Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world all belong to J K Rowling. I’m just grateful that she lets me play in it from time to time.
Author’s Note: This is a companion piece to ‘Long Love’s Day’ told from James’s point of view.
She was only doing her homework, for heaven’s sake. Writing careful notes on a scroll of parchment, looking up every so often to check the book in front of her, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. There were at least a dozen other girls in the room doing the same thing.
So why did his eyes keep turning back to her? James pressed his lips together and shifted on the sofa so that Lily Evans wasn’t in his line of sight. That was better. Sirius and Peter were playing a loud game of Exploding Snap on the floor in front of the fire. He could watch them instead. Only…
He twisted his neck to check. She was standing up. Putting her books into a neat pile. Saying something quietly to one of her friends. Walking over to the staircase.
‘Goodnight Evans,’ he called, before it was too late.
She didn’t even bother to turn round and acknowledge him. ‘Goodnight, Potter,’ she returned, in the same bored, resigned tone she’d been using for months.
Remus was looking across at him, his mouth twitching.
‘Well?’ challenged James.
‘Oh nothing,’ Remus replied quickly but James was quick to catch the glance he exchanged with Sirius.
‘Come on. You might as well tell me before I hex it out of you.’
‘Fine.’ Remus sighed and pushed his book to one side. ‘It’s just that it’ll be Valentine’s Day in a few weeks.’
‘And we were wondering what you had planned,’ finished Sirius with a knowing grin.
‘Remember last year?’ put in Peter. ‘The balloons?’
‘She didn’t speak to you for weeks,’ reminisced Sirius happily.
The balloons had been carefully planned at great expense and James had been so sure she’d like them. Pink and white, they were designed to rise gently over Lily’s head before showering her with heart shaped confetti. Perfectly romantic, the witch in the shop had said. Any girl would love such a gift--any girl except Lily, it seemed.
James sighed. ‘I don’t know what to do. Nothing seems to convince her that I’m serious.’
‘Singing Valentine?’ suggested Peter.
‘One of those canaries we saw in Hogsmeade?’ offered Remus. ‘They were nice. And then, you know, she couldn’t just throw it away, she’d have to keep it and feed it. Look after it.’
James’s eyes lit up. ‘That’s an idea. I could tell her it was symbolic of our relationship.’
‘Perfect,’ said Sirius drily. ‘Until it dies, of course.’
‘Oh God, it’s hopeless, isn’t it? You might as well just kill me now.’ James threw himself back against the cushions in a dramatic gesture.
‘It’s not hopeless.’ He sat up again and turned round quickly. Angela Harris was grinning at him.
Eagerly James leaned forward. ‘It isn’t? I mean, really? She likes me?’
Angela cocked her head. ‘Well, I wouldn’t go that far but she does talk about you a lot.’
‘Oh.’ James’s shoulders slumped. ‘I don’t suppose I want to know what she says?’
Angela reached out to pat his knee. ‘Not really but you’re the only boy she does talk about.’
James frowned. ‘Well. Well, that’s good. Isn’t it?’ He looked round for confirmation. The other boys nodded encouragingly.
‘Yes,’ confirmed Angela. ‘So long as you don’t mess it up again on Valentine’s Day.’
‘Mess it up?’ James was confused. He’d always remembered Valentine’s Day. He’d be prepared to bet that he’d spent more on Lily’s presents than anyone else in the school. He’d given her flowers and cards, chocolates and balloons. All the things girls liked. How had he messed up?
‘Think about it James. All those things you’ve sent her in front of the whole school. Has she ever thanked you for them?’
He shook his head. No, she hadn’t. Evans wasn’t normally rude like that.
‘Why not, do you think?’
He shook his head again and pushed a hand through his hair. God, this was hard. How was he supposed to know what Lily was thinking?
‘Well,’ Angela smiled encouragingly and patted his knee again. ‘I’m sure you’ll work it out, James. You’re a bright boy.’ She stood up and flashed them all a grin. ‘Good night, lads.’
