Disclaimer: The only thing I share with J.K. Rowling is
a tendency to play minesweeper to pass time on the computer – and she’s still
better at it than I am (my best time on the expert level is 113 seconds)
Thank you to my Betas, Elanor Gamgee at Sugar Quill, who is my POV
conscience and punctuation guru, and my new Phoenix Song Beta, Bring and Fly,
who is helping me keep things British.
Whoever invented Betas is a genius.
Chapter One: The Right Question
“…And in the spirit of celebrating and finding joy when and
while we can,” Dumbledore was saying, “this year’s Halloween Feast will be
followed by a dance for all fourth years and above – a ‘Ghoul’s Ball’ if you
Dumbledore’s first announcement that evening had been that
Hogsmeade weekends would be both limited in number and time that year due to
the current political tensions. While
he outlined the specific restrictions (Curfews were staggered by year, under no
circumstances was anyone to go beyond the main street without a Prefect or
Teacher and absolutely no visits to either the Hogshead or the Shrieking Shack)
and students groaned – Head boy, James Potter, told his mates that there had
apparently been some debate among the staff over whether anybody should be
allowed out into Hogsmeade at all, and this was the compromise – with the Ball
as consolation. It seemed to be
working. Even the Slytherins couldn’t
contain their excitement as a murmur spread through the Great Hall. It almost made up for the restriction on
Hogsmeade weekends. Now there was
something else to look forward to.
Speculation over who would go with whom dominated the conversation for
the remainder of the Welcoming Feast and the subsequent walks to the respective
house common rooms.
The usually aloof Marauders were not immune to the
excitement, though with a Prefect and Head Boy among them, the Hogsmeade
restrictions were only a minor annoyance.
None of them intended to miss out on their monthly explorations either
(not that Moony had a choice), but any excuse to party was a good one for
them. Sirius was particularly gleeful
and while many of the younger boys were either skulking miserably or rushing
with wild-eyed anxiety to their respective common rooms, Sirius was flirting
outrageously with every group of giggling girls they passed.
“Padfoot, you can’t be serious about those fourth year
Hufflepuffs,” Remus was admonishing Sirius, who didn’t bother to hide his grin,
as they entered the portrait hole in Gryffindor tower. “You shouldn’t encourage
“Don’t be such a killjoy, Moony,” Sirius retorted. “I was
only trying to round someone up for Wormtail here.”
He ruffled the hair of their shorter friend affectionately,
ignoring Peter’s protests that he could find his own dates.
The foursome took up their usual corner, flopping into the
plush chairs where they had an optimum view of the room, not to mention giving
most everyone else the optimum view of them.
Remus continued to scold Sirius for flirting while the
latter ignored him, instead observing the approach of the new fifth year
Prefect. She had descended the girls’
dormitory stairs with an armload of books, which was odd considering they
hadn’t had any classes yet. Just as she
passed Remus’s chair, she tripped unconvincingly, dropping her books right at
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she
exclaimed, her words only slightly more sincere than her actions.
“Not to worry,” Remus said, bending over to help her collect
the books and offering her a trademark Moony kind and gentle smile.
Her cheeks pinkened. “Thanks. I thought I’d get
a little head start tonight. O.W.L.
year, you know.”
Sirius snorted disbelievingly,
earning a sidelong scowl from his friend.
“Very commendable,” Remus encouraged, “but don’t push
yourself, make sure you leave some room for fun.”
She smiled brightly. “I’ll try.”
“Good,” he said, handing her the last book and flashing
another smile, “and let me know if you need help with anything, I’m not a bad
The pink in her cheeks deepened
to red. “I will…Remus.”
With that, she reeled and bounded back up the girls’
dormitory stairs, presumably to return the unopened books to her trunk.
Sirius let out another snort. “Head start on O.W.L.s, my arse!” he
exclaimed. “And do you really think you
should be encouraging her, Moony?” he continued, happy to turn Remus’s scolding
“It’s not the same if you’re actually considering asking the
girl out,” Remus countered reasonably.
Sirius’s eyebrows shot up.
“Moony, you dog!” he exclaimed.
Remus leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, “No,
Padfoot, I’m the wolf and you’re the dog.”
That earned him an appreciative
chuckle from his friends.
“But Moony, Beatrice Bennet? I mean, she’s no troll certainly; but she’s not a stunner
either. You’ve never expressed an
interest in her before.”
