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The Brave at Heart by marauderfan
Chapter 10 : The Yule Ball
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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Three days later, right before Herbology, Luke Wilcox approached me outside the greenhouse. “Melanie,” he called. He had just come running down the hill carrying several books, parchment and a quill. “Hi, I had something to ask you…”

Mandy, who had been walking next to me, stopped, and then walked into the greenhouse alone. Luke accidentally dropped his quill as he tried to put it into his bag.

“All right,” I said, trying to conceal a silly grin that had spread across my face when Luke stopped next to me. “Here’s your quill.”

“Thanks. Er… so, the Yule Ball is really soon,” he stated, fumbling with his quill and books. I sighed agitatedly, knowing what was coming next. Really? Did he have to do this now? He cleared his throat. “I was wondering if you wanted to go with me?” He looked up at me.

I didn’t know what to say. I had waited so long for Luke to ask me, and now he chose to do so only a few days before the dance! I was annoyed with him for taking so long, but I felt awful knowing that I would have to turn him down. Even though I wanted to go with Luke, James had asked me first and I had already said I’d go with him. Technically I could just talk to James and tell him I’d changed my mind, but I’d feel badly about it.

I sighed. “I’m so sorry, Luke,” I told him reluctantly. “Someone else asked me already, and I’m going with him…”

Luke looked back down and focused on the quill he was still spinning in his hands. “Oh, okay,” he said, and turned to go into Herbology.

“Wait!” I called. Luke stopped and turned to face me. I carried on, not sure of what I was going to say. “I want to go with you, but…I can’t…” I couldn’t find the words to finish my thought, and shrugged helplessly. Luke continued on toward the greenhouse.

I couldn’t believe it. I stood there for a few moments with my mouth open, staring off into space. I was frustrated at the whole situation, trying to find a way it would work out, before I realised class was about to start and hurried inside.

I walked in to class and stood next to Mandy, not speaking to Luke at all. Mandy looked up, as if to ask me what he had said, but she soon turned back to face the front of the class. I was thankful she hadn’t asked me any questions; I wasn’t really in a mood to talk. After about five minutes though, I had calmed down enough and told Mandy, “Luke just asked me to the Yule Ball.”

She picked up a pot full of dirt and poisonous seedlings and began digging in it. “Is he the one you like? I knew there was someone you weren’t telling me about.”

I didn’t respond, and continued tracing patterns of dirt on the table.

“I’m sorry, Mel. Bad timing, huh? If only he had asked you a few days ago.”

“Yeah.”

“I think you’ll have a great time with James. Just try to forget about Luke.”

“That’s hard.”

Mandy laughed. “That’s what I say every time you tell me to just forget about someone. Now do you believe me?”

“I guess.”

“What’s up with Charlotte? She’s been sitting there for fifteen minutes and not moving.”

“I dunno. Ask her.”

“Not right now, Professor Sheridan is looking. Help me dig up these plants, they have to sit in this red potion for six minutes before we can replant them.”



We left class entirely covered in dirt, sweat, and Dr. Zoff’s Poison-Removing Potion. It had been an intense class. After a long time washing our hands and arms, we finally felt clean enough to go to lunch, but it had started a while ago. As Mandy and I passed the Gryffindor table, James called out to us to join them, but he and Sirius and Peter and numerous other Gryffindors were currently in the middle of a food fight. We declined their offer, laughing, and turned to go over to our table.

A piece of broccoli hit me on the shoulder. I turned around to make a face at them, and kept walking.

“You know,” Mandy said, “even though they can be pillocks sometimes, they are pretty great. I really meant what I said before – the Yule Ball will be great with James.” She paused. “I know you’d rather go with Luke, but you don’t even really know him. That wouldn’t be as fun. I think it’s better for you the way it is, to be honest.”

She was totally right, as usual. I would enjoy it more with someone I knew, I wouldn’t constantly have to be worrying about what he thought of me. I pushed the thought of Luke out of my mind, and Mandy and I sat at our table next to Charlotte.

“Why did I ever sign up to continue with Herbology?” Charlotte asked us. “It seems like every day we work with poisonous things, and they always end up getting on me.”

“Didn’t you hear Sheridan? She said the ones we did today aren’t poisonous unless you eat them, Char,” said Mandy, helping herself to some potatoes.

