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Chapter 12 : Twelve
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To Lily, it was like stepping into an enchanted, haunted forest pulled straight out of the fairytales. James was quickly reminded of a clearing in the Forbidden Forest; a placid, yet dangerous place he and his friends often found themselves after a night spent in animal form.
Upon further investigation, James and Lily saw that the house tables had vanished to give way to a scatter of smaller, lantern-lit ones, each seating about a dozen people. At the top of the Hall, the professors were already seated at their usual long table facing their students.
James and Lily wandered around the hall and found Remus, Peter, and Sirius sitting at a table with their dates, furthest from the professors.
“I’m starved!” Sirius was saying, his fork and knife already gripped tightly in his hands.
His date, Mandy Ackerly, smiled and grabbed Sirius’ napkin, playfully tucking it into his collar like a bib.
“Thanks, love,” Sirius said, grinning. “You know the way to a man’s heart!”
Everyone laughed as James and Lily sat down to join them and before anyone could say another word, the feast appeared on the golden plates in much the same fashion as the start-of-term feast.
The boys hungrily dug into their food while the girls daintily picked at their plates.
“Not hungry?” asked James, looking around the table to the various girls.
“It’s not that,” answered Head Girl, Monica Moon, Remus’ date. “We just don’t want to fill up too much because we don’t want to get a stomach ache later.”
“Why would you get a stomach ache later?” Sirius inquired without looking up from his pork chop.
“From dancing, of course!” answered Mandy Ackerly.
The boys stopped eating and looked up for a moment; the girls nodded in agreement.
Just as everyone was finishing up dessert, a small raised platform appeared along the right wall. A piano rolled out of nowhere while a group of musicians trooped up to the stage and began to set up in a small cluster. One musician sat at the piano; one held a plain looking flute; one clutched a basic looking violin; and a woman in dark blue formal robes, holding a goblet of something or another, stood at the center.
Dumbledore, at the top of the Hall, stood and asked that everyone else do the same. The tables were quickly cleared and with a flick of Dumbledore’s wand, they zoomed back along the walls, leaving the floor clear.
Once Dumbledore had sat back down, the musicians struck up the first song. But the music they produced was far from normal, as the instruments were wizarding equipment; the violin produced the sounds of an entire string ensemble, just as the flute gave the effect of a complete woodwind section…
The music they played gently echoed across the Hall to James and Lily. They listened to the rendition of the particular song, noticing just how very ethereal and droning, highly refined and exquisitely emotional the music was. It was very romantic and mysterious, and there was an eerie, mystical tone to every note.
“Can you believe this music?” complained Sirius, throwing his Jack the Ripper topper hat into the air and successfully catching it on his head. “Halloween’s a time to celebrate! Not mope around. We need some black lights in here or something!"
“Oh I think it’s romantic like this,” said Mandy Ackerly as she adhered herself to Sirius’ sleeve. “No silly disco dancing tonight, thank you very much.”
“I agree,” Bidelia Wallace, Peter’s Hufflepuff date, said softly.
“But, hey, maybe we could make requests,” Lily offered as James bit his lip.
“Hmm, what song could we request?” asked Mandy Ackerly.
“How about a nice tango?” offered Monica Moon with a sideways glance at her date, Remus. “It’s been a while since I last tangoed.”
Everyone watched Remus’ vampire eyes turn to full moons as he tugged at his collar.
“I’m only kidding, Remus!” blurted Monica, straightening her floating angel’s halo for the hundredth time.
“Oh, don’t be fooled, now, Monica. Ol’ Remus can tango.” Sirius laughed as he pointed at Remus with his costume cane. “He’s an excellent dancer!”
“Shut it, you, Mr. Teach-me-to-dance-quick Black,” warned Remus.
“Oh!” laughed Mandy Ackerly, squeezing Sirius’ crimson cheeks. “Your secret’s out!”
Just then the next song began. They were deciding whether to join the growing medley of costumed dancers on the dance floor, when seventh-year Gryffindor, Reth Jordan, approached the group, his eyes fixed on Sirius’ date.
“Would you like to dance with me?” he asked Mandy Ackerly without acknowledging Sirius’ glower.
