The tent in front of her was full of her friends and tables groaning with food and drink. Fresh flowers covered every leftover space and were scattered on the grass and sand. Behind it all, the most perfect stretch of beach beckoned, empty and waiting. Picnic rugs, towels, folding chairs and huge umbrellas were arranged in little groups, and there was a pile of balls and broomsticks waiting off to one side.
Stac’s chin trembled, and she raised her fingers to her mouth to try and hide it. But James saw it, and he rolled his eyes teasingly as he pulled her tightly against his side.
‘Woman! Don’t go and spoil it all by crying!’
‘You’re all mad,’ Stac informed the group at large when she had her emotions under control once more, ‘what on earth possessed you?’
‘James said you wanted to see the ocean.’
‘Well, yes, but…Australia? Does anyone know we’re here? What if the Headmaster goes looking for us, or–’
James wrapped a large hand over her mouth as everyone else laughed.
‘Can you not be Head Girl? Just for one day?’ he pleaded.
One day couldn’t hurt, surely.
And what a day! Stac did see the ocean; saw it, swam in it, ran screaming out of it when Sam gravely informed her he’d seen a shark. She played in the sand like a child and built sandcastles. In fact, she grew quite serious about the whole business of building sandcastles, and threatened to jinx people who, as she described it, ‘walked too heavily’ nearby.
They ran races on the beach, beginning with serious, timed matches and descending into silly, made-up categories. The boys were constantly being handicapped, culminating in a race where Sam and James were tied together back-to-back and began half a mile and half a minute behind Jaya and Stac.
And they still managed to win.
Then they had mock battles in the shallows, with one person on the shoulders of another. Most of the girls, Stac included, refused to participate in these matches, but Fred and Dom proved to be a brutal and unbeatable team.
All this was interspersed by frequent trips back to the shore for food and long moments of relaxation on the sand, soaking up the warm sun. Rose was conspicuously absent, but when Stac asked after her, she was met with silence or the information that Rose was busy.
She didn’t know what scared her more – the thought that all this had been organised without Rose or that this wasn’t the thing that Rose had spent the last week preparing.
All day, Owen, in his usual responsible manner, trotted around from group to group checking that everyone was covered in Muggle sunscreen.
‘You’d think we’d have a charm for this by now,’ Sam complained after Owen forced him to reapply the sticky cream.
Owen just shrugged.
‘Probably do. The Australian wizards would, at least. Necessity being the mother of invention and all that. We just wouldn’t ever need to know it, living where we do.’
‘Exactly,’ Jaya chimed in drily, ‘it’s probably the first thing you get taught at school here. They learn charms to stop sunburn, we learn charms to keep the rain off.’
Around midday, everyone gathered near the tent again, this time to give Stac the gifts they’d brought along.
Margie and Jaya had stayed true to form and bought her a beautiful red dress. Sam and Terry had obviously been dragged along on the same shopping trip and told exactly what to buy, as their presents were a pair of coordinating shoes and a nice jacket. There was also jewellery, books, new quills and ink, perfume, lots and lots of chocolate, and other sundry items, the smallest of which was more that Stac had ever received for her birthday from her own parents.
James’ present, when everyone else had dispersed back into the water and the two of them were sitting on a rug under a shady tree, was a kiss precisely on the end of her nose and a raised eyebrow.
Resisting the urge to swat him, because sometimes she felt that was all she ever did, Stac smiled up at him.
‘This has been the best day ever. Thank you.’
James didn’t even roll his eyes at her sentimentality.
‘It’s not over yet.’
He had a point.
‘Well, then, I can think of something we should be doing.’
She leaned in closer towards him, and, like clockwork, he mirrored her movements. But at the last second, Stac jumped to her feet, leaving James trying to catch himself before he fell face-first onto the rug.
‘Last one in the water likes Moaning Myrtle!’
Nilla and a dozen or so other house elves returned to fetch them a few hours after noon. The trip back was just as horrid as it had been before, but at lease Stac knew what to expect this time. Back at the castle, there was just enough time to get for a basic clean up before running down to make an appearance at dinner. If the Headmaster or any of the other teachers noticed the vague hints of sunburn here and there or the faint whiff of saltwater coming from some of the boys who hadn’t yet showered, they didn’t mention anything.
Stac’s anticipation, which had been rising since the meal had begun, only grew higher when Margie and Jaya casually informed her that they would be accompanying her back to her room, to ‘help her get ready’. This was apparently code for ‘lots of faffing about with makeup, lots of laughing and a fair few jokes at our boyfriends’ expense’.
‘Oh, I knew that was going to look great on you! See, Margie, look at her! And you didn’t believe me!’
