The Twelve Days of Christmas

Chapter 12—The Eleventh Day of Christmas

December 23, 1980

Lily knew her love for her best friend ran deep if she could convince her to meet up in Hogsmeade at the crack of dawn for last-minute wedding planning.

Following Alice's owl asking for urgent assistance, she'd barely had enough time to wash her face, throw together a half-decent outfit and scrawl a quick note explaining to a still-asleep James Potter where she'd gone before disapparating for the wizarding hamlet. Though she loathed early mornings—especially those that didn't start with strongly-brewed coffee—her maid of honour duties trumped her pet peeve. Afterall, the wedding was mere days away.

"Don't hate me," Alice was the picture of innocence as she approached Lily in the village square. The blonde was smartly dressed in a cream coat and knee-high boots. She held out a travel cup of something steaming—her peace offering to mollify the feisty redhead.

Though the budding sun cast a splendid glow on the festive village, illuminating crooked rooftops lathered in snow, Lily still had trouble mustering peace and good will.

"How do you look so perky and put together at 8AM? It's infuriating," Lily mumbled, accepting the coffee and coddling it in her mittened hands. "This better earn me some major best-mate brownie points."

"It will," Alice beamed, looping an arm through Lily's to lead her to their desired destination. Between sips of java, Lily noticed Hagrid had gotten off to an early start too, the half-giant dragging an enormous Douglas Fir through the village, presumably to erect in the middle of the square. They both waved, earning a well-meaning grunt in response.

When Lily found herself standing before Honeyduke's, her interest piqued, eyes growing as round as the stripped lollies in the window. "We need candy?"

A smile quirked on Alice's lips, the girl like a conspiratorial cherub. "Since my future husband and his ravenous pack of friends devoured all the cookies we spent hours baking, I need to find new wedding favours. Worth giving up your beauty sleep for, Miss Grump?"

Lily snorted as they entered the empty sweet shop, a bell above the door announcing their arrival. Ambroise Flume, Honeyduke's magnanimous shop owner, turned in surprise, having just flipped the "Open" sign on the door. His bushy white eyebrows rose. "My, my, you young ladies are awfully eager this morning."

"Your shop gets so packed at Christmastime it's hard to move—I wanted a head start," Alice winked, making the jolly man titter. "We're on a mission this morning. I need wedding favours—oodles of them."

While Alice and Mr. Flume began to discuss possibilities, Lily's eyes roamed shelf-upon-shelf of the most succulent looking sweets imaginable. Cauldron Cakes, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Fizzing Whizzbees, Liquorice Wands, Pumpkin Pasties, Sugar Quills—all of Lily's childhood favourites gleamed in colourful boxes and bags. However, it was the homemade fudge that really sparked her yearning, the smell making her taste buds water.

"I'm thinking Glacial Snowflakes and Ice Mice," Alice could be overheard saying to Mr. Flume, lips pursed as she scanned the shelves. "What else screams Christmas to you, Lily?"

"Peppermint Toads?" Lily offered, grabbing a basket and filling it with Chocoballs and Crystallized Pineapple. She paused when she saw the Jelly Slugs: looking over her shoulder at Alice, she added them and a packet of Sherbet Lemons to her haul, remembering they were James' favourites.

As Alice continued to work alongside the shop owner, Lily paid for her sugary selections at the register with Mrs. Flume, dressed in a candy-stripped apron and matching bonnet. Clutching her paper bag, she wondered what else James might like for Christmas.

He likes candy, coffee, cats and Quidditch from what I've learned so far…oh, and sex.

By the time Alice picked out all the candies she wanted, they had enough bonbons for favours, place settings and a stand-alone confection table during the reception. Mr. & Mrs. Flume wrapped and bagged the candies, loading the girls' arms to their breaking point as they staggered out of the shop onto High Street.

"How in Merlin am I going to keep Frank out of this stash…" Alice breathed heavily under the strain of the bags, her small frame teetering as they maneuvered the uneven cobblestones.

"You've bought enough to feed a small army," Lily half-complained, her arms straining. "If Frank makes even a dent in this stockpile, he won't have a chance of fitting into his tuxedo…"

The friends made it as far as the square until they gave up and dropped their bags to the ground, crumbling under the exertion. In the hour they'd been shopping, the village had come alive with activity, shoppers dashing about to make their last-minute purchases. Alice's early morning conquer of the sweet shop had certainly been the right call.

"There's no way we can apparate all of this back to the cottage on our own," Alice puffed, overwhelmed by the product of her over-zealous sweet tooth. "I'll pop across the street to the post office and send an owl to Frank asking him to meet us. You stay here and watch the bags so they don't go walking off with a toddler who thinks he's hit the jackpot."

Obeying Alice, Lily crossed her arms as her eyes befell the colossal Christmas tree Hagrid had managed to stand tall in the square. For a wizard-giant who'd had his wand taken away many years back, he seemed to make do without a problem. A hint of holiday magic stirred within as she watched Hogwarts pupils—likely volunteers from the pool of students who remained at the castle over the holidays—levitate lustrous ornament balls in hues of silver and blue onto the tree under Hagrid's indulgent instruction.

"Do my weary old eyes really spy my favourite student?" an animated, wizened voice sounded behind Lily, causing her eyes to alight. "It is you—none other than my lovely Lily!"

