The Twelve Days of Christmas
Chapter 1—I'll be Home for Christmas
December 12, 1980
Hogsmeade village looked like a glossy postcard. The rooftops were dusted in thick snow and brightly-coloured lights were strung along the gingerbread trim of every shop. Window displays were decorated in winter colours—red, green, and silver—and large deciduous trees, smelling of fresh pine, were dressed in streamers and bulbous ornaments—some dancing and caroling off-tune. The village was abuzz with busy shoppers totting brown-bagged parcels on their hips and pulling about frenzied toddlers eager to play with every bauble in sight.
Though all the shops looked festive, The Three Broomsticks stood out, nargle-free garland lining every window, enchanted snow drifting from the ceiling and dissipating before it touched anything, and the very irksome shrunken-heads near the entrance wearing Santa hats. The atmosphere inside was warm and celebratory, a roaring fire crackling in the fireplace and Madam Rosmerta serving customers in a snowflake apron.
Rosmerta set down a pewter tray of steaming hot chocolates at a table near the front window, each drink buried under whipped cream and garnished with a candy cane. The two young women at the table thanked the barista, both wrapped in wooly scarves, and continued their animated chat, sucking on their candy canes.
"You're kidding!" Lily Evans squealed, her cheeks a merry pink as she jumped up and enveloped her best mate, Alice Prewett, in a ferocious hug. "Merlin, Alice! I'm so happy for you!"
"I'm happy for me, too!" Alice giggled, her eyes shining behind loose blond ringlets that fell into her pretty face. "You won't believe it, but Frank and I are marrying on Christmas...as in this Christmas."
"What?" Lily's jaw nearly hit the floor. "But Alice...that's in thirteen days. How can you arrange a wedding in so little time?"
"Well, it's going to be a very small wedding. Both Frank and I have agreed that the guest list should be tight and the wedding quick; after all, these are dark times we're living in," Alice whispered, though she did not dwell on the negative factors that had shaped their decision. "Just Frank's mum, my family, and a few friends—besides, you're back from Paris and I need my maid of honour to help me plan it before she disappears again!"
"Really?" Lily grasped Alice' hands, squeezing them affectionately. "Me, your maid of honour? I've never been in a wedding before...this is so exciting!"
"What do you think of an emerald dress? It'll look perfect with your eyes and will look really Christmassy, what with your hair being red," Alice stuck out her tongue. Lily's eyes grew wide with holiday wonder. "Pair it up with a bouquet of poinsettias and you're all set."
"I knew coming home for the holidays was a good idea," Lily sighed, looking out the window to admire the snow drizzling the village like chocolate. "What about your dress? Have you gone shopping?"
"Not yet. I thought I'd wait for you to help me," Alice blushed. "You know how terrible I am at fashion."
"Yes, you definitely need me," Lily nodded, earning a scandalized slap from her beaming best friend. "So we'll shop at the same time, shall we? I don't have to leave for Paris until Boxing Day, so you'll have my undivided attention until then."
"Excellent. I'll need help with the decorations—holiday inspired, obviously—and food, too. I can't decide between cupcakes or a proper wedding cake...what'd you think?" Alice pulled a piece of crisp parchment and a quill from her bag to begin a list.
"Whatever you say, Mrs. Longbottom," Lily teased. "I still can't believe you're getting married. I mean, coming out of Hogwarts we all knew one day you two would, but it's still hard to wrap my head around. I still think of us being so young."
"I can hardly believe it myself," Alice sipped her hot chocolate, her engagement ring catching the light and twinkling. "What about you? Have you met any nice Frenchmen?"
"I've dated here and there, but no relationships," Lily waved her off. "The way I'm going with work, I probably won't get married until I'm 45."
"You always were a workaholic, even during Hogwarts," Alice frowned, though her eyes took on a mischievous glint. "Actually, I know a very attractive man with money and a good job that wouldn't mind marrying you, Lils."
"If you say Gilderoy Lockhart, I may have to curse you," Lily warned. "I think he might be the reason I fled England..."