‘Right.’ He’d been thinking about this for weeks now but he wanted to run it past the others once more, just to check. ‘No hearts, no balloons, no flowers, no Singing Canaries.’
‘Right,’ agreed Remus.
‘In fact, nothing that could embarrass her at all.’
‘No,’ nodded Peter.
‘Something that only she gets to see. Something that tells her I’m serious.’
Sirius gave Peter a stern look before he could make his usual response. They’d all heard that joke too often.
‘So what I thought was…’ James took a deep breath. ‘…a card.’
‘It’s not much,’ said Peter doubtfully.
‘No,’ said James, crestfallen. ‘Maybe she’ll think I’m just being cheap.’
‘No, I think it could work,’ said Remus slowly. ‘But not just any card. You can draw can’t you?’ he checked.
James nodded. ‘But…’
‘And we learnt the Charms last year to make it move properly. So you could send her a proper magical picture.’
‘But what should I draw?’ James grimaced. ‘Seems to me there’s a whole lot more potential to get that wrong.’
Sirius clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Well, at least you’ve had the practice at that. Anyone for a quick game of gobstones?’
Peter and Remus both joined in the raucous fun. James drew his feet up onto the window seat and stared out at the silhouette of Hogwarts against the moonlight.
He’d already put it in the envelope. He was so worried about spoiling it or spilling something on it that he’d tucked it safely away at the bottom of his trunk. He only took it out four or five times a day to check. What if she hated it? Perhaps he should have stuck to something more traditional? What if Angela was wrong and Lily secretly loved the big gestures that told everyone she was his girl?
Maybe he should arrange something for its delivery? A snowy owl with a pink ribbon?
James banged his head against the bedframe. He had to stop this. Now. He’d give her the card and that was that. Only…
Maybe he wouldn’t give it to her at breakfast. Maybe he’d just wait a little. See if she minded.
Yes, that was brilliant. Lily Evans jealous. Lily annoyed because he hadn’t given her anything.
And if she wasn’t, well then he wouldn’t have to give her the card at all.
James swallowed. He wasn’t sure about that. Perhaps he would give her the card anyway, because, you know, it might be the thing to win her over. Well, he could think about that if it came to it but for now, he lay back and dreamed of an angry redhead, who was demanding that he get her a dozen pink roses, or else. Bliss.
He nearly couldn’t go through with it. He got the card out before breakfast and weighed it in his hand. Then he closed his eyes and thought about the bored, disdainful look she’d had on her face when the balloons had done their thing. He couldn’t bear it if she looked at his card like that. At least if he arranged for her to get it on her own, as he’d planned, he wouldn’t have to watch her expression.
‘Aren’t you ready yet?’ called Sirius. He had that look, the one that meant he was up to something.
‘Just coming.’ James slipped the thick envelope back into his trunk and pushed it under his bed. ‘What’s up?’
‘These,’ pronounced Sirius proudly. He brought out a large bouquet of roses from behind his back.
‘Aaah,’ cooed James, putting a hand to his heart. ‘You shouldn’t have.’
‘Funny. You’ll be glad I didn’t, soon enough.’
‘I’m glad now,’ pointed out James. ‘Who are they for?’
‘Colleen Fry.’ They were passing through the common room. James couldn’t help himself. He had to just glance across to the girls’ staircase. No sign of her.
‘Colleen Fry?’ he echoed, suddenly realising what Sirius had said. ‘What on earth are you buying her flowers for?’
Sirius winked. ‘Wait and see.’
It had been pretty funny actually. Colleen had been so excited when Sirius sat down beside her and presented her with the flowers. She’d started to blush and had bent to smell the flowers when they exploded all over her. Everyone turned to stare. Even Lily. James had tried to catch her eye but she’d turned away again too quickly. All her friends had proper Valentines he noticed. He wondered if she was starting to mind.
