Pink Green Blue

Prelude to Destiny by Hourglass nomineeHourglass winnerAnotherDreamer

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Rating: PG. Created: September 14th, 2005. Updated: April 21st, 2006. Read Reviews (252)
Disclaimer: Characters, the magical world, etc, is property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros, not the owner of this fic.

Chapter Five
Birthday Surprise

From first until third year, Lily's friends had worked diligently to make her rise in time for Astronomy class: They poured water on her head, levitated her, sat on her, banished her sheets, and did anything else they could to make her actually wake up. But third year, Lily had begun to actually like and appreciate Astronomy. It was a combination of a lecture about Orion, the professor's soothing voice, the glittering stars dangling like earrings in the sky, and the loud proclamation from James Potter that the subject was beneath him that made Lily want to try her best in that particular class.

Seeing as falling asleep in class hindered her ability to properly listen to the lectures or gaze upon the stars, Lily realized she would have to change her sleeping patterns.

So began her Wednesday night vigils-- five hours in the evenings before class when Lily refused to sleep, lest she be too tired to properly wake herself up to listen in class. At first, she tried studying in her bed. She fell asleep. Then she tried reading a book in the common room. She fell asleep. She tried practicing flying, but the dark forest looked especially terrifying at night, so she stopped. In the end, Lily discovered the only way to be able to work properly in class was if she spent those night time hours studying or doing various assignments, in the library, in a straight-backed chair that would not let her fall asleep.

Sam, Christine, and Tracy knew of her plans to remain awake and left her to it. They were not as willing to sacrifice sleep for stars. The O.W.L. exams had gratified Lily's efforts with an O, and as Professor Sinistra only accepted students marked Outstanding, Lily found herself in Astronomy with four other students, all from Ravenclaw and Slytherin. None of them, however, shared in her library visits before class.

But someone else did.

The first Wednesday of the term found Lily arranging her books and noted on a table to the right side of the library, hidden between two biography shelves. Beside her sat a most unlikely study partner: James Potter. He said nothing as he pulled out the chair. He said nothing as he sat down. Said nothing as he crossed his arms over his chest and waited. In return, Lily said nothing, staring intently at the page in front of her as she tried to guess why in the world James Potter was sitting next to her.

She glanced over at him, only to see him looking right back at her. She gasped and turned back to her book. Then glanced over once more and saw him still looking.

Realizing that she would be unable to work with him just sitting there staring, and turned to him and asked, "What?"

"What what?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at her.

"What are you doing here?" He was acting too innocent, too good. He was obviously up to something.

"Sitting next to you," he replied, tapping his fingers on the wooden table. Lily wanted to hex those fingers off his body. Oh, and she wanted to kiss him. Good grief! She needed to get over this obsession.

"Why?" Lily asked.

"Why what?" His innocent act irritated her. A lot.

"Why are you sitting next to me?"

"To make your table that much better," he replied, smirking. Lily growled in irritation and turned back to her books, determined to ignore him. Determined that no matter how many times her eyes wandered over to him, she would not be pulled into talking with him. And while it was easy to not talk to him, as he offered no further words, it was impossible to ignore him.

Questions ran through Lily's head, distracting her from studying: Why was he there? Why was he talking to her? Why was he so close to her? Ack. Ack. Didn't he know she had to forget about him? Didn't he know that by sitting next to her he was only prolonging her horrible, horrible crush?

His presence set her on edge, tensed and distracted her, but she would never give him the satisfaction of knowing that. No. No. Lily would look steadfastly at her book and ignore him. Ignore him. Ignore him.

"Will you please leave?" Lily finally burst out.

"You don't want me to leave," James said, smirking. Lily almost hit him-- hit him for being arrogant and for being right. As distracting as he was proving to be, she wanted to be around him, see him, talk to him, look at him, snog him. Ack! Why couldn't she just forget this stupid infatuation she had with him?

"Didn't I make myself clear enough after the Defense O.W.L.?" asked Lily. She saw his face flush, but he deserved it. Why was he harassing her like this? A horrible answer flashed through her mind: he knew about her obsession with him. No. No. He couldn't. No one knew. But then why was he doing this?

"I'm not about to ask you out again," James said. "I thought you'd like company."

"I don't," Lily snapped, looking down at the book in front of her. If she expected to hear his chair scrape backward and for him to leave the table, she was in for a long wait. As she sat there, hour after hour, waiting for her midnight class, James Potter sat beside her, not saying a word. It was immensely uncomfortable.