"Oh yes, the boy who proposed to you five times before our seventh year. He's got another new phony book out, did you hear?" Alice laughed at Lily's horrified look. "But I wasn't going to say Lockhart, I was going to say—"
Just then, Frank Longbottom entered the Three Broomsticks with a friend in tow, shaking his head to liberate the snow from his ashy hair and stomping his boots on the mat before the door. He looked around the pub while his taller friend pulled off his scarf and gloves, his eyes finally landing on Alice.
"Frank!" Alice waved. He strode over and leaned down to peck her on the lips, melted snow running down his forehead. "You're late."
"Sorry Ally, I got caught up at the Ministry with—Lily? Is that you?" Frank looked over Alice's shoulder and caught a glimpse of the long-lost redhead, rooted to her chair in a mixture of surprise and nervousness. "I didn't know you were in town?"
"Hello Frank," Lily shakily stood up and accepted his friendly hug. "I couldn't miss my best friend's wedding, could I?"
It wasn't Frank's cheery appearance that had startled her.
"James! You've come as well," Alice beamed at James, who—if possible—looked more shaken than Lily. "So glad you could make it. Please, have a seat."
James Potter, an athletically built man of 6'3 with unruly black hair and wire-rim glasses, smiled half-heartedly at Alice, though his eyes quickly strayed back to Lily.
Lily didn't know why she was so startled by his appearance. Though she hadn't seen him for almost four years, James Potter really hadn't physically changed since their school days; he was still tall and broad-shouldered, with the same incredibly messy hair and impish features she remembered always crinkled up with laughter. If anything, his looks had transitioned from boyish to debonair.
"I—yes, I figured I could use a drink," James smiled handsomely, taking a seat beside Frank and turning his attention to Lily. "I didn't realize we'd be graced by the Parisian princess herself, however. What are you doing in England, Evans?"
Lily blinked, confronted by déjà vu: she was back in England with three Hogwarts classmates she hadn't seen for years, one of whom still cheekily referred to her by her last name. She recovered, "And I didn't realize Hogwarts' biggest playboy would be coming to tea, either." She rolled her eyes at his triumphant smirk, but they held no ire. "I'm on holiday for Christmas break. How are you, Potter?"
Did I just ask James Potter a mature, friendly question?
"Annoyed I'm not on holidays yet, but now that you're here, I feel much better," James winked. He certainly hadn't lost his confidence.
"Alice mentioned you were working for the French Ministry—congratulations," Frank cut in, desperately trying to hide his amusement with James.
"Thank you. Long hours, but it'll be worth it in the long run—at least I hope."
"What do you do there?" Frank inquired, Alice frowning at her fiancé. "I know Alice, you must've told me ten times, but I'm forgetful."
"I'll forgive you—this time," Lily chuckled, trying to calm her best mate, who looked ready to swat her husband-to-be. "I'm the lead architect in the Department of Experimental Charms."
"Wow...that's quite the achievement, Lily!" Frank was visibly impressed.
"Don't look so surprised, Frank. She was the brightest witch at Hogwarts when we were in school," Alice said.
"That's not true...I only ever excelled in Charms," Lily tried feebly, Frank and Alice's disbelieving looks stopping her in her tracks.
"Yes, you always were a charmer, Evans," James teased. Lily raised a questioning eyebrow at him, making Frank chuckle. "If Flitwick found out about this job of yours, he'd probably try to adopt you."
"You think? No matter how excellent you are at Transfiguration, I doubt McGonagall would ever adopt you," Lily smiled slyly.
"You recall I'm excellent at Transfiguration, do you? I didn't realize I meant so much to you," James volleyed, earning a warning glare from Alice.
"Only in your dreams, Potter," Lily lilted as she took a sip of her drinking chocolate.
"Honestly, will you two ever get along?" Alice sighed in resignation, James flashing her his winning smile. "You're going to have to try, because you two will be walking down the aisle together at the wedding."
"What?" Lily demanded, turning to Frank, who nodded his assent.
"Well muggle-bumpkin, I am the best man, and I'm assuming you're the maid of honour," a smile played on James' lips as he watched Lily scrunch up her nose at the silly nickname. "So of course I'll be your usher for the evening. Am I right, Alice?"
