Lily woke early on Christmas Day. Even though she was a seventh-year, long past the age of sneaking downstairs to peek at gifts beneath the tree, she couldn't sleep in. She was too nervous.
Hidden in a bedside table drawer was her present from James. He'd wanted her to open it when they'd exchanged gifts in the common room the last night of term, but she'd convinced him they should wait until Christmas. Prolong anticipation. He'd called the idea "sexy." Lily knew her real motivation.
The tiny, square gift was the exact size of a ring box from a jewellery shop. One glance at it had been enough to send a chill down her spine and almost enough to make her say, "You shouldn't have." She loved James, she just wasn't ready to get married, and if he'd given her an engagement ring she'd have to give it back.
Lily hid her face in a pillow. That would crush his feelings, ruin Christmas, and break her heart.
The click of a door handle was a welcome distraction from increasingly melodramatic thoughts. Lily sat up and saw her sister, huddled in a grey flannel robe, edge into the room. "Tuney! It's like old times."
Petunia closed the door and leaned against it, arms folded. "I'm not here to see what Father Christmas brought you."
Her sister's belligerent tone prodded Lily to scoot down to the foot of the bed and pour the contents of her stocking onto the duvet printed with Asian lilies. "Looks like German and Swiss chocolates, some smell good stuff from a bath shop, a charm bracelet, a Satsuma and a few walnuts—Dad still loves to pretend fruit and nuts were all he used to get in his—"
"I said that's not why I'm here."
"All right." By Petunia's set face and thinned lips, further attempts to lighten the mood would be unappreciated. "I'm listening."
Petunia squared her narrow shoulders. "I've invited a guest to Christmas Dinner, and I'm here to ask you, for one day, to be normal. No putting on airs about your freakish school and monopolising all the attention."
Lily dropped her gaze to hide her hurt. Was that really the way Petunia saw her? "I never mention Hogwarts. I only say I enjoy my classes if anyone asks."
"Which they always do."
The jealousy and resentment in Petunia's voice were variations on a sour theme: you're the favourite. It didn't matter that Lily always tried to draw Petunia into conversations, to ask her opinion and include her. "Fine. I'll wear beige and pretend to have a sore throat so I can't talk." Despite what her sister liked to say, she wasn't "Miss Look-at-me, Look-at-me." Petunia could have the family spotlight with her blessing.
"Who's your guest?" Lily asked when Petunia started to leave. "If you tell me now I won't have to pantomime later." She demonstrated by waving, pointing, and then holding her arms out, palms upward, while mouthing, "who is that" with slow and exaggerated lip movements.
The corners of Petunia's mouth twitched.
Encouraged, Lily said, "Aunt Hyacinth will see me, of course, and screech, 'WHAT? WHAT?'"
The imitation earned a brief smile. "She does act as though everyone is hard of hearing." After a pause, Petunia said, "It's Vernon Dursley. My boss at Grunnings. He's being transferred to the Surrey office, and I want to go with him."
"As his secretary?"
"Oh." Lily believed relationships should be between equals, and there was an imbalance of power in employer/employee romances, but if Vernon made her sister happy . . . . "How long have you been dating?"
A fiery blush mottled Petunia's face. "None of your business!" She marched out of the room.
Lily didn't know what to make of that reaction. Was Petunia embarrassed to talk about her love life—or did she not actually have one yet? Could she want her boss to marry her if they weren't even seeing each other outside the office? It was possible, but to invite him to dinner Vernon had to have shown some interest. Maybe Petunia hoped a good meal and good company—and a little luck—would sway Vernon to declare his feelings.
Luck . . . . "I could give her that," Lily whispered.
She climbed out of bed. In the drawer next to James' gift was a Japanese puzzle box made of red and yellow toned wood. Lily lifted it out and in five moves slid the rectangular side and lid pieces to reveal the vial of Felix Felicis Professor Slughorn awarded her at the beginning of sixth year. She'd never used it. Although her Draught of Living Death was correctly brewed, Severus was the one who improvised a clockwise stir after seven counter-clockwise stirs to obtain the clearest colour. He deserved the "liquid luck," and she would've given him the vial if she could have trusted him not to misuse it.