And still she caught herself stealing glances towards him. She needed to stop that!

James Potter, it must be said, was not a heartthrob. Where Christian could have been a model, James never could. Christian's features were perfect: his eyes the bluest blue, his teeth straight and white, cheekbones high, and hair a soft golden colour. James, on the other hand, was too thin, too gangly, and his hair was too wild. A picture of James was not heart stopping to most. Lily was attracted to him-- if she was honest with herself, very attracted to him-- not just because she thought he was incredibly cute with his boyish charm, but also because of his edge of intelligence and carefree attitude. But that led to an awkward paradox.

While Lily loved that he understood his classes and wanted to talk with him about the various subjects, she hated that he told everyone how well he understood the lessons. While she loved that he didn't care about certain rules, she hated the fact that he blatantly showed disrespect to authority in general. She loved that he smiled mischievously, but hated the reasons for that smile: torturing Severus Snape, throwing wads of paper at the backs of professors, or he charming "hit me" signs on Slytherins.

Yes, yes, those were the images of James Potter that Lily had to remember. She had to remind herself that James Potter was mean and malevolent and Lily should have gotten over him ages ago.

But that wasn't easy when that evil boy sat quietly beside her for five hours, looking adorable because he never opened his mouth.

------

The next Wednesday, James Potter came back to the library during Lily's study time. He pulled out the chair to Lily's left and sat in there in silence for five hours. Lily asked no questions, he offered no conversation starters. It made Lily fidget.

If another person sat beside her, she needed noise, conversation, and activity. That was why she never studied or worked in groups, she felt too much need to converse instead of read. By sitting next to her as she struggled to read through books, James was torturing her. She couldn't think of anything but his presence. But she wouldn't let him know that. No, she sat and worked in silence the next Wednesday. And when he came back the next Wednesday and the one after that, she continued to say nothing and he also remained silent.

It drove her insane.

------

Lily and Remus shared their first patrol on the fifteenth of September. It was also a long, silent affair.

Through the duration of it, Remus looked varyingly like he was getting over a bad cold (which might have been the case as Lily had not seen him in classes for two days previous) and like he wanted to ask her a question. Lily wished he would just ask her the question so that they could begin talking, and she could eventually ask him why the hell his best friend James was intruding upon her Wednesdays.

She could have asked him if James had mentioned why he sat with her without saying a word, how he knew about her studying habits, and whether or not Remus could convince him to leave her alone. But, in the end, they returned to their common room with not a single word spoken between them. The highlight of the boring night had been finding two third years in an awkward position behind a suit of armor.

Lily was beginning to dread her time spent with either boy-- Remus because he never spoke during patrols, making the already-boring task painfully dull; and James because he said nothing and so she had no choice but to feel uncomfortable and glance at him a thousand times in one night, reminding herself how cute he was and hating herself for thinking about that fact.

------

With the tedium of prefect meetings, ever-harder classes, silent patrols, games of night tag, and uncomfortable Wednesday nights, the first month of school passed by. From the hot, smoldering days of September came October and thoughts of Halloween. At the urging (and vending) of James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter, flashes of orange and black clothing cropped up all over the castle. Girls wore orange ribbons in their hair and the boys threw orange streamers across the hallways. Filch, of course, was in an uproar and everyone was happy with his reaction.

Lily's and Remus's next patrol was scheduled for the twelfth of October, but Remus switched with the Ravenclaw fifth years and it fell on the twentieth of October, a Thursday.

Having discussed it with Sam, Tracy, and Christine before, Lily set out into this patrol with a determination to speak at least a little with the reclusive boy. She could not handle two silent nights in a row. They had been in the same classes for over five years. They lived in the same house, celebrated the same holidays. They were sure to have something to talk about.

"How are you feeling about Halloween?" she asked boldly. She knew practically nothing about this boy with light brown hair and worry lines etched in his forehead.

"What?" he asked, his eyes half-open as they passed through yet another empty corridor.

"Are you excited about Halloween?"

"Oh. Yes," he responded. Never one to except defeat, Lily pressed on with her questions.

"Are you doing anything with your friends?"

"We aren't planning any pranks." Bad question to ask, obviously. She pressed on.