"Quite right, James," Alice smiled sweetly; Lily glowered in return. "Frank and I want the wedding to be small, so we're only going to have the two of you in the wedding party. Which reminds me; we need to send out invitations right away, Frank!"
"Ally, don't we need to figure out where the wedding will be first?" Frank pointed out. "Remember, it must be a place with top-security—"
"It has to be pretty too, Frank, it's not all about security—"
"You know these are dangerous times—"
"It's my wedding—"
Lily was taken aback by the sudden fight, the heatedness of the argument reaching the ears of nearby diners, many whom looked up in annoyance. She turned to James, but he didn't seem alarmed by their behaviour. Did Alice and Frank often squabble in public?
"Would you two shut up? I've already found a place for you to have the wedding," James eventually interjected, causing the couple to stop mid-sentence and turn to him.
"Well?" Alice demanded, though less harshly. "Let's hear it."
"I've spoken to Dumbledore, and he's agreed to let you have the wedding at Hogwarts. The ceremony can be held on the clock-tower balcony before the Christmas feast in the Great Hall. You can decorate the tower however you want—the Great Hall will be decorated for Christmas already—and Dumbledore said the house-elves are open for any extra food suggestions you may have besides the traditional feast. Also, rooms will be open for guests to stay for the night. The castle will look beautiful for Christmas and it's the safest place to be. What do you think?"
Frank, Alice and even Lily stared at James, flabbergasted.
"I suppose the few students that stay at Hogwarts over Christmas will be there, as well as the entire faculty, but I didn't think the two of you would mind so much..." James continued, the muted reactions of his friends making him second-guess his suggestion. "They won't be at the ceremony, of course—that is, unless you choose to invite them."
Alice threw herself across the table into James arms, nearly knocking him off his chair. "I can't believe you've done this for us, James! It's perfect! Thank you so much."
James laughed and patted her on the back. When he side-glanced Lily, he saw her face glowing with excitement too.
"A Hogwarts wedding...that's so romantic, especially since it's where you and Frank met," Lily encouraged when Alice sat back down. "It's going to be a wonderful event."
"I really hope so," Alice said earnestly, reaching for Frank's hand above the table. "I'm so thrilled that you and James will be able to help out. You don't know how much Frank and I appreciate it."
The four friends continued to chat about the wedding, establishing dates to get together to shop or make preparations. Lily was surprised by how animated both Frank and James were about the wedding—a topic many men hesitated to speak of or shied away from planning. She knew there had been a string of horrendous murders in November—no doubt at the hands of the rising Lord Voldemort—and wondered if such dark events were the reason they desperately clung to the thought of a happy occasion.
Hopefully this Christmas will deliver us all from melancholy...
"We couldn't possibly do that tomorrow, Alice; there's a Puddlemere United game on. All the boys are getting together tomorrow afternoon to watch," Frank attempted, though the tender way in which he broke the news did little to placate his feisty fiancée. "We can take care of the cake the next day...how about that?"
"We have a meeting with the florist and DJ the next day!" Alice insisted, frustrated a Quidditch game was the reason her wedding plans were postponed.
"How about I take care of the cake tomorrow, Alice?" Lily offered, trying to suppress the storm brewing in her best mate. "It's not like I have other plans?"
"Yes, and I'll help her," James added suddenly.
"What do you know about cake?" Lily studied him suspiciously.
"I eat plenty of cake; I'm practically a connoisseur," James returned, biting back a grin to seem genuine. "Whatever you choose, you'll need a second opinion."
"Don't you work?"
"I'll take the afternoon off."
"It's settled then," Frank patted the top of Alice's hand and offered a weak smile. "Is that alright, dear?"
"Yes...yes I suppose. I trust Lily," Alice murmured: she looked at her watch and gasped. "Look at the time! We're having your mum over for dinner in an hour. I haven't even dusted the living room yet! I'm so sorry I can't have you over tonight, Lily; it's absolutely rotten timing."
"It's fine, Alice. I'll just grab a bite to eat at the inn," Lily brushed aside Alice's apology and rose from her seat. "I better go get checked-in, anyways. I'm quite tired from travelling all day."
"Where are you staying?" Frank asked. "The Leaky Cauldron?"
