Disclaimer: The only thing I share with J.K. Rowling is a tendency to play minesweeper to pass time on the computer Ė and sheís 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.
"ÖAnd in the spirit of celebrating and finding joy when and while we can," Dumbledore was saying, "this yearís Halloween Feast will be followed by a dance for all fourth years and above Ė a ĎGhoulís Ballí if you willÖ"
Dumbledoreís 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 Ė 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 Ė with the Ball as consolation. It seemed to be working. Even the Slytherins couldnít 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 canít be serious about those fourth year Hufflepuffs," Remus was admonishing Sirius, who didnít bother to hide his grin, as they entered the portrait hole in Gryffindor tower. "You shouldnít encourage them."
"Donít 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 Peterís 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 girlsí dormitory stairs with an armload of books, which was odd considering they hadnít had any classes yet. Just as she passed Remusís chair, she tripped unconvincingly, dropping her books right at his feet.
"Oh, Iím 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 Iíd 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 donít push yourself, make sure you leave some room for fun."
She smiled brightly. "Iíll try."
"Good," he said, handing her the last book and flashing another smile, "and let me know if you need help with anything, Iím not a bad tutor."
The pink in her cheeks deepened to red. "I willÖRemus."
With that, she reeled and bounded back up the girlsí 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 Remusís scolding against him.
"Itís not the same if youíre actually considering asking the girl out," Remus countered reasonably.
Siriusís eyebrows shot up. "Moony, you dog!" he exclaimed.
Remus leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, "No, Padfoot, Iím the wolf and youíre the dog."
That earned him an appreciative chuckle from his friends.
"But Moony, Beatrice Bennet? I mean, sheís no troll certainly; but sheís not a stunner either. Youíve never expressed an interest in her before."
"Well, sheís a Prefect now. I just noticed her on the Express today," Remus admitted. "She had a very Ö intriguing scent." Remusís eyes took on a feral glow reminiscent of the pre-transformation wildness that overtook him. His look left little doubt in what way he was intrigued.
Sirius was momentarily at a loss for words, and then he smiled hugely.
"Moony! Iím glad to see Iím finally rubbing off on you!" He turned to James and nudged him. "Did you hear that, Prongs? Intriguing scent Ė who knew? Itís always the quiet ones."
James, who, in Siriusís 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?"
Sirius shrugged. "Nah, you donít fix what isnít broken Ö 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 wouldnít have to worry about whose date was whoseÖ"
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. "Iíll let you know after I get my annual rejection over with."
Sirius followed Jamesís gaze to where Lily Evans and the other seventh year Gryffindor girls were entering. A couple glanced over at the Maraudersí 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 donít ask her."
James turned back to his friend, a strange expression on his face. "I have to."
"But why?" Sirius didnít 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.
"ĎHe must!í" he muttered in disgust. "Just because he must doesnít mean he has to embarrass himself in front of the entire common room."
Lily and company were halfway to the girlsí dormitory stairs. Sirius could definitely reach James and stall him until she was in literal no-manís 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, itís getting ridiculous. At least letís 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, uhÖ" James stammered and looked around. He seemed to just realize that not only his mates and Lilyís 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 Ghoulís Ball yet?"
The corners of her mouth twitched up. It looked as if she was going to laugh at him. Siriusís mind scrambled for an escape for his friend.
"Yes, as a matter of fact," she responded.
"Two Ravenclaws, a gawky Hufflepuff, and a very adorable fourth year from this very house," supplied the ever-helpful Victoria Farrell.
"Thatís what took us so long getting up here from the Great Hall," explained Constance Harding.
Jamesís shoulders sagged. Sirius didnít 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 wasnít 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 wasnít clear. Generally she was yelling at him to go away and leave her alone, not calling him back. One would think sheíd be relieved that he didnít 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 Ė at least when it came to Lily.
"For someone whoís 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 Ė she would make an excellent professor someday, if she wanted.
"Youíre 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 enlightened.
"Huh?" he repeated.
She sighed. "You asked the wrong question."
Jamesís face contorted in a puzzled frown. He obviously couldnít 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. Lilyís 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 imploringly.
"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 didnít ask if Iíd accepted any of the invitations."
Her green eyes were looking at him very directly now. James visibly swallowed, then stammered out, "D-did you?"
"No," she responded, shaking her head with deliberate emphasis.
James swayed on his feet looking as though he might swoon. Sirius stepped forward, thinking to put a steadying hand on his mateís shoulder, but Moony restrained him again.
"James." Lilyís 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 with me?"
She smiled then.
"Yes, James, I will," she answered simply.
"All right, then. Thatís 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 girlsí dormitory stairs.
The goofy grin had not left Jamesís face as he walked back to the Maraudersí 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 donít know how sheís resisted you Ďtil now."
Jamesís face fell. He glanced at Moony whose wolfishly gleaming eyes confirmed the worst of it. Wormtail, who probably hadnít seen the joke until Sirius spelled it out, was laughing heartily. Sirius could barely contain himself.
"Do you really think sheÖ? I didnít evenÖ" James couldnít 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 Ė plenty of time to make it up to her. Thereís a very accommodating broom cupboard on the fifth floorÖ"
"Knock it off, Padfoot," James growled, glaring at his friend. "Lily is not the broom cupboard type. Oh, Merlin Ė Iíve ruined it. Sheís going to change her mind." He dropped his face back into his hands and groaned again.
"Oh, I think itís 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 friendís assurance.