"No. That's not what I was wondering. My friends and I are leaving for a Muggle village nearby. Tracy's aunt lives there. She married a Muggle. We're going trick-or-treating."

"Oh."

"We're dressing up and everything. Have you ever done that?"

"Once," he replied. Feeling encouraged by an answer, Lily continued.

"What did you dress up as?"

"A turtle, I think." How awkward.

"Was it fun?"

"I don't remember that well. I was young."

"Well, I'm dressing up as a princess. Sam-- Samantha Caldwell-- says she already knows what she wants to be, but won't tell me. Tracy's going as a football player. Christine wanted to go as a Muggle and we had to explain why that wouldn't work." A bit of laughter from Remus caught Lily off guard. She looked over at him and smiled. "What would you go as?"

"I don't know." They turned a corner, pictures protesting the bright light emitted by their badges.

"Guess."

"A goblin, maybe."

"After all their revolts, they must be interesting, right?" Lily quipped. "Uric the Oddball, at the very least, had to be interesting."

"Yeah," Remus said, a sort smile on his lips that looked as if it could have been considered playful on someone less serious. "And Glenda the Grouchy was horrible."

"I know!" Lily exclaimed, throwing up her hands. "That woman-- or goblette or whatever-- was a complete nutter. As if trying to burn Uric weren't bad enough, she had to bury him alive."

"And he enjoyed it," laughed Remus. Lily looked over at him, laughing too.

"I never thought about it, but I suppose you're one of the people who received an O in that subject," Lily agreed, lighting her wand to peak down a side corridor. "Too bad Hogwarts insists that every student, regardless of O.W.L.s, take it."

"You wouldn't want to take it?"

"No. I would," Lily replied. She too had received an O. "I might prefer some others not be there, though."

"Everyone should know history."

"I know, but sometimes they make it hard for me to learn."

"Who?" he asked. Lily carefully forgot to answer. This was the longest conversation she had ever had with her prefect partner (actually it was probably only the second conversation she'd had with him, the first being after that first meeting) and she did not want to ruin it by insulting his friends.

"I don't know why they make us patrol the school at night, it isn't like it does any good," complained Lily a few minutes later as they started us the stairs towards the Divination Tower. "It isn't like students can't notice the bright badges they make us wear."

"The badges give off light to aid us in our walking," Remus recited.

"And to warn off any students we might actually have a chance of catching."

A glance at Remus told Lily everything she needed to know. A slow smile was resting on his lips and his eyes focused on nothing. He'd obviously spent a great deal of his time running from prefects' light. Well, she had too, but she was not as obvious about it.

Remus was an oddity in that way. Sometimes Lily could read the emotions on his face like a billboard, and other times, like tonight, something Lily could not identify glistened in his eyes. It was something she saw quite a bit in Remus Lupin, something she hated because she could not put a name to it.

In a few years, Lily will be able to name that thing in his eye. She will fall asleep with it creating disturbing images in her mind. It will wake her up in the middle of the night and make her move closer to the solid presence beside her. It will force her to check on her baby, get up for work, and cry only when alone. It will make her fight against evil with her very soul. It is knowledge: knowledge that the world is not perfect, that death comes to everyone, that good friends are not immune to temptation, and that the fall of enemies is neither easy to accept nor bring about. It is a mix of the knowledge that sometimes there are things beyond your control and the strength to accept that fact.

------

Lily returned from her patrol tired. After their initial bout of conversation, Lily and Remus fell silent once more and the energy drained out of Lily as the night dragged on. Trudging up to her dorm, Lily undid her orange hair ties and the buttons on her heavy cloak, holding it dangling over her right arm so as to escape the heat it brought on her. The door to her room creaked when she shoved her shoulder against it to open it, and then bright lights and loud noises assaulted her.

"Happy birthday to Lily. Happy birthday to Lily," sang the three girls in the magically brightened room. Each held in her hands a large cake of varying colors. As the song continued, Lily started laughing and went to hug each of her friends, thanking them.

"It's midnight. That means you're seventeen. It's a really big important day," Christine said, handing Lily one of the most disgusting-looking cakes the redhead had ever seen. It looked like someone swiped their finger across the frosting. A lot.

"This is the most disgusting looking cake I've ever seen."

"The frosting looked really tasty," whined Christine. Then Tracy and Sam both gave her their cakes and smiled.

"We had the house elves make them, but we watched," Tracy explained.