‘Alright, okay, I bow to your superior fashion wisdom, oh wise one!’
‘She wanted to buy the blue one.’
‘Stac looks good in blue!’
‘But I do look good in blue! I like blue!’
‘Barking, both of you.’
Stac had to admit, it was a very nice dress. Not one that she would have usually chosen for herself, but…who was she kidding? When was the last time she’d chosen a dress for herself, other than the Yule Ball? Nearly everything she owned was chosen by someone else.
‘One day, Jaya,’ she mused quietly as she smoothed the dress down her thighs, ‘you are going to have to teach me to shop.’
An ecstatic sigh had both Margie and Stac turning around curiously. Jaya sat gazing at her friend, her face beatific.
‘Darling…I thought you’d never ask.’
The red dress was possibly the shortest thing Stac had ever worn, excluding the bikini at the beach that morning. It reached to about mid thigh and had a scooped neckline and long sleeves. It was also definitely the tightest thing Stac had ever worn, which wasn’t saying much considering her wardrobe consisted mainly of robes and capes, but still. It was a little…unsettling.
‘Are you sure it’s appropriate?’ Stac asked for the tenth time, ‘Not that I don’t love it, I do! But it’s a bit…different.’
Margie turned her eyes to the heavens, and then looked back at her friend.
‘Stac, it’s got sleeves and you’re wearing tights underneath. You’re practically a nun.’
‘What’s a nun?’
Jaya, wanting to stop any sort of questioning before it got out of hand, changed the subject.
‘So, how have things been between you and James? You know, since…’
Since I broke the blood-spell that enabled my crazy father and his mad friends to spy on my every move? Since then?
‘It’s been…I don’t know…’ Stac tried to explain with a smile, ‘I mean, for you, I guess it would be normal, now, how we are. For me, it’s anything but. But…I like it.’
Jaya nodded, her expression not really one of satisfaction.
‘That’s…good. It’s nice, you know, seeing the two of you together and stuff.’
There was silence as Margie and Stac exchanged a glance. Neither of them could follow whatever it was Jaya was getting at.
‘I’m just asking, cause…you know, I was wondering if you two, now that you’re, you know, so close and all, if now you –’
‘Jaya Sarin, bite your tongue!’
Margie’s voice a loud, slightly shocked and not as joking as she probably intended it to be.
‘I know what you’re going to ask, and don’t you even think about it! What are you doing, trying to shock poor little innocent Stac?’
Jaya started to say something in reply, but Margie bundled her off the bed and towards the door before she could get it out. Stac watched them go, not sure that she wanted to ask what was going on.
‘Sorry about that, we seem to have overstayed our welcome! Your escort should be here any minute. See you later!’
The door closed behind them, and Stac sat slowly down on her now vacant bed. Why was Jaya so interested in her relationship with James all of a sudden? Surely it was old enough to no longer be a novelty. Shaking her head, she put the whole incident out of her mind and stood to compulsively check her clothes once more.
Luckily, James arrived before she could talk herself out of wearing the beautiful red dress. Stac grabbed the jacket that was her other present and went to the huge windows that lined one side of the room.
Opening the window as wide as it would go, Stac stepped up on the low ledge and took James’ proffered hand. With his help she manoeuvred herself onto the broomstick in front of him.
‘There has to be an easier way to do this.’
James pulled her closer and wrapped his cloak around them both.
‘Yeah, but this way is more fun.’
He gave the window a push to close it, and they sped off towards Hogsmeade and the Three Broomsticks.
The Weasleys and Potters had been holding their birthday parties at the Three Broomsticks for the past few years. Strangely enough, it hadn’t been James’ idea. In their first year, Tessie had decided to throw a party for Lily, and being a bright little thing had organised all the arrangements and spellwork by herself. The party was such a success that Lily’s family, namely her older cousins, had talked Tessie into making such events a more central part of the family birthday celebrations.
So now, when there was a birthday coming up, Tessie would put down lots of Darkening spells and Imperturbable charms so that the neighbours wouldn’t know what was going on. Then, on the night of the party, she would make sure her parents were asleep and give the all clear, at which point the students would sneak out of their dormitories on broomsticks and head over to Hogsmeade.
Tessie was a remarkably capable witch to begin with, and the amount of practice that she’d accrued for these particular spells over the years meant that she was now very, very good at what she did. The Three Broomsticks didn’t look inhabited. There was no light showing through the windows or under the door. But when that door was opened…
The music assaulted Stac’s ears, making her want to clap her hands to the sides of her head, but the beat already had her body moving of its own accord. All around, people were dancing, laughing, singing along to whatever song came on, and generally having a great time.
