There's something about Christmas within the stone halls of Hogwarts that makes the very air thick with a feeling of magic. Surprisingly, that feeling has very little to do with the fact that it is a school for young witches and wizards. While the dancing fairies that flutter and glitter around every window and the jolly songs coming from the hollow helmets of the suits of armor certainly contribute to the enchanted atmosphere, it has more to do with the fact that, just like the freshly fallen snow covering the grounds, the castle is untainted. Beyond the gates there is a war going on, and most days the darkness that it causes manages to cast just the slightest of shadows over the untouchable school. But now, on Christmas Eve, even that shadow has receded. Laughter can be heard ringing around every corner, and there's not a single person to be seen without a smile on her face or a twinkle in his eye.
Inside Gryffindor tower a fire crackles and spreads its warmth through the cozy common room. There are about a dozen people in the room, each of them glowing with the aftereffects of the incredible food they consumed at the feast and the high spirits of the day in general. In one corner a group of three small first-years giggle happily as they suck on everlasting icicles that they tore from the banisters. Across the room from them is a small table of third and fourth year girls chatting animatedly over the pages of the most recent issue of Witch Weekly. In the center of the room a group of fifth, six, and second years are playing exploding snap, the older students laughing heartily as they con the younger ones out of their holiday candy. And in front of the fire, lounging contentedly around a small coffee table on the best seats in the room, are six seventh years. They are laughing together, enjoying their final holiday season at the school that has been their home for the last seven years.
"Come on, think about it," Sirius is insisting over the laughter of his friends, his head resting on James's lap and his legs stretched across the couch to rest across Lily's. "It makes perfect sense."
"Padfoot, what sort of world are you living in that it would make sense for people to be punished for the things that their animals do? It's like penalizing a seeker because a bludger's out of control. That would never happen." James retorts.
"Actually," Remus mentions matter-of-factly, glancing up from the crossword that he has been puzzling over for the last half hour, "in medieval England, it was common practice for the owners to be held accountable for any inappropriate actions of their animals. They had to be tried in court and everything."
The others stare at him for a moment, surprised that he has this little tidbit of information at the ready. Seeing their looks he goes on, "the practice has obviously fallen out of fashion lately."
Alice, lying on her belly in front of the fireplace, laughs softly. "Obviously."
Sirius is looking triumphant. "You see! I told you it could happen." He sticks his tongue out childishly at James, who shakes his head in response.
"You know, somehow it doesn't surprise me that you have the same sort of logical thought process as archaic muggle royalty, Black. You would have fit in perfectly at the queens court, once upon a time." Lily tells him with a smile.
"That, my darling Lily, is because I am practically royalty."
"Are you sure it's not because you have a secret burning love for tights and ruffled collars?" Peter asks him with a grin from his large armchair.
"That would explain your inexplicable jealousy for Nearly Headless Nick."
"Remus, you wanker, that was third year! And besides, I was only jealous because I was afraid he had better hair than me. I realize now that it was a childish worry. My hair is unparalleled in shiny magnificence." He tugs on one of the locks falling into his grey eyes to prove his point. "It's also quite soft. I've gotten a number of compliments on that from the ladies of the castle. And a few lads have commented as well."
James scoffs in disbelief and runs a hand through it. "Hmm. You're right, Padfoot. That's amazing. How have I never noticed before? It's almost as nice as Lily's."
"Good save, Potter." She tells him without looking away from the crossword that Remus is poring over. "Number eight across is 'fluxweed,'" she informs him after a moment. He nods and writes it in. The group falls into silence, each of them simply enjoying the carefree atmosphere, the crackle of the fire, and the comfort of one another's presence. Each of them knows, though they are loath to admit it, that moments like these will become fewer and fewer as the years go on. But for now, and for the first time in months, none of the six seventeen year-olds is worrying about the dangers in the rest of the world.
Remus breaks the silence with an inquiry about the crossword. "Calming potion ingredient. Nine letters starting with M."
Lily and Alice respond at the same time.
"Monkshood" from the former and "moonstone" from the latter.
They look at each other incredulously. "Monkshood?" Alice sounds dumbfounded. "Monkshood isn't calming, it's poisonous!"
Sirius speaks from James' lap. "I'd say death is about as calm as you can get." Lily sends him a glare and turns back to listen to Alice. "Seriously. Monkshood is about as deadly as it gets. The primary function of a moonstone, on the other hand, is to help a person reach emotional stability."
"That's true," Lily agrees, tapping her cheek thoughtfully with one finger as she rests her chin in her palm. "But monkshood is one of the most important ingredients in some potions used for muscle relaxation. Obviously, it's not something that you drink, but it's very soothing with massages."