"No you didn't," accused Lily. "There is no way any of you would voluntarily watch a cake being made."

"True," said Christine, nodding her head. When the two other girls looked at her in exasperation she exclaimed, "What? We wouldn't!" Lily laughed and put her cakes on the ground.

"Listen, I'm really grateful and everything, but I'm also"-- a yawn interrupted her words-- "knackered and need my sleep for tomorrow."

"Why, what's happening tomorrow?" asked Tracy in her most innocent voice.

"My surprise party."

"True," agreed Christine from her place on the floor beside the cakes. She managed to get herself a fork and was munching happily away on the two edible-looking cakes.

"Christine!" exclaimed the other two.

"What? She knew!"

Lily smirked as she changed out of her clothes and into her night things. She was safely tucked away in her bed, about to slip off into a wonderfully relaxing dream state when the arguments of her friends grabbed her attention again.

"I didn't tell her about the surprise, did I?" Christine asked, sounding huffy. Lily sat up.

"What surprise?" Lily asked, eyes alight.

"You suck at secrets," Sam said to Christine.

"Who care? Focus on Lily. It's her birthday. What's the surprise?" Lily said in a rush.

"Oops?" Christine said, popping another piece of cake into her mouth. Tracy pulled out her wand and vanished the remainder of the three cakes. Christine looked shocked and then very sad as she continued to stare at the place where the cakes once were. "I wasn't done."

"Surprise!" said Tracy mockingly.

"But I wasn't done!" pouted the leggy blond girl still hunched over on the floor, looking very sad indeed.

"What's my surprise?" inquired Lily, trying and failing to sound casual. Seeing that no one was about to respond to her inquiries, she decided to become annoying. "What's my surprise? What's my surprise? What's my surprise? What's my surprise? What's my surprise? What's my surprise?"

"That's already annoying," quipped Sam, sitting down in the middle of her four-poster (the one opposite Lily), stretching.

And so the night crept by as Lily kept pestering them for answers, Sam ignoring her, Tracy glaring at Christine, and Christine still complaining about her vanished cakes.

------

The surprise, as it turned out, was one of the worst in Lily's short life. Her birthday landed on a Friday and, as none of the girls slept, they were dead tired. And irritable.

"What's my surprise?" barked Lily, way past merely asking and now into full frontal badgering.

"Do you think that is less annoying now than it was before the sun rose?" asked Tracy in a very snippy voice. They were sitting at breakfast together-- along with the rest of their house. Lily and Tracy sat opposite each other with Christine and Sam next to them respectively.

"Lily, listen, I'll tell you what my surprise is," said Sam as she took a few pieces of bacon.

"Your surprise?" Lily asked.

"We each got you one. Mine is this," Sam explained, handing Lily a box. Carefully unwrapping it, Lily lifted the lid and--

"Sam!" she squealed loudly, throwing off the packaging and holding up an orange blob. "This is perfect."

"What is the world is that?" Tracy asked, poking the blob with her spoon across the table.

"It's a Muggle Halloween costume. The lady in the store said it was perfect for a seventeen year old girl."

Lily, while they were talking, had put on the costume and was now a perfectly content pumpkin, beaming at her friends across the Gryffindor table. The pumpkin (which was the orange blob that was actually a round almost-dress that fell to her knees) had a smiley face on it and sagged a little around the middle, but the white gloves on her hands, black booties on her feet, and elastically attached orange top hot managed to make Lily- who was naturally stunning- looking positively stupid. She also looked adorable.

"Halloween fever just exploded into an epidemic," Sirius Black announced on the other side of the table.

"It'll kill the children, it will," James Potter agreed.

Lily heard him, felt a sharp pang of embarrassment but pushed it away, angry with herself for giving him so much power of her. No other person in her year or house could manage to hurt her the way James could. Why his opinion should mattered to her, she did not know. Sam, Christine, and Tracy were too tired to care that their friend looked ridiculous. Even if they were coherent, they would not have said anything. Actually, they probably would have created costumes of their own and joined in the fun.

"So what's your surprise?" Lily asked Christine. Just as she was about to say something, Tracy covered her mouth with her hand. Lily spun on the smaller girl. "Why'd you do that?"

"Because mine is better," Tracy said casually. "So you can have mine now, if you want."

"Yes!" Lily said, clapping her glove-covered hands together in childish delight. So Tracy brought an envelope out from under the table. Lily ducked under to see if there was anything in Christine's lap. There wasn't.

