Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to J.K. Rowling. I’m just grateful that she lets me play in it from time to time.
There was always something of a frenzy in the Great Hall on Valentine’s Day. Everyone wanted to know who’d had cards and who’d got presents and girls would spend the whole day in little groups trying to work out which boy had sent what to whom. Ever since the first year, when she’d received a little chocolate heart and a singing card, Lily had feigned disinterest. Her gift was always from Potter so she’d quickly learnt to make a point of looking bored and asking the others what they’d had. Last year, he’d sent a box which, when she opened it, released a host of beautiful pearly pink balloons that rose gently into the air before bursting into pink and white fireworks and showering her with rose petals. Every girl in the Great Hall sighed at the romantic gesture. Every girl except one.
Angela had four cards, three Singing Birds, a pale lilac Pygmy Puff and a satisfied grin. A white rabbit with a pink bow round its neck was sitting snugly on Mary’s lap. Even Helen had a padded satin card which she kept surreptitiously opening to re-read. Only Lily’s place was devoid of the overpriced, pink and shiny, tasteless tat with which the boys of Hogwarts vainly hoped to woo their ladies.
Ignoring the sympathetic looks her friends were giving her, Lily continued to spoon her porridge diligently, only pausing to ask Helen to pass the honey and toast. When she was sure no one else was watching, she allowed herself just one swift glance down the table to where James was sitting. He was surrounded by his mates, all of them laughing at poor Colleen Fry while she tried to wipe the remains of an exploding bunch of flowers off her face. Sirius, diagnosed Lily, and she made a mental note to give him a ticking off later on.
She didn’t care, she told herself at lunchtime, when she still hadn’t had anything from him. It wasn’t as if she even liked him. If he’d sent her anything, then she would’ve been angry. She was just cross because all day things had seemed to go wrong for her. Her cauldron had cracked in Potions and Professor Slughorn told her off for letting it get too hot. Angela had half-transformed her into a spaniel in Transfiguration and couldn’t change her back for most of the class. At least after lunch she had a free period. She could start that Charms essay.
She gave Madam Pince a nod as she entered the library, briefly taking in the paper chain of pink hearts that had been draped over the austere wooden desk behind which the librarian sat. Even 83 year old spinsters seemed to be enjoying the day more than Lily was. She tossed her head and marched over to the Charms section, scuffling in the bottom of her bag for the book list.
Brilliant. Just what she should have expected on a day like this. Every book she needed was already taken. Madam Pince pursed her lips when Lily asked if they could be recalled. Then she reached for a four page form which she pushed over the desk to Lily. It took half an hour to fill in and another ten minutes for Madam Pince to give her slow nod of approval.
Utterly frustrated, Lily gathered her things together and headed back to the Gryffindor common room.
‘Chubby-cheeked cherubs.’ Who on earth had thought up that choice password, wondered Lily. How many Gryffindors were actually going to vomit as they forced themselves to say it?
She scowled at the Fat Lady who had dressed up as Cupid for the day and appeared quite ridiculous in her short pleated tunic and feathered heels. The portly portrait also sported a laurel wreath and a quite impractical golden bow with an arrow held ready to shoot.
‘Where would you like Cupid’s bow to aim, dearie?’ inquired the Fat Lady with a sly glance and a lascivious wink.
‘Up Cupid’s…’ muttered Lily under her breath.
‘Now, now, dearie,’ giggled the corpulent Cupid. ‘No need for that. There must be a special someone for a pretty girl like you.’
Special someone. Huh. Well, there was nothing special about Potter, that was for sure. Lily shook her head, annoyed with herself for even thinking about Potter. She didn’t have a special someone and if she did, it certainly wouldn’t be him.
She flashed a scowl at the Fat Lady and ignored the treacherous tear that escaped from one eye as she did so.
‘Oh for heaven’s sake, can’t you just open the damned door for once without giving me the third degree about my non-existent love life?’
