For the Present
For the first time ever, during the Christmas holidays, it seemed to James Potter that absolutely everybody was having fun - except him. He knew the rest of the Marauders were out in the grounds enjoying the snow, because he had declined their offer to join them. He wasn't sure what Lily was up to exactly, but wherever it was, it was bound to be a better time than being alone in the seventh year boys' dormitories on Christmas Eve.
The reason that James was alone could be gathered simply by observing what was strewn around him on the floor of the dormitory. He was sitting amongst piles of festive wrapping paper, small wads of scrunched up muggle tape, about six yards of tangled ribbon, and at least three spell books, most of which were opened to pages that featured charms for wrapping parcels.
James had been putting off wrapping his presents for a very long time. Never being one to shy away from Christmas spirit, he had been collecting gifts for people almost as soon as festive songs and decorations had begun to appear in shops. Considering that this time seemed to come earlier every year, it wasn't surprising that James had built up quite an extensive assortment of gifts. He was very excited about giving them away. His only trouble came with having to cover them all in bloody paper.
The Head Boy let off a violent growling as he ripped yet another piece of wrapping paper away from a box and scrunched it up furiously. He tried to throw it bad-temperedly to the other end of the room, but there were too many adhesive charms on the paper and it took him two minutes of agitated tugging to un-stick it from his fingers.
Pathetic, he thought as he sighed and leant back against the leg of his four-poster. You're Head Boy, Captain of Quidditch and generally quite bright in other respects, but you can't wrap a bit of brightly coloured paper around a few trinkets. Truly pathetic.
James supposed it must have been something left out of his genetic makeup by accident; the ability to wrap presents well. He just couldn't manage it. Whatever he tried, he always ended up with what looked like an unfortunate place where paper and ribbon had decided to have a fistfight. He looked at the four or so presents on the bedside table that he had 'wrapped' already. Instead of appearing attractive and promising for the treasure inside, they looked rather sad; with their paper crumpled and sticking out at odd angles, their adhesive charms failing and their ribbon wound the wrong way. They were also quite ferocious, if the many paper-cuts on James's hands were anything to go by.
Picking up his wand, the present and another sheet of wrapping paper, James was about to try again when he jumped as the door creaked open. Seeing the red hair and green eyes peer into the room, James was obliged to hurriedly gather up all the things that he intended to give Lily for Christmas and try to inconspicuously shove them under the bed.
"Lily! Er . . . sure you should be up here? It's the boys' dormitory and everything . . ."
"Never heard you complain before," she smiled and James knew all his further attempts to get her to leave were rendered futile. He watched her pick her way through the debris to look out the window and used her distraction to make sure her gifts were completely out of sight.
"You do know what's going on outside, don't you?" she asked.
"Huh?" said James, retrieving his hand from under the bed. Now that he thought about it, putting anything under there didn't seem like such a bright idea, what with the faint questionable noises that were not uncommon under the beds in the boys' dormitories.
"The Annual Unofficial Inter-House Snowball Fight . . . and it looks like we're getting a right thrashing." She twisted round and sat down on the window sill. "Probably because we haven't got any Chasers out there," she added, nodding theatrically.
"I can't, Lily," James moaned. "Trust me, I'd like to get out there and give those other houses what for, but it's Christmas Day tomorrow and I've only wrapped about five presents."
"Those are presents?" Lily asked, squinting at the ragged packages on the bedside table. James groaned and threw his head back so that it made a dull 'thump' on the wooden leg of the bed. Lily laughed. "I was only joking!" she said, pushing off the window sill and coming to sit down beside him. James tried to occupy himself with more pleasant things by hugging his girlfriend around the waist.
"Gosh, what happened to your hands, James?" Lily asked, pulling away.
"Do you really have to ask?" he said, turning his hands over and displaying all his paper cuts in their full glory. Lily breathed a laugh and pulled out her wand. With about nine mild, skin-healing charms, the stinging in the Head Boy's fingers faded away.
"Well, now you know I'm crap at wrapping presents," he told her glumly. "It's just so . . . fiddly and complicated. How can you tell what folds over where and what bit of paper to stick to the other?" He sighed again. "I'll probably be here all night."
