Chapter One

I looked around the bright, cozy common room as the portrait door swung open, and sighed at what I saw. Four boys were climbing into the room- one tall and darkly handsome, one with dark brown hair and a tired face, one small and round, his eyes darting all across the room, and one with rumpled black hair and round glasses. That one was playing with a small golden snitch in his hand- tossing it up, letting it zoom around the room a few times on its delicate silver wings, before snatching it when it came just in his reach.

I could see other students' diverting their interests to the four boys. Indeed, most of the girls in the common room were watching them with silly, simpering smiles on their faces. I sniffed. Honestly. You would think they were some sort of heroes, not just obnoxious prats.

I leaned back over my homework, dipping my quill into the ink pot and rubbing the soft tip against my cheek thoughtfully, writing the words, How to Deal with Dementors across the top of the of the parchment in front of me.

I gradually became aware of somebody hovering over me. I looked up to see James Potter, the snitch back in his hands, beaming down and running his fingers through his already-mussed hair. My heart sank. Why did he insist on acting like an idiot every chance he had?

"Hello, Evans," he said loudly, taking the chair across from me and grinning confidently. I arched one eyebrow carelessly and bent over my writing, scribbling something about thinking about happy thoughts.

"Evans," he said again, slightly louder this time. I glared up at him. "What?" I snapped waspishly, though I thought I perfectly knew what he wanted.

"Why didn't you come down to watch the Quidditch match?" he sounded slightly annoyed. I glanced back down at my homework. "I have better things to do than watch you fumble over a silly snitch."

"Hey!" He protested, sounding hurt. "It's not silly. Besides, you missed the best catch I've ever made. Regulus Black and I were neck and neck, hurtling toward the ground, when Gregory Marks hit the bludger right at his head, so he had to roll . . ."

I tried not to roll my eyes as he rambled on and on, instead tuning him out. By the time he finished talking, I had covered a roll of parchment with my small, precise writing. When it occurred to me that he seemed to be silent, I glanced up again. "Did you ask something?"

He frowned, clearly nettled that I hadn't been hanging onto his every word, like some of the other girls in the seventh year. "I was wondering," he said slowly. "If you'd like to go visit Hogsmeade with me next trip."

I bit down on my lip, trying hard not to shout. Did he really think he was going to get a different answer from when he had asked yesterday? Or the day before that? Or every week since fourth year? "Of course not!" I snapped, my annoyance finally showing through. "I'll give you one thing, you never give up! How many times will it take to get it through your thick skull? I don't want to!"

He got to his feet, giving me another self-confident smile. "If you change your mind, Evans, I'll always be here . . ."

"I'm not going to change my mind, you arrogant bastard!" I finally lost patience, my voice reverberating across the common room, which was now eerily silent- every eye having turned to yet another scene between us. "I will never go out with you, and I pity the girl who will end up with you."

His face twisted into a scowl. "If you're going to be like that, Evans . . . I'll try again tomorrow."

I suddenly laughed. "You couldn't go the rest of the year without asking me out, I'd bet."

He glanced down at me, his mouth twitching. We both knew he couldn't resist wagers. "Oh really?"

"Yes," I said defiantly, crossing my arms against my chest. "We both know you'd crack tomorrow."

"We'll see about that," he said triumphantly. "What will you do for me if I don't ask you out again?"

I cast around desperately in my mind. What would interest him? What if I offered to help him study for his N.E.W.T.s? Or to teach him some new jinx or charm? But he answered himself a few moments later. "You'll go to the ball with me," he said eagerly. Every year, just before summer break came was a ball at the school, for fourth years and above. "If I don't ask you out for a year?"

I thought about that. Chances were, if he didn't remember to ask me out every day, he would forget about the bet by the end of the year. Boys like James Potter didn't have very long-term memories. "Deal," I said happily, offering my hand. He shook it, and turned to walk back to his friends lounging in the best armchairs by the fire. Before he sat down, he turned to wink at me. I scowled in return, then sighed happily. This was going to be the best year I had had in Hogwarts for three years.

"What I can't believe," My friend Aria said later as we clustered around the table in the common room a few hours later. "Is why you agreed to to the ball with him. I thought you hated him!"

"If it keeps him away from me for a year, it's worth it," I said emphatically. "Especially if he gets a girlfriend in the time between then and now."

"I don't know why you always say no," Olivia said dreamily, staring after the spot where all four boys had long since disappeared, probably to sneak down to the kitchens to nick some treats before bed. "If I were you, we'd be dating by now."

"Which is why I'm not you," I told her crossly. "I'd never stoop that low."

Raye grinned at me. "And yet you agreed to his deal . . ."

I leaned forward, my long dark red hair swinging in front of my face. "Do you really think that Potter will remember the bet at the end of the year, when he hasn't kept asking me out? Boys like him have the memory span of a flea, Raye."

Aria shrugged. "He was probably only asking you out to make fun of you," she decided. "Once he knows it won't work anymore, he'll forget about you and start going out with Mordica Parkinson."

I wrinkled my nose. Mordica Parkinson was in sixth year, with perfectly curled blond hair, clear skin and big blue eyes, but the nastiest personality of anybody in the school. Like most girls, she was alternating between being head-over-heels in love with James Potter and Sirius Black. She would leap at the first chance to go out with Potter, but still . . . as obnoxious as he was, I didn't much like the idea of him dating Parkinson.

The fire snapped and popped cozily in the large fireplace in front of us, and the sunlight streaming in from the windows slowly faded, until the only lighting came from the many candle-brackets hung on the wall, and the warm glow of the flames. The soft, lazy chatter of students filled the room with a sense of home. I sighed and relaxed in my armchair, leaning my head back against the top.

Home . . . As much as I wanted to pretend I never wanted to go there again, I missed it dearly. I hadn't seen my mother and father since summer break, for over a month. Even Petunia. I couldn't admit to myself yet that I didn't love my sister anymore. I couldn't help remembering how different it had been when we were children, before that letter came. Petunia was my best friend, my guardian. All that had changed when Severus had appeared out of nowhere, and told me I was a witch. Severus and Petunia hadn't liked each other, and I was their go-between, the resulted split-friendship severed a deep crack between the once-strong bond.

And Severus! He had seemed like some kind of savior that year, before I got the letter. So confident in his future, so self-assured. I had liked that, hadn't I? I always liked things that were different- I was so different from all the other children myself. He had taught me everything about the magical world, and opened my small, mundane mind to the wide concept of magic.

But now, he was so different. We still talked, occasionally, but I could see that Slytherin house was changing him. He was once so kind, so generous, and now he scoffed at me. Two years ago, he had shouted at me, calling me Mudblood. I hadn't spoken to him for weeks, butwe had finally made up. All of my friends didn't understand why I was ever friends with him, as many times as I tried to explain what a nice person he was, really.

"Lilly!"

I glanced up. Aria was leaning over me, a concerned look on her face. "Are you all right? You've been asleep for at least an hour now. It's bedtime."

I yawned and stretched, my sore joints protesting painfully. "Sorry. I was just thinking . . ." My face must have shown the confusion on my mind, for she squeezed me around the shoulders comfortingly. "Don't worry, Lil. Remember? James won't pester you for another year."

I tried to smile, but even that didn't seem like as good a reward as it had a couple hours ago.