“Is that why you were just sitting there during Herbology?” I teased. “Because you ate a poisonous plant?”

Charlotte didn’t say anything, and stared intently at the meat dish.

“Wait, I was kidding, you didn’t actually eat them, did you?” I asked suspiciously. After a moment of silence, in which I realised there was something she wasn’t telling us, I repeated, “Did you?”

Mandy looked up from her potatoes, trying to suppress laughter. “Charlotte!” she giggled.

Charlotte sighed. “Fine. Yes. Warrington dared me to, and he said he would pay me ten Galleons if I did, so I ate one and then I couldn’t move for an hour.”

Mandy and I roared with laughter.

“And the worst part,” Charlotte continued vehemently, “is that he didn’t even pay me after that! What a liar. I’m going to kill him.”

“Ah, ah,” said a voice from behind us, “you don’t want people to hear you saying that, Avery.” We turned around to see Snape standing behind us, sneering. “They’ll avoid you more than usual.”

“Go away, Snape. No one asked you to eavesdrop.” Mandy snapped.

“Tell me,” he continued, “how are you three liking the Gryffindor common room these days? I hear you go there all the time because no one likes you here.”

So that was it, then – our friendship with the Gryffindors had been the nail in the coffin of our friendship with Snape. It had been going that way for some time, with his Dark Arts fascination putting us off, but there wasn’t much of a point trying anymore. “Actually,” I said, “we just leave the Slytherin common room when you’re there, because you make it smell bad. Leave us alone.”

“Oh, I’m leaving, all right. I don’t want to be seen talking to you. And watch out for the broccoli, Avery, it might be poisonous.” He walked away.

Charlotte swore. She started to get up and leave, but we pulled her back. “You can’t let him ruin your day,” said Mandy.

“It was already ruined. I want to drop Herbology.”

I laughed. “You have to admit it was funny, though.”

“Yeah, you have to stay here because the last thing you ate was those plants,” said Mandy, moving the potato bowl towards Charlotte. “You need lunch. Potatoes?”



When school let out for the holidays, very few people went home, which was unusual. Normally when we left for Christmas there were about twelve people who stayed; this year almost everyone fourth year and above stayed. It was wonderful being at school with my friends and not having any work to do; although we had been assigned homework over the holidays, there was plenty of other time to do it.

Most years, we’d have some sort of end-of-term celebration in the common room, but the upcoming Yule Ball was exciting enough – plus, for those fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be in Slughorn’s handpicked “Slug Club” of students he thought had the potential to become successful in life, there was a Christmas party tomorrow. So Mandy, Charlotte, Alanna, Rachel and I had a night in, eating loads of sweets and lying about on our blankets. We deserved to be lazy after such a hard term at school.

Eventually Rachel got out her tin whistle and began playing “Firewhisky in the Jar,” and I sang along. I loved it when she played music – our music was about the only thing the two of us had in common. So we enjoyed playing and singing together while Mandy and Alanna painted their nails and talked about boys. Charlotte watched us all from the doorway of the bathroom, brushing her teeth.

“Rachel, are you going to Slughorn’s party tomorrow?” Mandy asked suddenly.

Rachel twirled her whistle in one hand while she slowly looked over at Mandy. “Of course I am,” she said. “I’m one of Slughorn’s best students.”

Mandy turned to face me and rolled her eyes, then looked back at Rachel. “I just think it’ll be boring, that’s all. Russell doesn’t even want to go with me.”

“They’re not boring,” said Rachel. “You should be proud you get to go! It’s a small price to pay for the honour we get of being marked for success. And there’s always a good supply of mead, so I don’t see what you’re complaining about. Too bad about your boyfriend, though.”

Mandy shrugged. Then there was a loud clattering noise behind me, and I turned to see Charlotte hopping on one foot, surrounded by several scattered bits of oddly striped stones. “Damn it,” she said. “Mel, will you get your bloody rock collection out of the middle of the floor?” she asked exasperatedly.

“Sorry,” I said, pointing my wand at the rocks and watching them soar back onto my bedside table and arrange themselves nicely. Charlotte dramatically hopped back to her bed and rolled over on it, resting her chin in her hands as she surveyed the four of us still sitting on the floor.

