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Snow soon blanketed the lush, green grounds of Hogwarts. Professor Trelawney’s classroom at the top of North Tower was (I can’t believe I said this) a comforting oasis against the drafty corridors of the rest of the castle.

Christmas was approaching fast, and Lily dragged me into Hogsmede to help her buy a present for James.

“I have no idea,” she kept repeating over and over again until I kindly pushed her into Honeyduke’s Sweet Shop, and an idea popped into her head.

I bought a Fizzing Whizbee and waited while she spent ten minutes scurrying around, searching frantically for the “best thing possible”. (How one can go wrong in a sweet shop is beyond me…)

We journeyed to the Three Broomsticks for a Butterbeer before returning to school. Lily piled her packages into a chair as I came back from the bar with our drinks. We had hardly taken a sip before Peter Pettigrew appeared beside us.

“Hello, ladies,” he greeted us rather shyly (but this was Peter).
“These are for you.” He held out two scrolls of parchment tied with violet ribbons.

“Thanks, Peter.”

He left.

To Miss Katharina Parker–
You are cordially invited to attend the Christmas party I am hosting on Christmas Eve in my office. You are also heartily encouraged to bring a guest of your choice.
Eagerly hoping to see you there,
Professor H.E.F. Slughorn

“Slughorn’s party?” Lily asked.

“Yeah.”

“Are you going to ask Heathcliff?”

I kicked her beneath the table.




Gryffindor Tower was uncommonly quiet over the Christmas Holidays. The day of the party arrived, and Lily and I spent it lounging before the roaring fire (in the good armchairs, no less). She, of course, had asked James to escort her, but I was still contemplating possible “dates”.

“There’s always Stammer Boy,” she suggested.

“His name is Tristan, and no, thank you.”

The portrait hole opened and in walked our favorite Seeker.

“Hello, love.” He bent down, kissed Lily, and stood between us and the fireplace.

“Hey,” I protested. “You’re blocking our source of inhalable carbon monoxide.”

James raised his eyebrows. “I have a bone to pick with you, Parker.”

I sat up. “How so?”

“My best friend is down in the library right now, and he’s already cleared out the entire Wizarding History shelf. I specifically told you to tell him that this Heathcliff thing is all a game and you didn’t do it.”

“So what?”

“Kat, it’s cruel. He hardly talks about anything else.”

“Right.” I slid back down in my chair. “Isn’t he shagging Beth? I’m sure he brags about that.”

James rolled his eyes. “All I know is that he’s taking her to the soiree tonight.”

“Shagging,” Lily corrected.

I laughed. “Black will find out when the time is right.”

“Make it soon,” he half-threatened.

“Whatever.”




“I’ve changed my mind,” I announced to the practically empty dormitory. “I’m not going.”

Lily rushed out of the bathroom, her dress unzipped and half of her face makeup-less. “You have to!” she cried. “If you don’t, Remus will sit up here and be depressed all night!”

“I was joking,” I insisted, adding sarcasm, “but thanks for the concern about my psychological heath.”

She huffed and dove back out of sight.

I had been ready for ten minutes and she wasn’t even halfway finished yet…ugh.

After reorganizing my bookshelf alphabetically by author’s last name twice and refolding all of Lily’s clothes (which were scattered all over the room), she emerged and gave me a skeptical look.

“Really? That’s it?”

I glanced down at my black dress. “What’s wrong with it?”

She pushed me down into a chair. “Let me help you.”

A quarter of an hour later, she was satisfied.

I turned apprehensively to face my reflection in the mirror.

Who the hell was she? I scratched my cheek and so did the pretty figure in front of me.

“That’s you, silly,” Lily giggled.

She’d tied my hair up in this curly, elegant thing, except for a long, dark ringlet that tickled my collarbone. I was wearing a pearl necklace and matching earrings, neither of which belonged to me.

“Exactly how much makeup did you cake on my face?”

“You’re hardly wearing any at all!” she defended.

I took a second look. She had brought out my eyes very well, actually. They seemed a deeper shade of sapphire than they usually did…

Lily hurriedly checked the clock. “We’re late!” she cried, running for the door.

I followed, slightly slower due to the uncustomary skirt.

James, Remus, and Black were waiting in the common room. I hesitated around the corner of the staircase, unsure if I wanted to take wolf-whistles, ridicule, or both. Summoning all of my willpower, I clattered down the steps and Lily turned to James.

“Doesn’t she look great?”

“Yes,” but it wasn’t James who answered.

Black’s stormy gray eyes washed over me, almost hungrily drinking in the sight of me all dressed up.

Remus held out his arm. “Shall we?”



Slughorn’s office had obviously been magically enlarged. There was a large HAPPY CHRISTMAS banner along one wall, and the others were draped with red, green, and gold fabrics. A chamber orchestra played a lilting waltz in the corner, and there was a small, impromptu dance floor. Little house elves (brought from the kitchens, no doubt) waddled around with heavy trays of hors-devours.

Lily and James took to dancing immediately, while Remus and I received some food from a passing elf and stood talking together.

“You do look lovely tonight,” he remarked.

“Thanks. You don’t clean up to badly yourself.”

“Is, err, your sister not coming at all?” he asked, as casually as he could.

“Slughorn didn’t invite her,” I confessed. “She was hoping Black would–” I stopped short. “Ah, shit, Remus. I’m sorry.”

He grimaced. “It’s fine. Oh, speak of the devil…”

Black appeared at the entrance with a tall, super-skinny blonde girl in a scanty, glittery pink dress (typical) on his arm.

“That must be Beth,” Remus chuckled. “Dear God…”

“I think I need a drink,” I muttered and went to the punch bowl. To my horror, Beth joined me.

“You’re Kat,” she stated.

Ugh. Her voice was as Barbie-esque as it’s possible to get.

