Author's Note: Here's my little Christmas-y story for the season! Sorry it wasn't out BEFORE Christmas... But at least it's not months late and only a few days behind! And for those of you wondering about The Curtain Call - the next chapter is done, but still going through the beta process, so I'll get it up as soon as I get it back! But until then, I hope you enjoy the not-so-short short story!
The Secret Santa
Lily looked to her left. A six-foot snowman waved cheerily and wiggled his orange, carrot nose at her.
"You, too," Lily muttered, switching her book bag from one shoulder to the other.
The snowman beamed and turned his head, scanning the hallway. He lifted his hat off of his head as two first year girls walked past. "Merry Christmas!" he shouted, scaring the young children away.
Lily laughed, shaking her head.
"Hey," called a squeaky voice from behind Lily. "Wait for me!"
Lily turned a head over her shoulder to find one of her roommates hurrying down the crowded hallway to join Lily. Her flat, blonde hair smacked her cheeks, but the girl just brushed the locks aside.
"Did you find your notes, Mary?" Lily asked the short girl.
Mary nodded, breathing heavily. She showed Lily her Charms notes balled up in a fist. "Remus must've borrowed them last night and forgot to tell me – I found them on one of the tables in the Gryffindor Common Room this morning."
"Oh – that's right…" Lily blushed, shooting her friend an apologetic look. "He told me to let you know that he grabbed them out of your bag. I guess I forgot to pass the message along…"
"No problem." Mary shrugged. She flattened out her notes with the palm of her hand, smearing the ink. "I mean – I found the notes on one of the common room tables before I started to panic too much."
"What are you saying about me, now?"
Lily and Mary both glanced over their shoulders and smiled at the tall, thin boy. Remus took a step forward between the pair so he could walk side-by-side with the two girls.
"We were just talking about how you stole my notes," Mary promptly interjected, playing around with her friend. She crossed her arms over her chest as if she were upset, hiding her smile.
"Lily said I could!" Remus protested. He looked back and forth between the two faces with panic in his eyes, but soon dropped his worried look and replaced it with a smile once he realized that they were joking.
Several whoops of laughter sounded from the end of the hallway, directly behind Lily. She did not, however, turn to find out where the noise was coming from but, instead, turned to glare at Remus, as if he had been the one to cause the disruption.
"I knew you were bad luck!" Lily scolded the boy, smacking him lightly on the arm.
"What – what did I do?" Remus asked, thoroughly confused.
"You're like a magnet," Lily said, refusing to hide her disgust. "To those two." She pointed a long finger in the direction of the noise just as two dark-haired boys skidded around the corner, clutching their stomachs. They ran straight towards Lily and her two friends.
"Oh, come off it," Remus scolded Lily, looking tired of hearing her complaints. "It's been seven years since your little feud began – can't you lay off them for one minute? They're really not that bad once you get to know them," he tried to persuade her.
"It's not both of them that I don't get along with," Lily countered. "It's James." She attempted to ignore the slapping noise of the two boys' shoes on Hogwarts' stone floor. "And it most certainly doesn't help that James accepted the Head Boy position, when he knew that I wanted to be Head Girl!"
"James can't control that, Lily, and you know it," Remus cut in, managing to stick up for his friend without taking sides.
Lily merely huffed, upset that, once again, Remus won the argument. He would always outwit her just by stating the most logical thing.
The two boys at the end of the hallway caught up with Remus, slapping him on the back as they joined the group.
"It's Snape," Sirius gasped. He held his hands up to his head and stuck his fingers straight up; he was unable to communicate with words due to his lack of breath.
"He's got antlers," James cried, laughing loudly at Sirius' impression. "With – "
"Christmas ornaments!" Sirius finished with a snicker, finally catching his breath.
"Yeah – and tinsel," James added, bobbing his head up and down in agreement.
Lily rolled her eyes and sped up, trying to leave the noisy group behind. With a final goodbye, she muttered, "Way to go, Potter," under her breath.
James snapped to attention once he heard Lily say his name. "What?" he asked, going directly into a defensive mode. He quickly caught up with her. "Lily – I didn't prank Snape, if that's what you're thinking."
"Who else would?" Lily fired back, tossing her auburn curls over her shoulder and narrowing her emerald eyes on James. Her knuckles turned white as she tightened her grip on her books; she knew that, had she not been holding anything else, she would have already slugged James.
"Peeves," Sirius inserted into their conversation, trailing behind the pair. "James and I just watched it happen."
"I already told you, Lily," James spoke, holding both of his hands up in the air. "I've given up on hexing Snape. He's a thing of the past."
Lily scoffed at James' remark. "You expect me to believe that? James, hexing him is a part of your daily routine – you can't stop hexing Snape just because I told you to!"
James smoothly leaned in closer to Lily until his lips were a fraction of an inch away from her ear. "For you, Lily, I'd do anything."
Lily couldn't take it any longer. Before she could count to ten, she balled her hand into a fist and swung her arm outward and around until it came into contact with James' stomach. She smiled in satisfaction as James keeled over in pain, groaning. He stumbled awkwardly over his feet to the side of the hallway and fell against the wall, squeezing his eyes closed. Taking several deep breaths, James opened his eyes to see that a green pair was staring right back at him.
Lily had stopped before the aching boy and leaned over so that they were at eye level.
"If you would do anything for me," Lily smiled sweetly, "you'd leave me alone from now on and save me the trouble of having to hurt you."
Lily did not waste time waiting for another reaction from James. Instead, she marched down the hallway with Mary at her heels.
"Lily," Mary hissed softly, "don't you think that was a little much? I mean – " she tried to explain it differently " – first you punched the guy, and then you hurt his feelings!"
Lily was used to these conversations. "I bruised his ego, at best. Trust me, Mary," Lily assured her, "I did us all a favor."
Mary sighed. "I don't know, Lily. One of these times, you might actually push the poor guy over the edge."
"Poor guy?" Lily repeated, stunned. Her own friend was sympathizing with the enemy! "James is the last person that needs my sympathy," Lily tried to correct her friend.
"But – he really does care about you, Lily," Mary said. Lily rolled her eyes, allowing her friend to get in another word before Lily defended herself again. "You don't see him when you're not around. He's constantly asking where you are, who you're with, when you'll be back – everything! And remember that time last week – " Mary held up a finger, jabbing it into Lily's face " – when you stopped at Madame Pomfrey's to take some Pepperup Potion for that cold you were getting – Sirius told James you were in the Hospital Wing, and James automatically assumed the worst!" Mary shook her blonde hair around with wide, blue eyes, as if remembering the day. "Both Sirius and Remus had to drag James away from the portrait to explain that you were just stopping by, not on your deathbed."
Lily chewed on her bottom lip. She hadn't heard that story before. Lily was almost flattered. And it was pretty sweet, when you thought about it…
But it was James.
"He'll learn soon enough that he can't always get what he wants," Lily explained, sticking her nose stubbornly into the air.
"He's been pining after you for years and he hasn't stopped yet," Mary pointed out. "What makes you think he'll stop now?"
Lily turned into their Charms classroom with a shrug. "I'm hoping that by the time we all leave Hogwarts in a few months and James and I find jobs on the opposite ends of the city, he might figure it out…"
Mary covered her mouth and giggled, knowing that Lily had given up on ever attempting to talk James out of constantly bothering her, and was now relying on nothing short of a miracle.
"Lily!" a voice shrieked in the two girls' ears. "Mary! We've been waiting for both of you to show up!"
Lily held a hand to her ringing ear and turned to look for the source of the loud noise. She spotted a girl her own age with very dark, curly hair.
"Hi, Charlotte," Lily muttered, forcing herself to smile towards one of her roommates. She crossed in front of the desks where Charlotte and two other girls were sitting.
"Lily!" a second voice cried with fake enthusiasm. It was the brown-haired girl sitting in the middle. She flipped her pony-tail over her shoulder and narrowed her eyes in on Lily, sending her friend a rather distinct death glare. "I'm so thrilled that you're here," she said, trying to speak to Lily without actually speaking. She leaned forward across her desk as Lily passed and hissed, "It's about time you showed up…"
"Hey, Anne." Lily smiled apologetically down at her friend. She knew that once they were out of class, Anne would yell at Lily and Mary for showing up late. Lily, however, completely understood her anger and felt she deserved the glare she was giving them; Anne had shown up early and, as a result, had been forced to sit between their two incredibly annoying roommates.
"You were almost late to class," a blonde girl on Anne's other side piped in with a high, squeaky voice. She daintily crossed one leg over the other beneath her desk, watching Lily over the top of her thin-rimmed glasses. She had flipped her long, wavy hair all to one side so it poured gracefully over her shoulder.