"Come on, they're not that bad," Lily said, reaching up to pick one off the table. "At least you can't tell what's in them and that's really the whole point of wrapping them up, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but still, it's fairly depressing to know you and Remus and everyone else have probably got moving colours and sparkly things and singing gift tags and all that stuff to work. I can't even put a curling charm on a bit of ribbon without it going wrong." He took the present from Lily. "Look! By the state of this thing, you'd think I'd wrapped it drunk!"
Lily chuckled and her arms tightened around his neck. "All right," she said in a business-like tone, "here's a plan."
"A plan. How many presents have you got left? Six, seven? I'll help you wrap them and with any luck, we can be out in the grounds before the last snowball is thrown."
"So, instead of getting out there in the snow, you're going to stay in and help me with this cripplingly tedious job?"
"I told you," Lily smirked, "we're getting thrashed. I don't much fancy getting plastered with snowballs, thanks."
"So you're not doing this out of the kindness of your heart," James demanded dramatically, "but merely for your own dastardly ends?"
"Too right." Lily winked and pulled out her wand. "Pass me that roll of wrapping paper, would you?" James smiled and gave her both the roll of paper and a kiss.
"Lily, you're magic," he told her.
James soon realised that when Lily had said that she would help him wrap his presents, what she had essentially meant was that James would do various things like cut bits of ribbon, hold down corners of paper and pass her the appropriate gift tag every so often. Apart from that, James only watched in faint wonder while Lily cut, folded and stuck, coming to the conclusion that there must have been a hundred precise mathematical formulae that enabled an object, a piece of paper and some ribbon to turn into a present ready to be placed under a tree.
They got through the lot so quickly that they even decided to re-wrap the five monstrosities on the bedside table, and got themselves outside into the snowy, wet fray within the hour.
The fact that Gryffindor still lost the snowball fight was immaterial. It was the taking part that really counted, as anyone who has ever lost will tell you.
When the Marauders stumbled back into their dormitory, shaking snow from their hair, James suddenly remembered something terribly important. He certainly got a few odd looks from his friends as he took a flying leap onto the floor and started scrabbling about under the bed.
There were not many Gryffindor seventh years who had decided to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas; only Lily, the Marauders, a couple of other boys and three girls. At some point during the holidays it had been decided that the more people you opened your presents with, the better, so they had all come to an agreement to haul their presents downstairs on Christmas morning and open them in front of the fire. They promised each other it would be early as well, before any rowdy first years got the chance to invade this choice spot.
As a couple of younger students looked on moodily, the sofas and armchairs around the fire filled with seventeen-year-old boys and their parcels, among them, James and his friends.
"Do you reckon we can get cracking?" asked Sirius, rubbing his hands together and picking up parcels that he suspected were for him. Remus sat next to him on the floor and nudged him with his elbow.
"The others might be a bit peeved if you start without them," he pointed out, "and seeing as they haven't given you your presents yet, you might want to stay on good terms."
"I saw a lot of people with a lot of shopping bags in Hogsmeade last weekend," Peter said excitedly, "more than usual. I suppose because it's our last year."
"Yeah, people are keen on giving each other things because they don't want to be remembered as tight," sniggered Sirius, but a moment later he was drowned out by the sound of people coming downstairs.
A chorus of 'Merry Christmas!' sounded from the arriving girls and it was barely five seconds before James found himself being hugged and kissed by a green-eyed, redhead.
"A Merry Christmas to you too," he told her with a smile once his mouth was not engaged.
"Er, James." The Head Boy straightened his glasses and looked around at Remus. "Why is it that all your presents are immaculately wrapped, apart from those?" He pointed to cluster of three gifts, which stood out like a sore thumb among the other neat and festively colourful packages.
Sirius leaned over and inspected the tags while James cringed. "'For Lily'," he read, and raised his eyebrows. "Good grief, Prongs, did you two have a fight or something?"
"No!" James replied hotly as he and Lily sat down with the others.
"Then why does it look like there was a sudden earthquake while you were wrapping Lily's presents?"
James was just trying to think of a retort when he was distracted by Lily laughing quietly beside him. "Well, I couldn't let you wrap your own, could I?" he whispered to her.
"'Course not," she agreed. Smiling to herself, she picked one up and began working out how to open it. "And just for that, they're already the best I've ever received."