Mandy blushed, but Sirius quickly cut in. “Sorry Jordan, she’s with me.”
Reth Jordan put his hands up in the air and backed off with a sideways glance. Sirius puffed out his chest and tilted his topper as Mandy Ackerly grabbed his elbow.
“Well, Sirius,” she said. “If I’m with you, then why aren’t we dancing?”
With that, each of the girls grabbed their date’s hands and began to pull them towards the dance floor. The boys looked to each other one last time before following.
James and Lily found a nice spot somewhere in the middle while the rest dispersed among the other slow dancing couples. James shook his hands in attempt to get the shakiness out of them and when Lily wrapped her arms around him, his nerves pinched. Was he afraid to touch her? She pulled away as he stood there, staring down at her.
Lily smiled. “I’m not going to break if you touch me.” But he still hesitated, looking somewhat taken aback. “You’ve held me before.”
She took his right arm and slowly wrapped it around her, and then she took hold of his other. She placed her left hand upon his shoulder and they moved a little closer together, conforming to the music. After a few moments, James brought her right hand around his other shoulder so both her hands were behind his neck and Lily felt his hands both move to the small of her back. He still barely touched her though, brushing her skin with his fingertips as if he didn’t know what to do with them. But soon, he seemed to relax and she noticed that his shoulders dropped a little about halfway through the song. As the next song came, he held a little tighter to her, pulling her closer still.
And they danced.
James and Lily didn’t know how much time had past, or how many songs had gone by, but they stayed at the same spot on the dance floor the whole of that time. The area became quite crowded, but they really didn’t notice anyone else.
Just as his hand began to move along her skin, gently exploring the curve between her shoulder blades, there was a tap on James’ shoulder. He ignored it at first, but then it came again. He opened his eyes and Sirius was standing there grinning.
“Welcome back,” Sirius said as Lily pulled out from James’ robes. He turned back to James. “Where’s your mask, mate? Anyway, we’ve been looking for you. We’ve gotten some butterbeers, but I see that you’re pretty, er, occupied.”
James and Lily blushed and avoided each other’s eyes before looking out and spotting Remus and Peter sitting with their dates drinking butterbeers. But the musicians were still playing, so as Sirius pushed his way to their table, James and Lily absentmindedly stepped together and closed their eyes, absorbing the music.
A few songs later, Lily looked up to find herself wrapped in James’ billowing robes again. She glanced up into his eyes and brought her hand to his neck, carefully tracing the contour of his jaw with her thumb. Lily began to see James in a different light and had to stare. She found that she was starting to feel more and more susceptible to him, and she didn’t want to let go. Frankly, Lily was confused, but at the same time, she couldn’t have felt any safer with someone.
James watched her closely, noticing how she was studying his features. Lily’s emerald eyes lit up as though she were seeing James for the first time; her gaze lingered on his eyes as though she had just discovered their golden-hazel brilliancy and he watched as her focus flicked around, looking at his nose, his mouth, his clinching jaw.
James let out the breath he found that he was holding and quickly pulled Lily close to him, throwing caution to the winds. Lily’s brow deepened, as if she were going to protest, but James quickly realized that he must have misinterpreted the expression, as Lily had brought her hands to the small of his slender back, finally daring to explore the curves of his body as he had explored hers.
His stomach gave a pleasurable squirm as he felt Lily feeling him, and his throat began to tighten; he had that powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half longing, that Lily’s presence often made him feel, but this time it was too much. He needed to touch her. He needed to hold her. He utterly needed to kiss her. If he didn’t, surely he would die. He brought his hand to her neck, just behind the ear, which brought her wandering eyes to his again. They each began to draw closer together, bringing their faces towards each other’s. The tips of their noses brushed and they closed their eyes, but before anything could happen, there was a violent jerk on James’ arm.
They broke apart. James angrily glared towards the intruder, Lily turned away, bringing her fingertips wearily to her cheek.
James found little Peter Pettigrew blinking up at him.
“What is it, Wormtail?” he asked through clinched teeth.
“James! Sirius is trying to fight Reth Jordan! Hurry!”