“So they tell me.”

“I’m Beth.”

“Nice to meet you.”

There was a very awkward silence.

She tugged at a strand of her (obviously bleached) blonde hair and asked, “So, like…who’s your date?”

“Remus,” I pointed, “but he and I are just friends.”

“Oh,” she sipped her punch. “I’m here with Sirius.”

“Who?”

“Like, Sirius Black. Don’t you know him?”

“Can’t say that I do.” Dear Lord, she was an idiot. My sarcasm was being utterly wasted.

“No. Way.” Beth gave me an incredulous look. “Everyone knows him! Geez, like, what kind of rock do you live under?”

There was a tug at my elbow, and Lily pulled me aside.

“Thank God you’re here! She’s a ruddy basket case.”

She grimaced. “A whore if I ever saw one.”

I glanced around. “Where’s your lover?”

“Getting drinks elsewhere. He doesn’t fancy…that,” she said, flicking her forefinger at the punch bowl. “Why were you speaking to her, anyway?”

I shrugged. “She started it. Apparently she knows me.”

“Odd. You don’t seem like her type.”

“If I wasn’t wearing heels right now, Lily Evans…”

“I was kidding, love!”

James and Remus joined us, leaving Black alone on the dance floor with Beth.

“Poor bloke,” Remus shoo his head.

James laughed. “It’s his own ruddy fault, Mooney!”

“Still…he could’ve picked someone with a little more dignity…”

I caught Lily’s eye and looked away extremely quickly, desperately
trying to conceal my giggles.

None of us knew how long we stood there, drinking Butterbeer and cackling about Merlin-knows-what. About halfway through the party, I noticed a house elf approach Black where he stood by himself. (Beth must’ve gone to the power room or something.) The elf whispered urgently in his ear and led him out into the corridor.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” I told Remus. “Um…bathroom.”

He nodded, trying not to look at James and Lily’s snog fest.



I slipped outside and followed the sound of the elf’s high-pitched, little voice.

“Mr. Black, sir, I bring very important news from Mistress Bryant, sir.”

“Olivia?”

“Yes, sir. She bid me tell you that the…the child, sir…it…it’s coming.”

There was dead silence, then–

“Are you sure?” Black’s voice was so low that I could hardly make it out.

“Quite sure, sir. Mistress Olivia also asked me to tell you that she has certain things that she wishes to discuss with you in person, and that she wants you to come as soon as possible.”

“She… she wants me to–?”

“Yes, sir.”

Another sickening pause…

“Thank you, Nelly.”

“Of course, sir.”

There was a loud crack, and I heard the sound of footfalls as Black began to pace, mumbling to himself.

“It can’t be! It’s too early…three more months left! I have to go…I have to…”

Muffled sobbing reached my ears. Silently, I tip-toed (after removing my shoes) toward the empty classroom and pushed the door open.
Black was seated on the teacher’s desk, his face in his hands. He glanced up as I entered. “Oh, thank God. I thought you were Beth.”

Pretending to look confused, I sat beside him. “What?”

His forehead knocked against my shoulder. Instinctively, I reached up and hugged him.

(All right… I know what you’re thinking. I’ll always hate him, but I can tell when someone needs a hug.)

“It’s going to be okay,” I murmured.

He pulled back. “Did you…were you listening?”

I scooted away, not meeting his eyes. “It…it was sort of hard not to.”

He swore loudly. “Damn it, Kat!”

“Oh, come off it, Black!” I got defensive. “Do you really think that I’d blab this sort of thing to the entire school?”

“You stooped low enough to listen behind the door!” he shouted back.

“I came in here to help you!”

“Well, I don’t need your bloody help!”

I took a deep breath. “Fine. I won’t bother in future.”

When I reached the corridor, I turned, “You should go see her. Believe me when I say that a child needs both of its parents.”




On Christmas morning, I awoke to Lily’s pillow hitting my face.

“Wake up! Presents!”

I rolled over to see a stack of parcels on the floor by my bedside
table.

Lily’s bed was already festooned with wrapping paper, and soon my own four-poster was identical.

I had received a Teach-Yourself-French book from my dad, a fuzzy Gryffindor hat with matching gloves from Mary, and a makeup bag (which was stuffed to bursting) from Lily.

“What’s this one?” she asked, picking up an envelope that had fallen off my bed.


Kat–
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to lose my temper last night, but it was out of my control.
I took your advice and plan to visit her very soon. Thanks for convincing me that it is the right thing to do.
Happy Christmas.


“It’s unsigned,” Lily noted. “Any idea about who sent it?”

I shook my head, even though it was a lie. She shrugged, grabbed James’s gift, and bounded downstairs.

The moment she was out of sight, I seized a few of the larger shreds of paper from my bed and set to work. They only just covered the entire book, but it was hidden nevertheless.


The two lovers were deeply ensconced when I approached the fireplace.

“Happy Christmas, you crazy lovebirds.”

James hugged me. “Happy Christmas! Is that for me?”

“No.”

He pouted teasingly.

I surveyed the room, which was deserted. “Where’s Black?”

“Gone.”

Beat.

“What?”

James sat back down beside his girlfriend on the enormous rug. “He left. Told me it was a family emergency.”

You got that right…

“You don’t suppose his brother’s injured again, do you?” Lily asked.

He put his arm around her. “Nah. I’m sure that Regulus is fine. He’s only Slyterin’s reserve Seeker this year because Flint didn’t want to chance him getting his head split open like last term.”

“What do you reckon, then?” She glanced back and forth between us.

I casually jerked my head. “Dunno. Sick mum?”

James merely grunted and replied, “Whatever happened, he seemed pretty level-headed when he left earlier.”

I nodded and went back upstairs to hide the package in a place where Lily could never find it.

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