Part of her wanted to keep on saving it, to cling to the hope that things would change, but she couldn't. Severus had chosen his path, and she was choosing hers.
Lily slipped on a holly-green towelling robe and went downstairs to make tea. She delivered a tray to her parents and then carried one to Petunia, kicking the bottom of the door to avoid spilling the cup spiked with Felix Felicis by setting it down to knock politely.
The door opened. Petunia eyed the tray with suspicion. "What—"
"I'm here to make a trade," Lily said quickly. "Earl Grey and a croissant for a couple of slices of your spiced raisin bread."
Petunia frowned. "The bread's on the worktop next to the cooker. You could've taken some."
"I didn't know whether you were saving it."
"Brilliant." Lily held out the tray.
Petunia shook her head. "I'm not hungry."
"Then take the tea. You help Mum so much with all the cooking and cleaning it's the least I can do."
"Very well." Petunia plucked the teacup off the tray. "I still expect you to keep your promise."
Lily cleared her throat. "Hem, hem. It's starting to feel scratchy already."
"Silly girl." Petunia shut the door.
Lily took the tray into her room and placed it on the bed. The croissant, warmed with a Calfacio spell, was too delicious to waste. She selected a dark chocolate truffle and then broke off a piece of croissant to create a version of petit pain au chocolat.
"Mmm . . . ." Lily had started to assemble another petit pain when she heard a scratching noise.
She popped the chocolate-stuffed bite into her mouth and ran to the window. Bunbury, James' tawny owl, waited on the outside ledge. Attached to his leg was a silver cylinder. Lily uncapped it with trembling fingers and pulled out a rolled up parchment tied with crimson velvet ribbon.
Anxiety twisted her stomach; she really wished she hadn't eaten. The message read:
Happy Christmas! The cologne you made me smells amazing. When can I thank you for it in person?
She was thrilled that he liked her gift. It had taken weeks of experimentation to discover the right ingredients—mandarin orange and grapefruit peel; a dribble of rosewood; sprinkle of oak moss and Szechuan pepper; natural musk from musk deer—that combined into a fragrance that embodied James. Fresh and clean yet earthy. Masculine. Sensual.
Lily fetched a self-inking quill from the corner desk to write that she couldn't wait to smell it on his skin and then halted, struck by the realisation that James' note hadn't mentioned his gift to her.
She twirled the swan quill between her fingers. James tried so hard to be "a rehabilitated arrogant toerag" as he liked to say, and she loved him for it, but couldn't he have been a little less of a gentleman and more of a Marauder? Written that he couldn't wait to see his ring on her finger, or her wearing the earrings he picked out. Something—anything—that would tell her what waited inside the gold-embossed box.
I'll just have to be vague, she thought, and wrote:
Come at seven. The relatives should be gone and we'll be able to thank each other properly.
Lily sent Bunbury on his way; guiltily relieved to have twelve hours to get up the nerve to open James' present. She shoved all the goodies back into her stocking. She didn't deserve to lounge around eating truffles. To increase her self-imposed penance, she made the bed without magic.
"Come in," Lily said as she contemplated the jumpers folded on the shelves of her wardrobe. She'd have to use a colour-change spell—if she could remember it.
"Hunting for something beige?" Petunia sounded different—almost playful.
Lily glanced at her and did a double take. "Tuney, you're gorgeous!" The cowl neck black jumper and charcoal-coloured trousers suited Petunia's angular frame, giving her a model-like elegance. "You could be a television presenter."
Petunia seemed pleased even as she waved away the compliment. "I took advantage of holiday sales." Her eyes gleamed like peridot. "Here's something I bought that would suit you better, I think." She held out a chunky knitted tunic in sandy beige guaranteed to wash out the complexion of anyone fair skinned.
"I've never seen anything like it." If Petunia wasn't so prim Lily would have stripped and put it on so they could share a laugh at how awful it made her look. "Thanks. I'll wear it to dinner."
Petunia turned to go.
"Do you need any help today?" Lily asked hopefully. Her sister took militant pride in doing everything herself, but surely the potion . . . .
"Yes, I believe I do," Petunia said.
Lily grinned. Thank you, Felix!