"Professor Slughorn!" Lily exclaimed in a honeyed voice, delighted to see her portly former Potions Master. He sported the same silver moustache she remembered, his gooseberry-green eyes prominent and bulging, and was dressed in an immaculate coat with fur lining and a matching cap. "Gracious, how wonderful it is to see you."

"I thought you were still in grand old Paris, my dear," Slughorn said genially, his cheeks turning rosy. "It's been such a long time since you last sent me a letter! Of course, I've been following your Charms career quite closely. Flitwick keeps me well informed."

"It's been too long," Lily agreed, grasping one of his leather-gloved hands, her affection for the wizard and his contagious charisma returning. "I'm home for the holidays. How have you been? Are you doing some Christmas shopping?"

"It's so fortuitous that we ran into each other," Slughorn beamed, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "I was just picking up a few trifles for my annual Slug Club Christmas party tonight. You simply must attend—you're the diamond in my box of gems!"

Lily chuckled, well-aware Horace Slughorn liked to "collect" students who either showed immense promise or held some sort of prestige—both so he could benefit from their success and brag about his connections. She knew it was a consequence of his grand desire for a life of luxury.

Rather than be bothered by his vain tendencies, Lily couldn't help but feel a bit proud that Professor Slughorn had taken such a shine to her, especially as she was muggleborn—a relative rarity among students at Hogwarts. It was the children of pureblood families that held all the advantages in life—connections in government and society, status, and usually an abundance of money—yet Slughorn cared about none of it where she was concerned, utterly enchanted by her personality and prodigal proficiency at Charms.

She was tempted to take up Slughorn on his offer, flattered by his invitation, but knew Alice likely needed her for last-minute preparations. "That is so kind Professor, however—"

"Well, if it isn't the man of the hour," a tall wizard with tousled blonde hair and a superior smirk sauntered up to them, flashing his slightly crooked teeth. "Horace, how are you?"

Slughorn chortled and reached out to shake hands with Dirk Cresswell, the only other muggleborn who'd attended Hogwarts in Lily's graduating year. If her eyes hadn't already been the colour of emerald, they would've flashed green with envy.

"Dirk, you remember Lily, don't you?" Slughorn introduced, his pleasure heightened by the appearance of the man.

Dirk turned to Lily, his eyes shrewd and daring. "Lily Evans…what a surprise. How funny to run into you after all these years. I almost didn't recognize you…were you out for a jog?"

It took everything in Lily not to turn red. While he was smartly dressed in a tailored jacket, crisp slacks, and designer shoes, she looked a haphazard mess due to her urgency in getting to Alice. Her outfit consisted of sweatpants and a peacoat, hair escaping her slapdash bun.


"Hello Cresswell," Lily replied tersely, attempting to tame her wild internal reaction.

She knew Dirk very well; in fact, he was her biggest academic rival at Hogwarts, more than Marlene ever was. A fellow muggleborn, Dirk Cresswell was—annoyingly—just as gifted as she was, his most notable trait being his fluency in Gobbledegook, a notoriously difficult language only employed by Goblins. His exceptional skills had made him another favourite of Slughorn's and a celebrated member of the Slug Club. Rather than the two of them bonding over their shared background and talents, they'd instead become fierce competition for one another—whether for grades, school commendations or Slughorn's affections.

"Dirk was just named Head of the Goblin Liaison Office—isn't that remarkable? What an achievement at such a young age! He always sends me the most amusing tidbits about the goings on at Gringotts," Slughorn boasted, slapping Dirk on the back. He grinned in response—not out of thanks, but pride. "Dirk, Lily is the Lead Architect in the Department of Experimental Charms at the French Ministry—had you heard?"

Lily ground her teeth, maddened Dirk had risen in the ranks so quickly at the British Ministry. Their rivalry ran deep; she knew he'd have kept tabs on her the same way she had on him as his career progressed.

"Is that right? How exciting," Dirk said, his mock interest for Slughorn's sake meant to veil his attempt at belittlement due to her inferior title. "How do you find the Ministry, Evans? I thought all the French did was drink and smoke—not quite the same work ethic as the Brits?"

Slughorn laughed alongside him, oblivious to Dirk's taunts. "Quite right, quite right. Look at the time—Dirk, I'll be seeing you at the soirée tonight…and Lily?"

Dirk narrowed his eyes, a confronting smirk gracing his clean-shaven face; she could tell he was displeased at the thought of sharing the spotlight with her at the event.

Lily reached for Slughorn's hand, giving it a squeeze as she chimed, "I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Capital, capital!" Slughorn bellowed. "It'll be a party you won't soon forget. I promise you that!"

As Slughorn ambled away, Dirk turned on Lily, the conceited smile never leaving his face. "See you tonight, Evans. Oh—and see if you can't find a shower before then?"

Lily's eyes revealed her rage as Dirk laughed and walked off. If she wasn't in such a public place with small children running about, she would have cursed him then and there.

Alice suddenly reappeared with Frank at her side. He shook his head, amused when he spotted the parcels piled up around Lily. Alice instead offered an arched brow. "Was that Dirk Cresswell I just saw leaving?"

Lily traded a knowing glance with her best friend. "Alice, leave the parcel transportation to Frank. I need you to help me find the most dazzling dress we've ever laid eyes upon."