She’d seemed to be a bit distracted in Potions. Old Sluggy gave her a real ticking off and she’d looked like she might be about to cry. James had sat on his hands, desperately wanting to go over and comfort her. But that wasn’t the plan, he reminded himself. Not today, at any rate. And perhaps, just perhaps, her distraction might have something to do with him.
He wondered where she was now. He’d hoped she might come to the common room for the free period that they all had but there’d been no sign of her since lunch. Maybe she was avoiding him. Oh God, what if he’d stuffed it up completely this time. Oh, God…
‘Anyone at home?’ Remus was waving his quill in front of James’s face.
James lifted his eyes slightly. ‘Just thinking.’
‘You haven’t given it to her yet then?’ checked Sirius.
James shook his head. ‘I’m going to get Mack to slip it under her pillow so that she finds it when she goes up to bed tonight.’
‘Great. Well, now that your love life’s settled, we need to decide what to do about Remus here.’
Remus blinked. James grinned at Sirius.
‘What did you have in mind?’
Sirius flicked his quill at Remus. ‘Ella Kingston.’
Remus groaned and hid his head in his hands. ‘Sirius,’ he mumbled. ‘If you say anything to her, I swear I’ll…’
‘You’ll what?’ teased Sirius. Without waiting for an answer he turned to James. ‘Did you see the card he sent her? With a picture of a teddy bear on the front. Guess what it said inside?’
James’s eyes sparkled. ‘I can’t bear to be without you?’
‘I love you beary much,’ countered Sirius.
‘You’re beary special to me.’
‘Stop!’ ordered Remus, flushing bright red. ‘All it said was “Have a Happy Valentine’s Day”. All right?’
Sirius cocked his head and pretended to consider. ‘Well I suppose it’ll do. James?’
‘Depends on the follow-through,’ replied James with the wisdom of experience.
‘Quite right,’ agreed Sirius. ‘And that, my friend, is where we come in.’
The familiar creak of the portrait hole sounded someone’s arrival. James couldn’t help himself. He glanced across and his heart leapt. It was her. Looking adorably flustered and saying something sharply to the Fat Lady. She ignored them all, of course, and settled herself on the big sofa over by the fire, taking out some enormous book to read.
James forced himself to concentrate on what Sirius was telling Remus.
‘You have to sound confident.’
Remus frowned. ‘I thought they didn’t like confident. Arrogant, don’t they call it, James?’
James grimaced ruefully. He’d been called it often enough, certainly.
‘Not too confident,’ Sirius acknowledged, ‘but you’ve got to sound like you mean it. Take control of the conversation.’
‘But how? I mean, when? She’s permanently surrounded by Hufflepuffs.’
‘We’ll take care of that,’ announced James suddenly. ‘At supper tonight. I’ll get her to sit with us.’
Sirius shot him a measuring glance and opened his mouth to say something. James drew out his wand and directed it at Sirius’s quill, whipping it into the air to circle around Sirius’s head.
‘Hey!’ Sirius reached for the quill. James laughed and whisked it further out of reach. Ink began to spill out of the pen and Sirius was now on his feet trying to catch it. One final whisk sent the feather right across the room.
Right over to where Lily was sitting, now staring up at the quill in shock.
James froze. He had no idea what to do or say.
Unfortunately, both Remus and Sirius knew what to do. Their spells reached the quill at the same moment. It quivered with the magic, then split along its length, spilling its contents all over Lily.
She turned her bright green eyes accusingly towards him. For one horrible moment, James thought he might have made her cry. There was nothing for it. This was officially the worst Valentine’s Day ever. He walked over to her, repaired the quill and suggested she wash off the ink as soon as possible. Dropping the feather back on Sirius’s pile of books, he took his seat and waited.
It took her a moment to recover from the shock but gradually the fire grew in her eyes and he could see the flush staining her cheeks that always heralded an outburst. She didn’t disappoint.
