Author's Note: This fic is dedicated in its entirety to my Jenn-Jenn. Surprise! I'm your Melonhood Secret Santa, even though I'm 100% sure that you guessed/suspected as much from the moment your Jughead Jones pillowcase arrived in the mail, or from the moment I started sending you secret emails. I am not subtle.
Hopefully, your second gift has arrived in the post by now, but if not, here is Secret Santa Gift Part 3 to keep you occupied. I hope from the bottom of my heart that you love reading it as much as I loved writing it. I was going to post all three chapters on Christmas Eve but I just couldn't wait and so will be posting one chapter every Saturday from now until the 23rd, so you'll have a little gift every week!
Your Southside Serpent AKA Sarah AKA the Lily to your Sirius
Some admin stuff - this fic is pure fluff with a definite Swan Princess vibe, in honour of some of Jenn's favourite tropes. All that's left to say is Happy Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/whatever holiday you may be celebrating, and I hope you enjoy it!
chapter 1: there arose such a clatter
"Give this to James when we get inside," says her mother, and hands her a prettily wrapped present.
For Lily, who would rather retrieve her book from the car and avoid the social niceties that her parents so enjoy, this request is nothing short of an imposition. The idea of handing a gift to a stranger makes her anxious, though her parents claim that she and James hung out all the time when they were babies, as if babies can 'hang out' in the first place. Babies can't even talk, mostly. Lily started talking very early. She knows this because she has seen the videos, and asked her mother extensive questions on the subject.
Young as she is, Lily can't see the logic in pretending to know someone she doesn't remember, but she knows that her book will not be returned unless she behaves nicely for the Potters. Her parents know her weaknesses well. She takes the gift with a smile and tucks it beneath her arm.
"Good girl," says her mother. "Do you want to ring the bell?"
Lily does. She wants to do everything.
The door is opened by an elegant lady with dark hair, who hugs her mother with a gleeful yelp and bumps her cheek against Dad's.
"Grace!" she exclaims. "Look at you! Andrew! Oh, and the girls! Let me get a good look at you both!"
Though she's wearing a smart dress and very tall shoes, the elegant lady drops to her knees right there on the doorstep, tights scraping against the concrete as if she doesn't care a whit about her clothes.
"I can't believe how much you've both grown," she says, and takes one of Lily's hands in her own. She has very pretty fingernails. "You won't remember me, but you were barely up to my knees when I last saw you."
Lily refrains from pointing out that children tend to grow if you leave them for long enough, unwilling to risk the loss of her reading privileges later. Her parents say that she has a smart mouth in her head, but not the good kind of smart, more the kind of smart that gets her in trouble for 'giving cheek' and 'being sarcastic' or 'making your sister cry,' though the latter is hardly her fault, because Petunia is always crying over something.
In Lily's opinion, any kind of smart is the good kind. To be amazingly clever, much like the characters in the kid detective books she hoards like a squirrel, is her highest ambition in life.
"It's very nice to see you again," says Petunia, with a pompous little curtsey. "My name is Petunia, and this is my sister, Lily."
Lily presses her lips together and puffs out her cheeks to keep her eyes from rolling into the back of her head.
"Well, how sweet of you, Petunia." The elegant lady's eyes dart from Lily's to Petunia's and back again, and her lips quirk upwards just a little.
"Do you like my dress?" Petunia continues. "Mother bought it for me from Harrods."
Petunia's dress is from Primark. It cost £5. Lily was with her mother when she purchased it. She's going to burst.
"It's very lovely," says the elegant lady. She gives Lily's hand a squeeze. "I'm Euphemia."
Lily squeezes back. It seems polite. "I'm Lily."
"You've got stars in your eyes, Lily. Has anyone every told you?"
She shakes her head.
"Do you know what that means?" says Euphemia, and smiles when Lily shakes her head again. "It means your eyes are very beautiful, like your mother's."
Proud of this comparison, Lily beams, though she lost a baby tooth recently and has been trying her best to keep the gap hidden. "Thank you."
"You must be seven now, aren't you?"
"I'll be eight next month."
"And I hear you like to read?"
She nods emphatically. "I'm the best reader in my class, Mr. Flitwick says. He lets me read books for older children."
"Is that so?"