James and Lily turned and peered to the side of the dance floor and saw glimpses of Remus with his arms flailing, trying to force himself between the fists of Sirius and the Gryffindor seventh-year, Reth Jordan. Mandy Ackerly, Sirius’ date, stood a slight distance from the two, her hands over her mouth in shock.
James looked to Lily then dashed off with Peter to help Remus.
Lily sighed, holding onto the necklace around her neck, and decided to try to find Alice or somebody willing to slap her out of this nostalgic trance. She still felt a buzz from embracing—no hugging—no! dancing with James. She suspected that someone might have spiked her drink earlier during dinner—some sort of potion, like a Love Potion perhaps. But those weren’t allowed at Hogwarts. It didn’t seem plausible, but neither did this strange attraction towards James Potter. So she came to the Ball with Potter. Big deal, she reasoned with herself. But why did it seem more complicated than that? Lily decided that her friends might be gossiping in the girl’s bathroom by now, so she spun around to join them, only to collide solidly into someone.
“Oh!” she gasped.
“Lily Evans,” came a dark, silky voice. “We must stop meeting this way.”
Her eyes traveled up to meet with Severus Snape’s as the next droning song began.
“Er, excuse me,” she said, tearing her emerald eyes away from him and bringing her fingers to the Alexandrite gemstone again.
She began to move aside to carry on with her search for Alice, when Severus snatched up her wrist, causing her to tug on the necklace around her neck. She looked down at his pale hand with surprise before glaring up into his face, framed between curtains of greasy black hair. And those eyes, those haunting black eyes.
Lily gasped as his other cold hand met her skin at the middle of her back. He quickly pulled her close and swept her to the back corner of the dance floor (the furthest away from James and the Marauders, naturally).
“Snape—” she began, squirming at his touch, which only made him hold her more firmly.
“I never got a chance to apologize for that—ah—most unfortunate day back in September,” He whispered into her ear.
She wanted to scream something foul, but bit her lip as her anger grew.
“Would you accept my apology?” he continued softly, seeming not to notice that she fought to get away.
“Why would you apologize?” Lily said furiously as she struggled. “You’ve never found any reason to before!”
“Well,” he said, his lips curling and his black eyes glinting, “We’re in our sixth-year, Evans. I don’t know about you and your little Gryffindor playmates, but some of us have grown up a little.”
“Are you so sure?” she asked him darkly. “What was it you called me on the Hogwarts Express?”
His sneer became even more pronounced as he whispered, “Mudblood.”
“You see, Snivellus,” Lily felt his grip around her wrist tighten painfully as she said that. “You’re much worse than—”
“Now who’s calling who names?” Severus interrupted, his voice quickly becoming rather waspish.
Lily felt like kneeing him and wanted so desperately to tell him that she knew his dark little secret.
“Nevertheless,” Severus continued after a moment’s glower. “I am truly sorry for that little bump on the head. Rosier and Wilkes are harmless fools and it wouldn’t have gone that far if not for your gallant hero, Potter. But Potter, well—” He trailed off, chuckling to himself.
“You’re wrong, Snape. You don’t know anything about James and have no business talking to me, so please let go.”
“Indeed?” interrupted Severus with an ironic glance. “I would stop hanging around the likes of Potter, Mudblood. His arrogance is starting to rub off on you.”
“Have you anything else to say?” She asked him coolly.
“Well, now that you ask, Lily, you look lovely tonight.”
With that, he quickly let go of her, violently pushing her out of his way as he proceeded towards a group of seventh-year Slytherins. Lily took the closest chair and sank deep into thought.
Severus got some real guts over the summer, she noted. That must have been when it happened, when he swore his loyalties. At the end of the previous school year, he was just a spindly boy that everyone badgered, including his own Slytherin peers. But now, he seemed like their ringleader.
Lily looked down to her wrist and saw that marks were already forming where he had gripped her during their discussion. Lily shuttered at the thought of his dire hands upon her, and missed James.
Forgetting her search for Alice, Lily made her way towards the corner of the Great Hall where James was standing in front of Sirius, Remus, Peter, and Mandy Ackerly.
“You know Reth didn’t mean it, Sirius,” Mandy was saying, stroking Sirius’ arm.