Anne quickly stood from her chair to leave the two girls, and joined Lily and Mary instead. "Yeah – like Natalie said – class is about to start, guys," Anne muttered, taking her friends' arms in a vice grip and pulling them to the opposite end of the room. "Let's find some seats…"
"No, wait!" Charlotte cut in, holding them back. "Natalie and I wanted to tell you about the Secret Santa drawing next week!"
Lily hid her groan at the same time that Anne attempted to do the same, but did not succeed. Mary jabbed an elbow into Anne's stomach, glaring at her. Anne flinched at the impact, but merely looked back at her friend as if she couldn't help it.
Ever since their first year together, Charlotte had suggested that their dormitory participate in a Muggle tradition. Lily had tried to turn down the idea in the very beginning, but eventually gave in, knowing how much this yearly tradition meant to Charlotte. She had hoped that after seven years, however, she might have given up on this holiday game.
But that clearly wasn't the case.
"I love Secret Santa!" Natalie nodded enthusiastically with wide eyes.
Anne rolled her eyes. "We are fully aware of that," she muttered sourly.
It was Lily's turn to jab her friend in the side. She quickly responded to Charlotte over Anne's grumbles about a bruise that was forming. "We'll draw names tonight and give gifts starting on Monday," Lily said, knowing that Charlotte would say the same thing if given the chance. "And we'll reveal who gave the gifts on Friday – sound good?"
"Oh – are you doing a Secret Santa gift exchange?" a rather large seventh year boy asked. Lily recognized him as a Hufflepuff. "My old Muggle friends loved to do that!"
"Do what?" Professor Flitwick asked quite suddenly, clearly interested in the conversation he was overhearing. He walked to the front of the room, standing in the center of the room and commanding everyone's attention before asking, "What is it you're doing?"
"It's nothing," Lily said automatically, trying to change the topic as the entire class turned their eyes towards her. "We just – "
"Secret Santa," Charlotte interrupted, speaking over Lily's voice. "You put everyone's name into a hat. Then you draw a name – and you're their Secret Santa!" she said with a grin on her face. "In my family, we would buy that person as many presents as you wish during that week, and on the last day you personally give them their last present. But," Charlotte continued in an excited whisper, holding up her index finger, "you want to give your presents to your person without letting them know that they're from you… That's the trick."
Professor Flitwick started to rock back and forth on his feet with a smile. "That sounds brilliant," he said, rubbing his hands together. "What a marvelous idea…"
"Right," Lily nodded, speaking softly. "It's Charlotte's tradition to – "
"Let's do that!"
Lily's eyes doubled in size as she stared back at their teacher. "Sorry?" she asked, looking as if she hadn't heard him correctly. "Let's do – what, exactly?"
"This – Secret Santa, business," the short man said with a slight hop. "Next week is the last week before break – and your class is already ahead in your studies. It wouldn't hurt to take a small break, would it?"
A chair scraped across the floor behind Lily and then fell with a thud. She turned abruptly and watched as Sirius climbed out from underneath his desk and stumbled to his feet. "Wait – you mean we wouldn't have to do any work – all next week?"
Lily looked appalled by this idea. "Sir," she said in an exasperated sigh, "you can't possibly think that during the N.E.W.T.'s year we should – "
"Evans!" James' voice cut in, staring back at Lily with a small sparkle of amusement in his eyes. "Let the professor talk…"
Lily fumed, feeling her temper rise. Finally, she turned and marched to her seat and sat in the chair with a loud thud.
"Now – did everyone understand the rules?" Professor Flitwick asked the class. "We all put our names in a hat and draw out other names." He looked over at Charlotte. When she nodded, he continued. "And starting next Monday – we can begin exchanging gifts, but don't let the recipient know who they're from. And we reveal ourselves on Friday, correct?"
Charlotte was beaming. "Exactly!"
Professor Flitwick clapped his hands together in excitement. He pulled his own hat off of his head, revealing a small bald spot, and then pointed his wand at the hat, instantly filling it with slips of paper, each with a different name – including his own – written on it. "Are there any questions before we begin?"
A hand in the corner of the room went up. It was Severus Snape.
"Sir." He sounded disgusted. "Do we all have to participate?"
Flitwick considered this briefly. "You do not – but the alternative is completing daily assignments."
Several groans went around the room. Nearly all of them were from a small group of Slytherins.
"I think that settles that," Sirius spoke up with a grin, placing his chair back into the upright position. "So – who wants to draw the first name?"
"This is – ridiculous. Utter madness."
Mary patted her friend's back. "Don't worry, Lily," she said in her soothing voice. "It's one week. All we have to do is give a few gifts, and then move on with our lives…"
Lily smiled, nodding. She entered the Great Hall and plopped down into a seat, dropping her own book bag onto the floor behind her seat. She stuffed the small piece of paper that she had drawn out of Professor Flitwick's hat – with Peter Pettigrew scribbled in the center – into her pocket, sighing. "I suppose," she mumbled.
"At least you don't have it as bad as I do," Anne countered, sitting across from Lily. "I got Charlotte's name – for the third year running." Lily cracked a smile at this news. "You would have thought that if there were nearly twenty other people involved instead of just five – I might get someone easier to shop for than the girl who already owns everything." She picked up a chicken leg and ripped off a large chunk with her teeth. "Imagine if I would have drawn Sirius Black…" She swallowed her food. "All I would have to do is give him anything related to Quidditch or Dungbombs – and he'd have been happy."
Lily laughed. "I've got Peter," she said in a soft voice, noticing that the group of boys in their year and house were sitting close by. "What do you think I should get him?"
Anne made a face as if it were obvious. "Honestly, Lily – I think you'd be safe buying him food."
Mary laughed for the first time in their conversation.
"So, tell us," Anne said, speaking between bites. "Whose name did you draw?"
Mary sighed and showed her paper to Lily and Anne with an air of disappointment.
"Macnair?" Anne dropped her chicken onto her plate, stunned. "What do you buy for him?"
Mary shook her head, taking the paper back. "I'm sure he would want some sort of object filled with dark magic," she said with a wry smile. "But I don't think I'd want to give something with that sort of power to someone like that…"
Lily looked stumped for ideas. "I can't help you," she said, standing back up from her spot at the table. "Now, if you'll excuse me – I need to owl Honeydukes and buy some sweets off of them for next week…"
"Fantastic!" Professor Flitwick grinned as he shook a present that had been sitting on his desk. "This must be from my Secret Santa!" he cried with excitement. Hurriedly pulling off the lid, he gasped as he reached into the box and found several quills. He quickly dipped them into his ink bottle and began scribbling on a piece of parchment, grinning. But his smile quickly faded.
"Oh, dear," he mumbled to himself, looking at the tip of the quill. "It doesn't seem to be working…" He reached for another quill as a soft cackle of laughter floated to Lily's ears. She looked at the row of desks in front of her and saw that Sirius seemed to be beside himself with laughter.
"Augurey feathers," he whispered to James, covering his mouth with a fist. "They repel ink!"
James smiled. "Clever," he said, nodding in appreciation. "We should have switched a few of those quills with some of Snape's."
Sirius leaned back in his chair, putting both hands behind his head. "Way ahead of you…" He nodded in the greasy-haired boy's direction, smirking as the boy made a face when his quill did not function correctly.
Lily rolled her eyes, disgusted. Instead, she turned back to her blank piece of parchment and began testing her knowledge of Transfiguration spells for their upcoming exam on Friday.
She paused as she thought of a spell that McGonagall had mentioned the week before. Ferula…
Lily leaned over to Mary. "What does Ferula do?"
Mary shrugged, digging around in her own bag for a book to read until Professor Flitwick dismissed their class. "How should I know?"
Lily shrugged. "You're really good in Transfiguration. And I'm not."
Mary found a book. She opened it in the middle and began to read. "Ask Anne – I have no clue."
Lily reluctantly turned to her other friend, knowing that she wouldn't be able to help if Mary couldn't. Anne was a rather bright person – but she never chose to utilize that skill in her classes.
"Anne – I need your help," Lily said in a desperate sounding voice.
Her brown-haired friend looked up from the paper airplane that she was folding. She saw the paper and quill in Lily's hand and made a disgusted face. "You're studying when Professor Flitwick gave us the day off?" She took a strong hold of Lily's shoulders and shook her. "He's given us the entire week off, and you're still working?"
Lily shrugged out of her friend's hands. "Just because he's given us the week off, doesn't mean that the other teachers have done the same thing! Now help me," she demanded, pointing to her parchment. "What does Ferula do?"
Anne shrugged, just like Lily had been worried that she would do. "I dunno – why don't you just use the spell and find out?"
Lily looked appalled by this idea. "That's dangerous!" she hissed. "I don't know what the spell does – I could hurt someone!"
Anne smirked. "Do you really think McGonagall would teach us a spell that would hurt someone?"