"I finished Little Women last week."
"You know, that's one of my favourites from when I was a girl," says Euphemia seriously. "Did you love it?"
"Yes, but some of it is very sad."
In truth, Lily devoured the book, heart and soul, and became despondent when Beth passed away. Following several days of anxious, deathbed imaginings that culminated in a tear-stained confession when she caught a cold at school, her father had to sit her down and explain that scarlet fever is no longer the dangerous illness that so cruelly robbed Beth of her health. Lily lives to read and reads to live. She knows that The Secret Garden is staying in the car because she tends to ignore people in favour of words on a page, and that this, apparently, is Rude Behaviour. She doesn't see that it's so much of a problem. Perhaps Euphemia won't either.
"There's something for you under our tree that I think you'll like," says Euphemia, and nods to the present under Lily's arm. "What have you got there?"
"I need to give this to James."
"Is that a Christmas present for my son?"
"Mummy says so."
"He's in the living room, sweetheart. Right through there," says Euphemia, pointing.
Petunia, eleven-years-old and already cherishing aspirations of wealth and grandeur, sees her opportunity to command attention and starts to tug on Euphemia's sleeve, imploring her to take another look at her dress. With focus now on her sister, Lily sidles through the front door and into the next room.
A large pair of glasses with a small boy attached launches himself in her path almost as soon as she steps through the door.
"HI!" he bellows.
"Hi," Lily replies, maintaining her decorum. Her mother and father have taught her to use an indoor voice, but the Potters' house is so enormous, so perhaps they need to shout to be heard. Perhaps there are echoes in the halls, ricocheting off the suits of armour, not that Lily has ever seen a suit of armour in real life, or that the Potters own one, but it's nice to imagine. There's no point in owning a mansion if it's not a little spooky.
"I'm James and I'm seven and this is my house," the boy boldly continues, much as one might say, 'I am the king,' except he's too small to be a king - shorter than Lily - and his black hair looks as if he's been rolling around in a ditch somewhere. "Do you like our Christmas tree? It's the biggest Christmas tree in the world."
"It's not," says Lily immediately.
"Not the biggest tree in the world." Lily glances over the tree to reconfirm her opinion. Though it is very large, it is quite far from the largest. "There's a much bigger tree in New York. I've seen it on the telly."
"When on the telly?"
"In Home Alone 2."
"That's a film, though."
"It's still a real tree."
James looks as if he's considering this for a moment, brows slanted behind his glasses, one hand scrubbing through his untidy mop. Then he catches sight of the gift beneath her arm and points at it, their debate forgotten. "Who's that for?"
Lily regards her armpit for a moment. "You."
"It's a Christmas present. My mother bought it for you."
"My mum says that your mum used to work for us before she had babies," says James. "Is that true? Did you know that Mum says we've got to be friends? Can I have my present now?"
The speed at which he can plough through topics is a little alarming.
Lily likes things to be orderly, both in and outside of her head. She likes to write lists, arranges her stuffed animals in order of size, knows how to make her own bed and keeps her Star Wars figures inside their boxes, untouched and beloved. Once, Petunia threatened to take Princess Leia out of her box and flush her down the toilet, which enraged Lily so much that she slapped her across the face – the first and only time she's been reprimanded for violence.
James can't seem to keep his hair tidy, let alone his words, which is almost worse than having her book confiscated. But Lily is well behaved in company, always. She dutifully holds out the gift, and he pounces like a kitten.
"Cool, thanks!" he enthuses, and smiles at her, wide and gap-toothed. "What's your name again?"
"I'm James Potter."
"I knew that."
Ignoring her, James drops to his bottom and tears a strip out of the paper, clawing haphazardly at his present with no regard for her mother's neat, beautiful wrapping. Lily's orderly little heart nearly stops in its tracks.
"What are you doing?!" she gasps, horrified.
"I'm opening my present."
"But it's only Christmas Eve!"
"So?" He looks up at her and shrugs. "I'll hide it under the others, or I'll say that you did it."
Lily decides that she doesn't like James Potter at all.
James really hates it when Lily and Petunia come to visit, or at least, he hates it sometimes.