Floating candles provided most of the light, from large ones over the dance floor in the centre of the room, to tiny little ones dotting the outer edges. The overall effect was a dimly-lit, almost mystical space that felt more starry-woodland-clearing than interior-of-a-pub. There were even trees and bushes growing here and there, adding to the general theme, as well as providing convenient places for couples to seek some privacy during the proceedings. Sam and Jaya could already be seen scoping out those convenient places for future reference.
Away from the dance floor, giant mushrooms served as tables, while smaller ones provided seating. Grass covered the floor, and some people were sitting on picnic rugs, chatting away as comfortably as if they weren’t in a room with trees growing from the wooden floor.
All this, Stac took in during the few seconds that she stood on the threshold. Then James was pulling her hand, laughing, and tugging her onto the dance floor. Everyone else in the room had turned to see them arrive, and Stac soon found herself separated from James as she received hug after tight hug from all her friends.
‘This place looks amazing!’ she managed to gasp as she surfaced from Dom’s arms to find Rose, beaming, in front of her, ‘You’re a magician.’
Rose’s grin grew wider.
‘I wish I could take all the credit, I do, but I was only a liaison. Someone else was in charge of decorating.’
The redhead pointed to someone over Stac’s shoulder, and she turned around to see Scorpius and…Celeste?
The younger Slytherin’s face was carefully blank, so clearly she wasn’t exactly comfortable with her surroundings, but she summoned a smile when met with Stac’s astonished gaze.
‘Rose realised she was in over her head,’ Scorpius provided smoothly, his hand resting, almost negligently, on the younger girl’s back, ‘so we asked Celeste if she would mind helping out. She has such a knack for these things, after all.’
In spite of his studied calm, his message was broadcast loud and clear to all the others around them – Celeste was to be left alone, not heckled, not ribbed, nothing. Anastacia saw it, recognised it, and did her bit to cement the message. Stepping closer, she drew Celeste into a tight hug.
The younger girl gradually relaxed under Anastacia’s arms, and when they drew apart, she was smiling faintly.
‘I’m not going to pretend it was easy, because it wasn’t,’ she commented drily in French, ‘and I don’t think they were very happy with my involvement to begin with.’
‘But we’re very grateful now,’ Dom concluded in the same language, drawing level with the two girls, ‘and if we’d known you could make this place look so good, we would have asked for your help years ago.’
She handed the surprised Celeste a drink and linked their arms.
‘Mind if I steal her?’ she asked Stac, in English now, ‘Fred has been ogling her all night. I’m anticipating a lot of fun making him squirm.’
She turned to Celeste.
‘That is, if you don’t mind?’
Celeste ran a careful hand over her hair, checked the front of her dress, and gently bit her lower lip so that it reddened. Then she met Dom’s gaze with a glowing smile.
‘Mind? Just point me in the right direction!’
Scorpius stood next to a bemused Anastacia as they watched the two girls walk away.
‘I feel like the world has gone all…upside-down, somehow.’
‘Tell me about it,’ Scorpius replied feelingly, ‘you’ve only just got here. I’ve been trying to deal with this all week.’
Neither voiced what both of them clearly knew. For Rose to have trouble organising anything was out of the question, even if the end product might not be as ornate as Celeste’s. So there had to be another reason that the Slytherin girl had been brought on board, and the most likely one was that Scorpius and Rose thought it was time that James’ family got used to her.
Which meant that they saw James and Stac’s relationship lasting for an extended period of time.
Stac slipped an arm around Scorpius’ waist and felt his arm tighten on her shoulder in response.
‘Thanks. To both of you.’
He knew. She didn’t have to say it, but she said it anyway.
‘Hey! There is one person in this room that is allowed hands on the birthday girl, and that is me!’
James appeared in front of them, mock-glaring and tugging an eye-rolling Rose behind him. Anastacia and Scorpius laughed, but Stac noticed that Scorpius was quick to let her go.
‘If you’re trying to set up a hands-off policy, I think you’re a bit late,’ Stac started with a laugh, but James had picked her up and was bodily carrying her back to the dance floor before she could get anything else out.
‘James Potter! Put me down!’
‘Will in a moment.’
‘You’re not a bloody caveman! Put me down this instant!’
There was a loud, long-suffering sigh, and Stac found herself being deposited on the edge of the crowd of dancers.
‘What was that for?’
James gave her his best innocent look, complete with puppy-dog eyes and quivering lower lip.
‘I wanted to dance with you?’
Stac, of course, melted in the face of such an insurmountable attack, and a few seconds later they were in the thick of the throng, dancing with the best of them.
The rest of the evening passed at high speed, as all enjoyable times have a tendency to do, but there was no shortage of memorable moments that would be enjoyed again and again for years to come.