A ghostly echo of Christmas carols floated down the stone corridors, dimly lit by flickering torches. Lily had travelled these hallowed halls countless times, yet the castle never lost its ancient magic. One never knew who they'd run into—whether student, teacher, caretaker, or poltergeist—or what secrets lay hidden around each corner.

Instead of a Hogwarts uniform and Prefect's badge, Lily wore a strapless cocktail dress in pure white with a hemline that stopped just above her knees. It had a fitted bodice and a playful, flouncy skirt trimmed in faux-artic-fox fur, making her feel like she was wearing a snow cloud. She'd finished the outfit with a crystal bracelet and matching dangly earrings, as well as her favourite pair of sky-high Louboutin's with their signature red soles.

Lily ducked into the Prefect's bathroom on the way to Slughorn's office to touch up her makeup, relieved that the password—pine fresh—remained the same. The giant space was empty, dominated by a rectangular swimming pool with hundreds of bejeweled taps, and all the marble fixtures gleamed thanks to a candle-filled chandelier.

Picking a gilded mirror by the colossal portrait of the mermaid, Lily unearthed a tube of red lipstick from her handbag, carefully applying it. She then pulled a brush through her curled tresses—styled like she was an old Hollywood actress—and stood back to examine herself, rallying all the confidence she had.

It was childish, really, that a few challenging barbs from Dirk Cresswell were enough to infuriate her to the point of attending a party instead of devoting the evening to her soon-to-be-married best friend. Lily felt a stab of guilt as she put away her makeup and snapped her clutch closed.

It was hard to put into words how it felt to be a muggleborn in a world that—though more progressive and tolerant than ever—prized pure blood, especially to people who didn't understand what it felt like. It meant working harder than everyone else—both at school and in one's profession—all the while growing a thick skin that could withstand exclamations of surprise that such talent could be possible for someone without a prestigious bloodline. For Lily, being muggleborn was a constant battle to prove her intellect and abilities—that blood was irrelevant when judging someone's worth, just as sex was.

She supposed that was why she'd clambered at the chance to defy Dirk's pomposity without a second thought: Slughorn's attentions and her membership in his exclusive club had helped to build the self-assurance she claimed today, reinforcing that she did belong in the magical world. She wasn't about to allow some condescending prat make her feel less about anything.

Lily travelled the length of the corridor, heels clicking on stone, until she came upon the threshold of Slughorn's office. The door was ajar, trimmed with silver garland and pearl holly berries, allowing a torrent of chatter from occupants to spill into the once-quiet hallway.

Taking a deep breath and relaxing her shoulders, Lily strolled in, head held high.

Slughorn's office was transformed from the cozy trappings of administrative work to a grand party space. In the classroom-sized room, everything sparkled and shone—from the large Christmas tree decked in diamond-like ornaments and pink tinsel, to the crystal champagne tower shimmering with drink. The stone walls were draped in fine silks, and everywhere she looked were flickering alabaster candles that made mirrored tables and serving trays wink. Adding to the feeling of an ice palace were glacial sculptures, and from the ceiling drifted tiny snowflakes that melted away before they could touch anything.

"Breathtaking!" a jovial voice boomed, taking the very word from Lily's imaginings as she drank in the lavish space. She came back to earth with the appearance of Professor Slughorn, dressed in a tuxedo draped with silver-embroidered robes. "You look stunning, lovely Lily! Come in, come in!"

Lily allowed Slughorn to sweep her into the party, where a collection of well-dressed wizards and witches—both from her school days and beyond—paused in conversation over their champagne flutes to take in the new arrival.

As Slughorn signaled for a waiter to appear with drinks, Lily inspected the party guests. To her relief, she spotted someone she knew and liked: Hestia Jones, a charcoal-haired witch and fellow Gryffindor who'd graduated a year ahead of her.

"Hello Lily," Hestia smiled politely, extending a hand to shake. She was dressed in a smart burgundy frock with little adornment and matching ballet slippers. Lily thought the ensemble quite suited her, the witch never being one for frills or fuss at school.

"Hestia, how nice to see you," Lily greeted, glad the first face she found in the crowd wasn't that of smarmy Dirk Cresswell. "It's been years—how's everything in the Aurors' Office?"

"Busy, as you can imagine," she replied. Lily read between the lines: Voldemort and his followers continued to wreak havoc. She wondered if Hestia worked closely with James and Frank. "I've been doing a lot of training of new recruits."

"They're lucky to have you," Lily gratefully accepted a glass of champagne from Slughorn, who rejoined the conversation. "You've always had an exceptional command of protective charms."

"I think only you can surpass Hestia's talent for charms, my dear," Slughorn winked, basking in the attentions of his guests. "Although she might have a leg up when it comes to flying—you could have been a renowned Quidditch player if you hadn't chosen public service, Ms. Jones!"

Before Hestia could rebuke him, Slughorn proclaimed, "Speaking of Quidditch stars, Ms. Vanity has just arrived! Do excuse me—"

Lily let out a breathy laugh, amused by the antics of her old Potions professor. As she finished her champagne, she found the expensive bubbles made her feel a bit giddy, but it didn't prevent her from accepting another glass.

For awhile, Lily fell into easy conversation with Hestia as the room continued to fill with guests, the two former schoolmates avoiding the passed hors d'oeuvres, which—though they'd been assured they were gourmet—looked quite unappetizing.

