The Debutante Ball

Chapter 11

"Happy Birthday!" cheered the Gryffindor seventh years. The Marauders and Lily's friends were gathered at the bottom of the staircase in the common room, waiting impatiently for Lily to finally join them.

Lily's eyes were wide in surprise. "I woke up this morning and none of you girls were there," she said slowly. "I thought you'd left for Hogsmeade without me."

The group laughed at her permanent shocked state and her belief that they would abandon her on her birthday weekend.

"Lily, you're an idiot!" exclaimed Hestia, pulling Lily into a tight embrace.

Hestia released her and so began the process of greeting the birthday girl. Her fellow seventh years took it in turns to give her a quick hug, passing her onto the next person once they were done. Upon reaching James, she smiled nervously while he chuckled at her unusually timid state. He moved forward and wrapped his arms around her, letting out a sigh of relief when her arms made their way around his neck. Laughing, he squeezed her gently and daringly lifted her off the ground for a few moments. Parting slowly, they kept eye contact and smiled at each other.

"Happy Birthday Lily," he said softly, his eyes scanning her face slowly, noting, in amusement, that her face was flushed and her emerald eyes were sparkling.

"Guys, stop ogling at each other already," Hestia said loudly. "We've got a reservation at the new teashop. I think it's called Madam Padfoot's or something similar to that."

The Marauder's exchanged incredulous looks, temporarily forgetting James and Lily's amorous, albeit innocent, greeting.

Em rolled her eyes at the group. "Madam Puddifoot's," she corrected impatiently. "I've read the reviews in the Prophet. I don't think you could have picked a more unsuitable place to celebrate Lily's birthday. First of all, it's meant for couples on a romantic date. Not a group celebrating a birthday. Secondly, the first person who should bring Lily there is her boyfriend. A boyfriend she doesn't have, yet."

"I wonder who that could be?" added Sirius playfully, exchanging knowing looks with Remus and Em.

Lily was glaring daggers at Em and Sirius. Even though it was a well known fact that Lily was single, it was still embarrassing that Em had unsubtly brought it up and it didn't help that Sirius Black was taunting her with his knowledge that she liked James.

James coughed uncomfortably, embarrassed that Em and Sirius were directing their remarks at him, knowing that he still fancied Lily.

"We should really get going," James said, hoping that the conversation could head into another direction. He gave Lily a comforting smile and led the way out of the castle and towards Hogsmeade.

During their trek, the small group chatted amongst each other. Although Lily and James didn't walk side-by-side, they often found each other exchanging smiles during their separate conversations. A fact that their friends didn't miss and a feeling their hearts and stomachs could not ignore.

"I think my hearts going to burst because it can't take this intensity and my stomach is definitely going to collapse because it can't take anymore fluttering," James whispered, unable to suppress the sloppy smile gracing his lips.

Sirius raised an eyebrow and laughed hysterically at his best friend. "Mate, where'd you pull that line from?"

"Sod off," James muttered, lowering his head after pushing Sirius away from him. Sirius continued laughing, louder and harder than before. "Padfoot, stop it," he snapped, embarrassed.

Sirius straightened. His eyes were bright and the expression on his face was pleasant and relaxed. "Everything's going to turn out alright," he proclaimed confidently. "I feel it… and apparently so do you."

James' face lit up and he looked expectantly at Lily, who, within moments, looked up and smiled at him. While Lily continued her conversation with Remus, James sighed happily, throwing an arm around his best friend.

"I hope you're right, Mr Black," James admitted. "I don't think I could stand losing her or handle another rejection. We've come so far."

"I don't think you've got anything to worry about," Em said boldly, surprising James. "You should keep your voices down, especially you, Sirius. I could hear you from back there. That is if you don't want Lily to find out indirectly."

She threw her hair over her shoulders and walked back towards Patricia and Peter.

Sirius smirked. "I told you so."

James was flabbergasted. 'Did Lily's best friend just tell me I had nothing to worry about?' he thought, confused and shocked to the core. 'What did that mean?'

"Do you think Em told Lily I like her?" James asked carefully, after a few minutes silence between the two boys. "Do you think Lily knows and… doesn't mind?" He paused and stared at her. "Do you think… is it possible… that… she likes me back?" he screeched, his heart beating uncontrollably.

As if feeling his gaze, she looked up at him and smiled quickly before resuming her conversation. Their entire relationship at Hogwarts flashed through his mind, every conversation, quarrel and look they shared was replayed in an instant.