Lily noticed Sirius was glaring to where Reth Jordan was talking to an annoyed looking Professor McGonagall and Head Boy and Girl, Frank Longbottom and Monica Moon.
James turned to Lily, whispering, “Reth called him something along the lines of a ‘Dark Art’s catch colt’.”
“Why? I thought they’re friends. They’re both Gryffindor Beaters!”
James frowned and whispered closer. “Yeah. They were friends. But I had a feeling this would happen eventually. They’ve been arguing about—well—arguing over Mandy Ackerly.” He paused and studied Lily’s eyes more closely. “Lily? What’s wrong?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I guess I’m just a bit tired.”
“You wanna go sit down somewhere?”
James took Lily’s hand and they wandered to another area of the Great Hall. They chose a table and sat down next to each other.
“What’s up? Is it me? I’m sorry if I—”
Lily looked up quickly. “No, James, it’s not you. You’ve been a wonderful date.”
James exhaled and looked pretty relieved. “Then what is it, Lily?”
“Let’s just say, that some people are changing for the better and some for worse.”
She didn’t mean to, but after Lily said those last few words, she glanced towards Severus Snape across the way.
James saw this and unconsciously felt for his wand handle. “What did he do, Lily? Please, tell me!”
“It’s nothing, James.”
“Did he touch you? Did he call you a—a—”
“You see! This is just why I don’t want to tell you, James! You’ll be spitting out hexes faster than you can fly on your brand new broomstick!”
Lily stood up and looked down to the dumbstruck James. She instantly regretted letting her pent up anger out on him like that and wanted to take him in her arms again and ask forgiveness, but instead, she let her rage take her to the doors of the Great Hall. Lily stomped through and was determined to make it to Gryffindor tower. She got all the way to the marble staircase in the entrance hall, when James swooped from behind and blocked her path.
“Lily, please. I’m sorry. I overreacted.”
She looked up into his pleading hazel eyes. “Oh, James, I’m so sorry.” And she flung her arms around him. He embraced her so thankfully, that he lifted her off the ground.
“But I don’t think I want to go back to the Ball.” Lily said as he set her down.
He thought about it for a moment, then went to peek out the oak front doors. He came back to Lily and pulled her towards the opened exit.
“James, no, James!” she smiled, looking around for witnesses. “We’re going to get caught! Besides, didn’t you see the sky? It’s about to downpour!”
James smiled that handsome crooked smile of his, then shuffled out of his outer robes, draping them around Lily. “Come on!” he urged mischievously. “And we won’t get caught. You’re forgetting who you’re with!”
Lily drew his robes around her and looked out the doors for a moment. Why not? She most certainly didn’t want to go back to the Ball and Gryffindor tower, undoubtedly buzzing with Halloween cheer and celebration, didn’t seem any more promising a getaway. She bent over and slipped her shoes off and James and Lily darted into the darkness of the stormy night.
Holding her hand, James brought her across the lawn and down to the shadowy lakeside. They stood at the edge of the water, looking out across its surface as the wind stirred up hungry dark waves. James cautiously stepped up behind Lily and wrapped his arms lightly around her. When she leaned into him, rather than pulling away, he held her more closely and rested his cheek against her ear.
After a moment, Lily felt a raindrop on her head, sending a chilly wave through her skin. She smiled up to James as he laughed, and he took her hand again and led her to the old beech tree.
Lily dropped her shoes among the roots of the tree as James helped her settle down on a dry patch of earth. He plopped down next to her and they leaned back against the smooth gray bark of the mighty tree trunk, looking out under the dense leaves to the promising storm. Lily pulled her hand out from the robes and took James’. Their fingers intertwined as they watched the heavy clouds tumble in the sky.
James turned to Lily, leaning closer. He released her hand and gently touched her cheek. She grabbed onto the front of his robes, feeling his heart beating quickly inside his chest. It was as if they were back on the dance floor, completely engulfed in each other and unaware of the things around them; the wind rustling the leaves; the lake pleading for the rain; the nearly full moon peeking through the scudding clouds.
