Well, here we go. We're getting ever so much closer to Christmas and the Yule Ball.


Professor Snape cancels lessons again on Friday night. Although the lessons are getting more and more difficult and they aren't always fun, I'm disappointed that I won't have an excuse to make my way directly up to my dormitory tonight.

I'm not sure who told Fred about my little scene in the corridor on Tuesday, but he hasn't said a word to me since. I did try to explain what happened to him the day after, but he held up a hand and said, in the coldest voice I've ever heard him use, "I made an assumption. One that I was obviously wrong about. Have fun at the Ball, Elizabeth."

I hold off going to dinner until I think the twins might be finished, even if it means eating alone. Luckily enough, when I step into the Great Hall I find the twins are almost finished with their dinner, and Hermione is sitting alone several feet away from them, seemingly waiting on her friends who are usually in the Great Hall before her. George gives me an apologetic look as I take a seat next to Hermione, but Fred continues to eat as if he hasn't noticed me.

"Hey, Hermione, where are the boys?"

"No idea," she answers, helping herself to a roll and some pasta without them, "I guess I might as well start without them. Why aren't you sitting with the twins?"

"Because Fred seems torn between ignoring me and looking at me like I'm the female version of Draco Malfoy."

"It probably doesn't help that Luca went up to him and George earlier because he was looking for you."

I groan and put my face in my hands, "Sweet Merlin."

"Speaking of which," said Hermione, pointing at a piece of paper which has landed perfectly in the center of my still empty plate. It's folded to make a perfect Rose.

I look up toward the Ravenclaw table and find Luca staring at me from across the room with a bright smile on his face. I smile back with a slight blush. He really is incredibly handsome. He's also rather smart. He joined me in the library yesterday during one of my free hours and we had a handful of nice conversations. His humor is more lighthearted than mine, but he laughs at my darker jokes, anyway. If anybody can be a good date to the Yule Ball, it's probably Luca.

"Open it," he mouths from across the room.

In my peripheral vision, I see the twins stand up and leave. Fred passes by without turning toward me, but I know that he's dying to peak at the paper flower. With a tiny tug at one of the petals, the flower opens to reveal a note. It smells like vanilla.

Mademoiselle Elizabeth,

I look forward to accompanying you to the Yule Ball on Christmas Day. If you find it agreeable, may we meet on the sixth floor landing below the entrance to Gryffindor Tower at seven thirty, so I may accompany you the rest of the way down and we might arrive at the ball together?

Yours truly,

Luca

I am momentarily impressed with his writing, before realizing that aside from being very bright, he must have asked one of the Ravenclaws to assist him in the translation. It should come as no surprise.

I look toward the Ravenclaw table to find Luca still smiling at me and nod in response to his message. He nods once, and with one last smile returns to his conversation with one of his Beauxbatons classmates.

"He's quite nice, isn't he?" asked Hermione.

"Yes, he is. I shouldn't complain," I say, "He's not who I expected to go with but he is an excellent choice. How was Snape's test?"

"Difficult as always, but I think I still managed to scrape an O. Shouldn't you be in the dungeons with him now?"

"He canceled on me today. He probably wants to grade the tests so he can ruin everyone's holiday before they get a chance to enjoy themselves," I laugh.

Hermione and I keep up a casual conversation while we eat dinner, and then decide it's time to walk back up to Gryffindor Tower to find Harry and Ron.

"I wonder who Fred is taking to the ball," I say with a sigh.

Hermione fidgets with her hair, "Er...I might know..."

"What? How?"

"I heard Cho Chang talking about it in the library."

"Chang?!" I say, hardly able to keep my voice down so as not to attract the attention of the other students leaving the Great Hall. "That's who he's taking to the ball?"

"Er, no...she was talking to her friend about it...the one in her year that she's always with. I think her name starts with an M."

"Not Marietta?" I ask, my insides suddenly feeling like they've been stuffed with very poky feathers.

"Yes, that's the one."

"WHAT?!" this time I don't care that I've shouted loud enough to make everybody on the surrounding staircases stare at me. Luckily the staircase moves in that moment and I'm carried away from prying ears. "Honestly, that's the most obvious attempt to spite me that I have ever seen. How could he? That's so childish. I can't even begin to imagine having to put up with Edgecombe for a whole night just to make me jealous. That's obviously what he's doing, right? He's trying to get back at me for asking Luca to the Ball by taking the one person in this school that I hate more than the sound of a hundred nails scraping slowly down a chalkboard."

Hermione allows me to continue my rant about how much I hate Marietta and how angry I am at Fred until we've made it to the seventh floor.

"Do you need a moment to calm down?"

"I need to hex someone, more like," I say, taking a deep breath and then another for good measure, "Alright, I'm better. Lead the way."