“Well, she’s a Prefect now.
I just noticed her on the Express today,” Remus admitted. “She had a very … intriguing scent.” Remus’s eyes took on a feral glow
reminiscent of the pre-transformation wildness that overtook him. His look left little doubt in what way he
Sirius was momentarily at a loss
for words, and then he smiled hugely.
“Moony! I’m glad to see I’m finally rubbing off on you!”
He turned to James and nudged him.
“Did you hear that, Prongs?
Intriguing scent – who knew?
It’s always the quiet ones.”
James, who, in Sirius’s opinion, had not held up his end of
the conversation at all, nodded and managed to grin. “Makes you want to re-think your entire strategy, eh? Padfoot?”
“Nah, you don’t fix what isn’t broken … but speaking of strategy, we
ought to come up with one. I was
thinking maybe those twins in Ravenclaw sixth year? Their blonde hair would set off our black and we wouldn’t have to
worry about whose date was whose…”
James, who had been alternating between glancing at the
portrait hole, straightening his glasses and uncharacteristically patting down
his hair, suddenly stood.
“Maybe, Padfoot,” he said, straightening his shoulders and
sighing resignedly. “I’ll let you know
after I get my annual rejection over with.”
Sirius followed James’s gaze to where Lily Evans and the
other seventh year Gryffindor girls were entering. A couple glanced over at the Marauders’ corner, but Lily walked
by without a glance as usual. Well,
Sirius admitted, not quite as usual.
Instead of striding by with her head down and scowling, she was all but
floating past with her head high and an almost serene smile on her face.
“Why bother at all, mate?”
Sirius asked. “Let yourself off for once and don’t ask her.”
James turned back to his friend,
a strange expression on his face. “I
“But why?” Sirius
didn’t understand this bizarre need to be put down, especially when practically
every other girl at Hogwarts would jump at the chance to be with James.
James shrugged helplessly. “Because I must.”
When James turned and headed
towards Evans, Sirius stood to follow.
“‘He must!’” he muttered in disgust. “Just because he must
doesn’t mean he has to embarrass himself in front of the entire common room.”
Lily and company were halfway to the girls’ dormitory
stairs. Sirius could definitely reach
James and stall him until she was in literal
no-man’s land. As he stepped forward,
though, a restraining hand landed on his shoulder. He turned back to see Remus.
“Let him,” Remus said simply.
“But, Moony, it’s getting ridiculous. At least let’s try to convince him to ask
her in private.”
“Just let him,” Remus repeated,
a strange secret smile playing at his lips.
The two turned towards their determined friend. Peter sat on the edge of his seat behind
them. James caught up with Lily just as
she reached the foot of the stairs.
“Hey, Evans,” he said, clearing
his throat to cover the hint of a crack.
She folded her arms across her chest and arched her brow at
him. Her friends turned and flanked
her, grinning expectantly at James after casting knowing looks over his
shoulder at his friends.
“Erm, uh…” James stammered and looked around. He seemed to just realize that not only his
mates and Lily’s troupe of friends were watching, but also every Gryffindor
left in the common room was eyeing them with interest. At this point there was obviously no way to
beg off and try again in a more private setting without embarrassing himself
anyway. So like a true Gryffindor and Marauder, he plunged forward.
“Has anyone asked you to the
Ghoul’s Ball yet?”
The corners of her mouth
twitched up. It looked as if she was
going to laugh at him. Sirius’s mind
scrambled for an escape for his friend.
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” she
“Two Ravenclaws, a gawky Hufflepuff, and a very adorable
fourth year from this very house,” supplied the ever-helpful Victoria Farrell.
“That’s what took us so long
getting up here from the Great Hall,” explained Constance Harding.
James’s shoulders sagged.
Sirius didn’t know who the Hufflepuff or the fourth year could be, but
he expected one of the Ravenclaws must be Thomas Quinn. Anyone within earshot on Platform Nine and
Three Quarters this morning had heard Lily all but accuse James of stealing the
Head Boy Badge from him. At least no
Slytherin had dared ask her. It wasn’t
like James could have expected a sudden acceptance from her after all these years.
“Great, then,” James said, with
obvious forced airiness. “Have a good
time then, right.”
He turned to make his way back
to his friends.