"Here you are," Tracy said, tossing to her across the table. Lily opened this one a bit slower, took out the letter and carefully read it over. Her friend, being strange and prone to adventure, had sent Lily a treasure map. It was filled with clues and strange symbols that were meant to signify different points throughout the castle. It would be very fun to figure out.

"This is so cool! Thank you," Lily said, smiling at her friend. Tracy always had been the creative one. Christine came up with the big ideas and Tracy made them work- Christine had been the one to think of playing a game at night and two weeks later Tracy handed all four of them the rules to magical laser tag.

"Don't worry. I'm sure you'll love the buried treasure." Her tone scared Lily, who knew exactly what sort of thing Tracy's devious mind could create.

"So, Christine, can I have your surprise yet?" Lily asked. Christine looked surprised to be addressed.

"What?"

"My surprise?"

"Oh! Sure. He's right over there," she said, pointing behind Lily. At her words, Lily's heart dropped a little and she almost knew before looking what she would see. Christine, for all of her wonderful bluntness, was rather thick about certain other things. Still, she turned because she knew she had to and there she saw-

"Christian," Lily whispered.

"Hottie!" chirped Christine.

"Oh no," groaned Tracy at the same time. If Lily hadn't been overrun with shock, she would have noticed the way Tracy's eyes shot over to James.

"Is that who I think it is, Christine?" Sam asked, staring at him.

"Yep."

"Why would you ever invite him here?" Tracy continued as Lily wordlessly rose and walked towards the smiling boy.

"Don't worry. I asked Professor Dumbledore's permission," Christine said.

"I don't think that's what she meant," Sam put in. Together the three of them sat- one happy and the other two feeling dread for different reasons- as they watched the reunion of Lily and Christian.

------

"Hi," Lily said, hugging Christian because she did not know what else to do. In his embrace, Lily was reminded of kissing him on her front porch, walking with him through the park, teaching him to roller-skate. But in the stiffness of his arms, the way he quickly stepped out of her embrace, she felt the distance she had put between them. He still felt hurt by her rejection and that crushed Lily, making her dread the coming day.

"Where's my hug?" asked a voice to Lily's left, making her glance over and see one of the most welcome sights in her life:

"Ian!" she exclaimed, almost sighing in relief to have someone to share this day with besides her ex-boyfriend. He stepped forward, smiling, and she hugged him.

"Hullo," Ian said as she let him go.

"What're you doing here?" Lily asked them both.

"Christine O'Connell asked me to come celebrate your birthday." Christian's formal tone unnerved Lily. "And Ian asked if he might come too."

"How long are you staying?"

"Our Portkey leaves at four."

"So you'll be coming to my classes with me? That'll be fun. You can tell me what's different, what's the same," Lily said, trying to sound enthusiastic as she ran her timetable over in her head.

"What are you wearing?" asked Christian, seeming to notice for the first time. Lily looked down.

"A pumpkin costume," she replied.

"Why?"

"Because it's almost Halloween and Sam gave it to me for my birthday."

"Oh."

"A little too enthused about candy, aren't you?" Ian asked. Lily smiled and nodded at him as Christian looked confused, then hurt. Lily's heart almost broke at the sight.

"We skipped breakfast to come here. Do you think we could eat with you?" Ian asked, sensing the tension. Lily glanced at him, then back at Christian, and nodded. As she led the two boys back over to her table, Lily was glad to see Ian smile at all the strangers looking at him, and dismayed to see Christian looking only at her. She was glad to have Sam in nearly all of her Friday classes. She could share in the awkwardness of the day.

And boy was that day awkward.

------

Christian and Ian followed Lily around, the latter asking eager questions about the stairs and suits of armor and classes and even Moaning Myrtle, while the former said nothing. Every able-bodied girl in the school tried to pull Lily away from them to ask a hurried question about his availability. Lily ignored all of them.

Introducing Christian and Ian to the Charms class had been interesting. While Professor Flitwick eagerly asked both of them to talk about Charms after class, the students' eyes locked on Lily and asked the unspoken question, "How do you know Christian? Who is he to you?" She ignored those eyes and managed to do little less than panic as she tried to learn. It was her birthday for Heaven's sake, and it was terribly stressful. Christine could be such an idiot.