"No, the inn down the street," Lily said, collecting her things. "I'll just go pay for my drink—"
"It's on me," James said abruptly, surprising his table occupants. "Er—they're all on me. My treat."
"Thank you," Lily managed, trying to keep a blush from spreading over her already rosy cheeks when Alice giggled. "Bye everybody."
"I'll see you tomorrow after work," Alice said cheerfully, kissing Lily on the cheek, then moving on to hug James goodbye. "Thank you again, both of you!"
"We'll be in touch," Frank hugged Lily and shook James' hand.
As the couple walked out to apparate back to their cottage in Bath, Lily wrapped her bright-red scarf tighter around her neck and grabbing the extendable handle of her travelling suitcase. She was glad she chose to wear her winter riding boots, as snow and ice blanketed the cobbled roads outside the pub.
"Here, let me get that for you," James said, pulling on his double-breasted jacket and gloves before taking Lily's bags from her.
"That's alright, it's just up the street," Lily insisted as she tried to deflect his valour and grab the handle back from him; she accidentally grabbed his hand and froze, her eyes youthful as they nervously met his.
Why the bloody hell am I nervous around James Potter?
"If the inn is that close by, I'll hardly be going out of my way," James watched Lily ineptly retract her hand and stuff it in her coat pocket. "You needn't worry, I'm not trying to follow you home, Evans."
"No...I know that," Lily replied, willing herself not to blush like an idiotic school-girl. "Well, this way then..."
Lily pushed open the door and exited the warm atmosphere of The Three Broomsticks, James Potter on her tail. She fixed the collar of her wool coat—pulling it around her neck as the cold immediately started nipping at her ears—and crossed the bustling street toward the inn at the end of the lane.
"Why aren't you staying with Alice?" James asked as they walked together down the rue. "You can't be spending Christmas at an inn alone?"
"As you probably know, Frank and Alice just bought the cottage. Alice hasn't had time to unpack or buy furniture for the guestroom," Lily explained, blinking as a snowflake caught on her eyelash. "So yes, I'll be spending Christmas at an inn, I suppose."
"What about your parents?" James continued, looking unhappy. "This is the time of year when you should be with your family."
"My parents died almost two years ago," Lily replied mechanically, though she surprised herself by so freely divulging personal information she usually kept a secret to her old school rival. "My sister and I also had a falling out before I moved to Paris, though I haven't gotten on with her since I started at Hogwarts."
"Oh...I'm so sorry to hear that," James said, his eyes filling with sympathy and another emotion Lily couldn't ascertain. "If I'd known—well, I don't actually know...but why don't you and your sister get along?"
"We did when we were small, but as soon as she found out I was a witch she started to loathe me. I'm not sure if it was out of jealousy or her obsession with normalcy, but...there you have it," Lily replied, revealing none of the emotion behind her story as she arrived at the inn and turned to face James.
"It's strange; I went to school with you for seven years and I never knew you had a sister," James mused, his breath clinging to the cold air.
"The conversations we had in school were never exactly civil," Lily smirked, thinking back on all of their outrageous fights.
"That's about right, isn't it?" he echoed, also grinning. "If you hadn't been so stubborn we might have been friends, you know."
"No—if you hadn't gone around hexing defenseless students for fun, we might have been friends," Lily chastised him, raising an amused eyebrow. "Then again, probably not."
James' eyes crinkled in wistful amusement. He passed Lily's bag back to her and stuffed his hands in his pockets, watching her heave it up the front steps of the inn. "I'll be seeing you around then?"
"Looks to be that way," Lily called back, stopping at the top of the steps to face the messy-haired man again. "Careful home, Potter. Don't splinch yourself in a snowstorm."
"I'll do my best," he replied, wordlessly watching her disappear into the inn, warmth spreading in his chest.
It was going to be a good Christmas.
I'm so excited to write this fluffy fiction! For all those who celebrate Christmas (and even for those who don't), I hope this puts you in the holiday spirit. The idea is that there will be 13 chapters in total, 12 of which (excluding this introduction) will be devoted to each of the 12 days of Christmas!
Please review, and thanks for reading!
pratty prongs princesse