"No – but that's not – "
"It's a wooden board."
The girls stopped bickering at the sound of the voice.
The owner of the voice revealed himself by turning around in his chair and leaning on the front of Lily's desk.
It was James.
"Ferula conjures up a wooden plank," he stated simply. At the look of astonishment on the girls' faces, James quickly explained, "I overheard you asking your friends for the answer."
Lily seemed to have regained her wits. "That's right," she said with a sneer. "I was asking my friends for help – not you." She folded her paper in half, glaring at James. "And if I had wanted to ask you for help, I would have."
James frowned, watching as Lily pursed her lips and glared at him for trying to help. And with a small shrug, James silently turned back around in his seat and stared straight ahead, acting as if what she had said hadn't affected him whatsoever.
Lily rolled her eyes at James' back, snatching the parchment off of her desk and balling it up in frustration. Who does he think he is – listening in on my private conversations with my friends… He thinks he can just – wait – what's this?
Lily had been digging around in the bottom of her bag, searching for another textbook to read from. While in the process, she noticed that there was a small, white box lying in the bottom of her bag.
Carefully, she pulled it out and cradled it gently in her hands. Checking to make sure that her friends were busy looking elsewhere, Lily examined it closely. Her name was engraved on the top of the box in red, loopy letters.
Again, Lily eyed her friends to see if they were watching her. When they weren't, she eagerly opened the box.
Inside, there was a fluffy looking pillow. On top of the pillow sat a small, tear-shaped stone, slightly larger than the size of her thumbnail. She carefully picked it up and held it up into the light. Instantly, the beams of light caught on the stone and Lily let out a soft gasp as the clear stone began to glow radiantly, soaking in the rays of the sun pouring through the window of the classroom.
Lily put the small gem back into the box that she had found it in and closed the lid. She wanted to keep the stone safe, under lock and key, as if it were too precious to be lying in a box like it was. But at the same time, Lily found herself wanting to carry this stone around with her wherever she went, thinking that it was a crime to try and lock away such a beautiful thing.
With a small smile, as if harboring a great secret, Lily slipped the box into a pocket in her robe.
The following morning, Lily awoke with a great start.
"Get out of bed!" a voice shouted at her. "You set an early alarm for yourself, and I refuse to be woken up by it when you won't even get up!"
Lily rolled over and lay face down, groaning into her pillow. She mumbled something, but her friends did not listen.
"No," the same person spoke in a commanding voice. "You will wake up if I had to wake up!"
A pillow collided with the back of her head, causing her to cringe. It wasn't until several hits, and a slightly throbbing head, that Lily finally gave in and rolled out of her bed.
"I'm up," she growled, glaring at the culprit; she was not surprised to see Anne with one hand holding up a pillow, and the other placed onto her hip. "Now leave me alone…"
Lily slipped into a pair of slippers as she shuffled across the stone cold floor, shivering. Once she reached the trunk at the bottom of her bed, she threw open the lid and reached inside to begin rifling through her robes, but something caught her eye.
There it was – the white box. It was sitting directly on top of all of her belongings.
Impossible… Lily picked up the box and studied the outside, frowning. She opened the lid and saw the same tear-shaped stone, lying on a small pillow. I thought I put it in the drawer in my bedside table…
Lily sped over to the small table sitting beside her bed and flung open the drawer.
Inside of the drawer was the same, white box.
Lily stared back and forth at the two boxes she was holding. She must have opened and closed both boxes multiple times before finally realizing that she had two stones – both of which were in identical boxes with her name elegantly scrawled on the top of it.
Is it from my Secret Santa? Lily slowly ran her finger over the engraved lettering on the lid of one of the boxes. Who else would buy these for me?
Lily searched her mind. She started to list the names of those in her class, and then mentally began crossing each of them off. She had gotten through nearly half of the class before Mary interrupted her thoughts.
"Uh – Lily?" Mary was fully dressed and holding her school bag, ready to leave for breakfast. "Are you planning on getting ready anytime soon?"
Lily looked down at her pajamas and blushed. "Sorry," she muttered. "I didn't realize – I lost track of time," she apologized in a soft voice.
"Right." Mary nodded slowly, watching as Lily scrambled to throw on a decent outfit.
But she didn't see when Lily slipped two, white boxes into her pocket.
Lily pointed her wand at her hand. "Manus Noctua."
"Manus Noctua," she repeated, jabbing her wand just a bit harder.
Again, there was no change.
Lily felt her face heat up. Those ridiculous Switching Spells always tricked her! What was it with her and this little bit of Transfiguration? She wasn't a master, by any means, of the other areas in this particular subject – but at least she had a better hold on it than these Switching Spells!
"Come on – work," she muttered, focusing as hard as she could on the hand she was holding over the table that she was sitting at. "Manus Noctua!"
Her wand let out a small puff of feathers that floated innocently to the table, but nothing happened to her hand.
This will never work! Lily slammed her wand onto her table and put both hands to her head, pulling at her hair. She wished that she was in her dormitory, as opposed to the very noisy common room, so that she could brood alone.
Lily dropped her head onto the table, allowing the side of her face to fall onto the glossy pages of an open textbook. Her long hair covered her face, shielding her from the others that must be staring at her unusual behavior. She closed her eyes and took in several deep breaths. Relax, Lily, she told herself. Just – talk to Professor McGonagall in the morning. She'll know what the problem is…
Lily felt her heartbeat slowly return to its normal speed, and her temperature cooling down. She opened her eyes and stared blankly across the common room.
And an idea came to her.
I could always ask – James.
Immediately, she tried to shake off the idea as an absurd thought. Don't be so ridiculous – he'd never help, especially after what you said to him yesterday. Besides, Lily reasoned with herself, McGonagall can help tomorrow. She knows more than he does…
But you've got an exam in three days! Lily watched between strands of her hair as the dark-haired boy, sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace, chewed on the end of his quill. He ran a hand through his hair, squinting at the parchment in front of him, and then his face lit up. He leaned in, causing his glasses to slide down his nose as he scribbled furiously across the paper. If you wait too long to ask for help, you could fail – miserably!
Lily bit her lip, debating back and forth with herself. She would – she wouldn't – would she? It was insane – but he might help!
Finally fed up with her jumbled thoughts, Lily jumped up from her seat. She cringed as the textbook that had been pressed to her face was ripped away, peeling painfully away from her cheek. She took a moment to hold a hand up to the red spot on the side of her face. She then squared her shoulders, picked up her wand, and marched right up to James.
James looked up from his essay, startled by Lily's sudden appearance. He slowly set down his quill across the top of his parchment and leaned back against the cushions of the couch, putting his hands comfortably behind his head. He smirked. "Can I help you?"
Lily swallowed, infuriated by James' relaxed smile. He thinks he's so wonderful, smiling like that… Why did I even bother coming over here – I should have listened to myself the first time…
"Lily?" James' eyebrows shot up as he watched her with a hint of amusement. "Did you just come over to chat?"
Lily regained the use of her voice. "No, I did not," she corrected him, crossing her arms over her chest. She stuck her foot to the side and jutted out her hip, clearly giving James plenty of visual signs that she was not excited to be talking to him. "I need your help in Transfiguration."
Lily could have sworn that James would have taken the opportunity to make a comment about Lily's lack of knowledge in that subject. She thought he would have boasted about his own skills. She even considered the possibility that he might turn away her plea for help.
But he did none of those things. Instead, he replied with a simple, "Alright – what problems are you having?"
Lily was so stunned by this response that her jaw dropped without her realizing that it had done so. The confused look on James' face shook her out of her state of shock and she quickly closed her mouth, looking down at the floor. "Well," she muttered, "I needed help with a Switching Spell."
James scooted to one side of the couch and made a gesture, clearly inviting Lily to sit next to him. "What spell were you working on?"
Lily glanced at James, then at the seat beside him, and again, back up at him. Slowly, she lowered herself into the seat, watching him, as if waiting for some trick. "It's human transfiguration," she said, unable to take her eyes off of James, for fear of falling victim to a prank.
James nodded. "Alright – show me what happens when you say the spell."
Lily held up her hand and pointed her wand at it. "Manus Noctua."
This time, feathers didn't even fall out of Lily's wand. Nothing happened.
James seemed to be watching Lily's wand, as if waiting for something more to happen. He then switched his gaze over to Lily's hand and frowned. Finally, he held his own hand up.
"Do that again," he told Lily. "Only use my hand."
Lily looked surprised by this command, but did as she was told.
There was an instantaneous effect. James' entire hand disappeared within seconds and was replaced with the head of an owl, anxiously rotating his head around on James' wrist in confusion. The bird let out a screech, and Lily grinned.
"I did it," she said in a surprised whisper. She looked up at James and saw that he was smiling back. "I did it," she repeated, grinning.