James' heart skipped a beat and he looked at Sirius as if his best friend had all the answers. "Well?" he demanded impatiently, breathing raggedly.

Sirius stared for a long time at his best friend. "You're scared," he observed, shocked at the sudden revelation. "After all these years of chasing her, knowing full well that one day she would come around and still, you're scared. Prongs," he paused and smiled reassuringly. "Stop asking me these questions and ask her. Em hasn't told me anything. I just have a hunch. You can find out the truth."

James nodded his head, but didn't say another word.

xxx

The group noisily entered Madam Puddifoot's, receiving dirty looks from the couples whose romantic dates were temporarily interrupted, while a waitress looked at the large group strangely.

"Hello," Hestia said eagerly, waving her hand at the waitress. "Reservation for Hestia Jones. I believe it was a table for eight."

The waitress smiled politely and motioned for the group to follow her. Four tables had been put together with little 'reserved' signs on top.

"Just take your seats and I'll be back in a jiffy."

Once everyone was seated, Lily smiled to herself as she looked around at everyone. She couldn't imagine spending her last birthday at Hogwarts any other way. The people she had spent the most time with during her time at Hogwarts were all here. In fact, she had come to regard both the girls and boys as her family at Hogwarts.

"The Sorting Hat was right," she announced loudly, successfully getting the attention of her friends. "The house we were sorted into did become our family. From day one, you girls have been my sisters and after almost seven years, I'm finally not embarrassed to admit that you boys are my family too."

A collection of smiles, laughter and 'oohs' were exchanged between the Gryffindor seventh years. Sirius, the one person Lily expected to scoff and brush her comment aside, looked happy, grateful and extremely proud that he belonged to this family.

"Who needs a boyfriend when us Gryffindor kin can ruin the mood for these couples?" Hestia exclaimed, receiving another round of glares from the other customers.

The table chuckled, but their volume softened when the waitress returned to take their orders.

While they waited for their tea, a beverage the boys were not looking forward to, they decided to give Lily their presents.

Lily was excited for James' present. She remembered the beautiful Christmas present and blushed when she realized that it was the charming little music box that had led her to the feelings she now felt for him. She stole a glance at him and found him staring at the wall, unaware of their friends preparing to present her with her gifts and unaware of her.

She frowned. "James, are you okay?"

He jumped out of his seat, his eyes wide in fright. She gasped at his reaction. He sat back down and shot her an apologetic look. "Sorry, I just dozed off."

"Lily, Lily, Lily," sang Hestia, presenting her with a huge box. "This is from us girls."

Lily hastily took off the lid. She squealed in delight as she quickly looked through the contents of the box. "You guys didn't have to," she said breezily. "A dress robe by Madam Malkin, the biography of Mungo Bonham and a photo album of all our years together." She pulled out the photo album and started flicking through it, laughing at some of the pictures. "When did you have a chance to put this together?"

The girls laughed and shrugged their shoulders.

"Not long," Em said lightly. "A few months."

Lily's jaw dropped. "You guys are awesome!"

"You haven't seen our gift yet," Sirius scoffed. "Ours is better!"

Lily rolled her eyes, but smiled when Peter pulled a similar box from underneath the table. She quickly glanced at James, but yet again he was staring blankly at the wall. She couldn't help but feel a twinge of disappointment to hear that he hadn't got her an individual present. Over the years, even last year when he no longer fancied her, he was thoughtful enough to leave her chocolates or flowers.

"How did I not notice two huge boxes on our way to Hogsmeade?" she asked incredulously, trying to ignore James' sudden change.

"Lily, we've got wands and are witches and wizards," Em said. "We shrank them, put them in our pockets and then put them back to their normal size once we got here."

Lily smiled at all the effort they'd put into her birthday. Pushing down her anxiety from James' behaviour, she ripped off the lid of the present from the boys and grinned at the contents. "A years worth of dungbombs?" She raised her eyebrows and laughed. "You're so thoughtful."

"Lift up the dungbomb supply," Remus said. "There's something else."

"Wow," she said slowly, her face bright and full of excitement. "The whole series of 'Enchanted Encounters' by Fifi LaFolle. I've always wanted to read the series, but the library only has the first book and whenever I'm at Diagon Alley with my parents I can't ask them to buy the entire series on top of my school books. How did you know?"

