Lily Evans had thought, once upon a time, that James Potter kept asking her out as part of some sort of elaborate, ongoing prank.
It had taken her more than a year to accept that wasn’t the case, and several months after that to actually agree to go on a date with him.
But now, as she stood at the entrance to the Great Hall seven minutes after eleven o’clock on the first Saturday in October, she began to wonder if she was about to be made a punchline after all.
She hissed a breath through clenched teeth and folded her arms across her chest. She unfolded them just as quickly, because, while she was irritated with Potter and would like for him to know it, she didn’t want anyone else to come across her looking bitter and foolish on the morning of the first Hogsmeade trip of term. And if it were a joke, and Sirius and Peter were about to burst out of a broom cupboard with a camera or, worse, balloons filled with stink-sap, the least she could do was look like she couldn’t be bothered to care.
Granted, that last was unlikely. They weren’t twelve anymore, and she and James were something like friends these days. Turned out her dry sense of humor was a perfect complement to his playful charm. Besides, if she’d thought there was any chance he would intentionally humiliate her, she wouldn’t have agreed to this date in the first place.
Still, she couldn’t help feeling anxious as the minute hand on her watch ticked over to ten after.
Just as she’d decided to head back to her dormitory to plot her vengeance, James skidded into the corridor, panting.
“All right, Evans?”
A warm feeling spread through Lily’s cheeks at the familiar greeting. She gave James a tight smile, hoping he couldn’t tell how relieved she was. “I was beginning to think you’d stood me up, Potter.”
“I’d never! I’m sorry I made you wait.” He was a bit breathless, and his expression was odd, sort of hazy, but he sounded sincere. He thrust a bouquet of tulips at her as he babbled his explanation. “These are for you. Did you know Professor Sprout’s got the only proper flowers on grounds? Except down by the lake, but I was already running late, wasn’t I, so no time to go there. And these weren’t in the greenhouse, either. I had to go to Sprout’s personal garden.”
“Is that right?” Lily took the flowers with what she hoped was an appropriately stern look on her face. “James, did you steal these?”
One side of his mouth twitched, the beginnings of his signature smirk, and Lily felt her heart hiccup in her chest.
“The word steal has such negative connotations, don’t you think?” he asked. But before she could answer, he frowned. “Unfortunately, I think I need the hospital wing.”
Lily frowned, too. “I’m sorry?”
James’ pupils were a little too large. “Venomous tentacula,” he murmured, just before his knees buckled and he pitched forward.
Lily gasped and reached out a hand to steady him, but she was too slow. His forehead connected with her lip, knocking her backwards, and James crumpled to the floor.
“Madam Pomfrey!” Lily cried, the words somewhat muffled by her rapidly-swelling lower lip. “Madam Pomfrey!”
Between the yelling and the pain in her face, Lily’s concentration slipped. The Levitation spell she’d used to transport James to the hospital wing faltered, and he hit the floor with a weak groan. His glasses slipped from his face and cracked against the tile.
“My goodness, dear!” Madam Pomfrey said, hurrying over to where Lily was standing. “You’re bleeding! And look at him! What’s happened?”
Lily pointed at the semi-conscious boy at her feet. “I think he’s been poisoned! Venomous tentacula, he said!”
“Merlin’s beard!” Madam Pomfrey’s eyes went wide. “Where did he—never mind. How long ago? I’ve got antidotes, but we’ve got to hurry!”
She waved her wand and magicked James’ limp body to the nearest cot, then began Summoning various jars from the shelves at the back of the room. She set to work at a brisk pace, her sure hands quickly identifying the bite wounds on the back of James’ neck and shoulder, covering them with a salve designed to draw the poison out, then magically raising his head so she could pour an antidote down his throat. All the while, she asked Lily short, pointed questions about James’ injuries.
Lily’s eyebrows were knitted together, and she clutched James’ broken glasses in clammy fingers as she watched Madam Pomfrey work. She provided what little information she could and passed the Healer nearby implements at her request, and mostly tried not to worry.
But, Merlin, he looked grey. And James Potter – well, he should never look grey. James was bright and colorful and loud and difficult and full of energy. Never dull and lifeless and grey.
As if reading her thoughts, Madam Pomfrey caught Lily’s eye and offered a comforting smile. “He’ll be all right, dear, the worst of it’s past.” She lowered herself into a nearby chair with a heavy sigh, shaking her head.
“I told Professor Sprout it was risky to keep such a thing on grounds, even for research purposes!” she declared. Her expression turned suspicious as she added, “But I know it’s not in the Herbology classroom. How did Potter even find it?”