James looks down at Sirius. "Hear that? She's got beauty and brains. How'd I get so lucky?"
Sirius gives him an evil grin. "With one hell of a Confundus charm?" His response earns him a smack. At his objecting outcry, Lily offers him a sympathetic pat on the leg without looking away from her best friend.
Before Alice can continue the debate with Lily, Remus cuts in. "I'll just wait to get some other letters. I don't have it in me to listen to you two discuss potions right now."
"I agree," Peter adds. "Didn't we make a no-lesson-discussion pact after our last class before break?"
Alice points an accusatory finger at the werewolf. "Lupin started it."
Lily glances at her watch and let's out a heavy sigh. "Come on, James. It's time for rounds." She stands, letting Sirius' legs fall to the floor unceremoniously, and straightens her skirt while ignoring his disgruntled huff.
James lets his head fall against the back of the couch with a groan. "I forgot we had that tonight. Couldn't we just skip?"
"You know we can't." She reaches out an arm to him. "The sooner we start, the sooner we can come back." James takes the proffered hand and stands up. His sudden movement efficiently dislodges Sirius from the sofa entirely and he falls to the floor with an outraged cry and a loud thump.
"Oy, was that really necessary?" He rubs his elbow dramatically in an attempt to win himself some pity.
"Sorry, mate. Duty calls." There is no apology in James' voice, only laughter.
"See you all later." The members of the group wave absentmindedly as the two Heads make their way out of the common room, hands still entwined.
The castle is dark and quiet. Even the statues have stopped singing out of respect for the night and the magical feeling that hung over the school throughout the day has only amplified with the soft light cast by the moon. Lily and James walk in silence side by side, checking rooms at random as they make their way down from the seventh floor.
"So, Potter," Lily's voice breaks the tranquility. "What are you hopping to get tomorrow morning?"
James glances back at her, with a mischievous glint in his eye. He turns to her and gives her a kiss on the nose. "You."
"That's sweet, James. But you can hardly want something you already have." He stops her when she tries to keep walking.
"That's a lie." He tells her softly, his lips hovering just above hers. "I always want you."
She closes the space between them swiftly and gives him a quick kiss. "The feeling is mutual," she assures him before pulling away and continuing down the corridor.
"Come on, we just have to cover two more floors and we're done."
James hurries to catch up to her. "What do you think the chances are that we'll be able to get our spots back on the couch when we get back?"
"Very low." Lily replies with a laugh. A moment later she pauses, realizing that James is no longer walking beside her. She turns to look at him, raising one eyebrow in question. He offers no response; instead he smiles widely and moves to stand beside her.
"I don't believe it," he tells her, still grinning widely, and bends down to pull her into a kiss. She can feel his smile against her lips for a moment before it fades as their kiss intensifies. She let's out a soft moan and clutches at the front of his robes, pulling their bodies as closely together as possible while his hands rest on her hips. They've been together for a almost three months, but Lily still can't believe how incredibly good it feels to kiss James Potter. All too soon, he pulls back and her eyes flutter open.
"What was that all about?" She asks him breathlessly.
He takes a small step away from her and gestures towards the ceiling. "I love the holidays."
Looking up, Lily spots the hovering sprig of mistletoe topped by a large red bow. She laughs, and shakes her head. "I should have known."
As her gaze moves back to James, she sees that he's wearing his telltale mischief-causing looking, and she is instantly weary.
"What are you plotting, James?"
"Well," he begins to explain thoughtfully. "I was just thinking about how the prefects had to spend hours putting up all the Christmas decorations. I seem to recall a few of them complaining about how difficult it was for them to find a spot for all the mistletoe. I guess there was a bit more this year than usual. There's probably hundreds of the things in inconspicuous places all over the school."
"I think I just figured out how to make our rounds a bit more interesting."
Lily watches him skeptically for a moment. "All right, let's hear it."
He gives her a brilliant smile. "It's simple. Our new goal, in addition to catching
trouble makes of course, will be to find as much of the mistletoe as we possibly can. We can make it a competition. Whichever of us spotted the most at the end of rounds wins a prize."
"What sort of prize?"
James shrugs, "Not sure. How about cookies from the kitchen? Oh, and Christmas sex."
Lily laughs appreciatively. "Sounds like a win-win situation to me."
"Of course. Plus, in keeping with mistletoe custom, we will be required to have a healthy snog beneath each sprig we find."
"Well of course." Lily looks at him for a moment, considering. It is obviously an absurd idea. They supposed to be catching troublemakers not snogging in the corridors. And yet… "Alright, Potter. I'm in."