------

"You are learning about transfiguring large animals into other large animals?" Christian asked during Transfiguration. Lily stiffened at his tone. She loved this school and this castle, she didn't want to have anyone complain about it.

"We are just ending those lessons now, and soon we'll be working on--"

A small explosion in the back of the room interrupted her explanation. Lily turned to see Ian covered in black soot, laughing. He was squashed between James Potter and Sam, with Tracy on the other side of James. All of them were laughing. It was such a strange mix of people that it took a moment for Lily to realize the feeling rattling around in her stomach was jealousy. She wanted to be a part of that group, strange a mixture as it was, instead of stuck here with Christian as he analyzed the lessons.

Why was it so easy for Ian to become friends with Sam? Sure, they met back in August, but they had hardly spoken. And where had Sirius disappeared to after breakfast that he hadn't been in lessons all day? And why were Sam, Tracy, and Ian sitting so comfortably with James? Why? She hadn't even sat in the same part of the room as him in years. Why was she so absolutely incapable of-- of what? Being near James? Didn't he sit next to her every Wednesday, waiting for her to ask him questions?

"You were going to tell me what your next lesson would be," Christian prompted, pulling Lily from her pitying thoughts. She turned to him, admired his good looks, and tried to force herself to be happy to see him again, instead of wallowing in the awkwardness of the entire situation.

"Right. Sorry." And so she turned back to the boy whose heart she had broken, the boy she thought she had left behind, the boy who had never really managed to keep her from thinking about the boy she really wanted to be with.

------

Lunch was another uncomfortable affair, squashing Lily between Christian and Christine. How she would have loved for Ian to be sitting next to her instead of on the other side of the table, chatting with some first years about the moving staircases. He impressed her housemates with his use of the French language, and they impressed him by throwing an apple at the head of a friend of theirs. Meanwhile, Christian sat in silence next to Lily.

When the day finally came to an end, Lily led Christian and Ian to Professor Dumbledore's office to take their Portkey back to Beauxbaton. There, while Lily prepared to say goodbye, Christian asked if he might speak with her alone. Lily nodded and let him lead her into a corner, then listened to him speak.

"My family was invited to a Ministry Ball on New Year's Eve and I was hoping you would escort me," Christian said.

"A ball?" Lily asked, for lack of anything better to say. Did he really want to spend more time with her? Was he really that oblivious to the uncomfortable tension that settled on them all day? Did he want to prolong the pain? Was this his way of getting back at her for breaking up with him?

"Yes. It's to celebrate the promise of the New Year under the Minister-elect. I understand that we're no longer anything more than friends but--"

"I'd love to accompany you," Lily said, trying to head-off an even more horrible conversation about the new boundaries of their relationship. Even at that moment, Lily knew she should not have agreed. She did not want to go with him. She would probably not enjoy the experience, but he smiled beautifully in response, nodded, and moved back to the centre of the room where Dumbledore and Ian waited for them.

Christian went over to the headmaster, shook his hand and began to say his thanks. In the meantime, Ian hugged Lily.

"I had a great time. It doesn't look like you did, though," Ian said, stepping back and facing her.

"Don't worry," Lily said miserably, glancing over to make sure that Christian wasn't listening.

"Did he ask you to the Ball?"

"You knew he would? You knew and you didn't tell me?" Ian shrugged. "Couldn't you have at least warned me a little."

"Hey, he's my friend and I thought taking you would be a great idea. Why wouldn't it be?"

"For a billion reasons that I really shouldn't have to explain. You could have stopped this. You could have warned me, or hit him over the head with a large object. Anything!"

"You might have fun."

"Sure," muttered Lily, accepting defeat. Ian patted her on the head.

"I expect to have many owls from Hogwarts in the coming months. Remind James and Samantha to write me as well," Ian said.

"Wait. Why?"

"Because they said they would," Ian replied. "And the next time I see you, I expect you to be dressed up as something a little more inventive than a pumpkin. Happy birthday!"

"Oh. Yes. Happy birthday, Lily. It was a pleasure," Christian said, joining Lily and Ian moments before their Portkey activated and sent them far, far away.

After the boys left, Lily thanked the headmaster for letting them come and walked back to her dorm in a daze, trying to sort through all the thoughts disco dancing in her head. Why had she agreed to go to the ball? Why had she said yes?

Shoving the portrait open wide, Lily marched in to find Christine laying in front of the fire, her toes moving pleasurably close to the flames.