Lily was saved from replying by a moan from James. Madam Pomfrey turned back to her patient and put a hand on his forehead, noting his temperature with a satisfied nod. His eyes blinked open at her touch, and he cringed in the bright lights above his cot. But instead of the school healer, the first person he noticed was Lily.
“Evans?” he wheezed in a thin voice. “What happened? Where am I?”
Relief flooded through Lily’s body and with it, tears. She blinked them back, surprised. “You’re in the hospital wing, you big idiot! You got yourself poisoned.”
“Ah, right.” James mumbled. “That explains the headache. But what happened to you?” He tried to sit up, but his body was still weak. He fell back into the pillows with a worried look on his face. “You look like you’ve been in a fight!”
“Goodness, dear, I’d forgotten all about you!” Madam Pomfrey exclaimed, turning back to Lily. She siphoned the now-dried blood away from Lily’s mouth with her wand and then drew a quick cross pattern in the air. Lily winced as the other witch flicked her wand, but the swelling in her lip went down immediately, leaving it just a bit tender to the touch. “Let me get you something for the pain.”
“Thank you,” Lily said, running her fingers across her lip. She was still holding James’ broken glasses, but she held them out to him now.
He took them and carefully slid them back on his face. Lily pointed her wand at him and said softly, “Reparo.” She gave him a half-smile as the cracks in the lenses sealed over. Already he looked so much more like himself.
Except for the deep concern in those hazel eyes. “What happened?” he insisted. He checked to see if Madam Pomfrey was out of earshot before continuing, “I remember what happened at Professor Sprout’s, but how did you get hurt, too?”
“Well, you came to meet me, but you sort of…fainted. On account of the poison, I suppose.” The tenderness Lily was feeling turned to ire as she considered the danger he’d put himself in. “And I stepped in to try to stop you from falling, and you headbutted me.”
“I headbutted you?” James’ voice was faint, and he looked pained in a way that had nothing to do with the physical harm he’d suffered.
His expression made Lily somewhat regretful of her accusatory tone. “It’s all right,” she said hastily. “I can hardly complain, since you were poisoned, and all.”
“You’re right,” James muttered. He closed his eyes and chuckled humorlessly. “I’m a bloody moron.”
“Yes, well.” Lily was torn between wanting to comfort him and wanting to berate him further for nearly getting himself killed. “I’m glad you’re all right. I suppose I’ll go get some dinner now, since we won’t make it to Hogsmeade.”
Despite that he was already lying down, Lily was sure she saw James’ shoulders slump deeper into the hospital bed. “Right,” he agreed quietly. “I’ll see you around, Evans.”
She turned to leave the hospital wing. As she reached the door, she heard him call after her, “Did you keep the flowers, at least?”
Lily turned back slowly. “I’m sorry…I dropped them, I guess. I don’t remember, honestly—saving your life sort of took all my attention.”
“Right,” James said again. Lily reached for the door again, but before she could open it, James spoke in a rush of words. “It’s just, I remembered you said in Charms last year that when you were a girl, before you knew you were a witch, you used to pick flowers and make them open and close their petals like they were waving hello.”
Lily froze. “That’s true…”
“So I thought I’d get you some and, you know, charm them to do the same. Like a bit of nostalgia, or something. Silly idea, really.” James looked sheepish.
“It’s not silly,” Lily said, after a moment. “Thanks, Potter.”
She left quickly to hide her smile.
With a feeling much like butterflies in her stomach, Lily made her way back to the spot where she’d waited for James nearly an hour ago. In a corner by the grand arches at the front of the hall, slightly trampled and looking a bit worse for the wear, were the remnants of her bouquet. She could see now that a few of the tulip blossoms were lazily opening and closing, as if she were watching them bloom on a time-lapsed recording.
She picked up the least damaged flower and entered the Great Hall. Most of the other Gryffindor seventh-years had gone to Hogsmeade for the day, but she spotted her friend Dorcas Meadows sitting at the Slytherin table, chatting with Bertha Jorkins.
Bertha noticed Lily first. “Oi, Lily!” she said. “I thought you finally had a date with Potter today? I lost the pool because of you, you know. I had five pounds on you not going out with him until after we graduated.”
Lily rolled her eyes as she took a seat on the bench next to Dorcas. “Well, if only I’d known my classmates were betting on my love life, I’d have consulted you lot about the timing.” She bIew out an irritated breath and, with it, seemed to deflate. “In any event, I’m not sure what happened today qualifies as a date, so you might be able to win the pool yet.”