"Is that raw dragon flesh?" Hestia whispered, making Lily snort as the waiter indignantly took his tray elsewhere. The prattle of conversation around the room continued to build, paired with the sound of a flutist playing whimsical Christmas songs that added to the celebratory ambiance. "If they don't serve something edible soon, you may find me passed out near the punch bowl."

"I'll make sure a house elf packs you up and brings you home if you get too tipsy," Lily kidded.

"So, what brings you back to England? Visiting family for the holidays?"

"Do you remember my friend Alice Prewett?" Lily asked, Hestia nodding. "She's getting married! I'm in the wedding party."

"Oh, how wonderful—" Hestia was cut off by the appearance of another witch who'd been lurking nearby, listening in on their conversation.

"Did I hear you say Alice Prewett is finally marrying Frank Longbottom?" the plump witch with curly brown hair chirruped, sidling up to Lily. She wore a tight, low-cut dress and a garish headpiece that looked like mistletoe gone wild. "I wondered what the hold up was—I thought they'd be married as soon as they graduated. Did he get cold feet or something?"

Lily traded a look with Hestia that betrayed their annoyance. Who did this impertinent, nosey witch think she was, barging in on a private conversation? "Do I know you?"

"Bertha Jorkins," the thickset woman replied, oblivious to their irritation. "I was a few years behind you. You're Lily Evans, of course. All the girls in my year knew about you because you were the only one to ever reject James Potter. I figured you must bat for the other team."

Lily nearly spat out her champagne, abashed by the women's candour. Hestia looked equally bewildered, her dark brows knitting together.

"I see you're here alone; couldn't you get a date? Or are you two an item?" Bertha probed. "Oh look, there's Dirk Cresswell—and who is that with him? Looks like Marlene McKinnon. When did those two get together? Looks like she might have gotten her face done. I must go ask—"

A pit formed in Lily's stomach as she beheld Marlene, dressed in a cerise floor-length gown that made her look comically overdressed. She would have burst out laughing at the sight of her rivals arm-and-arm, walking in like they were magical royalty, had Marlene's assault at the Irish pub only a week ago not still been fresh in her mind.

"Ah Dirk, there you are my boy!" Slughorn hollered as the couple entered. Lily marvelled as Bertha Jorkins elbowed her way through the crowd of oblivious guests to get closer to them, likely to eavesdrop on their conversation.

Rolling her eyes, Lily's attention turned back to Hestia; however, they were interrupted once again by a burst of giggles emitting from behind then. Curious, Lily followed Hestia's gaze over her shoulder and found yet another unwelcome sight: Gilderoy Lockhart.

"It was nothing, really ladies," Gilderoy smiled broadly at a collection of twittering Hogwarts graduates around him, his perfect teeth lustrous and his blond curl curls perfectly quaffed. "Banishing that banshee was nothing compared to the vampire-infested forests of central Romania where I saved all those muggles. You'll all have to pick up my latest book, Holidays with Hags—it's a must-have for everyone on your list this year."

Snorting in her champagne, Gilderoy's attention diverted to Lily and Hestia, who looked equally unamused by the tales of his fake forays. His performative smile faltered, alarm registering in his bright blue eyes.

"Lily…well—er—how are you?" Gilderoy started, nervously pulling at his flashy cravat as he cleared his throat. Only Slughorn's robes could rival Gilderoy's flashy golden ensemble, yet it did little to save his melting persona. "Don't you look…uh, ravishing? Not that I'm looking!"

Lily refused to lower her eyes or show any glimmer of the mortification she'd felt the last time she'd seen him: instead, she hardened, her gaze that of unflinching emerald.

"Lockhart," Lily acknowledged, her voice icy to mask the mischief that suddenly struck her. "I say, this banshee you speak of must have been rather weak if you had such an easy time with her. It sounds like I may have more malevolent characteristics than she—ha! Pray you won't have to find out, I suppose. Merry Christmas."

Lily grinned at him—a warning shot, rather than an inviting tease—and sauntered away, leaving an apprehensive Gilderoy to his crowd of perplexed fans.

Invigorated, she made for the glittering champagne tower and retrieved her third coupe glass of the night. One foe down, two more to go.

"Can I call everyone's attention?" Slughorn's voice projected across the room, the product of a mild Sonorous Charm. "Gather round for a fun party game!"

Lily headed for the small dance floor where guests were creating a circle around Slughorn. Across from her was Dirk, impeccably dressed in a tailored suit with Marlene hanging from his arm. While Marlene was absorbed in whispers with another witch, Dirk met Lily's gaze, masculine intensity radiating. Lily offered him a coy wink in response, sending him off balance.

"With so many accomplished young witches and wizards in the room, I thought it might be amusing to hold a little contest that will give you a chance to put your unique talents on display," Slughorn chortled, making members of the Slug Club—as well as their dates—bloom with interest. "All who are up to the challenge are welcome into the circle, where I invite you to dazzle us with a party trick! And for those of you who are more inclined to continue drinking, I'll make it worth your while—how does a bottle of Felix Felicis sound?"

Lily's competitiveness reared as Slughorn pulled a tiny vial of Liquid Luck from the folds of his robes. She recalled studying the potion during her Hogwarts' days, though never brewed it in class, the concoction far and above the abilities of Advanced Potions students. She knew it took a practiced and proficient potion's master to brew Felix Felicis over a six-month period, especially as the consequences of a misstep were downright dangerous. But when concocted correctly, the potion bestowed the drinker with success at everything they attempted, turning an ordinary day into an extraordinary one. When overdrunk, however, its toxicity caused giddiness, recklessness, and dangerous overconfidence.