"Third year, when you were in the hospital wing for almost a week, I remember you complaining to Hestia that there were no good authors in the wizarding world and that you missed your muggle book collection back home. Hestia began describing 'Enchanted Encounters' and you were hooked," James said, as he snapped out of his silence and tried to keep his voice from croaking. He winked at her to lighten the tense mood that had suddenly settled on the table. "I wasn't stalking you or anything, I hadn't developed that habit until the middle of fourth year, I actually had a Quidditch accident and Pomfrey made me stay a few days."

They stared at each other and Lily saw something that she'd never before allowed herself to acknowledge. There was longing, desire and a fondness in his eyes. Her heart swelled and she bravely hoped that he could see the same emotions reflected in her eyes.

"Here you go kids," the waitress said cheerfully, breaking their connection.

The rest of their tea session was rather lighthearted, with both the boys and girls making jokes about the other couples and how awful the tea was.

"Thank you very much for accompanying us to this hellhole," said Hestia hurriedly. "Unfortunately, you guys have to boot. It's a girls session from here on out. We'll see you back at the castle."

The boys and girls parted ways on the street. Lily and James exchanged another smile and joined their own friends.

"Where are we going?" Lily asked, noticing that they were moving further and further away from Hogsmeade. "Are we going back to the castle?"

"We sure are," Em answered. "We're going to make snowmen and you can explain to us how you fell in love with James Potter."

Hestia and Patricia began laughing. Lily, on the other hand, was silent and bright red. Her friends couldn't possibly have figured out what she was feeling. She had hid it for a long time and she thought she was doing a good job.

"James and I are friends," Lily said softly, shaking away the image of his eyes and smile from her head.

"I have caught you guys smiling at each other all day. At first I thought it was cute, now it's kind of annoying, especially because you can't even admit to your best friends that you have feelings for him," Em revealed.

"Spill," Hestia demanded, wriggling her eyebrows. "One minute we think James Potter is over you. The next minute you're undressing him with your eyes. How the hell did that happen?"

Lily sighed in defeat. "It just did."

"Finally," the girls yelled in unison.

"I think it started at Christmas," she revealed. "I didn't realize it, but when we were saying goodbye he slipped me a little Christmas present. It was a cute little music box, with a little red haired debutante spinning round and round. Since then, I've been kicking myself in the bum because for so long he fancied me and I kept saying no. Now, I'm not one hundred percent sure if he fancies me or not. Sometimes I see that he likes me and I'm scared, but satisfied. Other times, I think I'm making myself see that he still likes me and really we're just friends. It's strange and confusing!"

Hestia looked at her awkwardly. "Lily," she said soothingly, silently asking her not to take offence on what she had to say next. "You're kind of silly. You can't like someone just because they got you an awesome Christmas present. I totally think you've been secretly crushing on him for ages. That gift was just a reason for you to acknowledge it."

Em laughed while Hestia and Patricia watched Lily carefully for her reaction.

"What?" she asked, genuinely confused. She searched the faces of her friends for an answer or a hint.

"Listen to yourself," Em said bluntly. "You're telling us you started liking James Potter because he gave you a present. Give yourself a little credit! You're sounding a little superficial and fickle. That's not the Lily we know and love."

"He's been giving you presents for years," Patricia added. "Christmas, birthdays and Valentine's."

"I think you've liked him all along," Hestia announced.

Lily Evans was embarrassed and she had a very red face to prove it. Her friends were picking apart her feelings for James. She didn't know what to say. What had taken her years, according to her friends, to accept was being revealed, questioned, examined and openly discussed!

"Anyway," Lily interrupted. "It's a lovely day to celebrate my birthday."

"So, when's the wedding?" Hestia asked cheekily.

Lily groaned. "You guys suck."

Em threw an arm around Lily. "Would we still suck if we told you that James still fancies you?"

Lily could have sworn her heart jumped out of her chest, suppressing the fluttering in her stomach and getting her heart to beat at its normal rate, she shook her head. "Anyone can say that. Whether it's true or not I might never know."

"Oh shush Lily, his behaviour today should be enough to ease your concerns," Hestia stated hastily. "Now… admit that you've fancied him for as long as he's fancied you."

Hestia didn't wait for a reply, instead she grabbed Patricia and together they twirled around in the snow. Em and Lily giggled as Hestia began singing an unfamiliar love song.

"Admit it Lily," sang Hestia.

"Oh, yes you should," sang Patricia.