We finally began getting ready for bed, though, and started dragging our duvets off the floor and back onto the beds. Mandy approached me and asked, “Do you want to go to Slughorn’s party with me? I don’t necessarily have to bring a date, just a guest, it doesn’t matter. So what do you think?”

“I’m the replacement for Russell?” I asked, laughing. “Why are you going, if you don’t actually want to?”

“Well, I may as well go. There’s good food. And what else would I be doing then?”

She had a good point. Tomorrow evening I could sit in the dormitory and listen to Alanna worrying about her grades, her chipped nail varnish, or whatever else was stressing her out – but that didn’t sound appealing. So I agreed to go with Mandy, to see what Slughorn’s legendary parties were like. How bad could they really be?

The party was in Slughorn’s office. It was decorated very nicely; there were lots of coloured hangings on the walls, and lamps on the sides bathed the room in a golden glow. Fairies fluttered by the lights and on the ceiling. The room was rather crowded; there were lots of students, some other professors, and house-elves carrying trays of food. I even saw two people in a corner whom I was sure were on the Chudley Cannons, one of the worst and unluckiest professional Quidditch teams in existence.

Slughorn was nearby, and he approached us and said “Miss Macintosh, what a pleasure to see you here. And you, Miss Hastings,” he added as an afterthought when he saw me. “Have you met Florence Filburn yet?” he asked Mandy, gesturing to one of the Chudley Cannons people in the corner.

“Er, no, not yet,” she said, and the two of us followed Slughorn and were introduced to Florence Filburn. She didn’t have a whole lot to say, which I figured was understandable – if the Chudley Cannons were a better team, she might have wanted to say more. Soon I excused myself, although Mandy actually liked the Chudley Cannons and continued talking to Florence.

I got a goblet of mead and set off to mingle with the other students there, and soon found Lily Evans. I had guessed she might be there, as she was talented at Potions and thus one of Slughorn’s favourite students. “Happy Christmas, Lily,” I said.

“Hi Melanie, Happy Christmas to you too. Having a good time?”

“Yeah. This cake is amazing.”

“That’s the reason I always show up,” Lily said, laughing. “But it is really nice of Slughorn to put on this Christmas party every year. I do like it, it’s so much better than the meetings he has throughout the year.”

“That’s sweet of you,” I said. “You should hear Mandy go on about it, she won’t shut up about how boring she finds it. But there she is, she’s anything but bored talking to that Chudley Cannons player!”

“Is this your first Slug Club party?”

“Yeah, it is. I’m rubbish at Potions so I’m just here as Mandy’s guest. But it’s fun so far, it’s not nearly as bad as Mandy said.”

Lily nodded. “Sometimes he invites quite interesting people, too. In the beginning of the year the author of one of our Ancient Runes books was there. And that guy from the Wayfaring Warlocks who’s here today was at the last Slug Club event as well. I’m pretty sure he just secretly lives at Hogwarts, since they’re supposed to be playing for the Yule Ball too—”

“Wait, which guy?” I interrupted, looking around. I didn’t really care about meeting Florence Filburn, especially because she was just one of the Chudley Cannons, but I would love to meet any member of the Wayfaring Warlocks, one of my favourite Wizarding bands.

“Oh, I don’t know his name, the singer…”

“Are you serious?” I asked. “Damian Tremlett is here?” I craned my neck to look over people’s heads and see if I could find him.

“Yeah, he was over there somewhere a few minutes ago… are you a big fan?” She laughed.

“Er, you could say that,” I said. I glanced around nonchalantly for a scrap of parchment lying around on a table, but found none. Maybe I could run back to my dormitory and get a quill and bit of parchment and come back in time to find Damian Tremlett and get his autograph…

“You should go find him,” Lily suggested.

“I think I will,” I said. “It was good to see you!” I started to head for the door, as one of Lily’s fellow Gryffindor friends showed up and found Lily.

At that point Mandy found me. “There you are. Guess who I found? Hey, where are you going?” she asked.

“I’m going back to the room to get some things.”

She snorted. “Some things? That’s really not vague at all.”

“I’m going to get paper and a quill because Damian Tremlett is here and I want his autograph,” I said very quickly.