As Slughorn brandished the phial of molten gold, Lily knew she had to win it. A little luck was exactly what she needed to show Dirk and Marlene that she would not—and could not—be beaten.

"Surely there must be someone in attendance who I can tempt with such a prize," Slughorn's grin was tricksy, his bushy eyebrows raised in expectation.

Lily and Dirk locked eyes again, each sizing up the other, and stepped forward at the same moment. Slughorn applauded, merrily bouncing on the heels of his feet. Two more attendees stepped forward not long after, brining the final count to only four participants.

"Wonderful, wonderful, we have our contestants!" Slughorn beamed, shaking his vial of Felix Felicis to fire up the spectators. "The rules are very simple—whoever impresses me with the most breathtaking charm wins the prize!"

Lily didn't hide her smirk when Dirk's arrogance faltered; his proficiency in languages wasn't going to help him here, and he was now competing against the Lead Architect for the French Ministry's Department of Experimental Charms…

"Who would like to go first?" Slughorn wiggled his eyebrows, tempting someone forward.

Emma Vanity, a chaser with the Ballycastle Bats, headed for the centre of the ring, her raven hair piled atop her head in a stylish chignon. Slughorn tutted his appreciation as she removed her wand from a pocket in her periwinkle silk dress, tapping it against her lips in a moment of thought, trying to settle on what charm she'd exhibit to wow the crowd.

Finally arriving at her trick, Emma raised her wand, pointing it toward the ceiling. Wordlessly—her mouth instead curved in self-assurance—she flicked her wrist, shooting a flock of parakeets from the end of her wand. The crowd oohed as azure, yellow and lime-green birds flew laps around the room, squawking as they maneuvered around the ice sculptures.

"Very good!" Slughorn commended, clutching his rotund belly. After a few laps, the tropical birds dove back toward Emma's wand and disappeared in bursts of colourful feathers that floated to the floor. "How nice to have a ray of sunshine on these wintry days! Now, whose up next?"

Someone by the name of Filmore Burgess entered the circle next. Pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, the mousy wizard held out his hand and produced a cyclone that rotated along his palm. He was able to shrug it along his arm and across both shoulders—ruffling his hair in the process—catching it in his other palm. When he closed his hand over it, the mini storm disappeared.

As everyone clapped appreciatively, Lily recognized the complexity of the man's atmospheric charm. It wasn't as in-your-face as a flock of chittering birds, but required advanced skill to produce, making it—in her estimation—the better charm of the two. She wondered what Slughorn would prefer: presentation or difficulty?

"I should have suspected a researcher for the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes would have a proclivity for tempests," chuckled Slughorn, thriving in his element. "Well done, well done, Mr. Burgess! Ah, that leaves us with Ms. Evans and Mr. Cresswell—who is up to astonishing us next?"

Dirk quirked a brow at Lily, daring her to step forward. She flashed him a disarming smile, communicating her stalwart disinclination to move an inch. Unless Slughorn called upon her, she'd wait him out, awkward silence or not. A hint of distaste pulled at the edges of Dirk's mouth as he stepped into the circle, capitulating the first battle.

"Ah, Mr. Cresswell…what will the Head of the Goblin Liaison Office entertain us with? We wait with bated breath!" Slughorn exclaimed, his cheeks rosy with anticipation.

Dirk removed his wand from his dress robes pocket. As he twirled it in his fingers, considering, he looked up at Marlene, who blew him an exaggerated kiss. Lily tittered, causing Dirk to shoot her a filthy look. She was getting under his skin, and she hoped his desire to beat her was causing him to overthink his next move.

"Mr. Cresswell?" Slughorn prompted.

Dirk started from his stare down with Lily, trying to regain his focus. He offered the professor a winning smile: "Of course. In honour of your party, Professor Slughorn, I'd like to offer you this song…"

Lily watched as the wizard turned toward the flutist in the corner of the room and summoned her golden instrument. Holding it up for all to see, Dirk muttered an incantation under his breath and tapped the flute: in response it levitated in midair and—as if by invisible hands—began to play a lively off-tune rendition of a popular Christmas carol. Slug Club members clapped along, some even tapping their toes as the song filled the room with music.

"How festive!" Slughorn chortled as the flute finished its song. Dirk caught it before it fell to the ground, taking a little bow before sending it zooming back into the flutist's hands. "A party trick worth sharing, indeed!"

Lily pursed her lips as Dirk blended back into the crowd looking triumphant. She had a strong urge to knee him in the pants, vexed that he was acting like he'd already won. He slung an arm around Marlene's shoulders, the pair of them leering at Lily.

"And that leaves us to our remaining participant—perhaps the best for last?" Slughorn teased, making Lily grin and Dirk scowl. The jolly professor beseeched to the crowd: "I bid you all to watch Ms. Evans closely—this is her forte, after all, as Lead Architect for the Department of Experimental Charms. The floor is yours, lovely Lily…"

Steeling herself, Lily headed to the middle of the circle, her dress swishing as she walked. The assembled people went quiet, watching her with a mixture of curiosity and expectation. Setting her mind to the task, as eerie sense of serenity overcame her as she turned toward the champagne tower and summoned a coup glass into her hand. Clutching the crystal glassware, Lily offered Slughorn a playful wink as she downed the contents, making the crowd chuckle. Glass empty, Lily tapped it with her wand, enlarging it to thrice its size so it looked more like a bowl. There were whispers among spectators as she next filled the receptacle with a few inches of clear water, walking it over to Professor Slughorn.