I'm prepared to walk straight past the twins and to my dormitory when we reach the Portrait Hole, but once we're inside the common room the twins don't seem to be anywhere in sight. Instead we find Harry, Ron, and Ginny sitting in a distant corner. Ginny is slightly pink around the ears and the boys look positively sullen. I haven't seen Ron look so upset since he found out his rat was actually a murderer in disguise, and I haven't seen Harry so miserable since half the school thought that he was a murderer in disguise. As we approach, they seem to start feeling better as they suddenly burst into quiet laughter.

"Why weren't you two at dinner?" asks Hermione.

Ginny answers for them, "Because – oh, shut up laughing you two – because they've both just been turned down by girls they asked to the ball!"

Harry and Ron stop laughing almost instantly.

"Thanks a lot, Ginny," Ron says sullenly.

"All the good-looking ones taken, Ron?" Hermione gloats, "Eloise Midgen starting to look quite pretty now, isn't she? Well, I'm sure you'll find someone somewhere that will have you."

"So who did you ask?" I wonder aloud.

"Cho Chang," Harry mumbles miserably.

I make a disgusted face, "Ugh, honestly, Harry you could do so much better."

I let my gaze flicker toward Ginny. Harry doesn't notice, but she does, her ears turning slightly pink once more.

"Who did you ask, Ron?" I ask, but he seems to be having an epiphany as he looks at Hermione.

"Hermione, Neville's right – you're a girl..."

"Oh well spotted," Hermione replies acidly.

"Well – you can come with one of us!"

"No, she can't," I answer as Hermione takes on a sour expression.

"Oh come on, we need partners, we're going to look really stupid if we haven't got any, everyone else has..."

"I can't come with you because I'm already going with someone." Hermione blushes.

"No you're not, you just said that to get rid of Neville!"

I have to resist the urge to smack the back of Ron's head off his shoulders. Judging by the look on Hermione's face, she's about to rip him apart anyway.

"Oh did I? Just because it's taken you three years to notice, Ron, doesn't mean no one else has spotted I'm a girl."

To make matters worse, Ron begins to grin again, "Okay, okay, we know you're a girl. Will you come now?"

"Really, Ron?" I ask, crossing my arms over my chest.

"What?" he stares blankly back at me.

"I'm going with someone else!" Hermione snaps, storming off toward the girls' dormitory.

"She's lying," Ron says flatly as we watch her go.

"She's not," Ginny and I answer together.

"Who is it then?" Ron snaps.

"I'm not telling you, it's her business."

"Exactly."

"Right, this is getting ridiculous. Ginny, you go with Harry..." Ginny look momentarily excited by the thought before deflating completely.

"I can't. I'm going with – with Neville. He asked me when Hermione said no, and I thought...well...I'm not going to be able to go otherwise, I'm not in fourth year."

Ron is unable to hold in a chuckle, and Ginny begins to look completely miserable, "I think I'll go have some dinner."

Ginny walks off, looking red in the face, and I'm left standing over Ron and Harry with my arms crossed like I'm their mother about to scold them.

"You're both idiots."

"What?"

"Why?"

"You'll figure it out eventually, I'm sure," I roll my eyes and walk up to the dormitories.

Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

The winter holidays arrive with a thick blanket of snow. Last year, there were hardly any of us staying in Gryffindor Tower and I enjoyed having the common room to myself most of the time to draw and work on my Potions work. This year, however, the entire tower is bursting with noise. While the snow is plenty of fun, the lure of a warm fire and cozy chairs is too much to keep everyone outside for too long. I've started to spend time with my friends again, although I still spend most mornings in the cold dungeons with Snape, learning more and more.

"We have more time to hone your skills," says Snape at the beginning of break, "You'll be here from breakfast until lunch every morning, and I expect you to go assist Madame Pomphrey twice a week at least."

"What about Christmas?"

"You may have Christmas and New Years," he says with what is perhaps the closest thing to an eye roll Severus Snape will ever do.

The house elves seem hell bent on making everyone gain at least one size by the end of the holidays, but the heavy diet, while quite effective at beating the cold and keeping students full, quickly becomes a problem for those who are used to eating a more balanced diet, especially the Beauxbatons students. On one afternoon with Madame Pomphrey, I find myself handing out bottles of potions for upset stomachs and stomach cramps to a handful of students. Many complain of heartburn. Toward the end of my time with her, I see a familiar face walk towards me.

"Ah, I vas not avare zat Madame Pomphrey 'ad such a good apprendis." says Luca.

"Oh, I'm not her apprentice. I just help around sometimes." I say, handing him a small bottle of orange potion. "Hogwarts food not sitting too well for you?"

"A bit too vell, I am afraid. I vill 'ave to let out my dress robes at zis rate."