James nodded and waved his wand, making the owl attached to his arm disappear, and replacing his hand where it was supposed to be. "Now," he said, moving his fingers to check that his hand still worked properly, "try the same spell on your hand."
Lily, again, did as she was told, and beamed when she got the same result.
"It worked!" she cried, thrilled. The owl on her wrist was stretching his neck to reach for Lily's wand, clearly interested in using it as some sort of a chew toy. "I finally got it!"
James nodded, returning her hand to normal. "Congratulations," he said, smiling. And, just like that, James picked up his quill and returned to his essay.
Lily, again, stared curiously at James. That was it? She hadn't been expecting much more of a conversation from James – but she certainly wasn't ready to accept his neutral response.
Lily shakily got to her feet, feeling very confused after what had just happened. Part of her wanted to walk away from the awkward situation, glad that she didn't have to argue with James, while the other wanted to confront him and ask about his odd behavior tonight.
But she chose to go with an entirely different plan.
With a small bounce, Lily dropped back into her seat on the couch and asked, "How did you do that?"
James spoke without lifting his quill from the parchment. "I didn't do anything – you did."
Lily shook her head. She leaned forward, as if trying to catch James' attention. "No – you did something that taught me how to use the spell." James looked up at her, watching her with curious eyes. He set his quill down and slowly leaned back from the table as Lily did the same, keeping their gaze locked together. "I want to know what you did."
James shrugged. "You weren't really clearing your mind in the way that you should have," he explained. When Lily looked puzzled by this response, he continued. "You couldn't transfigure your own hand, because you were blocked mentally by your fears of messing up the spell, and possibly causing long-term damage to yourself. But when you used my hand," James held up his own hand as an example, "you didn't really care whether or not you screwed up the spell – because it was someone else's hand." He smiled, dropping his hand into his lap. "I knew you could do the spell all along – you're smart enough to know the correct way to perform spells," he added in an undertone. "You were just worried."
Lily looked at her own hand, beginning to understand. "And after I figured out I could do the spell," she said slowly, as if checking to make sure she had her facts straight, "I wasn't scared of casting it incorrectly on myself." She looked somewhat lifted by this revelation, but was also slightly disturbed by the information, as well. "But I can't always have someone to practice on every time I learn a new spell…"
"Well – you could."
Lily looked up at James sharply. "Pardon?"
James looked almost sheepish. "I mean – I could help you with some of the spells," he said, scratching the back of his head. "I could try to help you overcome your fear – if you want."
Lily was surprised by this invitation, but her own words surprised her more. "Sure," she said in a soft whisper. She cleared her throat and shook her head, blinking. "Um – when were you thinking?" she asked. "Now?"
James looked back at his essay. "I don't think I'll have time tonight," he said, frowning. "But maybe tomorrow we could meet at the library. Is that alright?"
"Uh – yeah." Lily nodded vigorously, trying to disguise the fact that she was absolutely floored by what was happening. James had made no rude comments to her at all, and was now offering to help her! "So – after dinner?"
James nodded. "Sure," he said with a smile. "I'll see you there."
"Right." Lily got to her feet, holding onto the furniture as she began to feel slightly light-headed. "Um – goodnight."
And before James could respond, Lily sprinted out of the room and up the steps.
"Lily – watch where you're going!" Anne pulled Lily out of the path of oncoming traffic in the hallway, protecting her from a collision.
"Right – thanks," Lily mumbled, following her friends to their Charms class.
Mary smiled slightly, watching Lily with a look of interest. "What are you thinking about?" she asked, squinting at her. "You're not paying attention to things out here – so clearly there's something going on in your head."
Lily scoffed at the idea. "Ridiculous," she said with a chuckle. "I'm just tired this morning, that's all."
Mary nodded, smiling. "Whatever you say," she said, hiding a giggle.
The truth, however, was far more complex than Lily cared to tell her friends about. That morning when she had woken up, she had found a third, white box. This one, however, was sitting directly on her nightstand, just beside her bed.
Inside the engraved box, as she had expected, was a third, clear stone, identical to the others. And, just like she had done with the others, Lily was now carrying around these stones with her wherever she went. However, instead of toting several boxes, she had condensed it so that she had all three tear-shaped stones sitting on just one pillow inside of the first box.
Alright, let's think through this… Lily slipped her hand into her robe pocket and felt for the white box, running her thumb over the engraving of her name as she thought. These gifts must be from my Secret Santa. There's no other explanation for it. Lily looked up just in time to dodge a crowd of first years on their way to their next class. But I know one thing for sure – whoever has been giving me these gifts, she reasoned, must be in Gryffindor. Otherwise – how else would I be getting these in my dormitory?
Lily made a list of the people that were in her Charms class, as well as those that were in the seventh year in Gryffindor, and was disappointed to realize that all of the Gryffindor sevenths years were in her Charms class.
Then I'll try to narrow it down… Lily first thought about her two close friends, Anne and Mary. It can't be them, because they both told me whose name they drew out of the hat. Lily moved on to her other two roommates, Charlotte and Natalie. Again – impossible. In the past, they've never bought anything that looks this expensive for anyone in our dormitory before – I highly doubt they'd change their behavior now.
Lily started to think about the boys in her year when something occurred to her.
Boys can't go into the girls' dormitories.
Lily was frustrated by this observation. How could she have missed that obvious detail? Boys weren't allowed to go into their rooms or an alarm would go off – and Lily was sure she would have woken up if she heard it.
A second thought came to her.
Unless they didn't use the stairs…
Lily found herself scheming, thinking of many different methods that a boy would use to get into the girls' dormitory without using the steps. Using a broom, Lily realized instantly. All he would have to do is find the correct room, and then slip in at night, unnoticed.
When Lily realized that this would be the perfect way to leave gifts scattered in her room, she went through the boys' names.
Peter – absolutely not. She immediately brushed off the idea of the boy going to such trouble for her. Sirius – well, he might do something like this – but didn't he give Professor Flitwick those quills? Lily mentally crossed Sirius' name off of the list, knowing that, after his reaction to Professor Flitwick's gift a few days earlier, he must have drawn Flitwick's name out of the hat. James… Lily sat on this name for a bit longer than she had for the other two. And then came down with a forceful, No. He wouldn't even think of – he just wouldn't. Lily could easily see the image of the last boy forming in her mind. Remus Lupin, she thought, weighing the possibility of him being her Secret Santa. All signs seemed to point in his direction.
The three girls entered their Charms classroom and sat in a row of open desks. Lily set her bag down on the floor beside her desk and watched the thin, sandy-haired boy several seats away. He was laughing with his friends, but drawing much less attention to himself than the other boys seemed to be doing. He caught Lily staring at him, and he waved, smiling kindly in her direction.
Lily felt her insides contract.
Oh no… The gems – all of the signs –
Lily was almost positive that it was Remus, now. And she realized, with a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, that these weren't just presents from him – they were declarations of his love for her! Why else would a boy buy her such precious jewels?
He's so nice and helpful, Lily thought, almost feeling pity for the boy. But I've only ever liked him as a friend – nothing more than that!
Lily shook her head, trying to sort out what she should do. Should she keep her distance? Or maybe she should confront him before they revealed who they had on Friday.
But the one thing Lily could agree on was that she was afraid she might break his heart when he heard the truth.
Lily was so consumed with her thoughts that she almost didn't feel the poke in her side. She turned to Mary, registering that her friend was talking to her, and she hadn't heard a single word that she had said.
"Sorry?" Lily asked, frowning.
"I said," Mary repeated herself with a sigh, "that you've got a present on your desk!" She pointed to a tattered looking parcel that looked as if it had been dropped and been stepped on several times before it reached her desk. On the top was a small, ripped piece of parchment – as if it had been torn off of a larger sheet of parchment – that had her name scribbled on it. Mary cut into her thoughts. "I think it's from your Secret Santa!"
Impossible, Lily found herself thinking as she ripped open the present. My Secret Santa doesn't give me brown packages – they give me white boxes!
Lily got to the center of the box and frowned as she pulled out a small, glass bottle of standard ink.
"Interesting," Anne muttered, taking the ink from Lily's hand. "Your Secret Santa must know you well…"
Lily raised an eyebrow. "And why do you think that, exactly?"
Anne let out a loud laugh. "Well – they must know that you're constantly studying," she said as if it were obvious. "And that you always borrow our ink bottles…"
Lily laughed along with her friends, but found herself more confused than ever. It didn't make sense! What did those gems have to do with the ink bottle? Was she supposed to know what to do with these gifts?
Lily sighed and carefully placed the ink bottle into her bag, sitting in a haze of dizzying thoughts.
Lily could not contain her giggles. She covered her mouth and looked down into her lap, trying to control herself.