Twenty-five minutes later, the two students can be found making their way back towards Gryffindor tower from the Entrance Hall, tied at twenty-six sprigs apiece. They are arguing over the score.
"I swear to you, James, you're one point behind me. That one above the window on the third floor did not count. It was holly, not mistletoe."
"Maybe it was, but you kissed me under it anyway which gives it proper kiss standing to count as a point."
"I don't seem to recall that being one of the rules, Potter."
"Well then, I'm making it one."
"Oh no you're not. We agreed that the rule about switching sides every corner due to a sight advantage offered to the person on the inside would be the last one. And you only made me agree to that one because you thought it would make up for the fact that you were losing."
"You had an unfair advantage!"
"James, I hardly think that the fraction of a second time difference between when I fully turn a corner and when you fully turn a corner has any impact on who is winning."
"Well, obviously it does because I caught up after that rule was created."
"Only because you started cheating."
"What are you talking about? We made it a rule. And I don't cheat."
"Ha, you think I didn't notice you cast an enhancement charm on your glasses while you were cleaning them on your robes?"
"It's not my fault my eyesight is terrible. I was simply trying to even the playing field."
"You are shameless, James Potter."
Lily looks away from his smug smile with a shake of her head and a small grin of her own. She knows that their relationship doesn't make sense to most people. It's true that they seem to spend more time arguing than anything else, except maybe snogging, but it works for them. He says something stupid and she calls him out on it. He retorts with an even more idiotic comment and she gets angry. He gets defensive and starts trying to reason with her and she shoots him down with her own logic. He makes an off color yet surprisingly appropriate attempt at a joke and she resists the urge to simultaneously laugh and smack him on the head. He gives her an apologetic kiss and she gives him a smile. Then they return to normal conversation for about ten minutes before his next inevitable inappropriate remark and the whole cycle begins again.
To the rest of the school their relationship looks like a disaster waiting to happen. The Potter/Evans hurricane, as Sirius likes to call it. But to Lily and James it makes perfect sense, it's even logical. Put simply, he gives her laughter and perspective; she gives him maturity and gentleness. It's an oversimplification of an extremely complex relationship that took years to resolve itself, but that's what it is. At the core, they are about laughter and passion. Before his kisses made her blood boil with desire, he got under her skin with his arrogance. Before she made him melt with her soft hands, she made him burn with irritation at her stubbornness. Now that they have seen past each other's surfaces, they have found how perfectly they fit together. When Lily thanks back on their relationship over the years, she knows that it couldn't have ended any other way.
"Twenty seven." The triumphant sound of James' voice pulls Lily from her thoughts and she looks at him in confusion.
He is pointing proudly at a spot ten feet in front of them where the bright red ribbon is holding yet another piece of mistletoe above the corridor. Lily scowls at him as he pulls her happily forward until they stand beneath the hovering plant. He puts a finger beneath her chin and tilts her head up. The scowl fades almost instantly as she looks into his hazel eyes, watching them flutter closed when his face is only centimeters away from hers. She follows suit, shutting her eyes as his lips make contact with hers. So far throughout this little game, they have been fairly restrained. Keeping to softer kisses that are more about anticipation than physical contact. But this one is different. Maybe it's the left over heat from their argument, but this one starts off gently enough and quickly devolves into something much more passionate as Lily opens her mouth with a moan and tangles her hands in James' messy hair. He in turn readily accepts her invitation and runs his tongue along her lower lip, pulling on her hips to bring her body closer to his own. Lily never wants it to end. She loves feeling his arms around her body, his large hands resting on her back, hips, or bum, and she positively relishes the warmth that comes from having their bodies pressed so closely together. She pulls her hands through his hair and twirls a lock around one finger. It just feels so good.
"Mister Potter! Miss Evans!"
The pair breaks apart at the sound of the sharp voice. With guilt on their faces, and with Lily's cheeks burning at their somewhat compromising position, they turn towards the speaker. Professor McGonagall is standing a few feet away, eyebrows raised and lips pursed, obviously waiting for an explanation. James leaves one arm around Lily's waist as they face the Transfiguration teacher.
"Evening, Professor." James is unperturbed by her accusatory look, smiling widely at his head of house.
"I believe that, as Heads, this is the sort of behavior you are supposed to be discouraging in the hallways after hours."
"Of course, Professor. In fact, that is exactly what we were doing until only moments ago." He gestures towards the ceiling, where the mistletoe hangs glittering in the torchlight. "But you see, we weren't paying proper attention to where we were walking as we hunted down young miscreants and we ended up walking beneath this lovely sprig of mistletoe. And well, who are we mere mortals to defy centuries' worth of Christmas traditions?"