An hour later, after the exchange of presents, Lily followed her sister into the kitchen. For the rest of the morning while Dad watched television, Mum tidied the house and set the dining room table with holly-embroidered linens, silver, and Christmas tree patterned Spode china, Petunia did the cooking with Lily's help. Together, they cleaned and trimmed Brussels sprouts, boiled and peeled chestnuts for soup, wrapped chipolata sausages with bacon, washed and peeled potatoes, carrots, and parsnips for roasting.
They didn't talk much while they worked. Christmas carols played on the radio and a pot of apple cider simmered on the cooker, perfuming the air with fresh gingerroot and cinnamon.
Under the influence of Felix Felicis, Petunia moved with graceful confidence, avoiding the spills and splatters that transformed Lily's white apron into a canvass of abstract art. As it neared time for guests to arrive, Petunia shooed Lily away from assembling prawn cocktails in serving glasses to go wash up, chuckling over the bread sauce on Lily's cheek and the dab of smoked salmon pâté in her hair.
Lily ran upstairs. Petunia's relaxed, amiable mood wasn't a permanent state. It had to be enjoyed while it lasted.
She put on the jumper and discovered it was more hideous than imagined. Bulky and shapeless, it cocooned from shoulder to knees, making her look short and dumpy—or concealing a pregnancy.
"God forbid," she told her reflection in the wardrobe mirror. "Not that I wouldn't mind practicing with James."
Her image waggled its eyebrows.
Lily laughed and then sobered at the unfunny thought that a girl bold enough to want to get naked was too cowardly to open a present.
She scraped her hair back in a low ponytail and made her way to the lounge with a heavy heart that lifted only slightly at the greetings of her Aunt Hyacinth, Uncle Emmet, and Cousin Daisy.
"You look peaky. ARE YOU CONTAGIOUS?" Aunt Hyacinth asked. Tall as her niece Petunia and sister, Rose, but stouter, she presented an intimidating figure in her twin set and tweed.
"Leave off, Mum. She's got the laryngitis," Daisy said without looking up from the novel she was reading—a Christmas-themed romance, by the cover. Plump and pretty, she went through boyfriends like blue eyeshadow.
Dad said, "A cup of hot cider will ease your throat." He and Uncle Emmet, settled in chairs next to the fireplace, held empty glass cups in their hands. Dad lifted his. "And while you're there if you'd be so kind . . . ."
Uncle Emmet held his cup out and winked. "Add a splash of rum."
In the kitchen, Petunia, arranging homemade Melba toast points around salmon pâté on a crystal platter, shook her head when she saw Lily. "Men. They do love being waited on hand and foot."
"How do you know these aren't Mum's and Aunt Hyacinth's cups?"
"I smell Uncle Emmett's Jamaican rum." Petunia nodded to a bottle on the worktop.
The doorbell rang.
"He's here!" Petunia whispered, in a tone that shouted, "Oh-my-goodness-what-am-I-going-to-do?"
"You introduce Vernon, I'll bring in the starters," Lily said. "Everything else can wait."
"Right." Petunia took off her apron, fluffed the ends of her short blonde curls, and hurried out of the room.
No one noticed Lily enter the lounge. All attention was on the man who sat in her dad's reading chair next to the fireplace boasting about his company and their fine quality drills.
He wasn't anything like she'd expected: introverted, needing someone to manage his life in and out of the office. Vernon Dursley was a bear of a man with a self-important demeanour and the moustache of a Russian dictator. He wore an expensive suit and shoes buffed to a high shine—details that seemed to impress Petunia, who ate him up with her eyes as she perched on the edge of the seat Uncle Emmet had recently occupied.
Lily set her platter on the sideboard her parents used as a drinks cabinet and returned to the kitchen for prawn cocktails. When she came back the group had migrated over to the food.
Petunia took the tray from her hands and extended it to Vernon, who grunted his appreciation around a mouthful of pâté.
Lily retreated in disgust, mostly at herself. She'd wasted the potion!
Her mother found her in the kitchen a few minutes later spooning roasted veg into a Spode serving dish.