Mandy laughed. “I just met him!” she exclaimed as she followed me towards the door. “Should I go back and warn him that a crazed fan is coming to meet him?”

“I’m not crazy… Whatever, you’ll just be jealous when I have his autograph and you don’t!”

“Poor Luke, he has some serious competition. I’ll tell him that he should grow his hair long and learn how to sing,” teased Mandy, grinning.

“Oh, shut up.” Honestly, Luke didn’t need to do anything to catch my attention, he already had it. And I had almost caught his attention in time for the dance, but not quite soon enough.

I left Slughorn’s office and ran all the way to the Slytherin common room. As I approached the bare wall which concealed the door, I noticed a first-year Slytherin boy sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, his bag of textbooks next to him. He stood up when I skidded to a stop, and looked very relieved I was here, which was sort of odd because I didn’t know him.

“Hi,” he said timidly. “The password’s just been switched, and I forgot it already,” he said.

“Oh. How long have you been waiting here?” I asked, out of breath from running.

“About fifteen minutes… no one’s come by to let me in.”

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “The password is ‘pureblood.’ The world’s dumbest password, isn’t it?”

“Er, I guess,” he said, as the wall opened to form a doorway.

“It is a stupid password. Salazar Slytherin was a bit mental, he wanted Hogwarts to be only pureblood students, but if it were, there’d be about thirty people here.”

“Calvin Mulciber told me that the –”

“Whatever he said, don’t listen to him, he’s an arse. And he likes to play around with Dark Magic like it’s something harmless from Zonko’s.”

“He knows a lot about the Dark Arts,” the kid admitted.

“Yeah…” I said. I reminded myself to check on the kid later and make sure he didn’t spend too much time with people like Mulciber who would brainwash him into the same pureblood and Dark Arts fascination and love of power that had captured much of Slytherin house.

I suddenly remembered why I’d run all the way back here in the first place. Rather than going up the stairs to my dormitory for paper, I ripped a corner off a page on the notice board. “Do you have a quill?” I asked the first-year. “Can I borrow it and return it to you later?”

“Erm, sure,” he said, taking a quill out of his bag and looking rather confused. I realised he probably had no idea who I was, and I still hadn’t introduced myself. The poor kid, he seemed shy and I’d probably scared him or something.

“Thanks. I’m Melanie, by the way.”

“Hi… I’m Mark,” he said as I spun around towards the door.

“Okay. I’ll see you later!” With the quill and the scrap of paper clutched in my hand, I dashed out the door and back to the party.

I noticed Damian Tremlett almost immediately when I walked back into the room, and I started making my way through the various groups of people chatting. Someone else was talking to him at the moment, so I waited and struck up a conversation with Priya Kaur, a Ravenclaw girl who always sat with me in Astronomy class. It turned out that she was also waiting to get an autograph.

After Tremlett was available again, Priya and I both moved over and introduced ourselves and got autographs. I told him how much I loved the Wayfaring Warlocks. Then there was a bit of an awkward pause, during which Priya and I looked at each other and realised that other than that, we didn’t really know what to say. I would have loved to ask him something, but I didn’t know what. I was sure we had come across as extremely silly to him, but fortunately he showed no annoyance at this and was very friendly. We both thanked him, then someone else came up to talk to him and we stepped away.

Priya and I spent the next five minutes giddily discussing our luck at meeting Damian Tremlett; Priya told me she would proudly hang the autographed piece of parchment on the wall in her dormitory. I thought I’d hide mine so none of my friends would take it.

That was definitely the highlight of the evening. The rest of the party was fun, and after a while it started clearing out and I found Mandy again. I showed her the autograph and told her, “Whatever you say, I don’t think Slug Club parties are boring. And maybe even Slughorn isn’t quite as bad as I thought he was.”



The morning of December 25th, I woke to find a pile of gifts near the foot of my bed. As I was first in the dormitory to wake up, I ran over and pounced on Mandy’s bed to wake her up as well. She shoved me off, and then woke the rest of the girls by yelling, “It’s Christmas! Time to get up! Presents!”

Alanna opened her bed hangings to throw a pillow at us and then went back to sleep, until Rachel sat up excitedly and threw her pillow at Alanna in turn. Charlotte begrudgingly got up as well, and we all reached for our presents.