"Right – so…" James scratched the back of his head, also wearing a big smile. "We should probably get back to work, shouldn't we?"
Lily nodded in agreement. "Although, I really enjoyed your imitation of Sirius." She put her face in her hands, breathing deeply through the spaces between her fingers to control her laughter. "I wish I had stories like that about my friends. And even if I did," Lily quickly continued, pointing a warning finger at James, "I probably wouldn't tell you because they would murder me if I did."
James made a face at this comment. "If Sirius found out I told that story of his – he would murder me," he admitted truthfully. "But the thing is…" At this statement, James leaned in across the table in the back of the library, causing Lily to do the same. He smirked. "Sirius tends to let certain stories about me 'slip out' all of the time – so this is like an early payback."
Lily laughed. "Alright, then… So – let's just keep working on this Transfiguration stuff…"
It was approaching nine o'clock, and Lily had only covered a fraction of the many questions she had wanted to ask James about this subject. For the past two hours, she and James had been studying for their Transfiguration exam in two days, but most of that time had been spent joking around with each other.
When Lily had first come to the library, she had stood at the doors for nearly ten minutes, debating whether or not she should even enter. Once she had, she started to convince herself that this meeting was a mistake. She was seconds from turning back around to leave, but realized, when James waved at her, that she had no choice but to approach him.
She had sat in the chair opposite of him, watching him warily as she set her school bag on the table. She pulled out her Transfiguration textbook and flipped through several pages, and had immediately started asking about certain areas of Transfiguration without so much as a faint, "Hello."
To her great relief, James had gone along with her method of speaking strictly about school work and nothing more than what was necessary. But as soon as he started to make casual jokes, Lily found herself warming up to him much more than she cared to.
"Right – that was perfect," James said, grinning as Lily was able to switch her ears onto the cover of her textbook and then back.
Lily smiled. She then moved onto the next area of difficulty, biting her lip. "Do you think you could help me with double human transfiguration?"
James immediately slid his chair around the table so that he was sitting directly beside her. "Go for it," he said with a smirk. "I'm all yours."
Lily chose to ignore the play on words that she was sure he had been trying to use. "Right," she muttered with a nod. She pointed her wand at her hand, and then at James' hand. "Dissocio Restituo."
Lily let out a sigh when nothing happened. "This is ridiculous." Lily held her wand out over the table and dropped it with a small clatter. "I can't practice every spell on you," she muttered, growing angrier by the second. "I need to be able to transfigure at a moment's notice! I won't always have time to practice, you know!"
James nodded, putting a soothing hand on Lily's shoulder. "Relax," he whispered, stopping her from entering an emotional breakdown. "Remember – you're afraid. Just break down that mental barrier and you'll be able to do anything in Transfiguration." He watched intently as Lily picked up her wand and held it balanced between her fingertips. "Just – concentrate…"
Lily licked her lips and swallowed. She raised her wand once more. "Dissocio Restituo."
The results were instantaneous. Lily had swapped her left hand with James' right hand.
"Oh my – I did it!" Lily immediately returned their physical features to normal and began to squeal in excitement, grinning from ear to ear. "I didn't have to use anyone else before I did Transfiguration on myself!"
Before she had realized what she was doing, Lily leapt up from her chair and threw herself onto James and hugged him around the neck. She continued to giggle directly into his ear, still not registering what she was doing. It wasn't until James' rigid posture relaxed beneath her and he put his arms around Lily's waist, hugging her back, that she realized what she had just done.
Lily quickly jumped away, standing awkwardly over James. His glasses had been knocked down to the bottom of his nose and his tie had been loosened a great deal – both of which must have been from Lily's surprise attack.
"Uh…" Thoughts of what she had let herself do in the past few hours were now flooding back to her. She had befriended James Potter – something she would have never dreamed of doing several days ago…
"I, uh, gotta – well – " Lily snatched up her books and grabbed her bag, hunting for an exit " – thanks for the help, uh – Potter."
She sprinted out of the library.
Lily woke before any of her roommates had stirred, eager to search for a fourth jewel. She threw back the covers from her shivering body and stepped into a pair of slippers sitting just beside her bed.
She started at her trunk, digging through her belongings. When she found no white box, she shuffled over to her night stand and dug around in the drawer. Again, she found nothing.
Lily sat miserably on her bed, sighing.
Maybe my Secret Santa ran out of stones, she mused. And then, yawning, Lily checked the time.
She was awake half an hour earlier than she normally got up.
Lily pulled her feet out of her slippers and quickly dug them back into the sheets that were balled up at her feet, warming them. I might as well grab a few more minutes of sleep…
She stretched and put her head down on her pillow when it collided with something solid.
It was the white box.
Lily swore she could have felt her heart expand in her chest. They left her gift on her pillow – right where she had been sleeping!
Lily sighed – just like she had earlier when she had been disappointed – but this sigh was one of happiness.
As she did with every box, Lily traced her finger over the lid, smiling. She then flipped open the box and picked up the clear jewel and held it up so that it caught the first light of day, just peeking through their window.
Lily's gaze followed the beam of light as she squinted at the sunrise. She rolled out of bed for the second time that morning and placed her fourth gem with the other three in the same box, and then she walked slowly to the window.
She had been sure to lock the window the night before. If her Secret Santa intruder was entering in the way that she thought he was – by broom – he was sure to use her window. But she knew that keeping it locked wouldn't throw the stranger off – he could easily unlock the window by using a simple spell. And it was this detail that she hoped her intruder might forget about…
Lily looked closer at the window, noticing something that wasn't quite right. She smiled, realizing exactly what that something was.
The latch on the window that had previously been locked, was now unlocked.
Lily tapped her wand absentmindedly against the palm of her hand, causing it to shoot small, green sparks out of the end with each touch. She did not realize what she was doing, because she was so distracted, staring at the other side of the room.
James' three closest friends all sat around the fireplace. Peter frowned at his homework while Remus continuously wrote word after word into the blank pages of a book. Sirius did not seem to think that anything that quiet was worth his time, so he chose, instead, to try and find some entertainment.
"Stop writing in your diary!" Sirius moaned, practically throwing himself at Remus' feet. "Would you please play a game with me?"
Remus tore the book far from Sirius' reach, turning pink around the edges of his ears. "It's a journal – not a diary," he quickly defended himself. He continued scribbling away while still talking in a calm tone with Sirius. "Besides – you're practically eighteen," Remus reminded his friend. "I think you should have learned how to entertain yourself by now. I don't need to play Exploding Snap with you all of the time!" He sighed when Sirius rolled onto his back and covered his face with his hands, looking as if he could actually die from boredom. "Why don't you try picking up a book?"
Sirius immediately sat up, sending Remus a death glare. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard you say." And then rolling his eyes when he got no rise out of Remus, Sirius complained a bit louder. "Do you know where James is – he won't ignore me!"
Remus smirked, but did not look up from his book. "Yes, I know where James is – but I won't tell you."
Sirius stared with his jaw dropped. "Are you serious?" He then looked as if an idea struck him. "You do realize I could just run upstairs and get the map, right?"
"Yes," Remus stated with a nod, apparently perfectly aware of this information. "But I also know that you won't – because you're too lazy to do such a thing," he added smartly.
Sirius looked as if he were about to refute this statement, but then sighed and closed his mouth, lying spread out on his back once again.
James has been rather silent all day, come to think about it… Lily's leg was now bouncing up and down along with the tapping of her wand. She was clearly very antsy about something. He showed up to class – but he didn't say anything to me. She frowned. Not even a rude comment…
Lily was surprised by her own thoughts. Did she really want James to say something to her so badly, that she didn't care whether or not it was an insult? What was wrong with her?
Guilty conscience, she told herself. You feel bad about last night.
Lily tapped her wand against her hand even faster than before. True, James had helped her immensely with Transfiguration – but that didn't mean that they needed to be on friendly terms! She had thanked him for his help last night anyway! What more did he want from her?
She already knew the answer before she had asked the question. An apology. You were rude to him when you left – and he did nothing to deserve that.
One of the sparks flying out of Lily's wand went off course and hit her bouncing leg, burning a small hole through her jeans.
It was this accident that shook Lily from her thoughts, and caused her to stand on her feet and approach Remus.
"Hey – Remus – " Lily knelt on the ground beside Remus' armchair, hiding from Sirius' line of sight " – can I ask you something?"
The boy looked up, slightly startled by Lily's sudden appearance. He quickly closed his book and turned to face her. "Sure, go ahead."
Lily swallowed. "I, uh – I overheard you saying that you knew where James was." She subconsciously leaned forward a bit more, as if thinking that no one else could hear her if she did so. "Do you think you could tell me where he is?"
At first, Remus looked thoroughly confused. He was, Lily assumed, probably trying to figure out why Lily was asking about James when, normally, she spent most of her time trying to avoid him.