"Will you hold this for me, professor?" Lily asked, and he obligingly held it high for all to see. She breathed deeply, clearing her mind, and muttered an intricate incantation over the enlarged champagne glass. When she flicked her wand, the wood barely brushing the water, an iridescent pink petal appeared at its surface.

"Beautiful," Slughorn murmured, holding up the receptacle to examine the petal. "How—"

But he stopped mid sentence as the shimmering petal begin to sink into the glass. Slughorn was transfixed as he watched it settle on the bottom, only to transform into a wide-eyed, shiny-orange goldfish.

"My word," he lilted, blinking as the goldfish swam in his crystal bowl, his dainty fins catching the light. "Aren't you a fancy fellow? Hello there."

"Merry Christmas, Professor Slughorn," Lily said, genuinely pleased at his reaction to the present—her refined attempt to combine performance with ingenuity. "He's yours for the keeping."

"What wonderous magic…" Slughorn's tenor spoke of his admiration and delight with the wee fish. Forgetting the party around him, he looked almost weepy. "Subtle, yet sophisticated…beautiful to behold…I think I shall call him Francis. A nod to the French Ministry's most talented official…"

Carefully placing Francis on a nearby table, Slughorn procured his vial of Felix Felicis, placing it in Lily's hand and wrapping her fingers around it, his smile conspirative. "For our winner…and my congratulations to you all for your superb wand work!"

Lily beamed at her old professor, accepting her reward with as much humility as she could muster—considering all she wanted to do was cackle in conquest. Nearby, Dirk scoffed, his mouth forming a hard line, while Marlene hissed something under her breath. The couple stormed towards the food tables together to lick their wounds.

Take that and shove it up your arse, Cresswell…

"That was some charm," Hestia rejoined Lily, visibly impressed. "But what's got Creswell's bloomers in a bunch? Bit of a sore loser, isn't he?"

"It makes the victory all the sweeter," Lily shone with barely contained glee, accepting a cranberry cosmopolitan that was being passed around by servers.

"Any plans for that potion?"

"Hmm…what do you say to a few drops in our drinks? Interested to see how it may improve our evening?" Lily alit with mischief, though she added reasonably, "You're not on duty afterwards, are you?"

Hestia's resolve flickered, showing her surprise with the offer. "I've never tried it before…you think it's safe? I can't be setting a bad example…"

"If it's brewed by Professor Slughorn, it's safe as can be," Lily chuckled at Hestia's reluctance. "Why not live a little? It's Christmas holidays, after all."

"Go on, then," Hestia held out her martini glass, an edgy smile replacing her usual no-nonsense expression. She looked over her shoulder to see if anyone was watching them: it seemed even though the potion was legal, it was still atypical for the Auror's strait-laced lifestyle.

Lily uncorked the vial and trickled a few drops into Hestia's glass before doing so in her own. The gold potion swirled in their red drinks. "Bottoms up, Jones."

They clinked their cocktails together and drank deeply. After they finished, they looked one another up and down, trying to ascertain any differences, but nothing appeared out of the norm, save for the pleasant, relaxed feeling that spread throughout their bodies.

"Maybe it takes time to kick in?" Hestia mused, her shoulders seeming to sag, tension ebbing away. "I think I'm going to search the food table for something edible…see you…"

Hestia spirited away—practically floating—as if giving in to something tugging her away to a different destination. There wasn't anyone else in the room Lily particularly wanted to talk to, yet her disappearance didn't cause her any social anxiety in the least.

Sighing happily, Lily suddenly felt compelled to speak with Bertha. Perhaps she'd tell her to mind her own business and keep her best friends' names out of her mouth—although she felt no animosity toward the woman anymore…


As Lily called out, the nosey woman jerked from her conversation with another group of people, intrigued that she had been spoken to first. Without excusing herself, Bertha made her way toward Lily, though found it difficult through the thick crowd. Elbows out, she nudged her way without shame, causing none-other than Gilderoy Lockhart to lose his footing—having caught an elbow to the backside—and stumble into an old wizarding record player.

Lily burst into giggles as Gilderoy fumbled in his long golden robes, gracelessly trying to get upright again. While his curls bounced out of their perfect arrangement, his fans attempted to help him up, one accidentally spilling champagne on him. Meanwhile, the magical record player had been jostled into action, a bouncy dance tune engulfing the room.

"Oh my, is it that time already?" Slughorn chortled nearby, drawn out of his conversations by the loud music.

"Yes, it is, professor," Lily materialized at his side, her grin dazzling. Bertha wasn't even a thought anymore; clearly, she'd served her purpose. "And I must insist on the first dance."

It didn't even register with Lily that she—one of the clumsiest, most flat-footed and uncoordinated witches of all time—was initiating a dance. She, who declined invitations to dance at every turn, and hadn't the faintest idea how to will her body to be graceful—or even sexy—according to a rhythm!

"Well now, how can I turn down such a flattering invitation!" Slughorn beamed as he took Lily's hand and lead her to the middle of the dancefloor. "Come everyone, let us celebrate the festive season with a dance!"