“Oh, no,” Dorcas moaned and covered her face with both hands. “He cocked it up, didn’t he? I knew he was going to. He was too excited. What happened?”
Lily’s stomach growled loudly, distracting her from Dorcas’ inquiry. She grabbed a slice of roast chicken and some mashed potatoes from the center of the table before answering her friend. “He’s in the hospital wing.”
Bertha’s eyes lit up, and she tucked her hands under her chin like she always did when she anticipated good gossip, but Dorcas gasped, her eyes wide as a cartoon’s. “Lily, did you hex him?”
“No! He was bitten by a Venomous Tentacula.” Lily took a bite of chicken and winced as her fork touched her still-sensitive bottom lip. With a sigh, she shared the afternoon’s events with the two girls. By the end of the story, even Bertha seemed a bit chagrinned.
“Bad luck, that,” she said, though her tone belied her sympathetic words. “I’ll bet Professor Sprout gives him two weeks’ detention! Or maybe she won’t want to raise a fuss, since she’s the one keeping such a dangerous plant on grounds, eh? She might let him off with a warning to cover her own hide!” Bertha looked delighted with the tale she was spinning. “Either way, you’re right—that was hardly a date at all!”
As much as Lily wished she could wipe that gleeful look off Bertha’s face, she had to agree. “It was a disaster, is what it was! We missed the trip to Hogsmeade and both ended up injured besides. More than injured—James could’ve died!”
She shook her head, and her eyes went out of focus as she pictured his pale face in the hospital wing. “And he looked so pitiful when I left,” she added softly. “Just the saddest puppy eyes I’ve ever seen, I swear.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” Dorcas said, snapping Lily out of her reverie. “He’s been looking forward to this for years, you know. He just wanted it to be perfect.”
“I know.” Lily set down her fork and picked up her damaged tulip, twirling the stem in her fingers. “And I suppose the intention was quite sweet, wasn’t it? If poorly executed.”
“Don’t know why you expected anything less,” Dorcas said reasonably. “This was his big opportunity to impress you.”
At that, a slow smile spread across Lily’s face. “You know what?” she said, still looking at the charmed flower in her hands, “I think he did.” She stood abruptly. “I’ve got to go.”
A few minutes later, Lily pushed her way into the hospital wing carrying two small plates.
“Ms. Evans!” Madam Pomfrey said, surprised. “You’ve returned.”
James’ head whipped around to face her, his eyes widening with hope and then narrowing in suspicion. “What are you doing here?”
Lily gave Madam Pomfrey a small nod as she made her way to James’ bedside. She sat down next to him, her gaze trained on the pudding dishes in her hands. After a long moment, she met his eyes with a shrug and a small smile.
“It’s our first date,” she said, and she was glad to see him sitting up and his color returned to normal. “You wouldn't deny me dessert on our first date, would you?”
“Well…no,” James said slowly, quite obviously confused. He swallowed hard and added, his voice low, “I wouldn’t deny you anything.”
“Good.” Lily’s nod was casual, succinct, but her cheeks flushed pink. She handed him a sticky toffee pudding and kept a dish of chocolate mousse for herself. “Take that. You must be starving.”
James blinked at the bowl in his hands. “Sticky toffee pudding is my favorite.”
“But…I don’t deserve dessert. I ruined our date.”
“And I nearly knocked your teeth out with my fore—”
“James,” Lily interrupted. “Are you trying to make me take back the pudding? Because I’ll do it.”
“No, no,” James said quickly. He took a bite of the gooey cake, and the corner of his mouth ticked up in a familiar grin. “Cheers.”
Lily smiled. They ate their pudding in silence for a moment before she added, “Besides, if I ignore the fact that you were late to meet me—”
“Because I was trying to get you a gift!”
“—and you’re entirely too reckless for your own good—”
“I’m daring, Evans, and it’s one of my best qualities. In fact, I’d wager—”
“—and a rotten thief to boot,” Lily continued loudly, ignoring James’ protestations, “I might just give you a chance to make it up to me.”
James trailed off mid-argument. “Yeah?” He looked like he was holding his breath.
“Yeah.” Lily shrugged one shoulder and pressed her lips together to hide her smile. “If only because this story’s far too entertaining to end here.”
“It is, isn’t it?” James grinned and relaxed against his pillows, but his easy smile couldn’t hide the relief in his eyes. “It’s the sort of thing you could tell our children one day.”
A surprised laugh burst out of Lily before she could stop it. She clapped a hand over her mouth and tried to look disapproving, but James’ pleased expression just made her laugh harder. She shook her head and matched his smirk with one of her own.
“Just shut up and eat your pudding, Potter.”