Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world all belong to J. K. Rowling and I’m just grateful that she lets me play in them.
‘Hey, Evans!’ Lily looked up from her porridge to see James grinning at her from across the laden Gryffindor table. ‘I thought you’d gone without saying Happy Christmas.’
She was annoyed to feel her colour rising. ‘No. There was a change of plan. I’m staying here for Christmas after all.’
He nodded and turned to talk to Sirius about their chances of beating Ravenclaw in the next match. Lily tried not to mind that he’d obviously found someone else to take to the ball and carried on spooning porridge, forcing herself to finish her bowl.
Eventually, breakfast was over and everyone was rushing to bag seats for the concert later. Lily, who as Head Girl had no need to claim a space, left the Great Hall at a more leisurely pace. She was surprised to find James beside her as she turned to climb the stairs towards Gryffindor’s common room.
‘So, I’ll meet you in the common room at 7.30?’ he asked.
‘I’m sorry?’ Lily’s surprise was patently genuine.
‘For the Yule Ball,’ he explained patiently. ‘I asked you to come with me and you said you couldn’t because you had to go home but now you don’t. So, 7.30 in the common room?’
‘I…’ Utterly lost for words, Lily nodded.
‘Good.’ And then he was gone, bounding up the stairs to collect his broomstick.
What have I done, she thought, leaning against the ornately carved banisters. I have no dress robes, no shoes, no make up. And I don’t even like him. He’s so… arrogant, she concluded feebly, knowing it wasn’t what she really meant.
‘Standing there all day, dear?’ enquired the Fat Lady?
‘Oh. Sorry,’ apologised Lily and clambered through the hole.
James was waiting in the common room. In her borrowed green robes, wearing Angela’s ill-fitting shoes that had a heel she could barely stand up in, and her face covered with inexpertly applied makeup, Lily wished fervently she’d just said, ‘No.’ Or that she’d been stricken with some hideous illness.
He turned quickly and smiled at her, holding out another rose of the same pale pink tinged with apricot
he’d given her before. ‘Here, let me put it in your hair. Perfect.’
‘I hope you’ve taken the thorns off, this time.’ She remembered something she’d been meaning to ask him. ‘The rose on my bed. How did you do that?’
‘Magic,’ he murmured, then laughed.
Lily found herself laughing too. ‘Really?’ she replied sceptically. ‘What magic?’
‘Oh all right, you’ve found me out. It was a house elf.’
She stopped and stared at him. ‘A house elf? But… but how? I’ve barely even caught a glimpse of one since I’ve been here.’
‘That’s how they like it. But there’s one called Mack who’s related to my family’s house elf. I met him one night when I was cadging some extra food from the kitchen. He likes to do things for me every now and then.’ James shrugged. ‘Makes life easier for me sometimes, that’s all.’ Lily didn’t look too impressed. ‘Come on. We don’t want to miss the fireworks.’ He held out his hand and, nervously, Lily laid her own in it.
As they walked down the stairs into the Great Hall, Lily found herself sneaking glances at James. Once she caught him doing the same. She blushed and looked away immediately, but James just laughed.
Halfway through the evening, she knew she’d been right to have wished she’d just said, “No.” Once the fireworks and the concert were over, she’d hoped they might spend their time dancing but James evidently felt that parties were for showing off off the dance floor, not on it. He had established himself in the middle of a large group of people, doing impressions of all the staff, cracking jokes and flirting with all the pretty girls. Lily, on the edge of the group, was hardly even noticed. In fact… she found a place to leave her glass and pushed her way out of the room.
She’d reached the portrait and was about to give the password to the Fat Lady when James caught up with her.
‘What’s the matter?’ He looked genuinely concerned and for an instant Lily softened towards him. ‘Why did you just leave like that? I thought we were having fun.’
But with this, her resentment rose once more. ‘No, James,’ she explained coldly, ‘You were having fun.’
‘Oh. Look come back and…’
‘No.’ She shook her head decisively. ‘Goodnight, Potter.’
He slumped back against the wall, defeated. ‘G’night, Evans.’
Expecting to be first in the library the next morning, anticipating a peaceful day to get ahead with her work, Lily found that someone had been before her, leaving a note on her usual desk.
‘I’m sorry. I know I behaved like an idiot. I didn’t get a chance to give you my Christmas present. Meet me on the wooden bridge at 10.30 this morning. J.’
Lily screwed it up and threw it in the bin. Then she opened her books and began to read.
Five minutes later she retrieved the note and smoothed it out. Nonsense, she thought, and slipped it into her bag.
Two minutes later she took it out to check it again.
At 10.30 she determinedly did not look at the clock or her watch. At 10.31 she got up. Perhaps she’d see if the girls were doing anything fun. She walked past the stairs to the common room. Maybe some fresh air would clear her head. She could see him, leaning nonchalantly against the parapet. Lily turned round to go back to the library.
He had said he was sorry. Still arguing with herself, Lily found she’d climbed up to the wooden bridge. She glared at James with as much anger as she could muster.
‘You came,’ he observed.
‘Only for five minutes. I have to get back.’
He grinned, as if he knew what a lie this was. ‘Come on then, we’d better be quick.’ He turned and strode along the bridge, looking over his shoulder briefly. ‘Hurry up.’
‘Where are we going?’ she panted, having run to catch him up.
‘You’ll see.’ He led her into the Forbidden Forest, ignoring her horrified protests. ‘It’s all right, we’re not going far.’ She stayed close to him, looking around her nervously, until they came into a perfectly circular clearing.
‘Here.’ James indicated a beautiful silver birch tree, gleaming in the winter sun.
‘No. At the foot of the tree. Do you see it?’
Lily crept closer. There was a delicate flower with softly curling grey-green leaves that she had never seen before except in books.
‘Is it really…?’ She bent to stroke one of the leaves reverently.
‘A moon-lily. Yes. I wanted you to see it last night, in the moonlight, but…’
‘Oh,’ Lily breathed. ‘How beautiful. Have you seen it at night?’ She looked up at him with her eyes shining and her lips slightly apart and his heart leapt.
He nodded. ‘Three days ago. I was walking in the woods with… just walking and heard the fairy song. So I came to see, and there she was. It was… perfect, Lily. I wished you’d been there.’
‘So do I,’ she agreed.
He knelt beside her. ‘I’m sorry I was such an idiot last night. I just wanted to impress you so much.’
‘You are an idiot,’ she began. He looked so desolate that she carried on, ‘but a very sweet idiot.’
He smiled crookedly at her and she noticed a tiny scar on his left cheek. ‘Am I forgiven?’
She nodded and blushed, meeting his eyes just for a second. ‘I… I have to go.’
‘Come on then.’ He took her hand to help her to her feet and it seemed natural for him to keep hold of it while they walked slowly back to the school.
Just before they reached the building James stopped her.
‘Would you like to come and see the moon-lily with me tonight?’
She bit her lip. ‘I… I think it’s going to rain.’
James looked up at the sky where dark grey clouds were massing. She was undoubtedly right.
Lily looked uncertainly at him. ‘I’d better go.’
He nodded reluctantly. ‘Fine. See you around, then.’
‘Yes. And… thank you for the present.’ She smiled shyly, then turned and ran up the steps towards the library.
‘Damn,’ said James, very loudly, once he was sure Lily was safely out of earshot.