‘The cheek of it,’ huffed the Fat Lady. ‘I don’t know, young people today. No manners, that’s what it is. Don’t know how to treat their elders and betters.’ As she scrambled through the hole, Lily caught a glimpse of the elephantine Eros flouncing off in disgust to tell all her painted friends about the disrespectful youth of today.
Lily breathed a sigh of relief. Now at least she could finally forget this ridiculous fiasco of Valentine’s Day and get on with some proper work. The common room was almost empty at this time of the day and usually Lily found it a relaxing place to work. This afternoon just three of the sixth year boys were sitting round the table, apparently working, though the continual banter suggested that no more than half of their minds could be on Transfiguration. Taking in the identities of these particular boys with one swift glance, Lily walked deliberately across to the other side of the room, as far from them as she could manage, curling up on one of the dark red sofas and reaching for her Herbology textbook.
Five minutes later, she realised she hadn’t read a single word of the Flutterby Bush entry in ‘One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi.’ She furrowed her brows and turned back to the beginning. Ten minutes later, she glanced up again, only to see that James Potter was playing about with Sirius Black’s quill. Every time Sirius made a sweep to grab his pen back, James flicked his wand and the quill soared out of reach. Ink droplets were flying everywhere and all the boys were laughing. Lily’s book slid unnoticed out of her hands as she watched the game.
Sirius was getting more and more frustrated and the quill was swooping further and further across the room. Lily saw Remus reach for his wand.
‘Accio,’ he said with the characteristically quiet, firm tones that made him such an effective prefect.
Unfortunately, at just the same moment, Sirius found his wand and yelled out, ‘Expio!’
The spells reached the quill at the same instant and for a second it seemed to hang in the air. Then she heard a loud crack and the feather split down the middle, spilling all its contents over Lily.
The boys’ laughter faded. Lily stared at them in mingled shock and disbelief.
‘Um, sorry,’ mumbled Sirius.
‘We didn’t mean…’ tried Remus.
James just looked at her blankly, then casually lifted his wand and spoke a single word: ‘Reparo.’ The quill sprang back together and he strolled across the room to pick it up. ‘I should go and wash straight away, if I were you, Evans. Before the ink stains.’ He turned insolently on his heel and handed the quill back to Sirius.
Furious, Lily stood up and stormed across to the boys. ‘How dare you? You’re supposed to be working and not messing around with silly charms. At least these two idiots…’ she waved vaguely at Sirius and Remus, ‘had the decency to apologise. Not like you, Potter. Do you really think you’re so special? Well, if you want to know what I think, I’m glad you didn’t send me anything this morning and I never want to speak to you again!’
He sat with his arms folded, a small smile playing on his lips. ‘Finished, darling? You know,’ he added casually, ‘you look quite magnificent when you’re all cross and self-righteous. You should try it more often.’
She leaned across and slapped him as hard as she could. Then, bursting into tears, she ran towards the girls’ staircase.
Upstairs, Lily lay prone across her bed, furious with herself for letting him see how much he’d got to her. She didn’t care, she knew she didn’t.
‘You ought to wash that ink off soon. It’ll stain, you know,’ tinkled the voice of her mirror. Lily reached for her pillow to throw at the offending furniture. Still she sat up and reached for her sponge bag, pausing to consider her tousled, splotchy reflection.
‘Huh. I’ll give you magnificent when I’m cross, James Potter. You and your arrogant smiles. God, you’re annoying. Today of all stupid days. Whose stupid idea was Valentine’s Day, anyway?’
‘St Valentine of Rome, martyred for his faith in AD 269,’ replied the mirror in jauntily informative tones. ‘Of course it wasn’t for another thousand years that mediaeval troubadours made it the day when they would celebrate courtly love in song and poetry.’
Lily stared at the mirror, wondering what on earth it would come out with next.
‘It later became associated with the St Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929.’
‘Well at least that’s appropriate,’ commented Lily dryly as she got to her feet. ‘Martyrdom and massacre is just what this whole thing feels like.’