I had received a new set of quills from Mandy, and some Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans from Charlotte. I picked up the next present, which was from James, Sirius, Remus and Peter. It was shaped like a book, which was odd – why would they, of all people, ever have had their hands on a book? It must have been Remus’s idea. I unwrapped it, and sure enough, it was a book, entitled “How To Stay On Your Broom.” It was full of Quidditch strategies and broomcare tips and all sorts of things that would probably come in handy. I laughed – they had given me something useful and made fun of me at the same time. I tossed the wrapping paper on the floor, where it promptly exploded.

It turned out that they had given Mandy something similar, because I heard an explosion coming from where she was sitting as well. Alanna started yelling at us to be quiet. I looked up.

“The Gryffindors gave me this stupid firework that blew up when I touched it!” Mandy told me, laughing.

Remembering the gift they had given me when I was in the hospital wing, I wondered whether they had ever given any gift that did not explode.

“Was that all?”

“No, there’s also some chocolate and some stuff from Zonko’s. By the way, thanks for the Sneakoscope! I’ve heard of these before, they’re supposed to light up and spin when someone you can’t trust is around?”

Charlotte laughed. “I bet it’ll light up all the time we’re near the Gryffindors, now we’ll know when they’re lying to us!”

The last present I opened was a wool hat from my family. It was green and silver with serpents embroidered on it. I left it in its box and got ready to go up to breakfast.

We walked up to the Great Hall to find twelve trees set up, sparkling as if it had just snowed. There were fairies on top of the trees. It was absolutely stunning.

The food was spectacular, as always. Even though it was still relatively early in the morning, I was impatient for it to be eight o’clock in the evening. Mandy and Charlotte and I visited the Gryffindor common room after breakfast, where we played Gobstones and chess with the boys and ate delicious sweets from Honeydukes, which one of them had received as a Christmas gift.

That afternoon Mandy, Charlotte and I went sledding on the hills near the frozen lake. We all got extremely cold and wet, but it was a great time. At about half past five o’clock we left to go inside and get ready for the Yule Ball.

We walked down to our dormitory, where out the window we could see a snow fight raging, and then closed the curtains and began preparing for the dance. I let Mandy do my hair, since I considered my curls unmanageable, and was planning to just leave it alone. She put it up with a few ringlets hanging down. Charlotte and Mandy both curled their hair, and then we got out our dress robes. Mine were purple, Mandy’s were silver, and Charlotte’s were a dark Slytherin green.

Alanna and Rachel came into the room at about six o’clock, and all of us got into a lively discussion about the dance and who was going with whom, and various other topics. Rachel and I were both beyond excited that the Wayfaring Warlocks were providing the music, and we spontaneously treated the other three girls to a slightly horrible rendition of “Bowtruckle Blues.” It took us a while to get everything done, but eventually all five of us were ready.

We headed down to the common room together, where the other four found their Slytherin dates, and I walked to the other end of the room and out into the hall, where I found James waiting for me.

“How did you know where our common room is?” I asked, surprised.

“Well, you know where ours is,” said James.

“You showed us. We never showed you ours.”

“I just know these things.” He grinned. “You look great, by the way.”

“Thanks, so do you.”

“Should we go up to the Great Hall, then?” He offered me his arm gallantly.

I took it, laughing. “Sure.”

All the long House tables had been replaced by a number of smaller tables for the Christmas feast. James and I sat down at a table and were soon joined by Remus and his date Cassie, and a few other people I didn’t know. The feast was excellent – the best part was that to get food, we just had to tell our plates what we wanted and it would appear.

The enchanted ceiling of the Hall showed a clear sky sprinkled with bright stars. The room was filled with talking and laughter, and it was altogether a wonderful atmosphere as we ate our dinner. It was very enjoyable, and a great opportunity to talk to people I didn’t ordinarily spend much time with. As dinner ended, the raised platform at the end of the hall where the staff table usually was became a stage; the small tables cleared away to the side, and the Wayfaring Warlocks took the stage and began to play.