"Why would you do that to me?" exclaimed Lily from halfway across the room. If she cared to notice, the room stopped and stared at her (and not just because she was still in that silly costume).

"What?" asked Christine, rolling her head to the side to see Lily.

"Why would you have invited him here?" Lily asked as she walked across the room, only to stand above her friend.

"Hottie?"

"Christian!" Lily replied, burying her head in her hands.

"I thought it would be a nice present."

"But you knew we broke up!"

"So? That doesn't make him any less of a present." Lily threw her hands up into the air and screamed out her frustration. The people in the room stopped and stared again. This time Lily noticed.

"I'm seventeen! Yay!" she yelled with fake-happiness, trying to cover up her strange yell. When she saw a few first years looking at her, she said, "And I am equally happy that you are eleven."

"I'm twelve," one of the first years called back.

"Of course you are! Congratulations!" Lily yelled and started clapping.

"You're insane," came the voice of Sam, making Lily start. She turned to find the black-haired girl sitting on one of the couches nearby. "How did the good-byes go?"

"Horribly. I am now officially going on a sort of date with Christian," Lily mumbled, settling down into a vacant chair beside her two best friends.

"Ew. Why?" asked Sam.

"Because he's gorgeous," supplied Christine, relaxing back into a position where she rested her head on her arms.

"Why did you invite him?" Lily asked Christine, then turned to Sam and asked, "Why did you let her invite him?"

"I didn't know what she was doing. Neither did Tracy."

"Well, isn't that just perfect?" lamented Lily.

"When's the date?" asked Christine.

"New Year's Eve."

"What?" the two girls exclaimed together, both turning to look at her with abject horror covering their faces. Christine was the first to regain her voice.

"Tracy's party is that night."

"Ah!" moaned Lily. "I forgot. I can't believe I forgot. She's been planning that for months."

"What can't you believe you forgot?" asked Tracy, walking up behind the three girls and looking suspicious. For a five foot two inch girl with an innocent face and easygoing personality, she sure did inspire fear when she wanted. It was the beater in her.

"I made a date with Christian on New Year's Eve," Lily explained. To her surprise, Tracy's face didn't change one bit.

"I thought you weren't dating," Tracy said.

"We aren't," Lily said. Then she proceeded to explain the situation as Tracy walked over to the couch Sam was on and sat down.

"Wait. New Year's Eve Ball? You're invited to the Ministry Ball," proclaimed Christine with large eyes and her most serious voice. Lily shrugged and nodded. "You have to go."

"But Tracy's been planning this party and I don't really want to go with Christian and lead him on--"

"You don't understand. Only the most powerful, important, famous, fabulous, old people go to that Ball. There are journalists who wait outside the exit for days on the off-chance of speaking to one of the guests," Christine said quickly. The tall blonde girl's brown eyes unfocused as she stared into the fire. She seemed to be daydreaming and Lily resisted the urge to wave a hand in front of her friend's eyes.

"She's overreacting, right?" Lily asked her two other friends. Tracy shook her head.

"I don't know as much about it as Christine because she follows these sort of things as if they could grant her top box tickets to the World Cup, but even I know that this Ball is an event. It's held at the Crystal Ball, right?" Tracy asked. Lily shrugged and Sam nodded. "You can't even get in there without a Portkey. My parents had to make reservations a year in advance for their anniversary."

"You're exaggerating," Lily accused.

"Slightly," acknowledged Tracy, "but it is an exclusive restaurant and the party's even more prestigious. I'll excuse you from my party for this. Easy."

"I don't want to be excused from your party."

"Then why did you accept the date?"

"Because I wasn't thinking."

"That's obvious," quipped Sam.

"Lily's going to the Ministry Ball and I'm not," muttered Christine as she rose from her spot and wandered off towards their dorm.

"I don't know that I want to go to a such an important Ball," said Lily.

"You'll be fine. Come to Tracy's earlier that day and we'll dress you up," offered Sam.

But still doubts lingered in Lily's mind. Sam--who came from an old, powerful wizarding family--might think the Ball was not that big of a deal, but Lily--who potently felt her Muggle roots every moment she spent in the wizarding world--did not want to surround herself with people who thought they were her betters. Tracy's large, raucous party sounded much more appealing. She had invited nearly every student in their year (except the Slytherins), Matt had invited a lot of seventh years, and nearly all of the fifth years had also received invitations.