"The house elves have agreed to tone it down a bit on all the heavy food, or at least include some lighter options. Try to stay away from food with too much sauce or spice for the next few days and maybe cut back on the baked goods. You'll be back to normal in no time."

"Iz eet strange to be talking about my stomach ven we are supposed to be Yule Ball dates soon? Or iz zat, as zee Ravenclaw zay, 'A French zing,'?"

"I think that's an everyone thing," I laugh, "Don't worry, I promise my ballroom conversation is a lot more interesting."

"Vill I see you at dinner, Mademoiselle Elizabeth?"

I laugh again, "Will you please just call me Lizzie like everybody else? And actually I think I'll have dinner here so I can help Madame Pomphrey sort out all of her files. Otherwise she'll never get a break of her own."

"Very vell, Lizzie. I shall see you again soon, oui?"

"I'll see you."

As I'm leaving the Hospital Wing that evening, I find Harry on the fourth floor, looking relieved to see me and shoving a familiar looking old piece of parchment into the pocket of his cloak.

"There you are. I was hoping I would find you alone. Sirius wrote back. I thought you might want to read it with us."

When we get to the common room, I sit with them to read the letter. It's mostly addressed to Harry, but tells us both to keep an eye out and take care of each other. Harry finds it slightly annoying, but I find it comforting. I've never had a dad to worry about me, and now I do. Of course, I always had Uncle Remus, but it wasn't the same.

After a quick talk with my friends by the fire, I decide it's time to wash the day (and the smell of the Hospital Wing) away with a warm shower and put on my fluffiest pair of pajamas to go to sleep. Fred still wouldn't so much as look at me throughout the time we spent in the common room, but I've decided that I won't let him get to me. It's Christmastime and I will not let Fred Weasley ruin my holiday cheer.

hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

A couple days before Christmas, I run a quick list of the gifts that I have already sent out, and arrange the delivery of those that are for people who are already at Hogwarts. I sent Mum a new silk scarf and Uncle Remus a rather nice forest green winter cloak. I considered sending Dad a gift, but figured it might not be worth the risk. I'll give him a gift when I see him next. I also sent Tonks a scarf in bright purple with gold stars. My friends receive the usual array of gifts, although this year I felt inclined to include Harry, Hermione, Ginny, and even Ron will be receiving a new Chudley Cannons poster. Although I haven't spent as much time with him, it felt rude not to get him anything when I got gifts for his two best friends. I think twice about Fred's gift, before deciding that even if he's mad at me, we're still best friends, and I put a lot of thought into his gift, so I'm delivering it to him anyway.

In a spur of the moment decision, I even bought a gift for Professor Snape. A set of fine quills and special inks that won't bleed through thinner types of book parchment when he takes notes in the margins. I doubt my teacher will have thought to return the gesture, but he seems to have become slightly less horrible in the time we've worked together.

Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

I'm awoken on Christmas Day by the sound of loud and quick footsteps outside my dormitory. Other students have already opened their presents and are reeking havoc on the common room. I open my eyes and awake slowly. As I sit up in bed, I notice my roommates have done the same. In the bed next to mine, Katie sits with a sleepy smile in her red and white candy cane pajamas. I stretch my arms and pull down the top of my own green and red pajamas, making the reindeer on the front of them giggle and his nose light up.

"Happy Christmas, Lizzie." Katie says, picking up a present from her bedside table and handing it to me.

"Happy Christmas, Katie," I smile, taking the package and handing her my present.

Katie squeals in delight at the pair of leather combat boots that she's been dying to buy since she laid eyes on them in Hogsmeade months ago.

"Lizzie, I can't believe you bought them!"

"Well I knew how much you wanted them," I smile, bracing myself as she pounces onto my bed and envelops me in a tight hug. I return the hug and begin to rip off the paper from her present.

I gasp at the amazing gift that I never realized I needed, but it seems so obvious how useful it will be.

"You're always wrapping your camera in an old set of pajamas and carrying it around without a case. It seemed like a good idea."

"It's a great idea! Katie, it's beautiful!" the leather of the camera bag matches perfectly with the brown of my school trunk. The front is embroidered with a perfect image of the Hogwarts Crest, the school motto glistening in red letters underneath. The inside is split into compartments for the camera itself and extra rolls of film, with sufficient padding to keep my camera safe.

After another hug, Katie rolls back to her own bed to open the rest of her presents. The other girls in our dormitory seem to have woken earlier than we did, and have just about finished with their own presents. The next gift at the foot of my bed is from Mum. She's sent me a wooden art kit complete with charcoals, colored pencils, sketch pencils, oil pastels, water colors, and brushes. I don't paint much, but the pencils are a great relief. Until now I only had one, and it's already worn down enough that I know it wouldn't have lasted me the entire year. Wizards may make moving, sentient paintings, but they are far behind on sketching materials.