There are upsides to their visits, namely their parents. His own mum doesn't let him eat junk food, but Mr. Evans takes him to McDonald's and buys him a large milkshake to go with his Happy Meal, and Mrs. Evans likes to bring him new toys. She's never had a son, she says, so James is her special little pal. If Mr. and Mrs. Evans could visit alone, everything would be great.
But he can't stand the girls.
Petunia is whiny and snobby and rude, and puts on airs because she gets to sit at the adults' table now that she's 'almost a woman,' whatever that's supposed to mean. James thinks his parents don't like her very much, especially Mum, who has a certain way of shutting her lips tight that tells him everything he needs to know. That gives him some satisfaction, and luckily, Petunia is so stuck-up that she rarely speaks to him anyway. Sometimes she doesn't even come. She's nearly thirteen now, so she has her own friends.
That leaves him stuck with Lily, and she's the real problem. Only James can see her for what she really is. His parents worship her. They think she's perfect.
Even worse, she is perfect, which is precisely why James doesn't like her.
James tries to be good, but it's so very hard, especially when there are so many fun things to do in the world, and when so much of what's fun involves pranks and tricks and – on one occasion – running away from home to give his mother a fright. He didn't expect her to call the police, though all involved agreed that the ransom note he left on his bed made his kidnap difficult to believe. He should have asked for money, instead of a cat. Still, it was fun to see his picture in the newspaper, and anyway it doesn't matter. Lily never misbehaves, and it simply isn't fair.
Lily talks with fancy words, like she thinks she's grown-up. All she ever wants to do is read, or talk about reading, which means she's dead boring to be around. Lily is so clever. She is so respectful of her elders. Lily bonded with his mother when she was a baby and her own mum was ill. She snitches on him all the time, like when he set fire to the microwave, or when he drew on the back of her dress with a permanent marker. How was he supposed to know that popcorn only takes a couple of minutes? How was he supposed to know what 'permanent' meant?
And yeah, maybe he picks on her a little, but it's her own fault if she can't take a joke. He didn't mean to drop her copy of Matilda in the toilet, it just fell out of his hand.
Spending time with her is unbearable cruelty. He even tried calling ChildLine to protest this mistreatment, but his father caught him on the phone and his PlayStation 3 was confiscated for a week.
Everyone is against him, and her most of all. She even finds a way to ruin his favourite time of year.
His sweet, loving mother is complicit in this treachery. Christmas is only nine days away when she entices James to the shopping centre with the promise of visiting Santa's grotto. He heartily agrees to come along and swears to stay on his best behaviour, but then Mrs. Evans turns up to drop Lily off, and he sees that he has been fooled. Forced to visit Santa with Lily Evans, of all people, he writhes with embarrassment. He doesn't want people to think that she's his friend, or worse, his girlfriend. The adults are always asking James if Lily is his girlfriend, only to laugh when he furiously denies it.
His mother, the worst perpetrator, leads them into the queue for Santa's grotto after an hour of shopping for clothes, in complete ignorance of the pain she's inflicting on her only child. The grotto is so cool - a big gingerbread house covered in glittery snow with reindeer footprints in the ground - but James is in too much of a huff to properly enjoy it.
"Isn't Lily pretty in her new clothes?" she sighs, adjusting the fancy silver button on Lily's smart, pea-green coat. 'Isn't Lily pretty?' is Mum's favourite phrase, alongside 'spit that out right now,' and 'well, you deserved to be taught a lesson.'
"Thank you, Euphemia," says Lily sweetly, which makes James want to be sick. Euphemia! As if she and Mum are both adults talking together!
"I think you're pretty, Mum," says James loyally.
Mum ruffles his hair and calls him her sweet baby boy, to which Lily rolls her eyes, but his mother doesn't see. This is the worst thing about her - she's awful, but only in secret. Nobody ever sees that Lily Evans is a ninja, getting in her jabs when the adults' backs are turned, only James.
He quickly pulls a face at her, which she ignores.
"What are you asking Santa for?" she instead enquires.
"The Nintendo Wii."
"My friend Mary says that they're dangerous," Lily ominously replies. "She says that that the straps snap off and the handles go flying across the room and cause injuries. Some people have smashed their televisions. You'll have to be really careful when you play with it."
"I'm not letting you play with it."
"I don't want to play with it."