“James Potter!” The commanding voice of an irate Lily Evans
stopped him in his tracks.
He turned to look at her.
Her hands had moved to her hips.
She tossed her hair and sighed at him in obvious exasperation. What she had to be so annoyed about wasn’t
clear. Generally she was yelling at him
to go away and leave her alone, not calling him back. One would think she’d be relieved that he didn’t cajole or pester
her as he used to. Maybe she wanted one
last opportunity to really set him down.
Tell him how much more mature her date was or something. And knowing James, he would suffer through
it as long as he could listen to her, look at her, a little longer. He was such a stupid prat – at least when it
came to Lily.
“For someone who’s supposed to
be so clever, you really are dense.”
“Huh?” James made a less than articulate sound to indicate he had no
idea what she was getting at now?
“What was the first thing Professor Flitwick taught us in
Charms?” Her voice was taking on a lecturing tone – she would make an excellent
professor someday, if she wanted.
“You’re the one who gets top
marks in Charms,” he countered a bit sullenly.
“How you phrase a spell is just
as important as the spell itself,” she explained tolerantly.
He was obviously not
“Huh?” he repeated.
She sighed. “You asked the wrong question.”
James’s face contorted in a puzzled frown. He obviously couldn’t remember what he asked
her. His hand rose to ruffle his hair
as it often did when he was thinking.
At the last moment, he caught himself, bringing it around to rub the
back of his neck instead. Lily’s eyes
followed his movements and her mouth twitch in amusement. None of this was helping him get whatever
her point was. He looked at her
“You asked me if anyone had asked me to the ball.” Her voice was soft and patient, as one might
address a child, with a subtle timbre that suggested something more.
James nodded dazedly.
“You didn’t ask if I’d accepted any of the invitations.”
Her green eyes were looking at him very directly now. James visibly swallowed, then stammered out,
“No,” she responded, shaking her head with deliberate
James swayed on his feet looking as though he might
swoon. Sirius stepped forward, thinking
to put a steadying hand on his mate’s shoulder, but Moony restrained him again.
voice was husky and alluring, but with a certain steel behind it. It was probably what gave James the strength
to keep standing. Certainly she had
never spoken to him quite that way before. “Ask me the right question.”
“L-lily,” he stammered at first, but he managed to steady
his voice. “Will you go to the dance
She smiled then.
“Yes, James, I will,” she answered simply.
“All right, then.
That’s settled,” he said decisively, though he was apparently in a
delirious daze. This was evidenced by
the way he grabbed her hand and shook it vigorously as if sealing a business
deal, and then turned around to look at his friends. The smile on his face could only be described as goofy.
Now behind him, Lily watched his back for a minute, then
sighed and shrugged in an amused way before turning to her own giggling friends
and heading up the girls’ dormitory stairs.
The goofy grin had not left James’s face as he walked back
to the Marauders’ corner with his mates.
Moony grinned back, far more knowingly, and clapped him on the
shoulder. Wormtail beamed from his
chair. Sirius, well, he just gaped with
shock for a moment before bursting out laughing.
“Prongs, you big prat!” he howled. “You shook her hand!
There she was, waiting for you to sweep her into your arms, and you
acted as if you were congratulating her on a good round of chess. Very
smooth, mate, I don’t know how she’s resisted you ‘til now.”
James’s face fell.
He glanced at Moony whose wolfishly gleaming eyes confirmed the worst of
it. Wormtail, who probably hadn’t seen
the joke until Sirius spelled it out, was laughing heartily. Sirius could barely contain himself.
“Do you really think she…? I didn’t even…” James couldn’t
frame his thoughts coherently and he turned,
probably hoping to correct his error.
But Lily was long gone. He
flopped into his chair and buried his face in his hands with a groan.
“Cheer up, mate.”
Sirius patted his shoulder amiably.
“You have almost two months until the ball – plenty of time to make it
up to her. There’s a very accommodating
broom cupboard on the fifth floor…”
“Knock it off, Padfoot,” James growled, glaring at his
friend. “Lily is not the broom cupboard
type. Oh, Merlin – I’ve ruined it. She’s going to change her mind.” He dropped his face back into his hands and
“Oh, I think it’s safe
to say her mind is made up,” said Remus with such calm conviction that James
lifted his head with a hopeful look and seemed to take some solace in his