‘How dare you? You’re supposed to be working and not messing around with silly charms. At least these two idiots…’ Sirius grinned and Remus looked a little insulted. ‘…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!’
Well that was it. He had nothing to lose now. And those eyes really did look incredible when she was angry.
He leaned back in his chair and tried to sound as casual as he could manage. ‘Finished, darling? You know, you look quite magnificent when you’re all cross and self-righteous. You should try it more often.’
Lily looked as though she might burst with rage. Instead she leaned across and slapped his left cheek. Pretty hard, actually. Then she really did start crying and fled towards the girls’ staircase.
‘That went well,’ drawled Sirius.
James put up a tentative hand to finger his abused cheek. ‘She can’t help that she loves me,’ he shrugged.
Sirius stared at him for a moment then began to laugh. Remus gave him a sympathetic look but couldn’t stop his chuckle either. After a moment of burning hurt, James gave in. He had to laugh. It wouldn’t do to cry, after all.
James had sent the others into the Great Hall ahead of him and told them to make sure they saved enough seats. Meanwhile he went to loiter around the door to the Hufflepuff common room.
A few minutes before six, the door swung open and a giggling gaggle of girls emerged, clinging to each other and ignoring James. He ran round in front of them and forced them to stop. The five girls stared at him in amazement.
‘What’s going on, Potter?’ asked the girl in the middle. She was chewing gum and now she opened her mouth slightly and, very deliberately, blew a bubble at him.
James turned to where Ella was standing on the edge of the group. ‘I need to talk to you,’ he told her urgently. ‘Please.’
‘Finally got over that thing you had for Evans?’ jeered one of the others.
James winced, but made no reply, merely holding out his hand to Ella. ‘Please,’ he repeated.
Her soft face seemed to consider for a moment, then she detached herself from her friends. ‘Okay. I’ll catch up with you in a bit,’ she told the others.
James smiled in relief and grabbed her hand. ‘Brilliant. Come on, I’ll tell you on the way.’
When they reached the Great Hall, he was still holding Ella’s hand. She had flushed a delicate pink and, James reckoned, not just because of the fast pace he’d set. While she glanced nervously across at Remus, his own eyes scanned the room for Lily. He wanted her to see this.
She wasn’t sitting with her usual crowd. He couldn’t see her anywhere. Maybe it had all been a waste of time. Shoulders sagging, he propelled Ella slowly towards Remus, sitting her down in between the two of them and opposite Pete and Sirius.
‘Here.’ Sirius pushed a goblet towards him. James picked it up and drank deeply without checking its contents. When it was empty he held it out for more. Sirius raised an eyebrow but reached for the jug anyway.
Three gobletsful later and his head felt pleasantly woozy. A plate of something pink and white appeared in front of him and absently he began to eat.
‘Hey.’ Peter had leaned over the table to whisper something. ‘She’s just come in.’
James turned round sharply, forgetting the spinning in his head, and almost fell on the floor. Lily was standing in the doorway, looking no less cross than she had earlier and equally magnificent. James was about to call out to her when she walked over to her friends and sat down.
‘Remember the plan,’ murmured Sirius helpfully.
The plan. Ah yes. What was that? Make Evans jealous. With one longing look down the table, James wrenched himself away. Beside him Ella and Remus were sitting in an uncomfortable silence. James draped his arm round Ella’s waist and began to tell her stories about Remus that showed his friend in a less than flattering light.
‘She’s looking,’ hissed Peter.
James leaned forward to tug on Ella’s hair and whisper something in her ear. She blushed and tried to pull away. Then James whispered something that made her stop protesting.
She turned to face Remus and demanded. ‘Is that true?’
‘What did he say?’ asked Remus nervously.
‘He said you sent me that card this morning.’
Remus flashed a dagger look at James who still had his arm round Ella and was grinning unrepentantly. ‘Which card?’ he checked.