"That's not very kind, James," his mother admonishes. "Of course, you can play with the Wii, sweetheart."
"That's okay, I'm getting a Star Wars Lego set and some new books."
"Star Wars is stupid," says James. He has never seen Star Wars, but Lily's obsessed with it, so it's worth insulting.
"Star Wars is not stupid," says Lily, glowering at him. "The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best films ever made."
He laughs, loud and scathing. "It's stupid and you're stupid."
"You don't even know what you're talking about."
"I know more than you, stupid."
"Hush, now, both of you!" his mother interjects, and points toward the grotto. "Don't be so naughty, James. Santa can probably hear you, and what do you think he'll do then?"
James pales at the thought. He's not exactly riding high on Santa's nice list, according to the chart his parents keep in the kitchen, for which Santa sends weekly updates. He has just earned himself an Arsenal jersey by the skin of his teeth, but he's had no guarantees on the Wii, which he desperately wants. His friend Remus has one, and James simply must learn to beat him at Wii bowling.
"I'm sorry, Lily," he murmurs.
"I accept your apology," says Lily, tilting her chin delicately towards the ceiling, and that mollifies his mother, but James can tell that she's thinking of a way to get him back. This is what Lily does. She acts like an angel in front of the adults, and stings him when they're alone.
Santa – though James knows that he's not the real Santa – doesn't mention James's bad behaviour when he and Lily are ushered into the grotto. Mercifully, Lily doesn't mention it either, which is what he feared. While James gleefully lists all the things he wants for Christmas, she hovers by the door, watching in silence, then declines to request anything for herself. Instead, she shakes his hand and tells him that her parents have got it all taken care of.
It's a good visit despite her presence. They get a selection box each and go on their way. Everything seems fine. Lily is even nice to him on the drive home and James, like an idiot, allows himself to assume that he's not going to be punished.
But she gets him when they're in his room.
James never wants to go to his room and play with Lily, but he's forced to do it every time she comes over. It's awful; she acts like his babysitter just because she's two months older, as if she thinks he can't survive in a room by himself, though he's managed quite well for eight years, with only a few major injuries. And anyway, they don't even play. She digs out one of his books and curls up in the corner like a tense cobra while he busies himself with something more interesting. One time, he hid all the books to force her to be fun for once, so she cleaned his bedroom as an act of revenge.
This time, she doesn't make a dive for his bookshelf and select the book with the least pictures. Instead, she does a neat pirouette and fixes him with a steely glare.
"You know he wasn't real," she says, hands on her hips. "Don't you?"
"That man dressed as Santa."
"I know that," says James, with a scowl. "He's one of the elves. The real Santa is too busy to come himself."
She scoffs. "No he isn't."
"Yes, he is."
"He isn't," she sweetly replies. "Because Santa isn't real."
The bottom falls out of James's stomach.
Nay, of his life.
"You're lying," he insists, unable to keep the wobble out of his voice. He doesn't want to cry in front of Lily, but if she's telling the truth...
She can't be telling the truth. She's a nasty liar. She's just trying to hurt him.
Is she, though?
A small, unwanted voice niggles in the back of his head. Hasn't he always suspected? Isn't it strange that Mum and Dad can never explain how Santa travels to so many homes in one night, or how reindeer can fly, or how James always gets the toys he wants even when he's been really naughty? Or why last Christmas, when James forced himself to lie awake all night so that he might hear Santa landing on the roof, he never heard a thing, yet his presents were there in the morning?
"I'm not lying. Your parents buy your presents for you," says Lily, as if she can read his mind. "I found out ages ago because I'm a lot more grown up than you."
"I'm not. I wasn't going to tell you, but you're too old to believe in Santa now. You look silly."
He's heartbroken. He's wants to cry. Everything he ever believed has come crashing down around his ears, and he feels like a baby, and stupid, if what Lily says is true, and he's much too old to believe.
She has a smug smile on her face, and that makes everything a thousand times worse. His hands clench into fists and he thinks that he'd like to thump her, but he can't hit a girl. Only the worst boys hit girls. He can't hit anyone. He'd feel worse than he does now, and then he really wouldn't get any presents from... from...
"I hate you," he snarls, blinking back tears.
"Good," says Lily, with a toss of her hair. "Don't ever call me stupid again."