A far cry from the dainty flutist music, whatever record had been primed in Slughorn's magical player was something more akin to what one would hear in a muggle discotheque. The up-tempo dance music featured repetitive vocals and catchy rhythmic beats provided by drums, bass guitars and synthesizers.

Who knew Slughorn was so down with the kids?

Lily beamed at Slughorn as he tucked in his arms and began to rock side-to-side to the music, his face turning pink with delight. Around them, guests entered the dance floor, either drawn to the music, wishing to please Slughorn, or under the influence of too much champagne.

"Professor Flitwick and I love this jingle!" the professor chortled. As he danced, Lily had to admit the middle-aged teacher had way more rhythm than she did. Fortunately, she was inhibition-free concerning her own performance as she subtly swayed to the music. In fact, she was quite enjoying herself…

"I need a drink, my dear—I cannot keep up with you young things!" Slughorn excused himself merrily, the crowd parting as he bobbed to the beat on his way out.

Lily danced alone for only a moment before Hestia reappeared with Filmore Burgess on her tail. "Look who I met at the buffet!" she exclaimed, her mood bordering gleeful. Filmore was doing his best attempt at The Funky Chicken by bobbing his head back and forth.

As the music pulsed louder, Lily sidled up to Hestia, making her laugh as she tried to twirl her. As the two women tried out well-known disco moves, mannerly Filmore danced close by, patiently awaiting Hestia to turn her attention back to him.

"Your turn!" Hestia grabbed Lily's hand and held it up higher, inclining her to take a spin. When she stopped rotating, she breathlessly backed up a step, bumping into the chest of a nearby dancer.

"Oops! Sorry about—"

When Lily turned to apologize, she forced herself to blink: was the luck potion making her delirious? Because sidling up to her, gyrating his hips in perfect sync with the pounding music, was Sirius Black, clad in a crisp white dress shirt and black slacks. Dancers around her, including Hestia and Filmore, mirrored her surprise at his appearance. Nearby, meddlesome Bertha Jorkin's eyes were the size of saucers, gawking without shame at Sirius' sexy cavorting.

"Sirius? What are you—?" Lily was interrupted as Sirius pulled her into a dance with him. He held one of her hands high, the other wrapping around her waist, expertly guiding her in a rhythmic dance that managed to perfectly compliment the upbeat music, his smile one of supreme confidence.

"It's not a party without the Marauders, Lily darling," Sirius announced, twirling Lily with ease, the folds of her dress bobbing prettily. "We decided to deploy the troops to help wipe the superior scowl off Cresswell's face for you."

"We? How are you supposed to help me with that?" Lily's face shone with suspicion, though it finally split into an irrepressible grin as he dipped her low, making her feel weightless. She had no clue Sirius was such an incredible dancer—especially as he was effortlessly piloting a clumsy beginner like her around.

James' friends have more layers than I'd imagined…

"You may be in denial about it still, but we were sort of a big deal at Hogwarts," Sirius teased, making Lily roll her eyes. "Let's test if Cresswell's animosity for you is actually just pent-up sexual frustration, shall we?"

Sirius' grin was canine as he leaned into Lily, his hips inches from grazing against her own. Her cheeks flamed at the close contact, the relaxation the potion had afforded her dissolving. "Merlin, you can't be serious…"

"Serious as a heart attack, muggle-bumpkin," Sirius' hands planted on Lily's hips, more possessive than she could believe. Though she had eyes for James only, she found Sirius' sexual energy undeniably spellbinding.

"But James…" Lily maintained; she was thankful their conversation was concealed by the spirited music. As Sirius hips continued to provoke her, she experienced a mixture of panic and thrill.

"Relax…" Sirius soothed, so close now they were nose-to-nose. Lily felt breathless in his snare. "He's somewhere in the crowd watching. Whose idea did you think this was?"

Lily turned her head to pan the crowd, but Sirius turned her face back to him, his fingers commanding as they caressed her jaw. His eyes dipped to her lips, a smile creeping over his own. She thought she was going to faint—was he going to kiss her? Would James actually sanction his best mate snogging her?

As Sirius leaned in, Lily gasped. But just then, someone pushed Sirius' shoulder, making him stumble back a step, breaking his carnal concentration on her. It was Remus Lupin.

"Paws off, Black—she's mine now," Remus' smile was a challenge to Sirius, who narrowed his eyes at him, though continued to smirk. When the sandy-haired man turned to Lily—boxing out Sirius from her view—his grin bordered on arrogant. It made her feel drunk, as she'd never seen Remus present as anything by kind and gentle. "James thought Padfoot was taking his role a little too seriously and sent me to intervene."

If Sirius or Remus had turned their charms on me at school, I would have been a goner too…

"Thank Morgana, I think I almost had a panic attack," Lily exhaled, her agitation making Remus chuckle. He took over the dance, leading Lily in a spin. Around them, people stared, bald-faced. It wasn't every day two of Hogwarts' most popular former students fought over the same woman. Why bother when they had so many beautiful ladies at their willing disposal? "What are you three playing at?"

"James told us about you were here tonight. We couldn't resist crashing to have a little fun with Cresswell too," Remus winked, integrating into the wild music as naturally as Sirius had—though perhaps less zealously. "Now that you're a part of the group, you'll find we're passionate defenders of one another…and can get a little carried away."