‘Nonsense,’ the mirror told her chirpily. ‘You’re just bitter because you haven’t found your Mr Right.’
Lily opened her mouth to protest, hating that she was having to defend herself to an inanimate object.
‘Or perhaps you need to look a little harder at your own reflection.’ The mirror gave a high, shrill laugh that made Lily want to smash it into smithereens. ‘Perhaps Mr Right is already there, just waiting for you to wake up to him.’
Lily’s mouth opened in speechless outrage. She threw herself back on her bed and let out a long sigh of frustration followed by a most extraordinary noise of disgust and annoyance. ‘What is it with this place? It’s as if everyone and everything is involved in one big conspiracy to drive all the single pupils to suicidal despair. And no,’ she turned her head to frown at the mirror before it could speak, ‘don’t answer that. It was a rhetorical question,’ she told the glass firmly.
Someone had really gone all out in the Great Hall at dinner time. Lily flinched when she entered what was pretending to be a love-bower adorned with trailing honeysuckle and unseasonable roses. She was on the point of turning round and going upstairs when Angela waved and made a space for her at the Gryffindor table by the simple method of climbing onto Clive’s lap. Lily tried to control the shudder that ran through her and grimly joined her friends, doing her best to ignore the harp music, the gently falling confetti, and the sickly scent of the honeysuckle.
‘Have you heard about Nearly Headless Nick?’ asked Mary, passing Lily the plate of heart-shaped pumpkin cakes decorated with pink icing.
‘What about him? Did he finally get into the Headless Hunt?’ At least this was a safe topic of conversation.
‘No,’ giggled Helen. ‘He finally got the Grey Lady to agree to go out with him.’ Apparently not so safe if even the ghosts were now giving in to the pressure of Valentine’s Day.
‘He’s asked her on Valentine’s Day every year since 1843 and this year she finally agreed,’ Shaun told them. Then he carefully selected one of the chocolate covered strawberries and began feeding Helen who, rather obligingly, thought Lily, seemed to immediately turn into a helpless overgrown baby, gibbering all sorts of nonsense and practically drooling on her boyfriend.
‘Every year since 1843?’ checked Clive, giving Lily something of a conspiratorial look. ‘Potter still has some way to go then.’
Lily shrugged and tossed her hair back. ‘Oh I think it’s quite clear that Potter hasn’t got that sort of staying power.’
‘You mean he forgot?’ chimed in Angela with a look of delighted amazement that she tried to school into some kind of appropriate sympathy for her friend.
Lily shrugged again and pointed down the table to where she’d spotted Ella Kingston, curled into James’s shoulder, his arm hanging comfortably round her waist. While they watched, he bent his head to catch something Ella was whispering into his ear, then he leaned back in easy laughter, tugging at the younger girl’s dark curls in teasing delight.
Lily swallowed hard. ‘Forgot. Gave up. Realised that never in a million years would he have a chance. Found someone more… compliant.’ She tried to make it sound like a joke. After all, she didn’t care. It was better really, this way. Easier on them both. ‘Anyway, does anyone know where Nick’s taking the Grey Lady?’ It really shouldn’t take so much effort for her to manage an accompanying smile with her attempt to divert the conversation.
‘Ask him yourself,’ suggested Clive. ‘Hey, Nick. Over here!’ He waved at the aristocratic ghost who floated over and made a courtly bow to the ladies. Lily noted resignedly that he wore a red rose in his buttonhole and that his aura had taken on a pearlescent lilac shade.
‘You want to take her where?’ Shaun had temporarily abandoned Helen while he stared at the ghost in barely concealed mockery.
‘And do what?’ Evidently Clive was equally unimpressed with Nick’s ideas of a romantic evening.
Nick sniffed disdainfully. ‘I assure you that my beloved is a most intellectual and serious young lady.’
‘Young?’ exclaimed Helen. ‘I thought she was the oldest ghost in Hogwarts.’