"So Christian coming wasn't a complete mistake after all, was it?" Tracy asked Lily.

"Why not?"

"Because you were invited to the Ball," she replied.

"It's not really that big a thing, right?"

"It's important," Sam said, "but I think Christine's real excitement is in the fact that you and Christian as so young. Normally only the head of a family's invited, which ought to be his parents. I suppose they had something else to do that night, though."

"Argh! I don't want this," Lily muttered.

"On a positive note, Ian's even more fun than I remember," Sam added.

"He mentioned something about you," Lily said, vaguely remembering even though it was not too long before. "And he mentioned James."

"The two of them hit it off like old friends," Sam told her. "It was a bit disturbing."

"Not Remus and Peter and Sirius?"

"Remus is visiting his aunt right now, Sirius was missing all day, and Peter was sitting next to his girlfriend in Transfiguration. On the other hand, James and I had all the free time in the world to chat with him," Sam explained. "While you were trying to keep Bimbo-Boy from complaining too loudly about this beautiful castle, Ian was learning how to make his notes turn into cranes and deliver themselves. Apparently, rule breaking hardly happens at Beauxbatons."

"And it's no wonder with that crazy woman as their headmistress," Tracy said. "She wanted to ban Quidditch."

"Ian thought James was brilliant. He kept asking him questions about this or that and James just lapped it up," Sam continued. Lily felt a stab of that same irrational jealousy surge through her. She wanted to be able to talk to James so easily. She wanted to talk with him at all without blowing up in his face like a fool. She scolded herself. She had the chance to talk to him every Wednesday. What she really wanted was the ability to talk him with.

"Great. He flamed his ego," Lily muttered, taking off her white gloves, booties and hat from the costume before pulling the actual pumpkin costume off as well.

"He isn't that bad," Tracy said. "James has really calmed down."

"I'll believe that when I see Snape walk into the Great Hall for breakfast without some sort of hex on his person."

"But Snape's so gross," Tracy said.

"He's still human," pressed Lily.

"He's a Slytherin. They are barely human and mostly evil," Tracy said. It bothered Lily, the way Tracy regarded Slytherins: she had not even consider inviting them to her party; when they tripped in the hallway, Tracy stepped over them. Tracy treated Slytherins with more prejudice than Lily ever felt herself subjected to at their hands.

"You have to admit, some of the pranks he pulled on Snape have been funny," Tracy said.

"But most of them were cruel," Lily replied.

"No. Most of his ideas are stupid, like the way James used to fly down to breakfast," Sam said. Lily let out a burst of laughter, remembering one of James's worst ideas.

"And how he used to ostentatiously bring food into the common room, yelling, 'Sirius, I think we got too much food!' and acted shocked when people asked him where he got it from?" Lily said.

"How about that night you ran into his friends and him when we were playing the Game?" Sam said, laughing along with Lily.

"They were so confused!" Tracy laughed.

"And then the way he threw open the door to our dorm?" The three girls kept giggling, remembering all of the occasions when James Potter tried and obviously failed to look cool.

"Speaking of which: I can't believe you lost the September Game by thirty points, Lily," Sam said, pointing at her redheaded friend.

"I'm only letting you think you beat me--"

"In every Game since we were thirteen," supplied Tracy.

"So that you feel better about yourselves," Lily finished, ignoring the interruption. The three girls laughed at that, knowing Lily's horrendous scores stemmed from her blatant lack of ability in Defence. While the game had taught them all how to hit a target from over two hundred feet away, Lily could not manage to create a curse with enough energy to actually travel that far. She reeked at curse work. Always had.

"You know, James has gotten better. He's curbed his attitude quite a bit," Tracy said, bridging the gap in conversation with her almost-casual tone.

"No he hasn't," Lily scoffed.

"He has. He's been nothing but polite with me. He works with McGonagall-"

"When no one was looking because he can't ruin his reputation."

"And he's good friends with the house-elves."

"I'm not surprised. They probably worship the ground he works on. That's what James looks for in a friend," Lily said. "But I think I made some progress with Remus. We spoke for what had to be five minutes. Or at least two."

"That's more than zero," Sam agreed amicably.

"But seriously, James has--"

"Tracy?" interrupted Sam, knowing that the last person Lily wanted to talk about on her seventeenth birthday was her long-time crush and even longer heartache. "Go hit a bludger."

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