"I need help with Transfiguration," Lily quickly informed Remus. "And he – well, he's top of the class, you know," she added with a slight chuckle. "And, you know – we've got that exam coming up. And I thought he could – "
Remus just smiled, listening to Lily babble on longer than necessary. Finally, taking pity on the poor girl, Remus told her, "He's up in the Astronomy Tower."
Lily's eyes widened slightly, surprised by this destination, but she nodded all the same. "Great – thanks, Remus." She grinned at him and then immediately got up and left the common room.
Time seemed to fly past as Lily sprinted to the tower. Once her mind had caught up with her feet, Lily realized she was running up the spiral staircase and standing at the door to the Astronomy Tower.
Lily paused, taking her time to catch her breath. She still hadn't quite worked out what she would say to James if she did see him. All she knew was that she felt like she needed to see him.
She put her hand up to the iron ring on the door and gently, silently pushed it open. And there, standing on the opposite end of a snow covered roof with a telescope pointed straight up towards the stars, was James.
Lily shivered, silently scolding herself for forgetting her cloak in the middle of winter. She then cautiously closed the door behind her and shuffled quietly through the snow, watching as James fiddled with a few dials and turned specific knobs. He peered through a small eyehole in the telescope, grunted, sounding irritated, and then dropped to his knees in the snow, trying to fix the telescope.
It was then that Lily took one step too far. She stepped on a patch of ice, causing it to crunch loudly beneath her feet. James heard the noise and jumped several feet into the air at the unexpected sound. After the surprise, one of his legs went flying out from beneath him and kicked the stand of the telescope, causing it to lose its balance. It teetered, very close to falling off of the edge of the tower and smashing into thousands of pieces on the ground far below them, but James quickly threw himself at the base of the telescope and caught it, holding it steady. Once he was sure that the telescope was going nowhere, he took in one deep breath and turned around to face his intruder.
Lily's hands were covering her mouth as she watched on in a stunned silence. "James," she finally gasped, her knees shaking slightly. "I didn't mean to – I wasn't trying to – "
"Relax," James assured her, waving a hand. He stood and got off of his knees and onto his feet. After brushing the white snow off of his pants, he looked curiously up at Lily. "I thought you weren't taking Astronomy anymore."
"Oh – I'm not," Lily replied in a soft voice, looking down. Her teeth began to chatter as a cold gust of wind hit her face, turning her cheeks bright red and blowing her curly hair away from her face and neck.
James frowned, studying Lily's worried expression. "I see," he mumbled. He turned back towards his telescope and continued, saying, "I'm not either." He bent over to look into the eyepiece. "I liked the class – but it's not exactly a necessity for my area."
Lily – who had been staring adamantly at her hands for the past several minutes – now looked sharply up at James. She stepped forward, intrigued. "And what, exactly, is your area?" she asked. "Something with Transfiguration, I'm assuming."
James shook his head, looking up from his telescope. "Not as much as you would think," he said with a shrug.
Lily's eyes widened. "You're joking, right?" she asked, floored by his response. "If I were as good as you in Transfiguration, I would want to use it for a living!" Her mind went through all of the opportunities that James would have once he left school. "You would certainly be paid much more than most people…"
James seemed to think about this statement for awhile before answering. "I'm not really focused on the money," he responded, surprising Lily even more.
"Then – what job is it?" she asked, trying to figure out just what sort of job James was talking about.
"I'm going to be an Auror," he stated proudly. Lily could hear a smile in his voice.
Lily nodded, pulling the sleeves of her sweater down to cover her hands, and then crossed her arms over her chest. "But wouldn't you still use Transfiguration for that job?"
James went back to staring at the several buttons on the telescope as he talked. "Of course I'll use Transfiguration," he said. "It just isn't something that's a strong requirement for the job." He took a deep breath, preparing himself for a long explanation. "I mean – obviously, they want you to know how to use Transfiguration, but their main focus is if you can keep a clear mind when you're put into a pressured situation." He started to speak with his hands. "You need to know about the dark arts – you know, things like that. And Charms tend to come in pretty handy, I hear. But you mostly just need a basic knowledge of spells in general, nothing specific, really. And sometimes – "
"James – I'm sorry."
James stopped fiddling with the knobs on his telescope, startled by this sudden interruption. He slowly turned around, facing Lily.
"About last night," she continued, biting her lower lip. "It was rude of me to just leave like that," she said as quickly as she could, before she lost her nerve. "I was – " Here, Lily paused, unsure of what to say next. She balled her fists, digging her fingernails into the palms of her hands, and took in a shuddering breath. "I was surprised that we were getting along so well," she admitted, feeling her cheeks turn a deeper shade of red, but not because of the wind. "It just – threw me off," she finished, looking away from James. "So – I'm sorry."
James watched her with curious eyes, waiting for her next move. When she did nothing but stand stock still, ankle deep in a patch of snow, he realized that it was his turn to respond.
Wordlessly, he stepped towards her and wrapped his cloak around her shoulders. He ran his hands up and down her arms, warming her up as quickly as he could, and then pulled her towards his telescope.
"I heard there was supposed to be a meteor shower tonight," he said, releasing his hold on Lily's shoulders and bending over to look through his telescope once more. "But I haven't seen anything yet. I could've sworn it was supposed to start soon…"
Lily listened with a puzzled look on her face. Was he not going to say anything? Did that mean she – wasn't forgiven? But if that was the case – why was he still talking to her?
"Oh – wow – there's one!" James' eyes began to glow with excitement as he turned back to look at Lily. "Did you see that?"
Lily slowly shook her head. "No – sorry, I didn't," she mumbled.
James brushed her comment aside, waving his hand. He then wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close, pointing far in the distance towards a patch of sky just above one of Hogwarts' many towers. "Just look over there," he said in a whisper, as if worried that speaking in a full voice would lower their chances of seeing a meteor. He leaned in, his lips brushing against her cheek in the process. "Watch."
Lily felt herself shiver from head to toe, but she did as she was told. And, just as James had predicted, a blur of light shot across the sky, making Lily's jaw drop in astonishment.
She was shocked that she could feel a small giggle bubble up from inside of her, all because she was able to witness this rare sight, but was even more surprised when her mouth opened and she started to laugh openly. Turning her head to look at James, she realized, with a jolt, that he had already been watching her, waiting for her reaction.
Lily felt her face turn another shade of red as she tried to continue laughing freely, attempting to hide her embarrassment, but her laugh now sounded a bit more forced than it had before. However, once she heard James start to laugh along with her, her entire body relaxed.
He never removed his arm from her shoulders.
With a small smile, she realized that this was James' way of forgiving her.
"You never told me," James said, running his hand up and down his arm to keep himself warm. "What field of magic were you planning on going into? Well – " he corrected himself, scratching the back of his head " – that is – if you're planning on going into magic."
Lily was surprised by this statement. "Why wouldn't I?" she asked, intrigued.
James shrugged. "Well – every now and then, you'll meet a witch or wizard that chooses not to use magic in their profession." He was sitting in a small area on the Astronomy Tower where he and Lily had removed a patch of snow. His legs were stretched out in front of him and he was leaning back on his hands as he continued speaking. "My mum's good friend graduated with her from Hogwarts, but decided to open up a store in a Muggle-populated area."
Lily listened, fascinated by the idea of choosing not to use magic when she had access to it. But as she listened, she found herself unable to follow James' story and was lulled into a peaceful state of mind by his soothing voice instead.
Who would have ever thought that spending time with James could be so relaxing? Lily wondered, fascinated by the thought. I used to consider it torture just to be around him!
Things have changed, she realized, studying James' face closely. She watched each animated expression he made as he told his story. She smiled at parts and nodded at others, but knew that later she wouldn't be able to remember a single word of his story.
As she sat, soothed by the thought of listening to James speak softly to her for ages, Lily started to wonder about something she had momentarily pushed out of her mind.
Would it really be that absurd to think that James might be my Secret Santa?
Lily started to warm up to the idea. I guess – it could be Remus, but… She bit her lip, beginning to look at James in a new perspective. I don't want to rule James out.
It could be James, she realized. She knew that it had to be a male Gryffindor in her year – and it would make sense, wouldn't it? He could be the one sending her the expensive gems!
A frightening thought came to Lily. She had panicked earlier because she thought that Remus sent her those jewels as a way of showing his love for her. But now that James could be the one sending her the gifts – that must mean that he was –
" – in love!" James nearly shouted, beginning to laugh at his own story. Lily was suddenly brought out of her silent reverie. She felt her heart beat twice as fast as she politely laughed along, unsure of what was so funny. "I mean – I can understand her falling in love with a Muggle, but she never even told her Muggle husband that she was a witch!"
Lily nodded. "Yeah," she responded, hiding the flustered look on her face. "Strange."