Nick shot her a quelling look. ‘We do not measure age after death. I should have thought that would be obvious even to you young people today.’ He made an extravagant gesture which was only slightly marred by his head tipping off and having to be levered upright again. ‘Iseabail was just seven and twenty when her life was cruelly taken from her.’
‘But even so, Sir Nick,’ persisted Clive. ‘Are you really sure that she wants to be taken to a library on Valentine’s Day?’
‘Not just any library, young man.’ Nick waved a finger in Clive’s face. ‘Only the best for my beloved. We shall depart this place for the hallowed halls of Oxford where the ghosts of the Bodleian will be able to show Iseabail all kinds of wonders unimaginable in her time. The senior library ghost will personally escort her on a tour of the stacks and then I have arranged for certain mediaeval manuscripts of interest to be made available to her in Duke Humphrey’s Reading Room. Later we shall join the Ghostly Gathering in the Tower of the Five Orders where a group of musicians will entertain us with sweet melodies.’
Lily refrained from commenting that if their tunes were anything like the ‘music’ she’d once heard Moaning Myrtle humming, sweet was hardly the right word.
‘That sounds lovely, Sir Nicholas,’ she told him encouragingly. ‘Very thoughtful.’
He bowed graciously. ‘I trust the chivalrous ideals of my age have not faded with time.’
‘Not at all.’ Lily smiled at him as she stood up and reached for her bag. ‘It’s just a shame that none of today’s generation follow your example. I’m going to the library,’ she announced.
She didn’t think about James Potter while she completed her Arithmancy problems. She wouldn’t think about him with his arm round Ella’s neat waist and laughing at whatever she was whispering in his ear. She couldn’t think about James tugging Ella’s hair and looking down at her with dancing hazel eyes. She certainly wasn’t thinking about him bending his head slightly further so that his lips just touched…
Lily slammed her textbook shut. Damn that boy. She packed all her books away and decided to get an early night. The sooner this ridiculous day was over and they could all start behaving normally again, the better. She didn’t meet the Fat Lady’s eye when she gave the password for the common room, just giving the briefest nod of acknowledgment when the hole swung open.
She wouldn’t look around to see if he was there, though she could see Remus and Sirius out of the corner of her eye and she was certain he was with them.
She didn’t respond when he called out to her, nor when he leapt over the sofa and caught her arm before she could reach the safety of the girls’ staircase.
She stood silent and motionless while he told her in a conspiratorial whisper that Remus had finally got round to asking Ella Kingston out.
‘With a lot of help from his friends,’ added James.
Lily turned to stare at him then, desperately hoping she wasn’t blushing.
‘It’s all right,’ he told her kindly. ‘I saw you looking at me at dinner.’
‘I… I wasn’t looking at you,’ she protested.
James merely grinned. ‘Whatever you say. Goodnight, Evans.’
She blinked. That was it? But… he still hadn’t…
Fine. She turned on her heel and walked away from him without saying goodnight.
When Lily finally slid gratefully into her bed, she found a large, thick envelope with her name written on the front. Opening it, determined not to be won over, she found involuntary tears in her eyes. There was a pen and ink drawing of Hogwarts, by moonlight, with a silhouetted figure of a girl on a broomstick flying across the sky. As the clouds moved slowly across the moon, the girl faded in and out of view. It was beautiful. Underneath, James had written, ‘The girl in my dreams is you.’
Turning over, she saw he’d added a note. ‘I hadn’t forgotten, Lily. You’ll always be my Valentine.’
So he’d finally worked out what she wanted. She didn’t need the grand gestures he’d made in previous years. She hated the superficial nonsense most of the school had given themselves over to. All Lily had ever wanted was for James to tell her how he really felt. Not making a joke of it. Not playing to an audience. Just for her, so she’d know. And now she did.
Lily sensed the tension she hadn’t realised she’d been feeling all day easing out of her body. She looked at the sketch again and smiled, closing her eyes and letting herself drift into sleep. Probably she shouldn’t be this content with her thoughts full of a certain dark-haired boy who was, it turned out after all, just a little bit special. But just for now, she was too happy to care.