"I've never seen Petunia happier," Mum said. "Thank you, dearest. What you're doing is the finest gift a sister could give." She smiled mistily. "You girls spending time together was my best present. It's been too long."
Lily nodded; glad she had an excuse not to talk. She would have cried. Poor Mum believed her daughters had forgiven hurts and put away differences when it was only a temporary truce.
Mum said, "I'll go ask your father to carry the turkey to the dining room, shall I? You know how he likes to carve for an audience."
Lily continued transferring food from sauce pans and ovenware into serving bowls. She ladled chestnut soup into a decorative tureen. Dad and Uncle Emmet came in to transport the turkey and Mum, Rose, and Aunt Hyacinth helped carry the other dishes.
In the dining room, Petunia sat with her guest to the right of their dad at the head of the table. Lily sat on the opposite side with Rose on her right and Mum at the end of the table to her left. The floral centrepiece was too low to block her view of the rapidly bonding new couple, and no matter how she tried to fix her attention elsewhere, Lily's gaze was drawn to her sister's rapt expression as she drank in every pompous word uttered by the object of her affection.
Dinner dragged on forever thanks to Vernon's strong opinion on every topic from government policy to fishing lures regardless of his lack of expertise. He commented on the food as well, approving the turkey and bluntly stating that he preferred his Brussels sprouts plain with butter, not "fancied up" with toasted almonds and a maple glaze.
As soon as possible, Lily left the table to start clearing away the dishes. Her parents would expect her to watch the Queen's speech with the rest of the family at three, followed by tea and Christmas cake. She'd be able to escape to her room by four.
Her problem was what to do then.
She didn't own an owl, didn't have a fireplace in her room to communicate by magical fire. She'd have to sit and wait for James or find another way to send him a message to arrive earlier.
Lily knew it could be done. Professor Postlethwaite was the worst DADA teacher, assigning essays and silent reading and never letting them practice any defensive spells, but she'd learned a lot from all the research she'd done.
She mulled over her options while doing the washing up and helping Mum put away leftovers, narrowed it down to two while the Queen's speech was broadcast live on television, and finally made a decision as she absently sipped her tea and picked the raisins, currants, and sultanas out of her slice of Christmas cake. Vernon nattering on about how his sainted mother—rest her soul—iced his initials and whatever her "Sweetums" desired on his cakes killed Lily's appetite.
Next to her on the sofa, Daisy said, "You've made a Christmas kebob."
Lily set down the fork she'd used as a skewer and pointed to the ceiling.
"You're going up to rest? Don't blame you." Daisy took her romance novel out from under a sofa cushion and resumed reading.
Upstairs, Lily stuffed Petunia's jumper into a clothes hamper and freed her hair from its constricting band. She couldn't wait three hours to see James. She had to contact him immediately!
Her only second thought was about the way to do it. Summoning a person required a different spell from summoning a broom or a lost quill. One she'd never used before. What if it didn't work over distances?
Lily decided to cast it anyway. Her other option—sending a paper airplane wind or rain could blow off course or disintegrate—had even less chance of success.
She got her wand out of its storage place in her rucksack and opened a window. Cold air rushed in, bringing with it the smell of earth and wood smoke. Lily held her wand steady, extended through the window. James' face flashed into her mind. She channelled her desire to bring him to her house, her room, into the spell.
A flare of green light exploded from the tip of her wand and streaked into the darkness. Lily stood frozen in shock. Green was the colour of high energy magic—spells like the Killing Curse, not an Accio charm! She lived in a Muggle-inhabited area. What if someone saw? Would she face charges of violating the Statute of Secrecy?
Lily shut the window and closed the drapes. It was a holiday. The Improper Use of Magic Office was bound to be short-staffed. A burst of magic would be explained away as a Muggle celebrating with fireworks, or shooting a flare gun by accident.
Ring ring . . . ring ring . . . .
Lily ran to the desk and snatched up the telephone receiver, praying it was a wrong number. "Evanses' residence."
"I had a sudden, irresistible urge to be with you."
It was James! She stretched the telephone cord so she could peer out her window. "Where are you calling me from?"
"A telephone box across from the Manchester public Floo Station. If you want I'll go wait in a pub."