James' laughter died down. He ran a hand through his hair. As he pulled it back down, he realized that his hand had picked up small flecks of snow from his hair.
"Is it snowing?" he asked, looking around the tower. He slowly got to his feet and looked over the railing. Lily followed his movements, standing side by side with him and looking down at the freshly laid snow covering the grounds of Hogwarts.
"I didn't even realize that it started to snow," Lily muttered, almost embarrassed to admit this fact.
"I know," James said, smiling. "I got sidetracked talking to you and – I didn't even notice it."
Lily closed her eyes as a huge gust of wind hit her face. She gripped the edges of the cloak that James had lent her, afraid that she might lose it if she let one finger slip.
"It looks like the wind's picking up," Lily whispered, taking in a deep breath with her eyes still firmly closed. She didn't quite feel like returning inside, even if she was likely to catch a severe cold from standing outside much longer. "I suppose we ought to go back – "
Lily felt something cold hit the back of her neck: snow. She froze, afraid to move for fear of letting the snow touch more of her bare skin.
"Oh – you," Lily hissed, shaking off the snowball. She turned and glared playfully at James, standing several feet away and guiltily brushing snow off of his gloved hands. "You are in so much trouble…"
James grinned, wiggling his eyebrows. He laughed as Lily built her own snowball and threw it. It missed James by a foot. "Is that the best you can do?" he taunted with a laugh, circling Lily.
Again, Lily threw another snowball. This one James had to dodge. "Closer," he said, smirking. "But I expected better of you, Lily. Really, I thought – "
James' words were cut off as three snowballs hit him at once. He coughed and blinked, quickly wiping the snow off of his face and clothes. He glanced up, surprised by this sudden improvement in Lily's aim, and then smirked as he found Lily tapping her wand against her hand.
"Now that," James whispered, holding back a laugh, "is cheating."
Lily giggled loudly as James raced after her, bound and determined to push her into the snow. Both slid across the icy roof, grabbing onto each other for support. Occasionally, one would fall, but they would always get up and continue playing.
After several minutes of running in the snow, both students darted into the building, holding their sides as they laughed uncontrollably.
"Wow," Lily whispered, leaning against one of the stone walls in the dimly lit hallway. "I don't think I've had a snowball fight that intense in – years," she said, sounding amazed by her revelation.
James laughed, occupying the wall opposite of Lily. He reached out and grabbed the door to the Astronomy Tower, pulling it closed to protect them from the increasing speed of the harsh wind.
"What time is it?" Lily said to no one in particular. She held up her wrist and squinted at the small numbers. She gasped suddenly, feeling her stomach drop.
"What is it?" James asked, leaning towards her. He checked her watch and cringed. "Oops."
"'Oops' doesn't even begin to cover it," Lily mumbled, pulling her wrist away. "James – it's one in the morning," she said, feeling herself begin to panic. "We've been out there for hours."
"Don't worry," James said, trying his best to calm her nerves. "It's alright – we can still make it back to the common room!"
"At one in the morning?" Lily hissed, putting both of her hands on James' shoulders and shaking them slightly. "James – we're out way past curfew – Filch and his bloody cat are bound to be patrolling the corridors by now!"
James shook his head. "Don't worry," he repeated. He paused with his jaw dropped. He quickly debated an unknown topic within his head, and then came to an immediate decision. "Look – if I show you something, will you swear not to tell anyone?"
Lily mentally took a step back, trying to figure out what this had to do with them breaking curfew. Finally, she nodded. "Alright," she said softly. "What is it?"
James pulled out a thin, shiny fabric from within his pocket. He unfolded the material, revealing the fabric to be an invisibility cloak.
Lily could have sworn her jaw dropped to the floor. She knew how expensive these sorts of cloaks were – they were virtually priceless.
"Well," Lily whispered, reaching out a hand to touch the material. She felt a shiver run down her spine at the touch of the slick fabric spilling through her fingers. "This certainly explains quite a bit…"
James laughed softly, knowing that Lily must be talking about the many pranks he and his friends always got away with. With a final chuckle, James swiftly threw the cloak over his own shoulders, disappearing from sight. He reached out and grabbed Lily's hand, pulling her beneath the cloak.
They ran back to the Gryffindor common room with grins on their faces and holding hands the entire way.
Lily yawned as her alarm went off. For the first time in her life, she quickly opened her eyes and was ready to climb out of bed without pushing the snooze button.
Today's the day we reveal our Secret Santa, Lily realized, excited at the idea. I wonder if James will give me another stone in class.
Lily mentally took a step back, surprised by what she had just thought. She seemed convinced that James was her Secret Santa – but she had no evidence to support her guess! Just yesterday, she thought that it was Remus – why the sudden change?
Lily shook her head, brushing away her thoughts. Instead of dwelling on her reasons for why she was now picking James over Remus, she stretched her arms and legs, eager to climb out of bed and get dressed for the day. As she stretched, she felt something sharp and pointy in her hand as she clenched her fist.
She pulled her clenched hand towards her face without lifting her head from her pillow. Slowly, she opened her fingers around the mysterious object and gasped, stunned to see the small jewel sparkling in the palm of her hand.
There's no white box, Lily realized, carefully holding the stone up to see it better in the sunlight. James – or whoever – just put it in my hand while I was asleep.
With a secretive smile, Lily added the gem to her collection and hopped out of bed.
"I hope a Slytherin didn't draw my name," Anne whispered, leaning over to Lily as they sat down at an empty row of desks in the Charms classroom. "I mean – so far, I've gotten a few good things from my Secret Santa, so I'm assuming a Gryffindor drew my name."
"Yeah," Lily mumbled, her eyes fixed on the door as people entered one by one. She immediately sat upright in her chair when she spotted the Marauders walk through the entrance.
"It wouldn't be all bad," Mary said with a shrug. She sat down on Lily's other side. "If a Slytherin gives you good presents, that'd be alright – it's just thanking them that might get to be a bit awkward."
Lily slowly started to zone out of their conversation. She leaned forward over her desk, trying to peek into the small, paper bag that James had brought with him to class.
It's got to be another stone, Lily thought. She reached a hand into her robe pocket and wrapped her fingers around the white box with five jewels already inside, checking to make sure it was still there. The bag's small enough to hold another white box…
Professor Flitwick entered the room at a fast pace, grinning at every student he passed. "Happy Friday!" he said to the class, climbing up onto his small pile of books so that he could see everyone. "Are you all ready to reveal who your Secret Santa is?"
The class murmured in agreement. Lily did the same, hiding her excitement.
"Well, then," Professor Flitwick said, tapping his fingers together anxiously. "Go!"
Lily stood, letting her chair scrape on the stone floor as it scooted backwards. She followed Peter across the room as he delivered his final gift to a girl from Slytherin. Quietly, Lily tapped him on the shoulder and handed over a large box of chocolate frogs.
"Surprise," she said rather unenthusiastically. She looked over her shoulder for James. She found him, still at his desk as he accepted a present from a giggling girl.
"Wow," Peter whispered, surveying the box with hungry eyes. "Thanks!"
"Yeah," Lily replied with a small smile. She made small conversation and said a quick goodbye just before darting away from Peter.
The people walking past didn't seem to bother her. She just stood at the center of the room, watching as James stood from his seat and walked toward her.
"Hey," he said with a smile as he approached.
Lily felt her stomach fill with butterflies. It's him! she thought, thrilled beyond belief. I knew it – James is my Secret Santa!
"Hi," Lily replied as smoothly as possible. She clasped her hands in front of her, glancing down at the bag he was holding. "Um – I think I passed my Transfiguration exam this morning," Lily said in an attempt to make a bit of small talk before James gave her the present.
"Really?" James replied with a grin. "Lily – that's great!" He held his arms up, looking like he was about to hug her, and then patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. "Congratulations!"
Lily blushed, smiling. "Thanks," she said. "I mean – it's all thanks to you, right?"
James shook his head. "No it wasn't," he said. "It was all you – I did nothing."
"No, you helped a ton!" Lily quickly corrected him.
James laughed, knowing he would never be able to win this argument with Lily. "Alright," he said with a smirk. "If you insist."
"Now," James said, holding up his present. She started to smile, unable to hide her enthusiasm.
"If you'll excuse me."
Lily knew her jaw must have dropped when James swept past her and handed over his gift to Remus Lupin. The sandy-haired boy started to laugh as he realized that his good friend had been his Secret Santa all along.
"You had no idea," James said with a wide grin. He sat on the edge of a desk, handing over his present. "Go on – open it!"
Lily blinked, stunned by this revelation. It's not James, she tried to convince herself. James wasn't the one sending me those stones after all.