‘The only card I got,’ she explained simply.
‘Well, um, in that case I think it’s probably that it was the one that, um, I, in fact, did send. To, um, you.’
Ella smiled brightly and reached for another chocolate heart.
James risked another glance towards Lily, but she was talking to Nearly Headless Nick with her back towards him. He hoped it was a jealous back but really, it was hard to say.
This was it then: the moment that all his hopes and fears rested on. He held his future in his hands. On impulse, James pulled the card out of its envelope one final time and scribbled another note on the back. He really didn’t want her to think he’d forgotten, after all. He pressed his lips to the sealed envelope and handed it to the house elf with a sigh.
‘You know which bed to put it on, Mack?’
The elf nodded solemnly. ‘The miss with the red hair. Mack is knowing her well, Mr Potter, sir.’
‘Under her pillow, where her pyjamas are.’ A sudden thought assailed him. ‘Does… does she wear pyjamas? Or…?’
‘Mack is not telling Mr Potter, sir. He will have to ask the miss himself.’
James’s lips twisted. Fair enough. He just wanted to be able to imagine her lying in bed, opening the envelope, smiling…
She wasn’t smiling when she came into the common room later that evening. There was something in her face. Not just angry now. More… disappointed. Hope surged within James’s chest.
He leapt over the sofa and caught her elbow before she could disappear up the stairs. She wouldn’t even turn round to look at him.
‘Remus finally got round to asking Ella Kingston out,’ he blurted out.
She didn’t reply.
‘With a lot of help from his friends,’ added James, hoping that she would get the point.
Lily turned to stare at him then, blushing faintly.
‘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. He wasn’t going to argue with her again. ‘Whatever you say. Goodnight, Evans.’
For a moment she stood as if waiting for something. Then she flashed him one final hurt look and went to bed.
He counted as she went up the stairs. She’d be reaching her bedroom about now. Going over to her dressing table. Perhaps she brushed her hair first. Then reaching under her pillow… finding it. She’d slip her thumb under the seal and slide it out slowly.
An hour later, Sirius clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Come on, mate. She’s not coming down tonight.’
James shrugged him off. ‘I know. I know. But…’
Remus reached for his arm and tugged him to his feet. ‘I thought you did pretty well today.’
‘Well, you know, compared to last year.’
‘She slapped me,’ James pointed out. ‘She’s never done that before.’
‘But why did she slap you?’ There was Angela Harris again, helpfully shoving in her two penn’orth.
James sighed. ‘I don’t know. I’ve given up ever trying to understand why women do anything.’
Angela patted his arm. ‘Now that would be a shame just when you were doing so well.’
Sirius looked at her sharply. ‘She say anything to you?’
‘Told us all that James had forgotten, given up and found somebody more compliant. Didn’t sound happy about it either.’
James let out a long breath.
‘You didn’t forget, did you?’ checked Angela.
He shook his head. ‘She’ll have seen it by now.’
‘Well, there you go. You wait and see what tomorrow brings.’
He overslept. He’d been tossing and turning all night, trying not to think of her, until sleep finally overcame him so deeply that he ignored his alarm.
Rushing down the stairs two at a time, his shirt untucked and his tie all askew, he pushed a hand through his unkempt locks then skidded to a halt. She was there. Nervously shuffling from foot to foot, Lily Evans was waiting at the bottom of the boys stairs.
James stood two steps above her, looking down on this minor miracle.
Lily raised her eyes to meet his squarely. ‘Thank you for the card,’ she said. ‘I liked it very much.’
Every nerve in James’s body began to sizzle and pop. He descended the last two stairs and slowly reached out a hand, watching as Lily visibly recoiled, then schooled herself and with determination lifted her own slight fingers to place them in his. He gripped her hand hard and hoped with all his heart that he would never have to let it go again.
‘It’s true,’ he told her softly. ‘You’ll always be my Valentine, Lily.’