Lily turned her eyes to his; they were but inches apart. At that moment, the world seemed to have stopped. The leaves hesitated as the wind paused to take a breath; the waves of the lake froze; the clouds shrouding the moon and stars were suspended in the sky, waiting for something grand to happen. James leaned closer still, his chest striving desperately to keep his heart in place. This was the moment, saved just so they could savor it as though in slowed motion, and nothing could stop the inevitable from happening.
That was until they heard giggling.
James’ hand fell to his lap and the world quickly spun back into action. The two of them straightened as Sirius and Mandy Ackerly came into view, rushing hand in hand across the lawn towards the beech tree.
Sirius didn’t see James and Lily at first, as they were both layered in the black robes that concealed them quite well in the shadowy night. As he and Mandy got to the tree, they froze.
“Oh, sorry, mate. I didn’t know you’d be out here,” Sirius said, scratching his head.
“Er, you can, uh, join us.”
Sirius held back a snort and helped Mandy Ackerly settle under the tree branches. She had Sirius’ costume coat draped around her shoulders; the dark gray fabric was dotted with raindrops. Sirius had faint smudges of lipstick on his face.
The four of them sat in awkward silence till the downpour broke loose. They watched as the lake came to life, eagerly accepting the raindrops into its depths. Lightning flashed across the sky, followed quickly by rolling, tumbling thunder.
James and Lily leaned closer together to watch the storm. He was about to wrap his arm around her shoulders, when they heard giggling—again.
But this time, Sirius and Mandy looked up to see who it was as well.
Remus and Monica Moon darted under the tree. They were both preoccupied with laughing at each other, impluvious to the bone, that they didn’t see the four already huddled under the beech tree’s sheltering arms.
Sirius grabbed up a handful of beechnuts and threw them at Remus. He and Monica Moon froze and looked at them in surprise.
Oh, sorry, mates. I didn’t know you’d be out here,” Remus blushed. “Hi Lily, Mandy.”
Sirius snorted loudly this time. “Come! Welcome! Join us this fine night under the beech tree!”
Remus and Monica Moon hesitantly sat among the others. Lily smiled to James and snuggled as close as she could get.
It would be a while for the storm to pass.
Albus Dumbledore stood at the window in his shadowy office, watching the raindrops dancing with the lake.
“You called me to your office, Sir?” came a quiet voice from behind the Headmaster.
Dumbledore remained by the window but turned to greet his company with a warm smile. “Yes, Marty. Please, join me by the window. It’s a lovely night, come see.”
Marty Aegis, Hogwarts’ Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, joined Dumbledore and peered out through the rain-streaked window. The blackness that was the lake was barely distinguishable through the raging storm. The face of the nearly full moon was completely hidden by the shrouding rain and clouds and only when lightning flashed across the horizon did the treetops dotting the school grounds become visible.
After a moment, Dumbledore spoke. “It has been brought to my attention, that young Evans and Mister Potter did attend the Ball together. Am I correct, Marty?”
“Yes Albus,” said Aegis, lightly clasping his hands behind his back as he gazed out at the storm. “I saw them spend the entire evening together—well, except for when the fight broke out between Misters Black and Jordan. But about twenty minutes ago, they disappeared.”
“Very well, very well,” Dumbledore shrugged, smiling as he peered down towards the dark banks of the lake. “Marty, I assume you know what this means?”
Professor Aegis looked at the Headmaster. “Yes, sir. You’ve been right all along. But are you sure about the lot? Should we really encourage those boys to remain so reckless, let alone drag Lily Evans into it?”
Dumbledore turned to Aegis, his blue eyes twinkling momentarily as lightning lit the chamber. “Well, it is up to Minerva to administer detentions when applicable, and I assure you she will. But I want to give these students a chance, Marty. They’re going to get involved one way or another, so we might as well teach them enough to help--enough to encourage the choosings of paths.”
“Of course,” said Aegis, turning from the window. "Good night, Albus.”
“Good night to you, professor. Happy Halloween.”
Dumbledore watched him go, then turned back to the window. The moon broke through the storm for the slightest moment; it was really quite bright. It reminded Dumbledore of those Muggle sweets he chanced upon not too long ago while he was in London. What were they called?
“Lemon drops,” he said excitedly, awakening Fawkes, his beloved Phoenix.
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