"I see." She raises one eyebrow pointedly. "I don't seem to recall any traditions requiring quite that level of enthusiasm. And I can't help but feel that this is not the first sprig of mistletoe you have happened upon this evening."
Still grinning, James rushes to answer "Well you see, Professor, it's funny you should mention that because –" He breaks off when McGonagall raises one hand to cut his words short.
"Save it, please, Mister Potter. It's Christmas Eve and I would really rather not end up with a headache from trying to keep up with what I am sure will be a very well thought out and convincing story."
James closes his mouth quickly and glances down at Lily. She is standing beside him with pink cheeks, watching their interaction in silence.
"Miss Evans, I expected better behavior from you."
Lily flinches slightly at the accusation in her voice, but remains in place at James' side. "Sorry, Professor. It's like he said: can't fight tradition." She offers a timid smile to the other woman that is not returned. "It won't happen again."
McGonagall nods. "See that it doesn't or I may be forced to take action."
The two give her brief nods. "Of course, Professor." Lily says sincerely, hoping that whatever punishment they receive will not be too terrible.
"Very good." The Professor gives them a small smile. "Now, please get back to your head duties. By the looks of things I'd say you're nearly finished."
"Yes, Professor. Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas, Mister Potter. And to you Miss Evans." She makes her way past them. "Do try to avoid any more mistletoe." She calls to them over her shoulder before rounding the corner and vanishing from sight.
For a moment, neither of them moves. They can only stare after their Professor in surprise.
"Hang on," Lily says after a moment. "Did McGonagall just catch us snogging in the middle of the hall during rounds and let us go – not only with our hides in tact – but without even getting a detention?"
James looks nearly as shocked as Lily sounds. He glances down at her. "Christmas miracle?" He asks skeptically.
"I guess so." They stay still for another moment, staring at the spot where the professor had been standing a minute before.
"Well, amazing as that was, I'd rather not push our luck any more tonight." She steps lightly away from James' arm and turns to continue down the hallway. "No more seeking out mistletoe. Let's just get back to the tower."
"So, does that mean I won?" James questions her slyly, wrapping his arms around her from behind. She thrills slightly at the unexpected contact, but hides it well.
"Hardly, I was a point ahead. Remember?"
"Yeah, but then I spotted that last one. And I don't think we ever agreed on that point anyway."
"Can't we just call it a tie and be done with it?"
"But what about the prize?" He sounds outraged.
"Well, we'll just have to split it." When he scoffs at the suggestion she pokes at one of the hands resting on her belly. "Honestly, James. The sex part was mutually beneficial to begin with, so it's really only the cookies we need to divvy up. Think of it as an excuse to go on a date to the kitchens and stuff ourselves with all the delicious holiday sweets we can handle."
There is a moment of silence. "Alright. That sounds good enough for me. It's a tie."
There is another, longer moment of silence before James speaks again. "So, when exactly do we get to collect the prize?"
Lily laughs and turns her head to place a kiss on his jaw. "After that kiss back there, it better be tonight." The grin that spreads across James face makes her laugh harder even as shivers travel down her spine.
Hours later as they drift off to sleep, Lily curved within the arc of James's body, his arm draped protectively over her midriff and holding her against his chest, they can't help but thank those ancient pagan's for the gift of kisses beneath the mistletoe. Though there is a war going on beyond the walls of the castle, and though their futures are uncertain – hers because of her blood, his because he refuses to hate her for it – they are perfectly content. Though neither of them has said it out loud, they both know that they will be out there, fighting to keep evil at bay, as soon as they step off the Hogwarts Express for the last time. They are not afraid – there will be plenty of time for that later. Their future is uncertain, but they know that they will face it together, hands held tightly on one side, wands at the ready on the other. And when things are at their darkest, it will be the memory of nights like these, of laughing beside the fire and stealing kisses on patrol, that will keep them going. There is something magical about Christmas at Hogwarts, something beyond the floating baubles and the twelve giant Christmas trees that stand in the Great Hall and glitter with enchantments. It's almost tangible in the words of friends and lovers and it's nearly visible on the waves of laughter that drift between the people. It's the irrepressible feeling of joy, the closely woven feelings of hope and expectation. And it lights up the halls in a way that no dancing fairy light ever could. It's the feeling that Lily can feel swelling within her as she drifts to sleep, wrapped securely in the arms of her lover. Because as long as she is here, as long as she has that feeling and James' hand to hold on to, she is unafraid to face the morning. The war is still out there, waiting to pull them into its dark clutches. But Lily knows that with James and Alice, Sirius, Remus, Peter, and the memories of the days like this, the world will eventually turn for the better.
"Happy Christmas, Lily."
"Happy Christmas, James."