"I hadn't realized I'd earned my official membership," Lily yelped as Remus executed a fancy dance move that had their arms fully extended before he spun her back against his chest.

Did these guys go to professional seduction school or something? For Merlin's sake…

"I'd say defending us against an angry hoard of death eaters earns automatic admission…but James' feelings for you had you in far before that," Remus admitted, making Lily flush and want to sink into the dancefloor.

"And I thought Sirius was making me blush," Lily groaned, though her happiness with the confession shone through. "You're far worse."

"Sirius is overrated…the silent types are the ones who can really make a woman scream," Remus whispered huskily to Lily. He broke into raucous laughter at Lily's shy, shocked look in return. "Really Lily, you're such an easy mark!"

This time it was Lily who succumbed to giggles, snorting into his shoulder as he took her for another turn around the dancefloor. The fact that Sirius and Remus had jumped at the opportunity to help her showed why James counted them as his best friends, and why she was lucky to call them friends now, too.

And the fact that James would let two of the most appealing men in the room tease the mickey out of me shows how he must trust them…

"Should I expect Peter to whisk me away any second?" Lily prodded Remus, earning a chuckle in response. As they continued their dance, she tried to catch a glimpse of James in the crowd of partygoers. Where was he hiding? And what was he up to?

"Poor Peter isn't much of a dancer, bless," Remus said kindly. "And you should see Cresswell's face right now…I think Sirius guessed his motivations right."

When Remus spun Lily, she caught a glimpse of Dirk on the dancefloor. His envious stare was indeed fixed on them as he distractedly danced with his own partner, Marlene, who was oblivious of his divided attentions. Lily locked eyes with him, but he didn't look away. Though she'd already thwarted Dirk in the contest, she felt compelled to continue the game. Was it the potion egging her on? To what end?

Lily offered Dirk a coquettish glance that made his mouth fall open in disbelief. Though he recovered himself, straightening importantly, she could see she had him on the hook.

"How about a drink?" Remus ceased the dance and led Lily back into the throng of guests congregated near the bustling bar. "I think it's time to play our next hand…"

As they sidled up to the mirrored-topped counter, they found Sirius surrounded by the same gaggle of girls that had once flocked around Gilderoy. Spotting his friends, he straightened and whispered something into one pretty witch's ear—making her look positively faint—before rejoining them. "Honestly, James had nothing to worry about. We were just playing, weren't we, Lils?"

Lily rolled her eyes at the man's wicked grin. "Enough of your games with me, Black—the only one I'm interested in regards Dirk and Marleen."

"What can I say? Revenge is a dish best served hot," Sirius cooed, swishing the contents of a whiskey glass and winking. "Leave it to us."

Before Lily could even order a drink, Sirius and Remus melded back into the crowd of dancing revellers, many a desirous head turning to watch them go—female and male both.

"There you are, Lily!" Hestia called out, drawing Lily's attention to a spot near the champagne tower where she and Filmore were chatting with none-other than James Potter.

Despite all the champagne, Lily felt her throat go dry when she took in James' dapper appearance. He wore one of his effortless suits—no tie—with a few buttons undone near the top, giving the barest hint of his chiseled collarbone. Raven hair windswept and chocolate eyes smouldering behind his spectacles, he was the picture of sophistication, yet radiated such sensuality her knees could have buckled.

"You remember James Potter, don't you?" Hestia asked, filling the silence between them: unbeknownst to her, the couple were devouring each other with their eyes, their attraction like a rope pulled taut. "James and I work together in the Auror's Office."

"Yes…I seem to vaguely recall him," Lily's smile was laced with the same mischief dancing in James' eyes. Dirk and Marleen were all but forgotten as she felt compelled to play a game of another kind altogether. "Potter…how like you to crash a party you weren't invited to."

James reached for Lily's hand, placing the top of it against his mouth to bestow a lazy kiss. "I have a proclivity for finding the parties with the most spectacular women…and you're looking more magnanimous than ever, Evans."

Lily bit her lip, electrified at her dare being accepted. Hearing him call her Evans…it now sounded so delicious slipping from between his lips, like a summoning she couldn't wait to succumb to.

"You certainly think highly of yourself, don't you?" Lily tantalized, a disobedient edge to her tone. She toyed with the fur along her neckline, managing to hitch James' loaded gaze. "Now why don't you go find some fangirls to amuse yourself with?"

His answering grin was practically criminal. "I thought I was making it clear I think highly of you, Evans. Join me on the dancefloor…I think you'll find my moves far more pleasurable than those of my friends…"

Identifying that something beyond her comprehension was taking place, Hestia clasped Filmore's hand and pulled the perplexed Ministry official across the room—though not before the assessing witch shot Lily an amused glance communicating her intrigue and expectation for details later.

"You don't think you can snare me that easily, do you?" Lily whispered.

Though James leaned toward her, she countered his closeness with a step back, feeling the many pairs of eyes on them. She saw how her slyness was driving him crazy, chocolate becoming almost black. Lily bit her lip again.

"Stop fucking doing that," James growled, his husky voice barely audible above the pulsing retro music. "Or I'm going to have you right here for all to see…"

Lily's breath hitched at the power of his craving. She felt her core go molten as she backed up another step, the impulse to toy with him growing only stronger. "Catch me if you can, James Potter…"

Author's Notes

To be continued…Merry Christmas & Happy New Year in 2023!