Lily chuckled at the bizarre turn of events on her birthday.

"Either way, it doesn't change the fact that you're head over heels for him already," Em added knowingly. "It'll also shut Hestia and Patricia up."

"Fine," Lily yelled at the top of her lungs, smiling all the while. "I've fancied him for ages!" Grabbing Em's hands, she began to dance around in the snow, laughing giddily alongside her best friends.

xxx

"They've been playing in the snow for hours," James muttered, looking down at Lily and her friends from the warmth of the Gryffindor common room.

"Don't worry," Remus reassured him. "It's getting dark and colder outside. They'll be in the tower in twenty minutes max."

"You can warm her up when she returns," Sirius added casually.

James rolled his eyes. His friends had been teasing him about his enormous progress with Lily all day. Sometimes he wondered if his friends were seven instead of seventeen.

"Mum has a letter for her," James explained. "I'd like to give it to her as soon as possible."

Remus held in his laughter, Peter snickered quietly and Sirius just stared at him blankly.

"Prongs, it's no secret you fancy her," Sirius said dryly. "You don't need to give us an excuse why you want to be near her."

James smiled sheepishly. "I just think I wasted her birthday. It's like I could have made it more special or something."

"Well, I'm sure giving her the letter from your mum will bring the romance into the both of your lives," Sirius replied with mirth.

"You're right!" James exclaimed, looking at Sirius gratefully. "I'll run this down to her! Bye!"

"Don't forget your cloak!" Sirius shouted. "You'll freeze!"

Before the other Marauder's registered what had happened, James was out of the common room, without his cloak, and making his way to Lily. After running down flights of stairs and through secret passageways, James finally made it to the Entrance Hall.

To his pleasant surprise, Lily and her friends had just made their way inside. He smiled as she shook the snowflakes from her hair. For the umpteenth time, their eyes made contact and she returned his smile. He strode over to her and the other girls.

"Did you guys enjoy the snow?" he asked amiably, ignoring the teasing looks he was receiving.

"Twas delightful, James," Hestia replied. "Patricia, Em and I have to leave now. Make sure Lily gets back to the Tower. Bye."

Lily gaped at her friends. 'Subtle much!' she thought incredulously.

"Your nose is red," he said fondly. "It matches your hair."

She laughed and whacked him on the shoulders. "I hope that bruises," she retorted. "And matches your hair."

Taking a step forward, he sighed and removed the snowflakes that hadn't dissolved from her head yet. Nervously, he moved his hands from her hair to her face, touching the side of her face with his shaking fingers. Gulping, he traced her cheekbone with his thumb.

He watched as she closed her eyes and leaned into his hand. He let out a shaky breath and slowly brought their foreheads together. He too closed his eyes, quickly pecking the tip her nose, then moving from the right cheek to the left cheek. He stopped and opened his eyes, making sure she was still there. Her eyes flew open moments later, searching his face and eyes for the answer to why he stopped.

"How'd this happen?" he whispered, disbelief evident in his tone.

She shook her head and smiled, tentatively moving her hands up his chest and around his neck.

His hands then made their way to her hips. Looking at each other one more time, they simultaneously closed their eyes and began to lean forwards, their lips getting closer and closer…

Suddenly, the Head Boy and Head Girl pulled away from each other in fright.

The door of the entrance flew opened noisily and along with the half-giant grounds keeper came a cold wind and a whirlwind of snow.

James groaned and angrily shook the snow flakes out of his hair. "Damn snow. Bloody Hagrid," he muttered.

"James!" Hagrid greeted enthusiastically, unaware of the almost kiss between the Head Boy and Head Girl, but well informed of the progress between the two. "Lily!"

Lily grinned and threw her arms partially around Hagrid.

"Long time no see, Hagrid!" she squealed.

He chuckled, giving her and James knowing looks. "Ye 'right Lily?"

"I'm fine," she replied, unable to keep herself from turning red and grinning widely. "James and I were just heading to the tower. I need to get dressed before dinner."

Hagrid patted James on the back and winked. "So yer James now?"

James nodded his head and shared yet another smile with Lily.

"I sure am," James replied smugly.

xxx

A/N: You'll find out what happens to Catherine Harrington next chapter! I'm very excited to write that. Too bad I've got lots of assignments due next week. Anyway... no more Potter and Evans D It's James and Lily! Yay! Finally! Thanks for reviewing and continuing to support me! It means so much to me!