Terry dancing like a demented grasshopper while Margie looked on, consumed with helpless giggles.
Fred rendered momentarily speechless in the face of Celeste’s smile, unable to do anything but stare at her.
Albus and Daisy emerging from the shrubbery at the edge of the room, Albus very pink around the ears and Daisy with a demure yet quietly self-satisfied expression.
Sam’s cocktail inventions that grew more inventive and more vividly coloured as the night wore on, and Jaya’s self-imposed challenge to sample every single one of them.
Tessa, Lily and Hugo dancing hand-in-hand on the edge of the floor, and the dawning realisation that came to Stac when she saw the way the young Weasley looked at the young Longbottom.
Yet another realisation, although not quite so dawning, when Rose and Scorpius, dancing happily next to each other a moment ago, turned bright red and seemed at a loss of what to do when a slow song suddenly started to play.
Louis fast asleep under one of the tables, while Dom drew an interesting assortment of pictures on his face and Molly made colourful patterns in his hair.
And James, dancing like a fool with Owen and Josh while, downing shot for shot with Sam, glaring good-naturedly at Scorpius, thanking Celeste for all her hard work in the most gentlemanly manner and remembering her name, and all the while keeping Stac’s hand firmly in his own.
They had danced, they had played some very, very silly games, and they’d all eaten far too much food, and Stac was just wondering what else could possibly happen, when–
‘Presents!’ a small voice piped up.
Tessie was standing on one of the big mushroom tables so that she could see above the crowd. Stac frowned up at her.
‘But you’ve all already given me presents, this morning.’
‘Maybe we should say, present,’ Albus corrected, coming forward with a box, ‘singular. There’s one more we didn’t give you this morning.’
‘And cake!’ Tessie continued. She, Lily and Hugo were all as high as kites from all the sugar they’d eaten.
‘There’s cake too, there’s cake! Cake, cake, cake, I love cake!’
Stac looked at Sam suspiciously, to see if he’d been slipping drinks to the younger ones, but he shook his head with his most virtuous expression.
‘Here,’ Albus continued, offering the small box to Stac, ‘this is just a little thing, from all of us.’
Stac dubiously took the box and opened the lid. Inside, nestled on a bed of soft cotton, was a small golden vial. She didn’t need Albus’s explanation to guess what it was.
‘It’s Felix Felicis. There’s about enough in there for a good couple of weeks, if you use it wisely.’
Felix Felicis was expensive, hard to get hold of and really hard to make. Stac didn’t really want to know how Albus had come by such a substantial amount. She suspected it might have something to do with the Veritaserum he’d also managed to get hold of at one point.
Regardless of all that, she quietly closed the box and handed it back to a stunned Albus.
‘Stac…I mean, don’t you like it? It’s just…we all wanted to get you something special, I guess…’
He trailed off as she smiled warmly at the assembled group. Her friends, her family.
‘It’s wonderful, thank you so much for the lovely thought. But…today…I’ve never been happier in my life.’
Looking around at everyone, feeling James’ arm around her waist, she knew that it was true.
‘And…I don’t really feel like I need…luck anymore.’
And turning in his embrace, she stretched up on her toes and kissed James, in front of all their family and friends, dead on the lips. James, never one to miss an opportunity, tightened his arms around her and returned the kiss, passionately, deeply, uncaring of the whistles and catcalls that were filling the air.
But it was little Louis, momentarily awoken from his spot under the table, sitting up and rubbing his painted eyes, that provided one of the best memories of the night.
‘Eww!’ he announced, his young voice ringing out clearly in a lull in conversation, ‘Get a room, you two!’
Later, much later, so much later that it was really earlier, Stac pulled James’ coat tighter around them both and snuggled back into him as they made their way back to the castle. They’d been some of the last to leave, with only Rose, Scorpius and Celeste staying behind to clean up. Tessie had left some very sleepy instructions on how to dismantle her spellwork when they were done, and had then been taken back to her dormitory by Jaya. Lily and Hugo had been carried out by various cousins some time before, dead to the world, and Dom had taken Louis back hours ago, after his sleepy declaration.
The whole day had been so far beyond belief, and now it was over. Just a short broom ride between the two of them and tomorrow.
‘Don’t fall asleep on me yet,’ James mumbled, ‘I’m not holding on to the broom, steering, and catching you if you fall.’
Stac ignored him and closed her eyes. Then she opened them again to glare at him over her shoulder.
‘I felt that poke! Don’t even think about tickling me, James Potter.’
‘Me?’ James asked, eyes full of innocent indignation, ‘Never! Can you really think I’d do such a thing?’
Grumbling a little, Stac resumed her comfortable position.
‘Love you too.’
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