Slowly beginning to head back to her seat, Lily was stopped in her tracks as a boy stepped in front of her and grumpily held out a box with tape wrapped messily around the edges. She looked up, even more awestruck to realize that it was Avery.
"Here's your present," he grumbled, thrusting the box into Lily's hands. "They're quills to go with the ink." And before Lily could even utter a soft, "Thank you," Avery darted back to the opposite side of the room, sitting with his Slytherin friends.
Lily didn't know what to think anymore. Avery couldn't possibly be the one that had sent her those stones – could he? It wouldn't make sense for it to be him – but who else would it have been?
Lily quietly returned to her seat, tossing the unopened box onto her desk as she sighed softly, frustrated that she had gotten her hopes up.
Lily pushed her mashed potatoes around her plate, making shapes with her fork.
It doesn't make sense, she thought, unable to push this unsolved puzzle from her mind. It had been hours since her Charms class, but she wasn't even distracted by her friend's constant chatter at dinner.
"Professor Flitwick drew my name," Anne muttered sourly, leaning up against her hand as she shoveled food into her mouth. "I was prepared for a Slytherin to have drawn my name – I knew what to say to them – but not the professor!"
Mary shrugged. "It's not so bad, though," she replied. "You still got plenty of good gifts!"
"Oh – you're one to speak," Anne scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Remus was your Secret Santa!"
Mary blushed, smiling.
As Anne continued to poke fun at Mary's embarrassment, a small, paper airplane flew towards them, zoomed around in the air several times, and then dropped into Lily's lap.
She squealed, surprised by this interruption. Her two friends looked up at the noise, watching Lily carefully.
"What is it?" Mary asked, glad to change the subject.
Lily shook her head, tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear. "It's nothing," she muttered, waving them off. "Just a paper airplane – that's all."
Anne nodded sympathetically. "How childish," she commented, shaking her head. "You'd think that some people would grow up by now!"
Lily picked up the airplane, about to toss it onto the floor beneath her feet, but stopped as soon as she spotted a splotch of ink on one of the wings.
Slowly, almost cautiously, Lily started to open the paper airplane. She hid her gasp of surprise as she realized that there was a note on the inside, addressed to her.
Meet me in the common room in ten minutes.
Immediately, the butterflies in Lily's stomach started to kick up again. James? she wondered, trying to figure out his reason behind this message. What's so secretive that he has to meet me during dinner when no one will be around?
Lily hurriedly folded the plane back up. "Uh – sorry," she cut into her friends' conversation. "I'm – not hungry," she lied, standing up from her spot at the Gryffindor table. "I'm just going to go back to the dormitory – I'll see you later!" she added, quickly speeding out of the Entrance Hall before either of her friends could ask questions.
By the time Lily reached the portrait of the Fat Lady, she was gasping for air and clutching at a stitch in her side. She stood there for several minutes, catching her breath before she entered. When she felt she had control of her breathing, Lily gave the password to the portrait and slowly entered the Gryffindor common room.
Lily walked around the corner and was almost surprised to find James' eyes staring right back at her.
"Uh – hello," James said, quickly standing up from a wooden chair sitting beside a table. He took in a deep breath, expanding his chest, and then let it all out in a soft hiss.
"Hi," Lily replied, feeling as anxious as James appeared to be at the moment. She brought her hand back, running it through her long hair. "How, uh – how are you?" she asked, unsure of what else to say.
James smiled, scratching the back of his head. "I'm fine," he answered with a soft chuckle. "And you?"
"Good," Lily quickly replied, smiling as well. She stuck her hands into her pockets and stared uncomfortably at the floor.
"Right," James said with a nod. He then turned towards the table and picked up a book that had been sitting there. "Well – I just wanted to give you your Christmas present."
Lily's eyes widened slightly, surprised by his reason to pull her away from dinner. "Really?" she asked, surprised.
James nodded. He held the book in both hands, glancing at the cover once more, and then handed it over to Lily. "Merry Christmas."
Lily reached out a shaky hand and accepted the gift. She stared at the cover of the book, searching for a title, but found nothing but small indentations in the shape of a flower. Swallowing, Lily turned it to the side and tried to open it, but it didn't budge.
"Uh – I think the book's broke," Lily muttered, sure that her words must have sounded more ridiculous than she realized. "It doesn't open."
James shook his head, taking a hold of the book for her once more. "No," he said, flipping it back to the cover. "It's not broken – it's just not open."
Lily raised an eyebrow, curious. "It's not open?"
"Yeah – see?" James pointed to the small indentations.
Lily stepped forward, studying the design. With a sudden jolt of realization, she immediately realized what it was. The cover had five open spots –
– just enough room for her jewels!
"Wait," she whispered, everything beginning to click together. "You were the one that was sending me the white boxes – with the jewels!"
James smiled, nodding. "I hope you don't mind," he said, shrugging. "I thought I'd play a Secret Santa game of my own."
Lily laughed, covering her mouth. "No, it's fine," she answered, unable to hide her grin. "I mean – I was confused this morning during Charms – but it was really sweet!" she exclaimed.
James grinned, proud to hear her say that.
The pair stood in the middle of the room, smiling at each other for quite some time before James softly reminded Lily, "So – do you still have those jewels?"
Lily nodded, blushing because she hadn't pulled them out earlier. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her white box. She carefully opened the lid, revealing all five stones sitting on the small, white pillow.
"Here they are," she said, carefully pulling one out of the box. And, one by one, Lily gently placed the tear-shaped stones into the petals of the flower on the cover, watching with amazement as they each melded into the cover of the book.
Lily grinned, taking the book back from James. "Wow," she whispered, running her hand over the cover. "This is beautiful."
James chuckled softly, running a thumb over his lower lip. "You haven't even opened it yet," he quietly pointed out.
Lily gasped. "Oh," she whispered, smiling. "Sorry."
She turned the book onto its side once more and stuck a finger into a page, flipping it open. This time, the book opened without hesitation, falling open on a page with a picture of a flower.
Quietly, Lily thumbed through the pages, each with different pictures of flowers or filled with information on types of flowers.
"It's a book – on flowers?" Lily asked, looking inquisitively up at James.
James shook his head, smiling again. "That's the beauty of it," he said. "This book – it shows the owner whatever they're thinking about at that moment when they open its pages."
Lily felt her jaw drop with amazement. Of course – she had been thinking about the flower on the cover of the book – it would make sense that the book would show pictures of flowers!
"And after you put in those stones," James continued to explain, "the book recognized you as the owner." He put both hands in his pockets. "No one else can use it but you."
Lily felt tears swim into vision. She tried to form a coherent sentence, but found nothing that she could say. Instead, she held the book to her chest with one arm and threw the other around James' neck, hugging him as tightly as she could.
"This is the best present I've ever gotten," Lily whispered into his ear, feeling the tears begin to fall from her eyes. She pulled away, swiping away the tears. "It's so – wonderful!"
She could have sworn she spotted a small tinge of red creep into his cheeks.
"Thank you – so much," Lily continued, now looking at the cover once more. She flipped it open once again to see what would appear, and gasped as she did so.
Page after page was filled with pictures of James. Some showed him sitting with his friends at dinner or in class, while others were of him studying on the couch in the Gryffindor common room. Every few pages, a piece of paper would show up with James' name at the top of an essay or a scribbled note to Sirius during one of Binns' classes.
She continued flipping pages, astonished by the detail put into the book. Towards the back of its pages, Lily found a picture of her and James sitting on top of the Astronomy Tower, just like they had they night before. She smiled as a shooting star zoomed through the picture every few seconds.
Lily looked up, feeling her breath catch in her throat. She caught James staring at the pictures as well. He took a step back, almost looking ashamed that he had been peeking over her shoulder at the book.
James stared at the floor, looking embarrassed. "Uh – sorry," he muttered, trying to avoid eye contact. "I, uh – I didn't mean to look."
Lily gently closed the book, setting it down on the nearest table. She took a step forward.
"Right," James continued, trying to fill the empty silence. "So, um – I'm glad you liked the present," he said, clearing his throat loudly. "Even if you probably weren't expecting it to be from me, or anything…"
Lily cut off his babbling apology, smiling. She reached up and cupped a hand to his cheek, surprising both him and herself at her boldness. James looked up into her eyes at the gentle touch, locking his gaze with hers.
Lily took one step closer, inches from James. And with a soft voice, almost inaudible, Lily whispered, "I wanted it to be from you all along."
Lily wrapped both arms around James' neck and kissed him.
Author's Note: Hope it wasn't too cheesy... But I thought I needed a good Christmas story up for the season, so here's what I thought up!
On another note - this is a message to anyone who lives in Scotland or has visited there... Somewhere around Stirling, I believe. I'm researching a location in that are so if anyone has been there, let me know because I really need help for a story that I'm planning in the future and I want the location to be written as close to the real thing as possible - so let me know!