James and I made our way out onto the dance floor, among all the other couples. The first song was pretty fast, a great way to start out the dancing. We danced and talked, and I was really enjoying myself despite all the drama leading up to the dance. But it seemed that every time I turned my head Luke was there, dancing with Elsie Ritter, a very pretty and popular Hufflepuff in our year. Why did Luke need to be right there? Did he know how much that annoyed me?

After a while James and I went back to the tables to sit down and rest. He spotted some fellow Gryffindor Quidditch team members and told me he was going to join them for a little while, if it was all right.

“That’s great, I’ll see you later.” I smiled and walked towards a different table, where I saw Mandy sitting with Russell, Charlotte, and Stephan Flint. Mandy waved at me, and I sat down by her.

“Hey,” I said brightly. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

“No, not at all!” Russell answered, smiling. “Have you been enjoying the dance so far?”

“Yes, it’s been fantastic! How about you, what do you think?”

“It’s definitely been fun. Who did you come with?”

“James Potter.” Russell stared at me blankly, and on Flint’s face was a disgusted expression. “Excuse me?” I asked Flint defensively.

“You could have picked anyone, why Potter?” he spat. “He’s a Gryffindor, he’s arrogant, he’s rude to every Slytherin in this school, and just a horrible person in general.”

“He’s a Gryffindor, yes, and there are some Slytherins he has disagreements with. But that’s normal for anyone. He is not a horrible person. Why do you have so much against him?”

“Stop,” said Mandy, reaching her hand out between us and trying to stop what she sensed as the start of a heated disagreement. “Stephan, she’s allowed to talk with whomever she wants, don’t insult her taste in friends. Mel, don’t get so worked up.”

“Well I’m sorry I came over here,” I said huffily, starting to stand up, and glaring daggers at Flint.

Mandy stood up too. “Wait, I haven’t had a chance to talk to you since before the dance!” She turned to face Russell. “We’ll be right back.” She grabbed my wrist and led me over to a more secluded table.

“Melanie, I’m so sorry about him.”

“It’s not your fault. I hate Flint. Why on earth did Charlotte go with him?”

“Calm down,” she began, putting her hand on my arm. “He’s actually not that bad. I talked with him for a while, since we were sitting at the same table for dinner. I think he snapped at you because he’s just jealous of how much attention James gets on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and how everyone at school loves him – and I think he just dislikes James because of how easy he makes it look.”

“I guess that’s understandable,” I confessed after a bit. “Actually to be completely honest I think part of the reason I hate Flint is because I’m jealous… he’s on the Quidditch team, in what should have been my spot. But mainly just because he’s such a prick.”

“It’s okay. Jealousy is only natural; it’s human.”

“Spare me the philosophy, Mandy.”

She laughed. “You definitely should be on the Quidditch team, though. You’ll make it next year, there’s no question about it. And Flint will even have left Hogwarts by then. But I promise, Flint’s not as bad as he came off just then.”

“Okay.”

Mandy smiled. “I’m sorry.”

I sighed. “Don’t worry about it. How are you liking the dance?”

“I love it. I’m having so much fun. We’re going to have to talk all about it afterwards.” She grinned, adjusting one of the clips in her short blonde hair. “But right now I think I see James looking for you.” She pointed behind me.

“All right. Have a good time for the rest of the dance! I’ll probably see you on the dance floor at some point.”

“Great!” We got up and she went back to join her table, and I walked off after James.

As I approached him, Lily and her partner Lewis Ackerley emerged from the crowd, heading towards the tables by the window. James, rather than walking towards me, diverted off to the table where they were sitting. I caught up to him before he got there, and grabbed his arm, leading him away back into the crowd. “You can’t make it that obvious. Give her a break.”

He laughed it off. “What makes you think I was going to talk to her?”

“James, I know you better than that.” So we sat at a table together, far away from where Lily and her date were still sitting. Then we just discussed Quidditch, which was a great conversation topic to distract the both of us from our failed dates that we didn’t want to admit.

As we were sitting at the table and talking, Sirius bounded up to us, having just left the dance floor. “Enjoying yourselves?” he interrupted.

“Hey, Padfoot,” said James, smiling. “How’s it going?”

“Great! Why are you just sitting here?” He turned to me. “Come dance.”

“What?”

Sirius grinned, grabbing my hands and pulling me off the chair. “What about your girlfriend? Where is she?” I protested, as he put one hand on my waist and marched me onto the dance floor as if we were doing a rather awkward tango. I shot a confused look at James, who was laughing.