"No!" Her hand clenched the phone. "I need you now."
A heartbeat of silence. "I'm on my way."
Lily fumbled to put the receiver on the base and clattered downstairs. It would only take seconds for him to Apparate to her little town. She sprinted across the entry and flung open the door. James stood beneath the porch light, water droplets shining in his hair, on his glasses. She stepped into his arms and reached up to bring his mouth down to hers.
"What are you doing?"
Petunia's hushed screech ended a kiss that was as exhilarating as Christmas. Lily smiled at James. "I'm thanking him for my present."
"Well, for God's sake do it in your room." Petunia glanced back over her shoulder anxiously. "Vernon's going to stay and watch The Generation Game and I won't have you ruin it." She backed into the entry and made a jabbing motion to the stairs. "Go!"
Lily hesitated. Her sister was telling her to take a boy to her room? A wizard boy?
Petunia said, "Go, Lils. I trust you to behave."
Lils . . . it was a nickname from a childhood when sisters promised to be best friends forever. Lily took James's hand. She hadn't wasted the potion after all.
Once they were alone, Lily expected him to comment on the posters or the midnight blue ceiling with photo-luminescent stars painted to recreate the constellations. Maybe even joke that he needed to lie down to recover from the shock of Petunia the Prude sending a boy to her sister's room.
He unbuttoned his cloak and draped it over a chair. "You're not wearing your present. Didn't you like it?"
"I haven't opened it yet."
She fished it out of the drawer and sat on the side of the bed, waiting for James to sit beside her to say, "Because I'm afraid I can't accept it, and I don't want to hurt you."
"You won't. Whatever your reaction is, I can take it." Hazel eyes laughed as James said straight-faced, "I'm so mature and all."
Yes, he was. Lily tore the gold wrapping. Inside, as she'd suspected, was a velvet ring box. She opened it and drew in a sharp breath. The ring was silver, with intertwined Celtic love knot hearts. "It's beautiful."
"And you thought it'd be a huge gaudy emerald or something."
"An engagement ring. I was scared it was an engagement ring." She looked at him with tears blurring her vision. "I can't imagine spending my life with anyone but you, but I'm not ready to be a wife and mum yet." She felt horrid and selfish to admit, "I want us to have adventures first."
James's lips brushed hers, warm and comforting. "So do I." His hands cradled her face. His next kiss parted her lips. "Marauders are all for adventure."
She leaned into the kiss, which deepened into a series of kisses, breathing in the aroma of musk and spice that blended with the scent of James's skin in a way that was pure magic. Lily sighed. "Why did Petunia have to say she trusted me?"
"Because she knew it would limit your adventures in the bedroom." James chuckled. "Want to practice summoning each other? I believe it's my turn."
Her face heated. He knew! She stood and walked across the room. "I'm ready when you are."
His wand flew from his cloak pocket to his hand. James stretched out on the bed, propping himself up with pillows. His gaze brimmed with mischief and love as he pointed his wand.
"Do it," she said. The suspense was driving her crazy.
James grinned. "Affere Lily."
A/N: Happy New Year! This story was written for a Christmas swap that got delayed, so I hope readers have enough holiday spirit left to enjoy it and not say bah humbug!
I looked up the BBC schedule for 1977 and discovered an interesting-sounding game show, The Generation Game, aired Christmas night on BBC1. When I did some research and found out Dudley watches a newer incarnation of it in the PoA movie, I had to use it. "Look-at-me, Look-at-me" was based on a line from the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, and the cologne Lily designed for James smells just like Dolce & Gabbana's Light Blue Pour Homme. Find it at a department store perfume counter and I think you'll agree it fits James and made him smell scrummy.
I like to have fun with names, so I had James name his owl for the fictional character in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, and Hyacinth, Rose, Daisy, and Emmet are named in homage to the show Keeping Up Appearances.
Lily winning Felix Felicis was inspired by the HBP movie, while Snape's potions making improvisation was taken directly from the book. The nickname "Sweetums" I liked as a foreshadowing of Dudley/Diddums, but it's also the name of a big, hairy, mean-looking ogre Muppet. Unlike Vernon, though, the Muppet Sweetums isn't mean. :D