Uncle Remus has sent me three new books. One of them is on art, and the other two are on Potions Making. An unlabeled gift sits beside his, but I know who it's from by the paw print that was stamped on the simple brown paper and the handwriting used to write my name on the top. Dad's gift is in a box that is not too large, but rather heavy. I tear away the paper and open the box to find a note and a satchel.

Every Potions Mistress needs to keep a stock. This one just happens to be portable. It's probably best not to mention the Extension Charm.

I lift the black satchel from the box and examine it. On the outside it looks like it might be able to hold half a dozen phials of potions. It has two straps, one going around the waist as a belt and another that will buckle around the thigh to keep the satchel in place. The satchel is slightly cubic, so that the top flap comes up like a lid, revealing a good twenty crystal phials, although I suspect there must be more. Making sure that Katie is busy looking at her own presents, I dig my hand inside and my entire arm goes in, but still doesn't touch the bottom. In a front pocket there is a small journal and a pre-inked quill. Looking again at the main compartment of the satchel, I realize that the phials are stored in what look like tiny shelves. I pull upward on one and am pleased to find that the entire section of phials can be pulled up and out of the satchel, and that toward the bottom there are also large jars for ingredients. I wonder if a cauldron and the rest of my brewing tools will fit, but decide that I will figure that out later.

I continue opening presents until my bed is laden with a sketchbook from Harry, a book on Healing Potions from Hermione, a plum purple Weasley sweater with a silver E on the front and my fair share of mince pies and chocolate fudge, a pair of red high heels from Tonks, a lovely Gryffindor Charm from Angelina which I'll be adding to my bracelet, a box of all my favorite candies from George, three new lipsticks from Lee, and, finally, a red jewelery box from Fred which I'm still afraid to open.

"Just open it," says Katie, "I'm sure he's opened yours by now."

Gritting my teeth, I tear away the paper and open the box. A pair of perfect teardrop shaped earrings glisten over the black fabric of the box. They're silver, with small purple gems at the base and along the bottom of the teardrop shape. In the center there are teal gemstones that glitter with purple undertones when they move. They're a perfect match for my Yule Ball dress robes.

"How did he know?" I ask in wonder, lifting one earring out of the box.

"He's been asking Angelina and me what color your dress robes are since they announced the ball," Katie admitted, "He said he might have been able to sneak up and see the robes himself, but you'd probably never forgive him for it."

My stomach churns when I realize what that means. Fred was intending for us to go to the ball together since it was announced. Otherwise why would he have gone through the trouble of finding earrings for this very night?

"I...er...I'll be right back," I say, getting up from my bed and leaving my dorm in pajamas and slippers.

I walk down the staircase and back up the boys' staircase, stopping in front of the sixth year dormitories and knocking.

My heart flutters when the door opens with a flash of red hair, only for my expression to drop a little when I find it's the wrong twin, "Oh, George."

"Well don't sound too excited," George smirks, enveloping me in a hug, "Happy Christmas, Lizzie."

"Happy Christmas, George," I return his warm hug with a smile.

"He's in the loo," says George, already well aware of why I'm there, "Freddikins! You have a visitor!"

I hear the sink running and Fred appears a few moments later. His expression is almost unreadable, and he's dressed in his Christmas jumper and trousers, his feet completely bare.

"Well, I'm suddenly famished," says George, "I'll see you two in the Great Hall. Come on, Lee."

The two of them leave the dormitory, and it's just Fred and myself.

"Hi," I say from across the room. He doesn't move forward or say anything. Instead, he walks to his bed and begins to dig around the bedside table for some socks. I stay where I am, hands fidgeting as I think of what to say next, "Listen, about the earrings..."

"You should wear them," he says suddenly, already reading my mind before I can voice my doubts as he digs through his doors, "They do match your dress robes, don't they?"

"Yes," I say lightly, taken aback by how brusque he sounds, "Thank you, by the way. They're beautiful. I know it must have taken you forever to find them and - "

"Don't," he says, straightening with a pair of socks in one hand, "Just...just don't say anything, Lizzie."

"I...okay," I say in confusion, "I guess I'll just...go."

I'm almost out the door when I hear him.

"Happy Christmas, Lizzie."

I stop and turn back, but he's disappeared into the bathroom again. Still, I sigh and return the wish, "Happy Christmas, Fred."

As I enter the common room, there are a handful of people showing off thier Christmas gifts, but most of the boys are looking sullen or nervous while half of the girls can't stop giggling. Harry passes close to where Pavarti Patil is sitting, and he doens't even notice how she flips her hair and bats her eyelashes as he walks by. I heave a great sigh and mutter to myself.

"Is it Boxing Day yet?"