“I don’t know,” said Sirius. “She went to talk to her friends. Oh, actually I see her over there, she’s dancing with Caradoc Dearborn. He looks like a rubbish dancer, though. I’m much better.”

“Well I don’t want to dance with you,” I said, trying to prise his hands off of me. “What are we doing? This song isn’t a tango.”

“Would you have preferred a slow song?” He smirked.

“Yes. Then your girlfriend would get jealous and she’d come separate us, and I wouldn’t have to dance with you.”

He laughed. “It’s a fun social dance, Hastings, not a proposal. The point is to make friends!”

I scowled.

“Come on, it’s Christmas.” He lifted his arm and I twirled under it, laughing despite myself.

This was so unlike Sirius, trying to get me, of all people, to dance with him. “What is this all about?” I asked suspiciously, narrowing my eyes. “Who put you up to this? You never go out of your way to talk to me. Should I be expecting to turn into a toad after this, or something?”

Sirius grinned. “That’s a brilliant idea,” he said. “You’re quite fun when you’re paranoid. Anyway, no ulterior motives, I just decided you’re not as horrible as I originally thought.” He shrugged.

I shook my head, baffled. “You need to work on your people skills.”

“You look nice today,” he said. “Is that better?”

“What?” I didn’t know how to respond, and felt an unwelcome flush creeping up my neck; it was probably the only nice thing he had ever said to me. “You are a ridiculous individual.”

He laughed. “I believe the polite response would be ‘thank you’. Is purple your favourite colour?”

“Actually, no, my favourite colour is orange. But I don’t have orange dress robes.”

“Look,” he said suddenly, pointing over towards the side of the Great Hall where the tables were. James and Lily were standing by one of the tables, talking. Oddly, they didn’t even seem to be annoyed with one another. “I think Evans actually just smiled.”

“I think we’ve just witnessed a historic occasion,” I said.

It was short-lived. As the last few notes played in the song Sirius and I were dancing to, I looked back at Lily and James only to see James ruffling his hair nervously as Lily walked away scowling. Sirius and I made our way off the dance floor as James chased after Lily.

Lily sighed heavily. “I should have known that having a normal conversation with you was too good to be true. Please leave me alone, Potter.”

James seemed to deflate. “Sorry, mate,” said Sirius. “Bad luck, not even the Christmas spirit can change her mind. Even Melanie and I danced and we hate each other.”

“Bollocks,” I said to Sirius. “We don’t hate each other, stop being dramatic. Anyway, I came here with James, not you. It’s been fun.” I walked over to stand by James’s side as Sirius disappeared into the crowd.

I was unsettled to see this sensitive side of James, I was used to the invincible, confident, tough Quidditch captain and troublemaker James – the only side of him that he ever displayed to anyone. He was good at pretending otherwise, but it was clear to me how much it frustrated him that he couldn’t get Lily to like him, after all these years. I wasn’t quite sure what to say. “I’m sorry.”

“I’ll live,” he said. “She’s right, anyway. I was being a git. She’s happy with Ackerley, I should be happy for her.”

“James, have you ever considered… anyone else? What if Lily wasn’t an option? Are there any other girls you like? You deserve better than rejection.”

He watched me carefully. “My mum told me something similar once,” he said. “You know, it never used to be that bad with Evans until the end of last year, and since then she’s hated me.” He was silent for a moment, then added, “I’ve always been close with Vivian on my Quidditch team. I think she likes me. I never asked her out though, because she’s a seventh year. And I wouldn’t want her to feel like a second choice.”

“Then treat her like she’s your first choice,” I suggested. “As for asking out a seventh year, I thought you were a Gryffindor, James. Brave and bold, right?”

James smiled. “I never expected to hear such wise words from a Slytherin,” he teased. “Thanks, by the way. Let’s go enjoy the rest of the Yule Ball, shall we?”

We walked back in past Lily and Lewis, who James didn’t even look at, and Sirius, who was watching me with a look of annoyance as a girl followed him hopefully. Luke, Flint, and everyone else I wanted to avoid were nowhere in sight as James and I went back onto the dance floor and danced the night away.


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